To paraphrase Quincy Jones, the best songs are based on a melody you could plunk out on a piano with one finger. While nowhere near a universal rule, there’s something to be said for a one sentence synopsis that sells a book.
Lucy of Dracula and Bertha of Jane Eyre are immortals living in 1960s Haight-Ashbury, laying low from the men who wronged them. You want to know more, right? How could you not?
Reluctant Immortals showcases a mix of classic and modernism, tinged with nostalgia and very much a product of the time period Kiste sets it in, but without losing sight of current issues. The book shows that in 200 years, not much, or at least not enough, has changed, telling the story through a feminist lens.
Lucy and Bertha are fully fleshed out characters, although one could argue that they were before Kiste was born, she breathes life into them and forges a relationship that is touching and often darkly humorous. There is a balancing act at play in Reluctant Immortals, where Kiste lays out the literary backstories of these characters for a variety of audiences—informing the uninitiated, while also recapping for readers familiar with these women and their world. The exposition never feels excessive, and as a reader familiar with Dracula, but not Jane Eyre, I admired Kiste’s ability to walk that line.
Reluctant Immortals is one of the most original books of 2022, an odd statement to make, but one I stand by nonetheless. Funny, poignant, and with genuine chills, this is among Gwendolyn Kiste’s best work.
Rhode Island is an oft-overlooked hotbed of horror, steeped in Lovecraft lore and a focal point of the New England vampire craze. What a prescient choice, then, to begin this anthology with an introduction to the state’s horror-soaked history, penned by Faye Ringel, who also contributes a story later in the volume. Then come the stories, each contributed by a member of the Horror Writers Association Rhode Island Chapter.
Some of the works have roots in Rhode Island, but take the terror in new directions, such as John Lynch’s “Blood in the Sand” —a military horror story dedicated to the RI men and women who have fought overseas and one of the strongest tales I’ve read from this author yet. Co-editor Christa Carmen contributes “Testing a Horrible Superstition”, a poignant piece about a mother-daughter relationship and the first story to focus in on the vampire epidemic of the 1800s. As a side note, anyone who enjoyed Paul Tremblay’s recent book, The Pallbearers Club, and wants to dig a little deeper, will find a lot to like in this anthology.
Victoria Dalpe’s “The Hidden Heart” captures the spirit and the essence of Providence while co-editor’s L.E. Daniels’ “Spectacle Cove” revels in its gothic setting and poetic language, a beautiful backdrop to a chill-inducing story. Paul Magnan’s “Soul Parasite” punches in a short space, wasting no time in setting up the pins and knocking them down, a definite stand-out in the book.
Sprinkled throughout are poems by Mary Robles, acting almost as guided interludes, taking the reader by the hand and showing the sights and sounds that line Rhode Island’s shadows. Curtis M. Lawson’s “Unsuccessful Coping Mechanisms for Grieving Lost Lovers” burns slow and doesn’t skimp on the creeps, prompting the reader to wonder who lived in their house/apartment before they did, and what kind of trinkets did they leave behind?
Bringing up the rear, Aron Beauregard’s “The Salt Man of South Kingston” follows the historical homages to Rhode Island with an urban legend for the next generation, an insidious monster that preys on those lost in the snow. While not as extreme as some of Beauregard’s other work, this one will still make the reader grimace.
Also containing stories by Joshua Rex, Jason Parent, Mr. Michael Squid, Barry Lee Dejasu, H.Y. Hsu, K.H. Vaughan, and Steven Belanger, We Are Providence is a diverse showcase for just how big the stories from the smallest state can be. Come explore the city, comb the graveyards, and dip your toes into the icy ocean. There are so many thrills and chills these Rhode Island authors are dying to introduce you to.
Ronald Kelly’s combination memoir and writing guide, Southern-Fried and Horrified, is going to stick with me for the rest of my life. It covers everything an ardent Horror fiend could want: social and racial commentary, the history of Horror from the ‘60’s to present day, interspersed with helpful grits and bits on the writing trade.
I’m sure it’s no secret, but Ron was southern-raised (Tennessee, to be exact). In the period he was raised in, he lived through segregation amongst white people and black people. In one particular Valentine’s Day story, Ron demonstrates that, even as a young boy, his heart was as loving and accepting as the man I’ve come to know. Early in our friendship, he demonstrated empathy, love for everyone, patience and understanding that flows into his writing beautifully. It’s why he’s such a good writer, because no matter who he writes about, no matter their walk of life, his concern is who they are inside. His roots begin at the person’s heart.
When Ron dives into the history of the horror scene, from the point of view of an author that tried getting published since the early 80s, and sold his first story in the latter part of that decade, it’s both educational and fascinating to read about little thing’s I would have never thought of before, such as the author having no control over the covers under Zebra; Ron going from typewriter to word processor to eventually an early computer; the lack of interaction between creator and fan; his wife, Joyce, printing out discussion boards to show Ron people missed his work when he had a ten-year-hiatus. Horror has gone through so much: the general public’s love, hate, and indifference. Horror is uncomfortable. It just is. Some struggle to admit that, but it’s that uncomfortableness which makes up the truest part of what makes our species tick—greed, love, hate, insecurity, self-worth, and so on. All of those elements are so hard for us because it’s what we see when we look in the mirror. Ron handles all of that too, with anecdotes, or revealing things he both feared and loved from the horror literature industry.
I’ve heard some of the stories in here from Ron before, yet, they landed a gut punch and choked me up as if it were my first time hearing them. Some even made me bust out laughing! Displayed through various stories, Ron faces down any challenge that comes his way. If an obstacle blocks his path he’s going to beat it. His unquenchable thirst to craft a story and share it with the rest of us is not only inspiring, but it’s reflective of the human species as a whole—always in need of a story, even if it’s one you heard a time or two before.
Ronald Kelly is a name that not only deserves, but demands, a legacy that matches the likes of Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, and Richard Matheson. If you love Horror, you’ll learn real quick why you need this memoir in your life.
Last year, Ronald Malfi released Come with Me to critical acclaim, and deservedly so. It was a poignant mystery that tugged at the heartstrings. A tough act to follow, but Black Mouth is more than up to the task. While it would be unfair to classify it as magician horror, the question of what constitutes real magic versus what is simply a trick runs through the veins of this story.
There are so many comp titles that work with Black Mouth. The way the narrative jumps back and forth between a group of adults and their childhood counterparts may remind some readers of King’s It. The combination of coming-of-age with a sense of wonder brings to mind King’s Revival. The escape from a cursed town has notes of Todd Keisling’s Devil’s Creek. And I could go on, but I won’t, because this novel is all Malfi.
Black Mouth does what the best horror fiction, the best fiction if you like, is supposed to do. Malfi rounds up some familiar ideas and cobbles them into something that feels comfortable, yet fresh and exciting. Opening up this novel feels like picking up one of those classic 1980s doorstops, easy to lose yourself in the opening pages, yet it never drags, making you feel like you’ve visited this town before and you’ve met these characters.
The cast is relatively small and the stronger for it. Jamie’s relationship with his brother, Dennis, is unforgettable and the beating heart of the story. The strength of this reunion develops throughout the runtime and sells the book’s final act. Clay and Mia are some of the most well-developed supporting characters I recall reading in some time, and as such, the stakes never feel contrived and the reader’s empathy is Malfi’s to mold and exploit.
Ronald Malfi’s macabre coming-of-age tale involving magic, the supernatural, and the strange small town that sucks you back in fires on all cylinders. A 400 page book that most readers will devour in the course of a weekend, then put down with satisfaction, while also still mentally living in that world. Black Mouth is an unmissable addition to 2022’s horror offerings.
Briana Morgan is a queer disabled Georgia-based horror author with talent and drive in equal measure. She’s currently raising funds to turn her latest book, The Reyes Incident, into a full cast audiobook. You can view the Kickstarter here. The goal is just over $6,000 and is two-thirds funded as of right now. Extremely used to self-marketing, Briana offers a detailed breakdown of where each dime goes and the preliminary research serves to keep the cost manageable. Rewards range from signed bookplates, behind-the-scenes access, e-books, signed paperbacks, to the finished audiobook. Higher pledges can even earn one-on-one access to Briana’s expertise.
The source material for the audiobook is an adult horror novella that contains the criminally underused trope of mermaid/siren horror while also serving as a love letter to found footage. Morgan develops two fully-fleshed out female leads, characters that are given more backstory and depth than is sometimes found in a novella-length work. And all without disrupting the momentum of the story.
The Reyes Incident uncovers Liv Reyes’ terrifying story during a police interrogation conducted by Andie McCollum. What starts as a professional encounter turns into so much more as McCollum’s life turns upside down. The addition of police reports and emails add more layers to an already compelling story and showcase Morgan’s love of, and understanding of how to employ, the found footage trope.
The scenes involving the mermaids in the bunkers are tense and terrifying, with Morgan putting her own unique spin on these mythical monsters that turns them into cunning bloodthirsty beasts. Branded as an adult horror novella, the graphic descriptions are vicious and vivid, striking the reader one after another, barely leaving any time to recover.
The strongest part of the book is the mystery that the author sprinkles in throughout. Some readers believe the writer’s job is to spell everything out in a story, to utilize their imagination to draw in the reader, and that’s valid. However, if the writer trusts me to be paying attention, put the pieces together, and decides what happens after the last page is turned, they’ve won me over. Reyes is a very strong example of this method employed the right way.
The found footage devices as well as the narrative Morgan uses to tell the story make The Reyes Incident perfectly suited to the type of full cast audiobook Briana Morgan has planned out. If you can, please consider donating to bring this project to life.
Whenever Paul Tremblay releases a new book, it skips the line to get to the top of my reading list. The Cabin at the End of the World has a beating heart at its core and an ambiguity that can’t be beat. Growing Things is one of the strongest collections you’ll read, packed to the brim with unique and boundary-pushing fiction. Devil’s Rock: great. Survivor Song: Fabulous. But as much as I’ve loved Tremblay’s back catalog, nothing has hit me quite as hard, made its mark as much as A Head Full of Ghosts.
Until The Pallbearers Club, that is.
Now, I refuse to pick favorites, but Tremblay’s newest release is not only of the best stories I’ve read in 2022, it’s up there with the best books of the last few years. Presented as a fake memoir, The Pallbearers Club is part coming-of-age tale and part supernatural mystery. Tremblay loses himself in Art Barbara, the pseudonymned narrator of the memoir, and in doing so, brings the story to life, but what really separates the book from something more traditional is the liner notes.
Someone is reading Barbara’s story alongside and putting in their two cents. I won’t spoil the identity of the commentator because it does begin as a mystery. The way Tremblay conveys a key relationship by dropping the reader into a conversation between these two characters rather than battering them with a linear narrative. Not only is it successful, but one could argue the book hinges on it. I wouldn’t be so cheap as to call it a gimmick, but rather a unique device that Tremblay uses masterfully to tell a story and engage the reader.
On a personal note, Tremblay sucked me in with the setting. A lot of scenes take place in Providence, and the story let me revisit clubs I used to frequent every weekend for live music, events like WaterFire that only a New Englander could truly understand. The setting pulled at my heartstrings as a local boy, but it is my belief that it’s illustrated so vividly that readers anywhere will be able to hear the music and smell the summer air.
The Pallbearers Club is a high point in the career of an author who practically lives in the stratosphere. A special book that I’ll be rereading regularly and thinking back on fondly years down the line.
Write the book you want to read, yeah? And in this case, edit the anthology the world lacks in terms of wide and varied representation. Society at large, and horror fiction in particular, has a problem with the way it presents fat people. Often times when a fat character is presented, they are combined with traits to steer the audience toward the conclusion that they are either the antagonist or hopelessly inept. In terms of broad generalizations, it’s decidedly not great.
So Nico Bell and Sonora Taylor have put together the anthology they wanted to read. One that depicts people of a plus-size nature as, not simply protagonists, but *gasp* normal human beings. Therein lies the strength of this group of stories. You will not find anything inside about people overcoming their body type to thrive or deriding other body types, simply a collection of characters who don’t fit society’s definition of perfection existing and having their stories told.
Steph Rabig’s “Cinderella and Her Demon Godmother” is an excellent choice for the opener. There is a line included about how over the course of thousands of years, humans have not learned to treat each other better, the cruelty is just more instantaneous now that cuts deep and rings true, setting the time for what’s to come. Nico Bell’s “The Lake House” brings the basement creeps while mixing up a hefty dose of humans are the real monsters. A terrific effort I’m glad the co-editor chose to include.
Nikki R. Leigh’s “The Floor is Lava” continues this author’s run as a phenomenal new voice to watch in terms of short fiction. Leigh mixes a good time with the grotesque here, crafting something unlike anything else in the collection. The final story is contributed by Sonora Taylor, and may well be the strongest in the bunch (as well as taking home the award for most content warnings). “Easy Bake” combines a baking challenge reality show with Squid Game and it’s everything you want it to be and more.
As with any anthology, stories will hit readers differently, but because of the relatively open theme of including a character who is fat, Taylor and Bell were able to curate a collection that strives for, and ultimately succeeds in, variety. In other words, you won’t find yourself reading the same tale twice.
Following on the heels of Garden of Fiends and Lullabies for Suffering, Mark Matthews presents the third and final installment in his series of Addiction Horror anthologies. I’ve shouted my love for Lullabies since its release, and both eagerly anticipated this volume, while also worrying it might not live up to my lofty expectations.
Fear not, because this entry truly stands up to the precedent set by the books before it. Matthews eschews the novella-length stories this time around in favor of a well-rounded group of authors at their very best. At their root, these anthologies have always felt very grounded in the human experience, presenting addiction as an illness that befalls a three-dimensional character, rather than an evil character trait. The stories included within continue that tradition of fully-fleshed out characters under extraordinary duress.
Frequent contributors Kealan Patrick Burke and John F.D. Taff are back. Burke introduces the group of stories in style with “You Wait For It, Like It Waits For You”. Taff’s contribution, “Huddled Masses, Yearning to Breathe Free” is among the strongest and most memorable stories in the anthology, proving once more his mastery of short fiction. While the anthology contains no weak links, some of my favorites included Samantha Kolesnik’s “Buyer’s Remorse”, Christa Carmen’s “Through the Looking Glass and Straight Into Hell”, and Josh Malerman’s “A Solid Black Lighthouse on a Pier in the Cryptic”.
Appropriately, the collection ends with Mark Matthews “My Soul’s Bliss”. This grandmaster of ceremonies closes the door softly and tenderly on his way out, placing the cap on a necessary and heartrending series. Readers of Garden and Lullabies will find a lot to peak their interest within these pages. Readers unfamiliar with Matthews’ work will find top-tier stories from some of the most exciting names in modern horror.
Author, and fellow New Englander, John Durgin’s debut novel The Cursed Among Us recently found its way to the top of my kindle pile and I couldn’t have been more impressed. Less than halfway through, I reached out to John to see if we could talk a little more about the book and the writing process. – Brennan LaFaro
BL: John, congratulations on a phenomenal debut book. The Cursed Among Us came out on May 31st. Can you tell us a little about yourself and share a brief synopsis?
JD: Hi, thank you so much for chatting with me. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, in a town you might recognize in my book, Newport. I’ve been a life long horror fan, and knew from the moment I read IT in 8th grade that I wanted to write horror novels. Last summer I finally said it’s now or never and I wrote and submitted my first shorty story which happened to be picked up by two anthologies. It gave me the confidence to pursue a novel, which is what gave birth to The Cursed Among Us.
The book follows Howie Burke and his group of friends who are out in the woods filming a horror movie when they stumble across a mysterious grave. In doing so, they release an evil on their small town unlike anything they could imagine, and soon find out their town has many dark secrets. Secrets that were never meant to be uncovered. It’s up to them to stop the evil before it’s too late. The book is a coming of age/slasher/occult mashup that leans heavy on 90’s nostalgia.
BL: How has the reception been so far?
JD: Amazing! I couldn’t be happier with the reviews and receptions I am getting from people. With it being the first book I’ve ever even attempted to write I was very nervous how it would be received. Imposter syndrome was the real deal, but from the moment my editor told me I had something special going on, I started to feel better. Then it went out to the rest of the world and the nerves kicked in all over again.
BL: The Cursed Among Us takes place in 1999, the new coming-of-age time period for us late 80s/early 90s kids. We’re starting to see other books like Tim Meyer’s Malignant Summer do the same thing. Yet even with the later time period, it captures the coming-of-age magic of writers like King, McCammon, and Malfi. Who were some of the influences on your writing, both in general and specifically for this story?
JD: well King and IT specifically are the biggest influence. The book made me want to write, so it was only fitting my first book involve some coming of age tropes. My love for COA books goes far beyond IT though. Ghoul by Brian Keene is one of my all time favorites. Fear by Ronald Kelly is another. I grew up in a small town, so small town horror fascinates me, and the three I just mentioned do it better than anyone in my opinion.
BL: All great books. Fear is a personal favorite. One element that makes it work so well as a coming-of-age story is the group of kids at the center of everything. From Todd to Ryan to Howie to Cory, each character has their own personality and quirks that make them jump off the page. What went into crafting such memorable characters?
JD: Childhood inspiration 100%. This group of friends IS my group of friends. The book is set in the late 90s because that is when my friends and I were the age of the characters in the book. The term write what you know couldn’t be more true here. Many of the stories, personality traits, even appearances and attire, were all pulled from my memories.
BL: Without delving into spoilers, Newport seems like the type of town where people get into some abnormal stuff. In fact, the plot kind of thrives on it. Is this a location readers can expect you to revisit in future stories?
JD: Absolutely! I never planned to try making my own Castlerock, but I love the idea of an area where things tend to be slightly unsettling and off. I always planned to write a prequel to this book diving into the era of the prologue, so that will happen eventually. My current novel I’m writing takes place one town over in present time and there is an Easter egg mentioning the murders in Newport during the 90s.
BL: Splatterpunk extraordinaire Brian Bowyer, says this book reads more like a tenth novel than a debut, and I have to agree. Tell us a little bit about the process from idea to finished product.
JD: First off, thanks for the kind words. I saw Brian’s review mention that and it meant a lot coming from someone who’s been at this awhile. My process coming in was to write a coming of age book set in the 90s based on my friends. We really did have an Unsolved Mysteries episode based on a local serial killer who was never captured. The story fascinated us growing up. We really did film horror movies in the woods during high school as well, so the idea came to mix the two. What if we were filming our movie and came across something in the woods related to the killer. What if there was a reason the woods were off limits that nobody talked about? From there I knew I wanted to write a love letter to slashers which I grew up on. Have some brutal kill scenes, and I wanted to go heavy on 90s to feel like we were back there again.
BL: Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re working on next?
JD: Yes! I recently signed a contract with D&T Publishing to release my next novel some time in 2023! My quick pitch is it’s The Shining meets Ozark. Weird combo right? I promise it will all make sense when you read it, but the action kicks into high gear from the prologue and really never lets up. It’s quite different from The Cursed Among Us, but it still leans on the small town obsession I have in my stories. It’s called INSIDE THE DEVIL’S NEST.
BL: Another big congratulations on that! Thanks for taking the time to talk a little more about the book. Where can people find you online?
JD: thank you for having me! My Twitter is @jdurgin1084. On Instagram people can find me at Durginpencildrawings. My website is under development as we speak but the site is www.johndurginauthor.com
Every Halloween, horror fans rejoice. For many, it’s to celebrate the spooky season, as the time of the weirdos arrives. But there’s another great reason to get excited. Earthling Publications limited Halloween hardcovers! Last year’s entry, Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi, was one of my top books of 2021. It will, deservedly, be released by Tor Nightfire in 2023. Where to go from there?
The master of the macabre, of course. Nary a horror subgenre exists that Jonathan Janz has yet to put his spin on. Small-town murder mystery might be the closest one can come to nailing this book down, but it’s not that simple or straightforward. Marla has notes of a slasher, but with a larger looming element of supernatural secrecy.
Where Janz shines is in keeping the reader guessing. Marla revels in a quality that keeps its audience slightly off-kilter throughout the runtime. The story is told through multiple points of view, each one providing a different look at the unsettling events transpiring in King’s Branch, then moving on before allowing the reader to dig their heels in and gain firm footing. The balance of POV’s is also a strength. Janz manages to create the aforementioned tension through movement while still allowing us to get to know Dylan Ellison and Detective Lancaster, sprinkling personality and characterization in without distracting from the linear narrative.
The characters matter, therefore the stakes matter. This pays off in spades during act three when the author ties all of the dangling threads together. Jonathan Janz crafts an ending that is ambiguous enough to keep the reader thinking after the story ends, but also satisfying enough to say “That was a hell of a book.”
Earthling Publications and Jonathan Janz have both done it again. Marla is a hell of a book.