I had the pleasure of reading the Hell’s Butcher series by Chris Barili, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher. This series is refreshingly different, a combination of western, speculative fiction and super hero, and somehow, it all works.
Frank Butcher has been appointed Hell’s Marshal, sent back to the land of the living on the trail of killers escaped from hell, bent on wrecking havoc and changing history to aide in the rise of the south. In Hell’s Marshal, Frank and his posse of walking dad and their coyote guide are after the renegade soul of Jesse James before he can revive the confederacy and rise up once more against the union.
They travel on a stage pulled by hell’s steeds, which never tire and move at incredible speeds, and they carry weapons with the power to send souls back to hell, where they belong. But, it isn’t easy to pursue their prey in bodies that have been dead a long time, causing extra difficulties to the chase. The coach is driven by a mortal man with special gifts and they’re joined by an orphan boy with the power to see souls raised from the fiery pit.
In Hell’s Butcher, John Wilkes Booth is the renegade soul, back to build an army to finish the government takeover, the conspiracy around the assassination failed to complete, and Frank and his posse must send them back. In a chase filled with misdirection, and battles with demonic souls inhabiting living bodies, there is no way to triumph without further damning the posse members’ souls.
I absolutely love these story lines and must say these books are well crafted. Barili does a smash up job of drawing the reader into his world, where condemned souls can walk among the living. My only problem with these books is the fact that Frank doesn’t seem to change much. Guilt and self-loathing are Frank’s fatal flaws as the protagonist, and although it doesn’t necessarily be resolved, there should at least be some evident change by the end of each story arc. Even by the end of the second book, although he reasons that people should not have to suffer for things they’ve done due to circumstances beyond their control, yet he still resigns himself to whatever punishment the judges dole out, feeling he deserves it, unable to apply the lesson to his own situation, and he is unable to forgive himself.
Both books in this series, Hell’s Marshal and Hell’s Butcher are entertaining tales with refreshingly original story lines. Each book could be stand alone stories. Regardless of the one glitch found in the protagonist’s character arc, they are fun reads that keep the pages turning. I give them both four quills.
If you like the Hell’s Butcher series as much as I did, you’ll want to be sure and grab the prequel, Guilty, which is now also available. Guilty tells the story the events in Frank’s life that brought him before the judges and put him in the position to serve as Hell’s Marshal. This book offers insight into Frank’s character, so we can see where all that self-loathing comes from, drawing the series together and giving it cohesion. It is a different, but wonderfully entertaining story line. I give Guilty five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
This is the longest book review I have ever written. This book was so packed full of useful information for rising authors and screenwriters that I felt I needed to cover it all. If you are an upcoming horror author or screenwriter, trying to figure out how to get a foot in the door or where to start in the matter of launching your career, Horror 101: The Way Forward offers “career advice by seasoned professionals”. Different writers will find different essays useful, so I’m giving you a rundown on all the informative essays included.
Compiled by Crystal Lake Publishing, this collection of essays has something for every writer. The anthology features quotes from the masters such as Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack London, Clive Barker, H.P.Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe and many others. Advice from professional writers and editors covers all aspects of the horror writing business, and the business of writing, in general. From submitting your work, to marketing and promotion, to self-publishing and building your writing business, to crafting your work and the writing process.
The answers to many questions on the topic of submissions and all other aspects of writing as a business are found within its pages. Not getting positive response from your queries? First read Rejection Letters – How to Write and Respond to Them by award winning author Jason Bark, which offers an attempt to write a rejection letter that doesn’t sting, (at least, not so much). Then, flip to Seven Signs that Make Agents and Editors say “Yes!” to learn what agents and editors look for. Buttoning Up Before Dinner by horror author Gary Fry also offers advice to put you in the good graces of publishers and editors and create well-written stories.
Unsure how to submit your work? Submitting Your Work: Read the F*****g Guidelines by freelance writer and editor John Kenny offers tips for making a professional submission from an editor’s perspective. And What a Short Story Editor Does by horror, fantasy and science fiction editor Ellen Dallow explains the responsibilities of short story editor.
Looking for sound career advice? Be the Writer You Want to Be by television writer and novelist, Steven Savile recycles the best writing advice the author was ever given. The Five Laws of Arzen by award winning dark fiction author Michael A. Arzen offers hints to help you survive a writing career. How to Fail as an Artist in Ten Easy Steps: A Rough List Off the Top of My Head, by Confirmed Failure… by horror author John Palisano provides a reverse list of things you should do to be a successful writer.
Wondering if you need an agent to get your work in front of editors and publishers? Do You Need an Agent? by author Eric S. Brown is a discussion about the need, (or not), for an agent and relates the personal experience of how the author became successful without one. Also included are essays on building your writing business in Balancing Art and Commerce by author and screenwriter Taylor Grant , offering a look at various mediums one can write in and earn a living & advice in the business of writing. There are even essays offered on the lucrative business of ghostwriting, with a personal experience as a ghostwriter shared by dark fiction author Blaze McRob, and Ghostwriting: You Can’t Write it if You Can’t See It by award winning author Thomas Smith instructs on how to step into the author’s shoes and write like them.
If you are hoping to find some help muddling through the vast world of marketing and promotion, The Year After Publication by horror & thriller novelist Rena Mason offers an account of what to expect once you publish your first book and a walk through the exhaustive process of book marketing. How to be Your Own Agent, Whether You Have One or Not by horror writer, editor and publisher Joe Mynhardt offers tips for marketing your stories and yourself. Reviewing by founder of Ginger Nuts of Horror, (one of the most viewed resources in horror fiction), Jim McLeod discusses getting your book in the review pile & what the writer should do while awaiting publication of the review.
If you’ve not attended a conference or convention before, Pitch to Impress: How to Stand Out From the Convention Crowd by editor R.J. Cavender provides a guide to making a pitch that will snag agents’ and publishers’ attention. Tips for networking at conferences are offered by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner in You Better (Net)Work, and Networking at Conventions by Bram Stoker Award winning author Lucy A. Synder offers a look at the benefits conventions have to offer and a breakdown on some of the major ones for horror writers.
There is a plethora of advice offered on publishing, including a comparison of traditional publishing vs. digital publishing in Weighing Up Traditional Publishing and Ebook Publishing by award winning author Robert W. Walker; Publishing by editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones compares publishing in the digital arena with the way it was done in the past & how to become an independent publisher; and Glenn Rolle Toes the Line with Samhain Horror Head Hancho, Don D. Auria by Glenn Rolle with Interview that maps Auria’s rise to the top.
The arena of self-publishing is also explored in Make Your Own Dreams by horror and suspense novelist Iain Rob Wright. Besides being a plug for self-publishing’s evening of the playing table. It relates personal experience and advice for self-publishing, walking us through the self-publishing process. Self-Publishing: Thumb on the Button by author Kenneth W. Cain gives a list of things to think about before you choose to self-publish.
Also included are essays on the different mediums for horror: Poetry and Horror by Blaze McRob, and Horror for Kids: Not Child’s Play by novelist Francois Bloemhof offers guidelines for writing horror for youth. Several essays on comics and screenwriting, (one of the biggest outlets of horror today), are also included.
Horror Comics – How to Write Gory Scripts for Gruesome Artists by novelist Jasper Bark discusses the craft of writing horror comics and the relationship between writer and artist. Some Thoughts on My Meandering Within the World of Dark and Horror Art by artist Niall Parkinson offers thoughts on creating dark and horror art. So You Want to Write Comic Books… by novelist C.E.L. Welsh discusses what goes into the making of a comic book.
From Pros to Scripts by author and screenwriter Shane McKenzie talks about the many challenges of screenwriting. Writing about Films and For Film by award winning writer, editor and screenwriter Paul Kane gives the story of the author’s rise to success and tips for learning the lingo of the business. Screamplays! Writing the Horror Film by award winning author and screenwriter Lisa Morton offers the basics of screenwriting, description and dialog, and tips for getting your screenplay made into a movie. Screenplay Writing: The First Cut is the Deepest by author, director and editor Dean M. Dinkel recaps of the author’s experience at the Cannes Film Festival.
Essays on writing a digital world include Running a Webserial, or How to Lose Your Mind, One Week at a Time by Southern author Tonia Brown, providing a brief history of serials and a rundown of what goes into running one on the web; Friendship, Writing, and the Internet by Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Weston Ochse with reflections on online connections with like-minded writers, and Audiobooks: Your Words to Their Ears by horror novelist Chet Williamson discusses what it takes to create and audiobook and what to expect from the effort.
Of course, there is also plenty of advice on crafting a quality story. What is Horror? by author and novelist Graham Masterson offers general writing advice which could be applied to any genre and instructs on how to push your writing to the edge. The Journey of “Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears” by author Richard Thomas takes us on a walk through of the writing, editing and submissions process of a story. Writing Short Fiction by horror and thriller novelist Joan De La Haye offers tips to tighten your writing and move the story forward, and discusses where to look to sell your story and how to choose where to submit. Ten Short Story Endings to Avoid by Scottish horror novelist William Meikle supplies a valuable list, if you want to avoid having readers feel cheated. From Reader to Writer: Finding Inspiration by publishing and editing consultant Emma Audsley offers advise for attacking the blank page. Writing Exercises by horror writer Ben Eads provides exercises in description and dialogue. Writer’s Block by short fiction writer and novelist Mark West discusses how to keep the creative juices flowing. Editing and revision are covered with Editing and Proofreading by author and editor Diane Parking presents good reasons not to send out a first draft, and How to Dismember Your Darlings – Editing Your Own Work by Jasper Bark gives a brief guide on how to self-edit.
A few essays outline the needs of a writer and suggestions on how to meet them. Filthy Habits – Writing and Routine by Jasper Bark offers a look at the benefits of creating a daily writing routine. A Room of One’s Own – the Lonely Path of a Writer by horror and fantasy writer V. H. Leslie discusses the need for solitude and space to write in. Writing Aloud by screenwriter and author Lawrence Santoro outlines the benefits of reading aloud as a part of the writing process.
Also included are Partners in the Fantastic: The Pros and Cons of Collaborations by novelist Michael McCarty, which looks at the views of various authors on collaborations, and Writing the Series by series author Armand Rosamilia, which explains why Rosamilia writes series.
Several essays offer advice specific to writing in the horror genre. Making Contact by award winning novelist Jack Ketchum discusses how to turn what you know into a horror show. Bitten by the Horror Bug by horror author and screenwriter Edward Lee looks at what motivates us to write horror. Reader Beware by author Siobhan McKinney explores the role fear plays in horror. Bringing the Zombie to Life by author Harry Shannon maps out four components of a good zombie story. The Horror Writers’ Association – The Genres Essential Ingredient by author and President of the Horror Writers’ Association (HWA), Rocky Wood gives a rundown on the HWA.
What’s the Matter With Splatter? by horror writer and Vice-President of the AHWA, Daniel I. Russell discusses the use of blood, gore and splatter in horror fiction or screenwriting, gives tips on how to use it to gain the desired effect, and discusses why some gore doesn’t get a second thought. Avoiding What’s Been Done to Death by British horror writer Ramsay Campbell defines good horror fiction & emphasizes originality. The (Extremely) Short Guide to Writing Horror by dark fiction author Tim Waggoner offers an introduction to writing horror, including techniques and brief definitions, and a list of good resources for horror writers. Growing Ideas by horror writer Gary McMahon offers a look into the author’s writing process. Writing Horror: 12 Tips on Making a Career of It by horror novelist Steve Rasnic Tem instructs on building your own writer’s toolbox and advice for entering the profession of writing horror. The Cheesy Trunk of Horror by international best selling author Scott Nicholson provides a look at both writer and reader perspectives on horror and dark fiction. Class: Vaginas in Horror by science fiction, urban fantasy and horror novelist Theresa Derwin offers an overview of women in the horror industry. And the afterward by Crystal Lake Publishing’s editor, Joe Mynhardt, includes his own advice for writing horror.
Horror 101: The Way Forward is based on the sound advice of seasoned professionals that is useful to horror writers in any stage of their careers. I recommend it with four quills for anyone who wants to write horror in either fiction or screenwriting.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
One question I hear asked a lot to writers is, “where do you find your stories?” This question is sort of silly to me because stories are everywhere around you if you look. Every item you come across in your day has a story for how it became what it is, and got where it is. If you ask enough questions, eventually you’ll find some interesting element that you can turn into a compelling story if you try. I could go on for a long time about ways to find a story, so instead I decide, in honor of Halloween, to narrow the focus this week and discuss where to find inspiration for horror stories in particular.
For me, I really think horror stories have to either start with the protagonist or the “monster.” By monster, I mean whatever villain is in your story, be it a literal monster, a ghost, a serial killer, a psychological monster, a location, etc. I say this because the core of most horror stories is the conflict between these two entities — the protagonist and the monster — and I think starting with one of them can be the easiest way to start a horror story. If you start with the monster, you can ask yourself who would it go after and find your protagonist. If you start with the protagonist, you can ask yourself what type of monster would they encounter and go from there. Immediately either one can give you your story, but where do you find the protagonist or the monster?
If you want to start your horror story by coming up with your protagonist and you have no ideas in mind, you can go several directions:
- Pick someone you know and turn them into a character by changing some of their traits to make them slightly different.
- Pick a stranger on the street and create a character from them based on what you can infer from their appearance and behavior.
- Pick a stereotype character and then do a free write or character sheet to turn them into something more and give them depth.
- Pick an occupation and then create a character that fills that job role.
There are a ton of other ways to come up with a character, but these are a few of my favorite simple ones. Once you have a character in mind you can find your monster by asking yourself where would this character go to find trouble? Does it find them, or do they seek it out by going somewhere they shouldn’t? Do they have a friend that takes them to a haunted forest? Do they live near a mental asylum where a killer can escape? Do they work in a hospital where people die every day and ghosts may linger? Do they go swimming or camping in a secluded area where monsters could lurk in the shadows?
Think about all the places your character may go on a daily or weekly basis and think about what kinds of monsters they could encounter there. If none of these places is suitable, then think about what kind of friends your character has, and what kind of trouble those characters could get the protagonist into. Do they have a reckless friend who likes going into abandoned buildings? A crazy friend who sees things? A friend who picks up shady drifters and brings them home? Once you have the monster your character would most likely meet, you can start creating the plot between the monster and the protagonist and find your story.
As I said earlier, when I use the term “monster” I don’t necessarily mean a literal monster, but rather I mean any type of antagonist your character will come up against in the story. Monsters can be anywhere, and if you’re prone to writing horror it’s a good idea to keep a list somewhere of various monster ideas whenever you come up with one. A few places that I generally find monster ideas include:
- Reading about urban legends and mythical creatures. Those cheap tabloid papers have some great ones of these, as do those random lists of legends, myths, and creatures that are all over the internet. Pick one and make it your own, give it a setting, and see where it takes you.
- Phobias. These are a great source for monster inspiration because once you pick a phobia you can use it to build your monster. Think of phobia that you like, or look up a list and pick one, and then ask yourself if your character has that fear what kind of monster would trigger it? Do they have a fear of being alone? Then how about you forget them in the middle of the ocean after a deep sea diving expedition (Open Water). Do they have a fear of the dark, well how about a monster that only appears in the darkness and can make the lights go out (Lights Out, Darkness Falls)? Whatever phobia you choose, ask yourself where or how your character can be forced to face it, and what kind of monster could cause them to. Sometimes it’s even the monster that has the fear (Lights Out) and it can be used as part of how the protagonist defeats them, so you can also try to create a monster from that angle as well.
- True unsolved mysteries or famous oddities. These are a great source for horror because they’re true, unexplained, and usually, have just the right amount of creepiness to them that they can be twisted even further for the perfect horror story.
Any of the options above can work for finding a monster to create your horror story around, but they aren’t the only way. At the heart, the monster comes from the twisting of something that is somewhat normal to something threatening. Think about it. Cujo was a dog, a ghost is just a (dead) person, water is just water, etc, but all can be turned and twisted to become a monster. So if you can’t find some kind of monster from the ideas above, then try taking something random and asking how could it be dangerous? How could it be scary?
Once you have the “monster,” then ask yourself what kind of character would they either go after or accidentally encounter? Is the monster in a lake at a teen summer camp? Are they in a house that a nice young family has just moved into? Are they in a school where kids just want to go to prom? Once you know who your monster’s victims are, and where the monster hunts, then you have your story.
I’ve just had the pleasure of reviewing a new anthology of short fiction put out by Curiosity Quills Press. When asked if I’d like to review Chronology, I had the impression that it was a steampunk anthology, which is a genre I’m newly discovering. Some of the stories in this collection do have steampunk elements, such as Wind Up Hearts, the steampunk-ish romance that is sure to break readers’ hearts, by Bram Stoker Award finalist, Stan Swanson, or Flight of the Pegasus by Dr. Darin Kennedy. There’s also That Which is Hidden, a haunted steampunk-ish werewolf romance, by Julie Frost. But, I was pleasantly surprised to find the stories in Chronology to be a diverse mixture of speculative fiction.
Some are futuristic, leaning more toward science fiction, such as the apocalyptic Afterparty by Mark Woodring, Limited Liability, a futuristic outer space story by Matthew Graybosch or Gookie Visits Her Moma by G. Miki Hayden, an alternate universe science fiction story about a space bounty hunter whose current bounty takes her back to her home planet. Many others are more in the fantasy realm, such as Draconic King, by award winning author, James Wymore, or Yours Until the Ink Dries, a true faerie tale, as a young outcast girl discovers her true identity in her drawings, by Y.A. author Jordan Elizabeth. And then there are those stories that fall into the mythical realm, such as Strange Flesh, a well-crafted story of mythical creatures by Katie Young, or Wampus Cat, a tale of Appalachian legends come true by international bestselling author Scott Nicholson.
Still, others have a horror element or two, such as The Lair, a story of a cursed treasure hunt in jungle swamps, by best-selling independent author, Tony Healey, or Lava, a spectral love story by New York Times bestselling author, Piers Anthony, or In the Clutches of the Mummy Prince, by B.C. Johnson, which was not very scary. Also I had trouble relating with the main character in Johnson’s story, who wasn’t very likeable. There is also The Comeback, the weirdest zombie romance I’ve ever heard of, told from the zombie’s POV, by techno-thriller and MG fantasy author, Tara Tyler, and Inmate #85298, a chilling death row tale, by author and screenwriter, Andy Rausch.
Of course, there are also those stories that weren’t so easy to classify, including White Chapel, which sheds new light on the story of Jack the Ripper, by author, editor and podcast co-host, Andrew Buckley, or Signs Unseen, the story of a small town race war, by J.P. Moyahan, or Bait and Witch, a troublesome witch story by speculative fiction author, J.P. Sloan. There is also The Bull, by novelist and short story writer, J.R. Rain, which turns a Minotaur into a superhero, and The Unattended Life, a reminder to stop and smell the roses by J.E. Anckorn, and an intriguing airship romance, Above the Clouds, by Richard Roberts.
Yes, it is a big book, about 530 pages, but it is definitely a good read. In addition to the stories mentioned above there are the three I enjoyed the most, which I saved to tell you about in more detail. The following stories stuck out in my mind the most, but not in any particular order.
The Room Below, by novelist Wilbert Stanton is a horror story worthy of Lovecraft, or King. This story about a stay in a mental institution that puts One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to shame. It held my attention and kept me on the edge of my seat, and had a surprising, yet satisfying ending.
The Colorado King, by Nathan Yocum is a story in which survival is the name of the game as a father and daughter travel over post-apocalyptic badlands in search of kin and refuge, bringing with it some very hard lessons. This well-crafted tale grabs readers’ attention and doesn’t let go, yet it leaves readers feeling like there should be more, probably due to the fact that it is an excerpt. I’m guessing that it is from Yocum’s novel, The Zona.
And finally, Innocent Deception, by Matthew Cox is a well-crafted story which has a surprising reveal in its final pages. The daughter of a pharmaceutical company’s CEO is kidnapped and held for ransom, but the plan falls apart when the mother doesn’t want the kid back.
Overall, I give Chronology 3 Quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.
The hunt is on and Thomas Morehart and his sister, Kara are in a race against time to revert to the forms of their primordial species – vicious predators that have the ability to shape shift into human form and live among us. They survive off of human blood and are called vampyre, although they are not counted among the undead. The government is discontinuing the covert operation that rescued them from extermination in Nazi Germany and has sheltered and protected them for years. Now, those of their kind have been targeted for extermination once more, and the only thing that can save them is to rediscover the predators that they once were.
In The Devouring: Kavachi’s Rise, by Mike Kearby, presents a novel interpretation of the vampyre legends offer something to ponder. Even though they could have been developed more, Kearby cleverly turns characters that might be viewed as evil monsters, into protagonists that can be empathized with. The plot for Kavachi’s Rise successfully takes readers on a journey into a world where monsters dwell among us and are controlled by our own government. The only question now is, will the vampyre become predator or prey?