Review: Aberrations edited by Jeremy C. Shipp

Aberrations
Aberrations by Jeremy C. Shipp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strong and all-too short collection here, with Aberrations ranging from shocking and surreal, to scary and even heart-breaking. Not a duff story among them, although particular standouts were, ‘Bug House’, ‘The Hounds of Love’ and ‘Bus People’. ‘Goat Boy’ by Jeremy C Shipp also requires a re-read or two, as he continues to push the boundaries of surreal and disturbing storytelling. Most of these would also make excellent TV episodes, along the lines of the much-missed Masters of Horror. Strongly recommended for any fan of the frightening, horrific and bizarre.

Also, that cover is brilliant.

Money Well Earned by Joseph Nassise
The notorious Mothman is a very usual case for a professional hitman, and his hunt doesn’t pan out quite how he expects. An effective and genre-bending story with a slick resolution.

*Bug House by Lisa Tuttle
Eeeew. Gross, horrible, and excellent. Some deeply unpleasant, squelchy body horror gets superbly carried off, more by suggestion than graphic detail, and it’s all the more icky for that. You came here for uncomfortable, and now you’ve got it. Shudder.

The Thing in the Woods by Nate Kenyon
The first of two ‘couple hit monster with their car’ stories in this collection. With its domestic abuse aspects, there’s a dash of Stephen King in its DNA, but this is very much its own beast. Fighting to survive can bring out the best and the worst in people. It also refuses to easily answer who you should think the real monster is. Great writing.

Survivors by Joe McKinney
This deals with the human cost and emotional fall out following a worldwide zombie holocaust. A soldier revisits old and painful memories of someone he tried to save. Emotional stuff that doesn’t skimp on the gore, as well as adeptly handling the character’s post traumatic stress and survivor’s guilt.

The Hounds of Love by Scott Nicholson
The toughest, most rewarding story here. Disturbed, nightmarish, and extremely sad, it’s very hard to read (content-wise) and yet utterly compelling. You’ll need a strong stomach for the quite graphic description of animal cruelty, yet if you stick with it the payoff more-than compensates. Deftly delivered and brilliantly written, with complex layers of darkness. Love is truly all around.

Goat Boy by Jeremy C Shipp
It’s about a goat boy. Who, er…well, he….look, just read it, ok? I’ll get back to you. Maybe you can explain it. Because this was great. Yes, I liked it. Huh? No, I did. Supreme surrealism as always, recommended despite the inevitable head-scratching. I may have to re-read again. And again. Strange relationships get pulled through every possible dimension. There’s a goatlike-man, who…look, let’s just go with it.

Tested by Lisa Morton
The second ‘couple hit a monster with a car’ story from a very different viewpoint. This time it’s all from a male perspective. After a dreadful car crash in an isolated spot, a mild-mannered husband has to dig for his long-buried courage in order to make it through a terrifying ordeal. A very solid survival story.

Bus People by Simon Wood
A totally accurate portrayal of the population one generally encounters when using public transport, albeit taken to gruesome extremes. Marvellously grotesque, displaying a fine eye for the freakishly uncomfortable. Bus journeys really are just like this. Highly recommended.

Beggars at Dawn by Elizabeth Massie
A former soldier confronts his guilt and trauma after surviving the trenches, receiving support from an unexpected quarter. This is a gentler story about the healing of the human spirit, and it feels noticeably different to the rest of the stories in this collection, but it’s effectively written and well worth a look.

From Hamlin to Harperville by Kealan Patrick Burke
A very famous fairy-tale gets a disturbing modern update, although it’s really more of a ‘what happened next’ piece. Can a monster really live as a human? Can they ever escape what they are and what they did? Creepily effective, and fully in the spirit of the original children’s story.

View all my reviews

Author Interview: James Pratt (Part 3 of 3)

Black Scarab picture, James Pratt,

Meet James Pratt (disguised as The Black Scarab)

Welcome to the final part of the Haunted Eyeball’s interview with horror author James Pratt. Today we discuss Inspiration & Publicity.

Part 1: Writing Process

Part 2: Inspiration and Publicity

Part 3: Lovecraft and Horror! – TODAY

James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.

His books are available on both Smashwords or on Amazon. You can also follow James on Goodreads and Twitter.

Lovecraft and horror! 

Haunted Eyeball: What’s the first H P Lovecraft story you remember reading?

James Pratt: The Shadow Out of Time. I found it confusingly fascinating.

What drew you to Lovecraft? Why are you still a fan?

I was drawn to Lovecraft by the vast scope of his imagination and ability to convey an absolute sense of cosmic wonder and dread. I now read his works with a more mature and critical eye, but I’m still a humongous fan. His contribution to modern horror is undeniable and the sheer ambition of his stories has yet to be matched.

What do you most enjoy about mixing up genres and mixing in Lovecraft and horror?

I like the idea that the Cthulhu mythos has always been there, subtly infiltrating and influencing history and providing the foundation upon which many myths are legends were unknowingly built. The desolation of the mythic Wild West is a perfect setting for Lovecraftian horror. And the mythos’s fluid nature and resistance to continuity makes it extremely flexible for use in unconventional settings and genres far removed from traditional horror, like say for instance Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. Not that anyone would be sick enough to write a Lovecraftian Winnie the Pooh story, of course.

How do you feel about ‘torture porn’ and other labels ascribed to modern horror films and books?

Unfortunately, in many cases it’s an accurate label. Personally, I find horrors movies that are essentially pretend snuff films extremely boring. I like monsters and supernatural weirdness, not women being raped with chainsaws. Being explicit for its own sake isn’t the same as pushing the envelope. That being said, I have to admit I was fascinated by the wonderful grotesqueness of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.

What’s the last horror film or book you read or watched?

I’m ashamed to answer this one. I think it was ‘The Convent’, a movie about demonic nuns. It was pretty cheesy, but on the plus side Adrienne Barbeau was in it.

Horror writers can get jaded! What film or book (or picture!) last really scared you?

I found the first ‘Paranormal Activity’ movie genuinely creepy. ‘Insidious’ also had its moments. I loved the demon. And I can still watch ‘The Exorcist’ and feel a bit uneasy. I really wish it was possible to ‘delete’ experiences so you could see a film or read a book for the first time over and over again.

Do you have a survival plan for the end of the world? Which end of world scenario – zombies, bunny overcrowding, owl infestation, would you rather end up facing?

I’ve mapped out which neighbors would be easiest to handle in case I have to resort to cannibalism. My favorite end of the world scenario would of course be the return of the Old Ones. I won’t have to face it though. As a worshipper of Cthulhu, I’ll have the honor of being eaten first.

Which character you’ve created is your favourite (so far)?

I really like my version of Elvis in ‘Cthelvis’ but he’s based on an actual person and to be honest it didn’t take much work to turn the real thing into a wonderfully weird character. If I had to pick one, it would probably be Horton the rockabilly vampire from ‘Horton Hits a Ho’, closely followed by the brothers Sanjay and Umesh from ‘Incident at the 24-7’.

Are vampires losing their bite? (y’know…Twilight…) or is more variety a good thing?

As fictional creatures, vampires can be whatever a given writer wants them to be. That said, I HATE what vampires have become. Dracula wasn’t a love story, it was about ego and obsession. And what happens when you piss off Vengeful God (as opposed to Loving God). When the monster becomes the cool kid, he’s no longer the monster. Or maybe he’s just a different sort of monster, and definitely not the kind you want to root for. To me, Christopher Lee’s Dracula was the quintessential vampire. He wasn’t a hopeless romantic trapped in an immortal body but a monster whose human appearance was just a disguise. Vampires are supernatural parasites. They can’t give, they can only take. But that’s just my opinion. If somebody can make a living writing schlocky romance stories about star-crossed (undead) lovers, more power to them.

The future!

What are you currently working on (scary, I know)?

Trying to finish a fantasy novel with Lovecraftian overtones, sort of a cross between The Lord of the Rings and The Shadow Out of Time.

Are there any other writers you’d like to work with?

Yeah, but they’re all dead. I’m sure there are plenty of writers out there, indie or otherwise, that I would love to collaborate with but like I said, I haven’t even begun to tap the full potential of social media and connect with any of them. I’ve got to get my act together.

And finally…

 Any message you’d like to give to the lovely readers of the Eyeball?

If you wish there were more non-conventional books and films out there, then support what you like. YOU determine the market, not the other way around. If you want to make a living doing something creative, don’t wait for the world to come knocking at your door. Go out and create.

Thank you for reading this interview with the wonderful James Pratt, you awesome Eyeballers.

Don’t forget, all of James’ books are available right now at Smashwords, Amazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Also of interest:

Part 1 of this interview.

Part 2 of this interview.

James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!

5 Stories That Bite by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

Other Author interviews:

A recent Eyeball Interview with urban horror writer Chris Davis

Author Interview: James Pratt (Part 2 of 3)

Black Scarab picture, James Pratt,

Meet James Pratt (disguised as The Black Scarab)

Welcome to the second part of the Haunted Eyeball’s interview with horror author James Pratt. Today we discuss Inspiration & Publicity.

Part 1: Writing Process

Part 2: Inspiration and Publicity

Part 3: Lovecraft and Horror! 

James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.

All of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Inspiration & Publicity 

Haunted Eyeball: Who were your favourite author(s) while you were growing up?

James Pratt: That’s a tough one. When I was younger, I didn’t make a point to read any one author. I did discover  Kurt Vonnegut,  Stephen King, and Roger Zelazny in high school. If someone had told me I could only read the works of one of them back then, I probably would have chosen Stephen King because he gave me my first real taste of modern horror.

Favourite author now?

It would be a toss-up between Kurt Vonnegut and H.P. Lovecraft.

Does any art or artist inspire you to write?

Not consciously. I do like the creepy, haunted house vibe of Berni Wrightson’s work though, and the desolate, end of the world quality of Brom’s illustrations.

Any favourite comic books and writers and artists?

Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Berni Wrightson, and Mike Ploog off the top of my head. I really liked Grant Morrison’s run on ‘Animal Man’, and Garth Ennis’s ‘Preacher’ was pretty entertaining.

Do any TV shows or films inspire you?

Everything science fiction, fantasy, and horror TV show and movie I’ve ever seen has contributed in some way to every story I’ve ever written. I was a big fan of the gritty sci-fi of the tragically short-lived TV show ‘Space: Above and Beyond’. That’s the only one that readily comes to mind.

 Publicity

 How do you think social media has helped ‘indie’ writers?

Social media is a great way to market yourself and if you do a good enough job, you can write the stories you want to write and make a living doing something you love on your own terms.

Which ‘social media tools’ do you think connects you most successfully with fans? I.e. from Twitter to Goodreads and Facebook, blogs etc.

I’m not sure. I haven’t done a very good job of using their full potential. Twitter has put me in contact (more or less) with the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time, but I’m not sure just how effective it’s actually been. Each of my tweets is just one among millions.

Explain a bit about your ID picture. Why have you chosen an illustration over a photo of yourself?

My ID picture is the Black Scarab, a pulp superhero-style character from a story I wrote called The Black Scarab in “The Sad, Strange Fate of Evil Eye”. I used that because I think it’s a cool illustration plus I believe that when you get your picture taken the camera can steal your soul. (We think he’s joking… – H.E.)

How do you pick your book cover designs?

A good cover is important, but the amount of thought and effort I put in really depends on how motivated I’m feeling at the time. If the story features a visually striking character there’s a good chance he’ll make it on the cover, otherwise it’s probably going to be just text. I use a program called HeroMachine to create the covers. It’s pretty versatile but primarily for illustrating characters so when designing a cover, its limitations are also a consideration.

How seriously do you take reviews, be they good bad or indifferent!

Pretty serious. I have low self-esteem so I crave validation. Ironically, when someone gives me a good review, I assume they’re just being generous. On the other end of the spectrum, somebody gave all the free stories I had listed on the Barnes and Noble website one star so I had the stories removed. Childish, I know, but if you just want to bash me you should have to pay me first. I also tend to view indifference as a polite way of saying “I didn’t care for it.” I’m a big baby.

Sounds like a reasonable response to us, James. 

Thank you for reading Part 2, you awesome Eyeballers.

Part 3 of this interview, where James discusses H P Lovecraft and Horror, is coming up tomorrow!

Don’t forget, all of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Also of interest:

Part 1 of this interview.

Part 3 of this interview

James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!

5 Stories That Bite by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

Other Author interviews:

A recent Eyeball Interview with urban horror writer Chris Davis

Author Interview: James Pratt (Part 1 of 3)

Black Scarab picture, James Pratt,

Meet James Pratt (disguised as The Black Scarab)

Today I am very excited to introduce another horror author who’s agreed to be interviewed here on my Haunted Eyeball.  James Pratt writes horror fiction and his work gives an interesting and skewed view on familiar genre conventions. He also has a knack for bringing an otherworldly twist to some treasured childhood memories.

Part 1: Writing Process

Part 2: Inspiration 

Part 3: Lovecraft and horror! 

James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.

All of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Part 1: Writing process

Haunted Eyeball: Hi James and welcome to the Haunted Eyeball. When did you first start writing?

James Pratt: As far back as I can remember I’ve always had ideas for stories and characters, but I didn’t try writing full-fledged stories on a regular basis until I turned 40. Maybe it was a midlife crisis kind of thing.

Do you have a writing routine? How do you fit it in with the day job, etc?

No routine. I just try to write at least a little bit every day, the goal being 1,000 words before bed. Between work and kids I usually only have a couple of free hours each night. If I haven’t started by 10 p.m. on a given night, chances are I’m not going to get any writing done.

Do you listen to music while you work?

Occasionally. It does seem to help so I should probably make a habit of it.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Anywhere that’s relatively quiet where I can stretch my legs and get comfortable.

Does Writer’s block ever hit? How do you deal with it?

I’ve been hit by writer’s block so many times I have a concussion. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of those rare moments when the creative juices are really flowing. One thing I’ve found that helps when things are going slow is switching from laptop to a plain old notebook. That way I’m less tempted to obsess over every sentence and instead just write down whatever pops into my head. Even when I’m running on empty there’s still plenty of editing and revising to be done. And I’ve found that “sleeping on it” actually works pretty well. I’ve gone to bed plenty of times wondering how to finish a scene and woken up the next morning with a perfect ending. All I had to do was let my subconscious work it out.

Is there anything you wouldn’t consider writing about, such as genre type, political issues, sexuality etc, and why?

I would only write about the things that interest me, and those things happen to be monsters, doomsday scenarios, and alien demon-gods. That said, even though a story might have a fantastic setting or supernatural overtones, it can still contain a moral, make reference to classic literary themes (religion, philosophy, etc.), and act as a metaphor for the tragic comedy that is the human condition. I just find those topics more interesting within an unconventional framework. I don’t have a problem with more conventional topics like politics or sexuality, I’m just not interested in writing about them.

 How long do you allow for research? Is research overrated?

 No matter what the genre, I’ve found research extremely helpful. When I write a sci-fi tale, I want it to be at least partially based on real world science or at least speculative science. That means reading up on what physicists have to say about the actual possibility of time travel, teleportation, parallel universes, and other staples of science fiction. And even when I’m writing a weird western or fantasy tale, I still want the non-fantastic elements to be as accurate as possible. And since I don’t know anything about guns, siege weapons, or medieval architecture, those types of stories also require a fair amount of research. There’s no such thing as too much research.

Whose writing advice do you really listen to?

Anyone and everyone. You can learn something from everybody, even if the lesson is what NOT to do.

Are there any books on writing and creativity that you’d recommend?

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French.

What’s your golden rule of writing? Any tips for new writers?

Characters are the most important part of the story and also the hardest part to pull off. No matter how intricate your fantasy world or alien civilization, it’s only as interesting as the characters that populate it. Characters are how you generate an emotional investment in the story, or lack thereof. And you can’t make a character interesting through simple exposition (ex: “Handsome yet tragic, cynical yet romantic, he was a vampire haunted by his past.”). You have to show the reader why that character is interesting. Demonstrating what a character is feeling is much more powerful than simply letting the reader peer into the character’s mind. For example, having a character smash a chair against a wall is much more effective than simply saying “He was really mad.”

Before you write, read. A lot. And read outside your favorite genre(s). Sure, The Great Gatsby doesn’t contain any robots or ninjas (unless they were REALLY good ninjas), but it’s a powerful work by a master of the craft. Take the lessons taught by the classics and put them to work in the genre of your choice.

What’s the best/worst advice you ever had?

BEST:

“Amateurs copy, geniuses steal”. -Anonymous

“Start as close to the end as possible.” –Kurt Vonnegut

 WORST:

“That shirt looks really good on you.” –The girl at The Gap

Thank you, James. Part 2 of this interview, about Inspiration, is coming up tomorrow!

Don’t forget, all of James’ books are available right now at SmashwordsAmazon and check him out over on Goodreads and Twitter.

Also of interest:

Part 2 of this interview

Part 3 of this interview

James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!

5 Stories That Bite by James Pratt

When Dead Gods Dream by James Pratt

Other Author interviews:

A recent Eyeball Interview with urban horror writer Chris Davis

Review: Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8

Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8
Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8 by W.H.Pugmire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edited by Paula R Stiles

Innsmouth Magazine presents six varied tales of terror inspired by the work of H P Lovecraft. All are chilling, involving and sometimes challenging, collecting ancient and present day horrors, trippily surreal narratives and some truly sublime moments. All unconventional, certainly worth a look.

The Second Sphinx by Rebecca Stefoff

Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this ghoulish tale of an ill-fated expedition into Egypt summons up an atmosphere of dread, the dry decay of history and the sloppier remains of ancient and bloodthirsty races. Channelling the spirit of classic Lovecraft, this is an excellent start to the collection.

Graffito Flow by W. H. Pugmire

A grieving man takes a hallucinogenic trip through his ancient city that might not even be in our world. Creepy, though at times confusing, that patch on the wall may not be all it seems, but remember that the moon means madness. Highly atmospheric and very effective.

We Are All Ghosts by Peter Darbyshire

A great idea here. The sole survivor of a disastrous mission to a hidden city becomes a superhero. Kind of. A nice riff on the Mountains of Madness, and taken to impressively apocalyptic levels. Some spirits just won’t stay buried.

And Out Came Words of Fire by Paul Jessup

Another story set in an ancient world, or possibly another dimension. When a plague of words starts to unravel reality, can the fabric between worlds be stitched back into place? Mind-bending stuff, and truly otherworldly.

Curvature of the Witch House by Wendy N Wagner

The title is clearly inspired by the classic ‘Dreams of the Witch House’ but this is far stranger. A professor loses herself in the madness of mathematics and the Gawing of crows. Short, and pleasingly strange.

We Can Watch the White Doves Go by T J McIntyre

A mountainside camping trip coincides with a horrible invasion. Gruesome imagery, great characters. In tone reminiscent of the Mist, or the Thing, this would make an excellent horror film on its own. Very strong finish to this collection.

A great variety of stories from the dark side on show here, and each one is well worth a look. Any fan of H. P. Lovecraft fan should also be all over this collection. Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Prometheus: 5 reasons it won’t be as good as Alien (and 3 reasons why it could be great)

Prometheus poster head Ridley Scott

Prometheus - expectections reviewed at Dark River Press

I’ve just started a new, twice-monthly horror blog over at a recently launched new site for everything darkly weird and fantastic, Dark River Press. Just click on the Prometheus Poster above to go straight to my first post.

I highly recommend exploring the many pages of thrills and horror that Dark River Press offer, including the other talented bloggers, and some fantastic horror artwork plus lots of book, film, and retro-film reviews. There are also many horror stories on the site, and poems too, all well worth a look.

Also you can download a free copy of their latest magazine. They’re currently open for submissions, too. Horror fans will be in their element, so please mosey on over and take a look. But make sure you bring a flashlight. Then you might just get out of there alive…

Review: Taunt

Taunt
Taunt by Claire Farrell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Supernatural misfit Ava Delaney only just survived the last book, and barely a fortnight passes before she’s once again up to her neck in even more sturm and drang. Her new employer is costing her in more ways than one, groups of strange vampires are hanging around outside her home, and to cap it all off her rent is way overdue.

With this to contend with the first half of this book, the followup to ‘Thirst’, is almost exhausting to read. You get a great sense that Ava’s life is spiraling out of control and at first she is utterly helpless against the greater supernatural forces that are playing her. She has no idea who to trust and is still finding her way, whilst remaining utterly loyal to her own principles of not hurting humans, or drinking blood despite the edge it gives her. This mindset and her trust issues were frustrating but realistic, and it makes Ava a more vulnerable, and heroic character, particularly as she never once feels heroic and is constantly questioning her own morals and abilities. Ava seems to live with an overriding sense of guilt but she is also defiant to the last.

In Taunt we learn a few things about Ava which will hopefully be further explored in Book 3. Because there’s so much going on it would be a shame to say more to spoil the surprise. Basically, Taunt is a perfect example of how to bust up your protagonist’s once sequestered little world, and then keep the reader totally on her side as she fights for survival, while the character remains almost entirely herself. Ava is a strong character even when she’s trying desperately to catch up with the threats and conspiracies surrounding her. In Taunt she’s a bit less scatty than before, but no less stubborn, and prone to insulting super-powered beings when threatened, which I enjoyed very much.

‘Taunt’ has ended on a very interesting note, just as some very cool stuff was revealed, so I’m glad I have the next in the series ready to go, and I’ll look forward to hanging out with Ava Delaney again very soon.

View all my reviews