Holiday Story Time, with a free yarn

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Happy Holidays from Crazy Uncle Matt, wishing you and yours a bountiful year ahead, with a free story for Christmas:

Kids Say The Weirdest Things

Our neighbors are nice, but a little weird. That’s okay. So are we. A few months ago, my husband and I moved into the middle of a three-unit townhouse in a little country village. Spring turned into summer fast, and I’m getting back into shape turning part of the back yard into a little vegetable garden.

The neighbors to our left are quiet and mostly keep to themselves. It’s the ones to the right that I wonder about. There’s a single mom with a teenage daughter and a cute little boy who’s maybe six or seven. The boy has a friend who often comes over and plays, a bouncy little girl his age from down the road. Some nights the lady has some friends over. They play strange music. I’ve only seen her friends a couple times, showing up and leaving while I’m out on the back porch with insomnia and a cigarette. The lady and her kids don’t look or act wealthy, but their friends must be, judging by those fine tailored black suits they always wear. Sometimes they sing along to the music. It’s muffled through the walls, not too bothersome, but I do notice. It sounds like some foreign language I can’t place. So it’s funny that they occasionally complain about the noise my husband makes when he’s up late drinking and writing.

The other day, I was out in the garden. It had been a dry couple of weeks, and I sighed in irritation at the wilting edges of the kale and squash I was trying to grow. I thought about using the hose, even though the lady next door would complain about how that drains the well. An SUV pulled into the driveway. I looked up and saw our neighbor get out. She crossed the back yard, to her back porch. Her little boy followed. I remembered them leaving earlier. They’d both been dressed up nice when they left, like they were going to some fancy occasion. I’m pretty sure the boy’s little friend from down the road was with them when they left. She wasn’t with them now. The mom was still dressed up fancy, but her son now wore plain shorts and a sports T-shirt. He ambled sullenly behind her, like he’d been bad and gotten scolded or spanked. They climbed the steps and went inside. A few minutes later, the mom came back out. She’d changed into shorts, flip-flops, and a tank-top. She started seeing to her flower boxes on her back porch. Before long, the little boy came out and joined her. He looked happier now, scampering and hopping and laughing around, enjoying life like little kids ought to in the summer out in the country, on a day like today. I glanced up with bored interest semi-regularly, from beneath the shadow of my floppy straw sunhat.

Up on the porch, the boy squealed at his mom, “Can I go out and see her?”

I glanced at my struggling crop. The leaves didn’t look half so wilted as they had earlier. Maybe it was the light, but they looked like they’d gone a few shades darker green.

I didn’t realize the kid was talking about me ‘til I heard his Mom say, “No, no, she’s busy.”

“Please? I wanna go see her! I like her!”

My husband was at work, I’d been at my gardening for a while, and I thought overhearing that was so adorable, so I went What the hell? “It’s okay,” I called out, tilting my chin up and putting on my best smile. “He can come say hi!”

His mom said something like, “Okay, you can go say hi, but don’t bother her too much.”

With a big grin on his face, he bounded down and raced out across the back yard towards me. I kept seeing to my gardening. He trotted to a halt and stood there watching me, like I was the most fascinating thing in the world.

“Hi, how you doing?” I said.

“I’m okay,” he said. “I like you.”

“I like you too,” I said with a giggle.

“Guess what! We went to church today!”

“Is that right?” Oh, yeah, today was Sunday. I hadn’t figured them for the church-going sort of family – whatever that is anymore since I was a kid – but okay.

“Yeah. Me, my mom, and Susie.”

“Is Susie your little friend I always see you with?” His teenage sister was named Kelly or something. She was out of town this week with some friends, I think I remember hearing. Spring break, or something.

“Yeah,” he said.

“What church you guys go to?”

“The one up the dirt road over there.” He pointed off to the road that ran down to the left of the house, past a few barns and houses.

“Oh, you mean the one back that way, through the woods?”


“Oh, neat! I’ve seen that place when I’ve been out on bike rides. That’s a pretty church.” It really is a lovely building, the one we were talking about, the old arching colonial sort of structure. “I didn’t know we knew anyone who goes there.”

“Uh-huh, and today the Priest had me and Susie help him with the ceremony.”

Priest? Ceremony? That was a little surprising. I guess I’d just assumed in the back of my mind that the place was something Protestant, so they’d have a pastor or preacher or reverend or whatever. I hadn’t seen any Catholic churches around here. Episcopalian, maybe?

I just said, “Wow, cool.”

“Yeah. It was a special ceremony, because it’s a special day, and the priest said we’re special. He put the high scepters at the end of big, long poles, and had us hold them, one of us on each side of him.”

“Wow, that’s really great! You must be really, really proud and excited.”

“Yeah! And you know what else? The priest asked me and Susie which of us wanted to walk in front of him and which one wanted to walk behind him. I wanted to go first, but Susie said she wanted to go first too. So I, I, I let Susie go first. Mom tells me I’m a gentleman. The Priest called me a little gentleman too, so I…I…I wanted to be a gentleman to Susie.”

“Well, it sounds like you are, and that’s good,” I said. “You should keep being a gentleman. Not enough men are.”

“Yeah. Do you want to hear about what we did at church?”

I really didn’t, but I still said, “Yeah, keep telling me!”

“The Priest, he…he…Once we walked up to the altar, the Priest had me and Susie stand…one on each side of him…up at the…the altar. The Priest read words from the Great Old Book.”

“Oh, you mean the Bible?”

“No. The Great Old Book. Anyway, the Priest had me and Susie stand on each side of him while he read the words in the Great Old Book. We were both holding the high scepters up, so the tops of them were above his head while he read. That’s a real special thing. Then because Susie walked in front up to the altar, the Priest picked her up and he put her on the altar. The Priest had me help him open Susie up and take things out of her. It was…was…It was really scary when Susie screamed. But then she went to sleep, and it wasn’t scary anymore. It started smelling bad after she stopped screaming. The…the Priest said she was asleep. I was glad she got to sleep. Oh, oh, and then me and the Priest took things out of Susie and put them all around the altar, like the Great Old Book told the Priest how to do. The Priest kept saying words from the Great Old Book while we took stuff out of Susie and we…we…spread her around.

“Then all the lights in the church went kinda dark. So did the lights in the window. The rest of the people out in the benches were saying stuff with us. There were things outside the windows. The things had wings like birds, except they weren’t birds, and they had wings like flying dinosaurs have, but they weren’t dinosaurs either. They had big wings, and…and…the big things kept flapping their wings on the windows outside. You know what else? It was really messy when we arranged Susie’s insides around.  Big millipedes came out of the red mess that came out of Susie. The big millipedes took the rest of Susie away. They also took some of the people out in the benches away. The Priest said it was because their faith was weak, but that’s good the millipedes took them away too, because now the land of this town is cleaned up of them, and now the town can live on out here for another year.

“You’re gonna grow lots of good stuff in your garden now. The dirt’s gonna be really, really good all summer, because of what me and Susie and the Priest did when we stood at the altar, and the Priest said the words so the Ones Who Rule The Woods won’t be mad at us now for another summer. I’m sad because I won’t get to play with Susie for a while anymore.”

I didn’t know what to say to all that. I guess I just stared at him.

He saw me frowning, and he put his hands in his pockets, and shuffled around like he felt guilty, like it dawned on him that he shouldn’t have told me about all that. He met my eyes again, pouted for a second, then turned and ran back across the yard, up his porch, and into the house.

Not knowing what to make of all that, I took another look at my garden’s yieldings. Now that the little guy mentioned it, the kale looked twice as full as before, and my squashes had swelled and ripened already.


Kids Say The Weirdest Things, © 2018 by Matt Spencer, first appeared in the anthology X4 © 2016 Thirteen O’Clock Press. Currently available in print, along with more weird, wild tales, in the collection STORY TIME WITH CRAZY UNCLE MATT, now available in on Amazon, in e-book and paperback, from Back Roads Carnival Books.



Renee Miller gives readers a lot to unpack in her slim psychological horror novel CHURCH (Unnerving Press, 2017), from its themes of mind-control and religion, to how these ideas are approached, and the characters/points of view through whom they’re explored. This book made my skin crawl very early on, and pulls few punches as the true menace of the story reveals itself and escalates. Miller hardly seems to either try or need to reach for shock-value. Rather, she matter-of-factly lets things play out to their logical extremes according to human nature under these circumstances, which are appropriately nightmarish.

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The premise is at once simple and loaded: a devout Catholic man has fallen for Carol, a woman in a bizarre cult (the resemblance to Scientology and other headlines-making fringe-groups is not subtle). He sets out “save her soul” by investigating her church and pretending to join, and quickly finds himself in over his head, trapped in an escalating nightmare as the cult’s leader Darius seeks to brainwash him into the fold.

Miller almost immediately foregoes wrapping her “Zabir” cult in any real mystique, instead opening from the point of view of Darius, graphically exploring his systematic process of brain-washing, abuse, exploitation, and sustained mind-control over his followers.

This book’s structural masterstroke is its tight sense of focus; other than Ray, I’m pretty sure the only character in the book who’s not a cult member is the Priest he consults in his obsession with “saving Carol’s soul.” We only really get to know Ray, Carol, Darius, and Darius’s right-hand man Cole, a sadistic pervert who seems to be in on the scam with him, at least to some degree. Even more starkly apparent is how there are no “good guys” here. Through Darius, we see the venal, cynical greed behind the sham personified by organized religion, but it’s through Ray that we explore the mentality of the “true believer”. It’s clear that Ray’s own fanaticism, while more conventional and less overtly destructive, is just as toxic, controlling, and delusional as that of the followers of Zabir. Miller never lets us forget this, yet she manages to endear us to him just enough that we empathize and fear for him as he falls into the cult’s clutches and struggles to retain his own identity and sanity. The central dramatic thrust of the narrative is the escalating battle of wills between Darius and Ray, and one could equally argue either one to be the true protagonist here…particularly once Darius’s true motives for ensnaring Ray become clear. We’re made to feel almost like his co-conspirators as he stretches his depraved ingenuity in their mental cat-and-mouse game. Some readers will find it understandably off-putting that we never get a look into Carol’s real point of view on all this (more on that in a moment), though the enigma surrounding her proves crucial, as her role in both the cult’s conspiracy and the larger narrative yields some of the book’s most crucial, shocking surprises.

If I have one major gripe about this novel, it would be that Miller misses any opportunities to really explore what kinds circumstances and states of mind leave people susceptible to getting suckered into this kind of cultish brainwashing. In these current political times, it’s an especially pertinent hot-button issue, of which the subject-matter itself begs the question. Ray seems to have been raised within the doctrine of his church, and there’s only one brief mention of him having once strayed from that fold before being drawn back in. What we never really get is any exploration from the point of view of the cult members themselves, how they see Darius, or the psychology of what bad place in life made joining the cult seem like a good idea at the time in the first place.

In the latter half of the book, Miller at times seems to be planting seeds to deeper mysteries that go nowhere. By the time one turns the final page, though, one’s left with the stark sense that there’s not all that much depth to these rotten people or the horrors they inflict on each other, beyond greed and hubris, with whatever grand ideologies they wrap it in being quite incidental…and it’s hard to get more horrific than that.

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Renee Miller lives in Tweed, Ontario. She writes in multiple genres, but prefers dark fiction with strong elements of horror, erotica and/or comedy.
Follow her on Twitter and visit her Amazon author page to grab a copy of CHURCH and other titles in print and e-book.


One of the perks in breaking into the small press/indie speculative fiction scene is digging ever deeper into this new, ever growing and evolving underground scene of weird, wild new voices. After having the honor of being part of B&B’s first two issues, my newfound addiction has been catching up on the magazine’s subsequent issues and the authors therein, along with several other fine small-press magazines I hope to review soon. While the first two issues featured many enjoyable tales (hi, folks), here editors Cameron Mount and Matthew Gomez significantly ups the ante with multiple shots of the hard stuff, without a timid or indifferent entry in sight.

Gold, Skin, and Time by Renee Miller: Right off the bat, this volume shows it’s not messing around, by kicking the door in with this rattling Weird Western. Already an accomplished horror author, Miller immediately makes us feel right at home (while certainly not safe), opening from the point of view of a long-suffering, bullied innkeeper of a frontier town. Things quickly swerve from ruggedly dangerous to downright nightmarish, and don’t let up from there. While I was initially put off by Miller’s explanation of the strange goings-on, she brings it all together with a final twist that’s both mind-bending and sobering.

Watercolor Blue by Charles Roland: A crime-noir tale, of a smalltime thief getting in over his head with some much, much worse people. This one reads like it would be right at home in the original Black Mask magazine. Shades of both Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich abound. If I have one complaint, it’s that I’d have liked more specificity in the villains, with a slightly more distinctive sense of time and place…though it’s hard to stay irritated, given the tale’s vice-grip pacing and escalating stakes.

Moss by Will Bernardara Jr.: Here’s where things start to get really out there, with a crew of cursed pirates, stuck in the festering loop of a hell of their own making. If you ever wondered what the point of view of an undead or mutated crewman from one of the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks might be like with a hard-R injection of splatterpunk body-horror, where you can smell the otherworldly putrescence of the ship, the crew, and their abominable master…this tale might make you sorry you asked, but you’ll keep turning the pages ’til the end anyway.

Zero Days Since Last Accident by Rachel Ungar: This story begins like a seemingly routine space-pirates story, which feels strongly influenced by the show Firefly. Then before you know it, you find yourself locked in a frenzied, sustained, escalating chase, which speeds towards its natural conclusion like the ground rushing up to meet you.

Testing Limits by Karen Heslop: A look behind the scenes of the video game industry in a cyberpunk world. As with anything where virtual reality is involved, the paranoia of questioning the nature of one’s reality quickly comes onto the table…but Heslop isn’t content to stick with that, with some delightful genre-bending surprises that are best left for the reader’s discovery. While I wouldn’t call this tale lighthearted, it’s certainly the most…optimistic story herein, with streaks of whimsy and idealism, which are a welcome relief from the cumulative grim intensity of the others.

Valero Serves a Hungry Grave by Coy Hall: The issue closes out with yet another Western, as strong as the first, though quite different in method of attack. Hall crafts a loving homage to ’60’s and ’70’s Spaghetti B-Westerns such as the Sartana series, employing a non-linear structure, the true motive and impact of which doesn’t become clear until the final page. Where he particularly shines, where most modern hardboiled writers of whatever stripe fall short, is how he digs into the psychology of his violent antihero, along with those of his enemies and tenuous allies, in ways that rings true. While this tale stands on its own just fine, it also introduces a vivid, distinctive figure in Valero, of whom I wouldn’t mind reading more.

Order this and other issues of Broadswords and Blasters at Amazon. You can also follow the magazine on Facebook and Twitter.


Pulp Appeal: Story Time with Crazy Uncle Matt — Broadswords and Blasters

Past contributor and friend of the mag Matt Spencer has a brand spanking new anthology out this month, and we were lucky enough to get our hands on an ARC. The collection is a mix of horror and fantasy, and the stories occasionally blur the line between the two. His dialogue and narrative is often […]

via Pulp Appeal: Story Time with Crazy Uncle Matt — Broadswords and Blasters

Introducing: “Just Chew Your Way Out” by Matt Spencer


Look, when I say Let that bastard die, I don’t mean Let the next sad asshole step into my old place and keep him alive.

Revenge is just making up for a costly delayed reaction, except with better planning. I’ve had a long time to plan my revenge. So every man and woman in the supply caravan rumbling through that ravine down there in my way, so they gotta die.

From my hiding place in the crags, I count five wagons, each with three armed guards, all probably crack-shots with those speed-reload crossbows strapped across their chests. The train’s got two horsemen at either end, all stout, solid jackbooted Imperial leather-daddies, with broadswords bigger than they are hanging from their backs. Those guys don’t worry me. That lean, hooded rider in the lead could be trouble, though, the one with a snaky, alert, no-bullshit posture atop that giant draft horse he rides. I’m not in the mood to see what engravings he’s etched in the metal of his blade within the scabbard.

Still, he’s all weighted down in Imperial regalia, and here’s me, moving free and limber across the ridge, the way I like, wearing only cargo-shorts and heavy-duty black leather boots. Maybe I overdid it with the night-vision eye-drops. I have to wear wyvern-rider goggles just so those wagon-torches don’t scorch my eyes out of the sockets. There won’t be much honest fighting tonight. No one’s up here in the shadowed ridges but me…well, other than those scouts they sent to make sure the way was clear. But fuck those guys. They’re dead. By now, I hear, so are most of the citizens left in New Spiralla. They’ve spent the last few weeks starving without medical supplies.

For a moment, I wonder what the place smells like by now. If I never smell New Spiralla again, I’ll still probably never get that rancid zombie-piss stink out of my nose. This isn’t about the smell, though. It’s not about caring whether I’m the good guy or the bad guy here. This is about what Priest King Macose’s betrayal cost me.

This last month ain’t been hard, sleeping in the caves and cliff-side huts the locals used to inhabit…locals I was first hired to fight off. I was good at it, too. There was a time, the people of that city-state used to parade me around through their streets like I was some kind of hero. Even now, those memories are sorta nice. Such times now feel like a hazy past-life recollection.


Like most people Spirelights move in with, those farmers and prospectors didn’t much like it when their new neighbors started throwing their weight around. Can’t blame ’em, but they’re also the ones who kept trying to kill me while I was passing through. Mostly they were descended from bandits who hid in the ranges, mated with whatever women they could steal, and killed off the indigenous pygmies. I don’t know who the pygmies killed off whenever they settled the region.

When old Priest King Macose wanted to hire my sword and magic tricks against the local trouble, I said “Sure, why not?” I didn’t mention what I’d really come looking for. Rumors went it was hidden somewhere in the New Spiralla temple, at least according to some drunks in that tavern in Finiston. Spirelight fighters are nasty pieces of work, scarlet-blonde holy warriors to the core, with no sense of humor. I wouldn’t want to piss one off. But the ones in New Spiralla were depleting like everything else there, so I came in handy. It might’ve been easier to make friends with the other side and just sack the damn place, but the Spirelights were the only folks for miles around with any good music. East Asterland really is that big a cultural sinkhole.

The temple looked and smelled more like a rundown drinkhall than a place for a Priest King to hold court. You know how these crumbling civilizations get during those last gasps of fading glory. What I’d come for was there, though, somewhere. I could feel it. It was just a matter of proving my mettle, then holding the gig, gaining the pompous old windbag’s trust so he gave me the run of the place. Then it would be just a matter of time and sneaky searching.

After the first few skirmishes, Macose really took a liking to me. Funny to recall, I got pretty fond of the old bastard for a while. When you spend your days running an under-equipped guerrilla counter-insurgency, through barren ranges full of enemies who were born with the salty mescal dust in their noses, it’s nice to have such an appreciative boss who likes to stay up, get you drunk and shoot the shit with you.

All my old troubadour gigs had nothing on the rock star these folks made of me. I could probably even have had the run of the temple maidens and gotten away with it…if I hadn’t had Rowan on the brain. I even wound up telling Macose all about her. Macose always looked like a giant peeled hardboiled egg to me, with barely useful marshmallow-slab limbs dangling like a rag doll’s, slimy yellow hair puffing out of the top of his head like puss oozing over those watery eyes and frog mouth, propped on his throne like most such decadent monarchs, a pudgy, petulant overgrown child trying to play petty tyrant. As I talked, though, he swelled up so regally, I could almost see the majestic ruler of his glory days, before his alabaster warrior-king’s build went to sod and New Spiralla faded into the dust of those foothills where it nestled.

It was his rightful pride, he said, at having a rare, extraordinary young man such as me in his service. “Like a knight in the great old tales,” he sighed, “on a quest to reawaken his enchanted slumbering princess…the strong, feisty, highborn maiden, who falls in love with a handsome young rogue, no less. Yet here you’ve paused in this quest, to come to us in our hour of need.”

Yeah, I know. The guy really talked like that. I swear, I couldn’t make this shit up! Still, you should have heard the rhythm and cadence in his voice. I’ll give the Spirelights this, they know how to bellow the lofty idealism so you want to believe it. I reminded Macose that I was just there ’til the situation was under control, which shouldn’t take much longer.

But beware the charms of sleeping princesses, Cassias my boy,” he said. “You go on dreaming your waking dreams as you fly off on your wild quest. But remember, the princess dreams also, beneath the spell…and dreams deeper. Who knows what realms her dreams draw her to. When you draw her back from the void, you don’t know what she’ll bring back with her, or where that shall draw her anew through this waking life.”

Yeah, well…” I leaned back in that immaculate chair and took another snort of top-shelf royal whiskey. “I guess we’ll just see.”

Oh, I knew what he was really getting at. I was supposed to come to my senses, abandon my self-serving quest over a girl, realize my true calling, my true duty, stay here as the Champion Sword-Mage of New Spiralla. I just kept drinking and talking about Rowan. Priest King Macose just smiled and shook his head, in that bittersweet way old men sometimes do, when they hear young men going on like that, making silly, starry-eyed asses of ourselves.

New Spiralla can rise again, over time,” he said. “Our people won’t fade into the night, Cassias. You won’t let us.”

He kept asking about the etchings in the palm of my right hand. That’s when I should have known something was off. A bit about those etchings: they line up with those on my sword handle. When the two press together, it creates a synergy that magnifies every deadly muscle memory reflex in my body a thousandfold…and I’ve had a lot of those beaten into me. It also turns the blade into an extension of my arm, more or less literally. I carved both renditions of the pattern myself, my palm and the sword handle.

Here’s what you might not get about Spirelights, though: they’re real big on racial distinction between folks, particularly when it comes to magic. Yeah, I know, wherever you go, you have all these rules about who is and isn’t allowed to learn what spells and traditions, based on your class, rank, race, affiliation, sexual orientation, all that horseshit. Whenever I decide to learn something new, I like telling the rule-keepers to shove it up their ass. I figured I could be honest with the Priest King, considering my unique mix of skills was keeping his little city-state from being overrun. To the Spirelight mind, though, there’s no distinction between socially acceptable and metaphysically possible. I didn’t realize the number it did on his mind, whenever I opened my mouth. Just by accomplishing everything I had, I’d become a being that couldn’t possibly exist. Yet there I was.

To find out what happens, pick up Story Time With Crazy Uncle Matt, a collection of wild, weird, dark short fiction by Matt Spencer, now available from Back Roads Carnival Books, or read it as a Kindle Single for just 99 cents, by clicking on the cover images below:

Cover J-Peg

Chew Your Way Out cover

Follow author Matt Spencer on Facebook at Books by Matt Spencer and on Twitter at @MattSpencerFSFH

Introducing: “Lambs of Slaughter in Blue and Gold” by Matt Spencer


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I’ve followed her for days, and I’ve almost gotten used to how much this hurts! It hurts less at night, but she sleeps too much then. She never used to. Often that was because of me, last time, when we both stood at the crossroads, the ones she’s headed back to now.

If I tried, I could keep her awake. She’d deserve it, right? She’s the one who makes it hurt. But I always drift behind her, and she never senses me. So why do I know how blue her eyes are, that that’s where this infernally tranquil sea floods out of? If I stepped in front of her, would she see me with her eyes now, or her eyes from back then? I only get to look at her face when she sleeps. She looks almost exactly the same! Even with the lights off, I can see that. At those times, I can almost relax, almost forget the shredding agony her blue glow locks me in when she’s awake.

Now she walks around town, smells the summer smells of pollen, thistles, and fresh-cut grass. I smell it with her, scorching my brimstone nostrils. She drops by the same places where things happened. She hangs out with her friends, drinking and smoking up and playing the guitar she’s learning, telling ghost stories in the woods and graveyards and the abandoned sawmill lot, all the same spots we used to go.

No one tells the best ghost stories anymore, the ones I was there for, even when they sit on the same spots where things happened. Maybe I should do something about that. You can’t say I’m not in the unique position to do so. I have other things on my mind, though. She makes out with boys in the same spots in the woods where we used to make love, next to the railroad tracks or that sandy spot by the river. The town’s full of such places, places where things happened, and she never notices!

She hangs out in a coffee shop that used to be a speakeasy, back when we were both young and alive and together. We weren’t much older than she is now, but we got in one night, dressed in fancy hand-me-downs to look the best we could like the gangsters and dames we’d seen in the pictures.

By then, she was already used to drinking. I wasn’t. She thought it was so cute how I tried to act tough, pretended to hold my liquor better than I did, how I got snappy when she noticed.

It was one of them who ran that speakeasy. He wore a wide-brimmed hat like a preacher, but otherwise looked like the pinstriped gangster you’d expect to run a place like that. When he took an interest in us, we were scared out of our minds at first. We thought he knew we were too young, that he’d kick us out, tell our folks. Which I have to admit is pretty silly, considering the kind of place it was to begin with, but you know how kids are. The truth was, he’d noticed what we’d only faintly started to notice in ourselves. He bought us drinks and said things that made us sure he was off his rocker. By the end of that night, though, we understood plenty. He showed us things going on in that speakeasy that no one else saw. Or if they did, they mistook it for odd shapes the cigarette smoke made in the air. He got us plenty drunk, too.

She managed to sneak into her house that night, to pass out like a good girl. I woke up in the speakeasy’s basement. My pa beat me plenty when I staggered home with an obvious hangover, but I didn’t mind so much anymore. I just grinned through it, which made him think I’d gone crazy so he beat me worse. Now I understood that the pain was just weakness being chased out of my body, letting in strength I’d need for the new world my eyes had been opened to…a world of power we’d build right under the noses of this silly little town.

Now she drifts through it all, sleepy and sad, not quite sure about what…through the sea that bleeds out through the air around her, from her clear blue eyes. It’s the soft blue that hurts so much. After the last time, I awoke in the scorching blackness that’s almost red, a constant blaze that feels wonderful to me because I’m part of it. Bit by bit, it’s replaced everything but my memories. As I’ve learned to work this new ephemeral matter, I’ve mastered it. I rule it, along with everything it touches in the world it bleeds out into. My fingertips are needles, and my bones are sharpened with sword edges. In the realms I travel, I flex and flail my razor limbs, cutting to ribbons anything stupid enough to come against me. I suck in those bloody ribbons like spaghetti and grow ever stronger. But my blades can’t touch the blue that bleeds from her eyes, mingling with the reddish gold that wafts off her silky hair. Now I’m trapped in it, following her until she wakes up…to me, to everything she doesn’t notice yet.

To find out what happens, pick up Story Time With Crazy Uncle Matt, a collection of wild, weird, dark short fiction by Matt Spencer, coming in September from Back Roads Carnival Books, or read it as a Kindle Single coming June 15, which you can pre-order for just 99 cents, by clicking on the cover image below:

Lambs of Slaughter cover

Follow author Matt Spencer on Facebook at Books by Matt Spencer and on Twitter at @MattSpencerFSFH

Indie Author Spotlight: Demon Riders by Jack Holder

One of the more enjoyable independent author creations I’ve come across lately, while navigating the regional convention scene, is Jack Holder’s Demon Riders, a small collection of interconnected short stories that form a loose, episodic fantasy novel. The premise is a simple one: a post-apocalyptic America where the remnants of humanity have reverted to a semi-medieval society, in which demons, gods, and other mythical creatures run rampant, some getting along with the surviving human population better than others. Of these creatures, malicious demons – hailing from some hell-like netherworld called the Pit – are the biggest problem. To protect the rest of us, we have the Riders, a ragtag Ronin/Magnificent Seven-esque band of traveling warriors, led by an enigmatic, hardass old curmudgeon called simply Harsk.

Demon Riders cover

Holder’s first three paragraphs, in my opinion, form a textbook study in writing a strong opening, introducing the reader to a world of dark fantasy. It puts you there immediately, by engaging all the senses, through a distinct point of view that leaves you wanting to find out more:

They always got boys.

Harsk took another drink. The tavern was home to him and his Riders, as much as anywhere was. There were barely enough lamps to bathe the taproom in a pale glow. The chairs were scattered around, to or three leaning against a wall to hide a missing leg.

He breathed deep. There was a lot to be said about the truth of a scent. Sights could be blocked, sounds muted, tastes overwhelmed, but the scent will always remain. Like the cigar smoke that hung in the chairs, the ash long sunk into the seats. Or the beer stains of a lager the bartender broke out for a new birthday, or one of the serving girls having a baby. There was blood from a bar fight, and there was old rain soaked into the roof, the scent of iron mixing with musty wood. It spoke of a place that had grown settled in the dirt, and was happy being humble.

It was perfect.

After an opening like that, you should know right away whether or not this book is your glass of beer.

Early on, while replenishing the ranks after a devastating skirmish, Harsk encounters a young woman who it turns out is pregnant with the spawn of a demon. Rather than killing her and it, as pragmatic wisdom would suggest, Harsk takes her along, under the protection of the Ride.

While Harsk is an enjoyably gruff, vivid enough heroic figure, the true heart and soul of this book lies with Kait, the half-human, half-demon progeny of that unfortunate girl we meet in the first scene. Kait grows up among the Riders, struggling with her duel nature, all while learning to hunt demons and defend humans who hate and mistrust her. Over the course of the stories, we get to know her as a scrappy adolescent, an awkward teenager, and finally as a seasoned warrior, all while still struggling to find her place in the world. Admirably, Holder gives Kait – and us, the reader – few easy answers. We get the sense that her struggles – like our own – are a lifelong process.

Demon Riders young Kait

The short-story series format hearkens back to the heroic adventure writers of classic pulp, such as Howard, Moorcock and Leiber, yet Holder’s stories refreshingly never quite fall into any recognizable “demon of the week” formulaic pattern. In fact, late in the book, one story shifts the focus onto some side-characters, putting a humanized face on the background culture in an unexpectedly poignant manner, and features no violence at all in the central emotional dramatic conflict.

There’s a simplicity and transparency to Holder’s imagination, which is both a strength and weakness when it comes to his writing. The world through which his heroes and monsters ride often seems to spring straight from his own weird daydreams onto the page, largely unconcerned with lofty, detail-heavy world-building. That sort of thing can be great, but isn’t always necessary, and chokes up too much contemporaneous fantasy writing into a bloated, pretentiously portentous slog. Sometimes, a glance is more evocative than an in-depth, Tolkien-esque explanation. I appreciate a yarn that just drops us into its setting with its characters, sink or swim, so long as I get a sense that the author has everything fully realized in their own mind. That said, there are times, particularly early on, where Holder strays too far into under-writing. He throws together a lot of disparate elements – Wild West, post-apocalyptic, medieval, magical realism, etc – with no cohesive sense of internal logic, as to how this world might have come together as it has, or how it sustains itself. The only reason I knew this was a post-apocalyptic setting is because, in one story, we find out that the state of Texas still exists, at least by name/geographically…and in some vague sense, the author’s impression of the local culture there, hinting at something that feels like it’s supposed to be social commentary, but which never quite resonates.

While Harsk is vividly painted enough, I’ve read plenty of characters like him. We’re told plenty about his harsh attitude and the cruel, unforgiving existence he leads, but beyond the aforementioned strong opening, Holder never quite internalizes what it’s like to be Harsk, in a truly visceral, psychologically palpable way, as with the best examples of such a grimdark archetypal characters (such as Conan, Ned Stark, or Roland the Gunslinger, to name a few similar fellows). It’s all the more fortunate, then, that the greater part of the book focuses on Kait, who Holder really seems to like and find most engaging, as did I as a reader. The world she lives in is all made up, built for pure escapism for the writer/reader’s enjoyment, but her feelings of displacement within it, of hostility, frustration, anger and confusion, all feel very real, often painfully so.

As the saying goes – in the case of both Kait and Harsk – any hero is only as strong as their villains. Holder’s demons are indeed a cruel, perverse lot, and he more than convinces us of the need for people like the Riders to stand against them. The circumstances of Kait’s conception is appropriately despicable and gut-churning, even though we only hear about it second-hand, and not in graphic detail. Whenever it comes down to brass tacks, the stakes feel real here. Yet not all of these demons are the simplistic manifestations of pure evil they first appear to be, even Kait’s father. It’s in their startling complexity where we find some of the book’s most intriguing surprises, as well as some unsettling moral ambiguity in our heroes.

Overall, the prose of this book flows smoothly and straight-forwardly, except for some abrupt shifts in character POV, which are at times jarring and momentarily confusing. The overall narrative voice ought to appeal particularly to young adult-readers, though Holder doesn’t shy away from strong language or adult content, where called for. In fact, the fourth story involves an appropriately pervy encounter with an incubus, which was where both the book and Kait as a character come into their own and hit full stride.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the lovely illustrations in this volume – both the cover piece by Alana Fletcher and the internal drawings throughout by Eric Muller. Rather than mere eye-catching decorations, the latter in particular come to feel like an integral part of the storytelling experience, complementing the prose and blending nicely with the overall imagery. Muller’s rendition of Kait presents the character as at once menacing, quirky, cute, and relatable. I like and relate to Harsk better in Muller and Fletcher’s artwork than I do in Holder’s prose. The character as drawn makes me think of Kris Kristofferson playing a hard-boiled Wild West Gandalf.

Demon Riders illustration

But I also enjoy watching Holder’s prose as he gets better and better, and I look forward to where he goes from here as a storyteller…especially since the final story ends on something of a cliffhanger, with multiple loose ends unresolved, which leaves the reader wanting more.

Jack Holder author photo

You can currently order Demon Riders as an e-book from Amazom, coming soon in paperback.

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Interview with comic-book writer/novelist Kurt Amacker

Kurt Amacker can seem like a walking contradiction at first, in some ways. Once you get to know him a bit, though, he only gets weirder.

Maniacal Kurt

That probably explains why we get along. He’s a man of an often stern, deadpan demeanor, though also ribald, frequently brazenly opinionated, also an educated, thoughtful, uncommonly articulate, sensitive friend, the kind of guy anyone should want on their side when life gets rough…a gentleman and a scholar, in the truest sense. He’s also, clearly, possessed of a wild, twisted imagination, manifesting itself vividly in successful underground comics like Immortal: 60, Tad Caldwell and the Monster Kid, Cradle of Filth: The Venus Aversa, and the forthcoming Dead Souls: Resurrection.

Dead Souls cover

His first prose novel, Bloody October, now available from Dark Notes Press, promised to be a treat. It was certainly that, decidedly not what the lurid retro-pulp cover-art would lead one to expect…though Kurt’s never been one to pander to expectations.

Bloody October cover

In any case, after I read an early copy of the novel, Kurt was kind enough to answer some of my questions on it.

In writing your take on the vampire tale,‭ ‬you smartly sidestepped a lot of tired‭ ‬clichés by fundamentally altering a lot of the typical‭ ‬“rules‭”‬ from the start.‭ ‬What core aspects of the vampire myth resonate with you strongest,‭ ‬and how did you seek to explore those themes and make them your own‭? ‬What works in this broad mythology‭ (‬of folklore,‭ ‬literature,‭ ‬film,‭ ‬etc.‭) ‬have stuck with you,‭ ‬and how did those influence/inform upon your story/characters‭?

KA:‭ ‬The aspect that resonates with me strongest is the existential‭ ‬dilemma‭ ‬presented by immortality.‭ ‬I explored this already in‭ ‬Dead Souls‭ (‬my first comic book miniseries‭)‬,‭ ‬but I wanted to show a character dealing with the more mundane aspects of it.‭ ‬John Devereux‭’‬s greatest problem is that he‭’‬s bored,‭ ‬and the world has changed around him.‭ ‬The‭ ‬“lonely vampire‭”‬ thing has been done to death elsewhere.‭ ‬I didn‭’‬t want the boredom and depression that would arise in his situation to look poetic or romantic.‭ ‬For reasons that are revealed in the book,‭ ‬he‭’‬s realized that he can‭’‬t help the people he loves after a certain point.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬he drinks a lot and distracts himself.‭ ‬That,‭ ‬to me,‭ ‬is more realistic than keeping a journal by candlelight,‭ ‬while staring at the full moon.

Vampire folklore and mythology didn‭’‬t influence John Devereux much as a character.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬we hearken back to those older‭ ‬stories‭ ‬from Eastern Europe.‭ ‬Jason Castaing meets Lord Chaz and Maven Lore,‭ ‬and they tell him about the‭ ‬difference between the vampires of folklore and more contemporary depictions.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬John and his situation were influenced more by offbeat or independent vampire films,‭ ‬like‭ ‬Nadja,‭ ‬The Addiction,‭ ‬Habit,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Vamps.‭ ‬I also read Christopher Moore‭’‬s‭ ‬Bloodsucking Fiends,‭ ‬because it had more of‭ ‬the tone and tenor I was looking for‭—‬sardonic,‭ ‬realistic,‭ ‬and just a little funny.

This isn‭’‬t the first story I‭’‬ve read to feature a humanized/sympathetic/misunderstood vampire as the main character,‭ ‬with misguided humans as the real antagonists.‭ ‬In other cases I recall,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬they were typically would-be-Van-Helsing vampire-hunter types,‭ ‬an obvious allegory for bigoted humans fearing and attacking what they don‭’‬t understand‭ (‬P.N.‭ ‬Elrod‭’‬s Jack Fleming novels come to mind as my first encounter with this‭)‬.‭ ‬On some level,‭ ‬the wannabe-vampire cultists serve the same function,‭ ‬seeking to pressure a creature they don‭’‬t understand into sharing his powers,‭ ‬with no idea what they‭’‬re asking for.‭ ‬This rings true on pretty much the same levels to me,‭ ‬about some of the worst tendencies we,‭ ‬as humans,‭ ‬are‭ ‬all capable of.‭ ‬How did that idea come about and evolve‭?

KA:‭ ‬People are obsessed with vampires.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve seen that fixation really feed into larger personal problems.‭ ‬You get the feeling that some people are leaning on this very powerful archetype to compensate for other things that might be missing.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬I think anyone that‭ ‬has‭ ‬spent time around fandom knows that this‭ ‬applies to many genres,‭ ‬sects,‭ ‬and subcultures.‭ ‬People can destroy their lives with an‭ ‬unhealthy fixation on anything,‭ ‬be that music or even‭ ‬Star Wars.‭ ‬I wanted to really push the envelope on that idea‭’‬s logical outcome.‭ ‬In this case,‭ ‬there is one vampire who absolutely refuses to share his‭ ‬“situation.‭”‬ That,‭ ‬in and of itself,‭ ‬should dissuade most reasonable people.‭ ‬If I ask‭ ‬you for half of your sandwich and you say no,‭ ‬that should be the end of the conversation.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬some people are so obsessed with an idea or a person,‭ ‬that they‭’‬ll do anything‭—‬even‭ ‬to the object of their fixation‭—‬to‭ ‬get near them.

I‭’‬ve also seen it when it comes to celebrities and working with talent.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve done some‭ ‬stuff with bands‭ ‬and other artists‭ ‬in the past‭—‬everything‭ ‬from live show production,‭ ‬location‭ ‬scouting for music videos,‭ ‬DJing,‭ ‬interviews,‭ ‬journalism‭ ‬and a passel of other‭ ‬things.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve seen otherwise reasonable‭ ‬people‭ ‬I knew really lose their cool‭ ‬when I had a chance to introduce them to someone famous.‭ ‬In some cases,‭ ‬people would outright lie or otherwise behave‭ ‬unethically‭ ‬to get the attention of the talent.‭ ‬I remember one girl in Finland trying to physically move me to get near a friend of mine in a bar who had been on television.‭ ‬There‭’‬s a sense of entitlement we‭’‬ve nurtured in people through the media,‭ ‬where everyone thinks they‭’‬re just a celebrity who hasn‭’‬t been discovered yet.‭

The cult‭’‬s fixation on John is a commentary on that kind of irrational obsession with vampires.‭ ‬He won‭’‬t give them his blood.‭ ‬He can‭’‬t even transfer his‭ ‬illness.‭ ‬When someone tries some vampire blood near the middle of the book,‭ ‬they become extremely ill.‭ ‬All signs point to‭ ‬“No,‭”‬ but they‭ ‬still‭ ‬won‭’‬t listen.‭ ‬The cult is so fixated on vampires that all other considerations,‭ ‬including John‭’‬s own wishes,‭ ‬are secondary.

The story almost seamlessly blends traditional horror elements with a naturalistic slice-of-life narrative approach‭ [‬such as,‭ ‬say,‭ ‬Charles Bukowski and Hunter S.‭ ‬Thompson‭]‬,‭ ‬as well as some cues lifted from classic hardboiled crime/noir fiction‭ [‬such as Dashiel Hammett and Raymond Chandler‭]‬.‭ ‬What works from those latter territories stuck with you and how did they find their way into your approach‭?‬

KA:‭ ‬I‭’‬m going to confess something:‭ ‬I‭’‬ve read very little of the kind of hardboiled crime novels that influenced‭ ‬Bloody October.‭ ‬I mean to change that.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve seen a lot of noir movies.‭ ‬The Big Sleep,‭ ‬Dark Passage,‭ ‬Out of the Past,‭ ‬Panic in the Streets,‭ ‬and‭ ‬The Maltese Falcon are just a few‭ ‬examples.‭ ‬I really mined Amazon,‭ ‬Netflix,‭ ‬and the local library for movies that I thought might contribute to the tone I was seeking‭—‬more‭ ‬like a crime novel with horror elements than the reverse.

There‭’‬s a lot going on in this story…This book truly feels like it‭’‬s‭ ‬about more than just vampirism,‭ ‬not simply in the sense of what the plot consists of,‭ ‬but rather of what you have to say thematically,‭ ‬unconsciously and otherwise,‭ ‬about the human condition/experience‭ (‬the ups and downs of friendship,‭ ‬history,‭ ‬drug/alcohol dependency,‭ ‬the dangers of willfully irrational belief and cultish zealotry‭)‬.‭ ‬How did all these things find their way together in your mind with the central premise,‭ ‬and how did you approach exploring them thematically‭ (‬as in,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬how life-experience/observation/personal philosophy influenced this‭)?

KA:‭ ‬A lot of it is drawn from my own life and experiences.‭ ‬It‭’‬s not like there‭’‬s been this clamoring for‭ ‬“the real me‭”‬ or anything,‭ ‬but most of my work has been more‭ ‬influenced by history and other books,‭ ‬comics,‭ ‬and films than my own life.‭ ‬I wanted to write something that,‭ ‬while not necessarily confessional,‭ ‬was at least influenced by my life and experiences.‭ ‬To be clear,‭ ‬Jason Castaing is not me.‭ ‬If anything,‭ ‬he is what might have happened to me if I hadn‭’‬t joined the Marines and performed a‭ ‬significant course correction.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬the rest of it is culled from experience and observation.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve had friends‭—‬platonic‭ ‬and‭ ‬romantic‭—‬who‭ ‬were absolutely fascinating,‭ ‬and whose company I wanted very badly.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬then they‭’‬d disappear or back away.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬they‭’‬d come back.‭ ‬Sometimes,‭ ‬the excuses,‭ ‬the stories,‭ ‬and the lies were just overwhelming.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬I wanted to believe them so very badly.

The emphasis on history really just comes from my love of a rich backstory.‭ ‬It‭’‬s probably a bit trite at‭ ‬this‭ ‬point,‭ ‬but I love when a story opens years before the main narrative,‭ ‬with something that incites the events of the main story.‭ ‬War‭ (‬and really,‭ ‬any‭ ‬military‭ ‬service‭) ‬are life-changing experiences for people.‭ ‬With my own rather unexciting stint in the Marines,‭ ‬I wanted to draw on that idea of life through a veteran‭’‬s eyes.‭

The use and abuse of alcohol are also just drawn from personal experience.‭ ‬I love a good drink,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s something that I‭’‬ve always tried to keep an eye on.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve seen both friends and family members gradually slip into alcoholism.‭ ‬They don‭’‬t‭ ‬realize‭ ‬that it‭’‬s a problem until it has been for a long time.‭ ‬New Orleans is filled with people that would probably thrive and succeed elsewhere.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬the liberal availability of alcohol is too much for them to resist.‭ ‬And so,‭ ‬they get stuck‭ ‬in a rut and on a barstool,‭ ‬talking about their unfinished screenplay,‭ ‬their plans to finally move to Europe,‭ ‬or whatever else.‭ ‬I made the bad decision to work with‭ ‬people‭ ‬like that a time or two,‭ ‬because they had good intentions.‭ ‬In the end,‭ ‬it came back to me in a bad way.‭ ‬Jason is very much an example of that.‭ ‬He could probably be a successful writer if he wanted,‭ ‬but he‭’‬s too busy drinking and talking to accomplish anything more than he already has.

The dangers of cultish obsession and irrational belief are similar to my earlier answer.‭ ‬Sometimes,‭ ‬people want to believe things that are patently dangerous‭ ‬because‭ ‬it shields them from something else unpleasant‭—‬be‭ ‬that their own shortcomings or‭ ‬circumstances,‭ ‬or their inability to respond to the world in a healthy way.

Throughout the story,‭ ‬you touched on some of the ways that John‭’‬s a man from another time,‭ ‬struggling to adjust to modern society.‭ ‬Ironically,‭ ‬the story is itself a period-piece of sorts,‭ ‬often throwing into perspective just how much our own world and society has changed in our lifetime,‭ ‬just in the last eighteen years.‭ ‬A‭) ‬Was that always part of the concept,‭ ‬or did you realize what era the tale was set in as you found‭ ‬your way into it‭? ‬B‭) ‬What sort of mental workout was it,‭ ‬finding your way back in time to that era,‭ ‬almost like John‭’‬s journey through time in reverse,‭ ‬if you will‭?

KA:‭ ‬I actually set the story in the late‭ ‬1990s for several reasons.‭ ‬First,‭ ‬I wanted to write a noir story,‭ ‬but something different than the‭ ‬traditional‭ ‬1930s and‭ ‬1940s setting.‭ ‬That would‭ ‬have just come out like Humphrey Bogart fan fiction with a vampire.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬Bloody October looks through the same‭ ‬lens of bittersweet nostalgia that we watch those old movies.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬it looks at a different time period.‭ ‬Second,‭ ‬the New Orleans gothic scene in the late‭ ‬1990s was a really exciting time.‭ ‬There was a group of dark rock bands that performed regularly.‭ ‬The community was really thriving,‭ ‬and the future looked pretty exciting.‭ ‬There have been dozens of books and movies about New York during CBGB‭’‬s heyday,‭ ‬and London during the punk years,‭ ‬and Los Angeles during the glam metal explosion.‭ ‬I wanted to give that kind of nostalgic sendoff for a period in my life that was extremely influential.‭ ‬I wouldn‭’‬t‭ ‬necessarily‭ ‬say that it‭’‬s my last word on my involvement with the goth scene.‭ ‬I still DJ at events sometimes.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬I‭’‬ve backed out of that group by degrees over the past couple of years.‭ ‬Writing‭ ‬Bloody October provided me with some closure,‭ ‬and allowed me to revisit an era that I remember fondly.
It wasn‭’‬t really a mental workout going back to that time period.‭ ‬I have an unfortunate knack for‭ ‬remembering minute details,‭ ‬especially when it involves interpersonal drama,‭ ‬romantic shenanigans,‭ ‬and anytime where I‭’‬ve felt slighted.‭ ‬So,‭ ‬I was able to just draw on the sense of awe I felt when I first started going to that bar on the corner of Decatur and Ursulines,‭ ‬and on all of the unfortunate details I‭’‬ve never been able to forget.

On the acknowledgments page,‭ ‬you sort of allude to ways in which the narrator,‭ ‬Jason,‭ ‬has some autobiographical shades of yourself,‭ ‬but at the same time decidedly isn‭’‬t you.‭ ‬How much of that was conscious when you first wrote him‭? ‬By what route did Jason evolve into his own distinct character in your mind,‭ ‬with a life of his own,‭ ‬as opposed to just dropping yourself in as an‭ ‬“everyman‭”‬ for the reader to relate to‭?

KA:‭ ‬Initially,‭ ‬I cribbed a bunch of my own biographical details as temporary filler for Jason‭’‬s backstory.‭ ‬I was trying to get the story out,‭ ‬so I plugged in bits of my own life with the intention of changing them later.‭ ‬Some of them absolutely were changed.‭ ‬A couple of others stayed in place,‭ ‬because other aspects of the story grew out of them organically.‭ ‬It would have been a pain to retrace so many steps and rewrite subplots and ideas from the beginning.‭ ‬Jason evolved with the story,‭ ‬as I realized the impact the situation would have on him,‭ ‬and the consequences of his actions.‭ ‬He‭ ‬isn‭’‬t a terribly likeable person.‭ ‬He‭’‬s not even a very good writer.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬there are just so many‭ ‬scenes of smoking and drinking,‭ ‬because New Orleans is just like that‭ ‬(especially back then‭)‬.‭ ‬I realized that I‭ ‬would‭ ‬have to acknowledge his emerging alcoholism and incorporate it into the story.

I should reiterate that,‭ ‬again,‭ ‬Jason is not a Mary Sue.‭ ‬I‭’‬m not a journalist,‭ ‬though I did write for an entertainment website for a few years.‭ ‬He drinks far more than I do or have in the past.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬I‭’‬m married,‭ ‬so I haven‭’‬t‭ ‬destroyed‭ ‬all of my interpersonal relationships.‭ ‬I also don‭’‬t know any real vampires.‭ ‬Jason is more like an extrapolation of where my life could have gone.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬I joined the Marines,‭ ‬met my wife,‭ ‬and thankfully‭ ‬have‭ ‬had the support of friends and family to keep me out of a rut like that.‭

You‭’‬ve spoken elsewhere about how John,‭ ‬in an earlier draft,‭ ‬was a far more unsavory fellow,‭ ‬who became far more humanized and relatable as the book developed.‭ ‬How else‭ (‬interrelated and otherwise‭) ‬did the story start out seeming like one thing,‭ ‬and how did it evolve from there‭?

KA:‭ ‬The book was intended to be more of a droll comedy when I first started writing it.‭ ‬Think something along the lines of‭ ‬Reality‭ ‬Bites or‭ ‬A Confederacy of Dunces,‭ ‬with a series of dry observations about New Orleans‭. ‬A lot of John and Jason‭’‬s interactions were based on the latter putting up‭ ‬with‭ ‬an enormous amount of BS from his friend.‭ ‬John was more of a wanton drunk and party animal.‭ ‬In the earliest draft that retained that characterization,‭ ‬I realized that,‭ ‬vampire or not,‭ ‬no one would put up with John for very long.‭ ‬He was completely unlikable.‭ ‬As the story built,‭ ‬I realized John would work better as a man out of time desperately trying to adjust,‭ ‬and even be‭ ‬“cool.‭”‬ Without a bunch of‭ ‬gags‭ ‬a la‭ ‬Austin Powers,‭ ‬that was much more interesting to explore.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬John isn‭’‬t even that old.‭ ‬I think part of it was a commentary on how society is pretty dismissive of older people because they were,‭ ‬shockingly,‭ ‬raised in a different time and haven‭’‬t adjusted their values overnight.

‬Comic-book,‭ ‬screen-writing,‭ ‬and prose-fiction writing have many commonalities so far as basic storytelling chops,‭ ‬yet each requires its own set of skills and mindsets.‭ ‬Was that a difficult transition for you‭?

KA:‭ ‬It was.‭ ‬Comic books can have as many or as few words as you care to write.‭ ‬They‭’‬re obviously‭ ‬dependent on the visual images.‭ ‬Writing a novel means managing over‭ ‬100,000‭ ‬words.‭ ‬Dealing with the mechanics alone is exhaustive,‭ ‬much less‭ ‬revising‭ ‬one‭’‬s way through plot holes,‭ ‬internal consistency,‭ ‬and plain bad writing.

How would you describe the difference between working within these two different‭ ‬mediums‭? ‬What sort of new skill-sets/mental approaches did you have to master‭? ‬In what ways would you say that dictated the kind of story you told,‭ ‬and how‭?

KA:‭ ‬Comic books are fun to write.‭ ‬They‭ ‬are a mental trip to an‭ ‬amusement park.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬you can just describe the visuals in instructive terms for an artist.‭ ‬It doesn‭’‬t have to be pretty or interesting.‭ ‬It‭’‬s‭ ‬just to help the artist draw your ideas.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬visuals will always guide and influence the dialogue.‭ ‬It‭’‬s just fantastic seeing your ideas rendered visually a short time after you describe them.

Switching to prose means taking on the entire workload,‭ ‬outside of some really generous friends who helped edit and proofread for me.‭ ‬Your skills as a writer are laid bare before the reader.‭ ‬You can‭’‬t rely on an artist,‭ ‬or disguise your middling prose with snappy dialogue.‭ ‬Comics are great,‭ ‬and I love them.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬they‭’‬re usually done in collaboration between a writer and artists.‭ ‬Granted,‭ ‬I letter my own work.‭ ‬That makes the writing process that much more involved.‭ ‬But,‭ ‬writing prose was more difficult than I imagined.‭ ‬I won‭’‬t lie about that.

Which comic-book writers inspired/influenced your craft in the storytelling mediums,‭ ‬and how‭?

KA:‭ ‬Oh lord,‭ ‬there are so many.‭ ‬In terms of style,‭ ‬I‭’‬d say Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.‭ ‬Besides the fact that they are simply amazing writers in both prose and comics,‭ ‬they often write the latter as if they are simply illustrated stories.‭ ‬If you extract their comic scripts from the art,‭ ‬they‭ ‬often stand on their own.‭ ‬James O‭’‬Barr and‭ ‬The Crow were enormously influential when writing‭ ‬Dead Souls.‭ ‬I like Ed Brubaker‭’‬s modern noir sensibilities.‭ ‬Warren Ellis is a master of juggling intricate,‭ ‬obscure concepts and keeping them tied into the story.‭ ‬I‭’‬m also very fond of Bronze Age Marvel creators like Roy Thomas,‭ ‬Marv Wolfman,‭ ‬Gerry Conway,‭ ‬and Larry Hama.‭ ‬Again,‭ ‬those guys wrote dense comics that read more like novellas.‭ ‬Modern Marvel and DC Comics are very spare.‭ ‬Some of them are outstanding,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬but they are meant to be read quicker.‭ ‬In the Bronze Age,‭ ‬there was this notion that you should cram as much story into an issue as possible to give the reader more bang for their buck‭ (‬or,‭ ‬35‭ ‬cents‭)‬.

Which prose authors did you study finding your way into this new storytelling medium,‭ ‬and how‭?

KA:‭ ‬I don‭’‬t think I really studied anyone assiduously.‭ ‬It‭’‬s weird,‭ ‬because I didn‭’‬t alter my reading habits much for‭ ‬Bloody October.‭ ‬I read‭ ‬George R.R.‭ ‬Martin‭’‬s entire‭ ‬A Song of Ice and Fire a couple of years ago.‭ ‬I started rereading Robert E.‭ ‬Howard‭’‬s Conan cycle.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬I picked up Thomas Mallory‭’‬s‭ ‬Le Morte D‭’‬Arthur in the‭ ‬original Middle English.‭ ‬I‭’‬m enjoying it,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s obviously a pretty dense book.‭ ‬It goes slowly.‭ ‬At the same time,‭ ‬I read the odd‭ ‬short story from H.P.‭ ‬Lovecraft,‭ ‬or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,‭ ‬or Oscar Wilde,‭ ‬or whomever will last me through a soak in the tub and a drink.‭ ‬I try to champion‭ ‬“Literature with‭ ‬a capital L,‭”‬ but I admit to straying from that diet more often than I‭’‬d like.‭ ‬I read Vladimir Nabokov‭’‬s‭ ‬A Pale Fire a couple of years ago,‭ ‬and I loved it.‭ ‬That is a clever and‭ ‬thoroughly‭ ‬well-written book disguised as a memoir and literary‭ ‬criticism.‭ ‬It‭’‬s strange,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬because I don‭’‬t often read in concert with what I‭’‬m writing.

You‭’‬ve accomplished some impressive feats from a rather grassroots/underground start,‭ ‬including some hefty collaborations with some big names in the game,‭ ‬such as Dani Filth.‭ ‬What advice do you have for aspiring storytelling voices,‭ ‬on getting one‭’‬s foot in the door,‭ ‬and circumnavigating the business from there‭?‬

KA:‭ ‬It‭’‬s all about‭ ‬networking,‭ ‬with a hefty dose of good manners and a basic understanding‭ ‬of how to work the system.‭ ‬I‭’‬ve always told people that you can talk to any artist or performer you want if you can think of a good enough reason.‭ ‬I really wanted Dani to see my work,‭ ‬so I just contacted the record company and asked if we could do an interview in the back of the first issue of‭ ‬Dead Souls.‭ ‬That was just a matter of patiently navigating the system.‭

And,‭ ‬as for aspiring storytellers‭—‬just‭ ‬start creating,‭ ‬and take yourself and your work seriously.‭ ‬The opportunities to get your foot in a door will emerge‭ ‬over time.‭ ‬You have to‭ ‬prove that you‭’‬ve got the drive to keep going.‭ ‬Seeking out opportunities is always good,‭ ‬but forcing yourself into situations is rarely advisable.‭ ‬You can send all of the submissions to comic publishers that you want.‭ ‬Most of them won‭’‬t even be seen.‭ ‬Now,‭ ‬creators have all the tools they need on hand.‭ ‬Why wait for someone else,‭ ‬when you can just put out your own work‭? ‬After that,‭ ‬spend time with the people in that world.‭ ‬Go to conventions.‭ ‬Hang out with other creators and artists.‭ ‬Talk about work with them.

Circumnavigating the business of writing and creating isn‭’‬t easily described.‭ ‬All I can say is don‭’‬t be afraid to ask questions,‭ ‬pay your taxes,‭ ‬and do lots of research.‭ ‬You‭ ‬learn by doing,‭ ‬and you will make mistakes‭ (‬so many stupid,‭ ‬stupid mistakes‭)‬.‭ ‬That‭’‬s okay,‭ ‬though.‭ ‬Even a blown opportunity is a learning experience.‭ ‬You know what not to do next time.‭ ‬

So what‭’‬s next in the works,‭ ‬in comics/prose/etc.,‭ ‬that readers have to look forward to‭?

KA:‭ ‬The reboot of‭ ‬Dead Souls is still‭ ‬in the works.‭ ‬Monty Borror from‭ ‬Cradle of Filth:‭ ‬The Curse of Venus Aversa is doing the art.‭ ‬He‭’‬s almost done the first draft.‭ ‬After that,‭ ‬we‭’‬re going to revise the art and add the old lettering‭—‬revising‭ ‬and rearranging as necessary.‭ ‬It won‭’‬t be a quick process,‭ ‬but‭ ‬Dead Souls has always felt like an open wound to me.‭ ‬I want to be proud of it.

There‭’‬s also another prose novel in the works.‭ ‬It‭’‬s about feuding community theater companies trying to put on the same play before one another.‭ ‬And,‭ ‬there‭’‬s some magic and psychological horror in the mix.‭ ‬You wouldn‭’‬t expect anything less from me,‭ ‬would you‭?

Certainly not.

Find out more about Kurt Amacker at Bloody October and the rest of Amacker’s titles, are available from Dark Notes Press and from Amazon.