In Over Your Head

house constructionThere comes a point in every home improvement project where I look at the half-assembled collection of raw materials from Home Depot and say “What the hell have I gotten myself into?” I seriously question if I’ve exceeded my skill set. The project always takes longer than my initial estimate.

Novel writing is no different. Stringing together one hundred thousand words with coherence is a daunting task. Then there’s character development, plot twists, pacing, setting, and through it all the nagging fear that on a shelf somewhere what you’re doing has been done before. After the initial, exuberant ten to twenty thousand words, that familiar self-doubt sneaks into the writing room. “What the hell have I gotten myself into?”

A lot of authors I talk to get this feeling, especially those who’ve done a lot of short stories. One beauty of a short story is its brevity. You can plot the three or four scenes the story needs in your head, lay them down on paper, and tweak to perfection. Like building a shed, you know that you’ve raised four solid walls and a roof and all you’re doing is arranging things within.

Not so with the novel. Now you’re building a house. Even with four finished walls, you’re sizing rooms, laying pipe, and running wiring until you type the last chapter. It’s easy to feel lost and overwhelmed.

Your best bet is to just keep plowing ahead. Don’t let the immensity of the project and the endless details, swamp you. Get that first draft finished. If you think of something that doesn’t quite fit with what you’ve written before, just leave a note in the margins to go back and fix it later. Completion gives you a sense of accomplishment and the assurance that you probably do have four walls and a roof. The story now has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Now you can go back and work out the kinks. Some ways to do that:

  1. Look at the overall flow of the story, with two sentences that describe each chapter. See where plot lines intersect. If one story thread goes missing too long, rearrange chapters to keep the thread fresh in the reader’s mind. In a novel like BLACK MAGIC that covers about a week in time, I shifted Thursday events to Monday and they worked better.
  2. Follow one character at a time through the story. Only review the chapters where that character appears. Are that character’s dialogue and actions consistent? Does that character’s story arc progress plausibly? My novel Q ISLAND has multiple POVs. This method let me refine language for each person, give them consistent usage and common idioms.
  3. Near the end, scrub that prose. Read the story aloud to yourself, preferably alone so people don’t think you are insane. This method really unearths repetitive words and structures. It also highlights clunky sentences. If a sentence is hard to read aloud, it’s probably hard to read at all. My novella BLOOD RED ROSES frequently uses archaic sentence structures since it is set in 1864. Reading it aloud really helped tune the meter of those sentences within paragraphs to better evoke the time period.

A novel has multiple facets that make it a success. Fine tune your work from one perspective at a time. Like any DIY project, it will probably take more time than you originally estimated.

I’m With the Witch. Kill Dorothy.

oz cover

I read THE WIZARD OF OZ last week. I’ve seen the movie a dozen-plus times growing up, watched James Franco’s prequel, even saw THE WIZ on Broadway as a kid, but the time had come to travel to the literary headwaters and experience the source. I bought the complete Frank L. Baum collection of Oz tales for 99 cents on my Kindle.

This book isn’t the MGM musical. All the familiar characters are there: Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, etc. They embark on the same quest to Oz. But the path is quite different, through many different lands, with far more challenges. Interestingly enough, in this version, the Great and Powerful tells all four individually that he will give each their wish if they kill Witchy Poo. It’s assigned as a solo task. They decide to collaborate on their own.

This is a children’s story, written at the turn of the 20th Century, and it reads that way. No casting stones on that account. In my head, I imagined reading it aloud to the right age group of kids, and I’m certain that it would still work.

It’s Dorothy who doesn’t. A more passive and undeserving character would be hard to come by. Her killing of the Wicked Witch of the East is accidental. She pulls the Scarecrow from his post, oils the Tin Woodsman to life, and, well, humiliates the poor Lion with a swat on the nose. But past these self-serving actions, she adds no value to the group, takes almost no action at all until she waters the Wicked Witch to death. The Woodsman makes quick work of some attacking trees, the Scarecrow defends Dorothy and Toto from a murder of crows, the Lion kills an enormous spider. Dorothy? Nada. She demands food and shelter from any convenient house they pass, makes sure to wash her face every day, and spends so much time in the background during action scenes that you wonder why the Lion was the one deemed cowardly. When the Wizard of Oz tells her that she has to kill the Wicked Witch to earn a ride home, she pouts and cries, as if the ruler of the Emerald City owes her transportation just for the asking. And how does she return home in the end? Just wish for it. No wonder Auntie Em shut the storm cellar door with little Dot on the outside.

My critique group took me to task for this same error in my manuscript for Q ISLAND. I let a main character be the consistent recipient of rescue. My painfully honest Beta readers hated her, just as I was ready for the attacking trees to rip off Dorothy’s arms, because neither character had earned our sympathy. They need to try, and especially try and fail, for the reader to root for them to win. If a character doesn’t make some kind of effort, the reader sure isn’t going to.

Baum does reward the three real heroes. The Scarecrow replaces the balloon-hijacked Wizard. The Lion gets to succeed a dead lion as King of the Beasts in a section of the forest. The Woodsman is acclaimed leader of the Winkies once their enslavement under the Wicked Witch ends.

Now that I write that, all the folks in Oz look like they prefer some sort of totalitarian state to self-rule. I wonder if these three transitions will work about as well as Vladimir Putin taking the wheel from Boris Yeltsin?

Time to hit the rest of those Oz books.

How You Know When To Save It


This is my 1968 Camaro convertible. I rescued her from outside Wichita. Her name is Dorothy because she isn’t in Kansas anymore. And yes, this post will eventually be about writing.

Now you may look at Dorothy as a candidate for the junkyard. And yes, she needs some work. Well, she needs almost everything. But she has nice options like a power top and a manual transmission. And most important, she has a good frame, the rails that support the car. I can put new fenders, a new top, and new floorboards on a good frame. Without a strong frame, the car would collapse on itself, no matter how many new parts I added.

Along with resurrecting a car, I’m resurrecting a manuscript. It’s not as old as Dorothy, but it’s from a while ago. I re-read the synopsis, remembered how enthusiastic I was writing it, and thought it had promise.

It became slow going. Apparently, I thought adverbs were wonderful back them. When writing monologues, seems I confused “internal” with “Interminable.” I’ve cut so many redundant passages that the 90,000 word novel is verging on novella. After four tedious hours where the story bored even me, I considered giving up and working on one of the new ideas always sitting in queue.

The time had come for the seat-of-the pants writer to turn outliner. This always happens to me, usually about two-thirds into the manuscript. I need to make sure the threads are all weaving into some coherent pattern. I went through each chapter and summarized the main action and what characters were involved. I like to put it in a table like the example below:

story table 2

This way I can follow multiple, overlapping plotlines, like Chapter 5 where Scott and Oates meet.

After looking over the chart, I decided to stick with it. Like Dorothy, the story has a good frame, but here it’s called plot.

So why am I bored by it? Characters without fire, without connection, are killing it. I can fix that. In this action-driven paranormal thriller, that will be the equivalent of swapping out Dorothy’s fenders and recovering her seats. Plot problems, like a rust-weakened frame, requires so much re-writing, I’d rather just start something else that stirred new passion.

If a story isn’t feeling right, take the time to ensure the plot clicks. It is a lot easier for those of you who outline compared to pantsers like myself. By the way, this is an example of why my advice is don’t be a pantser. Way too time consuming, with lots of writing dead ends. I read an interview with a prolific author who said he used to be a pantser and had to switch methods to keep his volume up.

Back to work. Two projects to finish. Of the two, Dorothy might take a little longer.


TMI for Authors? Maybe.

New technology delivers instant answers. Google knows how many people live in International Falls, MN (6376 in 2011). IMBD know who played Nick the Bartender in It’s a Wonderful Life (Sheldon Leonard). There are more recipes for chocolate cake out there than anyone can eat in a lifetime.

Authors have benefited from the advent of the Information Age. Sales figures are available in near real time. To be properly impressed by this, you have to understand the previous system. In that one, a bookstore bought a book and, sometime in the next ninety days, paid for that book and it registered as a true sale. The store could also return the book for credit, even before the ninety days are up, which allowed the wonderful experience of negative sales figures. These figures were tallied and given to the author in a quarterly report along, in a good quarter, with a royalty check. Using these sales reports to describe real time sales was about as effective as using Neolithic cave paintings to determine current weather.

Now Book Scan tells you daily sales, and even charts them. Novel Rank gives you a close sales approximation for Amazon. (How cool to see “Last sale: 0 hours.”) Amazon updates Kindle sales figures and every book’s ranking throughout the day. I’m certain there are even more systems available to publishers, but these are the ones even self-published authors have access to.

Great progress, right? Hell no. Writing is a profession rife with rejection. Agents reject your queries. Magazines reject your flash fiction. Editors reject your novels. If by some miracle of talent and timing, you survive that gauntlet, you still have the chance to be rejected by readers. In the old days you could be bummed out once, then have ninety days to rebuild your sense of self-worth before the enduring another kick to the head. Now you can find out how few people appreciate your hard work every sixty minutes. That doesn’t leave a lot of recharge time. Watching a slow selling book every hour is like playing every game of keno at Harrah’s dawn to dusk without winning.

Sales wax and wane. They also usually miss expectations, mostly because we set expectations high. (Even bestselling authors probably look at sales and say, “What, only 28,000 copies sold this week?”) Chill about the numbers, and confine yourself to one update a week. The summary reveals more than the fluctuating individual days do, anyway.

Spend your time writing. After all, which feels better, reading that your book moved up two in the Amazon ranking, or reading your newly-minted descriptive paragraph that paints a perfect picture? The creative process is what keeps us motivated. The thrill of summoning a story out of thin air lasts longer and runs stronger than the one any sales figures can summon.

Characters to Care About

Last week, I came across an excellent example of poor character creation, and its impact.

GrimmBy the nature of our lifestyles, my wife and I DVR a lot and then get caught up later, so forgive me for being behind the curve on this. We were just getting caught up on Grimm, a show about a cop with unique talents who hunts criminal human/animal hybrids. In this episode, a new character was introduced, a young woman who also had his special ability.

Half an hour in, the character had demonstrated that she was rude, unappreciative, combative and self-centered. I said to my wife, “I already hate this new character.” To my surprise, she answered, “I agree. We can stop watching this anytime you want.” She hated her enough to switch the program off.

We’re big Grimm fans, but both of us were ready to bail on the show because of this new addition to the cast. That’s exactly the opposite of the response a writer shoots for. Obviously, this character was being set up for some change arc across episodes, but I didn’t care to see it. The cops filled me in on her foster care childhood and I’d seen her attacked by the bad guys, yet I had no compassion for her. Why? Because while she’d been in sympathetic circumstances, she’d displayed no sympathetic qualities. A character has to do at least one small thing like wash the dishes or rescue a cat from a tree so viewers can see there’s a real human being inside her that deserves their emotional energy.

I think her impact on the other characters in the show made it even worse. Nick, our hero cop, and his girlfriend take her in, then Nick takes her to a crime scene (credibility stretched past breaking) where she nearly reveals his secret gift. In a lame bit of dialogue, Nick addresses her by her given name and she responds that most people call her Trouble. So Nick calls her that from then on. It sounds stupid every time he says it, and no caring person would reinforce another’s low self-esteem with such a nickname. So not only was the character unlikable, she had a negative impact on how we saw the characters we do like, onscreen friends we are emotionally invested in.

We skipped the rest of that episode, and the next one, praying that either Trouble would die or hurry-the-hell-up and finish her transformation, an event we couldn’t care less about witnessing. Her part in the season finale looked like she’d made it.

The TV series didn’t lose us for good, mostly because my wife is a Monroe/Rosalie devotee. But in a book, this kind of mistake would be fatal. The cover would close, never be reopened, and the reader would send out warning flares for the rest of the world to stay far away. So keep in mind that that character who goes from flawed to fabulous, or that villain who goes from evil to excellent, needs a little something for us to hook onto early, something to foreshadow their potential, to make us root for the underdog part of their personality to win out.

Devon Govaere talks “Bootleg Cove”


Hello, everyone! Thanks to Russell for inviting me here to talk about the recent publication of my novella, Bootleg Cove. Bootleg Cove is part of What Waits in the Shadows, a gothic horror anthology from Samhain Publishing that also includes novellas by Russell and our fellow authors, JG Flaherty and Catherine Cavendish. I was incredibly excited to have my novella selected during Samhain’s special call for submissions. I’ve been writing for quite a few years now using various pseudonyms, but when I saw a call for gothic horror, I couldn’t really pass it up. The weirdest part of it all is, though I didn’t know it at the time, the story actually began to ferment on a vacation I took several years ago. 

We’d been on a mini family reunion in the D.C. area. After several fun-filled days staying with my brother, my boyfriend and I decided we’d spend a few more days in the area to explore. We wanted to avoid traffic and the beach hot spots because it was toward the end of August, a prime time for one last attempt at summer fun. I’d lived in that area years before, long enough to know I didn’t want to spend my last few vacation days sitting on a highway surrounded by cars. 

And yet we wanted to see a beach. We settled on scooting a bit east and heading down the western side of Chesapeake Bay because, though I’d been to many coastal areas, I hadn’t been there. Turned out there’s a pretty good reason why. My brother tried to warn me there wasn’t much down that way, but still wanting to avoid any semblance of traffic or crowds, I decided to ignore him. If I’ve learned one thing throughout my life, it’s not to ignore my brother because he’s usually right. 

The day we set out was pretty gloomy for summer, pouring down rain, sweltering hot, but we had high hopes because we knew that somewhere down the lonely stretch of road we traveled—and each stretch got lonelier than the last—was a beach. We passed several towns with small beach areas, thinking the farther south we went, the bigger and better the beaches would be. We stopped at a park with a stretch of beach and actually walked through the sand for a few minutes. We should have stayed longer and enjoyed it a bit more because little did we know this would be our best beach experience of the trip. 

We found a hotel in a strip-mall sort of town, and the next day, we set off on our beach quest once again. We drove down one-lane roads with beachy names in the direction of the bay only to discover, too late, the roads lead to private beaches. Watching the houses closely for signs of shotguns, we turned at the end of each and hightailed it back to the main road. Outwardly, we were laughing about it. Inside, I think both of us were a bit worried. 

Finally we discovered Calvert Cliffs State Park, which had a beach. We knew because we had a brochure from the hotel. I suppose it’s the nature of exploration to want surprises, but, in hindsight, why we didn’t check out the website, I have no idea. I had my laptop, and it would have been an enlightening read. 

Strike One: The woman at the gate told us the walk to the beach was 1.8 miles on a steep trail down the cliff to the beach. I suppose the fact that she warned us in advance should have given me a clue it might be beyond me since I have asthma. Against what should have been my better judgment, we continued. The walk down wasn’t too bad. It was actually a wide, paved path sheltered from the sun by trees. The walk up was grueling. My boyfriend went ahead, got the car, and met me at the exit road, about halfway. If he hadn’t, I might still be sitting there on my fallen log. 

Strike Two: A sign at the bottom of the trail told us there was a jellyfish problem that summer. Problem is an understatement. Jellyfish carcasses littered the entire beach, and the water was a virtual playground for the live ones. 

Strike Three: The sand was filled with shells and all manner of sharp natural objects, not really conducive for enjoying the sand and surf. And yet there were a few families there, and the kids were running around. If I’d had a toddler with me, I would have been carrying him. 

It was not the beach of my dreams—or even most of my nightmares. It felt gloomy and lonely even in the sunshine and warmth of August and through the laughter of the few families there. We walked around, carefully avoiding sharp shells and jellyfish corpses, picking our way around the “beach.” I have spent my life wishing I could live on a beach, smelling the ocean, listening to the pounding of waves, enjoying the breeze. I always feel alive at the beach. The atmosphere fills me with an array of emotions, and I feel both insignificant and powerful. That day, all I could think about was how depressing that beach was. With its dead animals and stagnant air and the hot sun beating down on people who couldn’t even venture into the water without bumping into a jellyfish, that beach made me realize that all beaches are not created equal. 

So, later, when I decided to write a story about a woman in an isolated place, a gloomy place that got more depressing by the day, that beach was the first place to pop into my mind. And Bootleg Cove was born. 

I hope you enjoy reading the novella as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks again, Russell, for hosting me. 

Devin Govaere

Email her at

Bootleg Cove available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere else.

Cat Cavandish Talks Ghosts and Linden Manor

The Ghost of the Bride of Annandale


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My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written, which haunted my main character, Lesley Carpenter. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face’.

This sparked curiosity in me to go searching for other brides who might also have decided to linger around after their deaths. My path led me to Mannsdale, Mississippi and The Chapel of the Cross. In 1852, this chapel was consecrated, built by a Mrs Johnstone, in memory of her husband who owned the Annandale Plantation. But the haunting is by neither one of this couple. It is their youngest daughter, Helen, who seems reluctant to leave.

pic 2 chapel of the cross

Helen Johnstone was just sixteen years old when she met the man she would fall in love with. His name was Henry Grey Vick and he was something of a catch. Good-looking, well connected, his ancestors put the ‘Vick’ in ‘Vicksburg’. Christmas, 1855 saw their first meeting, and it was love at first sight. The young couple quickly decided they couldn’t live without each other and planned to marry.

Mrs Johnstone urged caution. She was in the process of fulfilling her late husband’s ambitions by building a grand house – Annandale. Concerned that Helen was simply too young to make such a momentous decision as marriage, she insisted the young couple wait a few years. Their love remained steadfast and, in 1859, Mrs Johnston finally gave her consent to the wedding, which would take place at the Chapel of the Cross on May 21st of that year.

pic 3 Annandale

Sadly, tragedy was to follow. A week before the wedding, Henry made a quick trip to New Orleans to collect his suit and a few items which would grace his new home. He decided to visit a local hostelry for a drink and ran into a former friend of his called James Stith. Sadly, the two had parted on the worst possible terms a year earlier and Henry saw no reason to rekindle their acquaintance with any kind of acknowledgement. Stith, though, had harboured a grudge all this time and it was about to boil over. He smashed his glass down on the bar and announced, loudly enough for all to hear, that he would not drink in the same establishment as Henry Grey Vick who was, he said, ‘no gentleman.’ In the South, especially at that time, there were few worse insults.

Tempers were lost, a brawl ensued, punches were thrown. In the heat of the moment, Henry challenged Stith to a duel. Honour demanded that Stith should accept the challenge. When he had calmed down, Henry remembered a vow he had made to Helen never to participate in such an ‘affair of honour’. He withdrew his challenge and apologised to Stith. Too late. Stith would not accept the retraction and held him to it.

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The duel was held near Mobile, Alabama on May 17th 1859, with all due ceremony accorded to such events. The police were just in the process of moving in to stop it, when Henry fired and deliberately missed his opponent. Stith was not so magnanimous. He shot to kill – and succeeded. A single shot to the forehead and Helen’s beloved fiancé was dead.

In the confusion that followed, Stith and his seconds escaped. Stith would later join Confederate forces and be killed at Vicksburg – perhaps there is some irony in that at last.

Henry’s friends took his body back to Vicksburg, then went onto Annandale to break the terrible news to Helen. She was devastated and became hysterical. The Chapel was already decorated for their wedding. She had been so blissfully happy. Now her life was shattered.

pic 5 vickgrave

She would not be parted from Henry and insisted his body be brought back to Annandale and buried in the Johnstone family plot in the Chapel, where he remains to this day. Helen insisted that she wished to be laid to rest next to him, when her time came.

Helen remained in her deep, dark pit of grief for many months, spending her day sitting by Henry’s grave, talking to him. Her mother became increasingly fearful for her sanity. She took her daughter to Scotland to visit her late husband’s relatives. After a year had gone by, Helen seemed sufficiently recovered to return to her home.

She eventually married a minister – George Harris – having told him that, while she would make him a good wife, she could never hope to love him as she had Henry. The couple moved away to northern Mississippi and had three children.

Helen lived on until 1916, and is not buried next to Henry. She lies instead next to her husband, but it seems this really wasn’t her wish. Over the years, there have been many reports of a beautiful young woman, dressed in nineteenth century mourning, weeping at Henry’s grave. When concerned people have approached her, she has simply vanished before their eyes.

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Now, here’s a flavour of Linden Manor:

Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body? 
All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it. 
But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last. 


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Linden Manor is available from: 

About the author

Catherine Cavendish is joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology competition 2013. Her winning novella – Linden Manor – is now available in all digital formats and the print anthology will be published in October. She is the author of a number of paranormal horror and Gothic horror novellas and short stories. Her full length novel, Saving Grace Devine, will be published by Samhain Publishing in the summer.

She lives with a longsuffering husband and mildly eccentric tortoiseshell cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-8th century which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV.


When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.!/cat_cavendish

Dark and Twisted: Another Visit with Hunter Shea

I got the chance to catch up with the annoyingly talently Hunter Shea at HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnatti last month. I thought I was working hard until I talked with him.

Hunter Shea headshot

RRJ: It looks like you have three works in line for publication this year. In this instance, busy hands have been the devil’s workshop. When do your latest horrific tales debut?

HS: The last couple of years have been very busy, gearing up for a big 2014. My latest ghost novella, The Waiting, just came out as an ebook on April 1st (and that’s no joke!). My first thriller, The Montauk Monster, will be out in paperback the first week of June, quickly followed by Hell Hole in July. All work and no play…


RRJ: That’s a killer cover on your new novella. Tell me about The Waiting.The Waiting cover

HS: This is my first tale based on a true haunting that continues to this day. It centers around a newlywed couple whose bright future is turned upside down when the bride collapses on her wedding day. She survives a near death illness and is brought home on life support for her husband to care for her. Once in the house, her husband begins to hear and see strange things, the most terrifying of all being the full-bodied apparition of a young boy. The boy is fixated on his ailing wife as she fades in and out of consciousness, unable to speak. Who is the boy, and what does he want? Is he a protector of life, or a harbinger of death? To know that these people actually experienced this, and still do, is both terrifying and intriguing. I say intriguing because of the way it shows us that there is life after death.


RRJ: I always got creepy vibe wait out on Long Island’s East End. Tell me about Montauk Monster.

HS: This was a fun one to write. It’s based on actual strange cryptid creatures that have been washing up on the shores of Long Island for years. It’s set in Montauk, a popular tourist destination at the tip of the island. A series of brutal murders have cast a shroud of fear over the town. The police think it may be the work of wild animals, or a savage human serial killer. Oh, but it’s much more than that. Those strange creatures are real, and making their way to Montauk – alive! With government conspiracies, Plum Island secrets let loose and wall-to-wall terror, The Montauk Monster will make the perfect summer read – especially if you’re on a beach on Long Island.


RRJ: I got to pre-read Hell Hole and it’s horror at its best. The touch and feel of the Old West is perfect.

HS: My very western, Hell Hole takes place in an actual abandoned mining town in Wyoming in 1905. Nat Blackburn is a former cowboy, Apache tracker, Rough Rider and New York cop, sent to Hecla by President Roosevelt to find out of tales of gold are true. The only problem is that anyone who has ever gone there to search for it disappears off the face of the earth. With his companion Teta Delacruz, a Dominican gun for hire, Nat rides into the withered town. There is something in the mines, but it isn’t gold. He and Teta will come across ghosts, black eyed children, wild men and demons straight from hell. Some places are better left abandoned. I can guarantee riders a hell of a wild ride.

RRJ: Your home turf of Long Island and New York City show up in a lot of your work. Is there something that inspires horror in these locations for you?

HS: Long Island is home to a host of real horrors. From the mystery of Plum Island to widespread cancer cells, Joey Buttafuoco and serial killer Joel Rifkin, there’s inspiration everywhere. It’s so close to New York City but when you drive the length of the island, it feels so remote and removed from big city life. There’s an edge to Long Islanders, a subdued toughness that makes for great characters.


RRJ: What kind of research did you have to do setting Hell Hole in a different part of the world and in a different time?

HS: Watch a ton of westerns. Well, I’ve done that all my life. I did a lot of reading on the Rough Riders and cattle trails. I was looking for a locale for the story and Googled ‘abandoned mining towns’. I made a list of five and found Hecla, Wyoming to be the most fascinating. Then I was off to the library to get everything I could get about Wyoming, from travel guides to history books. Knowing my characters were going to have to take the train from NY to WY, I even did a lot of research on the Union Pacific line and how towns grew up and faltered along the line. There’s a danger of getting lost in research and information overload. It was hard to pull myself away and get to writing.


RRJ: I really enjoyed your self-published short story collection, Asylum Scrawls. What made you write short fiction for a change?

HS: I started writing short stories 18 years ago. A very big agent told me at a writers’ conference that it was the best way to hone my craft. So, I settled my butt in my chair and cranked out as many horror shorts as I could. Most of them will never see the light of day, but they were all a necessary part of the process. I wanted to publish something in time for Halloween, and the name Asylum Scrawls just popped into my head. It’s chock full of old and new stories, along with one by my friend, Norm Hendricks. I plan to do another edition in October this year as well, with a few more up and coming authors spreading the terror. I’d like to use Asylum Scrawls as a vehicle to highlight new talent every Halloween season.

RRJ: Covers, unfortunately, can make a book.  For the benefit of other aspiring self-published authors, tell me about the process of getting your excellent cover art for Asylum Scrawls.71FCsNA5KfL__SL1000_

HS: I’m very fortunate in that my best friend (Mike Chella) is an artist who has been studying computer animation. He’s helped me in the past coming up with graphics for other stories and books. Mike jumped at the chance to do the cover. Man, did he regret it. Apparently, no one had ever tried to render a straight jacket in CGI before, so it took way longer than he or I ever thought it would. For that, I apologize. But he has perfected something that no one else has done. And he came up with a kick ass cover. I promised him the next one would be much easier.


RRJ: Forest of Shadows and Sinister Entity follow the story of the same character, though both works completely stand alone. Tell me about her and why she’s driven you to write about her twice.

HS: You know, I never wrote Forest of Shadows with the intention of there being a sequel. But there was something about the way it ended, with Jessica going to the site of her father’s death when she was years away from his death that got me thinking. What would become of a girl who had witnessed what she had? Would she run from or to the paranormal? How would her experience inform her personality and life decisions? I just had to explore that, and voila, Sinister Entity was born. I’ve enjoyed writing about Jessica so much, I just finished a third book in the series titled Island of the Forbidden. It will be out in January, 2015. Jessica is one tough chick. Don’t tell her I called her a chick. She’ll kick my ass.


RRJ: I can only read the work of most authors, but I can also watch you. Tell me about your Monster Men podcast and where you see that venture heading?

HS: My buddy Jack and I are of a like mind, especially when it comes to all things horror. We started the podcast as a way to promote Forest of Shadows, and just have some fun, letting people in on our beer infused conversations. Honestly, I thought we’d go it a year and it would fizzle out. We’re now about to enter year three and it continues to grow. We’re branching out this year into interviews with authors, directors and paranormal enthusiasts. We have some huge surprises in store, so stay tuned. Aaarrrrggghhhh!

RRJ: Do you wife and daughters treat you any differently now that you are summoning tales of demons and skunk apes on a regular basis?

HS: They still look at me as a madman that’s escaped an institution. They’ve been so supportive every step of the way, giving me space and quiet time to work and encouragement when I’m feeling low. Now that my girls are teens, they’re helping get the word out and coming to signings and appearances. I love my family, and it’s important to have them by my side. I’m told every day how proud they are of me, and that’s better than any royalty check.

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A Great Time at HorrorHound Weekend

When you are finally comfortable surrounded by zombies and killer clowns, you know your life has changed.


HorrorHound Weekend 2014 in Cincinnati was my fourth horror con peddling my occasionally grisly paranormal thrillers. Before being published, I’d never even attended one. With four under my belt now, I’m no longer overwhelmed by the army of terrifyingly realistic costumes or the acres of top-notch horror memorabilia for sale.


Samhain Horror had all four of my novels available for sale and signature. I felt like a knight as I looked over that battlement of books at the surging crowd. But the wall came down quickly. A day and a half into the con, they were all gone.

I’ve only been published a few years, and am completely aware of my lowly place on the author pecking order. I’m sure that Stephen King sells more books in an hour than I sell all year. So, a few fun firsts happened at HorrorHound.

A man approached me to sign a book of mine he’d already purchased elsewhere. That was good for two shocks: first, I sold a book somewhere, and second, that they guy would take the effort to drag it here to be signed.


I recognized readers from other cons, who had returned to buy something else I’d written. That was a huge treat. I’ll regret enjoying it after my first stalker appears.

Which isn’t likely out of this crowd, hard as that may be to believe for those who haven’t been to a horror con. The book buyers are surprisingly normal, and very discriminating shoppers of the written word.


This con also had what I’d guess was the largest collection of Samhain Horror authors in one place ever. Quinn Langston, Hunter Shea, Jonathan Janz, Tim Waggoner, Mick Ridgewell, David Searles, Kristopher Rufty. I’ve read these authors’ works, they are all top flight. It was great to talk shop with them.

I met a ton of people, picked up some new Facebook friends, and added some Twitter followers. Not bad work if you can get it. Next stop, World Horror Con 2014, then HorrorHound Indianapolis in September. See you there. I’ll bring the books.

A Few Notes on that Final Step

This week I reviewed the copy edits from my upcoming Samhain Horror novella, Blood Red Roses. Finishing the process, there are two insights I want to share with other authors, especially indies.

1.      You need a copy editor.

You don’t think you do. Hell, I don’t think I do. But every manuscript I get back from my publisher proves me wrong. And I don’t mean you need one for minor typos, though you do. The copy editor is the master of mechanics, the one who, day after day, works with the grammatical nuances of our mother tongue. We butcher these details in our everyday speech, and as a result, like a toxic spill, those shortcuts leech in and contaminate the wellspring of our writing. With each line edit, I curse myself for mishandling the language, for forgetting one of English’s equivalents to baseball’s infield fly rule. Then I vow to never repeat that Freshman Comp mistake again. But I do.


2.      The copy edit phase is cool.

You say you hate it. The fun, broad strokes of creativity you loved to wield in your first draft are already painted. This is just scut work. More than likely, by now you’ve shepherded the story through three drafts plus, and you are much more excited about whatever new project simmers on the front burner.

But this is the chance for detail. The editing process also raises questions of continuity, of clarity. Did you really mean this? Didn’t your character previously say that? With a bit of your earlier unbridled enthusiasm banked, you can take a final, detailed look at those passages in question, and go break out the dusty thesaurus for the perfect word. Look at this as one last polish, the brush of the dust speck off the hood before you roll a classic car before the judges. Here you have final say on the finished product, something many movie directors and rock stars don’t have. Enjoy it! 

That’s all. Back to that new story that has captured my imagination.

Can’t wait to see the copy edits.

BloodRedRoses cover