Preternatural Evolution by Peter Topside

In my review of Peter Topside’s first book, Preternatural, I started with the fact that Peter had hit the mark with an enjoyable debut novel. I just finished reading the second book in the trilogy, Evolution, and I’m happy to report Peter has managed to write a fantastic sequel.

Many authors spend way too much time in flashback scenes, and I often feel as if I’m re-reading large chunks of the first novel. Peter found a brilliant way to bring back pieces throughout the second book, just little snippets, but that’s the gem of book two. I never felt bombarded with trips down memory lane, nor did I feel lost.

The characters are more three-dimensional in the second book. They’ve grown over the fifteen years since Blackheart first terrorized their town, and yet many of them, despite the growth, are still stuck looking for something in the past to allow them to move forward. In comes the new and viciously improved Blackheart.

Preternatural: Evolution is a great read and a thoroughly enjoyable sequel to his debut novel. I’m looking forward to reading the final installment. Well done, once again.

Available on Amazon.

Release Day for Stitched.

Terror comes in all shapes, sizes, places, and people. Today, I have released Geraldine Flanders into the world. Be prepared to visit Winthrop Falls, Texas. It’s like no place you’ve ever been. There are no streetlights or stop signs, and there is one way in and one way out – Main Street. The problem is no one usually gets out.

Winthrop Falls is the birthplace of Geraldine Flanders. She’s not your ordinary mayor of a small southwestern town. She has a very dark past and an even darker soul, and she’ll do anything to keep her secrets hidden.

In honor of Geraldine’s “coming out,” I wanted to talk a bit about where Geraldine Flanders came from, not in the story, but in my mind. The idea first came to me in The French Quarter at the annual Saints and Sinners Literary Festival back in 2014. My writing partner in crime, Dale Chase, and I were sitting on the balcony of my hotel room one evening, hatching ideas when we started talking about older adults in fiction, and it was something we were not used to seeing or reading. That led to a discussion of death and dying, which led to Dale coming up with a brilliant story about an older man who wants to arrange his death on his terms, called Journey’s End. It’s a fun, twisted tale.

In our usual way, ideas started flowing. From those conversations, laughter, and moments of grossness, we created Geraldine Flanders, an eight-five-year-old woman who could be anyone’s grandmother. Sweet, endearing, and utterly charming. However, she has a strange passion or obsession for making scarecrows. It wasn’t until later that I discovered her secrets and what she would do to keep them.

Initially titled The Last Straw, the short story was published in 2015 by Fireborn Publications (now defunct). After some deliberation, I decided to rewrite it and make it into a novella. It was in 2020 that Geraldine Flanders captured my heart. She haunted my sleep and my waking hours. I couldn’t get enough of her. In some ways, I became obsessed with her, much like her obsession with the scarecrows. The harder I tried, the deeper I found myself wallowing in her lies, deceit, and spiraling down into some very dark and disturbing places. What started as a short story seven years ago is now a trilogy—The Geraldine Flanders Series.

I hope you like Book One, Stitched as much as I do and that you come back for the second, Tangled Threads, and the last installment, The Final Stitch. The last page of the final book, I hope, will leave you speechless. Trust me. Geraldine is many things, but the one thing she is not is predictable.

Thank you to Dale Chase for sixteen incredible years of conversation and laughter. This trilogy would not be here today if it weren’t for you and our extraordinary friendship.

Absolute Unit by Nick Kolakowski

Okay, this one takes the prize for being the strangest most bizarre thing I read in 2020. There are no words to describe how addicting, over-the-top, and utterly freaking weird this book is.

Parasites are living inside Bill and his nephew Trent. Bill, a Health Inspector, is hated by everyone, and Trent is a young con artist. The parasites are sarcastic, funny, and unapologetic as they go from learning the joys of human consumption to the terrifying realization that they can control our every move. If you think that the parasites living in Bill and Trent are strange, wait until you get farther into the story with sex addicts dressed as furries, drug dealers, prostitutes, and an angry girlfriend, all of whom are trying to get their hands on these two men.

It’s not us who will end the world, and it might very well be something darker, something that comes from inside of us. The book makes me wonder how much control we have over ourselves. Or do I or we have some alien or biological creature running through our bodies?

This book is truly a gripping, bizarre, and bonkers experience. I loved every moment of this story. Do yourself a favor and dive in, you won’t regret it.

Places and Spaces

I find the concept of spaces and places an interesting idea as it relates to writing. I can write in coffee shops, noisy airports, planes, and trains. I’ve spent hours writing on napkins in bars in New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, and Dallas to the loud beat of the music and the cacophony of the crowds and, on occasion, naked dancers.

At home, it’s different, and I’ve never figured out why. I’ve been writing for twenty-five years, and I’ve always had a “space” within a house that was mine. The space or place didn’t have to be a particular size; I prefer smaller writing areas, again when I’m at home.

We moved to Dallas in 2018. The house is a 1950’s ranch in a beautiful neighborhood that sits on top of old limestone cliffs just south of downtown. It’s a perfect place, except for one thing. In three years, I’ve never felt settled into a writing space. I have literally been in every room and corner of this house, including the in-law suite that takes up the entire second floor. I’m suitable for a while, then the space begins to feel uncreative and uninspiring (I know that an airport is not the most creative space in the world). I can’t explain it.

For the umpteenth time in three years, I have just moved my desk “study” again. This time I’m in the front bedroom of the house. It’s the guest bedroom, complete with a bed and closet, but I doubt we’ll have any overnight guests in the coming years with the pandemic still playing havoc with all our lives. Maybe this space is the one. I’m between two large windows, which supply wonderful natural light. My books and my research library are on shelves next to me. Is this going to be the place? If not, I’m sort of shit out of luck. There’s no place else. Oh, wait. Maybe the garage?

What’s your experience with writing spaces or places? Is it one place, or have you been shifting rooms and settings to find the right spot like me?

Preternatural by Peter Topside

Peter Topside has hit the mark with an enjoyable story for a debut novel. The antagonist, Blackheart, is the dark soul of this book. There are no Twilight vampires in Peter’s world or in the small town of Meadowsville, which has decided to use the strange deaths and legend to increase tourism, led of course, by the town’s mayor.

The myth surrounding the creature of the night was original and engaging, even though there were some awkward moments where I thought a bit more editing of the book could have enhanced the story. Overall, this was an original and creative endeavor for Peter’s debut work of fiction.

As another horror genre writer, I know that writing a trilogy can be difficult. The author must ensure that each of the novels has a solid ending, so the reader doesn’t feel cheated with unnecessary cliffhangers. Peter thankfully didn’t have this problem. Preternatural has a definite conclusion and one where I felt satisfied and not cheated.

I’m looking forward to reading the second in the trilogy and seeing how Peter continues the story of Blackheart and Meadowsville.

To Stand Alone or Not

Sorry for my silence. I decided to unplug myself over the holidays to focus my attention on finishing some writing projects. I completed Book 2 of the Geraldine Flanders trilogy, and I’m well into book 3. I also have some exciting news to share about another book project, but that will be for another post. For now, this is where my mind is wandering.

Over the years, I’ve written both stand-alone novels and novellas and a series or trilogy if you prefer since there were only three books in the series. While I was writing the first Thomas Newton novel, Secret Societies, I had no idea or intention of writing more books featuring Thomas Newton. I always meant for it to be a stand-alone novel from the beginning. It wasn’t until after the Secret Societies was published and out in the world that I decided to undertake Thomas’ sequel (The Thief Taker) and then another year and a half before I decided there needed to be closure and write the third and final installment (Den of Thieves).

Looking back now, I can see where my mistakes were in this jagged way of writing a series. The third book came out two and half years after the second and was published by a different publisher than the first two. While sales and the reviews were good, I wasn’t happy with how it all came about.

I’ve just finished the second book in a new trilogy. The difference now is that I started out knowing there would be three books, and none of them have been published yet. This time I have a plan, unlike the last time – a scheduled release during 2022 where the readers don’t have to wait a year or more for the next book to come out.

I’ve also learned an important lesson in planning and writing this trilogy. I guess writing, like most professions, is a never-ending learning experience. Having all the books unpublished gives me the freedom to go back and make changes to the first book while ending the second or making changes to the second book while working on the third. This newfound freedom of writing a trilogy has offered me an ideal way of making sure all the books are cohesive and that there are no gaps in the three stories.

I’m enjoying this authorial freedom and hope that once the trilogy is released, the readers will enjoy it as well.

Writing Frustrations – Or a Rant. You Pick.

For a while now, I’ve found myself getting frustrated at the state of publishing. All my short story collections and novels have been finalists for awards or have won awards. Lord knows I’m not comparing myself to Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, or any of the other excellent writers who have inspired me over the years. I believe my writing has merit, yet I’m finding myself isolated from the publishing world in unexpected ways. Some of it is my fault, and others I feel are the fault of the industry.

While there are numerous calls out there, most of the publishers (at least the ones I’m seeing) offer a mere $5 to $15 per story. I’m sorry, I just won’t write a 5,000+ word story for such an obscenely low price. That may sound arrogant, but so be it. The Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member, considers 5 cents a word as the professional going rate.

Then, of course, there is, what appears to me, a competitive factor – a thought that horrifies me. Everyone wants and needs reviews. Reviews are critical to our success as authors but trying to get another author to read and write even a one-sentence review for Amazon is like finding an eyelash in a pile of compost. No one seems willing to help other authors. That’s part of what I’m trying to change. I buy the books because they interest me or because I want to try a new author. I want to help other authors by reading their works, writing reviews, and posting reviews everywhere.

Yes, this post may be a whine or a tiny violin I’m playing alone in the dark, but hell, it’s dark in my head, and the darkness is where I like to be. I’ve asked friends to read my books and write a review and their answer is usually one of two things. “Sure, I’ll do that for you.” They don’t. Or they say, “I don’t like reviewing things.” If you can’t rely on friends (or fellow authors) to help you out, how can you rely on strangers? It’s maddening.

I’ve been pushing my novel, The Demon Librarian, probably the best thing I’ve ever written. (Sorry no cover design yet) And I will continue to do so. I’m almost done with a new collection of horror stories, Evil Personified, and I’m two books in on a four-book novella series. I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep looking for a publisher or agent who sees my work for what it is, likes it, and is willing to sign me up.

Any takers?

Thanks for listening.

Dark Thirty: A Novella by Andrew J. Brandt

To be honest, I’ve never read anything by Andrew J. Brandt before. The blurb on Amazon intrigued me, but not for the typical reason. The blurb doesn’t do the story justice. It makes the novella sound like the same old horror/mystery trope. A small-town kid goes missing, and the town’s secrets are slowly exposed. It seems to be everywhere these days – television, movie, and books. (Think Broadchurch, Dark, The Disappearance, The River, etc.… You get my point)

Despite the blurb and seemingly commonplace plot, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Dark Thirty. Brandt has a wonderfully devilish mind. The plot and story are a bit unsettling, but it also makes for a great read. I bought the book to see if something different or unique could be done with the old trope. While the trope is common, Dark Thirty is not. Brandt has devised a way to make even an old idea fresh and new.

Available on Amazon.

Nana by Mark Towse

Nana, as most people know, is the endearing term used for their sweet, loving grandmother. Mark Towse says it’s derived from the Italian word for grandma, Nonna. Whatever the origins, Mark Towse has a wonderfully twisted, unsettling, and at times humorous story to tell.

Olly must stay with his Nana while his parents work out some marital issues. Nana says she has a lot of surprises waiting for her grandson. One would expect from your grandmother, home cooking, television, or even letting you be alone while she knits. Not Olly’s Nana. Olly is about to face some extraordinary things. I’m not talking magical creatures and fantastical worlds. I’m taking things a young boy (or even an adult) should never witness.

Not sure how anyone could write something so bizarre and mind-boggling terrifying, but Mark Towse has done just that. Nana doesn’t fit into any box. There’s not a box big enough to contain it. From gruesome scenes too deliciously unique to describe in this review (no spoilers) to sexual pleasures of all kinds. There is something wrong at Newhaven Crescent Community Center, and it’s not just Nana.

This book is truly one of the most insane rides I’ve been on in quite a while. If it wasn’t for the humor dotted throughout the book, I’m not sure I would have come out of the story quite the same person. I felt exhausted and a bit dirty when I finished the book. Not an easy accomplishment, Mr. Towse, from one horror author to another – well, done.

It’s a great read, but be warned – you’ve never met a Nana like this one.

Available at Amazon. Amazon affiliate link

Old Dog – New Tricks

The last couple of weeks has been an interesting one as far as my writing goes. About six years ago I wrote a novella. I loved the story and had a blast with the characters. The protagonist was especially wicked. A ninety-something-year-old woman, who on the outside seemed like anyone’s grandmother. On the inside, she was twisted, brutal, and unapologetic. Despite all this, there was something simple and satisfying about her.

Six years later, I’m revisiting the novella and realized there was more to her than I thought early on. She was missing a husband. I won’t go into any details as I hate spoilers. Let’s say that it’s been an interesting learning curve. I’ve never added a character into a long-established story. And worse yet ensuring that the readers won’t know. Of course, anyone reading this will be in the know. (Clearing throat) Please, buy the novella when it comes out, please. And don’t forget a review. They are vital to authors.

The process at first seemed daunting. How does one add a character after the fact? It was something I never encountered before. I spent days of negotiations with myself and my characters. I decided to divide and conquer. I began re-reading the novella. I used the comments function to note where the husband needed to appear. From those insertion points, I was able to revisit actions, conversations, and scenes. The husband’s presence glides onto the page with little effort.

It’s been a long process, and at times it seemed impossible to pull off. I’m not quite there yet, but what I’ve managed so far, reads well. I’m always amazed at the writing process. After over two decades, I’m still learning new tricks and new things. Writing is an always-evolving process of discovery. It’s one of the things I love about the process.

If this all works out, as I hope it does, then I’ve answered the age-old question. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Thanks for visiting. Be well and stay safe. Until next time.