Monday, May 20, 2024

The 40 But 10 Interview series: Paul Chitlik

 



I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


Today we are joined by Paul Chitlik. Paul has written for all the major networks and studios in English and in Spanish.  He was story editor for MGM/UA'S "The New Twilight Zone," and staff writer for Showtime's sitcom "Brothers."  He has written features for Rysher Entertainment, NuImage, Promark, Mainline Releasing, and others.  He has directed episodes and been coordinating producer for “Real Stories of the Highway Patrol” and “U.S. Customs Classified.”  He wrote and produced “Alien Abduction,” the first network movie shot on digital video for UPN.  He wrote, produced, and directed “Ringling Brothers Revealed” a special for The Travel Channel.  (He had been a roustabout for Circus Vargas years earlier.)  Most recently he wrote, produced and directed “The Wedding Dress,” for Amazon Prime.  He received a Writers Guild of America award nomination for his work on "The Twilight Zone" and a GLAAD Media Award nomination for "Los Beltrán,” a Telemundo show.  He won a Genesis Award for a Showtime Family movie.

He has taught in the MFA programs of UCLA, the University of Barcelona’s film school ESCAC, Cuba’s film school EICTV, Chile’s film school UNIACC, The University of Zulia in Venezuela, The Panamerican University in Mexico City, The Story Academy of Sweden and as a clinical associate professor at Loyola Marymount University.  Now writing full time again and living near his grandson in Chapel Hill, NC, with wife, Beth McCauley. 





Why do you write?

For me there are only three reasons to write:  to entertain, to make a reader feel an emotion, and to change the world one reader at a time.  I think every writer wants to change the world.  That’s why we create worlds, so we can have it our way.  But in a larger sense, I want to contribute to a better world, and writing is one way to do that. 

 

What do you do when you’re not writing?

These days I spend a lot of time with my grandson.  I love discovering the world anew as he learns about it.

 

What’s something that’s true about you but no one believes? 

I’m a crack shot with a rifle.  As a twelve-year-old, I was in the Junior NRA.  With a .22 rifle, I reached Sharpshooter level, the highest category at the time.  But I’ve never owned a gun and don’t intend to.

 

What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?

Travel.  And more travel.  It opens your eyes to other ways of living.  And eating. 

 

Describe your book in three words.

Search for self.

 

Would you and your main character get along?

Once he figured out who he wanted to be as opposed to who he was, yes.

 

If you could spend one day with another author, who would you choose and why?

Carl Hiaasen.  He’s got such a great imagination and sense of humor.  We’d talk and laugh all day, sharing and making up stories.

 

What is your favorite book from childhood?

The Story of Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting.  I spent many hours in the public library reading all of his books.

 

What are you currently reading?

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese.  Just finished Doña Perfecta, by Benito Perez Galdós.  Both portray village life in their stories – one in India, the other in Spain - in ways that make you feel you live there for a bit.

 

If you could go back and rewrite one of your books or stories, which would it be and why?

I’d go back and rewrite “With the Greatest of Ease,” which I wrote when I was first starting out.  It’s never gotten out of my desk drawer and for good reason.  I really didn’t know what I was doing then.  What I got right, though, was the circus because I was fascinated enough at the time to work in one for a short while.  Now I know story better.  And people better.

 

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There I stood, all five eight of me, poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, soaking wet in my retro bathing suit, holding a dry pair of tickets to the Emmys that night, in front of a gorgeous woman, and I didn’t know who I was, where I was, or why I was. Or, just as importantly, who she was and what she was to me. Over the course of the next few days I discovered I was a thirty-something Emmy winning writer-actor showrunning a popular sitcom, but I had to learn about that one detail at a time until my memory came back. Then I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be, but I had to decide who that was and what that would mean for my girlfriend, my wife, my kids, my father, my brother, my cast, my agent, my PR maven, my assistant, and a 135 other people who depended on me for their livelihoods or their lives.I had the opportunity to change my life completely, and I did, eventually doing something real for other people while my gay sitcom character came out as straight and flipped the script on my show and my life.

Buy a copy here. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Indie Spotlight: Jeremy Broyles

Welcome to our Indie Spotlight series, in which TNBBC gives small press authors the floor to shed some light on their writing process, publishing experiences, or whatever else they'd like to share with you, the readers!



Today, we are joined by Jeremy Broyles, as he shares the elements he believes make a compelling case for getting your work published. 


Check it out!



What Do Writers Need? 


In a recent online exchange, I attempted to articulate what I thought authors needed in order to see their work published out into the wider world. Like any similar list, mine is not definitive. However, what follows are the elements I felt I could make a compelling case for regarding publication. What, then, do writers need?

 

1.     Unflinching belief in their book

2.     Dogged persistence

3.     Willingness to celebrate rejection

4.     Time

5.     Luck

 

It is item number five that, in my own opinion, we avoid talking much about in our various writing circles. Let’s face it though; publishing a novel requires a certain amount of good fortune. Whether that takes the form of a literary agent signing on to a debut project or a dedicated editor believing in a manuscript, luck plays a role in the publication process. We are reluctant to talk about luck because there is nothing to be done about it. After all, it is wholly out of our control. We want to believe that committing to the next thorough revision or recruiting beta readers or building a social media following—these things over which we have some semblance of power—is what is going to dictate how our project goes from submission to publication. I’m not arguing against any of that. Revise, recruit, and build. But as a novelist who has experienced both sides of luck—a little bit of good and plenty of bad—I want to strategize around how we as authors can reclaim some autonomy from the randomized happenstance of fate. How can we help manufacture our own good luck?

 

·       Read books. All the way through. From cover to cover. I realize this is not the most original advice, and the advantages it extols are already well understood. We can learn about ourselves as writers through reading others, reading makes us good literary citizens, etcetera. But from a purely pragmatic, luck-building standpoint, reading has a distinct advantage for would-be published authors. Read the acknowledgments section at the end of novels, and pay close attention to the people the author thanks. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, those thanks will include the author’s agent, editor, and/or publisher. Keep track of those names. When it is time to take your novel out to agents/editors/publishers, you will already have a point of connectivity with them given your familiarity with the that particular novel by that particular novelist.

·       Contact authors. Now that you’ve read these novels, why not engage the tellers of the stories in a conversation? Yes, social media is fine, but those places are all very noisy. Punching through that noise can often prove challenging. Seek out author webpages; the majority of authors have one. And the majority of those have a contact link. Use it. As a novelist myself, I am always delighted when a reader reaches out to me—even if that reader is soliciting advice. “Hey, Jeremy, I really enjoyed Flat Water. I was wondering how you went about getting it published.” I am happy to share my own story of publication, and I know of very few novelists who would attempt to pull the ladder up behind themselves. Additionally, I think it is also a well-kept secret within the publishing industry, especially indie, how many authors have direct input into who is published next. These are, after all, people with direct experience with the press’ aesthetic. Those same presses recruit their previous authors as de facto scouts. Having a previous conversation or two with those writers will not guarantee anything, obviously, but neither can it hurt for them to know a little bit about you already.

·       Get facetime. These authors, editors, agents, and publishers—they are not as reclusive as the industry would have you believe. There are opportunities to speak with them face-to-face. Here, admittedly, we might have to work harder. Are there conferences or book fairs in your area? Is an author on a limited reading tour or offering a craft talk? Attend these events. Digital facetime works equally as well. For example, if you really want to get in good graces with a novelist, read their book for your book club and then bring them in for a visit. To give away another trade secret, authors are nearly universal in their love for speaking to a group of readers in a shared reading environment. The idea here is to become more to these people than just a name on a page. Names on pages are easy to reject. That happens all the time. But names with faces and histories and stories to tell? These are people, and people are always harder to reject. To be sure, that happens all the time too. I refer you to item number three in my previous list. But if we are to manufacture our own good luck to manifest our published novel, then being people connecting with other people is the closest we are going to get to a foolproof plan in this chaotic industry of publication.

 

I am a creative writing professor, and I often tell my students that writing is horribly unnatural. We are each called, in our own way, to tell these stories rattling around in the six inches between our ears. For some, myself included, there exists the need to get those stories out of that space and into the world as a published piece. That process is one rife with form rejection letters and briskly slammed doors. I do not know that any advice I have to offer will stem the flow of those letters or prop open any doors. I believe, however, that the author who creates their own luck is far better positioned than the one waiting for fortune to turn their way. So I mean it sincerely when I write that on your own publication journey, I wish you the very best of luck


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On a road trip to Flat Water, the home he fled years before, Monty Marinnis must confront the complex and painful loss that drove him away and now demands his return: family. Called back to California for his sister’s wedding, Monty’s journey from the Midwest to the California Coast is also a journey through memory, one complicated by the presence of his adoring, but increasingly frustrated wife Charlotte, from whom Monty has concealed the horrifying details of his family’s fracture and how he remains haunted by what he witnessed as a teenager. The Marinnis's  lost their eldest son in a shocking attack, while Monty watched, helpless. Since that day, he has been obsessed with finding an answer to a question that has none: why do bad things happen to some people but not others? Why were the Marinnis's selected to suffer? In Flat Water, Monty will be confronted by brutal truths that rise like sharks from the depths. Faced with such realities, Monty will have to choose between acceptance and self-destruction.


Buy direct from publisher



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Jeremy Broyles is an Arizona native, originally from the Cottonwood-Jerome-Sedona high desert. He earned his B.A. from Doane College, now University, his M.A. from Northern Arizona University, and his MFA in fiction from Wichita State University. He is a professor with nearly twenty years of experience teaching in higher education, and he currently serves as the creative writing program director at Mesa Community College where he has taught since 2017. His stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, Santa Clara Review, Rock and a Hard Place Magazine, The Black Fork Review, Pembroke Magazine, Red Rock Review, BULL, Suburbia Journal, and Reckon Review amongst many others. His novella, What Becomes of Ours, was published in 2014 by ELJ Publications. His novel Flat Water--the story of siblings, surfing, and sharks and what happens when those things come together both in and out of the water--was released by Mint Hill Books, an imprint of Main Street Rag Press, in 2023. He is an aging rider of bicycles, a talentless surfer of waves, and a happily mediocre player of guitars.


Monday, May 13, 2024

The 40 but 10 Interview Series: Jonathan Kravetz

 


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


Today we are joined by Jonathan Kravetz. Jonathan’s novel, How We Were Before, is forthcoming from Running Wild Press in 2024. His short story, “Conch,” was the Fiction Category winner for the Fall 2017 issue of Cardinal Sins. His stories and plays have appeared in a variety of journals, including The Iris Literary Journal, The Rappahannock Review, The Furious Gazelle, The Opiate Magazine, Narrative Northeast, and others. His short story, “The David,” was turned into a podcast by Welltoldtales.com. He has several other published short stories and has written a dozen science non-fiction books for children. Jonathan has edited and ghostwritten several essays and memoirs. He is the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of DUCTS.org (1999–2019), a biannual literary webzine devoted to publishing engaging personal essays, memoirs, art, fiction, humor and more. Jonathan is also the founder of the monthly reading series, Trumpet Fiction, which is held the second Saturday of every month at KGB Bar in the East Village. Jonathan's plays have been produced in New York City, England, and Dallas. His play, Sing Sing, was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill Playwrights Conference. His play, Insomnia, was a finalist for the Summer Scribes Series, for 12 Peers Theater and was selected as a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Jonathan holds a Masters in Cinema Studies from NYU and an MFA from Queens College where he was a Louis Armstrong resident. He teaches fiction and dramatic writing in New York City and drama at FIT, State University of New York.







What do you do when you’re not writing?

I teach theater at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology) in New York and take my dog to the beach almost daily. It’s more fun in the winter because sometimes we have the entire beach to ourselves. I play the trumpet and occasionally gig with a band out here in Rockaway, NY, where I live. I listen to podcasts and watch a ton of movies. I drive my girlfriend to her many markets (she makes jewelry out of seashells)! I wear baseball hats and think about characters in my books. I wish I was writing more, but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time promoting (and learning to promote) How We Were Before. I never fully appreciated how much work goes into publicity.


How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

I guess it never occurred to me to celebrate the completion of a new book because they never feel completely done to me. I’m always working on them, even when I’m sending them out. But I like this idea and since I’m almost done with a new novel (a humorous mystery), I think I’ll go get myself a halva ice cream sundae at the local ice cream shop in Rockaway. Sugar in the form of anything frozen always feels like an important celebration.


If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why?

How We Were Before is a novel of connected stories, so there are too many characters to cast them all. But I’ll pick a handful because I can’t resist this question.

Pete and Tara Blythe, the town’s most glamorous couple, will be played by Katherine Hahn and Bill Hader. I can see them having some amazing blow-out fights and then making up.

The murderer, Billy Lawson, will be played by Barry Keoghan. He’s the kid in The Banshees of Inisherin, but he’d be much more demented in my movie.

Shelby Blythe, the oldest daughter of the murdered couple, will be played by Kristen Stewart. She can get the edge and sexual ambiguity just right.

Samantha Blythe, the youngest daughter of the murdered couple, will be played by Emma Stone. She can play caring and vulnerable.

The Vice-Principal of the high school will be played by James Spader (though we may de-age him fifteen years or so). There’s nothing more to say about a character being played by Spader.


What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written?

I’m tempted to say The Imperfectionists because it’s the novel that inspired How We Were Before, but I’ll pull one from left field instead: The City & The City by China Miéville. It’s a detective novel that takes place in two cities that exist side by side and whose citizens are forbidden to go into or acknowledge the other city. The people must, in fact, “unsee” the people in the other city. I’ve written one novel and a few plays that take place in imaginary worlds with specific rules like this, and I admire how Miéville is able to craft such a believable realm out of such a farfetched concept. The world he creates is realer than real, because the central metaphor examined in the book—the idea of unseeing others—is, alas, very much the way living in a city feels.


What’s the single best line you’ve ever read?

No one writes a first paragraph like Shirley Jackson. I apologize that the opening to We Have Always Lived in the Castle is more than one line: “My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.”


Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

How We Were Before is my debut novel, so I’ve only seen one review of it so far (it was positive!). But I also write plays and have made the mistake of reading the reviews. Theater reviews tend to be snarky and are often written by people who would rather be writing plays than reviews and good ones can be hard to come by so I’m not sure why I read them—I’m a glutton for punishment? For the most part, though, I’ve been lucky, and I’ve gotten a great deal of positive feedback and encouragement from audiences and fellow writers. In the end, that means more to me than any review could, positive or negative.


What would you do if you could live forever?

As it happens, I have written a play about a society in which people live forever. The people in this world are bored and do nothing but watch a single reality TV show: The American Dream. One man learns he’s dying of insomnia and gets featured on the show with his wife. As he approaches death, he slowly awakens to the beauty of being alive. But in the real world, I don’t think I’d be bored. I’d do many of the things I’m already doing. And I’d also get into a business in which I could make a lot of money so that I could ultimately use it to start a huge arts organization. I picture a twenty-five-story glass building in the west village of New York with practice rooms, theaters, and art and writing studios, plus classes and all manner of shows. All for free for the artists.


What is under your bed?

The dog is under my bed when she’s not under my desk. Or under my feet. There are also several dog toys and an elk antler under there. During the day, while I work, she lounges on the bed waiting for me to get up and do something exciting. But when she decides she has to get working too, she crawls under the bed and gnaws at the antler.



 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve given/received as a gift?

I worked at a weekly newspaper (much like the one described in the first story in my novel) when I graduated college. It was difficult making friends with the other staff while I was still trying to learn how to be a semi-competent journalist. When the holidays rolled around, we had an office Secret Santa and I my “victim” was the other reporter in the office. I gave him gag gifts every day for about a week. I remember one was a card that said, “Good Cheer and Tidings this holiday season!” with wrapped boxes of Tide and Cheers detergent—the single serving ones they have at laundromats. No one suspected I was the gag-gift giver. It was fun revealing myself on the last day and giving a real gift (which I don’t remember). After that, the other reporter and I became good friends.


Do you DNF books?

Unfortunately, yes. When I was younger, I forced myself to plow through to the end once I started a book. I made it through some fairly dense novels. But I didn’t necessarily get that much out of getting all the way to the end of something I wasn’t enjoying, so now if a book isn’t doing something magical in a hundred or so pages, I’ll put it down and start another. I used to feel bad about that, but I’ve come around to believing that there are too many great books out there to spend time reading ones that neither delight me nor teach me something new.


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When a savage home invasion results in the death of a town's most glamorous couple, the surviving friends and relatives of the victims must navigate the emotional aftermath: Exasperated high school Vice-Principal Zachary Rivers makes a final effort to reach a troubled student. Town librarian, Shelby Blythe—the eldest daughter of the murder victims—begins a correspondence with Billy Lawson, her parents’ murderer. Evelyn Kavanaugh, a retired marketing manager and beloved family friend of the Blythes, embarks on a luxurious cruise as a prelude to suicide. Noam Russell, Billy Lawson’s best friend, returns to Benfield to claim a share of his deceased father’s estate. Samantha Blythe’s maternal attempt to help an employee evokes a renewed desire to connect with her own family.

The spaces between stories are haunted by echoes of the deceased couple's life—from the ignorant bliss of first impressions and great expectations to the tumultuous troubles of middle age, and, finally, an undying hope for reconciliation.


Monday, May 6, 2024

The 40 But 10: Katherine Silva

 



I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!


Today we are joined by Katherine Silva. Katherine is an ace Maine horror author, a connoisseur of coffee, and victim of cat shenanigans. Her favorite flavors of the genre mix grief and existentialism which she combines with her love of the New England wilderness in her works. She is a three-time Maine Literary Award finalist for speculative fiction and a member of the Horror Writers of Maine, The Horror Writers Association, and New England Horror Writers Association. Katherine is also editor-in-chief of Strange Wilds Press and Dark Taiga Creative Writing Consultations. You can find out all about her work at katherinesilvaauthor.com.






What’s the most useless skill you possess? I can recite all the lyrics to the songs from The Wizard of Oz on command. I love this movie to pieces but this is space in my brain I could use for something much more helpful.


How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book? 

I usually don’t, haha. But finishing the writing part of a book to me isn’t really finishing it. I still have all this other stuff to do so celebrating the finishing of one stage doesn’t feel right to me. That being said, I rarely go out and celebrate when the book is finished and out in the world. Maybe I’ll get myself a little piece of chocolate or something. And then I’m onto the next project.


Describe your book in three words. 

Heartbreaking. Desolate. Raw.


Describe your book poorly. 

An orphan brings dead animals back to life so she can have someone to talk to.


If you could cast your characters in a movie, which actors would play them and why? 

Janet would probably be played by Ella Purnell (Fall-Out). Amos would be voiced by Stanley Tucci (of course).


If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why? 

I’d probably want to spend some more time with my friend, Amanda Headlee. What an awesome writer and someone I could talk about everything with.


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors? 

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, Helpmeet by Naben Ruthnam, Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer.


 What are you currently reading? 

I’m reading three different books like an absolute maniac right now: Deep by Aquino Loayza, If These Walls Could Talk by Michael Tyree, and Tales From The Inner City by Shaun Tan.


You have to choose an animal or cartoon character that best represents you. Which is it and why? 

I’m definitely a house cat. I vacillate between wanting to be around people to being utterly sick of them and needing my alone time. I could be perfectly content sleeping in a sunny spot for hours.

 

What songs would be on the soundtrack of your life? 

Garbage’s I Think I’m Paranoid is always one I’ve thought should be there. Also: Rose Rouge by St. Germain. It’s the constant tempo of thoughts coursing through my brain at any given moment, haha.



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Beyond the smoke-choked skies of an apocalyptic United States, a woman travels the desolate railroad tracks of a small town in search of revenge and a quiet place to settle. Her only companion is an undead fox: animated with backwoods herbal magic and the soul of a middle-aged father who died before the world fell into darkness.

Undead Folk is a short, harrowing tale of sacrifice, loss, and damnation.

Buy your copy here


Saturday, May 4, 2024

What I Read In April

 Oh April...  you flew by so fast I hadn't realized how few books I had read. I only got through 8 but in this case, let's call it quality over quantity! I got my hands on 3 titles that I've been waiting to find, either used or at a reasonable price for kindle, and man oh  man, they certainly did not disappoint. 

Some really good books filled my brain last month. Let's see which ones they were: 




Shark Heart by Emily Habeck

This is one of those books that I picked up at a used bookstore, intrigued by the cover but then became completely enthralled by the description. When I brought it home, I started seeing it pop up on #bookstagram, and got nervous... usually big buzz books and I don't get along so well.

Also, I need to go on record and confess how much I hate... HATE... tear jerkers. Especially when I don't see the thing that will jerk those tears coming. There I was, reading on the couch last night, thoroughly enjoying the uniqueness of the book when BLAM! This sneaky little sucker suddenly tugged on my heart strings without any warning! So of course I have to give it 5 stars, LOL.

Shark Heart is grief fiction at its... ahem... heart. In it, Wren and Lewis fall in love and get married. Their happiness is short lived when they discover that Lewis has a rare genetic disorder and is quite quickly mutating into a shark. The book follows the couple as they prepare to face the inevitable.

It's not your run of the mill love story, but more of a cracking of the ribs, a peeling back of the meat and muscle, to get to the heart of marriage and motherhood and what it means, and takes, to be human, especially when your body begins to transform into something that's not. And the biggest lesson of all... sometimes, when you let go of the thing you love most, it might not be able to find its way back to you... even if it wanted to.

A stunning debut. And one that I'm glad I stumbled on, even if it did make me misty eyed for a hot second there.




The Skinless Man Counts to 5 and other tales of the Macabre by Paul Jessup

To say that Underland Press specializes in publishing books that swim on the fringes of genre, both literary and weird, is a bit of an understatement. The Skinless Man Counts to Five And Other Tales of the Macabre is a testament to that. Within its pages, readers will find ghosts and monsters, aliens and elves, card games with deadly consequences, and other fear inducing horrors.

Some of the standout stories, in both idea and execution, include The House at the End of the World, which involves a young girl in a new town with creepy mask wearing residents; Glass Coffin Girls, about a girl who takes over every inch of her boyfriend's apartment; When Max Was Hungry Again, about a spell that's supposed to increase hunger but sometimes to a detrimental effect; This Hunted World, where shapeshifting wolves stalk a man and his kid; and Fake Plastic Trees, where a strange parasitic infection crosses over from gorillas to humans.

This was my first time reading Jessup's work and while there were some truly stunning stories, I found the majority of the collection to be rather uneven and frustrating, feeling more like an anthology than a single authored collection. Some of the stories were difficult to follow, others felt like they were rushed and needed more than a handful of pages to become more fully fleshed out. But those that were good were just so damn good!

If you end up picking this one up, I'd love to hear which stories you connected with the most. There's definitely something in here for everyone.




The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley

I had been waiting to get my hands on this one for quite a while and finally happened to catch a used copy being sold on PangoBooks! Fungal fiction for the win... again!

This book was worth the wait. In it, a group of men have been surviving in a remote area on their own after a plague kills off all of the women. One day, while visiting his mother's grave, Nathan discovers mushrooms blooming all over the graveyard, directly over the women's remains. After plucking one of the fruiting bodies to show the resident doctor, he somehow finds himself underground and face to face with a woman shaped fungal creature. After overcoming his initial fears, he makes his way back to camp, bringing the thing along, introducing it to the group as The Beauty.

What are these hybrid beings and are they as gentle as they seem? Nathan informs them that there are more where it came from, enough for each of them and the men find themselves both terrified and mystified by what comes next in this strange post-pandy world.

The book is grotesquely tender as it plays around with gender roles and body horror. I devoured it in practically one sitting and my only complaint is that it wasn't longer!

(this copy also included another novelette called Peace, Pipe which was also amazing, about someone who was kept in quarantine on spaceship, who befriends another lifeform when they realize they can hear each other through the wall that separates them. Oh my god it was sooo good Almost reminded me a bit of Project Hail Mary and the relationship Ryland and Rocky cultivated!!)




In the Valley of the Headless Men by LP Hernandez

More grief fiction for the win and this one gets all the stars!

Joseph's suffered a lot of loss in his life. His mother's recent passing, an absent father, a stillborn son that resulted in a failed relationship, and a fresh divorce. While he and his half brother Oscar sort through their mother's belongings, he comes across a letter from his father that prompts them to book a trip to Nahanni in an effort to get some closure from the things that haunt them most.

Gillian, Joseph's ex girlfriend, invites herself along on this strange and impromptu journey into the mysterious national park, best known for rumors of giants and prehistoric creatures hidden in its forests. Within hours of arrival, they can feel something is extremely off about the place, and things only get odder for the threesome the deeper into the park they travel.

Think Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy (Tetralogy?!) and you'll have an idea of what our intrepid adventurers are about to uncover in this vast and liminal space. Equal parts psychological terror and cosmic horror, it's incredibly atmospheric and LP just continued to crank up the weirdness, relentlessly testing our characters perception of reality, and I was there for every second of it.




Mosaic by Catherine McCarthy

oooh I've been wanting to read this for so long and a big thank you to the publisher for sending a copy my way. It arrived just in time for me to bring it along for a work trip. I read it in the airport and on the plane and you guys, it was sooo good!

It reads so quickly, the pacing is perfect, and it's got just the right amount of wtf energy floating throughout its pages. If you like creepy abandoned church reconstruction stories, this one needs to be on your radar. It's got slow burn horror movie vibes from the get-go!

Robin gets hired on to assist with the restoration of a stained glass window in an old decrepit church that's nestled deep in a remote wooded area. Though the job feels weird and there's next to nothing online in regards to the church itself, once she visits the site she can't imagine not seeing it through. Even once she begins to uncover what the image in the stained glass window was....

You ever read a book where you know the main character is getting themselves caught up in something they are going to regret and you're all "no giiirrllll, stop trying to rationalize things and get out there before bad shit starts to happen" and then the bad stuff starts to happen and you're all "see... ok, now you're going to get out there, right..." and they still don't?!

Yes. That.
Get this book. Thank me later.




The Vile Thing We Created by Robert P Ottone

Another airplane read while traveling for work and it was such good company.

The Vile Thing We Created is a slow burn horror novel about a couple who decide to have a baby when they realize their friends are all moving ahead without them. It's a dark and twisted spin on the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses".

As a mother, there's nothing worse than thinking there is something wrong with your baby. From the onset of her pregnancy, Lola knows something's not right. The way she feels, the way the baby feels inside her... but the doctors do their doctorly duties and assure her that everything's perfectly normal. Yet once little Jones is born, the fear fails to subside. Quite honestly, for Lola and Ian, his entry into the world only serves to rattle them more. And those strange visions and hallucinations of glowing eyes in the woods that Lola kept seeing while pregnant seem to grow in intensity as Jones grows.

What are you supposed to do when you fear your own child? Who do you go to for help? And how do you not sound crazy when you finally do?

Ottone hits the psychological horror nail right on the head with this one! He perfectly peppered in the in-law dynamics, the overwhelming sense of FOMO the main characters struggled with, and the history of the small town Ian grew up -combined, those elements continued to feed the book's oppressive atmosphere.

The only real complaint I had was some of the odd conversational nuances between the characters. Ian referring to his wife Lola as "kid" all the time was one that kept pulling me out of the page. It felt less like a term of endearment and more like a verbal putdown.

If you're looking for a good "what the hell came out of my coochie" read, this one is it!!! Parental nightmares for the win!




The Deading by Nicholas Belardes

oh man I really wanted to like this one. My gut was telling me to DNF it over and over again and I kept ignoring it, hoping it would get better, but nope. It didn't. And that really sucks because, in theory, it had the potential to be really good...

It's part eco horror, part oceanic horror, part cosmic horror, part social horror. and part pandy fiction, so at face value it has all the ingredients of something I would love but it just couldn't seem to pull it off.

An oyster farm is the site of the snail bite that sets the whole thing off - a woman gets bit, if bit is the right word, and she basically becomes comatose while more and more of the things crawl on and into her. Her boss attempts to save her and gets bit as well. She vanishes into the water while he becomes something else entirely. Like a patient zero or super boss kind of thing. And then within no time, it spreads to the townspeople who begin deading... seizing, foaming at the mouth, falling down dead on to the ground, only to stand back up a few minutes later and go back to their lives as if nothing happened. The sea town quickly quarantined by the government, who begin to monitor them with drones, and the residents begin breaking themselves off into two groups - those who dead, now referred to as Risers, and those who don't, the uninfected. And those who don't... are beginning to fear for their lives.

Sounds so good right?! God I wish it was. It meandered a lot, there were whole entire sections that focused on birding (I mean, the cover, which is gorgeous btw, even has one on it) but it felt very loose and disconnected and didn't spend a lot of time on the actual deading. What caused it? Where did the virus, if it is a virus, come from? Why do those who are infected keep deading and rising? Where do they "go" when they die each time? Why doesn't the government actually go in and test or check on them? Why... why... why???

Sigh.

For the social horror part, think Jose Saramago's Blindness and Seeing but not nearly as good.






Goldilocks by Laura Lam

The hubby pulled this one down off the shelf, based solely on the title, for me to read next when he realized I was between books.

Funnily enough, the last one he blindly chose for me was also a space novel.

This was an arc copy I had received but hadn't gotten around to and oooh maaaan was it riddled with grammar issues! It was kind of painful to read, though I have to assume most of the missing words, double words, and half sentences were corrected by the time it went to print.

Goldilocks was a bit slow to start, finding its pace somewhere around the hundred page mark. It was cute, but nothing to... ahem... message home about.

Earth is dying, men are trying to keep women out of the workplace, and five female astronauts have had enough. They steal a spaceship intent on heading to a newly discovered planet with the hopes of terraforming it and making it the utopia they've all dreamed about. Only, once in orbit, the crew discover their captain has some nefarious plans in place that they don't necessarily agree with, and shit starts going sideways fast.

It's a pandemic-slash-eco sci fi novel at heart, with a smattering of familial drama, and yet beyond the dark and depressing storyline, there's also a little bit of light... the hope for humanity, the opportunity to save the world, the chance to start over again... you know, all the stuff that makes you keep reading.