GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Elana Gomel: Hallowe’en Party

Hercule Poirot 41:
Hallowe’en Party
By: Agatha Christie
Genre: Mystery, British Mystery
Publication Date: November 1969 (reissued in October 2006)
Pages: 320

When a Halloween party turns deadly, it falls to Hercule Poirot to unmask a murderer in Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery, Hallowe’en Party.

At a Halloween party, Joyce – a hostile thirteen year old – boasts that she once witnessed a murder. When no one believes her, she storms off home. But within hours her body is found, still in the house, drowned in an apple-bobbing tub. That night, Hercule Poirot is called in to find the “evil presence.” But first he must establish whether he is looking for a murderer or a double-murderer…


Child’s Play or Child’s Murder? Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party

Mrs. Ariadne Oliver is a kind, if somewhat scatterbrained lady, who loves apples and writes bestselling murder mysteries. Though a delightful person, unfortunately, she has never existed. Mrs. Ariadne Oliver is a literary character, a creation of Dame Agatha Christie who introduced her in her later books as a wry alter ego.

In 1969, Mrs. Oliver is about to celebrate Halloween at her friends’ house in Kent, UK. As the hostess is bustling around, trying to get everything in order, Mrs. Oliver ponders the difference between squash and zucchini, between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and between life and death:

“It was rather remarkable, seeing so many pumpkins or vegetable marrows, whatever they are… The last time I saw one of these…was in the United States last year – hundreds of them. All over the house. I’ve never seen so many pumpkins…They were everywhere in the shops, and in people’s houses, with candles or nightlights inside them or strung up. Very interesting, really. But it wasn’t for Hallowe’en party, it was Thanksgiving. Now I’ve always associated pumpkins with Hallowe’en, and that’s the end of October. Thanksgiving comes much later, doesn’t it? Isn’t it November, about the third week in November? Anyway, here, Hallowe’en is definitely the 31st of October, isn’t it? First Hallowe’en and then, what comes next? All Souls’ Day? That’s when in Paris you go to cemeteries and put flowers on graves. Not a sad sort of feast. I mean, all the children go too and enjoy themselves”.

The jarring transition from grief in cemeteries to kids having fun captures the essence of Halloween. It is a holiday of candy and ghost stories; of pumpkins and ghouls; of good cheer and deep fear. And in her own inimitable way, Ariadne Oliver – or rather, her creator, Agatha Christie – has captured the deep duality of this strangest of all feasts.

Hallowe’en Party is not as well-known as Christie’s earlier novels, but it is just as accomplished, while considerably darker. Published in 1969, it features indefatigable Hercule Poirot who, by this time, would be around 120 years old. But he is still capable of solving a murder mystery. Poirot is invited by Mrs. Oliver to investigate a series of crimes around the Quarry Garden in Kent. The crimes are atrocious: four murders, two of them involving children, and an attempted murder of yet another child. The ambience is brooding and ominous: a party ending with a corpse; a mysterious sunken garden; a contested country estate.

We could easily imagine the setup as the beginning of a slasher movie. And indeed, the novel generates a sense of dread by constantly hinting at some unspecified demonic forces at play. There are so many references to serial killers, insanity, witches, and ghouls, you would expect the knife-wielding Michael Myers to pop up from behind the bushes and go on a rampage. After all, the first Halloween movie that crystallized the connection between the holiday and slasher aesthetics came out less than ten years after Christie’s novel, in 1978.

But this is not Christie. Though some of her other novels verge on supernatural horror (especially the superb And Then There Were None, 1939), in her Poirot books, the solution is always rational and logical, the horror of violence defused by reducing it to a bloodless puzzle. At the end, there is a logical explanation, justice is done, and the cozy mystery solved. Poirot, the voice of reason, dismisses out of hand any talk of madness, possession, or ghosts. In Poirot’s world, mayhem is only a pretext for ratiocination, a game with set rules, a game even a child can play. And so, despite the gruesome nature of the murders in Hallowe’en Party, the motive for them is neither sexual nor supernatural but a good old-fashioned desire for profit and fear of discovery (spoilers alert!). Poirot’s reasonable explanation for the deaths of 13-year-old Joyce and her little brother is supposed to dispel the horror of their violent end.

But does it? By the time the murderers finally get their just comeuppances (spoilers alert again!), we have been inundated with so many disturbing references to madness, sexual depravity, possession, demonic forces, and the Devil that the tidy ending rings hollow. As a cleaning lady who is reputed to be a witch ominously suggests, the smug upper-middle-class suburb of Woodleigh Common is infested with evil: “the devil’s always got some of his own. Born and bred to it.” When the children of Woodleigh Common are having a Halloween party, is it a child’s play or a child’s sacrifice?

Mrs. Oliver’s stream of consciousness quoted above is, in fact, a pretty accurate summary of the history of Halloween. It started as the pagan feast of Samhain and later merged with the Catholic All Saints’ Day, designated as such by Pope Gregory III in the eighth century. The night before November 1 was known as All Souls, or All Hallows, Eve, which is the origin of the word Halloween, still spelled in Christie’s novel in the old-fashioned way with an apostrophe. Neither Samhain nor All Hallows Eve were innocent entertainment. Samhain may have involved human sacrifices, while All Hallows Eve was believed to be the time when the dead walk among the living. In the Middle Ages, the fear of ghosts and witches was absolutely real, and neither were a laughing matter. Even the carnival elements – dressing up, masking, drinking, and dancing – were linked to fertility cults that warded off death by engaging in sexual magic.

The reason why Halloween mutated from a pagan ritual to a kiddies’ night out had to do with the rise of science and rationalism in the Industrial Age. Folklore and superstition became an embarrassing reminder of the more “primitive” stages of cultural development. The Victorians saw themselves as the adults of history; everything that went on before was childish, immature; in short, a child’s play.

Only it did not quite work out this way. Nightmares turned out to be impervious to the light of reason; science did not dispel the fog of superstition; and irrational evil came back in force during the massacres of the last century. And Halloween persisted in its duality: both a whimsical entertainment and a night of terror; both a child’s play and adult horror; both trick-or-treating and serial murder.

Hallowe’en Party reflects this duality. Some of the customs in the novel will strike the American reader as quaint. There is no trick-or-treating but there is bobbing for apples (lifting apples from a bucket of water with your teeth). No face-painting or masks but mirrors are handed out, so girls can see faces of their future husbands (a practice widespread in medieval Europe and reflected in some spooky German and Russian ballads about a dead bridegroom coming to fetch the incautious bride). No candy but there is the Snapdragon – a dish of raisins set on fire. All these customs descend from ancient pagan rituals: apples are linked to fertility cults; mirrors trap souls; and the Snapdragon recalls the Viking funeral pyre. Surrounded by echoes of the Druidic ceremonies, the murder of a young girl is initially presented as some sort of demonic sacrifice, or perhaps a sex crime perpetrated by a madman.

But at the end it turns out to have been just a game. Christie’s novels seldom leave you with unanswered questions about the nature of evil or the origins of criminality. They are soothing puzzles to occupy your mind; cozy mysteries; precursors to Midsomer Murders. And yet, even as all the loose ends are tied up, there is something darker left unspoken. Next time you want to attend a Hallowe’en Party, remember that at All Souls’ Eve, evil walks, and evil is not a child’s play. Dame Agatha Christie who was knighted by the Queen for her contribution to British culture knows how to have her cake and to eat it; to reassure her readers and to disturb them; to have fun and to teach a lesson. So. let’s have Mrs. Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s ironic self-portrait, have the last word, as she does in Hallowe’en Party:

“’That’s right,’ said Mrs. Oliver in an exaggerated voice, ‘blame it all on me as usual’”


Boo-graphy:
Elana Gomel was born in a country that no longer exists and has lived in many others that may, or may not, be on the road to extinction. She currently resides in California. She is an academic with a long list of books and articles, specializing in science fiction, Victorian literature, and serial killers. She is also a fiction writer who has published more than ninety short stories, several novellas, and three novels. Her story “Where the Streets Have No Name” was the winner of the 2020 Gravity Award, and her story “Mine Seven” is included in The Best Horror of the Year 13 edited by Ellen Datlow. She is a member of HWA.

Little Sister
A schoolgirl steps between a soldier and a ravening monster…

1943. Soviet Union is under attack as WW2 is raging. Fighting in the doomed battle of Kursk, Andrei finds himself in a strange city where Svetlana, a girl he has never seen but who looks eerily familiar, saves him from a fist-faced creature. When Svetlana’s family is lost, the two embark on a harrowing odyssey across the snow-covered plain, battling deformed former humans and taken prisoners by the army of black stars. Against impossible odds, they reach their destination where they discover a secret that will change history.

Little Sister is a dystopian historical fantasy set in the Soviet Era. Presenting a richly imagined alternative history world, this is a tale of friendship, survival, and heartbreak. Fans of The Book Thief and The Wolfhound Century will enjoy this striking fantasy rooted in Russian fiction.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW by Christina Bergling: Trick ‘r Treat & Halloween

Trick ‘r Treat vs. Halloween

What is THE Halloween movie? What do you watch after the trick-or-treaters have gone home and the Jack o’Lanterns are burning low?

The knee-jerk reaction might be to say Halloween. I mean, after all, the title of the movie is Halloween. The movie is set on Halloween. The soundtrack has become synonymous with the holiday itself.

While I do watch Halloween every October, not only the original but multiple offerings from the franchise, I respectfully disagree. For me, there is only one film for All Hallows Eve: Trick ‘r Treat.

Every year, after we have spent the October weeks hitting pumpkin patches and haunted houses, on Halloween night after we have extinguished the porch light and put our own weary trick-or-treaters to bed, we turn on Trick ‘r Treat. We stumbled up on the movie by accident one year and assumed it was going to be terrible and campy, and yet we discovered it was sheer festive brilliance.

Trick ‘r Treat is not another horror movie that takes place on Halloween. It does not rely on stock imagery of fog engulfed streets or flickering Jack o’Lanterns. Rather, Trick ‘r Treat is an interwoven set of anthology stories about Halloween. The spirit of Halloween, the traditions and superstitions undermining the holiday are the theme and essence of the film.

Trick ‘r Treat does, of course, unfold on Halloween night. It has costumed children taking flickering Jack o’Lanterns to the site of a tragic local lore. It has drunken adults looking to get lucky at throbbing Halloween parties. It has naughty children betraying the rules of Halloween. All the archetypes and tropes that come to mind around Halloween appear and are cleverly woven together to the spooky lover’s delight.

However, what ultimately makes Trick ‘r Treat my Halloween movie is Sam. Sam appears as an observant, childlike trick-or-treater on the peripheral of each tale. Yet Sam is actually Samhain, the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween, and later the enforcer of the traditions of the holiday. When Sam’s rules are not followed, things get ugly.

Distilled down, Halloween is ultimately a slasher movie. If you changed the title and shifted the timeline and setting, the movie and Michael Meyers could still exist successfully. It would still function in the subgenre. Plenty of the other entries in the franchise wander away from the holiday. Halloween may have the soul of a killer, but it does not have the spirit of Halloween in its essence.

That spirit is where Trick ‘r Treat is different, is more than other horror movies. A manifestation of Samhain trails through the reels as the underlying current of the culminating narratives is Halloween tradition. The film as a whole can be taken as a campy cautionary tale to heed the superstitions and the rules in an increasingly detached and non-participatory world. Trick ‘r Treat pushes us to remember the Halloween spirit, and the perfect time for that is Halloween night itself.

Lest you blow out your Jack o’Lantern too soon and meet Sam with his sharpened sucker in the dark.


Boo-graphy:
Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

Followers
Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Christina Bergling: Halloween Land

Halloween Land by Kevin J. Kennedy

I read horror books all year round. Every season is horror season for me. However, fall time puts me in a particularly festive and nostalgic mood. When the days get darker and colder, when the leaves crunch and the pumpkin spice flows freely, I want to read a specific kind of spooky. I want to read something with a Halloween vibe.

Halloween Land by Kevin J. Kennedy delivers the nostalgia-laden plot that I need beside a crackling fire with a stiff whisky and some mellowcreme pumpkins lifted off my children. The novella is bite-sized, like the candy, and I was able to binge it in one sitting.

Halloween Land introduces us to two teenaged children, Zak and Wendy, as they search for fun and frights on Halloween night. A traveling carnival has appeared in their town for the night, and the two feel compelled to explore it. They don their costumes and push their way through the crowd to get inside. Yet they quickly discover that the carnival is not normal. Instead, it is a gateway to something far more terrifying.

I know Kennedy more than the average reader. He and I co-authored the post-apocalyptic horror novella Screechers. I am also featured in several of his horror anthologies. I personally know how deep of a horror lover Kennedy is and how much genre knowledge he has. That passion, focused on Halloween itself, is very evident in Halloween Land.

Like any deep horror author, Kennedy takes his favorite toys out of the box to play with in his world. This produces a reliance on tropes and archetypes, appearances of familiar characters and ideas. Especially when we approach concepts steeped in motifs, like Halloween itself or a carnival. Kennedy blends horror with Halloween and a carnival in Halloween Land. This blending relies on the tropes you would expect to see in such a recipe, but I was not exasperated to see reliance on these archetypes. Rather, it was like coming home to familiar friends, smiling at the comfort.

The subtitle of Halloween Land is “A Coming of Age Story.” That aptly describes the journey of Zak and Wendy and sets the tone of their adventure. The two dressing up and heading to the Halloween carnival has a distinctly Goosebumps vibe to it, especially since Goosebumps laid the foundation for all my later horror indulgence. That tickle of my childhood only amplified the nostalgia already conjured by the Halloween and carnival imagery.

Yet Halloween Land does not remain in childlike fantasy. When Zak and Wendy cross the threshold into Halloween Land’s other dimension, we too step into Kennedy’s world of monsters.

I am familiar with Kennedy’s world of monsters. I have written there. When we were writing Screechers, I handled the human survivors while Kennedy concocted the mutated monsters. He imagined fantastical beasts. I cannot fathom what all is lurking in his imagination. I will not betray Halloween Land with spoilers, but the same sort of blood-thirsty beasts are unleashed from his mind. With the appearance of these monsters, you can expect epic battles and harrowing fights for Zak and Wendy.

Halloween Land is the quick, easy read to sit down with to get you in the Halloween mood. It is the story to curl up with when you are feeling nostalgic and want to go to the Halloween carnival and also hint at your own youth. Halloween Land is horror comfort food to be consumed in one sitting, perhaps by a fire with a stiff drink and some leftover candy (like I did). Get in line to see if you survive the Fun House!


Boo-graphy:
Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

Followers
Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Christina Bergling

Meghan: Hi Christina! Thanks for stopping by. I know you’re busy, what with your book release today, so let’s get started right away. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Christina: Not to be the cliché horror author but… EVERYTHING! I have loved Halloween since I was a child, and I probably indulge in every part of it. If I had to select a favorite, it would be the costume. When I was young, I loved dressing up (on Halloween or any other day). The same is still true and likely contributes to why I like to dance and perform on-stage (costumes!). Yet the excitement of selecting a costume held me rapt for months. My mother often made my costume, so I had full creative freedom. Then we made the costume together. It all culminated when I could wear the final product, which of course had an elaborate backstory, to school, then later around the neighborhood trick-or-treating. Then the costumes lived on as long as they fit me. The best was when my mother made me a mermaid costume with a shimmering tale and shiny shells sewn on a flesh-colored bodice.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Christina: As a child, trick-or-treating was the best part of Halloween. While I still enjoy taking my children, we have struggled to find a neighborhood that is really into it. As an adult, my favorite has evolved to horror movies, especially at Telluride Horror Show every October, and/or haunted houses. Telluride Horror Show allows me to watch horror movies with genre fanatics in gorgeous mountain scenery for three straight days. Nothing but horror movies and maybe some horror movie trivia. And I love a good scare at a haunted house. I startle very easily, so the actors (and my friends) have plenty of fun with me.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Christina: Are there other holidays? Halloween is undoubtedly my favorite. It always has been. Christmas with Santa and presents did not even compete when I was young. Halloween always had my heart. Perhaps it was because my heart was always dark. I was always drawn to the macabre and the spooky. I am not sure why, but it resonated with me. Then with the addition of costumes and candy and running around in the dark and fear for fun, I was in for life.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Christina: I am not a superstitious person. However, I am a habitual person. If I do something and I love it, it becomes a “thing.” Traditions are forged very easily in my circle. Halloween has started to take over my life because I seem to add a new tradition every year, and I am completely unreasonable about skipping some or simplifying at all. It is never “or.” It is always “more.”

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Christina: My favorite monster is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love the psychology involved in his character. I think he embodies the wild duality in all of us. My horror villain is Hannibal Lecter. Once again, psychology. He is brilliant and yet profoundly savage. That duality, the way he blatantly ignores social convention to define his own ethical code makes his fascinating. Both have a deep intelligence under the evil, monster, and violence in their character. They are not mindless killing machines. They make very calculated decisions, which I think make them all the more terrifying.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Christina: I want to know who Jack the Ripper is. I know there are plenty of solid theories, and I’m not anywhere near researched enough. But I want to KNOW.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Christina: The Licked Hand haunts me. Of all the urban legends I have heard or read, that one left a mark on the back of my brain. To summarize, a girl puts her hand out of bed for a dog to lick it all night. Later, she finds the dog dead and realizes the killer has been licking her hand all night. I have heard many different versions of this same legend, but all versions just cause me to shudder. It used to keep me up at night when I was babysitting or home alone. And I surely never let my dog lick my hand at night.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Christina: I find Ted Bundy very interesting. His charisma and pathological lying make him quite fascinating. Plus representing himself in court and jumping out of the courtroom window to escape and continue his killing spree. His story is consistently so outlandish. The fact that he was able to get away with so much and garner so much attention for being attractive says some very frightening things about our culture.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Christina: Scream was my first horror movie at age 12. My father showed it to me after my parents divorced. While I lacked the genre knowledge to truly appreciate the meta nature of Scream, I adored it. I fell in love with the movie and the genre. I never looked back. I don’t think my father knew what he was starting. I don’t remember my first horror book. I started with Goosebumps and Fear Street and read numerous ones in elementary school. After that, I graduated to Stephen King. I devoured horror books at the library. Books lay the groundwork for my love of the horror genre and my eventual horror writing.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Christina: The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum deeply unnerved me. The novel is brilliant and so well written. The premise of child abuse and torture is visceral enough. However, the violence Meg endures is so haunting. I physically flinched. The prose made my nauseous. I love the book and appreciate everything it was able to do to me.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Christina: It might be a tie between the French movies Inside and Martyrs. French horror is extremely bloody. I am glad I saw Inside before I even had children because I do not know if I could handle the subject matter after being pregnant. Martyrs contained so much graphic torture. Ultimately, it influenced me so much that it helped to inspire my torture book The Waning. However, the most traumatic movie I have ever seen is by Dario Argento’s daughter, Asia Argento. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is traumatic to a level from which I may never recover. It just is not really “horror.”

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume? (This could be from when you were a child or after you became an adult. Or maybe something you never dressed as but wish you had.)

Christina: My most fun Halloween costume was dressing up as Dora the Explorer as an adult. I had her backpack full of very inappropriate tools. I wandered around the party showing everyone what I had in my backpack and taking way too many shots. When I had my daughter, my family went as the Addams family. I made yarn braids for her to be Wednesday Addams.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Christina: I love Black No. 1 by Type O Negative. I’m definitely partial to it because I know a choreography to it and have performed to it. Living Dead Girl by Rob Zombie is another good one. And the theme song from Halloween by John Carpenter is a classic. Ice Nine Kills has a whole album (with another coming out in October) of songs based on horror movies.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Christina: Mellowcreme pumpkins are my favorite. I could eat myself sick on them. And also have. Those peanut butter taffy things in the orange and black wrappers are disgusting though. Reese’s peanut butter pumpkins are also quite delicious. Though candy paired with booze always makes me pretty happy.

Meghan: Before we finish, what are your Top 10 Halloween movies?

Christina:


Boo-graphy:
Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.

Followers
Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….

When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.

Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jonathan Fortin

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jonathan Fortin: My name is Jonathan. My debut novel Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus came out today and I’m very excited about it!

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jonathan Fortin:
-I’m a trained voice actor in addition to being a writer. I also have experience acting on stage and in front of the camera.
-Contrary to popular belief, my top hat is not affixed to my head. And no, I don’t shower in it.
-I don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs, but less because of moral reasons and more because I’m fussy and sensitive to the tastes and smells. My taste buds are so sensitive that I can’t even enjoy coffee.
-I do, however, drink earl grey tea every morning.
-I am on the autistic spectrum, which explains the hypersensitivity.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jonathan Fortin: I honestly don’t know. Goodnight Moon? Runaway Bunny? Green Eggs and Ham?

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jonathan Fortin: I’m just finishing up The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Brilliant stuff.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jonathan Fortin: While I mostly read Horror and Fantasy, there are a few non-spectulative books that come to mind. James Baldwin’s Sonny’s Blues is one of my absolute favorite short stories. I’m also fond of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Minstry.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jonathan Fortin: You know, it was kind of always just what I did. As a kid, I wrote children’s books. As a teenager, I wrote young adult books. I first dreamed of being a writer from a young age, because it was the only way I could create the stories in my head. I couldn’t make movies or video games, but I could write. When I was younger, I was interested in exploring the film and video game industries, but quickly realized I didn’t want to deal with the difficulties or creative constraints inherent to them. So I stuck to writing because it seemed the most feasible way to bring my creative visions to life.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jonathan Fortin: No, but I should probably find one. It’s honestly hard for me to focus anywhere I go, and when I’m at home I just want to be lazy.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jonathan Fortin: I get very detail-focused and sometimes get tripped up on getting a certain detail just right before moving on. Then I’ll get caught by it again when redrafting, because I’m not sure it’s quite there yet.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jonathan Fortin: It’s less the writing itself and more the factors surrounding it, such as time management. Blocking out the time and energy to write is hard. So are other factors like promoting the book, networking, attending conventions, etc. Another problem I have is that at any given time I’ll have too many book ideas crawling around in my head, and I get indecisive about which one to work on, constantly distracted by my other ideas.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the cake for sure. It spans years, has a ton of characters who all needed to develop and change over time, and it combines multiple genres together. It was hugely ambitious for a first novel, and I had to redraft it many times before it was ready.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jonathan Fortin: Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, H.P. Lovecraft, Alan Moore, Holly Black, J.K. Rowling, Joe Hill, Dan Simmons, Junji Ito, Haruki Murakami, Clive Barker, Carlton Mellick III, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Michael Cox all come to mind.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jonathan Fortin: Regardless of genre: characters that intrigue you, struggling hard to get things that mean the world to them. A fast pace, so you’re never bored. Beautiful prose. Lots of details. Strong craft elements. You know a story is working when it absorbs you, immerses you in its world—feels more real to you than the real world. But everyone gets immersed by different things, so actually executing this is easier said than done.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jonathan Fortin: It’s tricky for me to find characters I love because I don’t relate to most people in the first place, real or fictional. I find that I connect best with characters who make me laugh, or feel true and genuine and deeply flawed. A lot of my characters tend to be dealing with some kind of trauma, because it’s something that I and most of my friends struggle with.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jonathan Fortin: I deliberately avoid basing any characters directly on myself, but I will say that one of my current projects involves being on the spectrum. While that character isn’t based on myself, they struggle with some of the things I’ve always struggled with.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jonathan Fortin: I am absolutely turned off by a bad cover. It’s shallow, I know, and I’m not saying I won’t read a really great book just because its cover stinks. But it’s hard to not let a cover set your expectations for the book’s aesthetic style. I’m something of an aesthete, and visualize my books very strongly in my head, so I demand a certain degree of control over my book covers. I was terrified that with Lilitu we would get a cover with a ton of cleavage and/or a naked man chest. Fortunately, my publisher Crystal Lake was very willing to put me directly in touch with our cover artist, Ben Baldwin, and Ben was super receptive to my ideas. We all ended up being extremely happy with the beautiful cover he created.

Meghan: What have you learned throughout the process of creating your books?

Jonathan Fortin: Everything takes longer than you want it to, and that’s okay.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jonathan Fortin: There’s a certain massive battle sequence in one of my novel projects that was just a thorn at my side for years. I love how it turned out, but that book still needs work, so you’ll have to wait a bit longer to read it, sorry.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus takes the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously. Its succubi aren’t merely evil seductresses or mindless sex objects for the male gaze. Indeed, it deconstructs the Seductress and Byronic Hero archetypes to explore the emotional ramifications of such beings.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours?

Jonathan Fortin: I think it’s important for the title to pull readers in and give them an idea what to expect. I went with Lilitu because I decided that it would be the title of the series, with The Memoirs of a Succubus being the title of the first book. I felt that readers would be drawn to the idea of a high-quality succubus horror novel that didn’t look cheesy or shlocky, since there aren’t too many of those out there.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jonathan Fortin: I’m a novel guy. Big, epic stories are what occupy my headpsace. They take forever to finish, but once you finally do, there’s nothing more satisfying. It’s like a very slow exorcism.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jonathan Fortin: My fiction is overtly Gothic. I like corsets, crumbling old castles, shadows, monsters, and magic. I like dark humor, psychological complexity, epic battles with clashing swords, tragic love, and sex that you really want but really, really shouldn’t have. I like body horror—transformations, monsterifications, and a general loss of humanity. Above all, I like taking readers into a dark reflection of our own world, revealing difficult truths along the way. Lilitu, for example, is ostensibly about succubi and incubi, but it uses them in order to explore issues of gender, class, and sexual repression.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jonathan Fortin: Lilitu needed serious revising because the first draft of it was written years ago, when I was younger and more of an edgelord. It contained a lot more gratuitous violence, particularly towards women, which I just felt took away from the message and would limit the audience significantly. It’s still a very dark, violent book, but I think the final draft is less excessive.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jonathan Fortin: There’s an Epic Lovecraftian book that I need to finish editing. I have a solid first draft but it’s super long and rough, and I’m honestly too intimidated to touch it right now. But soon.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jonathan Fortin: More Lilitu books, and more unrelated books—primarily, but probably not exclusively, horror and dark fantasy.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jonathan Fortin: Website ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jonathan Fortin: Thanks so much! I hope you enjoy the book.

About the author:
Jonathan Fortin is an author and voice actor located in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, Requiem in Frost, and Nightmarescape. A lifelong lover of spooky gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program.

About the book:
England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.

Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.