AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Thomas Smith

Meghan: Hi Thomas. Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. I’m glad you could join us today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Thomas: When I was younger I used to like setting up a haunted house in our basement with my brother (more about that later in the Extravaganza). I like haunted hayrides and monster movie marathons. And for the last 20 years I have enjoyed the Halloween Express that came through our neighborhood. Some of the parents started with a lawn tractor and attached a couple of wagons full of kids in their Halloween costumes. And as the years progressed and kids became more numerous, it became an ATV pulling five decorated floats with lights and sound. All loaded with trick-or-treaters. Parents and kids all having a blast.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Thomas: Not really. Unless it’s snakes. Then, all bets are off. I will run over an elderly nun to get away from a snake.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Thomas: I wish I could remember the title. It was probably made in the late 50s or early 60s. It had to do with a serial killer who the police thought had died at the end of the movie. When everyone had left the scene, the killer comes out of the darkness, turns to look directly at the audience (me, I know he was looking at me) and said something very close to, “If you tell them I’m alive, you’re next.” And even though I’ve seen easily hundreds of horror movies since then, that one still gives me the creeps.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Thomas: While this is more of a mercy killing, David Drayton’s killing of his companions (including his son) in The Mist just moments before the military shows up to rescue them is still up there at the top of the list. Especially after his expression/reaction when the unexpected help arrives.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Thomas: Not really. But there are some (The Human Centipede, a Serbian Film) that the descriptions were enough to make me say no thanks.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Thomas: Frankenstein (1931)

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Thomas: Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Thomas: The wolfman

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Thomas: Watching all night horror movie marathons

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Thomas: For fun, it would be Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You and for just general creepiness, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells or John Carpenter’s Halloween Theme.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Thomas: When The Amityville Horror first came out, that was intense. It took me a while to finish it. Then I didn’t want to be able to see it on the shelf, so I turned it around backwards for a while.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Thomas: Years ago, we lived in a house on the White Oak river and on this particular night, my wife was working the night shift at the hospital. So, I was the only one at home. I had just home about 12:45 a.m. from visiting a dying church member (I was a minister back then) at a different hospital and thought I’d read a little before going to bed. I had just opened my book when I heard a drawer slide open in the kitchen (they tended to stick, so there was always a scraping noise when we opened a drawer) and heard what sounded like someone rummaging through the drawer as if looking for something. I grabbed the shotgun in the corner and ran into the kitchen. All the drawers were closed, the kitchen door was closed and locked, and there was nobody there.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Thomas: The Lost Colony has always fascinated me. How did all those people just disappear? In fact, I wrote a story recently about what might have happened to the people on Roanoke Island, the Mary Celeste, the town of Hoer Verde, Brazil, and the fishing village on Lake Anjikuni in Canada (and the editor I sent it to likes the concept). And if my theory is right, we’re all in trouble.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Thomas: The Haunted Doll’s House by M. R. James

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Thomas: A Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical Shotgun and a lot of buckshot. I also wouldn’t mind having an Infantry Kukri-Sword. That 15-inch blade would relieve a zombie of his/her noggin pretty quick.

Meghan: Let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

Thomas: Werewolf

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

Thomas: Zombie Apocalypse

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

Thomas: Drink Zombie juice

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

Thomas: The Poltergeist house

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

Thomas: Maggot infested cheese

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?

Thomas: Lick cotton candy made of spider webs

Boo-graphy:
Thomas is an award-winning writer, essayist, playwright, reporter, TV news producer, and a three-time American Christian Writers Association Writer of the Year. His work has appeared in numerous publications from Writer’s Digest and Exploring Alaska, to The Horror Zine and Cemetery Dance magazine.

He has written for many publishers including Grinning Skull Press, Zondervan, Barnes & Noble Books, Adams Media, Chronicle Books, Borderlands Press, Barbour Publishing, Pocket Books, and Cemetery Dance Publications. Two of his short stories (Mother and Child Reunion and The Heart is a Determined Hunter) have appeared on Tales to Terrify, and his short story, A Rustle of Owls’ Wings, has been adapted for the stage.

Thomas has written jokes for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.

He is also, quite possibly, the only writer in captivity to have been included in collections with Stephen King, and the Rev. Rick Warren in the same week.

And other than author bios, he rarely refers to himself in the third person.

Rarely.

Something Stirs
Ben Chalmers is a successful novelist. His wife, Rachel, is a fledgling artist with a promising career, and their daughter, Stacy, is the joy of their lives. Ben’s novels have made enough money for him to provide a dream home for his family. But there is a force at work-a dark, chilling, ruthless force that has become part of the very fabric of their new home.

A malevolent entity becomes trapped in the wood and stone of the house and it will do whatever it takes to find a way to complete its bloody transference to our world.

Local sheriff, Elizabeth Cantrell, and former pastor-turned-cabinetmaker, Jim Perry, are drawn into the family’s life as the entity manipulates the house with devastating results. And it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. Even if it costs them their faith, their sanity, and their lives.

Monsters
“I killed my parents when I was thirteen years old.”

And now, with the murder of Missy Blake twenty-two years later, it’s time for Jack Greene to finish what he started.

When the co-ed’s mutilated body is found, the police are clueless, but Jack knows what killed the pretty college student; he’s been hunting it for years. The hunt has been going on for too long, though, and Jack wants to end it, but he can’t do it alone. The local police aren’t equipped to handle the monster in their midst, so Jack recruits Major Kelly Langston, and together they set out to rid the world of this murdering creature once and for all.

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Daemon Manx: Frankenstein

Frankenstein OR The Modern Prometheus
By: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Genre: Horror, Gothic, Science Fiction
Pages: 260

Mary Shelley’s seminal novel of the scientist whose creation becomes a monster.


Frankenstein OR The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Written in 1818 by the English author, and original Goth Girl, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein was originally published anonymously when she was 20. It wasn’t until the release of the second edition that Shelley’s name even appeared. Some of Shelley’s background is certainly important to know to fully understand the magnitude of what the author has so masterfully painted and implied in her work. I assure you; the message and the social implication of Frankenstein is just as relevant today as it was two hundred years age.

Shelley’s mother died from an infection she developed after giving birth to Mary. The iconic author grew up never knowing her mother and had bonded strongly with her father, William Godwin. However, Godwin’s second wife was jealous of their relationship which resulted in his pulling away from young Mary, and for his favoring her half brothers and sisters instead.

Mary later met and married Percy Bysshe Shelly, one of the Romantic Poets. In 1815 Shelley gave birth to Clara, who died two weeks later. Mary continued to lose her children in a similar way for the next eight years. This is such an impactful premise that followed her through her life and ultimately helped to shape Frankenstein.

In 1816, while travelling in Geneva, Shelley, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori decided to see who could write the best ghost story. Only one of them ever completed their story. Mary Shelley was 18 when she won the contest with her story Frankenstein.

The story is masterfully executed as it shifts from one narrative POV to the next. Initially the story is told through a series of letters from ship’s Captain Robert Waldon, a failed writer on an expedition to the North Pole. It is through the eyes of Waldon that the reader first meets Victor Frankenstein, and we get a glimpse of the giant creature on the horizon. Victor is nearly dead by the time Waldon finds him. Consumed by his own compulsive desire and obsession, Victor sees a bit of himself in the captain, a man obsessed with his voyage to the North Pole. We learn that Victor has been pursuing the giant creature and his obsession has nearly killed him.

Flawlessly the narrative shifts and is told through the eyes of Victor as we learn about his childhood, the death of his mother, and his passion for the sciences and Alchemy. Victor is consumed with the pursuit of knowledge and has learned the secrets to creating life.

There are no bolts of lightning, there is no assistant named Igor, and there are no electrodes attached to the neck of Victor’s creation. The creature is 8 feet tall because the intricacies of the human anatomy would be too difficult to work on and recreate if performed on normal scale. It is done with a mixture of science and chemistry, and a bit of mystery as we never learn how Victor actually did it. However, he succeeds, and he is instantly repulsed by the sight of the creature. It is so profound to take note that Victor has put a great deal of effort and devotion into the creation of his creature. Then when the act is complete and the fruits of his labor are revealed, he no longer wants it. In fact, Victor wishes nothing more than to destroy his creation. Victor losses his mind for a moment, if he was ever in possession of it to begin with, and takes off, while his newborn is left to fend for himself. We later find out that shortly after this incident happens, Victor’s brother is murdered.

The narrative then shifts to the point of view of the creature. Alone, unable to understand the language, the creature must fend for itself in the wild. It hides and teaches itself how to speak by watching a family, and he quickly grows intelligent. However, he is aware of his own repulsiveness and soon finds that all humans see him just as his father Victor does, hideous and unworthy of love.

The creature decides that if he cannot be loved and since he is so hated by man, that he will find Victor and force the scientist into creating the only thing that could love him, a mate in his image, hideous and repulsive. I will not give it all away as I nearly have already. However, if you have only seen the Hollywood flicks and never read Shelley’s masterpiece, you are doing yourself a great disservice. This is the real deal, the original horror classic. Certain Horror associations should be giving out the Shelley award. The guy who wrote that story about a creepy count was a hack compared to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I said, and it is too late to take it back. And I will tell you why…

First, Victor is Frankenstein-not the creature. Also, Victor is the monster. A parent who decides to conceive his child, puts all his effort in giving that child life, and then brings that child into the world, only then wishing the destruction of that child. Shelley’s mother died as a result of childbirth. Mary Shelley lost several children during childbirth and/or soon after. Also, abortion was as controversial a subject then as it is today. This all plays heavily into the subjects of destruction of life and the abandonment of a living being.

Science was in question. Was it right for man to assume the role of God when it came to creation? Was it even a place for a man to have a place at all? I urge you to read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and allow yourself to go a bit deeper. This story not only sets the precursor for the modern-day horror novel and sci-fi thriller, but also suggests that we dig a bit deeper into what truly defines us as human? It’s about the balance between our emotions and our obsessions, our desires and our darkness. It’s about what separates man from monster?

Can I give more than five stars? What is the limit? Whatever it is, that is what Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley deservers, and so much more for her masterpiece, Frankenstein-The Modern Prometheus.
I Love, Love, Love this Book…Daemon Manx


Boo-graphy:
Daemon Manx writes horror and speculative fiction. He is a member of the Horror Authors Guild (HAG) and has had stories featured in magazines in both the U.S. and the U.K. His short story, The Dead Girl, became a finalist in The Green Shoe Sanctuary’s summer writing prompt contest in August 2021. His debut novelette, Abigail, was released through Terror Tract Publishing and has received 4.8 stars out of 5 on Amazon and Goodreads. He lives with his sister and their narcoleptic cat Sydney in a remote cabin off the grid, where they patiently prepare for the apocalypse. There is a good chance there they will run out of coffee.

Abigail
Strange things come in small packages. Adrian Billard believes he knows what it’s like to be different, and has nearly given up hope of ever finding happiness. But, a strange package left on his doorstep is about to turn his entire world upside down. Everything Adrian thinks he knows is about to change. He is about to meet…Abigail.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Karissa Laurel

Meghan: Hey, Karissa! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books! What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Karissa: I like that Halloween makes it culturally acceptable to indulge the darker side of our human natures. We can explore our feelings about monstrous and evil things without explicitly approving of them. The world is both light and dark, and most of the times we’re not supposed to acknowledge the dark stuff, but on Halloween, it’s acceptable.

I also love the aesthetics of Halloween—skeletons and bats and spiders and gothic clothing. I love costumes and how, for one night, you can be something or someone completely different. I love the idea of trick-or-treating, that we let down our guards and open our homes, even temporarily, to the community. It’s one activity that will never work as a virtual, on-line event. You only get the candy if you’re willing to go door to door and actually meet your neighbors. Some people hate that part of it, but I always liked the human interaction aspect of trick-or-treating.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Karissa: In my day job, I work in an office in a historical home in the downtown area of my city. My office/house is adjacent to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and that neighborhood goes ALL OUT at Halloween. They put up very elaborate decorations. The city shuts down one of the main streets in the neighborhood to keep cars out, and there’s a huge street party and tons and tons of trick-or-treating. Ever since I started working near that neighborhood about six years ago, I’ve been taking my family there on Halloween night. My kid is too old to trick-or-treat any more, but we enjoy going to see the decorations and the costumes. There’s also a Krispy Kreme nearby and we always stop in and grab some of the Halloween themed donuts.

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

Karissa: I don’t know that I have a favorite holiday because there’s something I like about most of them. I guess, if I had to choose, I like Thanksgiving most of all because it’s all the best stuff about Christmas but without all the commerciality and pressure to spend money and give gifts. I love to eat, I love spending time with my family, and there are fewer expectations. But Halloween might be my second favorite (even though we don’t get any days off from work for it. Why not? Who do I send a petition to about that?) because of all the things mentioned previously. So many holidays are similar, but there’s nothing else quite like Halloween, culturally speaking. It’s all about having fun, letting loose, indulging in fantasies.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Karissa: I am not really a superstitious person, although I do sometimes feel afraid to acknowledge out loud when something is going well or when I’ve had a streak of good fortune. Some part of me seems to think that acknowledging good luck is the fastest way of making sure that good luck comes to an end. But I’m not afraid of anything like broken mirrors, walking under ladders, or black cats.

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

Karissa: This is a hard one, mainly because there are so many good ones. I conferred with my kid (who is 19 y.o. and not much of a kid anymore) and he chose the demon from the Jeepers Creepers franchise, and I agree he’s a good choice. He only shows up every so often, but once he does, he’s impossible to kill. No matter what you do (like run him over with the car until he’s pulp in the road), he just keeps coming back. And he has the scariest face ever. That is some quality special effects make-up right there.

But while the Creeper is high on my list, I think Tim Curry’s performance as the demon clown in Stephen King’s It is probably top of my list. He was utterly terrifying in the most subtle way. He could just stand there in his clown make-up and pointy yellow teeth and scare the bejeezus out of me.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Karissa: I do watch quite a lot of true crime shows and listen to podcasts, but I can’t say there’s one that really fascinates me more than another. I was intrigued by the story of Hae Min Lee’s death, and whether or not Adnan Syed, convicted for killing her, really did it. Check out Season one of the Serial podcast for the whole story. I have to say, based on what I’ve heard and what we know in the years since…I think there’s a really good chance Adnan didn’t do it.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Karissa: Not so much an urban legend but when I was little, I had a book of local, North Carolina ghost stories that fascinated me. Ever since then, I’ve had a special place in my heart for local stories like the Devil’s Tramping Ground and The Maco Light.

The Devil’s Tramping Ground is a camping spot located in a forest near the Harper’s Crossroads area in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Lore says that the Devil “tramps” and haunts a barren circle of ground in which nothing is supposed to grow. Things left there will disappear overnight. Of course, there are some scientific explanations for why this place is so strange, but speculating about the devil is more forum

As for the Maco Light, according to the most common version of the legend, Joe Baldwin was in the rear car of a Wilmington, NC-bound train on a rainy night in 1867. As the train neared Maco, Baldwin realized the car had become detached from the rest of the train. He knew another train was following, so he ran to the rear platform and frantically waved a lantern to signal the oncoming train. The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Baldwin was decapitated in the collision. Some say the head was never found

Shortly after the accident, residents of Maco and railroad employees reported sightings of a white light along a section of railroad track through swamps west of Maco station, and word spread that Joe Baldwin had returned to search for his missing head. The light was said to appear in the distance, before approaching along the tracks facing East, bobbing at a height of about 5 feet, and either flying to the side of the track in an arc or receding from the viewer. Other reports spoke of green or red lights, or other patterns of movement

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Karissa: Although I like true crime a lot, I don’t tend to care for serial killer stories. It’s one thing to get a thrill from a fictional murderer like Mike Myers, but I don’t like anything that smacks of glorification of real-life killers in any sort of way. I tend to shy away from serial killer mythology.

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

Karissa: I probably had seen movies that were considered horror at an earlier age, but don’t remember anything specific. However, I do remember having a Halloween sleepover with some girlfriends when I was in middle school, I was probably about 12 years-old, and my mom let us rent The Lost Boys. I was absolutely enthralled. I don’t know if that can actually be considered a horror movie, but Kiefer Sutherland and his band of vampire misfits were certainly no vegetarian, sparkly Twilight vampires. I still love that movie to this day.

I can’t specifically remember when I picked up my first horror novel, but I do remember that The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree was one of my most favorite books as a little kid—I was always drawn to spooky things and didn’t scare easily. I read way ahead of my grade level, and I grew up reading Stephen King, Christopher Pike, V.C. Andrews, and Dean Koontz. My mom was very open minded about reading, and I have no memory of her discouraging me from reading anything.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

As a kid, I remember reading The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and being so freaked out that I had to go outside in the daylight to finish reading it. But the most recent thing I’ve read that made me feel deeply unsettled is The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. The whole book is full of moments that took my outside of myself in a frightening, disturbing way, but there is a climactic chase scene near the end that is one of the most downright horrifying things I’ve read in a long, long time. Jones establishes a prolonged period of heightened tension that is torturous, but in a really good way, and it’s never boring or tedious. If you love horror and haven’t read that book yet, you must.

I also have to shout out to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s nothing like the Will Smith movie, by the way. It’s one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve ever read and filled me with so much existential dread. It’s also extremely timely and relatable to the current pandemic culture we’re all experiencing.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Karissa: Horror, like comedy, is highly subjective, right? What scares one person won’t scare the next. I’ve watched tons of horror over the years and little of it has actually scared me. However, I can’t stand movies that are classified as horror but are actually just torture porn, such as House of 1000 Corpses. My husband, when we first started dating years ago, asked me to watch that movie with him and his friends. I ended up putting a blanket over my head and going to sleep instead of watching it. It didn’t scare me so much as sicken me. I still won’t go anywhere near that franchise, and I’m reluctant to watch any Rob Zombie productions because of that movie.

I wouldn’t say it scarred me, but George A. Romero’s ’68 Night of the Living Dead scared the crap out of my when I saw it years ago. It still gives me chills, and it’s still my favorite zombie movie, ever. With little in the way of special effects and nothing like CGI even remotely possible, Romero had to be clever. He used music and sound effects, lighting, and careful pacing to create a highly atmospheric movie that is thick with dread and horror. The opening scene, with that slow shambling zombie in the background, out of focus, slowly coming closer and closer… That was pure cinematic genius. I still prefer it over newer zombie movies that rely too much on CGI.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Karissa: As a kid, I was kind of spoiled and precocious about costumes. My mom was crafty and could sew. I always insisted that she make me one-of-a-kind costumes, and she indulged me. The biggest hit of my childhood costume career was when I went as a whole bag of M&Ms. My mom sewed me a costume that looked like a classic bag of regular M&Ms complete with the logo and barcode—it was kind of like a giant, brown, rectangular dress. I painted my face to look like a green M&M poking out of the top and put M&Ms made from balloons on my shoulders. I won a costume contest, and my mom sent pictures of me to the Mars chocolate company that owns M&Ms. They sent back stickers, coupons, and a personalized thank you letter.

I don’t sew like my mom can, but I like making things, so I’ve managed to make some pretty good costumes for my kid over the years. He’s been Popeye (that was a big hit with the old folks in my neighborhood), a Ghost Buster, the Ghost Rider, Gene Simmons from Kiss, and many more. When I used to work in a bigger office, I once made fancy witch hats for all the ladies in my section to wear on Halloween.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Karissa: Easily the answer to that is Thriller. I am Gen-X and was a little kid when that album came out. I loved everything Michael Jackson in those days. I didn’t see the video until I was a little older, maybe around seven or eight years old, and I remember being absolutely captivated by it. I still love the song and the video after all these years, even when it’s not Halloween.

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

Karissa: When my son was still trick-or-treating, I always looked forward to taking his Mounds or Almond Joys. I love coconut, but he didn’t, so it worked out well for me to take those and leave the rest for him. I especially like Mounds because I prefer dark chocolate. I absolutely cannot stand Twizzlers. They taste like wax to me. Ugh.

Meghan: Karissa, this was fantastic! Thanks for stopping by. Before you go, can you leave us with your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Karissa:

Top Ten Horror/Halloween Movies:
10 The Cabin in the Woods
9 It (The 1990 Miniseries)
8 Jeepers Creepers
7 Blade (1 and 2)
6 Bram Stoker’s Dracula
5 Three Witches of Eastwick
4 The Lost Boys
3 Alien (I and 2, especially 2)
2 Tumbbad
1 Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Top Halloween Books:
10 The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (much more terrifying than the musical version)
9 Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
8 Dracula by Bram Stoker
7 Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Series) by Dean Koontz
7 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
6 The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
5 The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
4 Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
3 The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (The BBC audio production is wonderful)
2 The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
1 I am Legend by Richard Matheson


Boo-graphy:
Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, superheroes, and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer, she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s skiing or curled up with a good book. She is the author of the Urban Fantasy trilogy, The Norse Chronicles; Touch of Smoke, a stand-alone paranormal romance; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA second-world fantasy trilogy.

Serendipity at the End of the World
Serendipity Blite and her sister, Bloom, use their unique talents to survive the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. When Bloom is kidnapped, Sera is determined to get her back. Attempting a rescue mission in an undead-infested city would be suicidal, so Sera forms a specialized team to help retrieve her sister. But unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of death. She must fight to save her own life, because surviving could mean finding family, love, and possibly a cure.

You can find it on Kindle Vella
New episodes come out every Saturday

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lex H. Jones

Meghan: Hey Lex! Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. You haven’t been here yet, but were a regular over on The Gal in the Blue Mask. It’s a little different here, but definitely interesting. We appreciate you stopping by today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Lex: I love decorating the house for the big Halloween party I host every year. “Trick or Treating” isn’t really a huge thing in Britain in the way it is in America, so you don’t generally see a lot of houses that have really gone crazy with it. The ones that do tend to be having some sort of party, whether it’s for children of adults. Having grown up watching American films and shows, I always wanted to do big Halloween parties with everything from theme music, themed foods, games, costumes, and of course decorations inside and out. Now that I own my own house, I get to that every year.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Lex: Planning the decorating for the house. I like planning and organizing, it helps me enjoy things better as I don’t do well with outright spontaneity and chaos. So I’ll have a notebook with sections for each room (and the garden), and I’ll work out a different theme for each. After I’ve worked that out, I’ll see what I can get from the shops, how much of it I might need, and then as a rule, buy far more than that. I always end up needing more cobweb. However much cobweb you think you’ve bought, I promise you it’s not enough.

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

Lex: It’s my second, as my first is Christmas. I know a lot of people don’t like Christmas and have their own reasons for that, and that’s fine. But I love it and always have.

Halloween, though, comes a close second as it’s the time of year when everyone is suddenly ‘into’ the stuff that I’ve always liked. I particularly liked, as a child, that for one month of the year the shops would suddenly be full of skeletons and ghosts and such. Essentially all the kinds of toys and decorations that I coveted the year round.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Lex: To be honest, I’m not. I’m an absolutely rational atheist (not the militant dickhead kind like Dawkins, don’t worry) so I don’t really do superstitions. The one thing I have which is kind of close to that, is we have a phrase you hear a lot in Britain is “don’t speak ill of the dead”. Now from a purely ‘absolute honesty’ point of view (which I’m often guilty of, given that I’m autistic) I admit that I find it odd when I hear folk describing a dead man as an absolute angel, when in life he’d been an unrepentant career criminal. But, it’s not about them. They’re dead, they can’t hear and don’t care. But their relatives, already grieving from their loss, don’t need to hear someone bad-mouthing them. So we tell little lies and say they were nicer than they were. Or, at the least, don’t point out the (still true) bad things about them. I always try to adhere to that. But it’s out of politeness to the living, rather than fearing the wrath of the dead.

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

Lex: I love ghosts. They’ve always been my favorite. Just the ethereal nature of them, the floatiness, the fact they’re sort of there and sort of not. I find anything purely physical less frightening as a ‘monster’, because ultimately it’s just another thing to shoot or stab or run away from. Yeah a werewolf is scary, but ultimately it’s a just a big dog isn’t it? A zombie is just a diseased human. These things still exist within the confines of the natural world and must operate within it. Shoot it in the head and it’s done. Get home and lock the doors and you’re safe. But a ghost? Well that’s a different matter entirely.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Lex: It’s probably an obvious one to say, but the Jack The Ripper murders. It’s not as though there’s no information about them, because actually there’s a fair bit. And many expert criminologists and investigators and outright historians have dug into it to try and figure out the case. And yet they never come up with the same answer. I do think we’ll never know the truth of that one.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Lex: There’s that one about a man waiting for a phone call that will tell him if he’s about to lose his business or not. The thing he’s worked all his life for. If he gets a call at 4pm then he’s fine. If he doesn’t, he’s lost everything. The story goes that 4pm comes, the phone fails to ring, so he goes up to the roof and jumps off. As he’s falling past his office window, he hears the phone ring. They were a couple of minutes late.

Now, like any urban legend, it’s absolute nonsense. How would we know any of this, for one thing? But what makes this one chilling to me is because, nonsense it may be, but it’s a cautionary tale about giving up too quickly. How many times do you nearly give up on that dream or ambition today, only for something amazing to happen next week which really pushes it along? As shitty as today may be, you have no idea how good tomorrow might be. So don’t ever give up.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Lex: Boring as it may sound, I don’t have one. I’m not really ‘into’ serial killers, they don’t interest me that much, so I’d struggle to pick any out of a lineup. Manson seems vaguely interesting to me, I guess, because he wasn’t the typical serial killer and was more of a cult leader. I’m fascinated by cults, because I never quite understand how people can fall into them. Seemingly intelligent people can fall down these rabbit holes of absolute nonsense and refuse to climb out of it, even when their own health is at stake.

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

Lex: As a child I had that classic ‘slightly older friend’ who was a gateway to more grown-up things that I’d otherwise not have access to. Through him I saw bits and pieces from Alien, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Fright Night and The Terminator, but the first horror film I saw all the way through was Predator. Now, I know there’ll be some debate about whether this is horror, sci-fi, action, or a mix of all three. But I think it’s fair to class it as horror. Predator was shown to me (probably far too young, aged about 8, I think) by my grandad. He loved horror movies and knew I was into monsters, so without my parents’ knowledge he showed it to me one day. And I loved it.

My first horror book was a book of ghost stories called Ghostly Tales, which I was bought when I was four or five, I think. It was a beautiful hard cover book with illustrations (I still have a copy, actually). The stories, whilst ostensibly for children, were actually legitimately quite chilling. I must have read that thing so many times, as I remember having to stick some of the pages back into the spine with sticky tape.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Lex: I remember reading Slugs by Shaun Hutson, again probably far too young, and finding it very off-putting. I’d never liked slugs as a creature in the real world. They just don’t look right. I think it was horror writer Arthur Machen who once described the eerie nature of slugs and snails and grubs in some of his writing, saying that they look like something from another world. Something that we, as denizens of the upper world, shouldn’t see, shouldn’t encounter. They’re things of darkness and slime, devoid of structure and organs and movements in the way the creatures above the ground are formed. It’s the same as when we see creatures that live deep under the ocean, and they lack any sort of cuteness, resembling instead some nightmare beings from a realm that we should avoid at all costs. Slugs were always like that to me, as a child. As an adult I’ve got a garden now so I regularly have to move them away from my plants, so I’ve gotten over my dislike of them somewhat through necessity. But Hutson’s book takes a creature that I already found disturbing, and made them into a carnivorous source of actual horror.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Lex: I think the first time I saw The Fly (the 1980s version, not the B-Movie original) it stuck with me a long while. I always find body horror has that effect on me, because it’s the worst kind of thing imaginable. It’s not a foe to be fought, a monster to be hacked at or a demon to be exorcised. It’s the betrayal of your own body, twisted and broken into something it shouldn’t be. I’ve lost too many people close to me through dreadful illnesses, and body horror is always a little too close to that for me, so I tend to steer clear of it these days.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Lex: A couple of years back, when it was the 20th Anniversary of Buffy starting, I think, we decided to have a Buffy/Angel themed Halloween party. Everyone dressed as different characters, and I went as Spike. He’d always been my favorite character on the show. My friend Zoe was coming as Drusilla, which I didn’t know, so that worked out perfectly for photos. I put a picture of me and her together on Twitter, and the actual Drusilla, Juliette Landau, commented to say how great we looked. I particularly enjoyed wearing that costume because, prosthetics aside, it wasn’t particularly uncomfortable. Often the costumes that look the best are the most uncomfortable to wear, so it’s nice when you find one that’s a good compromise.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Lex: I don’t know if you’d call it strictly Halloween-themed, but ‘Killing Moon’ by Echo and The Bunnymen. I just feel like, from the 80s onwards, if you watch pretty much any film or show set at Halloween, you’d hear that song. It was ingrained in my psyche as the perfect Halloween Party song, so when I started hosting my own such events I whacked it straight on the playlist.

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

Lex: Don’t be too horrified, but we don’t really get Halloween-specific sweets in the UK! What tends to happen is, stuff that’s available all year round, will have a slight Halloween makeover. So the chocolate mini rolls with jam in them now have green-colored jam instead. The gingerbread men will have little fangs added to their smiles. That’s about the best we get. Weep for us.

Meghan: Before you go, can you share with us your top 5 Halloween movies?

Lex:


Boo-graphy:
Lex H Jones is a British author, horror fan and rock music enthusiast who lives in Sheffield, North England.

He has written articles for premier horror websites the Gingernuts of Horror and the Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog, and appeared on multiple podcasts covering various subjects such as books, films, video games and music.

Lex’s first novel, Nick and Abe, a religious fantasy about God and the Devil spending a year on earth as mortal men, was published in 2016. This was followed in 2019 by noir crime novel The Other Side of the Mirror and illustrated children’s weird fiction book The Old One and The Sea. His latest release is a collection of ghost stories, Whistling Past The Graveyard. Lex also has a growing number of short horror stories published in collections alongside some of the greats of the genre, and in 2020 he co-created the comic strip series The Anti-Climactic Adventures of Detective Vampire with Liam ‘Pais’ Hill.

When not working on his own writing, Lex also contributes to the proofing and editing process for other authors.

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Whistling Past the Graveyard
A hilltop cemetery where the dead just won’t stay sleeping. An ill-fated voyage to an uncharted region off the coast of Iceland. An English village reminded of its heritage through the discovery of ancient bones.These tales and more can be found within the first short story collection from author Lex H Jones. Light the fire, make yourself a comforting drink, make sure the doors and windows are lined with salt, and settle in to enjoy this gathering of haunts and horrors.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Dan Zeidler

For those of y’all who don’t have the pleasure of knowing Dan, this is your chance to get to know him. (Dan – my people; my people – Dan.) We are currently coming to the end of a project together (him the author, me the editor) and, even without my help, I think he’s a pretty fantastic author. (I can’t wait til y’all get to read his book.)

Meghan: Hey, Dan! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to welcome you here today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Dan: My favorite part of Halloween would have to be… costumes. Definitely costumes. I have lots of fun memories associated with Halloween costumes. When my sisters and I were little kids, around Halloween time the local supermarket would pretty much line the front wall with stacks of Halloween costumes in boxes. They weren’t particularly fancy costumes – just a cheap little mask and a plastic or vinyl coverall with a graphic and text identifying what the costume was meant to be. We thought they were awesome though.

The opportunities were rare and far apart as an adult, but when the chance arose the fun was more making or improvising a cool or amusing costume. More on that in a later question.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Dan: My favorite Halloween tradition is more of a family Halloween tradition, I suppose. Growing up, every year we would watch the Disney Halloween special on TV – this was before streaming services, DVRs, DVDs, etc. so the only time those particular Halloween themed Disney cartoons (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, narrated by Bing Crosby, in particular) were on was whatever night it was broadcast every year around Halloween. It was a big family social event. One of my sisters made sure to acquire the animated Headless Horseman on DVD and every year around Halloween we still have our showing.

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

Dan: I would say it is my second favorite (with Christmas being my favorite). It’s fun to decorate the house, check out some of the really elaborate decorations some people put up, hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters, and the occasional fun costume party with friends and family.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Dan: As a modern man of science I, of course, have acquired no superstitions whatsoever, knock on wood. Sure, if I spill some salt I throw a pinch over my shoulder, but that’s just good common sense. Naturally, I avoid walking under ladders because that’s just wrong – I mean, who would do that?

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

Dan: Well, if we are talking classic movie monsters I would say Dracula or classic vampires in general. From a story point of view I think they are great monsters – very powerful, terrifying foes with specific strengths and weaknesses. My hometown library had a great selection of books on vampire lore which as a kid I probably borrowed and read as often as I borrowed and read books on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

As for more modern movie monsters, the xenomorph from Alien is pretty cool as is the thing from, well, The Thing.

An honorable mention goes to the villain/monster from The Incredible Melting Man. My sisters and I caught the tail end of that movie on TV one Saturday afternoon and, well, villain/monster was neither cool nor scary. We thought he looked like a guy covered in applesauce. Our parents thought it would be fun to go out to dinner that night and the restaurant they brought us to just happened to be having a special on apple pie filling topped sundaes. My sisters and I pretty much spent the entire time entertaining ourselves with tales of the Applesauce Man and apple pie ice cream sundaes. At one point an elderly couple sitting unnoticed at the table next to ours rose from their seats, paused by our table, and thanked us for the funniest evening they had had in a long time. Yay for the Applesauce Man!

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Dan: I can’t really say that I have a favorite unsolved murder. Unsolved murders are vexing – it means one of the bad guys got away with something.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Dan: My favorite urban legend, not because it’s scary (although it is supposed to be), is one about a bunny suit-wearing, axe murder who lurks or haunts a railroad bridge down in Virginia. I’ve heard several variations of the killer/evil spirit that lurks in remote places waiting for victims. They all have some sort of weapon: a hook for a hand, a knife, a hammer, or an axe. The wearing of the bunny suit is a unique, and pretty funny, variation.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Dan: I don’t have a favorite serial killer, but I do have a favorite book on the catching of serial killers: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker.

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

Dan: I would say I was around 10 or 12 when I saw my first horror movie although it would have been an old school horror movie, filmed in black and white, and shown on rainy Saturday afternoon on one local TV channel or another – it might have been Dracula (with Bela Lugosi) or the Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.). I was 14 or 15 when I saw a more modern horror movie, John Carpenter‘s The Thing. A friend got a copy of the movie on VHS and invited a bunch of us over one Saturday afternoon to watch it. I can’t say that any of us thought it was scary, but we did think it was pretty cool.

I was 17 when I read my first horror book: Stephen King‘s The Tommyknockers. I thought it was more Twilight Zone-ish than horrifying – you know, one of those stories that you read or see that gives you an eerie feeling. I also recall thinking that the characters in that story cussed more than even the most prolific of cussers I knew in real life.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Dan: The book that unsettled me the most wasn’t actually a horror novel, it was a historical fiction novel set in Appalachia just before, during, and just after the American Revolution. I don’t remember the name of the novel, but for the more graphically violent sections he used actual entries of diaries from the era to describe some of the more horrific ways human beings can kill one another… slowly and, as I mentioned, horrifically. It was quite unsettling.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Dan: The answer to this question is, clearly, the movie starring the Applesauce Man. Why, to this very day, I never trust an open jar of applesauce past its expiration date. No one should. Not even you, there in the back row.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Dan: Favorite costume… all right, gather ’round friends. It’s story time. Heh.

When I was in the Air Force, stationed in Korea, there were these two other service members I knew who spent some of their spare time volunteering at a… for lack of a better phrase, a local after-school school off base helping the kids practice English, serving as chaperones for field trips, and things like that. When Halloween rolled around the Korean couple who ran the school decided it would be fun to throw the kids an American-style Halloween party so they asked the two guys invite some friends to come out the school join in the fun and help out with teaching the kids how to carve jack-o-lanterns, helping them pretend to go trick-or-treating, and stuff like that. One of the six people who were supposed to go canceled last minute so I got drafted to go along. “We even have a costume you can use,” they said. It was a dark, hooded robe with a goofy rubber monster mask and a set of goofy rubber monster hand gloves. I told them to keep the mask and the gloves, but the robe I could as the start to a good costume.

One of my hobbies was studying Medieval swordsmanship and that hooded robe was perfect for a costume based on one of the figures in my favorite Medieval swordsmanship book (and who doesn’t have a favorite Medieval swordsmanship manuscript, right?) – The Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33.

It was a very basic, last minute kind of costume – I just wore a black t-shirt with pair of black pants tucked them into my combat boots, then I put on that hooded robe and hitched it up like in illustrations found in I.33, and then, as one does, I grabbed my trusty wooden sparring sword and buckler. My friends all thought I looked like Darth Zeidler, Lord of the Sith.

When we arrived at the school, one of the teachers had some fun identifying what each of us was dressed as and when she got to me she said “Oh! And a handsome knight!”

“What?!” my friends exclaimed. “He’s Darth Zeidler.”

The teacher shook her head. “Noooo – he’s clearly a handsome knight.

Clearly.

Favorite. Costume. Ever.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Dan: Let’s see… The Monster Mash is an oldie but a goodie. Spooky Scary Skeletons is also pretty amusing.

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

Dan: My favorite Halloween candies would be: the various varieties of miniature Hershey bars, Nestle Crunch bars, Milky Way bars, and Peanut Butter Cups. The most disappointing Halloween candy for me was anything with ground coconut in it – I just don’t care for the texture.

Meghan: Before we go, what are your top 10 Halloween movies?

Dan: It’s more an animated short than a movie, but Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is fun and an American classic.

Segueing into classics, I say you can’t go wrong with these classic monster movies: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolfman (1941), and The Mummy (1932). For Classic monster fun on the other hand, try Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy. (As an aside, after church on Sundays we would all go over to my grandparents’ house and the adults would all hang out in the kitchen, talking over a cup of coffee or two or three. My sisters and I would play outside or play board games inside or read or watch Abbot and Costello movies on TV. Every Sunday afternoon one of the local TV stations would always show an Abbot and Costello movie and since those were considered reliably child-friendly, that’s what was always on TV Sunday afternoons when we went over our grandparents’ house.

Anyway, back to Halloween movies…)

For modern horror movies, my top Halloween choices would be Alien, The Thing (1982… although for fun you can also watch the 1951 version in all its “man in a rubber monster suit” glory), and Resident Evil.


Boo-graphy:
Dan Zeidler is a writer of science fiction and fantasy and the author of the upcoming science fiction adventure novel Ghosts of a Fallen Empire. Dan began expressing his love of writing at an early age with the parentally acclaimed poem Trains are Great which, along with other early examples of his work, earned a place on the prestigious Refrigerator Magnet Gallery. While nothing can be done for his poetry skills, which haven’t improved a whit since that train poem, a steady diet of great stories ranging from ancient mythological tales to Arthurian legends to classic sci-fi and fantasy and on up to Star Trek and Star Wars have improved his storytelling abilities considerably. To further refine and enhance his writing and storytelling skills, Dan lived a life of adventure first by getting a degree in geoscience, then by serving in the US Air Force, then by embarking on a career as a data analyst… hmmm… okay, let’s go back a bit to the part about how a lifetime of reading as many great stories (and many not so great stories) as he could have inspired Dan to write his own stories; stories that above all strive to be fun and entertaining reads.

Dan currently resides with his family among the rugged, forested hills of his home state of Connecticut.