GUEST INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons Interviews ME

It’s not often that I get sent a handful of questions, but each time, it is super exciting to take part. This year, along with an author interview and guest post (a true story), Jeff decided that he wanted to send over a set of questions for ME. And what a great set of questions it was. So, without further ado…

Jeff: What inspired you to create your blog?

Me: I wanted a place that was mine where I could talk books. At the beginning of The Gal in the Blue Mask, which was the blog before Meghan’s House of Books, Goodreads was a rather dramatic place to hang out. Authors and bloggers/reviewers were bickering and both sides were being rather unpleasant to the other, doing things I considered very wrong. I wanted a safe place, a happy place, where I made the rules and everyone was welcome.

In 2019, after a couple of years of just feeling lost when it came to blogging, I decided to rebrand myself as Meghan’s House of Books. It wasn’t that I didn’t love The Gal anymore – I do, and it still exists, for always – but I just felt like I had grown out of it. And so the front doors of “my house” were opened…

Jeff: How do you get your blog noticed? Marketing, blog-to-blog outreach, word of mouth?

Meghan: To be honest, it’s mostly word of mouth. I don’t really fit in with the other bloggers, or so it seems. I’ve tried to make friends with fellow book bloggers, even ones that like the same kinds of books I do, and I’ve done all the stuff they say to do – comment, like, follow – but I’ve never really clicked with most of them. Never really been given the chance. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

Jeff: What are some interesting things you’ve learned from talking with authors?

Meghan:

  • They’re all just normal people.
  • They don’t always know what they are doing.
  • The anxiety is real with them as well. (They don’t often see themselves as we do, and question whether they are any good at all.)

Jeff: How do you respond to people who say horror is for disturbed minds?

Meghan: I ask them if they’ve actually read a book in the genre and often suggest a few that they should read because, to me, horror is a way to handle the horrific of the world, a way for us to better understand the “disturbed minds” out there. Not all horror is gore for gore’s sake, which I know turns a lot of people off, or extreme. A lot of horror is psychological or things that can actually happen. Those things say with you long after you close the cover of the book or the credits finish rolling.

Jeff: Why do some people dislike Halloween? Are they afraid of something?

Meghan: There’s a reason that one of my questions in this year’s interview was why Halloween was their favorite (or second favorite) holiday. It’s one of my top two and I wanted to see if people felt the same way about it as I do. To me, Halloween is a lifestyle, and there are horror things up in my home office year round. I’m a spooky girl all year, until November 1st when I become all Christmas all day, and around January 10th I go right back to being a spooky girl. I think people dislike Halloween because they were brought up being told to not like it or that it is evil or they just don’t understand it. Halloween is a time when you get to be a little different, when you get to dress up and pretend you are not the same boring person you are every other day, when you get to enjoy being scared and the things that go bump in the night. “Are they afraid of something?” That’s a great question. Maybe they are afraid of the things that COULD be in the dark. Or maybe they’re just afraid of being judged for liking something that usually the “nerds” are the ones enjoying or because they think it’s kids’ stuff. Maybe they’re afraid to let go and enjoy themselves. And, as I said above, maybe they just don’t understand it.

Jeff: What if Halloween represented a dark side of life that we’ve repressed over the years? What do you think would be scary if we fell back into believing our older superstitions?

Meghan: I’ve never really found Halloween or superstitions scary. Old wives’ tales are often something that has worked over time and handed down through generations (i.e. chicken soup curing a cold). Some are based on religious beliefs (i.e. Friday the 13th and not walking under a ladder). Some were used to scare children into behaving themselves, and they had to have worked or they wouldn’t have stuck.

I grew up in a very religious household, and am still religious. Sometimes I think that we SHOULD fall back into believing our old superstitions. Let’s take Krampus for an example. Kids used to behave because they were truly afraid of being on that bad list. They believed (and maybe it was based on a true story at some point in time) that Santa would send Krampus to get them if they misbehaved. And there are lots of Christmas stories like that – Gryla, the mother of the Yule Lads, who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children; Pere Fouettard, who is St Nicholas’ servant, with the sole job of dispensing punishment to bad children on St Nicholas Day; Perchta, who rewards and punishes during the 12 days of Christmas, best known for ripping out the internal organs and replacing them with trash; and, of course, the Yule Cat, who can apparently smell laziness on a child, who are then sacrificed to him.

Jeff: What do you think Halloween will be like 100 years from now?

Meghan: Less fun? Everything is so politically charged these days, and people are so offended/triggered that the fun is being drained from things like Halloween. We’re told that we shouldn’t like things because of this or reason or this reason. Those of us who have heard this our whole lives are fighting back, but in 100 years, who will be around to defend the weird and wonderful that we love all year round?

Jeff: What can writers do to improve their stories?

Meghan: Since I am an editor, one with over 20 years experience that includes working for two of the big five, I’m going to say that the best way they can improve their stories is to hire a well-read editor and listen to what they have to say. Now I know there are some people that think they don’t need an editor, that say it is an expense they can ignore, especially if they are a self published author, but a good editor is really worth their weight in gold.

I’ve heard horror stories – trust me – which is why I say to talk to the person before you decide to hire them. Let them tell you what they can do for you, let them tell you about their education, their training, and what they have edited so far. (You can even ask to talk to one or two of the authors that they have worked with.) Get to know the person and decide if the two of you would make a good team or not – and I say team because that is basically what the two of you will be, especially if you are writing a trilogy or series, as you’ll want to have the same eyes looking at it each time to ensure consistency and continuity.

I will tell you that a good editor WILL discuss things with you, WILL explain why changes are necessary. YOU will learn from them and THEY will learn from you. It will be a true partnership, but the story will ALWAYS be yours. They will help to make your story better all while retaining your voice. They will never change things (other than misspellings and punctuation) without talking to you first. And they will be available to talk to you at least once during the project. You have to be able to trust them because, in essence, you are trusting them with your baby, so don’t ignore those little things that make you question.

If you simply cannot afford an editor, which is understandable, you should (at the very least) get a good BETA reader. (Note: Some editors do provide a BETA read for a cheaper price, where they will give you an honest opinion of the story in front of them and point out any major flaws with the story.) It doesn’t necessarily have to be an editor, but it should be a well-read person who you can trust to be completely honest with you and invested in your success. Honesty is the only way you are going to learn and your story is going to get better. (And I suggest that you sit down with their notes with an open mind because they really are just trying to help you.)

[Here’s my chance to plug me for a change: Any author that mentions this interview gets 20% off their first edit project with MeghanH Editing.]

Jeff: What are some of the best story hooks you’ve ever read?

Meghan: I am drawn to horror that is set during either Halloween or Christmas, and I absolutely love stories where the setting is a carnival/circus or something haunted (homes, asylums, hospitals). (There should be more carnival/circus horror, people!!) At the same time, I am often truly put off if there is a vampire, werewolf, or zombie involved, which saddens me, especially with vampires and werewolves, because those were the things I loved as a kid. They have just become so… boring… for me, but there are times I give those a try, hoping for something different, hoping for something to grab my attention and pull me in like they did when I was younger.

You’re looking for specifics here, though, so let me pull out a few that have stayed on my favorites list over time.

I love when a stranger comes back to get revenge years later, causing the main character to suffer in the same way that they once tormented the stranger. Even better if there’s been enough time between the two events for the main character to have forgotten or almost forgotten what had happened. A good example of this would be Desolation by Kristopher Rufty. Even better because his story is told from both sides.

I also love watching the main character slowly go insane. That’s a fear I think a lot of people have in life, that they will slowly lose their mind, and it’s interesting to see when done well – and it sicks with you. A good example of this is Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane.

I know I said that I am bored with werewolves, but maybe it’s because I’m looking for something different. A few years ago I read one by Jonathan Janz (Wolf Land) where the victims became werewolves themselves.

I find stalker stories interesting. I read one not too long ago where a man puts a spell on the woman he loves, and after she loses her memory, pretends to be her lover. As the story goes on, she slowly starts finding out more and more about the man and what he would do to keep the woman of his dreams while she also starts… changing. I was hooked. (The book in question was Rose by Rami Ungar.)

I’ll tell you right now – if you put Krampus or any of his ilk in a story, you’ll have me from page one. I was just “surprised” by a short story in The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition (published by KJK Publishing, edited by Kevin J Kennedy) – I can’t tell you which one because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, but I would definitely suggest picking that anthology up (I’ll be reviewing it shortly).

Along the same path, and even though it’s not necessarily horror – well… maybe… possibly… – if you put any holiday character into a book and give them a backstory not expected (for example, the Claus series by Tony Bertauski), you’ll have a hard time not catching my attention.

I guess, you could say, that it’s the psychological horror that really gets me – the things that could actually happen to someone, taken to that next level, the things that stay with you long after you have finished reading the story, that are the hooks I like best.

Jeff: What’s more important to you – characters or plot?

Meghan: Both? You sort of need both to make a gripping story, but I guess if I HAVE to chose one or the other, I’ll say that characters are the most important. Without characters, the plot won’t matter at all. And if the characters we are supposed to love are dreadful, then we really won’t care what happens to them, no matter how good the plot is.

Jeff: What got you interested in horror?

Meghan: My father. He was always reading or watching something interesting. Usually something I wasn’t supposed to be reading or watching. He told me one time that horror was a good scary because I can be scared but not hurt by the things that happen in books and movies.

My first “horror” movie was Jaws. I’ve told this story a billion times, but what’s one more time? We were at my mom and dad’s best friend’s house. The husband and the oldest son (who I had a crush on at a very young age) were watching the movie, and though my mother told me that I would probably not like it, I decided to watch it with them anyway. I honestly can’t tell you much about the movie, nothing beyond the shark and how scared I was, and I have never attempted the movie again. It didn’t help that the same oldest son told me that the light in the deep end of the pool was Jaw’s eyeball. Seriously. His EYEBALL. It took me a good year before I would set foot inot that pool again. One day, there was some work being done on the pool and my dad pointed at the hole and said, “See? It can’t be Jaw’s eyeball. There’s no body.” Now, up until that point, and quite a few more points over the years, I thought my dad was the smartest man on the planet. At that moment, though, I seriously questioned how smart he was. It could still be Jaw’s eyeball without his body there. And sometimes, in the dark, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see that big eyeball winking at me…

Jeff: What stories can be written in horror that can’t be expressed in other genres?

Meghan: That’s a very good question. I honestly believe that only horror can really go into the depth of someone’s soul, only horror can really explore our true fears. Horror is that one step further, that one step that other genres are afraid to take, with characters that are not afraid to take themselves to that next level, that aren’t afraid to let themselves be depraved or evil, and on the other side, aren’t afraid to feel that depravity and that evil to cone out fine, but often changed, on the other side. I think that all stories in other genres have the potential of being horror, but only horror allows that exploration, only horror creates the opportunity feel that fear (in safety), and really, it’s only horror that gets away with all of the above because it is expected and accepted.

If you think about it, a good romance can lead to a horrific murder spree if we find out that the beautiful woman he fell in love with doesn’t even know he exists. A good science fiction can become horrific if, rather than the people on the spaceship becoming friends with the new alien life they have just encountered, they choose to repeat atrocities from the past and wipe those beings and their planet from space. The cozy mystery can lead to a horrific story if the witty chef who solves crimes in her spare time ends up being the murderer and takes her killing fetish to the extreme, all while setting innocent people up for the murders that she is committing. A fantasy needs to just up it’s Brothers Grimm-anti to cross the line into horror.

Jeff: The lines between horror and other genres often become blurred. What do you think real horror is?

Meghan: This is the one question that I truly struggled to answer, but knowing how annoyed I get when someone doesn’t answer all of the questions in an interview I worked hard to put together, there was no way I was going to do that to you.

Horror is very hard to define because of those blurred lines and each person you ask is going to have a different answer as horror means something different to each individual. Why? Because we all fear different things.

I personally think real horror challenges our belief of what is good and what is evil. Therefore, I think the horror genre is the epitome of that uncertainty. And many of its themes are things that are considered socially unacceptable. As I’ve said elsewhere in this interview, horror gives us a chance to figure things out, to analyze, to really look in-depth at the things that scare us and see it in a different light, to see the wizard behind the curtain.

Jeff: Considering the awful truth of what can happen in this world, how far do you think a horror writer can go to describe the truth before it’s considered unacceptable?

Meghan: I think that as long as it is in some way believable, that if some part of it *could* happen, there will always be someone (or a group of someones) who will accept it no matter how far the author takes it. I think there should be horror that fits in with the horrors of the world because those stories will help us to better understand it. Authors just need to keep in mind that not everyone sees the same horror in things, not everyone has the same story. Current things, full of all kinds of emotion, where the true facts are not always known, are harder for people to stomach than, say, something that happened in the past. Your “horror” may not be my “horror.” We saw that when we look back at WWII. People who went through the events, who were in countries where the events took place, understood the atrocities on a completely different level than those who did not. The war itself was hard on everyone, and a lot of people lost their lives, but it wasn’t until after the war ended – years after the war ended – that the true evil and depravity was shown to life. It wasn’t something that you saw on the news, it wasn’t something that was happening to your neighbor or your family (at least for a lot of people), and even when it was, people did know know what was *really* happening at the other end of a train. People were conditioned to believe that what they were doing was right, and some truly believed that one people were lower than another. Some people did things because they had no choice, or they had to make the decision to do what they had in order to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Other people believe it could not have possibly happened because how could we do something like that to our fellow man?

Jeff: What do you think most future horror stories will evolve into? More towards “I’m all alone” or a cosmic-level dread?

Meghan: We’ve found out, most of us, during this global pandemic, that being “all alone” is actually quite nice and easily sustainable. We’ve found out, most of us, that we don’t need other people physically in our lives, and with the options to have things, including groceries and food, delivered to your home, there’s a good few of us that would love living like that the rest of our lives, only having to venture out if we need to. We all have friends that live all over the world, friends we can talk to every day, friends we can see every day. Hell, we’ve even had holidays across the world while sitting in each other’s living rooms. Being “all alone” just isn’t scary anymore.

I think the “new scary” is definitely cosmic horror. Now we’re venturing into things that before we THOUGHT could NEVER happen. (But then we also thought that a global pandemic could never happen. Also: locusts in Africa, devastating fires in both Australia and California, murder hornets, ebola. So maybe a giant octopus creature *could* come from the ocean depths. I mean, it *could*… right?) Cosmic horror makes readers uncomfortable (in a good way), plunges common fears and anxieties into the minds o readers, and focuses on the mysterious and the unfathomable, rather than violence and bloodshed. It makes us realize that, in the great scheme of things, we’re really not very important after all. Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.


Boo-graphy:
In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matthew R. Davis

Meghan: Hey, Matthew! Welcome to Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Books… or (Holiday) House of Books because, technically, it’s December… but I’m just not ready to finish with Halloween, as you can tell. Thanks for joining in our annual frivolities. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Matthew: The fact that we celebrate all that is spooky and dark! While the day has come a long way from its roots, it’s broadened to include all kinds of horrors, and so naturally I love the aesthetics and the focus on peering into the shadows.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Matthew: Ah, I don’t really have one. In Australia, we don’t get out on the streets as much as other countries – I’ve never been trick or treating, though at one of my previous homes (Ghastly Manor) we did put out some props and hand lollies over to groups of roving children. I do like to get out and celebrate the Spooky Season – there are usually a few goth events on, my partner and I attended a double bill of Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead a few years back, and last year a dearly departed friend had his final, posthumous exhibition opening on Halloween night.

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

Matthew: Again, it’s all about the celebrations of horror and the macabre. The trappings of Christmas are an annoyance to me – carols and tinsel, chintzy decorations indulged in just because It’s What We Do, the religious angle – so Halloween provides a much-needed balance.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Matthew: Pretty much nothing. I’m an entirely irreligious person, and while I keep an open mind, I don’t believe in the paranormal – which is perhaps an odd attitude from a horror writer whose work is so often supernatural! I guess I’d like some of the stories to be true, for these hints of further worlds to be genuine, because then there’s so much more to explore and it might also mean there’s something else to come after we shuffle off this mortal coil – and while I don’t think there is, I have to admit that the idea of an afterlife beyond the codified legends of religion, freely entered without having to follow some deity’s laws of conduct and devotion, is an appealing one. I believe we get one life and we need to make the most of it, but I won’t feel too bad if I’m ultimately proved wrong… so long as I don’t end up consigned to excruciating and unjust torture for all eternity!

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

Matthew: I tend to wince when I see yet another meme or image that wheels out the pop culture horror big guns like Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead, Ghostface, Regan McNeil, Pennywise, Leatherface, etc. There’s so much more beyond these figureheads! That said, I am a fan of most of those characters, or at least some of the movies in which they feature. (My hot take: The Exorcist is overrated Catholic propaganda.) But I prefer standalone films with one-off monsters or villains, and having said that, now I have to think of some in order to actually answer this question! Here are some notables: the witches and their associates from Suspiria (original and remake), the titular woman from The Autopsy of Jane Doe, the ghosts of The Haunting of Hill House series, the creepy doubles from The Broken, the grotesqueries that appear throughout In the Mouth of Madness, the demons from, well, Demons, the haunting at the heart of Mungo Lake… and so, so many more!

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Matthew: I don’t know if I could pick just one! Some cases are so intriguing that a solution is craved if only to satisfy the onlooker’s curiosity, but then, so much of their interest is predicated on them remaining unsolved. I hope they are unraveled so those close to the victims can gain closure, but the mystery is always more satisfying than the solution. It may be a little ghoulish to find titillation in the unsolved disappearances and deaths of strangers, but why shouldn’t we be curious? Nothing is ever learned without someone applying thought to the situation.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Matthew: I’m not credulous and I don’t scare easy, and most legends are fairly humdrum and ridiculous anyway, so I guess… none. I do find them interesting, though, and I occasionally include one in my work. A pair of 1960s teenage spree killers inspire a schoolyard ditty in my novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, and rumours of their visit to the titular Chapel lead others to try and find the place.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Matthew: None. Fuck those people. I don’t have a favourite rapist or a favourite thug, so why should I have a favourite murderer? While I am intensely curious about serial killers and love to read about them, I don’t ever glorify what they do – my interest lies largely in my inability to understand how people could do such atrocious things to others, and in the processes by which they can be profiled, identified, and captured. I want to know what causes some people to kill and I want to know how we can stop them. Accordingly, I find great interest in books by John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker, who set out their stall with Mindhunter.

Meghan: I guess I should have worded that question differently. I did not mean “favorite” as in one you idolize, but “favorite” as in the one that intrigues you the most. But I digress… How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Matthew: Okay… I don’t know for sure, but I remember seeing bits of a movie I now know is Cruise into Terror (1978), including an Egyptian sarcophagus that started breathing, and that was quite creepy when I was so young. The only movie I ever turned off was The Masterson Curse (aka Scared Stiff, 1987) when I was ten, because I couldn’t stand the tension building up to a well-telegraphed jump scare – something tells me I’d find that movie very mild going these days!

As for books… I read one of Guy N. Smith’s Crabs books before I should have, and that was pretty heavy going. The Choose Your Own Adventure books got quite grim sometimes, and then there were darker variants like the Plot Your Own Horror Story series. The only one I own is Grand Hotel of Horror (Hilary Milton, 1984), which snaked under my skin with its anything-goes terrors and eerie illustrations, and other entries saw you trapped overnight in a mall, a haunted house, and even a space museum. In fact, Space Age Terrors has one of the best back cover taglines I have ever seen.

It is programmed to destroy.
It can walk through locked doors.
It is looking for you.

Brrr!

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Matthew: At the risk of sounding repetitive and dull, it’s rare for a book to actually scare me. Sometimes it’s individual pieces that get to me: some of the seabase scenes in Nick Cutter’s The Deep, the exploration of an abandoned flat and subsequent entry of Black Maggie in Adam Nevill’s No One Gets Out Alive, the increasing religious mania of the father in Ramsey Campbell’s The House on Nazareth Hill and the concomitant persecution of his daughter that leads to a truly shocking climax. Sometimes it’s the creeping mood and atmosphere that lingers after the covers have been closed, like in Laird Barron’s The Croning, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, or Stephen King‘s Pet Sematary.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Matthew: See above, but to avoid repeating myself: Jaws (1975), which I saw far too young and instilled in me an instinctive fear of water deeper than I am tall, not to mention a lifelong phobia of great white sharks! My brother, who watched those films with me (and was two years younger to boot!), recently went cage-diving amongst the great whites of Port Lincoln, and man, let me tell you – it is exceedingly unlikely I would ever even contemplate doing the same!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Matthew: Nothing I’ve ever worn, as I’ve never dressed up in full costume for Halloween. I’ve seen some great ones, though! (Not Great Ones, thankfully.) Let me give a shout out to my partner, who did this great little goth vampire thing a few years back complete with fangs and creepy contacts. As for me, I was wearing a skirt and steel-capped boots – perhaps scary, but not in the same way.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Matthew: John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, naturally; “Halloween” and “Halloween II” by Misfits; “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare All)” and “All Hallows Eve” by Type O Negative. I can’t think of much else that is explicitly about the season, but I’m a big fan of dark, creepy music in general – I could put together a playlist for Halloween that would kill.

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

Matthew: Chocolate. Not chocolate.


Boo-graphy:
Matthew R. Davis is an author and musician based in Adelaide, South Australia, whose novelette “Heritage Hill” (found in Outback Horrors Down Under: An Anthology of Antipodean Terrors, edited by Steve Dillon, published by Things in the Well Publications) was shortlisted for a 2020 Shirley Jackson Award and the WSFA Small Press Award. His books are the horror collection If Only Tonight We Could Sleep (Things in the Well, 2020) and the novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love (JournalStone, 2021). Find out more at his website.

Midnight in the Chapel of Love
THE MAN: Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up—but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more.

THE TOWN: Returning to Waterwich for the funeral and wake with his partner Sloane, Jonny must confront old resentments, his estranged best friends Brendan and Coralie, a strange, veiled woman the locals call the White Widow…and the mystery surrounding the fate of his first lover, Jessica Grzelak.

THE GIRL: A morbid and reckless city girl banished to the country to live with her aunt, Jessica loved to push the limits and explore the shadows—and no one has seen her since the night of her high school formal, the night she and Jonny went looking for the Chapel.

THE CHAPEL: Rumored to be found in the woods outside Waterwich, mentioned in playground rhymes about local lovebirds Billy and Poppy and their killing spree in 1964, the Chapel is said to be an ancient, sacred place that can only be entered by lovers—a test that can only be passed if their bond is pure and true.

THE TRUTH: Before he can move on to a future with Sloane, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past—and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark forever.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lee Rozelle

Meghan: Hi, Lee. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books and our annual Halloween Extravaganza. I’m excited that you decided to take part in this year’s frivolities. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Lee: Watching frightened children in handmade outfits and pumpkin baskets lumber across the street in little hordes.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Lee: When I was a teenager, on Halloween we would get some of the kids together to roll Joe’s yard. But the little rollers didn’t know that Joe would be in his tree stand behind his house with a semiautomatic weapon. We would start rolling, and after a few minutes Joe would begin to fire his rifle into the air at a steady clip. At that point I would “get shot” and start screaming for help, gargling, whining, and rolling on the ground. It was really interesting to see who would come back and save me and who left me to die. The next year, of course, the kids who previously got punked would want to go “roll Joe’s yard” to see the new kids run like hell.

No yard rollers were injured in the making of this prank.

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

Lee: In Alabama it’s not necessarily cold during Halloween, but there’s wind, fog, and orange leaves. It’s very much a time of uncertainty, when people have the chance to take all of their beliefs and think, “maybe not.”

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Lee: Organ transplantation.

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

Lee: It would have to be Renfield in the 1931 Dracula. Never will I forget that laugh.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Lee: Not sure if she qualifies as a serial killer, but here’s the most compelling case that I’ve puzzled over:

Amy Bishop—The Crazy Professor Amy Bishop, a biology professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, shot and killed three faculty members and wounded three others on February 12, 2010. In March of 2009, Bishop was denied tenure, which meant spring 2010 would be her last semester to be employed by the university. During a faculty meeting, Bishop stood up and began shooting those closest to her with a 9mm handgun – execution style. Bishop didn’t have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and she was in total denial after the event. She didn’t believe her colleagues were really dead. The day of the shooting, students claimed she seemed perfectly normal. On September 11, 2012, Bishop pleaded guilty to one count of capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in order to avoid the death penalty. On September 24, 2012, Bishop was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

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

Lee: When I was five, my father took me to see Jaws. One of the trailers before the movie flashed the words “Rated R” and I yelled loudly in my seat, “Rated R! I’m getting out of here!” The other audience members laughed at me and my father told me to sit down and hush. I’ll never forget that googly eyed corpse that pops out deep beneath the sea…it scared the hell out of me.

In regards to my first horror novel, my father was an elementary teacher and he supplemented our family income by selling socks to people at banks, gas stations, restaurants, and bars. He traipsed from building to building in small towns with a little basket selling 6 packs of socks. On one trip, he filled his truck up with 6 packs—we had footies too, don’t think this was a two-bit operation—and mail a huge box of socks to California. We would sell socks all the way to the West Coast, pick up the box at the Post Office, and on another route would sell socks all the way home. Anyway, we’re in Arizona and New Mexico hauling down the road, no AC, and I’m eleven years old and bored to death. On the dash there is this wrinkled up black paperback with a grayish cover. The book was The Dead Zone. I cracked it and started reading. Never been the same since.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Lee: No doubt, that baby in Salem’s Lot unsettled me into an exquisite freak out that I have rarely felt before or since. My skin crawled, my pancreas crawled, and I felt this stark, blank undercurrent inside me. Yeow.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Lee: Oh they all did. One that stands out as having messed me up big time is The Beast Within. We got bug rape, cannibalism of creepy old dudes, strange head inflations, head snatched through walls, puberty, more bugs, more rape…it was nasty.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Lee: Like most men of my generation, my favorite costume is Urkel from the TV show Family Matters.

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

Lee: The worst Halloween treat I ever received was a potato. I hated it.

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by today, Lee. Before you go, what’s your go to Halloween movie?

Lee: I was really sad that people didn’t like Halloween 3 when it came out, and I like to wonder what might have been if Carpenter had been able to produce anthology style “Halloween” movies with different plots. Could have been spectacular. And hey, those snakes and bugs coming out of those Silver Shamrock masks and kids’ heads in Halloween 3…phenomenal!


Boo-graphy:
Lee Rozelle’s debut novel Ballad of Jasmine Wills is forthcoming from Montag Press. Lee is the author of nonfiction books Zombiescapes & Phantom Zones and Ecosublime. He has published short stories in Cosmic Horror Monthly, HellBound Books‘ Anthology of BizarroShadowy Natures by Dark Ink Books, If I Die Before I Wake Volume 3, and the Scare You to Sleep podcast. Learn more on his website.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW by Daemon Manx: Jaws

Jaws

A Zanuck Brown Production/Directed by Steven Spielberg

I am at a point in my life where I can tell if a relationship is going to work within the first ten minutes of meeting someone, before I even find out what their favorite color is. There are only two things I need to know to ascertain whether we are compatible or if we even stand a chance at becoming friends. All it takes is for someone to say “I’m not a fan of horror movies” or “I didn’t like the movie Jaws” and it is a deal breaker, game over, so long, have a nice life.

Never trust anyone who tells you they didn’t love the movie Jaws!

As a boy growing up in New Jersey, the home of author Peter Benchley, and the original setting of the shark attacks that allegedly inspired the 1975 film, I spent countless summers frolicking in the surf and at the beaches during the time of this iconic movie’s release. There are countless aspects as to why this block buster should be in everyone’s top ten, if not five, movies of all time. However, I can only speak for myself and try to inspire with my I own fascination and love affair with this movie.

Timing is everything! That’s what they say, and I am a firm believer. Jaws was released during the summer of 1975 and was the very first movie to be filmed on the ocean, which lead to massive production problems. The film ran over budget and past schedule, and the salt water wreaked havoc with Bruce, the mechanical shark that repeatedly broke down during the filming. This ultimately worked in Spielberg’s favor, a young director who had yet to make his mark on the industry, who utilized the malfunctioning shark to his advantage. In horror, it isn’t always what you see, it’s what you don’t see. Spielberg decided to suggest the shark’s presence as much as he could, relying on shadows and quick glimpses of the ominous fin to reveal the impending threat.

To further turn up the drama, composer John Williams added the soundtrack that has become an iconic undertone that all beach goers know all too well. The theme is essentially comprised of two bass notes that no-doubt strike fear in the hearts of millions every time it is heard, especially if they are to be swimming at the time.

It’s about suspense, it’s about tension, it’s about what you don’t see. Author’s call this invisible ink. The space between the lines, the words that are not being used. Spielberg painted this masterpiece with gallons of invisible ink as he gave life to the novel written by Peter Benchley in 1974.

Benchley, a Jersey native claims that this tale is not inspired by the shark attacks that plagued New Jersey beaches in 1916. From Beach Haven to the Matawan Creek a killer shark dinned on hapless beach goers that fateful summer. A boy on a raft, a man and his dog, another gentleman who had lost his leg. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Benchley’s novel was different in ways from the big screen version, but the premise is the same and the horror is synonymous.

The movie is a watershed moment in Hollywood history for being perhaps the first true summer blockbuster. It was the highest grossing picture of it’s time until Star Wars was released a year later in 1977. It has spurred three sequels, none of which stand up to the original, some of which are downright embarrassing. It was one of those moments where everything gelled. It had to do with the production, the music, the editing, the director, and Oh My God…it had everything to do with the cast.

Roy Scheider was cast as Police Chief Martin Brody, but the role was first offered to Robert Duvall who only wanted to play Quint. Charlton Heston wanted the role but Spielberg though that Heston was too big of a star to bring the anonymity that he wanted from a lesser know actor. Above all else, he wanted the shark to be the star of the show.

The character Quint was based on real life fisherman Craig Kingsbury, was played by veteran actor Robert Shaw. There are numerous repots that Shaw spent most of the time rather tipsy during the filming of the movie. If this is what you get when Robert Shaw is tipsy then by all means, buy this man another round, and put it on my tab. Quint is an absolute show stealer, and his recollection of the sinking of the Indianapolis is possibly the greatest monologue in movie history. Chills…do you feel them?

The character of Matt Hooper was not even cast until nine days before production began. There were a lot of possibilities when it came to would-be hopefuls for the part: John Voight, Jan Michael Vincent, Jeff Bridges, Joel Gray even Kevin Kline. But it was Spielberg’s good friend, George Lucas who recommended that he use a young actor who had performed in his movie American Graffiti. Richard Dreyfus took on the role of the young oceanographer and the rest was magic. At least for us, Dreyfus and Shaw couldn’t stand each other.
You know that you really have something special when people go around quoting your movie afterward…damn near 50 years now

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” This is the best hands-down line ever written in a movie.

“Show me the way to go home, I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”

And who could deny, “Smile you son of bitch!” Although the bitch is drowned out from the explosion it is in there.

So, this movie messed up a lot of people. It made them afraid to go into the water. It turned them away from the ocean and scared the ever-living shit out of them. It had a different effect on me. I instantly wanted to become an oceanographer when I grew up. I never did, but I did become an avid scuba diver. While other children were playing football, my friends and I were reenacting scenes from Jaws. This movie inspired me on such a deep moving profound level that I can’t completely express it. Possibly it was because I was at that perfect age at the time, also it has everything to do with all of the reason that I have explained.

What makes the Mona Lisa a masterpiece? What makes Beethoven a maestro? What makes Einstein more than just another guy with a bad haircut?

It’s the same reason why Jaws is, and always will be a watershed moment in movie history and one of the greatest achievements of our time. If you missed this on the big screen, I truly feel sorry for you. You have no idea what you missed when Ben Gardner’s head pops out…Oh My God!!!

There aren’t enough stars in the heavens to give this movie all that it truly deserves.

Infinity stars for Jaws, Spielberg, and the entire cast and crew that brought this gem to life. Thank you!

One last note to the Gods of Hollywood who are determined to ruin everything.

DO NOT try to remake this movie! I will hunt you down and I will make chum out of you!

I mean it!
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: Adam Howe

Meghan: Hey Adam!! Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books and this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Adam: It’s gotta be trick or treating as a kid, right? Except I missed out on that. My fault entirely. The one (and only) time my mum let me go trick or treating around the block of flats where we then lived, I objected when one of our neighbors refused to cough up the candy, saying they “didn’t believe in Halloween.” (This was in Australia.) Well, I wrote the lousy bastards the proverbial “sternly worded letter,” replete with an offensive caricature of my neighbors, and a monster defecating on their heads – my idea of a Halloween ‘trick,’ I guess. They of course forwarded this poison pen letter to my mum, and from that day on I was never allowed to go trick or treating. So I kind of missed out on my Halloween glory years… Wish I still had that picture. Wonder if my mum kept it in the scrapbook?

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Adam: We don’t celebrate Halloween in the UK like you guys, at least not in my neck of the woods, I’m sure it differs from place to place. I remember driving through a small village down south a few years ago around Halloween-time, and seeing that every house had a “corn dolly” – a kind of scarecrow figure – posted outside. None of the other villages had ‘em, just this one little place, and I always wondered exactly what that little tradition/ritual was about… kind of spooky thinking back on it.

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

Adam: Oh, I’m far too grouchy to have anything like a “favorite” holiday. I tolerate these things for the sake of the kids. I do enjoy seeing Halloween through my daughter’s eyes, seeing her pluck up the courage to knock on the door of an especially spooky house. Kids really will do about anything for confectionery.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Adam: My superstitions tend to be writing rituals – writing at the same time of the day (crack of dawn) in the same place (for fear of upsetting my writer’s feng shui). I don’t really consider myself superstitious, but I’d probably give serious thought before boarding a #13 plane, so I guess I am susceptible to the ‘classics.’

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

Adam: Always been partial to ole Leatherface and the Sawyer Clan.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Adam: I’m currently researching an unsolved British murder for what I think may be my next horror novel, the Charles Walton witchcraft murder. It occurred in a sleepy village of a couple hundred people in 1945 (around the time the Allies were firebombing Dresden). An elderly farm laborer named Charles Walton, believed by his neighbors to be involved in witchcraft/folk medicine, was discovered dead in a field, impaled to the ground with a pitchfork, and with crucifixes slashed in his face and chest with a sickle (an ancient way of dispatching “witches”). When the local law couldn’t solve the crime, Scotland Yard sent their best man, the Sherlock Holmes of his day, Robert Fabian, to investigate… and that’s when things got seriously witchy… The case is like a real-like “Sleepy Hollow” or “Wicker Man.” I don’t want to say too much more about it, because like I say I’m currently researching for my next project, but I’d encourage people to check out the Wiki entry for Charles Walton – it’s a fascinating case.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Adam: The insect laying eggs in a sleeping person’s ear.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Adam: I’m leery of using the word “favorite” here, and the guy I’m going to choose didn’t kill anyone as far as I know… but check out the serial sex offender named Ed Paisnel aka The Beast of Jersey. Not Jersey, USA, but the British Channel Isle. For thirteen years (60s-70s) the Beast of Jersey terrorized the tiny island, breaking into homes while people slept, abducting children from their beds, taking them to locations with historical occult significance, and performing satanic rituals as he raped them. Paisnel was a practitioner of black magic, and claimed to be descended from Gilles de Rais; he was said to have used “magic” to elude the police for so many years. What’s most disturbing about him – well, there are many disturbing things about this freak – is the nightmarish costume he would wear when he performed his nighttime raids. Words don’t do it justice; I would urge people to Google “The Beast of Jersey,” and imagine being woken in the dead of night by that horror.

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

Adam: Not sure for certain how old I was, but let’s say around seven or eight, an irresponsible adult (my mum) rented me a double-bill of An American Werewolf in London and Carpenter’s The Thing. I watched “Werewolf” first. My mum watched five minutes with me to make sure it was suitable for a child (it isn’t), before she went off to bed. And of course in the sixth minute, the werewolf appeared, savaging the kids on the Moors – terrifying! And if anything The Thing was even more traumatizing. Making it from the TV room to my bedroom that night, alone, in the shadowy dark, and with all those images rattling round the ole noodle – that was the longest walk (or eyes-closed scurry) I can remember… And I guess an experience like that either makes or breaks you as a horror fan for life. After surviving that double-bill, I realized I quite enjoyed that scared-shitless experience.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Adam: I was most susceptible to book scares as a “latchkey” teen, reading Stephen King late at night in an empty house – Pet Sematary, The Shining, Salem’s Lot. Before that, when I was maybe eight or nine, I bought from the school book fair the paperback of Carrie with the illustration of a blood-spattered Sissy Spacek on the cover. (I knew the name Stephen King from my mum’s bookshelf.) In my nightmares, Carrie in her telekinetic rage became the girl who lived across the street from me. Again, that’s the kind of experience that either makes or breaks you as a horror fan… When I met Stephen King (part of the prize for winning a King-judged writing contest) he was delighted to hear that his books gave me nightmares.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Adam: Jaws. After seeing that movie at an impressionable age, not only was I terrified of swimming in the ocean, but the pool too. Wouldn’t be surprised if most people answer Jaws to this question. That goddamn movie!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Adam: As I’ve already said, I blew my Halloween glory years thanks to that poison pen letter I sent. So now I have to live vicariously through my daughter’s costumes. I think we’ll get a little more adventurous this year than the witch/princess she went as last Halloween – I’d like to see her as Snake Plissken.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Adam: Purple People Eater. And did I imagine it, or did someone make a movie from that song? I swear I rented that back in the VHS days.

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

Adam: I don’t have a sweet tooth, and I’m not even much of a snack guy. (Come to think of it, jeez, I really suck at Halloween.)

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by, Adam. Before you go, what are your top 3 go-to Halloween movies?

Adam:
Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Not the best of the series, I’ll grant you – that’s clearly JC’s original, and the sequel ain’t too shabby either – but this is easily my favorite, and the one that bears repeated viewings. Not only is the story batshit insane, but the anti-heroic character Tom Fuckin’ Atkins plays, deadbeat dad and functional alcoholic, Dr. Daniel Challis, has to be the most offbeat protagonist in all of horror cinema.

Ghostwatch. The pseudo-documentary/reality-TV hook for this show seems old hat now, but at the time it aired, must’ve been early/mid-90s, this “live” investigation of a haunted house, anchored by a host of respectable British broadcasters, was revelatory… and scared the living piss out of me.

Whistle and I’ll Come to You. This adaptation of the M.R. James classic was first billed in the 60s as a ghost story for Christmas. (Apparently, Christmas was the traditional season for ghost stories in the UK.) This one remains chillingly effective, and in actor Michael Hordern’s depiction of repressed scholar Professor Parkin, features one of the ATG oddball performances.

Boo-graphy:
ADAM HOWE writes the twisted fiction your mother warned you about. He lives in Greater London with his partner, their daughter, and a hellhound named Gino. His short fiction has been widely published in places like Nightmare Magazine, Thuglit, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the international On Writing contest, and published in the digital/PB editions of King’s Memoir of the Craft. He is the author of such wholesome titles as Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, and Scapegoat (with James Newman). His most recent novel is the “buddy cop” action/comedy One Tough Bastard, in which a washed-up 80s action star partners with a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee to smash an organized crime syndicate headed by a Schwarzenegger-style supervillain. Coming soon: grit-lit 30s pulp The Polack, co-written with Joseph Hirsch, and “starring” Charles Bronson. And a new Reggie Levine yarn entitled Of Moose and Men. You can stalk Adam Howe on FB, Goodreads, and Twitter.

One Tough Bastard
Shane Moxie: a washed-up 80s action star who refuses to believe his best days are behind him… Duke: a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee and arguably the greatest animal actor of his generation…

Reunited for an anniversary movie screening, when Moxie and Duke are targeted by assassins, the feuding co-stars reluctantly join forces to smash an organized crime syndicate headed by an iconic German action star dealing death from his movie-themed fast food franchise.

One’s a big dumb animal. The other’s a chimpanzee. Shit just got real.