REVIEW: The Captivating Flames of Madness

Jeff Parsons – HellBound Books – 4.2.2018 – 298 – Horror Short Stories

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…


When it comes to reading a new author, I like to start with their short stories or short story collections. It allows me a chance to really see the range of story they have in them, as well as see their writing style and how much they put into their characters, which, to me, are a very important part of the story.

At the same time, short story collections are difficult. It’s hard for authors to hit a middle-ground with them, so they’re either total perfection or completely terrible, and I go in with that thought in my head every time. Especially after reading ones that were just so disappointing to me. I can’t be the only reader that expects a theme to be utilized in every story included or all of the stories selected for the collection to be strong stories, but for some reason, I read a lot of collections that just don’t hit either of those marks.

I agreed to read this one knowing that HellBound Books was the publisher, which gave me a little more faith in the collection than I usually have going into these. They’re a publisher that has not failed me yet when it comes to their books.

The cover itself was not a complete win for me, but the title… captivated my attention. (I know, I know… worst “dad” joke ever haha.)

I was hooked with story number one – Lost Souls. It’s not often that a collection by one author is begun with such a strong story. World War II. German military on a submarine. One member of the crew who questions whether what they are doing is right or wrong. And things that happen on this U-boat that lead to a conclusion I did not expect.

I’ll admit, after that story I was worried – “Don’t tell me that he began the collection with the best!” – but that was so far from the truth. Every single story was better than good. Every single story was strong. Every single story was different, but all stuck to the same theme that I had assumed was there with the title. In fact, there was not a single story in the collection that I either didn’t like or thought should not have been included. I mean, I was impressed. So impressed that it was actually really hard for me to choose a favorite, but I finally was able to decide on two, which, interestingly enough, are the first two stories in the collection:

Lost Souls
The New Law

If you’re looking for a new author to read and haven’t read anything by Jeff Parsons yet, I recommend you read this collection. It was well worth the time that I put into reading it, and I’ll definitely read more of his work in the future.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW Part 2: Halloween Edition: Jeff Parsons

Jeff Parsons was really interested in taking part in all of this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, but he just could not think of a guest post topic, so, joking around, I gave him some suggestions, in question form, and he answered all three. He has some interesting answers…


Meghan: What do you think is the worst Halloween candy ever created?

Jeff Parsons: Wax Bottle candy. Nip the top off, get wax on your lips, tongue, and teeth, spit it out in a slimy gob, and suck down the eyedropper squirt of bland sugar water. I think the sugar offsets the gag reflex, for undoubtedly, the liquid is some type of industrial waste discharge. Also, not part of any known food group is the related Candy Corn apostacy. Is it wax or non-fructose opioid? All I want to know is how to stop eating them…

Meghan: What was the best Halloween costume you wore as a kid?

Jeff Parsons: This will date me, but there was only one type of costume available. Store bought. The outfit came in a box that showed the costume through a clear cellophane window. The outfit was a plastic strap-on mask of Frankenstein, King Kong, Superman, etc. and a faux-silk matching tunic. The mask had two nose hole openings and a slit for a mouth. You couldn’t breathe. Sweat fogged up my glasses, further complicating the tunnel vision view. The mask’s rubber band bit into my head and broke too soon with a zinging snap to my ears. So, I’d have to hold the mask up to my face. After a while, I got tired of that. I’d just show the mask when the door opened to prove I was legit. By then, I was already exhausted by the marathon of getting as much candy as possible before the 6PM-get-your-butt-back-home curfew.

Meghan: Do you think it sucks for kids these days to not know the awesomeness of Halloween when we were kids?

Jeff Parsons: We were less jaded in the olden days. A good scary story really worked us over. Witches and goblins seemed to be a lot more believable back then… When I was young, seeing bizarre costumed people walking about on the street was like seeing a sign of civilizations sudden collapse into insanity. Nowadays, weird is normal and normal is weird. And, around late October, winter was on its way. When it got colder and darker, the leaves fell off the trees – my parents said not to worry, spring will return, but couldn’t it be they were protecting me from the awful truth… it may not return? Nowadays, everything can be Googled… no mystery.

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, 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, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

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…

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons

Meghan: Hi, Jeff. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeff Parsons: I’m married with 3 children. I’m a Mechanical Engineer with Nuclear Engineering experience working in a Civil Engineering position doing IT work (well lately, that’s mostly true). So, my thoughts are more than a few standard deviations away from familiar territory, a mindset that’s perfect for writing, btw. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting back into pen & pencil artwork for my upcoming book. Over 20 of my short stories have been published as well as two books of short story collections. I am a servant to 2 cats named Buddy and Holly. They are benevolent overlords.

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

Jeff Parsons:

  • I collect ancient coins. My oldest coin is from Sicily 5th Century B.C.
  • I volunteer medical services for the fire department’s Community Emergency Response Team.
  • I’ve co-authored four classified scientific papers. Luckily, I’ve forgotten everything relevant about them so I’m no longer a target for kidnapping by disgruntled nations (and I’m sure the gruntled ones never cared either).
  • I used to fly airplanes solo as a student pilot. My longest solo flight visited two airports for about 500 miles total. Yeah, that was scary, especially flying through an unexpected thunderstorm.
  • I love computer games that are in an open immersive world setting like Assassin’s Creed Olympos. I feel like I’m living in the past except there’s no fear of dying (I only fear boredom).

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jeff Parsons: I first read a lot of horror comics and Mad Magazine.

My first book was Fire-Hunter by Jim Kjelgaard. It’s about living in prehistoric times. It had a simple plot but was fun to read.

My first serious book was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. It had beautiful woodblock drawings in it. The plot had an enormous amount of depth to it – something quite new to me. I got hooked on books after that.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jeff Parsons: Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne. He knows his military tech and the book is written with an extraordinary sense of realism to it.

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

Jeff Parsons: The Princess Bride by William Goldman. It was hilarious, even funnier than the movie.

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

Jeff Parsons: For the longest time, I’ve done technical and marketing writing at work. I knew that fictional writing was fun and it was a great way to feel creative. I felt I could make a contribution due to my background and life experiences (actually, I think many people can do the same if they want to). I always wondered what it would take to get published. I searched on the internet for the best way to get started. The simplest way was to submit short stories to small press magazines that accept new authors. From there, be persistent, keep on getting published, building up a resume of accomplishments that shows your commitment (street cred). In my early writing years, about a decade ago, I received excellent feedback from some editors. I used that constructive criticism to sharpen my skills while holding onto my own ideas about what I wanted to write. Since then, as painful as the process can be, I treasure objective critical evaluations from editors and my writers’ group.

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

Jeff Parsons: I often write while watching tv. I think it’s because my thoughts become more spontaneous if I’m a little bit distracted. I used to study while listening to music, so I think the theory works for me. Sometimes, to get a different point of view, I go to a noisy coffee shop to write.

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

Jeff Parsons: I don’t write a story immediately. I let an idea simmer. I let it gather along with other ideas to form a plot. For me, I need the plot to be solid before I start writing in the details. It’s like building a house – you need the foundation and framework up first before you do everything else (excluding utilities). Nothing is worse than writing something contradictory that makes no sense. Speaking of making no sense, sometimes the characters write the story for me and I just sit back and get all the credit.

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

Jeff Parsons: I write first drafts on paper. It’s more flexible for me and I can do it practically anywhere, but eventually the mad scribbling needs to go into the software. I hate typing my edits into my computer. It’s agony. I mean, have you seen my handwriting? Seriously.

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

Jeff Parsons: A recent sci-fi story about how a post-apocalyptic human fights back against titan invaders with the help of some aliens. The story absolutely resounds with rah-rah courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

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

Jeff Parsons: City Infernal by Edward Lee. Pompeii by Robert Harris. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. Armor by John Steakley. The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. The Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard. Short story – A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. And everything H.P. Lovecraft.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jeff Parsons: A good story affects you on a personal level. It’s relatable. The scenes are real. It provokes emotions. It makes you think. You can apply it to your life. You learn something useful to you. Also, it has to flow seamlessly like water when you read it. Using too much description distracts away from the story. From my Toastmaster years, I’ve learned that reading a story aloud can help you detect any awkward parts.

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

Jeff Parsons: The characters must be real. No perfect people are allowed. There are many sides to everyone; no one is completely good or evil. Also, everyone has their own personality but strangely, we often share common life experiences. This is really scary when you consider that even the worst people can occasionally do good deeds – perhaps in some aspects of our lives, we’re not as unique as we think we are.

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

Jeff Parsons: Recently, I wrote a story about a Maine State Detective. He had an intuitive knack for solving cases. In a similar way, I think I’m clever simply because I think differently than most people. Despite unverified anecdotes to the contrary, I’m only mildly afflicted with the ravages of intelligence.

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

Jeff Parsons: I’m definitely turned off by a bad cover. Like most people, I make an initial visual judgement based on the cover, then if it’s interesting, I’d scan the book summary. It’s not fair, but it’s an effective way to quickly choose what you’d think about buying. Also, if they took the time to make a decent cover, it makes me think that the rest of the book will also have the same level of attention. My current book was a collaboration between me and my fabulous publisher Hellbound Books. (Shout out to HBB – woot woot)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jeff Parsons: An outline is essential. Your first draft should just capture the framework of your ideas, not be anything remotely perfect. It should be extremely drafty (like at hurricane level F5). Also, take some time off from writing if you’re starting to feel burnt out. You have to find a way to make this fun. I often listen to music or a movie while doing the various aspects of writing (outlining, wordsmithing, editing, editing, editing, weeping bitter tears, staring into the abyss, wallowing in willful ignorance, more editing, etc.). Overall, what’s the point of writing if you don’t want to? And why choose writing? There are far easier ways to accomplish goals, make money, or get attention.

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

Jeff Parsons: I wrote a story about an android saying goodbye to his dying cat. I drew from my own experience at the vet with my cat Princess. Heart-breaking but happy in a way. I’m glad her pain was taken away quickly and that I was there for her in her last moments.

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

Jeff Parsons: Bold, daring, and unique is what I’ve heard about my writing, at least on the up side. I shall not utter the words of the dark side (they come from Mordor, bad juju). When I write using technical jargon, I often know what I’m talking about. If I writing about feelings or romance, it’s a good idea for me to reach out for another’s perspective. (e.g. Jeff, are you daft? A woman would never say that… ahhh, I say)

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jeff Parsons: Lately I’ve been shopping online. The title is what I see after the book cover. If the title is silly or something that doesn’t interest me, I move on, leaving my brief emotional commitment behind. Coming up with a thought-provoking title is difficult. For my latest book, I thought about what the meaning of horror to me: life is unpredictable, like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, of decision away from things that could change our lives forever. Thus, my book was named, The Captivating Flames of Madness. The Victorian goth cover shows a pair of hands carefully holding a candle and in the flame is a death’s head.

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

Jeff Parsons: My two published books are collections of my short stories. I’m working on a novel now and it’s quite the long-term learning experience. I know so much more now than I ever did, but it’s difficult at times to keep at it. Taking a break from writing helps from time to time. In contrast, short stories give me almost immediate gratification and since I’m easily distracted by shiny objects and chocolate, the Pavlovian write story/ get reward dynamic works well for me.

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

Jeff Parsons: I usually write about real people in the world around us. Then, I ease in the unusual or supernatural into the story. I’d like for people to think there’s a greater world out there we don’t know anything about. I’m also curious about what the past was like. Not all fictional tales have to be sunshine, rainbows, and puppies… Horror is like the safety in riding a roller coaster, being close to danger but not in actually in danger. I like stories that make us think outside our comfort zone.

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

Jeff Parsons: Not much to say. I often delete parts that interrupt the flow of the story. Usually, they’re small snippets because I keep the plot line snug and tight. It’s difficult to let an interesting description go… the decision process is about as easy as doing algebra in a foreign language. A good writer’s critique group is helpful for trimming away the fluff.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jeff Parsons: I’ve been working on an alternative history Lovecraftian book for the last three years. In maybe another year, I’ll be ready to set it loose on the world.

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

Jeff Parsons: More short stories books. I’m also getting interested in sci-fi horror. I think I’ll be flexing my technical muscles more and reaching out more for critical help. I’d like to receive some gratis art work for my book, from those who’d wish to get known by PR…

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jeff Parsons: Facebook

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

Jeff Parsons: If you’re writing, make sure it’s fun. Pay attention to how people behave – go watch them… Write about what interests you, not what you think others want to read.

Thank you for your kindly invite to share.

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, 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, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

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…