GUEST POST: Jeff Strand

I have been a fan of Jeff Strand since way back in August of 2016 when I loved and hated Specimen 313 (haha). Having him back on the blog makes me very, very happy. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. And Jeff – this post brought back some memories haha.

The Night I Was a Skeleton

I don’t want this essay to immediately involve you saying, “Goodness, but you’re old!” but in my day, kids, Halloween costumes came in boxes that looked like they should contain birthday cakes. You got a cheap-ass plastic mask that only covered the front of your face, and then a very thin jumpsuit to complete your transformation.

In the early days, the jumpsuit would not be the outfit worn by the character you were trying to portray, but, rather, a picture of that character. If, for example, you went trick-or-treating as Spider-Man, the costume would have Spider-Man on the front. It was like he damaged his suit fighting Doctor Octopus and settled for wearing a shirt with his own picture on it. Eventually this would change, but in my early trick-or-treating days I was cosplaying as somebody wearing a Spider-Man shirt.

If you were dressed as C-3PO or Batman, the mask was okay. If you were going as a human, like Evel Knievel or one of the Dukes of Hazzard, the mask was an eerie, haunting representation that fueled a thousand nightmares. Have a crush on Bo Duke? You wouldn’t for long. This was a demonically possessed version of Bo Duke whispering for you to kill for him.

Oh, they had cool costumes back then. Rubber masks and stuff. But I, lacking the financial means to purchase one myself, was forced to ask my parents to buy me one. Every year, they’d consider my request for exactly zero seconds and then say, no, choose one of the cake boxes.

But one year I saw a rubber skull mask that I had to have. It was actually the skull mask from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but I didn’t know that. I just knew that I needed this mask if I wanted to be the coolest skeleton of them all for Halloween. And that meant I had a lot of saving up to do.

Save I did. Every time we went into Pay-N-Save, I looked at that mask, and imagined how amazing I was going to look in it. I already had a black shirt that had a skeleton torso on it, and I was going to get bone socks and bone gloves to complete the illusion that I was a walking, talking skeleton.

My friend was going to affix Dr. Scholl’s Lamb’s Wool all over his face and arms and be an amazing werewolf. Fangs! Yellow contact lenses! We had absurdly long and detailed conversations about how incredible our Halloween costumes were going to be that year.

And eventually, yes, I had enough money to buy the skull mask.

“Don’t buy the skull mask,” my mom told me. “If you wait until right before Halloween, it’ll be half-price.”

Sure, and if I waited until right before Halloween, it might be gone! Had you thought of that, Mom???

I bought the mask at full price. And, yes, right before Halloween it was half-price. But that cruel lesson in economics is not what I’m here to write about. I had the mask! And I was going to be the skeleton! On Halloween night, I put on my costume, and it was sweeeeeeet.

Of course, I could only use it for the indoor portion of the spooky celebration. I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, so it was freezing by the end of October, which prevented me from using the skull t-shirt as my trick-or-treating costume. So I was a skeleton in a heavy winter coat with boots.

At least I got to look cool indoors. And my friend’s werewolf costume was…okay, he skipped the fur part of being a werewolf, and the fangs, and the contact lenses. What he did have was a plastic dog snout, with no way to affix it. So he would kind of shove it on his nose and try to contort his face so that it would stay on, which it wouldn’t, and he quickly gave up and just trick-or-treated as Kid Who Couldn’t Be Bothered This Year.

Though this is a tragic tale, it does have a happy ending. I kept the mask for over thirty years, until a friend who collects Halloween masks freaked out that I had a first-run Halloween III: Season of the Witch mask (later ones were glow-in-the-dark). It now sits as a treasured part of her collection.

Watching. Waiting for the right moment to strike.

Boo-graphy: Jeff Strand is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of 50+ books, including Blister, A Bad Day For Voodoo, and Wolf Hunt. Cemetery Dance magazine said “No author working today comes close to Jeff Strand’s perfect mixture of comedy and terror.” Several of his books are in development as movies. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Allison — Allison can break your bones with her mind, and she can’t control her power.

Now forty-five years old, she’s spent her life trying to stay away from other people. But a random encounter with a couple on the street leaves her believing that she may have done something horrible. Something unforgivable.

Killer-for-hire Daxton and his girlfriend Maggie know the truth. Instead of easing Allison’s anguish, they come up with a cruel plan to take advantage of it. But with Allison’s abilities exposed, there may be a bloodbath very soon…

The Odds — After a disastrous evening playing slot machines, Ethan Caustin wonders how he’s going to explain his massive loss to his wife and kids. As he tries to find his way out of the casino, sick to his stomach and filled with self-loathing, he’s approached by a stranger who offers a solution to his problem.

It’s a simple game. A 99% chance for him to win ten thousand dollars. In the remote chance that he loses…well, he’ll be strapped into a device that shatters his left arm.

The odds are very much in his favor. But this is only the first round.

As the game goes on, the prizes and penalties keep changing, along with his chances of winning. As the high stakes get out of control and Ethan desperately wants to quit, he’ll learn that they’ve only offered him one means of escape: play the game to the very end…

Twentieth Anniversary Screening — This mockumentary-style dark comedy recounts the grisly events surrounding the terrible slasher flick THE ROOFER, remembered only because an obsessed fan tried to reenact the murders as they played out on the screen. When the same theater shows the film twenty years later, will the warnings that this is a really, really bad idea be justified?

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Dean H. Wild

Meghan: Hi, Dean. Welcome back to my annual Halloween Extravaganza. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Dean H. Wild: On the writing front, I will have a short story published in CrashCode, an anthology of technology-based horror tales to be released by the end of 2019. My story is called “The God Finger.” I’ve also been working with The Horror Zine on an anthology of ghost stories and I have started another novel.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Dean H. Wild: Some people call me “organized.” Some call me “thorough.” I recently had someone refer to me as “gentle.” I suppose you need to have most of your marbles in the can to do what I do, and I have quite the soft spot in my heart when it comes to the animals of the world. A lost and lonely kitten can nearly break my heart in two. But I’m mostly your typical introvert with a tenacious commitment to the comfort of guests in my home and a gentleman’s appreciation of a fine whiskey.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Dean H. Wild: I have no trouble with it. They already know about my dark and twisted core, so if some of that leaks into my work (and it always does) I have no shame or concern. They are aware of what they’re getting into.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Dean H. Wild: The answer is Yes. Ha-ha. I love the organic feel the flow of ideas brings when I’m in writing mode. It is an experience that defies words. And to have someone read the work later and relate to it is an author-reader connection that is rewarding and precious. However, the drive to put words to paper, especially when those words are coming hard, spurred on by the need to move forward with a piece and bring it to fruition can be brutal. It consumes all thought, making the rest of your life a state of distraction. Performing any other task, however menial and/or necessary, becomes a source of guilt. And there is no escape from the misery, because once the manuscript-at-hand is complete, there is utter helplessness against taking up the pen and starting another.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Dean H. Wild: I grew up in a very colorful blue collar environment populated by some very hard-smoking, hard-drinking adults. This was offset by the honest, peaceful, almost idyllic lives of some kind and nurturing relatives. Therefore I was exposed to two very contrasting lifestyles, and being the quiet, introverted and nearly “invisible” child that I was, I often observed how these two groups interacted with their chums and, more interestingly, how they intermingled. I feel this gave me a very up-close view of how people interpret, judge and play off of one another. How they speak differently when in the company of their cohorts vs. in mixed company. It gave me a good sense of character, I feel.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Dean H. Wild: Aside from the usual weird stuff (how to pick a lock, various homemade explosive devices, other things that have, no doubt, landed me on some sort of watch list or other) I would have to say it would be the decay and anaerobic gases produced by our garbage as it breaks down in the depths of our landfills. Pretty savory stuff, right?

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Dean H. Wild: Most often, for me, it is the end. I know far in advance where the book is headed, so “what” is going to happen isn’t too much of a challenge, but I find it critically important “how” the ending falls into place. I require the ending to be satisfying in relation to the story and in regard to the characters as well. It needs to be more than a finish. It must be to be significant, and the prose needs to be just right. I often struggle with endings to get them fine-tuned to suit my needs.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Dean H. Wild: I’m a pantser through and through. No outlines here ever. I will make notes as I go along to make sure I hit a desired plot point or include an incident that has popped into my head while working on the story, but that’s about all the preplanning I do. At the very, microbial level, when I’m first hatching a book idea, my main character is typically the starting point. Certainly not every minute fact about them, but basic characteristics that make them relevant as a protagonist. Plot follows closely, to be sure that character’s relevance applies. Day to day, it is a butt in chair/pen in hand method.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Dean H. Wild: Sit back, shake my head and figure out how to write myself (and them) out of the predicament. Or sometimes I follow them down that new path. It’s scary when a character’s intuition is stronger than mine, but I love it.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Dean H. Wild: Sometimes the story calls out to me. Sometimes I need to seek it out. But it all comes down to the fact I think about the current work-in-progress all the time. No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing at the moment. The story/novel/whatever is always working in the back of my mind like a perpetually running machine. It makes me ready, at a moment’s notice, to sit down and get to work on it, whenever those precious moments are available. I guess, with me, it’s not motivation as much as it is staying in an “always ready” state.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Dean H. Wild: I read as much as I can. Not sure that makes me “avid.” But I’ve always got two books going at once, sometimes three. I still can’t keep up with my TBR pile, however!!

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Dean H. Wild: I prefer fiction over nonfiction, and I like to invest for the long haul, so I prefer novels over story collections or anthologies when I read. Horror makes up the bulk of my reading choices, but any novel with striking, memorable characters faced with obstacles and challenges hold my interest. Especially novels with good pacing.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Dean H. Wild: For me, the two mediums are vastly different, with their own unique methods of storytelling. I do not compare book to movie since what works for one might fall flat for the other. I consider each on its own merit and don’t trouble myself with picking nits over why the book’s blonde protagonist is a redhead in the film or why the dragon was fought on a rickety bridge instead of on a mountain spire.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Dean H. Wild: In a novel, no. In short stories, yes.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Dean H. Wild: I do not. I do, however, understand this is an element of storytelling which must remain present. Often, my characters come with a lot of built-in anguish so a lot of their suffering comes from within. That being said, a character who remains unchallenged can be a largely uninteresting character, so I have learned how to make the going rough to enrich the story.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Dean H. Wild: An ancient, soul-hungry entity that takes the form of a huge, rolling, wooden wheel. It’s in a novel I’m shopping around right now, something I wrote back in 2012. Watch for it one day!!

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Dean H. Wild: I will relay the best in the form of an anecdote. I submitted a manuscript to be professionally edited, and the editor was very helpful and very knowledgeable. One thing she pointed out (and I realize now that deep down I was aware of this but never gave it any real thought) was my overuse of the letter “C” when it came to character names, place names, etc. Almost every character had a “C” either in their first name or last. Restaurants, street names, towns, contained “C’s” without number. One character even drove a Camry, for crying out loud. It was a bit jarring for me to rename most of my beloved characters after spending so much time with themand knowing them so well as Cora, Cassidy, Clark, Charlene, etc. But the editor was right. And I came to realize in the piece I was currently working on, the same thing was occurring again, this time with the letter “T”!!! I’m not sure why my brain works that way, but it is something I am cognizant of now and avoid without fail.

As for the worst feedback, I was advised by an editor to get rid of a secondary character because he didn’t like her. Well, she may have been secondary but some of her actions and predicaments were pivotal to the plot any my main character would have zero motivations to learn or to act upon his intuitions without her presence (she was his ex-wife) so I’m not sure if the editor actually read the whole book and was aware this or not. To excise her would mean monumental rewrites and a huge change to the entire storyline. I didn’t do it. (I did, however, change her name so it didn’t have a “C” in it)

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Dean H. Wild: To those who’ve read something of mine, said “this was pretty good” and look for more work with my name on it, I say a thousand thank you’s. The need to write is the throbbing heart and the driving conscience of an author’s craft, but the constant reader is the surging blood. Would I continue to write even if no one read my creations? Of course. But knowing there is someone out there experiencing the tale I created and realizing at least a little enjoyment from it is a reward all its own. I write for that unseen audience (readers, fans, whatever name you want to give them) as much as I write for myself, and in the act hope I am creating a connection. “Here is my story, stuff I like to read. I hope you like it, too.”

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Dean H. Wild: That would be Ben Mears from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. He is everything I find intriguing in a main character. He’s troubled, yet sincere. Levelheaded yet unsure. He’s an every-man philosopher, impassioned and humble. I think you’ll find snips of him in most of my main characters.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Dean H. Wild: To be honest, I don’t often read many books that are part of a series. I’m a fan of the stand-alone novel so I’m not sure how to answer. Most of the series I have read are such broad-scope endeavors I would not presume to step in and attempt an installment of my own. It would feel like trespassing.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Dean H. Wild: I’m usually entrenched up to my eyeballs in my own work—I’m in it all or nothing—so it’s difficult for me to imagine collaborating. What I have thought about is a sort of “tag-team” story collection, perhaps something with a theme, where two authors, or perhaps three, take turns weaving their tales; one by me, one by author #2, then one by author #3, then back to me again, round and round. As to with whom I might collaborate—the list is endless. There are so many talented folks out there. I would like to see some dark humor threaded into this fantasy tag-team. Jeff Strand or Larry Hinkle come to mind.

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

Dean H. Wild: Now that The Crymost is on the shelves and selling, I have begun to work on a new novel. I also have a nearly-completed novella which I need to finish, but since I’ve been away from that tale for a while, it will be a challenge to get back into the groove with that one. And I have notes on two other novels which I would like to tackle after the current one is done. Lots of irons in the fire or ready to be consigned to flame. We’ll see what comes of it.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Dean H. Wild: My website is the cleanest, clearest path.

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 or the last?

Dean H. Wild: Only that I appreciate every reader who picks up a book, however briefly, and finds enjoyment within its pages. To write is a fulfillment of a striving energy greater than the soul. To be read is a validation beyond words.

Dean H. Wild grew up in east central Wisconsin and has lived in the area, primarily in small towns surrounding the city of Fond du Lac, all his life. He wrote his first short horror story at the tender age of seven and continued to write dark fiction while he pursued careers in retail, the newspaper industry, and retail pharmacy. His short stories have seen publication in various magazines and anthologies including Bell, Book & Beyond, A Feast of Frights, Night Terrors II, and Horror Library 6. His novel, The Crymost, is an exploration of tradition, superstition, and encroaching horrir in a small Wisconsin town. He and his wife, Julia, currently reside in the village of Brownsville.

The Crymost

There is a place just outside of town where the people of Knoll, Wisconsin take their sorrows and their worries. They don’t talk much about it, and they don’t discuss the small tokens they bring as offerings to the place known as the Crymost. After all, this is Knoll, where certain things are best left unsaid. The Crymost, however, will not remain quiet for much longer. Something ancient has awakened in that remote, sorrowful place, and time is running out for its inhabitants. Long-kept secrets will need to be unearthed before the entire town succumbs to the will of a powerful, dark stranger who works hand in hand with a hungry entity crossing Knoll’s borders, invading its homes and executing a soul-draining grip on its citizens.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Steve Thompson

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

Steve Thompson: I live in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada with my girlfriend, Lisa. I recently retired from my day job as a housekeeping supervisor at our city hospital after 30 years of service. I’m now dunking my foot into the unknown depths of the publishing world and hoping I don’t drown. I have 8 pets at home, 4 dogs and 4 cats that take up a large part of my day. 3 of those dogs are Boston Terriers and one is a Chorkie, and never in my life did I ever think I could love any animal as much as those dogs; the cats, well, they’re just evil.

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

Steve Thompson: 1- I never graduated from high school because I was given the choice to quit or get kicked out 3 months before graduation. 2 – Most people know I am scared of heights, What they don’t know is if I get into a situation that I am up too high, I need to get down ASAP, even if it means jumping and I don’t know what is the greater fear, the heights or wanting to jump to get out of that situation. 3 – When I was 15, I broke into a portable classroom and peed in the desk drawer of a teacher I didn’t like because he bullied a lot of his students. 4 – When I was nine or ten years old I loved to burn things with a magnifying glass; plastic car models, the long grass in the fields next to our house and insects, I burned a lot of insects, and I didn’t turn out to be a serial killer. Got 4 out of 5.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Steve Thompson: The Stand by Stephen King

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Steve Thompson: Finishing up In the Scrape by James Newman and Mark Steensland with Jeff Strand’s Five Novellas on deck.

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

Steve Thompson: Jackie Collin’s Hollywood Wives. I read this back in the 80’s because it was the only book in the house at the time that I hadn’t already read.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

Steve Thompson: Reading Stephen King books is what turned me on to reading and writing.

Meghan: When did you begin writing?

Steve Thompson: About 25 years ago, but mostly it was just farting around, writing short stories for myself and some friends. I only started to take writing seriously about 6 years ago.

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

Steve Thompson: In my computer room/library.

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

Steve Thompson: Nope.

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

Steve Thompson: Everything, but mostly it’s the show don’t tell I struggle with but it is getting better the more I write. Also keeping my focus on one story at a time. Right now, I have 7 short stories that are half done and I keep jumping back and forth between them, writing a line or 2 on one story than a line or 2 on another.

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

Steve Thompson: That would be my short story “Kill Point Club” from the anthology When the Clock Strikes 13. It was a fun story to write and I had a great time with it. I used the names of some of the other authors in the anthology as characters and then killed them off. Fun Times.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Steve Thompson: The Stand by Stephen King, Animosity and Odd Man Out by James Newman. These are the only books I can remember ever pissing me off to the point I almost threw the books across the room and to make me shed a tear.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Steve Thompson: Stephen King, James Newman, and Richard Laymon to name a few.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Steve Thompson: Believable characters that grow on you and you care what happens to them, because if you don’t care the story just feels flat and lifeless. If something happens to a character, I want to be able to feel something for them and not just Johnny fell off a bridge and drowned and think who cares I wish they would all fall off a bridge and drown so this story would end.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character?

Steve Thompson: Again, I’ll say believable characters. Characters you can relate to and it doesn’t matter whether you love them or hate them as long as you feel something.

Meghan: How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Steve Thompson: I try to make my characters as real as possible, I use characteristics from people I know or myself and then throw in a few quirks.

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

Steve Thompson: There’s a little piece of me in all my characters, so there really isn’t just one that is most like me.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover?

Steve Thompson: No, bad covers don’t turn me off. There’s a ton of great books out there with crap covers. It’s what’s inside that counts.

Meghan: To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Steve Thompson: I had pretty much full control on my book covers for better or worse, except for When the Clock Strikes 13. I wanted all the authors involved to be ok with the cover before I finalized it.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Steve Thompson: I learned that I still have a lot to learn.

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

Steve Thompson: There was a rape and torture scene in my short story “Pearl” that was hard to write and I ended up cutting most of it out because it was too graphic. I still got some flak for it from a few readers telling me they didn’t like what happened to the girl and I would just reply well, you’re not supposed to like it and if you did, I’d think there was something wrong with you.

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

Steve Thompson: I don’t really know, but all my stories are written in a very simple form that anyone can understand. You definitely don’t need a dictionary beside you to read one. Nothing takes me out of a story faster than not knowing the meaning of some words.

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)?

Steve Thompson: The title is very important and can sometimes be hard to choose the right one. I try to make the title reflect what is inside the book.

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

Steve Thompson: I have never written a novel or novella for that matter; I love short stories. Reading them and writing them.

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

Steve Thompson: My short story collections are a mix of sci-fi and horror with one collection having a few non-fiction stories in it from periods of my life that have stuck with me. I just hope readers will enjoy the stories. If only one person likes the story, I still call that a win.

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

Steve Thompson: I tend to ramble on at times and then delete most of it.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Steve Thompson: Body parts. Just kidding. Or am I. Actually, I’m thinking about turning one of my short stories (Johnny Dewitt) into a novella.

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

Steve Thompson: Right now, I am working on a short story collection and hopefully going forward with a signed limited-edition chapbook with one of my favorite authors.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Steve Thompson: Amazon, Facebook, and In Your face Books.

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?

Steve Thompson: I would like to thank you for doing this interview with me, my very first one, and thanks to everyone that read it until the end.

Steve Thompson is the author of two short and flash fiction collections. You can check out his 2 latest short stories “Kill Point Club” in the anthology When the Clock Strikes 13 from his In Your Face Publishing that he started in June 2019 and “Malignant” which he co-wrote with Kenneth W. Cain which is in the Shallow Waters 2 flash fiction anthology by Crystal Lake Publishing.

When the Clock Strikes 13

Tick – tock 
Tick – tock 
Tick – tock

Your time is running out. When the clock strikes 13, all manners of hell will break loose.

When the Clock Strikes 13 is a collection of thirteen short horror stories by some of the best horror and dark fiction authors writing today. Inside, you will find stories to frighten, shock and gnaw at your inner fears, and take you places that belong only in the dark recesses of your mind. There are monsters on these pages; some are human, some are not. 

Table of Contents 
Introduction by Joe Mynhardt 
“The Boy in the Pond” by Mark Allan Gunnells 
“Open Waters” by Richard Thomas 
“Memories” by John R. Little 
“Detrition of War” by Kenneth W. Cain 
“Comes the Red Man” by Tom Deady 
“Mommy’s Girl” by Somer Canon 
“Taking Up Carpentry” by Justin M. Woodward 
“Kill Point Club” by Steve Thompson 
“Calm Down Time” by Richard Chizmar 
“Carrion: My Wayward Son” by James Newman 
“Bear” by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason 
“When Arachnids Attack” by Sheri White 
“A Song Above” by Glenn Rolfe 
Afterword by Steve Thompson 

Halloween Extravaganza: Jeff Strand: The Annual Halloween Candy Trade

Two candy guest posts in a row. Cause that’s pure gold to me. And it’s Jeff Strand. Who is, by the way, pure awesomeness. (Have you read his stuff? There is no one quite like THE Jeff Strand. No one.)

One of the most mind-boggling moments in my adult life was when I went to a friend’s house shortly after Halloween, and she offered me a piece of candy from her son’s trick-or-treating stash. I declined, because that candy was sacred! She assured me that he wouldn’t care. Candy was no big deal to him.

WTF was wrong with that kid? That certainly wasn’t MY experience at that age!

I’m pleased to report that I’ve reached a level of financial security where if I want a Snickers bar, I can make it happen. That was not always the case. As a child in Fairbanks, Alaska, Halloween was ALL about the candy. Okay, 90% about the candy. Costumes and decorations were fun. But the candy was an essential component of my love of the holiday.

Interior Alaska at the end of October is, of course, quite brisk, and costumes were limited to what could fit over a snowsuit. Inevitably, the master plan to gather enough candy to last us until Christmas would fall apart because one of my trick-or-treat partners would get too cold, and we couldn’t just leave them to die. Still, we always got a pretty significant stash, with a predetermined route that was carefully mapped out for maximum candy acquisition.

(The map was purely based on hitting the most houses using the most efficient route. There were too many variables to do more analysis than that. Do you want to hit houses early, before they’ve started rationing? Or do you want to hit them late, when they’re discovering that they bought way too much candy? No way to predict that.)

We’d get home, have an adult verify that there were no hypodermic needles protruding from the chocolate, and then the trading session began. We took this very seriously. I tended to favor “longer lasting” over “chewy,” so Sweet Tarts had more value to me than a Fun-Sized Milky Way. (“Fun-Sized” would be a five-pound block of chocolate, not these weenie little bites, but that’s a rant for a different day.)

I liked getting Whoppers because they had a high trade value. Whoppers are gross. Whoppers are so gross that even as a kid, if I were given the choice between eating a Whopper and eating nothing, I’d go with nothing. Do you know how bad candy had to be for me to prefer the absence of candy? I’m not saying that I’d rather have eaten a turd, I’m saying that a Whopper is bad enough that I would have declined a piece of candy. I’d eat nasty off-brands all day long, and choke down a Dark Chocolate Hersheys or a Butterfinger, but a Whopper was one step too far.

But others didn’t feel that way. My sister and a couple of my misguided friends loved Whoppers. Loved ’em! They thought those foul things were top-tier treats, which gave me a lot of power at the negotiating table.

In retrospect, as I type this, I realize that I should have pretended that Whoppers were the most delicious candy on the planet, and that to part with a single malted milk ball would cause me intense heartbreak. But then I might have had to eat a Whopper at some point, and my grimace would expose the lie.

The trading went on long into the night. One of my best friends had a particular fondness for Tootsie Rolls, which also worked in my favor, because my trick-or-treat bag always had Tootsie Rolls in abundance, and though they are perfectly fine if you enjoy your chocolate flavor in hard putty form, there’s rarely a reason to eat one when other options are available.

Then… the feast.

The following day was always a queasy one, but if you think I gave any indication of my gastrointestinal distress to my parents, you’re out of your damn fool mind. They would always mention that the pile of candy they’d checked for razor blades and rat poison was notably smaller and suggest that I show some self-control instead of gobbling it down like a feral dog, so “My tummy hurts!” would not be well received.

Soon there would be an effort to make my riches last, but alas, they’d be gone long before Thanksgiving, which had no official candy except maybe those ones in the strawberry wrapping with syrup inside.

And I would mourn until the following year.

Jeff Strand is the author of over forty books, ranging from goofy horror to serious horror to a smut comedy. His short story “The Tipping Point” from his collection Everything Has Teeth won a Splatterpunk Award in 2018, though none of his short stories won a Splatterpunk Award in 2019, and he performed poorly at KillerCon during a trivia contest about the Splatterpunk Awards. You can visit his Gleefully Macabre website here.

Clowns vs. Spiders

Jaunty the Clown just wants to entertain families with lighthearted slapstick antics, but people think of clowns as terrifying, nightmarish creatures who hide in closets or under beds. When Jaunty, along with his fellow performers Guffaw, Wagon, Reginald The Pleasant Clown, and Bluehead are fired from the circus, they’re told that the world just doesn’t like clowns anymore.

Still, clowns have to eat. And since these clowns don’t eat children, to make ends meet they’re eventually forced to take a job in a popular haunted attraction, the Mountain of Terror. Instead of charming entertainers, they’re now scary clowns. A zombie clown. A demon clown. A creepy doll clown. 

But the town is about to discover something more frightening than clowns. Because on opening night, millions of oversized spiders emerge from a cave and begin their deadly invasion… 

From Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jeff Strand comes an insane mix of shameless silliness and grisly creepy-crawly horror. Clowns Vs. Spiders. Who will win? 

My Pretties

A serial kidnapper is preying upon women. He abducts them, then locks them in one of the cages dangling from the ceiling in a soundproofed basement. There, he sits quietly and just watches them, returning night after night, hoping he’ll be in the room at the moment his beautiful captives finally starve to death.

Charlene and Gertie have become fast friends at the restaurant where they work. But Charlene is concerned when she hears how her co-worker spends her evenings: Gertie’s cousin is one of the missing, and Gertie wanders the city streets where many of the abductions took place, using herself as bait with a high-voltage stun gun in her pocket. Charlene reluctantly offers to trail her in a car, just in case she does lure the kidnapper and things go wrong.

Unfortunately, the women find themselves the source of unwanted fame. And now they’re on the radar of a very, very dangerous man…