Halloween Extravaganza: Jay Wilburn: Some of My Favorite Books of 2019

I love hearing avid readers talk about their favorite books, always looking for my next favorite book or my next favorite author, so when Jay Wilburn asked if he could write about his favorites so far this year, I quickly said yes. Especially because it was Jay. I’ve read other books he’s called his favorites and haven’t been disappointed yet. Get ready to get your credit card out… or just have your Amazon app open so you can add to your cart easily.

I try to read as much as I can. I grab up the new hot books and then eventually read them. I find some of the most interesting and surprising stories among indie writers. That’s no knock on the bestsellers, but there is a wider range in some of these releases that don’t answer to big publisher marketing departments.

I’ve made a new rule for myself that I can’t buy a book until I’m ready to read it. So, if I’m not going to read it now, I have to wait to buy it. It makes me read a little faster. It keeps me from buying up everything. Friends stare at me like I’m insane when I explain this rule to them.

I will go back and reread older books. I’m still in the process of rereading Stephen King’s books in order. I’m feeling a strong temptation to go back and read Swan Song by Robert McCammon which I haven’t read in years even though I can’t count how many times I’ve reread The Stand by Stephen King.

All that to say my reading habits are a little sporadic. I have managed to read a few things this year that I enjoyed and feel strongly about recommending.

CARNIVOROUS LUNAR ACTIVITIES by Max Booth III is easily one of the greatest werewolf stories I’ve ever read. It is a great book even outside the werewolf subcategory. The dialogue in particular is exceptional in this story. It is great when the story is confined in a location. It is great when it breaks out of that confinement. I’m a huge fan of this book and the writer.

For fun, I contacted each of the writers I included in this list and asked them what they saw as their strongest book, excluding the one I had read and reviewed. Max said the new book he has coming soon might be his best. It’s going to be called TOUCH OF NIGHT. I’m looking forward to that. Of the ones that are out, he said THE NIGHTLY DISEASE is probably his best. Having read that too, I’d have to agree. That book is awesome.

HOUSE OF SIGHS by Aaron Dries is another great book I’ve read this year. The chapters are done in a countdown format like The Running Man. The story barrels forward from beginning to a gut punch of an ending. The characters in the story could have easily been flat stereotypes, but Dries makes them full and interesting. It hurts when they are hurt. Even when you sometimes secretly want them hurt a little bit.

He was a little taken aback when I asked him to name his best book. I imagine he has a little trouble bragging on himself. He finally settled on THE FALLEN BOYS. Based on the strength of HOUSE OF SIGHS, I’m excited to check this one out, too.

A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS by Bob Ford and Matt Hayward was another great read. Two great authors making a great book is something to behold. This one feels like the story is crawling up out of the dirt and the trouble is building behind every turn. The story felt very tactile to me. Even when they weren’t specifically describing anything, I still felt like I could reach out and touch the scene and really feel the grit on the surface of things. The sequel is in the works and I’m looking forward to that.

When asked about best other books, Bob Ford said SAMSON AND DENIAL while Matt Hayward told me BRAIN DEAD BLUES is probably the best representation of his work. In the case of Brain Dead Blues, it is a collection of short stories which is the type of thing I love to read from a talented author. Short story collections sometimes make me feel like I’m getting a little bit more of the author and a wider range of work. Check out these two works, as well.

I also wanted to talk about a couple works on the way I’m looking forward to. In this case, both are nonfiction books. John Urbancik is a great writer. I’m particularly impressed with his short stories. He did a number of short story collections under the Ink Stains moniker. Now he has a nonfiction INK STAINS work on the subject of creativity in the offing. Review copies are out now and I’m going to grab it up as soon as it is available for purchase.

Tim Waggoner has a book in the works about the process of writing. There are a lot of this kind of book out there. I like the one Stephen King did. Others out there, I’m less impressed with. Considering the source on this one, I can’t wait to read this book when it is finished. From the classes he teaches, the information and questions he shares online, and the blog posts he shares on the subject of writing, his online presence alone contains so many pearls of wisdom on the craft. Having this compiled into a single work is a resource I intend to snatch up.

I feel strongly about the quality of the books mentioned in this article and believe you will likely enjoy them, too. Start reading!

Jay Wilburn is a full-time writer of horror and speculative fiction. His Dead Song Legend series follows music collectors during the zombie apocalypse. The Great Interruption follows and apocalypse of a different sort. He has coauthored The Enemy Held Near and A Yard Full of Bones with Armand Rosamilia. Follow his many dark thoughts at his website, his YouTube channel, and on Twitter.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Matt Hayward

Meghan: So, you’ve made it back for round three, Matt, where the questions get more and more difficult. [laughs manically]

What are your go-to horror films?

Matt Hayward: The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, Dog Soldiers, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Street Trash, Evil Dead 2. I go from classic to trashy in a heartbeat.

Meghan: What makes the horror genre so special?

Matt Hayward: Horror knows no limits. You can have a comedy, romance, thriller, or any other genre, all within a horror story. Horror has a way of tackling taboo subjects you might not find anywhere else. It’s unique in facing social / political situations head-on.

Meghan: Have any new authors grasped your interest recently?

Matt Hayward: Chad Lutzke is a new name on my radar, I’m embarrassed to admit. He’s a killer writer, and I’ve been floored by everything he’s put out. Jeremy Hepler, too.

Meghan: How big of a part does music play in creating your “zone”? What do you listen to while writing?

Matt Hayward: I wish I could write to music, but, being a musician, it pulls my attention too much. That said, I listen to stuff before I write, soundtracks and bluesy stuff. Lately I’ve been on a Colter Wall, Blackwater Fever, True Detective soundtrack kinda kick.

Meghan: How active are you on social media? How do you think it affects the way you write?

Matt Hayward: It’s a necessary evil, unfortunately. If I could, I’d axe the internet and pull a ‘Bentley Little’.

Meghan: What is your writing Kryptonite?

Matt Hayward: If we’re talking what I hate when I read, I’d say stale prose. I don’t mind overused tropes – the haunted house, vampires, zombies – as long as I’m reading a fresh take and the writing remains captivating. On Writing books go a long way.

Meghan: If you were making a movie of your latest story/book, who would you cast?

Matt Hayward: The latest release was A Penny For Your Thoughts with Robert Ford, so… Aaron Paul as Joe, Dakota Fanning as Ava, and Danny McBride as Kenny.

Meghan: If you had the choice to rewrite any of your books, which one would it be and why?

Matt Hayward: I’d leave ‘em be, warts ‘n’ all. They’re a nice snapshot of where I was skill-wise, and I like the progression. I just want to concentrate on making the next one better. If I fix one, I’d fix the current one ten years down the road and so on. Let sleeping dogs lie.

Meghan: What would the main character in your latest story/book have to say about you?

Matt Hayward: Probably call me a sadist. I messed up his life pretty good. He had to use dental floss to catch a fish. Did you know that’s a thing? YouTube’s full of guys going floss fishing.

Meghan: Did you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Matt Hayward: Absolutely. I’ve dotted characters in the backgrounds of books (Henry Stapleton from Practitioners makes a brief cameo in A Penny For Your Thoughts, for example), surnames crop up here and there, and I have one person, a single name, mentioned in every book I’ve ever written. That’ll make sense eventually.

Meghan: How much of yourself do you put in your books?

Matt Hayward: Quite a bit. Brian Keene said I ‘bleed on the page’ and I accept that as quite a high compliment. I try and keep my social/political beliefs private, I’ll never be ‘preachy’, but a lot of my own experiences and perspectives are there. If there’s not a grain of truth to the work, I’ll feel like I’ve cheated myself, and readers by proxy. I’ve shelved three novels for that very reason.

Meghan: Have you ever incorporated something that happened to you in real life into your novels?

Matt Hayward: Yup. As mentioned above, like a lot of writers, I mine past experiences. I won’t kiss and tell, though.

Meghan: Are your characters based off real people, or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

Matt Hayward: A bit of A and a bit of B. Sometimes, when the story or situation is based on something real, then the characters are, too. Occasionally, though, they’re purely speculative. Kenny from A Penny For Your Thoughts, for example, he’s completely made-up. Just a fun guy the story called for. Peter from What Do Monsters Fear? or Tony, the kid from my upcoming book, are very much real.

Meghan: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

Matt Hayward: I’ve learned to stop worrying and just write the next book. Now that I’ve taken a few punches and gone a few rounds, I know that some things I think are golden, people don’t like. And some things I’m unsure of, people really love. There’s no way to gauge it, so if you’re new to writing – don’t worry. Just keep putting your ass in the chair and pumping out the words. Have fun.

Meghan: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Matt Hayward: The most difficult thing about writing is having patience. A book I wrote two years ago is still doing the rounds, whereas I’m already three books ahead. When that sees the light of day, I’ll need a refresher when I speak about it – it’ll be entirely foreign to me. That, and back cover copy. Talking about my writing Kryptonite – back cover copy makes me need a drink.

Meghan: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Matt Hayward: Depends on the project. Some days it’s tiresome, I think any writer will admit that, but I always manage to plow through regardless. I’d feel much worse if I let the exhaustion overwhelm me and not work. Besides, no matter my mood, when I’m finished with a day’s writing, I always feel better.

Meghan: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the bad ones? Have you ever learned something from a negative review and incorporated it into your writing?

Matt Hayward: I try and leave reviews for the readers. That said, I was directed to a pretty funny review of The Faithful in which the reviewer was shocked to find so much blasphemy. It’s a novel about a religious cult written by an Irishman, I really don’t think they thought their purchase through. Even still, I’m grateful they read it.

Meghan: What are your ambitions for your writing career? What does “literary success” look like to you?

Matt Hayward: I’d like to have a core readership that gets what I write. I’ve had a couple of talks about movie adaptions in the past, but that side of the business is alien to me, and it’s a fickle beast. That said, I would like to see something transition to the big screen. I signed with an agent earlier this year, and we’re currently subbing to the traditional market, so I’m excited to see where that leads. All I can do is continue to sharpen my skills and try to surpass my last work. As long as people are reading them, I’ll keep writing them.

Matt Hayward is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated author and musician from Wicklow, Ireland. His books include Brain Dead Blues, What Do Monsters Fear?, Practitioners (with Patrick Lacey), The Faithful, and A Penny for Your Thoughts (with Robert Ford). He compiled the Splatterpunk Award-nominated anthology Welcome to the Show and wrote the comic book This Is How It Ends (now a music video) for the band Walking Papers. Matt received a nomination for Irish Short Story of the Year from Penguin Books in 2017. He is represented by Lane Heymont of the Tobias Literary Agency and can be found on Twitter or at his website.

A Penny for Your Thoughts (with Robert Ford)

Fresh from a stretch in prison, Joe Openshaw is living at home with his father and trying to get his life together again. He has let go of old habits, especially the ones that turned him into an addict and helped land him in prison.

On a hike along the Lowback Trail, Joe stumbles on one of the town’s oldest secrets–buried long ago, if not forgotten.

It’s an unusual but safe enough treasure–a jar of old pennies. What interests Joe isn’t the pennies themselves, but the pieces of paper taped to every coin–a child’s handwritten wish on each one.

When the first few wishes come true, they are simple things. Fun. Harmless.

Except as time goes on, Joe realizes they aren’t really wishes at all…they’re exchanges, and the bill was racking up.

Nothing is free in life. 

Sooner or later, you always pay.

Various States of Decay: A Collection

From the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of What Do Monsters Fear? and A Penny For Your Thoughts comes twenty new tales of terror!

Including the Irish Short Story of the Year-nominated Intercepting Aisle Nine

From a white doomsday crawling with abominable beasts to the bizarre case of a marketing company advertising within people’s dreams, these stories explore the extremes of Hayward’s prose–contrasting the heartfelt with the deeply disturbing.