GUEST POST: Thomas Smith

Halloween via Time Machine – or – How to Haunt a House

When I received the request to write this post I was whisked away in my mental time machine and deposited smack dab in the middle of Halloween in the 1960s.

Bobby “Boris” Pickett was singing his new song, Monster Mash, on the radio. A day or so before the big day itself, televisions all over the country were following the antics of the Peanuts gang in a new TV special: It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And in theaters everywhere, there were new movies unlike anything we’d ever seen before, each one guaranteed to make you sleep with a night light:

Night of the Living Dead, The Birds, and Norman Bates as the ultimate mama’s boy in Psycho loomed large on the big screen for those brave enough to keep their eyes open.

And when Halloween finally arrived, a legion of ghosts, goblins, clowns, ballerinas, and hobos came home with bags and plastic jack-o-lanterns filled with apples, oranges, Baby Ruths (regular and minis), Butterfingers (regular and minis), Saf-T-Pops (complete with heavy string loops instead of a stick), Dubble Bubble Gum, Snickers, Milky Ways, Forever Yours Bars, Kraft Caramels, B. B. Bats, wax lips, wax fangs, and boxes of Boston Baked Beans.

And almost every character that wasn’t created at someone’s mother’s sewing machine came from a cardboard box with a cellophane front from either Collegeville, or Ben Cooper. They were the huge Halloween costume companies in the 1950s and 1960s. If you really wanted to be cool, Ben Cooper’s clown, devil, princess, dragon, and spooky monster costumes had flashing lights in the mask. But Collegeville, not to be outdone, had some of the coolest costumes with their Gorilla, Ghoul, Monster, Body Snatcher, and Weird-O, Fink costumes.

Now none of the boxed costumes fit worth a dang, but we didn’t care. A rip here and a patch there (always in the back) and who’s to know? Besides, if you were wearing the Planet of the Apes, Batman, Superman, Hobo, Frankenstein, ghost, and mummy costumes (the very latest and greatest of the day), it was worth it.

Meanwhile, in the middle of all of this Halloween spectacle, my brother and I were waiting in the basement of our house to cap off Halloween in style. We worked for the previous two or three days to get everything just right. Then we went trick-or-treating with the first wave of costumed candy beggars so we could be back in time for the opening of Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement.

OK, the title wasn’t terribly original, but for the early 1960s, we were the only game in town (in our particular town at least). We took turns standing in the outdoor entrance to the basement and ushered the unsuspecting costumed customers (admission fee was one candy bar) into a maze of glowing cardboard skeletons, a ghost that moved and floated in the corner of the basement (thanks to an old screen door spring and a string), rubber bats that dropped out of the darkness above onto their victims’ various noggins, a bowl of grapes coated with a little vegetable oil and placed in a black box labeled EYEBALLS with a hole cut out just big enough for a victims hand), a Frankenstein’s monster (each of us in turn, in costume) that would jump out and growl menacingly (as if there’s any other way for the creation of Victor Frankenstein to growl) and watch the guys finch and the girls scream.

Then there was the scary movie.

We would get an 8mm copy of Frankenstein vs The Wolfman from the local Public library (the original movie condensed to approximately five minutes) and coupled with a homemade soundtrack from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House record (copied onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder to correspond with the movie scenes), we had the perfect ending to a horrifying (hey, I was nine years old in the 60s) trek through the darkness.

I went trick-or-treating a lot after that. And I’ve been through some really good professionally staged haunted houses. But I’ve gotta be honest.

I’d love to go through Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement just one more time.

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

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

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

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

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

Rarely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Robert Herold

Meghan: Hi Robert. Welcome back to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Robert: Where do I start! I love the energy associated with the holiday. For a while, even those who say they don’t like scary books and films, get filled with the spirit. (Pun intended!) One of my favorite parts of Halloween is the great yard displays. My wife and I discovered an amazing display last year. It’s on 17th Ave NE, one half block north of NE 125th, for all you Seattle area folks!!

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Robert: Hmmm… Not really, but I do get a tingly feeling on the back of my neck as the hairs stand up.

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

Robert: Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan). This 1960 Mario Bava movie about witchcraft featured Barbara Steele as a witch who was put to death in a gruesome way. A spiked mask was hammered onto her head in the prologue. At this point, as a ten-year-old, I turned off the TV and hid under the covers of my bed! I revisited the film as an adult, and it holds up well. For you readers who like classic horror flicks, check this out!

For modern chills, I recommend The Witch (a masterpiece of folk horror), the original Exorcist, and Alien for tension and scares.

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

Robert: Janet Leigh’s death in Psycho. We are all vulnerable in the shower! Her character just decided to return the money she stole, making her that much more sympathetic. Hitchcock did a masterful job!

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

Robert: Nope. In fact, a pet peeve of mine is movie trailers that reveal too much and thereby ruin the film. Far too common nowadays. Trailers should convey the premise and tone of the film, enticing the viewer, not reveal 95% of the plot.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?
The Exorcist, Ellen Burstyn was hot!

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

Robert: I’d choose Dana Andrews’ character in Curse of the Demon. Peggy Cummins was hot!

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

Robert: Hands down, or paws down, it would be the Wolfman. As a child I wanted nothing more than to be the Wolfman. Fresh snow provided me the opportunity to walk out onto neighbor’s lawns halfway and make paw prints with my fingers as far as I could stretch. I would retrace the paw and boot prints, then fetch the neighbor kids and point out that someone turned into a werewolf on their front lawn! (They were skeptical.)

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Robert: Checking out Halloween displays in the area.

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

Robert: There so many! I guess my favorite would be “The Monster Mash.” On my Facebook page is a film clip of me singing (apologies to Bobby “Boris” Pickett) my rendition when performing with a local band, The Rainy City Riff Raff. Here’s the link, if you dare (sorry the video quality is poor).

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Robert: My first reading of The Shining. I was alone in my apartment at the time, it was evening, and just as I was reading the scene about room 217 (Kubrick changed it to 237 for the movie), a thunder and lightning storm occurred. Then the power went out!

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

Robert: See previous answer. ☺

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Robert: Loch Ness Monster. It would be pretty nifty to have the Nessie in there paddling about!

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

Robert: A movie theater in Seattle, The Harvard Exit, is now the Mexican Consulate. In its movie house days, there were a number of ghostly events. I spoke to the staff and they mentioned several spooky encounters. One was the sound of women talking, but when staff person entered the room, no one was there. She also reported that a radio would turn on inexplicably. A manager reportedly came to work one day before anyone else. When she entered the lobby, the fire was lit, lights were on, and chairs were circled around the fire. The place used to be women’s club. I attended many films there over the years, and the spookiest thing I ever saw was a rat running across the stage!

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

Robert: A pen. As we all know, the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, I would write myself a survival scenario!

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

Robert: A werewolf. Not only have I wanted to be one since I was a boy, but you would get to live normally for most of each month.

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

Robert: An alien invasion has more opportunities for interesting technology and perhaps alien sympathizers. You can’t reason with a zombie!

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

Robert: How old are the bodies? Can they be served up with gravy? Hollandaise sauce? Bearnaise?

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

Robert: The Poltergeist house. It has a swimming pool!

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

Robert: Cheese. I like cheese. (Maggots would provide extra protein!)

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

Robert: A witch’s caldron. It might be tasty, having subtle flavors that can only come from fillet of a fenny snake, along with eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog, adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing!

Boo-graphy:
The supernatural has always had the allure of a forbidden fruit, ever since my mother refused to allow me, as a boy, to watch creature features on late night TV. She caved in. (Well, not literally!)

While other kids my age wanted to grow up to be doctors, firefighters, spacemen, and the like, I wanted to be a werewolf.

I have pursued my interests over the years (including playing the sax and flute, and teaching middle school history for 36 years), but supernatural writing always called to me. You could say that I was haunted. Ultimately, I hope my books give you the creeps, and I mean that in the best way possible!

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The Eidola Project – The Eidola Project is a 19th century team of ghost hunters who become ensnared in a deadly investigation of a haunted house. They are a psychology professor, his assistant, an African-American physicist, a young sideshow medium, and a traumatized Civil War veteran, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses. Will any of them survive?

Moonlight Becomes You – The Eidola Project travels to Petersburg, Virginia, to investigate a series of murders in the Black community—rumored to be caused by a werewolf. Once there, danger comes from all quarters. Not only do they face threats from the supernatural, the KKK objects to the team’s activities, and the group is falling apart. Can they overcome their human frailties to defeat the evil that surrounds them?

Totem of Terror – The Eidola Project, a team of 19th Century ghost hunters, have been tasked with trying to stop a deadly shapeshifting demon attacking the native people of La Push, on the Washington Coast. The team brings their own demons with them, in the form of drug addiction, a werewolf’s curse, and being in mourning from the death of a loved one. Can they rise to this new challenge, or will they face the same grisly end as the shapeshifter’s other victims?

Witch Ever Way You Go
When an ill-fated graduate student and his girlfriend are lured into a terrifying world of witchcraft and murder, they become targets for human sacrifice. Is there a chance they can escape a bloodthirsty coven of witches and certain death until the curse is lifted? A spellbinding story of modern horror.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Davide Tarsitano

Meghan: Hi Davide. Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books! What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Davide: I like the atmosphere, the weather and I love the costumes and the masking.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Davide: I don’t get spooked very easily.

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

Davide: One that I found really disturbing is The Strangers. People are capable of real horror; reality is way scarier than any horror fiction.

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

Davide: In the movie Hereditary I found Charlie’s death to be quite disturbing

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

Davide: Nope, the scarier the better.

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

Davide: The Mist would be a pretty cool set. I love that story from Stephen King.

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

Davide: Norman Bates in Psycho.

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

Davide: Pennywise.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Davide: Read, read and read, then watch a scary movie and start reading horror books again.

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

Davide: The theme from the movie “Halloween” is just something else.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Davide: If I exclude my novels ☺, probably Desperation by Stephen King.

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

Davide: While I was sleeping in a teepee tent in the monument valley I kept hearing someone thumping at the tent from outside. Every time I went checking outside there was no one. No prints in the sand, nothing. I’m pretty sure it was an unfriendly native American spirit.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Davide: The assassination of JFK is probably at the top of the list.

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

Davide: Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell is such a well-crafted and creepy story. The Haunting of Hill House is also among my favorites.

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

Davide: Shotgun.

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

Davide: Vampire

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

Davide: Zombie apocalypse

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

Davide: Jeez. I’m going to have to go with zombie juice, whatever that is.

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

Davide: Amityville

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

Davide: Melon.

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

Davide: Drink from the witch’s cauldron.

Boo-graphy:
Davide Tarsitano is an author of novels and short stories.

He was born in Italy in 1989. He was raised in Cosenza, a small town in the south, and educated in its public schools. He eventually found his way to University of Calabria and to University of Modena and Reggio Emilia where he graduated, respectively, in Mechanical Engineering and Automotive Engineering. He currently works in the race car industry in North America.

Meanwhile, at the age of seven, he found the passion of his life when his dad brought him a book from the Goosebumps series by RL Stine named Night of the Living Dummy. This escalated quickly, inevitably leading him to Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Stephen King.

By the time he was fourteen, he had written short stories and a full screenplay of a horror movie, never produced. In the following years his interest broadened towards cosmic horror, science fiction, and dystopian fiction.

He met his wife in 2016 and married her in 2019.

In 2018 he started to write his first horror novel, The Tooth Fairy, which represents his debut as an author.

Johnny Hawk is a successful entrepreneur in the tech field, escaping from his former life after an utter breakdown. During his trip across the country, his route crosses with Wendy Jag, a beautiful woman who works as a dentist in New Mexico.

As the attraction between the two lost souls escalates furiously, they engage in a passionate and daring physical affair. For the first time in a while Johnny finds some peace and hope for the future. 

But he cannot imagine that behind those innocent and deep eyes Wendy is a profoundly disturbed woman, tormented by the demons of her past: a childhood made of abuses, losses and nightmares filled with darkness. As Wendy’s feelings for Johnny grow stronger, the fight inside Wendy’s chaotic subconscious begins. 

The Tooth Fairy, a dormant and malevolent side of her personality is reawakening, silently awaiting…to take over.

GUEST POST: Joseph Sale

The Slasher Genre Finally Gets a Sequel

The Slasher is a unique artifact in literature and cinema. In my view, there is no horror experience quite like it. It is a formula that on the surface of things seems almost ludicrously simple, yet this simplicity is precisely its power.

Many critics have written about the mythological origins of the Slasher. Arguably, one could trace the roots back to Beowulf, an epic penned circa 900 A.D. in Old English (which more closely resembles German, in many respects, than Modern English). In this legendary tale, the monster Grendel attacks the mead-hall of King Hrothgar, each night killing two of his servants and warriors. When Grendel is finally defeated, the hero Beowulf then has to contend with the monster’s mother, who proves a far worse foe. Giving Beowulf even a cursory analysis already reveals some fascinating insights. For a start, Grendel emerges from the swamps and fens, which seem to represent the roiling unconscious with their serpentine, reptilian forms. He attacks the bright hall of Heorot, which is illuminated by blazing fires, and seems to represent the conscious mind. Whilst Grendel could well represent a very real-world fear of the killer brute who comes for us at night, there is another fear, perhaps a deeper one, one what dwells in the depths of our quagmire-like minds.

One can also immediately see how Beowulf has informed Slashers. Grendel is a monster, a killer who emerges from a dismal swamp and picks off a group of victims one by one in increasingly gruesome and disturbing ways. He is inhuman – trollish, giant, hideous – but also disturbingly pathetic at the same time. Grendel even has a strange relationship with his uncanny mother. If your mind immediately leapt to Jason Vorhees, or even Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s Psycho (which is often consider a cinematic “proto-Slasher”), then you can easily be forgiven. Vorhees is certainly a Grendel in more ways than one. The fact he haunts a lake is not simply a reference to this classical source, but also another psychological dynamic. Water often symbolises sex, for reasons too numerous to list here. Suffice to say, the human mind naturally associates the two. Vorhees has a particularly distaste for sex, and one of the tropes of the Slasher genre is that only the pure or virginal survive. As I said before, what seems a simple formula is layered with meaning, and it is this layered meaning that makes Slashers so powerful.

In Grady Hendrix’s recent novel, The Final Girls Support Group, which utlises clever meta-narrative devices to deconstruct and analyse the genre, Hendrix also draws parallels between Slashers and the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the minotaur. The minotaur is the bestial killer, haunting a labyrinth. The hero Theseus can only overcome the killer with the help of Ariadne, the plucky “final girl” who helps him navigate and escape the labyrinth. Again, labyrinths are often psychological: they represent the human mind. Notice how the runnels of a brain seem like the paths in a maze. So, the killers are not only embodiments of things we fear—monsters and things that go bump in the night—they are also fear itself, the things dwelling in our mind that we do not consciously acknowledge, waiting deep at the heart of the labyrinth.

What we are dealing with is an archetype, something that speaks to the very depths of the human condition. A frightening monster on one hand, and some form of heroine who is capable of surviving the monster, or even overcoming them at times, on the other. It could be argued that the “final girls” who are so vital to the genre represent the better part of ourselves, the part that is able to face the id of our own mind. Whatever the truth, these images are seemingly hardwired into us, which explains why the Slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s remain so iconic.

However, Slashers fell away during the Noughties and early 2010s. Perhaps the market was oversaturated? Perhaps the law of diminishing returns finally kicked in? A few failed reboots and sequels kicked the reputation of the genre into the dust. The creative spark was lost. All of these are possible, but I think these reasons are only part of why Slashers went away. The other part has to do with how our tastes and interests reflect what is really going on in our cultural psyche.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, a certain type of horror was in. But, at the turn of the millennium, we saw the rise of the Psychological Thriller and the decline of Horror in general. Thrillers dominated the Noughties and 2010s, both in cinema and in the literary world. Titles such as Before I Go To Sleep, The Girl On The Train, and Gone Girl (all of which are books and movies), in which the real enemy is often memory or perspective, replaced the crazed killers of an earlier epoch. There are a number of reasons why our tastes could have shifted so drastically. One is perhaps that the escalation of mass-shootings in the US, and the terrorist attack of 9/11, which made the killers of old-school Slashers seem, relatively speaking, quaint. With the rise of Psychological Thrillers also came a rise in Spy and Crime Thrillers, in which Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, or another hero with the initials J. B. has to stop a terrorist attack: a bomb, a WMD, a catastrophe of nuclear proportions. One might argue that James Bond existed long before any of these and contemporaneously with the Slashers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but note how Bond has changed from a suave spy into an action hero, how the plots he must foil are increasingly global in scale. This shift from fearing sickos with knives to fearing bombs going off in the middle of populated cities reflects a (very understandable) cultural anxiety that has dominated for 20 years.

However, whilst this shift was inevitable and certainly had just cause, it moved prevailing cinema and literature away from archetypal and mythological roots that imbue it with deeper meaning. Bombs are scary but they are impersonal. We can represent explosions on the screen, but often it devolves into spectacle over emotional resonance. There is a reason that, with this shift towards modern fears, came a pining for ‘80s and ‘90s memorabilia like never before. And furthermore, much criticism levelled at the “emptiness” of modern cinema. Whilst it would be easy to dismiss these kind of remarks as simply one generation’s nostalgia, or comments by people who are out of touch with today’s society, there is clearly a disconcerting ring of truth to it. It isn’t just one generation saying it, either: many younger creators and critics I know remark often that “they don’t make them like they used to”. Whilst I don’t fall strictly into either camp—there are plenty of recent films I adore, though they tend to be independently produced—it’s worth reflecting on what this means, because a society’s artistic output reflects its fears, hopes, and psychological abherrances. Horror in particular exemplifies this. What are we really scared of? Once it was clowns and dream-rapists and swamp-things. Now, it is something else. We’ve shifted from highly personalised demons such as Freddy Krueger to the impersonal fear of societal destruction and catastrophe. Or, we had. Things are changing.

The world moves in seasons and cycles, and we’re currently experiencing something of a revival of Slashers. The Halloween reboot exploded onto the cinema screen in 2018, and the sequel, Halloween Kills, which came out October of this year. Stephen Graham JonesThe Only Good Indians won not only the Bram Stoker but also the Shirley Jackson award. Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group is a love-letter to the genre that has smashed the bestseller lists. Whilst there is a healthy dose of trepidation for Scream 5, given that it will lack the brilliance of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, there is also a great deal of excitement. Love them or hate them (I am personally in the former camp), the Fear Street movies on Netflix have been voraciously devoured across the world. This resurrection of the genre indicates yet another cultural shift, and perhaps a welcome one.

The intimacy of the Slasher genre seems more appropriate to us, given that most of our worlds shrank drastically as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown. Sadly, domestic violence rose dramatically during this period, and it is likely that many of us had to confront demons, be they people we live with, skeletons in our families’ past, or even more profoundly: within our own minds. The modern world, with its rapid pace and relentless insistence of busyness, has a tendency to drown out reflection. Lockdown forced many of us to turn our attention inward for the first time, and perhaps not all of us liked what we saw in this interior and neglected world. The swamp of the unconscious is a perfect home, after all, for the Grendel-terror to come forth from. I am only guessing, of course, and there is no single, true answer to “why”. But certainly, the personal nature of Slashers, where people are not just blown up en masse but almost lovingly killed (and yes, often psycho-sexually as well), does seem to correlate with our current psychological temperament and the altered cultural norm.

We’re not quite there yet, however. The new Slasher revival has some teething problems, the main one being that we still seem to be either regurgitating the same franchises, or else deconstructing the genre with modern twists to such an extent that it no longer has the mythological feel and scope of the haunting originals. I cannot help but think we are due a true, original Slasher, something condensed from the psychic cultch of the western world, fermented in the fear of Covid and the pressures of lockdown, and imbued with a mania born out of 20 years of repression. We are due not just the sequel and reboot of the Slasher, but the glorious claw-out-of-the-grave resurrection.

And I want to be in the front row seat when it airs.


Boo-graphy:
Joseph Sale is a novelist and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his fantasy epic Dark Hilarity. He grew up in he Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as You Are Not Alone (Storgy), Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

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Dark Hilarity
Tara Dufrain and Nicola Morgan are eleven year old girls growing up in the ‘90s, obsessed by Valentine Killshot, a metal screamo band. In particular, they’re enamoured by the lead singer, the mysterious yet charismatic Jed Maine who bears the epithet “The Cretin”. In Jed’s lyrics, he describes a world beyond the Dark Stars that he hopes one day to reach. The girls think it’s all just make-believe they share together, until a freak, traumatic incident makes this world very real. As adults, Tara and Nicola try to come to terms with the devastating catastrophe that changed their lives growing up, but to do so they will have to step once more into Jed Maine’s world, and confront the man who took everything from them. Dark Hilarity is My Best Friend’s Exorcism meets The Never-Ending Story, a fantasy that explores addiction, depression, and the healing power of friendship.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Gayle Trent

Meghan: Hi, Gayle. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. Thanks for joining us. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Gayle: Please don’t make me pick just one! I love the candy, of course (seriously, who doesn’t?), the costumes, the cartoons, and the movies.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Gayle: It used to be trick-or-treating. When I was a little girl, that’s something we looked forward to every year. There was a woman in our neighborhood who would even make homemade cookies or popcorn balls.

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

Gayle: I love Halloween because it brings out the kid in all of us. Dressing up as superheroes or monsters, eating too much candy, getting scared just for the fun of it.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Gayle: The number 666. If I’m at a store, and my total rings up $6.66, I’ll buy something else. I recently read Greenlights and learned that Matthew McConaughey is superstitious about that number too. LOL

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

Gayle: I love Dracula. I once played Lucy in an off, off-Broadway (my high school was about as far from Broadway as you can get!) production of Dracula.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Gayle: JonBenet Ramsey

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Gayle: Although I hate to say ”favorite,” I find Ted Bundy really interesting. I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, and it was fascinating how he maintained such a strong friendship with her despite being a murderer. At one point in the book, she said that when she’d have to leave work at 2 a.m., he’d walk her to her car. She said the policemen in the building might watch her from the window, but he’d walk her out because “you never know who might be out there.” If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.

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

Gayle: I saw Psycho when I was about thirteen. Even though I thought the movie was great, and have watched it again, at the time it scared the daylights out of me. I always made sure someone else was home and that the bathroom door was locked when I showered. But I did have reservations about someone in my family going crazy and killing me, so… LOL I can’t remember the title of the first horror book, but it was something about demons. I have apparently blocked it from my memory. LOL

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Gayle: The one about the demons whose title I can’t remember. LOL

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Gayle: The Birds. Every time I see large flocks of birds gathering in the fall, it makes me want to get in the house and cover my head.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Gayle: A flapper.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Gayle: Scary – Legend of Wooly Swamp; Funny – Monster Mash

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

Gayle: Fave: Anything chocolate (Reese’s, Snickers, M&Ms, Peppermint Patties) Most disappointing? Sour gummies

Meghan: It’s always a pleasure getting to talk to you, Gayle. Before you go, what are your three go-to Halloween movies?

Gayle: 1) Tucker and Dale Versus Evil – it isn’t a Halloween movie, per se, but I love it. It’s a comedic horror movie that is fantastic. 2) Hocus Pocus 3) Practical Magic – not sure it’s a “Halloween movie” either, but I really liked it.


Boo-graphy:
Gayle is a Southwest Virginia based author who is working on the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery series. The first book in the series, MURDER TAKES THE CAKE tells the story of Daphne Martin, a forty-year-old divorcee who returns to her fictional hometown of Brea Ridge, Virginia to start her life over. She has left behind an ex-husband who is in prison for an attempt on Daphne’s life, a dingy apartment and a stale career. She has started fresh in a new home with a new career, Daphne’s Delectable Cakes, a cake-decorating company Daphne runs out of her home. She is thrilled to be living closer to her beloved niece and nephew, although being close to other family members brings up lifelong resentments and more than a couple complications. Daphne is also reunited with childhood friend, Ben Jacobs, a full-fledged HAG (hot, available guy). Daphne’s business hits a snag when her first client turns up dead.”

Ghostly Fashionista 1: Designs on Murder
Amanda Tucker is excited about opening her fashion design studio in Shops On Main, a charming old building in historic Abingdon, Virginia. She didn’t realize a ghost came with the property! But soon Maxine “Max” Englebright, a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark Tinsley, a web designer with a know-it-all attitude who also rented space at Shops On Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” and fellow small business owners is his killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–the ghostly fashionista can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Ghostly Fashionista 2: Perils & Lace
A murderer outwitting a quirky flapper ghost? Seams unlikely!

Budding retro fashion designer and entrepreneur Amanda Tucker is thrilled about making costumes for Winter Garden High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But when the play’s director Sandra Kelly is poisoned, Amanda realizes there’s a murderer in their midst. She’s determined to keep herself and the students safe, so when her ghostly fashionista friend Max suggests they investigate, Amanda rolls up her sleeves and prepares to follow the deadly pattern…

Ghostly Fashionista 3: Christmas Cloches & Corpses
Bodies are dropping like gumdrops off a gingerbread house!

Max’s nephew, Dwight, is in a nursing home; but instead of the holiday season being a time of goodwill, several of Dwight’s friends have died under mysterious circumstances.  Is the facility merely suffering a run of bad luck, or is there something sinister going on?

Either way, Max, the Ghostly Fashionista, is determined not to let her beloved nephew be the next victim and enlists Amanda to help keep an eye on him. But someone drugs the cake that Amanda gives Dwight, and Amanda is banned from visiting him again. It’s going to take a Christmas miracle for Amanda to clear her name and stay out of the killer’s line of fire…

Ghostly Fashionista 4: Buttons & Bows
FIND OUT WHO KILLED VIOLET. I WON’T REST UNTIL I KNOW…AND NEITHER WILL YOU.

The note, typed on a manual typewriter, is Amanda Tucker’s first introduction to the second ghost she’s ever met.

When retro fashion designer Amanda learns that Violet, the sweet little old lady from whom she bought antique buttons, has been murdered, she’s dismayed—especially when she realizes the murder occurred the evening after Amanda had visited Violet’s shop. Now the ghost who was enamored of the victim is demanding that Amanda help him bring the woman’s killer to justice.

It certainly isn’t an ideal time for Amanda’s parents to be visiting her from Florida for the first time. In addition to Max, the ghostly fashionista, Amanda now has another sassy specter to deal with. Will this one haunt her for the rest of her life?