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.

These are… VARIOUS STATES OF DECAY

Halloween Extravaganza: John Boden: The Trick

John Boden is one of the coolest guys I know. And I know some cool guys, so that’s seriously saying a lot. Even when I was living in Pennsylvania, not fifteen minutes from where he lives, it always felt like he was in some other world, too far away for me to become real friends with. I think of that often now that I live over fifteen hours from him. He’s that friend I wish I made, if that makes any sense.

I can’t imagine a Halloween without him, though, so me, not being the best at keeping in touch with people, even with Facebook being right there, made sure that I invited him once again to take part in my annual Halloween Extravaganza.

He told me he wanted to do a guest post, but he had to talk to his family first, to make sure what he was sharing was okay with them. When I received it, after they gave the go-ahead, it was a story I never expected. John Boden, being serious, and so perfectly serious at that.

It’s definitely a get-to-know-the-real-John-Boden type of piece, and something I think everyone should read, especially those of us who have siblings.


Every Halloween either Roscoe or I went as a hobo/Old Man/Bum. It was the easiest costume for Mom to whip up as it wasn’t too far removed from our daily uniform. Worn jeans/pants, ratty shoes and a big old flannel shirt. Usually stuffed with a pillow. We were always warned to keep the pillow clean and undamaged as it would be returned to the case and its place on our bed when we got home. We’d then take our brown paper bag and walk the length of our block. The faces of our neighbors usually a cocktail of thinly veiled disdain or snotty or sad embarrassment. It took me years to realize there was an ironic joke here.

Roscoe and I were always brothers, but we weren’t always friends. We loved one another but I couldn’t say we were nice to one another. There was five years between us and a lot of circumstances, often it felt like lifetimes and fathoms deep. Our father left when I was almost seven and Roscoe was two. There was a rocky valley forged in the fact that I had a father for a few years, years that I could and can recall somewhat fondly, while he had a few splintered recollections of a man holding him as a baby. Once Dad had left, we moved around for three years, like gypsies, the not-so-politically-correct term was, and during it all I found myself more primed for the role of surrogate parent/caregiver to this bull-headed little boy who squinted when he smiled and followed me like a shadow. It was a role I’d never auditioned for and had most definitely sought to lose. A role I realize now had bounties unforetold and riches unparalleled.

That joke being that we grew up in a poor area in the mountains of Pennsylvania. No one was rich or swimming in wealth. There were the dirt poor, the poor and those who were not as poor as the rest. I always felt we were the level above dirt. Most folks were good people. Hardworking parent. Most kids just happy to play and have fun. But there were some that were cut from different more expensive cloth. I vividly recall a girl telling me in third grade (after making fun of my Dollar Store vinyl hi-tops) that “If you don’t wear Lee jeans or Nike sneakers, you’re nothing.” That is a false statement but it sure made little Johnny feel like a little pile of nothing. I never told anyone about that. My Mom already had her hands full–multiple jobs, keeping a house around us and food on the table all while holding up the world. There always have to be some who look down on those with less than they. And I’m not talking about money specifically.

As time crawled on, I found myself bitter at my lot in life. I wanted nothing more than to be a normal kid, to play with the others my age and to experience the pains and aches of growing up. I was in no way spared the aches, but more accurately probably had some that the other kids didn’t, I always had to factor in when Mom left for work so I could be home to watch my brother. How to cook and clean the house. To do laundry, check homework and many other tasks that my friends had mothers or fathers handle for them. Mothers that didn’t work or if they did only one job. Our mom was a nurse at night and cleaned houses during daylight hours and on off nights from those, tended bar at the American Legion. For her hard work she was labeled a slut and a bad mother. Neither title being true but basically being tongue-carved into the trunk of our lives. I grew older and meaner to Roscoe. Endless name calling and fighting. And while he fought back, he was always quick to forgive and return to his usually accepting love of his big brother.

-This year I was going to go as a mummy. Mom had sacrificed one of our white sheets as had Gram to be torn into long strips of ancient bandage. It was the best costume I’d ever had. This year would be so much better.

–Better than the cardboard box robot that got me condescending snickers from other children, some hard candy, tootsie rolls and a stale popcorn ball.

–Better than the cheap plastic masks with the rubber band that held them on your head but pulled at the hair at the back of your neck.

–Better than seeing the looks on the faces of children who were nice to you once in a while, when there was no one else around. Children who’s parents were still together and both worked and brought in more income than your poor three job juggling mother did. Yeah, it would be better.

Years swirled and got away. I got married and moved across the state, won the role of a happy husband with two sons, a role I still play. Roscoe was married and had a pair of daughters. He tried to cut the leash to our hometown but never could do it. He was a boomerang that kept returning. I always did what I could to help him when called to, or even when not. We rarely talked but when we saw each other it seemed strained a little. The elastic growing dry and cracked like an old rubber band. I assumed it a resentment for the hand life dealt us, differing and wide in expanse. Too many small wounds from things I’d said or done when we were younger, given to salty scars that throbbed when I came around. When our Grandmother died and then a few years later our father, those somber events strengthened our bond in some way. We still have our moments of antagonism but mostly we just quietly accept the other. We are brothers and that cannot be changed. We vowed to call more often and see each other more. We both treat vows like a juggler treats delicate glass.

-The air was chilly, not cold but chilly. Mom said I’d need to wear my long johns under my costume, but not to get them dirty or torn as they were my only pair of pajamas until she could afford us new ones. I stood in the kitchen while Mom knelt in front of me carefully wrapping my legs in linen. Gram sat at the table and smoked her cigarette. When the wrapping was done I was covered head to toe, save for an opening left over my eyes so I could see. I ran into the living room and took in my costume via the full length mirror. It was fabulous. Gram said she’d drive us around. “Johnny will break his neck over them bandages around his ankles.” We got our bags and headed out.

First stop was old Mr. Whiteall. He sat on his porch swing with a large mixing bowl full of butterscotch discs and cinnamon lozenges. He always smelled sweaty but was a nice man.

“The Mummy walks!” he yelled and shrank away in mock terror.

I laughed and took the offered treats. As we turned to leave his porch, a few boys from school passed in the opposite direction. One of them hissed “Welfare Johnny.” I pretended not to hear.

The night was an apple halved–a sweetly tart and raw wound sticky at the same time. Gram sat in the car and smoked while Roscoe and I would hit the houses, most adults smiling and handing us candy and compliments and once in a while someone just looking at us like we’d shit on their porch and dropping the treats in our bags like used Kleenex. We went home and Gram left us to organize our spoils while Mom got ready for work.

Now, these decades later, I sit in my chair with the lights out, as I do every Halloween, and stare at the phone. It’s right there. Inches from my hand. It’d be such an easy thing to pick it up and call my brother. Sometimes you’d think the device was made of spiders and bees– a cursed idol carved of scorpion sting and snakebite the way we eschew it. I sigh and don’t make a move, choosing instead to once again take a walk through the territory behind my eyes.

-“You boys, made a haul!” she crowed as she grabbed a peanut butter chew from Roscoe’s pile. I offered her one of my starlight mints.

“No, those are your favorite. You keep them.” She went into the kitchen and got her sweater from the back of the chair. Crushed her cigarette to death in the ashtray on the table.

“Don’t you kids eat all that candy tonight.” She finished her coffee in a single gulp and sat the mug in the sink. It clattered with dirty silverware. “One more piece each, then brush and go to bed.” We nodded. She reminded me for the millionth time to lock the door behind her when she left. I stood and watched her pull out into the road and the taillights disappear into the night. We ate more than one piece of candy each and we went to bed without brushing our teeth. And the world never stuttered in its turning.

I often think of my brother and think of the years wasted between us. How all I need to do is call him once in a while, or even message him on the computer. In this day and age is there any valid excuse?! I’ve got pictures of the girls in the mail last week. They’ve grown up so much and I’ve not seen a lot of it. I’m as much a shadow to them as I am he. A pre-diagnosed stranger. I look at the table where the pictures lay and can see the face of my brother in them. See his school pictures in my mind. Green sweater and those squinting eyes when he smiled. He looked so happy. I so wish I could see him smile like that again. A smile that doesn’t know what a spiteful prick the world is. What a vicious bitch life can be. And how the sharpest blade is the slow scalpel of time and apathy. I feel my eyes begin to leak and wipe them across my arm. The tears are cold on my warm skin. I smile and stare at the spot of light near the front window, a feeble sliver from the streetlight. I can almost see a short shadow by the chair. See the alfalfa sprout of the Roscoe perpetual cowlick. I can see his eyes twinkle in the dim.

“What’re you thinking about, Johnny?”

“Bandages.”

“Like your Mummy costume?”

“Not exactly.”

“Like when you’re hurt?”

“Often.”

“Like what?”

“Like everything.”

I feel his small hand on mine.

“I love you.”

“I love you too, little brother.”

The streetlight goes dark and it thunders silence. I sit in it with my hand on the phone.

John Boden lives a stones throw from Three Mile Island with his wonderful wife and sons.

A baker by day, he spends his off time writing, working for Shock Totem Publications or watching old television shows. He likes Diet Pepsi and sports ferocious sideburns. He loves heavy metal and old country music, shoofly pie and westerns.

He’s a pretty nice fella, honest.

His work has appeared in Borderlands 6, Shock Totem, Splatterpunk, Lamplight, Blight Digest, the John Skipp edited Psychos and others. His not-really-for-children children’s book, Dominoes, has been called a pretty cool thing. His other books–Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid, Detritus In Love, Walk The Darkness Down— are out and about. He has also written a few collaborative novellas, one with Chad Lutzke called Out Behind the Barn, and Rattlesnake Kisses and Cattywampus with Bob Ford. There are more things in the works.

Out Behind the Barn (with Chad Lutzke)

The boys crept to the window and watched as Miss Maggie carried the long bundle into the barn, the weight of it stooping her aging back. Rafter lights spilled from the barn doors and Davey saw an arm fall from the canvas-wrapped parcel. He smiled.

“She got someone!”

Both children grinned and settled in their beds, eyes fixed to the ceiling.

The boys crept to the window and watched as Miss Maggie carried the long bundle into the barn, the weight of it stooping her aging back. Rafter lights spilled from the barn doors and Davey saw an arm fall from the canvas-wrapped parcel. He smiled.

“She got someone!”

Both children grinned and settled in their beds, eyes fixed to the ceiling.

This was family growth.

Rattlesnake Kisses (with Robert Ford)

Dallas is a man seasoned by both time and circumstance—a fellow you hire to get certain things done. The kind of man you definitely don’t want to cross.

The Kid is his protege—his younger shadow with more quirks than Dewey’s System has decimals. He’s loyal as a hound and just as likely to bite.

After being hired for a seemingly easy job, Dallas and the Kid find themselves on a wild ride. Every stop they make introduces lies, violence and memories best left buried. When the control Dallas holds so near and dear starts to squirm free, things get ugly. The routine becomes anything but, and revenge is a bloody dish best served with a .45 pistol.

Cattywampus (with Robert Ford)

There had been a plan. It wasn’t a good one, and it was rough around the edges, but it was a plan. Then things went off the rails and into places where no one was comfortable. Violent places. Unspeakable places. Places stained with blood and other things. A nesting doll of crimes and sordid deeds. Darlene and Sheila were up to no good, but the mess they find themselves in makes their original plans seem like a Sunday school picnic. And it started the way you’d expect a bad day to begin: A robbery.A death. A bucket full of teeth. Welcome to Steelwater, PA. We’re glad to have you.

Walk the Darkness Down

Some things are older than time. Older than darkness.

-Levi is a monstrous man—made of scars and scary as hell, he’s glutted on ghosts and evolving to carry out the dark wishes of the ancient whispers in his head. He’s building a door and what’s on the other side is terrifying.

-Jones spent a lot of time living bottle to bottle and trying to erase things. Now he’s looking for the man who killed his mother and maybe a little bit of looking or himself as well.

-Keaton is on the run from accusations as well as himself, he suffers alone until he meets Jubal, an orphaned boy with his little sisters in a sling.

-Every line is not a straight line and everything must converge. A parable writ in dust and blood on warped barn wood. A journey in the classic sense, populated with dried husks of towns…and people both odd and anything but ordinary. Hornets, reverse-werewolves and one of the most vicious villains you’ll ever know are all part of it.

Pull on your boots and saddle up, we’ll Walk The Darkness Down.