Book Review: The Last Sentinel by S.T. Lane

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Title: The Last Sentinel

Author: S.T. Lane

Release date: September 27, 2022

I don’t typically start out my reviews how this one is, but I’m going to in the hopes this helps S.T. Lane. I’m not sure when we started following each other on Twitter, but it’s been a little bit and I was excited to see her debut novella – ‘The Last Sentinel’ – would be arriving. I somehow missed her release date post, but saw a tweet from her yesterday where she said she’d only sold one copy, and while she should be sad, she was still happy that someone would be reading a good story. I went to take a look on Goodreads at the synopsis and couldn’t find it, so I went to Amazon. I snagged a copy, knowing I could read this in a single sitting easily and get a review up for it, in the hopes of getting some more eyes on it!

The cover is intriguing when coupled with the synopsis, and while I’m not sure if this is part of a longer tale to be revealed going forward, this would make for an excellent jumping off spot for a sequel.

What I liked: The story follows Stanley, a coward who turned to alcohol when aliens invaded earth. Now, with his son and wife gone, he needs to muster the courage to try and find them, even if it means he dies while doing so.

The story is fast-paced with a lot packed into it, in a good way. We get a really solid grounding and understanding of Stanley and why he is how he is and how he’s struggling with alcohol withdrawal in the face of the invasion.

I personally am always a fan of ‘when they arrive’ stories and love seeing how each author makes them their own. Lane does a great job of giving us unique extra-terrestrials and the action scenes that take place near the end were a lot of fun to fly through.

As I mentioned, the ending makes it so that this could be a singular stand alone story or leaves the door open to continue you and let us see more of what happens and where they came from.

What I didn’t like: I did find it odd that humanity crumbled and the world’s leaders had no way of figuring out how to stop them, but Stanley knows and goes straight to where it all takes place. Of course, in Sci-Fi/Horror, you always need to suspend your belief in the hard and fast concrete world and let the story play out, but it did still strike me as odd.

Why you should buy this: Currently, it looks like this is ebook only, so hopefully for the physical fans a paperback is on the way soon. For those who read digitally, this book hums along and really reminded me a lot of the TV show ‘Falling Skies’ that aired from 2011-2015.

A quick, snappy, alien-infused read, which I really had fun with!

4/5

Book Review: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

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Title: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock

Author: Paul Tremblay

Release date: June 21, 2016

I just want to start off by saying – reading this book and posting this review was in no way done with the hopes of me “cashing in” on the random influx of new folks following this site and my reviews! For those who missed it – two years ago I read and reviewed Paul’s fantastic ‘The Cabin At the end of the World.’ Then, on Sept 22, 2022, M. Night Shyamalan dropped the trailer for ‘Knock at the Cabin,’ his adaption of Paul’s book. For some unknown reason – my review skyrocketed in views. We’re talking 20,000 on that day. My review was the 5th result on any Google searches for Paul’s book or the movie. As of writing this, the review is just about to cross over the 40,000 page visits mark. My second highest visited page – my review for ‘COWS’ at 3500.

So, my point – A – thanks again Paul for a sprinkling of your mojo and B – I had already started this bad boy before that review even dropped! So, there! HA!

Anyways – if you’ve followed my Pyper fandom, you’ll know my buddy George is equally a massive fan of Tremblay. We share two difference – 1 – I’ve read more Tremblay books than George has read Pyper (hitch up those britches and get reading!) and 2 – George literally bought a cabin in the woods…

I have had ‘Disappearance at Devil’s Rock’ for a bit now, and when it finally popped to the top of my TBR, I dove in. I will say, I went in almost completely blank. I might’ve read the synopsis at one point, but that had long since slithered out of my brain.

What I liked: The story follows a group of boys living in a small town. One night, they sneak out, one of them taking some of their dad’s beer, and head to a massive rock they frequent in the woods. While there, something happens and one of the boys takes off, disappearing in the woods.

From there, Tremblay takes his time in unravelling the chaos that occurred and the horrifying ripples young Tommy’s disappearance creates with his family and with his friends.

The book is filled with moments of despair, heartbreak but also chills and unnerving moments. Tremblay does a phenomenal job of keeping his cards close to his chest and when the reality of what happens is revealed, it is done with a verbal vomiting that will shatter the reader.

I also really loved how well done the kids were in this story. How they acted and reacted like real world kids. You could feel the fear of consequences coming off the page each and every time something new was shared and they had to fess up.

The ending was just so beautiful and sad. This reader cried. I’m never ashamed to admit when a book moves me to tears. But the way Paul closed this one out was just so perfect and so achingly well done.

What I didn’t like: I did find the book took its time to really grab me and hold me. There was a lot of extra details and descriptions (which do carry throughout) that bogged it down a bit, but once things picked up they really raced through.

Additionally, and this is maybe my fault a bit, but this book is similar to Matt Wesolowski’s ‘Six Stories’ series in that it offers up the potential of horrific other world possibilities but never fully goes there and worked to simply tease the reader. Re-reading the synopsis, I could see that would’ve been something I would’ve known beforehand, but it still always bums me out when a book gets tantalizingly close to going full creature and then keeps them in the shadows.

Why you should buy this: If you’re a fan of Tremblay, you’ve probably already read this or own this. If you’re new to his work, this is definitely a solid point to start with, showing his phenomenal ability to craft characters and the way he delicately pieces together the plot-puzzle, always making sure to keep one piece hidden under his palm.

4/5

3Q’s – Chris Sorensen makes messy nightmares!

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Today’s guest is one who writes nightmares while also narrating them. Chris Sorensen is one of the nicest guys out there and I’m so happy to have him answer the 3Q’s!!

Welcome, Chris!

Chris Sorensen

Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try to write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?


CS: Thanks for asking, Steve! To be honest, my writing schedule is as scattered as the rest of my life (at least currently). We’re in the midst of a 6-month house renovation that’s moving into its third year, so I tend to find writing time where I can. When I have more control over my time, I like to start work around 7 or 8 pm and work until the wee hours. My best work/ideas come when the house is still, the sky is dark, and my preferred soundtrack of the moment is on loop. I don’t find word counts helpful, but I LOVE a good deadline. I’m working on a play right now that’s already been cast and goes into production in November. I find that particular kind of terror perfect for getting the words flowing.

Steve: If you started a series and for some reason had to have another author finish it, who would you choose?


CS: Hmm, that’s a tough one. I could rattle off some authors whose work I’m jazzed about, but to have one of them take over a series? Laurel Hightower is writing some terrific stuff, stories, and characters that I really relate to, but I wouldn’t want to burden her with my scribblings. She has more than enough to say on her own. I guess I’d have to go with Nick Sullivan. I’ve known him for years, first as an actor and then as a fellow indie author and audiobook narrator. We laugh at the same things, are both sticklers for structure, and he tends to finish what he starts. I’d be happy with either of them writing Barnyard Cannibals, Books 7, 8 & 9.

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!

CS: If anyone happens to be in Colorado this holiday season, they can check out my newest play, The Wizard of Oz, Colorado. It’s a wild west retelling of the classic story by L. Frank Baum. Thin Air Theatre Company is mounting it at the historic Butte Theater in Cripple Creek. Beyond that, I have 5 novels and 3 novellas in various states of construction.

(** My apologies to Chris, he’d sent a photo along with his upcoming releases but my computer decided to eat it and completely pixelate it and distort it for some reason!** )

Steve: Bonus Question! If they made a movie about your life, what actor or actress would you suggest they get to play you?

CS: As much as I’d like to go with Bill Hader, I gotta choose Michael Cera.

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Good choice!

Thank you again, Chris!

To keep up to date with his work – check the links!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Chris-Sorensen/e/B01N020QKU

Website: https://www.casorensenwrite.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/casorensen

Book Review: Psychic Teenage Bloodbath by Carl John Lee

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Title: Psychic Teenage Bloodbath

Author: Carl John Lee

Release date: October 28th, 2022

Uncle Carl returns with his 5th release and 2nd of 2022!

I don’t know how I’ve struck gold here, but for some reason Carl and I have really hit it off and it’s always pleasant to get emails from him every few weeks. Coincidentally, I’m writing this review on the one year release-aversary of my novel Incarnate, which Carl kindly did the cover art for.

A month or so back, I get an email from Carl with the subject line “Advance Copy of The Ballad of Sh1tty Pants Joe” but the 1 was an I – don’t think for one second Carl has lost his edge. I chuckled and opened and it found a digital copy of his newest attached, kindly created by his son. He gave me a brief summary and finished it by saying this – “I go places in this one even people wouldn’t like Uncle Carl would!”

Good grief was he right.

What I liked: If you’ve read any of Carl John Lee’s work, you’ll know what you’re in for – only this one goes full Spinal Tap and turns the extreme knob up to eleven. If you require Trigger Warnings, Uncle Carl has provided them, and boy are there plenty here.

The novel opens with Charlie and Susan, two teen girls secretly in love, surrounded by a town and school full of homophobic jerks. At the big dance, they sneak away, only for a horrible attack to happen and Susan ends up in a coma, totally paralyzed. But her mind still works, and after a year of struggling, she’s finally found the ability to use and a control others.

It’s with that stepping stone that Lee really begins to unleash bloody torment on all who wronged her and Charlie, even as Charlie struggles to comprehend and understand what is going on.

This will remind readers of Carrie but also of the extreme horror reads from back in the 70’s where characters were belittled, bullied and beaten for being ‘different.’ Lee does a solid job of doling out revenge, while making the main characters sympathetic and strong.

Of course, it all comes to a tremendous and stomach-churning finale. In the afterword, Lee notes that he tried at one point to present this as a film option but the budget would be astronomical due to the amount of special effects that would be required for the gore. I completely understand.

What I didn’t like: This is a weird one, because every single character that Lee creates for the reader to hate ends up getting eviscerated at some point, so while normally those characters would be a negative for some readers, it gets resolved throughout.

I will say again – there are Trigger Warnings listed and this is a novel where you would be best served to take a glance at them before diving in. Nothing is safe and some truly horrible events occur within.

Why you should buy this: Well, by this point, Carl John Lee should really have a subscription service, because if you’ve read any of his work and loved it, you know you’ll be getting this one and diving in. For new readers, I think this is a perfect spot to jump in and be introduced to Uncle Carl’s deft prose and deranged paintings. And as always, the Author’s Note/Afterword at the end is hilariously ridiculous and makes me hope some day we’ll get an autobiography from him.

5/5

3Q’s Special: V. Castro continues to level up!

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I am super excited for today’s special guest!

I can’t remember how long ago I connected with V. Castro, but I have to say, since I have, it has been truly amazing and so rewarding to see how fantastic her writing is going. She continues to break new ground and pummel her long-time and new readers with each and every release!

Please, do welcome V.!

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Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try to write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?

V.: I try to write like a regular 9 to 5 especially if I have deadlines to hit. After my children are in bed I also try to write. As I get busier, doing admin, promo stuff, and social media all cut into writing time. I will only consider word count if I am on a tight deadline and I know I have to make those numbers. Otherwise, I try to be gentle with myself as it is better for my creativity.

Steve: If you started a series and for some reason had to have another author finish it, who would you choose?

V.: That would definitely be Gabino Iglesias!

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!

V.: On November 1st people should definitely go out and order Aliens: Vasquez!! I’m the first Latina to write for the franchise and we need more women of color leads in stories like this. I can’t tell you how many Latinx folks reach out and tell me how good it is to see representation. It means something to us. The more I sell the higher the chances I can do more and I loved every second creating this world. THANK YOU ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Steve: Bonus Question! If they made a movie about your life, what actor or actress would you suggest they get to play you?

V: I think Salma Hayek. For sure!

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Excellent choice! And V., thank YOU for all of your support as well!

To find more of her fantastic work, check the links!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/V-Castro/e/B07N5JG767/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/vlatinalondon

Website: https://vcastrostories.com/

3Q’s – Ronald J. Murray has lost some letters!

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It’s always interesting to me that we still mostly think of women as those who create poetry. Many people even forget that I, myself, have two poetry collections out (well, 1.5 as the is a mix of poems and drabbles but whatever, splitting hairs!). Ronald J. Murray is doing his best to get people to think of the male dark poetry writers as well and I’m super excited to have him join me today!

Welcome, Ronald!

Ronald Murray

Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try to write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?

Ronald: When it comes to writing fiction, my process looks a lot different than when I’ve talked about it in previous features and interviews now that I am a father to an infant. Where I used to sit at my laptop for a few hours per day, aiming to get at least two-thousand words on the page, I now take advantage of nap-time. Occasionally, I will sacrifice sleep. These days, I’m satisfied with whatever amount of words I can get written when I can.

Downloading and familiarizing myself with Scrivener has been a huge help. The useful organization tools in that app allow me to jump around with my ideas, and the sync feature makes it easy to pick up where I left off on my phone when I go outside to smoke.

My writing process has remained the same with poetry. Writing poetry pours out of me wherever I am. It comes in bursts. And I just pop open my notepad app and get it out of me so I can edit them when I have the time.

Steve: If you started a series and for some reason had to have another author finish it, who would you choose?

Ronald: I’d like to answer this question with Neil Gaiman. He is my favorite writer. However, I’d have to choose somebody that I could trust would treat my projects with care and dedication. So, I’d have to say the choice is between my three closest friends in this field, Gwendolyn Kiste, Sara Tantlinger, and Nelson W. Pyles. They’re all exceptionally talented and driven writers whose passion bleeds from their words.

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!

Ronald: My latest release is Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass. It’s a poetry collection essentially narrating my grieving process after the explosive end of a rather tumultuous, decade-long romantic relationship through metaphor and dramatics. It may or may not help someone else that is or has experienced abuse in various forms and the pain of losing someone they were trauma-bonded to.

Shortly, I’ll be releasing a new poetry collection titled In All the Ways, a Drowning from which a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the ACLU. The collection illustrates the experience of intense emotions triggered by many things in life: events of the past, present, and potential future, love, perspective shifts through self-transformation, and more.

Lastly, if things go right, I’ll have a short fiction collection out in the future. It’ll include some stories that have been previously published and further revised for this collection, as well as some new work.

Steve: Bonus Question! If they made a movie about your life, what actor or actress would you suggest they get to play you?

Ronald: Johnny Depp, who has been my favorite actor for decades, is too old to play me in a movie. I can’t think of anyone else that could capture my personality so flawlessly.

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Great acting choice! I could definitely see him playing you!

Thank you again, Ronald!

To discover more of his work – follow the links!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RonaldJMurray

Website: https://www.ronaldjmurray.com/

3Q’s – HP Newquist plays sweet sweet tunes!

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Man, I’m so excited for you all to meet today’s guest! HP Newquist is an award-winning author of both non-fiction and fiction. He’s the founder of the National Guitar Museum and has written some truly phenomenal books!

Please, do welcome HP!

HP Newquist

Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try to write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?

HP: I always write at night, typically after 11 PM. Almost no one else I know is awake or around at that hour, so I can dive in without distractions—other than refilling my glass of wine. I usually write until about 2:30 AM. I write fairly quickly, so I’m not concerned with word count; it’s more about completing part of the storyline or until I find a good stopping point—like the end of a chapter.

Steve: If you started a series and for some reason had to have another author finish it, who would you choose?

HP: I can’t really see myself doing a series, since I like to have end points in my stories. That said, I’ve frequently been asked to do a sequel to my novel “BEHEMOTH.” If I were to depart the planet before completing that, it would be nice to have Edgar Allan Poe work on it, although I don’t believe he’s currently available.

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!

HP: I’ve got one book currently being shopped, called “The School Of Infinite Pain,” which is a short story collection. My most recent release is my novella “Ten Years Gone,” published by Relayer Books. It’s a psychological thriller that has undercurrents of horror. It’s fast paced and a very fast read. To make it even more appealing, readers can get it for free at https://tinyurl.com/2p8cv8wh.

Steve: Bonus Question! If they made a movie about your life, what actor or actress would you suggest they get to play you?

HP: For some reason, 1980s-era Heather Locklear seems like a good choice, but I’d have to go with Christian Bale.

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Thank you so much for doing this, HP!
To find more work from him, check the links!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/HP-Newquist/e/B003XLMPWY

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HPNewquist

Website: http://www.newquistbooks.com/

3Q’s Special: Richard Chizmar is your Boogeyman!

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One thing I’ve loved with these 3Q’s is seeing how so many people are excited to participate – no matter their level of success. Today’s guest is an example of one of the nicest guys out there, one of the most successful writers currently, and one of the most supportive and humblest of folks.

Please, do welcome Richard today!

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Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try and write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?
RC: No set schedule for me unless I’m deep into a novel. Then I’m up and at it as soon as I wake up and shower. I wish I had a more disciplined daily routine, but it’s never worked that way for me. Too many things going on. Fortunately, I can write anywhere without much fear of distraction. I get a lot done in the car, sitting out back of the house with the dogs, in restaurants, wherever the opportunity arises. No word count goals for me. I just put in the time and the words seem to take care of themselves.

 

Steve: You decide to host a writer’s retreat. One weekend in a luxury house on an island. What three other authors do you invite to come along?
RC: Steve King, Linwood Barclay, and Bev Vincent, because they’re excellent writers and good friends, and we’d have a lot to talk about when we weren’t working. Plus I’d get a sneak peek at their works in progress.

 

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!
RC: I just wrapped up the sequel to my last novel, CHASING THE BOOGEYMAN. It should be out sometime in 2023. Very dark but with a lot of heart. Readers should grab it because it answers a lot of questions that went unanswered in the first book.

 

Steve: Bonus Question! You receive an invitation in the mail from one of these two people. The invitation invites you to have dinner and spend the night in their home. Do you accept the invitation from Victor Frankenstein or Dracula and why?
RC: Frank…because I can outrun him if it becomes necessary.

 

Ha! Great answer!

Thank you so much, Richard!

To find more of his work;

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Richard-Chizmar/e/B00MZFCIBC/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RichardChizmar

Website: https://richardchizmar.com/

Andrew Pyper’s Oracle Revisited: We Are Broken Or You Can’t Go Back Where You Came From

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“When someone’s lost, what people don’t understand is that it’s the life they could have lived that hurts as much as thinking about the life they left behind.” – Andrew Pyper, Oracle.

Having finished reading ‘Oracle,’ I wanted to spend some time diving into Andrew’s work.

If you’d like to see my original review of the Oracle audiobook, you can find that here;

Audiobook Review: Oracle by Andrew Pyper

No, what this is, is this superfan’s introspective look at a constant theme that Andrew Pyper has ingrained into his work and one that this reader, and human, has struggled with his entire life. A brief note before going on – there will be some spoilers within this piece for ‘Oracle’ and many of Andrew’s other works. I won’t be giving away endings (actually I might but I’ll preface that so that you know when to skip) but some key plot points will be shared. Enter at your own risk.

21 years.

21 years reside between when Andrew’s debut, ‘Lost Girls’ was released and ‘Oracle’ arrived. You may be looking at that cover above and see that the corner of it says ‘Only From Audible.’ When it came out, I dove into it. It was my first audiobook (and since then I’ve also listened to ‘Oracle 2’) and Joshua Jackson brought Nate Russo and the antagonist ‘The Boneman’ to life. With the cast joining in for ‘Oracle 2,’ they did a phenomenal job with Tillman and Fernandez. But if you saw (and as you’ll most likely have seen) I’m a Pyper superfan and over the last five or so years, I’ve forged a friendship with Andrew. I’ve gone on before about that, and I won’t devote many words here towards a friendship I deeply and truly cherish, but until five years ago, I only knew Andrew as an author; a conjurer of words who lived elsewhere and whose photo graced the books I loved and read.

Within my superfan world, I’ve been striving to collect everything of his that has been released. With ‘Oracle’ an audio-only production, I was fine to have the CD release on my shelves. Then, one day, an email came through asking if I’d like to buy a copy of the script. I reached out to Andrew to ask if it was legit. He emphatically replied – ‘NO!’ and then, to my utter amazement, offered to email me over the script in PDF form. I know I’m in a very fortunate position. One I don’t take advantage of nor would I ever. The PDF arrived and Andrew gave me permission to make a one-off copy for my shelf. I also sent the pdf to my Kindle to read.

Now, you may wonder where I’m going with this (and sure it’s a bit of a humble brag to have it), but having reread almost of all of Andrew’s work for a 2nd or 3rd time, I decided to dive in and READ Oracle. Not listen, but read and I’ve been taking my sweet time while enjoying this return to Andrew’s work on the written/digital page.

Re-reading the events in ‘Oracle’ reinforced an ongoing narrative theory I’ve had since I first read ‘The Demonologist’ almost a decade ago. When I discovered that book and devoured it, I had no idea the Pandora’s Box I was opening up in this reader’s brain. The novel follows David Ullman, expert on Milton’s Paradise Lost, who travels to Rome following an invitation to see with his own eyes that which he doesn’t believe exists. While there, his daughter goes missing and the book explores Ullman following clues left behind by the entity that took his daughter.

*Potential Spoiler’s ahead*

The ending of the book sees Ullman potentially reunited with his daughter. Or does it? I’ve read the book I think six times now, and I always come away thinking there’s three possible endings. I know the ‘vague endings’ can be hit or miss with readers, I personally love them and how it leaves it open to reader interpretation. But one of these endings could be taken literally and you could say that Ullman is reunited with his daughter.

If so, that would be the outlier of Andrew Pyper’s exploration of the idea you can’t go back where you came from.

In his debut, ‘Lost Girl,’ we follow Bartholomew Crane, drug-crazed lawyer who is hired to defend a high school teacher in Northern Ontario accused of killing two of his students. Within the book we learn of Crane’s connection to the place, which ties into the prologue and the horrible events that open the story. Andrew lays down the ground work for my hypothesis – that his books revolve around characters longing for what they used to have, what they can never have again.

This rings true for me.

I’ve discussed in depth before where I grew up.

Burton, BC, Canada, population 75-100 depending on year and time of year. 30 minutes from Nakusp, population roughly 3,000. I grew up in a modest home, nestled up against the base of a mountain. Our backyard was fruit trees, garden and the forest. We had all manner of animals that travelled through; bears, cougar, moose, elk, deer, coyotes etc. It set the stage for a lot of my own writing.

There was my mom and my dad and my three sisters; all three younger than me. I have two older half-sisters but they never lived with us and I wasn’t close to them at all while growing up. For most aspects – I was an only child. One that spent hours by them self, my mind involved in my make-believe stories and sports leagues. On the surface it was an idyllic upbringing. But with it there was isolation, aloneness, remoteness and a deep seeded belief that the bigger world beyond was a large, scary place. I hold Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal to mythical standards in my mind. These were places where a million people lived and Hockey Night in Canada was played. Places where movies and tv shows were filmed, rock concerts were performed and the rich and famous lived. I see the world beyond Canada differently, but Canada and the large Canadian cities hold a special sort of emotional cognition that I carry even to this day.

That’s a long winded way of me saying – I now live in a big city – Edmonton surpassing a million residents, but I still consider myself that little boy. That kid who had ‘friends’ and played some sports – those that were available – but who didn’t believe he’d ever really amount to anything. Who didn’t think his life would entail more than becoming a logger and living there forever. Now, as someone who is successful in his career and has a family and lives in the City of Champions, I often picture myself throwing a tennis ball as hard as I could at the house, pretending to be a member of the 1993 Toronto Blue Jays.

From there, Andrew brought us to the dense jungles in the Amazon rainforest in ‘The Trade Mission.’ This one is a departure from the rest of his work in that it is more of an action/adventure/survival story. But we do get glimpses of where he’ll be going next. For me, this one seemed to be an exercise in Andrew writing a novel that ticked off some internal boxes but also a novel that ticked off some publisher boxes. This is my own meandering thoughts of course, take it with a grain of salt.

But, it’s ‘The Trade Missions’ usage of setting, coupled with how Andrew used environment in ‘Lost Girls’ that brings us to his Canadian Landscape Magnum Opus ‘The Wildfire Season.’ This is also a return to the narrative plotting of ‘you can’t always go back.’ We follow Miles McEwan, a man burned by real life events as well as personal life decisions who flees Ontario to the remote Yukon. This novel is a 50/50 split between the harsh reality of what the Canadian Wilderness can do, but also a relationship drama where we see how characters get battered and beaten by what is and what was.

Of all of his novels, ‘The Wildfire Season’ is the most thematically closest to grasping what it feels like to be in the clutches of depression. Miles is scarred, broken and ashamed. On one hand he is revered and on the other hand looked at with hurt and suspicion. The landscape journey in this story is paramount to the atmospheric hold the prose has on the reader. Not only did it make me edgy and nervous, but it brought me back to all those times I was hunting with my dad or grandpa. Of the subtle change in the way the woods smell when the leaves begin to turn colors and how a crisp bite returns when the snow goes away and winter rot is exposed.

Miles journey is another stepping stone, and we see that, with the full bore panic of Patrick Rush in 2008’s masterpiece, ‘The Killing Circle.’ This one is a precursor to ‘The Demonologist’ in that we get a man searching desperately for his child – in this case it’s his son. The reality here is that Pyper uses Toronto as a backdrop to fuel this panic and we see a man ripped to his core as he wishes and practically begs to be able to just go back, to return to how things were – before. It’s the idea of ‘before’ that constantly rears its head up and this one is no different. Rush wants his wife back, his life back and his son firmly in his arms.

At the very beginning of this post, I shared a quote. It’s actually something I also put on Twitter. It’s also partly what inspired me to write this ‘article.’ Life, as we all know, is a source of constant upheaval. I’ve spoken in the past about how Andrew’s books have been there for me during some high highs and some low lows. Back in June of this year (2022), my wife’s sister, Whitney, took her own life, leaving behind a young son and daughter. It was only a week before the two-year anniversary of their father, Paul, suddenly passing away.

I often think of ‘what if’s.’ What if I had grown up in a bigger city? Maybe I would’ve made the NHL or MLB like I always dreamed I would’ve. What if I had grown up in a bigger city? Perhaps then, I wouldn’t have met the love of my life and my son wouldn’t be here? That quote from ‘Oracle’ also sent me down the grief rabbit hole (and I’ll discuss Pyper’s grief subplots shortly) thinking about how Paul is now missing so much of our life and my son’s life. He was over the moon to have a grandson. He couldn’t believe it. Amanda and I were told long ago that we most likely couldn’t have kids. So, we got a dog. And Paul loved OJ as though he was his grandson and OJ loved him back just as much. And, now, my thoughts drifted to Whitney and thinking of all the moments she’ll miss. Grief and heartache are tough to overcome and when we get sad and down and depressed, we revert to the central theme that I’ve been focusing on here – before.

‘Why can’t we go back to how things were before?’

His next novel really dove into that idea. 2011’s ‘The Guardians’ follows a group of friends in a small Canadian town. They’ve grown up, but remain haunted by the events that happened all those years ago. When one of them dies, they reunite and try to get to the bottom of why things happened and what they can do to overcome it. Much like the characters featured within, I find myself thinking back to childhood and those friends I had back then. The ones you drift away from, the ones who just stopped talking to you one day and you’ve never spoken with since. Youth is a complicated mess, one that I’m having to retread slowly as my son begins Grade 1 and starts the formative development of friendships. Andrew’s examination of what makes friends friends and how some remain friends and others don’t, is a fascinating journey. It’s also within his overall storytelling ARC focusing on grief and loss.

This continues through into 2013’s ‘The Demonologist,’ which I’ve discussed and into the bleak and despondent depths of 2015’s ‘The Damned.’ Within this novel we are introduced to Danny Orchard, best-selling writer who just-so-happens to have survived a fire that claimed the life of his twin sister, Ash. His near-death experience has unlocked something, that allows the pull of ‘over there’ to dig its hooks in and transport him to an upside down version of his real life. Andrew pulls no punches here and within the novel he continually bludgeons the reader with different scenes where grief overrides the senses. A specific moment with Danny and his mother in a bathtub is haunting and so, so very powerful and one I’ll not soon forget.

‘The Damned’ once again paired a family member having struggled with the loss of a family member. This aspect carries on, into 2017’s ‘The Only Child.’ Pairing ‘The Demonologist’s’ world-wide quest with ‘The Killing Circle’s’ hunt for the main suspect, we follow Lily, Forensic Psychiatrist, who was rescued many years ago from a remote, northern Canadian Town. She’s forged a life in New York, but when a strange patient arrives, she is sucked into a cat-and-mouse game which leads to her discovering things about her and her past.

Grief and a longing to return to her youth is paramount throughout and we get little snippets of her life before the incident that are filled with an atmosphere akin to longing for the past.

Now, as I sit here working on this piece, I wonder if some of this is triggered by my own grief? Or a failure to process it? Books are a unique artistic endeavor, much like song lyrics, where even when the storyline follows a specific arc, it can still resonate with the reader/listener in a specific manner. Allegory and metaphor and vagueness all work to create an illusion of what the reader ingests and what the mind expels.

We leave the world-sprawling ways of ‘The Only Child’ and arrive in the Pacific Northwest with 2019’s ‘The Homecoming.’ And what a perfect title and central idea in relation to my ramblings within this feature. What Andrew attempts (and delivers) with ‘The Homecoming’ is tailormade for film or television. We follow the Quinlan family, whisked away following the death of their father, to a sprawling mansion. It’s a surprise to them, that he had this mansion without them knowing and a surprise to them that he is worth millions of dollars. All they need to do is remain there for a month and they get to split the inheritance. But not all is what it seems and layers get unraveled and secrets revealed.

This might be the most on the nose novel Pyper has released regarding familial longing and unspoken tension. Each character is flawed, each member of the Quinlan family has their own issues and secrets withheld, but isn’t that like all of us? Isn’t that how it is at family reunions and celebrations of life’s and birthdays and holidays? When you smile and give your uncle a hug even though he posted something grotesque on Facebook a month ago? Or when you ask how life is with your cousin, even though they got in their trucks and honked the horn for freedom? (Caveating this here – these are just examples, not specifically directed to any of my actual family members.) Andrew brings these people to life with such candor that you know these characters within minutes.

The book ends with the reader learning the horrible truth and the awful reality of the family patriarch’s deception. It sets his long-time readers up with an open-ended question; where next? After the heartache he’d been delivering, at this stage now in his twenty year career, how could we possible go any darker and more despondent?

I’ll admit – I’m not a huge historical horror guy. Katsu – great. She’s a stunning writer. But I definitely don’t seek it as a standard reading detour for me. Which eases into where Andrew took us next. When it was announced, I was tentatively excited. On one hand, it was a new Pyper book. On the other hand, I’m not overly keen on the White House and US politics stuff. But reading the synopsis had me hooked and I couldn’t wait to see what was delivered.

So, in 2020, we got ‘The Residence,’ and with this novel – his most recent official physical release (until the next which I’ll touch on in a minute) – Andrew went full on with the ‘longing for the before’ narrative. Franklin and Jane Pierce’s son, Bennie, dies in a tragic train crash shortly before Franklin becomes President. Jane is devastated and spends her time in the White House searching for a way to bring Bennie back, to talk to him once again. It is the culmination of all of his prior work, or stacking the bricks one-by-one to crush the reader as we learn about a mother’s heartbreak and grief and how she struggles to find any meaning to go on. While not officially ‘post-partum,’ in essence it is. A mother losing her child, especially one so young, would be a pain that would sear into someone’s soul.

When my son was born, he had extreme complications, and while I won’t go too far into it right now, I was told that they had lost him. My wife as well. I set down my copy of ‘The Wildfire Season’ (how’s that for coincidence, eh?) and followed their instructions about what I needed to do and what forms needed to be completed. I was numb and floating and panicked and collapsing. I imagine some similar things needed to be done after Bennie passed away, but I was fortunate to have a very different outcome. Jane was not, and Andrew brings her sorrow to such a level that it’s surprising the pages didn’t drip with tears.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, for starters, it brings us back around to 2021’s ‘Oracle,’ and to a degree 2022’s ‘Oracle 2: The Dreamland Murders.’ Within both, Andrew utilizes Nate Russo’s upbringing and trauma as a leaping off point to connecting with those lost and those searching. It creates a chasm of emotional pain that awaits the reader/listener and when they get too close to the edge, we get pushed over, landing heart-first into the horror and sorrow that cushions our fall.

If you’re involved in the Indie Horror Community, you’ll see many writers (me included) who release several releases a year. It’s the nature of the beast when you’re your own publisher. Andrew is in a different category altogether – a traditionally published, dark fiction writer. While it feels like forever since we’ve had a new Pyper book, the reality is, we’ve had five projects in the last five years, and a sixth if you include the docu-drama that was made about the research into writing ‘The Residence.’

In an interview I did with Andrew a number of months again, he did mention that he had something in the works that was wilderness/forest related. What the story is based around and when will it arrive? Right now that’s unknown. We’ll be patiently waiting. I’m writing this in the week leading up to when I had expected to be going to Toronto and would’ve been fortunate enough to finally meet Andrew in person and visit with him. I was going to do my best to try and get some details out of him, but alas, the work event was cancelled and I’m left with the sadness of what could’ve been.

Much like what prompted this long-worded love-letter to Andrew’s grief encrusted bibliography. His work runs the gauntlet of devastation and yet, always, at its core – throughout each and every novel/release – we get that haunting aspect of characters longing to go back to where they came from and scenarios around despair and all-encompassing sorrow.

I’ve long yelled into the void about my love of his work and I’ve long stressed how much his work has connected with me and I think, especially as I age and grow even more introspective, I see the threads of the life I wonder about and how this connects with his work and what his characters go through.

I think I’ll finish with this.

My life is all the better for where I am and the person I’ve become. I have good days and bad days. But I try my best to find small nuggets of sunshine, no matter how thick the clouds. Some of you might be reading this, or even seeing this, and rolling your eyes and shaking your heads. ‘Oh, look, Steve’s talking about Andrew Pyper again.’ Hey, fair. But for me, it’s more than just books. It’s more than just me loving an author’s work. His novels have always been there and continue to be there and somedays, they’re the little glimmer of sun within the clouds.

I may never be able to return to how things were when I was a child. Of riding my bike without a care in the world through the cut-through trail on my way to the Watson’s house, or heading to the boat launch with a stack of CD’s and a six-disc changer, knowing I’d be zapping the batteries while Simon and I lounged around for the entire day, only returning home when it was so dark we were scared a bear would eat us. But I can return to the world’s Andrew’s created. Reconnect with these characters and use their lessons and their experience to dampen my own grief.

We’ve all lost loved ones, those who we wish beyond anything that they were still here for milestones and special occasions. Those we think about fondly and wonder just what their lives would be like if they were still here.

The only author I’ve read who accurately depicts that and delivers the literary prose to describe it perfectly is Andrew Pyper. His work seeks to answer the ‘why’ of how come we can never go back? How come things can never be the same? And what would’ve been, had things happened differently.

As always, I’ll await word on a new Pyper book and I thank Andrew for his kindness and friendship.

We are broken, but we can be fixed.

We may never be able to go back, but we can always revisit.

Such is true for good books and old memories.

If you’d like to discover Andrew’s work you can find more here;

Website: http://www.andrewpyper.com

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Pyper/e/B001HD0266/

Archive: theandrewpyperarchives.ca

3Q’s – Stephanie Wytovich writes her poems in the dark!

3Q2

Yes, yes, that headline was an attempt at a Corey Hart pun… and I think I NAILED IT!!! Or failed.

Either way – today’s guest is one I think a lot of folks will be excited to read about. Stephanie Wytovich is a truly accomplished author and also one of the nicest folks out there. I was super honored when she agreed to do one of these ridiculous features!

So, please do welcome Stephanie!

Stephanie Wytovich

Steve: What does your writing time look like? Do you try to write at the same time each day? Do you have a word count you attempt to hit?

Stephanie: My writing time is unstructured and chaos. Pure, absolute chaos. When I started out a decade or so ago, I was under the impression that you had to write every day, and so I tried that and I shot for a certain word count and everything and that was manageable because I was young and in graduate school and didn’t really have a whole lot of responsibility outside of myself. Plus, it kept me on a schedule, which is something I still find myself grasping for now and again. But! Fast forward to today when I have a house, a husband, a FT job, freelance responsibilities, two dogs, and a daughter under a year old, and well…every day when we all go to bed alive, clean, fed, and relatively happy is a win for me. So what does that mean for my writing? Honestly, it means I write when I can fit it in and when I feel energized to do so.

A couple years ago, I suffered from creative burnout. Bad. Writing stopped being fun for me and I promised myself that if that ever happened that I’d take a step back and evaluate myself and my goals. After doing that, I realized I wanted to keep writing—that I missed writing and that it was central to my identity as a person—but my approach to it had to change. I’m a lot kinder to myself these days. If I’m tired, I sleep rather than pulling all-nighters. If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t; no more forcing myself in the chair and losing nights and only having a couple hundred words to show for it. I no longer try to hit every submission opening under the sun. I pick and choose my projects carefully and with respect for myself as a person, not only as a writer. I know some of this all probably sounds counterintuitive to the question, especially because I do produce on a fairly steady and regular basis, but I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not as strict about it as I used to be. I try to find quiet moments in my day—when my daughter goes to sleep at night, early in the morning before everyone gets up, etc.—and I use those moments to write, edit, and brainstorm. Sometimes I take myself out on writing dates where I’ll sit in a coffee shop, have my morning coffee, and get some work done. Other times when I’m on deadline, I chat with my family and make sure that I have specific time blocks to create and work where I won’t be disturbed.

Something I do every day though without question is read. I read poetry, memoir, fiction, and true crime. I read nonfiction and books about business and PR and marketing. I subscribe to Poets and Writers, The Writer Magazine, Rue Morgue and Fangoria. I love reading what my peers have to say on LitHub, Medium, and LitReactor, and I often seek out stories and essays in Nightmare, The Dark, Vasterian, and Tor. Audiobooks have made it infinitely easier to consume stories and information, and I also listen to a bunch of podcasts, too, about books, horror, film, etc. I attribute this all to my writing process and my ability to do research as an instructor and a creative. Sometimes writing is actually not writing. Yes, you need to put your butt in the chair and produce words but thinking critically and asking questions and knowing how to seek answers and subvert what’s been done before is important, too.

Steve: If you could write a story for another author’s fictional world/series, which would it be and why?

Stephanie: This is a tough question, so I’m going to go with the first world that popped into my head, which is the Hellraiser universe (Clive Barker, The Hellbound Heart). Barker was a huge inspiration for me when I started writing, and his monsters and creatures and creations, to this day, have such a hold on my heart. If I could play with the cenobites and open the box, ah, that would be a dream—er, nightmare!—of the best kind. A close second would be Silent Hill.

Steve: Tell me about your newest release (novel/story/poem/novella) and why someone should read it!

Stephanie: I have some exciting stuff on the books for this year:

  • My poem “Such Secrets, These Stones” will be published in Daughter of Sarpedon, a Medusa-themed anthology forthcoming from Brigids Gate Press.
  • My poem “Dinner with Baba Yaga” will be included alongside my short story “A Trail of Feathers, a Trail of Blood” in the upcoming Black Spot Books anthology, Into the Forest, a collection of Baba Yaga tales.
  • Lastly, my book Writing Poetry in the Dark will be out on October 18. Writing Poetry in the Darkis a craft book for speculative poets, by speculative poets, with a foreword by one of the genre’s most celebrated authors and creator of the Writing in the Dark brand, Tim Waggoner. This book meditates on craft, genre, style, and form as acclaimed SF/F/H poets come together to talk about their process, outlook, and approach to writing and incorporating the speculative into their poems.

Steve: Bonus Question! Do you have a cherished book?

Stephanie: Yes! We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. It’s my favorite book and it’s my comfort read. I reach for it often and I have several copies of it and have it on audio.

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Fantastic! Thank you so much for doing this, Stephanie!

To find more of her work, please do check out the links!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-M-Wytovich/e/B00DTKIN2K

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SWytovich

Website: https://www.stephaniemwytovich.com/