Book Review – Fear of the Dark by Leigh Grissom

There’s a certain joy to a well-crafted short story. It takes a deft hand to tell a tale in only a handful of pages without seeming like you’re hustling too much. Doubly so with horror tales. While it’s certainly possible to follow the route of “She went to sleep and found the monsters were dead and they ate her. The end” that doesn’t leave much satisfaction behind. Unless you’re into bed monsters eating little girls. In which case, you might want to talk to someone because that’s a pretty weird fetish. Not that I’m kink-shaming, mind you, just saying. It’s weird.

Horror, as a genre, is extremely broad. Gore, ghosts, goblins gobbling goobers, gabby gadabouts getting grabbed, galas going gaga. As long as it starts with ‘G’, you’re usually all good. The slow burn psychological stuff is, IMHO, the hardest to pull off in a short story and that’s where Leigh Grissom’s Fear of the Dark excels. There isn’t much in the way of monsters eating little girls, so you’ll have to fulfill your weird kinks somewhere else. What is there, is a short collection of unsettling stories. These aren’t pull your hair out and start praising the Elder Gods in the desperate hope that the teeth won’t come for you (they will, but that’s another story). These are the kinds of stories that leave you feeling vaguely paranoid and generally worried. Slow, creeping kinds of things that sneak up on you when you look in the mirror or trek out to the witch’s cabin for poker and California cheeseburgers. (Simpsons reference. Look it up.)

At about 45 pages or so, Fear of the Dark is a quick read. Perfect for those nights when you’re already tired but want to have messed up dreams.

Want to be unnerved, but don’t have much time?
Take a quick journey through three tales that will make you wonder, make you shiver, and make you avoid your own reflection. Buckle up and hang on as Leigh Grissom, author of The Eden Evolution Series, takes a side trip through the darker parts of her mind in her triumphant return to writing short stories.

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Book Review – We Are All Monsters by Cassie Carnage

Twitter is a vast wasteland filled with all manner of bad hombres. Some would say build a wall around it and be done with the problem, but I say there are gems out there just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Cassie Carnage’s collection of horror shorts We Are All Monsters.

Now, in case you hadn’t guessed by her name and the title of the book, this isn’t romance or anything feel-good. It’s good, old-fashioned horror with monsters and all manner of bad things happening to otherwise decent folk. In other words, We Are All Monsters is great way to spend a couple hours letting your dark side rise up and enjoy life for a while.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a horror fan. I’ve certainly enjoyed the horror books I’ve read in the past, but I usually don’t go out of my way to seek them out. This one popped up in my Twitter feed as being on sale and it looked interesting enough that I grabbed a copy. While I wouldn’t say any of them outright scared me (don’t worry, not much does), there were a couple that left a hint of that tingle of nervousness. In my world, that’s a win.

In any collection of short stories, you can’t really expect them to all be winners. Not that any of the stories in We Are All Monsters are necessarily bad, it’s just that a couple of them rise above the rest. Personally, and this is just my opinion, The Dying Light was a great tale that ends with such a twist it makes you wonder if it couldn’t be expanded into a full-length novel. Black Hearts and Bloodied Lips could also set the stage for a much larger world. Walpurgisnacht had a great concept, too.

All in all, an entertaining read. If you’re into horror – and this isn’t overly gruesome horror – it’s worth a check.

And, in case you’re wondering if those Twitter plug work; well, it would appear they sometimes do.

WE ARE ALL MONSTERS by Cassie Carnage contains 10 original stories from a unique new voice in horror, plus a bonus preview chapter of the weird west monster hunter book THE THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT, which introduces you to their dark, corrupted world of gun slinging magicians.

Horror Stories Include:

What the swamp takes, she also gives back.

Cancer comes back to collect a widowed husband.

What would you do if you could see ghosts, and your best friend dies?

DROSOPHILA (a horror poem)
Are there fruit flies everywhere, or only in the demented mind of Malachi?

Two kids hear an urban legend about a monster in an abandoned copper mine. When they break into the mine, they accidentally wake it up.

Sometimes, it’s not your imagination. Sometimes, there really is something inside your water heater…

Two monster hunters discover unexpected package while investigating a nest of vampires.

A homeless preacher finds a way to feed the starving people of his flock. But not all is what it seems, as the magical golden box that leaves a feast each night only does so after a human sacrifice.

A mummified saint’s body, a witch, and a terrible curse.

Three college guys go camping during a full moon and discover that one of them is not quite human anymore.

A psychic swordsman and a con man with an incessantly itching wound that won’t heal discover that their brother-at-arms is missing.

If you like Tales from the Crypt, Clive Barker, Stephen King or Anne Rice, you will love WE ARE ALL MONSTERS.

Get your copy here

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Check out her website

Book Review – Smoke and Mirrors by Tom Benson

I like short stories. Honestly, I always have. I guess it stems from reading shorts in various sci-fi magazines when I was growing up. Or perhaps it’s just because I’m not the most patient person in the world. At any rate, while I enjoy a novel I can sink my teeth into, a collection of short stories can be a blast to read.

I’m not sure if it’s a British convention or what, but the shorts I’ve read from British authors tend to be shorter than their American counterparts. Personally, I follow the US convention of fairly lengthy short stories when I write, but Benson follows the British convention which means some of these short stories are really short.

And yet, even given the paucity of words in a given story, Benson manages to convey a complete tale in a tiny amount of time. There are some in here that could be longer, but he manages to get his point across – oftentimes violently – in a concise manner.

Benson doesn’t shy away from action or violence. Being a former member of British military not only means he’s quite capable of dealing with the seamier side of life, but gives him an insight into detail most of us aren’t privy of. The stories in Smoke and Mirrors don’t always portray the best in people, but they portray what they find accurately and unflinchingly. From the mother who executes her son’s kidnappers to the imprisoned man who kills his captors without even realizing what they are, Benson delves deep into a dangerous psyche and wallows in the blood and madness.

Seriously, how can you not appreciate that?

These stories aren’t for the faint of heart. If you get the vapors thinking about bad things happening, this isn’t the collection for you. But if you like quick peeks into the dark underbelly of the world, Tom Benson has you covered in Smoke and Mirrors.

And for only $1.99, you really can’t go wrong.


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Book Review – Shades of Crime by Barbara Fagan Speake

The full title is Shades of Crime: Dark & Light Collected Short Stories and Flash Fiction, which is a bit long for a blog header, so please forgive me for shortening it.

This collection of short stories and flash fiction deals with darker and lighter shades of crime – from murder to deception. A particular feature is a section of 99 word stories. Various themes are explored: revenge, bereavement, relationships, motivation and control.


I have to admit, I’ve always been a fan of short stories. Not everything needs to be an epic tale of good vs evil; sometimes all you need is the little snapshot in time where something happened. People will sometimes say a particular story could easily be extended to a full-length novel, but why? Why does a story have to be novel? Sure, a novel takes a lot more effort to produce and allows readers to get closer to the characters. And that’s usually a good thing, but sometimes you want a handful of M&Ms instead of entire cake. Delightfully criminal M&Ms.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cake, but I also enjoy M&Ms, so saying Shades of Crime is like a handful of M&Ms is actually a good thing. It’s difficult to point at any given story in here and say, “This is the best M&M,” because, like M&Ms, they’re all good. The reader in me liked the longer stories, but the writer in me really appreciated the collection of 99-word stories. Telling a tale, however simple, in 99 words takes effort and a lot of good word choice.

All the tales revolve around crime and Speake doesn’t pull punches on any of them. They’re not violent or gory, but some can be pretty disturbing. Don’t shy away because of that. Embrace it. It’s crime fiction; when it’s done right it’s not supposed to be pretty or easy to swallow.

Shades of Crime is an excellent read and, like a short story collections, a great introduction to a writer. Speake has plenty of other full-length books that I’m now looking forward to reading.

Get a copy here

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Book Review – The Welcome by Tom Benson et al

For starters, the full title of the Book is The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories but it just looked awkward sitting up there taking up all the space. It’s also not just Tom Benson’s work, although he was the primary author of the collection. Other writers contributed stories to The Welcome as well:

  • AA Jankiewicz
  • Pam Kesterson
  • Paul A Ruddock
  • Val Tobin
  • WK Tucker

So, that settled, let’s tuck in to the book. In case you hadn’t guess, this is a collection of science fiction stories that run the gamut from horror to hope to self-sacrifice and everything in between. It’s what I like to refer to as a smorgasbord of awesome. Tom even added a few bonus stories from his other collections including a bit of sci-fi erotica.

Like all good science fiction, the stories focus on the human elements of the narrative and use the sci-fi elements as backdrop. This kind of sci-fi gives writers whole new worlds to populate and cuts the restraining orders of reality to ribbons. Always, though, the stories come back to the people that populate those worlds and how they react to the adversity of being stuck on strange planets, eaten by blobs, put in a position where they have to sacrifice themselves to save others, or the woman who comes across a very special man.

Sometimes operatic, sometimes intimate, sometimes intimate in that way, The Welcome and Other Sci-Fi Stories provides a tasty treat of delightful morsels of science fiction. And, at only $1.99 it’s a steal.


Get your copy here

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Links for the other authors in the anthology


The Blurbery, Part II

I know I said the next post would be about wuxia, but time makes fools of us all, right? The reason is I had something come up that needed dealing with quickly and the long reason is … well, it’s pretty much the same reason: something came up. See how I used a colon there? That makes it a longer reason.

As I am wont to do, I leapt into action to meet the problem head-on.


Some people think one gun is enough. Those people are wrong.

Back in April of 2015 I wrote a post on writing blurbs. Wrote about writing descriptions about other writing. Whoa. Very meta of me. At the time the blurbs for Henchmen and Arise were basically crap and I decided it was high time I figured out how to do it correctly. The Internet, being the wonderful place that it is, had a wealth of information about writing blurbs so after tearing myself away from porn and cat videos I did some research and figured out how to write a decent blurb.

Sales didn’t exactly skyrocket but they got better and I felt better so everything was better.

Well, it was anyway.

Well, it was anyway.

Then I finished The Clock Man and was faced with a whole new problem. Like the doof I am sometimes, I decided to power through without thinking it all the way through. See, the thing is, writing a blurb for a novel that tells exactly one story turns out to be a wee bit different from writing a blurb for a book with a bunch of stories.

Here’s the original blurb for The Clock Man:

“Enter worlds of magic and dragons, martial arts and mayhem

A woman waits in a plain white room, wondering why she’s there and what’s about to happen.
A man and his talking gun hunt the bogeyman.
A family finds its house is haunted and sets out to trap the ghosts, but what if the ghosts aren’t the real problem?
Far underneath a city, the figure of a man rests. For decades he’s remained perfectly motionless. Last night he moved.
In a world of magic, martial arts, and dragons, one man controls the flow of magic. Now his daughter wants him dead.
Zapp Blander always dreamed of being a hero. When a man named Jack shows up, Zapp might just get his chance.
She was designed to choose which slain warriors got to go to Valhalla, but Kara has developed her own ideas.
The bogeyman of New Mexico is beaten and fed what should be a simple task: Kill the boy.”


Wonderful, yes?

In a fit of mediocrity last night I swapped a couple stories around and set about rewriting the blurb. This is what I came up with.

Felix Crow is a legend in his own mind, a fallen cop in a dangerous city full of thugs and magic. He’s become a kind of alcholic fixer of problems, a man both haunted by his own past failures and simultaneously okay with them. After waking up in a dumpster one morning, head splitting and covered with lo mein noodles, Felix gets the worst opportunity of a lifetime. All he has to do is kill the most important person in the world.
In a world filled with martial arts, mayhem, magic, and the odd dragon, Crow will find himself in the fight of his life against the mysterious Clock Man.

Zapp Blander dreams of a better life, a life filled with action and adventure the likes of which would make Doc Savage proud. He soon finds himself in the presence of a strange man with a fantastic car. Zapp is given a choice: stay and clean up brains, or risk his life in pursuit of a magical thing that could shift the balance of the universe.

Wilford Saxton finds himself in the posession of a gun that can talk to his mind. His job is gone, his life as he knew it is over, and his body is forever changed. The gun drags him to a small town in New Mexico where he’ll get a chance at redemption. All he has to do to rebuild his life is learn how to work with gun, survive Cuba, New Mexico, and hunt down the bogeyman.

A scream pierces the night. Parents stumble downstairs to find their child shaking and pointing down a dark hallway, certain he saw a pair of ghosts. At first the child’s parents are dismissive until they meet the ghosts themselves. Desperate to remove a perceived threat, the family tries to find a way to trap the spirits. But a pair of ghosts might not be the worst thing that can happen.

For decades the body of a man has lain dormant and unchanging on a stone altar far underneath the city. He’s been watched and monitored, secrets slowly stolen from his body and turned into weapons. The whole time the man’s body has been completely still. Last night a finger twitched, then the shadows started moving. The people studying the body don’t realize it, but the God of Dreams is about to wake up. And he is not happy.

Kathryn Devereaux got a message at work to show up to a particular room at a particular time with an adominition to not be late. Now she sits in a plain white room where time doesn’t work like it’s supposed to and wonders what’s going on. Her job – designing demons – was strange enough, but the room is in a whole other league. When a man with a sheaf of papers shows up and starts asking questions her day gets a whole lot stranger.

Valkyries were designed to choose warriors for the final battle. They were strong, excellent fighters, and – above all – obedient. All except for Kara who has her own ideas about how to choose the dead.

Coco was the bane of Northern New Mexico, a bogeyman who was famous for devouring children. He stalked the night like he owned it, flitting from place to place and following the orders of his mysterious masters to kill and enact vengeance. But even the greatest of monsters sometimes come across something even more frightening than themselves. Now Coco has a new task – something right up his alley. All he has to do is kill a child, but that task proves more difficult than it should be.


Fortunately, the good folks at IASD set me straight (much thanks to S.K. Sylva, RA, Val, Nico, and Ian) and reminded me that a blurb doesn’t need to be huge. In fact, anything too long will just get overlooked.

I was looking at a story collection blurb as basically nothing more than a composite novel blurb. Therefore, it seemed logical to me to write mini-blurbs for each story. The individual blurbs are okay, not great, but okay. The problem is there’s eight of them. And, contrary to popular belief is eight is not enough; it’s actually too damned much.

So, I picked a couple authors I know had written short story collections – Stephen King and Harlan Ellison – and checked out what kind of blurbs their professional blurbers had come up with.

For Harlan Ellison’s The Top of the Volcano

”Only connect,” E.M. Forster famously said, and Harlan Ellison was canny enough to make that the lifeblood of his achievement from the get-go.

New, fresh and different is tricky in the storytelling business, as rare as diamonds, but, as a born storyteller, Harlan made story brave, daring, surprising again, brought an edge of the gritty and the strange, the erudite and the street-smart, found ways to make words truly come alive again in an over-worded world.

From the watershed of the ’50s and ’60s when the world found its dynamic new identity, to a self-imitating, sadly all too derivative present, he has kept storytelling cool and hip, exhilarating, unexpected yet always vital, able to get under your skin and change your life.

And now we have it. ”The Top of the Volcano” is the collection we hoped would come along eventually, twenty-three of Harlan’s very best stories, award-winners every one, brought together in a single volume at last. There s the unforgettable power of ”’Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman,” ”The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” and ”Mefisto in Onyx,” the heart-rending pathos of ”Jeffty Is Five” and ”Paladin of the Lost Hour,” the chilling terror of ”I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” the ingenuity and startling intimacy of ”Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans…”

These stories are full of the light and life of someone with things worth saying and the skills to do it, presented in the book we had to have–not just a Best-of (though given what’s on offer it may just fall out that way) but in one easy-to-grab volume perfect for newbies, long-time fans and seasoned professionals alike to remind them just how it can be done.”

Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

“A master storyteller at his best—the O. Henry Prize winner Stephen King delivers a generous collection of stories, several of them brand-new, featuring revelatory autobiographical comments on when, why, and how he came to write (or rewrite) each story.

Since his first collection, Nightshift, published thirty-five years ago, Stephen King has dazzled readers with his genius as a writer of short fiction. In this new collection he assembles, for the first time, recent stories that have never been published in a book. He introduces each with a passage about its origins or his motivations for writing it.

There are thrilling connections between stories; themes of morality, the afterlife, guilt, what we would do differently if we could see into the future or correct the mistakes of the past. “Afterlife” is about a man who died of colon cancer and keeps reliving the same life, repeating his mistakes over and over again. Several stories feature characters at the end of life, revisiting their crimes and misdemeanors. Other stories address what happens when someone discovers that he has supernatural powers—the columnist who kills people by writing their obituaries in “Obits;” the old judge in “The Dune” who, as a boy, canoed to a deserted island and saw names written in the sand, the names of people who then died in freak accidents. In “Morality,” King looks at how a marriage and two lives fall apart after the wife and husband enter into what seems, at first, a devil’s pact they can win.

Magnificent, eerie, utterly compelling, these stories comprise one of King’s finest gifts to his constant reader—“I made them especially for you,” says King. “Feel free to examine them, but please be careful. The best of them have teeth.”

Stephen King’s Night Shift

“More than twenty-five stories of horror and nightmarish fantasy transform everyday situations into experiences of compelling terror in the worlds of the living, the dying, and the nonliving.”

I particularly loved the one for Night Shift: short and to the point. But, let’s face it, this is Stephen King we’re talking about so the blurb could have been nothing more than “King’s newest collection. Buy it” and it would have sold like hotcakes.


A few examples do not research make, though. I started searching for more pointers. There are a ton of resources for a single novel blurb, but resources for  story collections seem a bit rarer. I did find a few, including one from Tam Francis that had some interesting pointers and another from Owen Adams that was a little lighter on the details but had some useful pointers, especially about how it’s perfectly okay to talk yourself up on your Amazon author page. I intend to add the phrase “the laws of physics do not apply to Eric Lahti” on mine.

Booksoarus had some good pointers, too. In the final analysis, though, it doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot of consensus about how to handle collections of stories. There seem to be two major fields of thought on the subject: highlight each story with a mini blurb or write a paragraph that describes the theme and the feeling of the book. As someone else said “The story is the roller-coaster while the novel is the theme park.”

Take that a step further and you could argue that the story is still the roller-coaster while the collection of stories is the theme park. Maybe that’s not the best analogy in the world, but it works for right now.

The problem is how to get the theme out of a collection of stories. The Clock Man consists of eight stories ranging in length from about 7,000 words to around 32,000 words (I know, 32k is a bit long for a short story, it’s a novella), There’s a hefty degree of interlocking in the stories, especially if you’ve read Henchmen and/or Arise, even if all the stories stand on their own. A common thread is an element of magic and an element of horror. It could also be argued that the stories – as the talented S.K. Holmesley put it –

“…extraordinary stories are a mixture of humorous satire, irony and the macabre, in which the stupidities and hypocrisy of conventional society are viciously pilloried.” – S.K. Holmesley

I like the idea of things being viciously pilloried. In fact, more things need to be viciously pilloried. And put in stocks.

I’d tried the single line approach to each story, but it didn’t do much, so I’ve decided to go for a paragraph approach and highlight the major themes (viciously pillorying things, magic, and horror) and the general feel of the book: somewhat lighthearted but still scary as hell in places.

One thing that really sticks out, though, no matter who you talk to is this: “Take a good deal of time to really perfect the book description”

And that is truth. After the cover, the blurb is your last chance to get someone to read your book. If the cover blows chunks no one but your friends will read it. If the blurb is equally bad, you’re dead in the water.

I used the King and Ellison examples, along with some other theories and some back and forth with Ian D. Moore from IASD and came up with:

Eric Lahti creates eight brand new tales of magic, mystery, horror and just plain mayhem. From the dusty shelves of a forgotten gas station to a graffiti tagged alleyway on another planet come a series of quests, epic battles, and good old fashioned mystery interlaced with the paranormal.

The Clock Man and Other Stories shows the world as seen through the eyes of the bogeyman, a talking gun that knows far too much, and a man eating a fried tarantula. Read it with a friend or read it alone, but be sure to leave a light on.

What do you think?

A picture is worth…

A thousand words, right?  Well, with inflation and whatnot, a picture is worth much less than it used to be.  Back in my day a picture was worth a book, now it’s only a couple hundred words.

I’m doing a bit of experimentation.  Back when I was in college, I was a huge Simpsons fan.  I still like the show, but it’s not quite the same as it was when I was young, footloose, and fancy-free.  Anyway, there was a great episode titled 22 Short Films About Springfield that had, you guessed it, 22 short films.  About Springfield.  If you think about it, the show took some skill to put together.  The average Simpsons episode was right around twenty minutes at the time and that left less than a minute to tell each story.

Gotta be compact with that kind of run time.  In fact, a minute of dialogue amounts to something like a 120-130 words.  For those keeping score at home, that’s about half a page of text.  A two hour movie would have about 15,000 words at that rate.  Compare that to a novel – 40k+ words (Henchmen was about 72k, Arise around 90k) – and you can see just how much information can be packed into a picture.

Since I can’t draw to save my own butt, I write (and weave paracord bracelets, but that’s neither here nor there).  As an experiment, I found some pictures and tried come up with a coherent story in a couple hundred words for each image, just to see if I could make it happen.  What follows are some pictures and some extremely short stories about those pictures.


The very last shot of the RMS Titanic as it steamed away from port in 1911.

“When the captain called for flank speed the shovels dug and the coal flew.  The ship shuddered, a living thing breathing fire and belching smoke like the devil himself.  While the passengers danced and drank and partied the trip away we slung tons of fuel into the belly of the beast and danced our own waltz of sweat and coal dust.

You can keep your fancy ladies with their fineries and petticoats begging to be pulled down.  You can kiss those ruby lips and toast with fine champaign and eat delicate caviar.  I’ll stay down here, in the beating, pulsing heart of my lady fair.  She’s clad in metal skirts but her smooth skin is hot to the touch and I’ll happily spend my life keeping her alive.”

German flying ace, ‘The Red Baron’ and his dog (1916)

Manfred Von Richtofen and his dog.

“I will never completely understand these hairless dogs that insist on standing on both legs and touching things with their strange paws, but this one is my friend and my pack-mate.  He watches out for me, brings me food and water and scratches my ears.  In turn, I keep him safe.  His hearing is pathetic and he snores all night long, but a lame dog is still a pack-mate and we are bound together in the sacred oath of the pack.

Each day he climbs aboard that loud red bird and together they soar and bark, but he always comes back to me.  Some dogs – and I feel sorry for them, the poor wasted mongrels – don’t understand what it means to be part of a pack, even if it is just a pack of two.  Every time he climbs into that bird, I wait patiently for him to come back.  I’ll wait until the end of time, right here, ready to see him and wag.”

Control room of the UB-110 German submarine, 1918

Control room of the UB-110 German submarine, circa 1918

“In school they taught us the theory of the airships, how Professor Von Cleef figured out how to conquer gravity by beating it at its own game.  Turn the wheel the right amount and the ship will go up, turn another wheel too much and the ship will go into a nosedive.  I can barely hear over the noise of the turbines but when the command comes to make the airship go I know exactly what to do.

Most people, they get in front of a wall of wheels and their brains immediately shut down.  Those people never make it through school, they never get to feel the thrum of the engines in the metal floorboards under their feet, they never get to look closely and comprehend the meaning in the apparent chaos.

It’s really like anything else; reduce it to its individual components and an airship control room is just a bunch of singular things.  Spin this, gently twist that, and the ship goes where the captain orders.  She may be in charge of the ship, but I’m the one who makes it go.”

Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, 1901

Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, circa 1901.

“Every time someone says something can’t be done someone else comes along and does it anyway.  Life is like that.  When I was a little girl I was told all kinds of things I could never do but went ahead and did them anyway.  It’s really only the small minds who accede to every little demand that comes their way; the smartest, the ones who drive the world forward, tell the demanders to take a hike.

The plunge over Niagara Falls was the most terrifying, exhilarating thing I’ve ever done.  They told me I was a fool to go over the falls in a barrel.  They said my little woman brain couldn’t possibly understand what I was doing.

Well maybe it’s a little woman brain, better suited for knitting and child-rearing than their advanced male brains, but I’m the one who did it when they were all too scared to even try.”

Here’s a tip for any writers out there, even aspiring ones.  Find a picture, any picture, and tell yourself a story.  It doesn’t have to be long, it doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t even have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It just has to be a story and you’re the one who has to tell it.

Book Review: Not What You Thought by P.A. Ruddock

The full title is Not What You Thought? and Other Surprises… A Collection of Short Stories, but that would have made for a seriously long post title, so I hope Paul forgives me for truncating his title.

Not What You Thought is a collection of stories ranging from flash fiction levels up to more traditional short story levels all tied together in a neat package themed around leading you down one path before revealing you were actually going down a completely different path all along.  It’s like pure evil in book form, something this guy would write.



And it’s absolutely fun.  Every last page.  Every little forgotten alleyway of the mind it takes you down, every dusty path into every run-down shop in your head that turns into a Super Wal-Mart when you least expect it; it’s all fun.  And more than a few caught me by surprise even though I sat down with the full knowledge that Not What You Thought was full of twist endings.  Think of these stories as what M. Night Shyamalan used to write before he completely lost it: Unbreakable (one of my favorite movies), The Sixth Sense, and Signs not the abhorrent The Village or that terrible one where the trees convince people to kill themselves.  In other words, the good twist endings that make you go:



It’s got some great reads and a few real gems in its digital pages.  While I was reading I found myself laughing out loud (a rare thing for me) and pondering the meaning behind the story (a much more common thing for me).  At times Not What You Thought is funny, other times it’s a pensive tale of the afterlife, still other times revolve around a dream or the sudden and inescapable desire everyone has to mess with telemarketers.

The problem with reviewing stories like this is you can’t even really bring up the plots without giving away the whole kit and kaboodle.  Trust me, though, there’s some great stuff in Not What You Thought.  As a bonus, it also has some great guest authors (Tom Benson – Lesley Hayes – Peter Nena – John M.W. Smith – Matthew Williams), who put their own spins on the twisty turny tales.  Read the first one at least, it’s available as part of the Kindle preview, and you’ll be hooked.


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Word counts and what’s on the menu?

“The Clock Man” is a story I started thinking about a while back.  I quickly realized it wasn’t quite long enough to be a full-length novel, but was far too long to be a simple short story.  It’s currently sitting at about 20k words with an estimated 5-10k more to go.  That puts it full-on into novella length but unless you’re Joseph Conrad it’s hard to sell a single novella these days.  Even if you are Joseph Conrad it’s hard to sell a novella these days because people still flee in terror when they see a ghost, even if that ghost is trying to get a story published.  In the erotica world novellas sell like hot cakes, but in the science fiction/urban fantasy world they don’t work so well.  Not that I’m some awesome writer, but when I put up Henchmen: Arise for $0.99 I got a whopping one sale.  That story is being rewritten and repurposed for inclusion in “The Clock Man” so that’s why it’s a bit harder to find these days. The other problem I wound up with is I had all these smaller stories that I had come up with when I was writing Arise that didn’t fit the main narrative but were interesting little tidbits.  For instance: ever wonder what was going through Wilford’s head when he decided to start hunting down Coco?  For that matter, where did Coco itself come from?  The one regular note I get about Henchmen is “what’s up with Eve?”  What’s her back story?  I had originally intended to leave her somewhat nebulous; a force of nature if you will, but she’s an interesting enough character that she needs some further explanation that couldn’t be handled elegantly in either Henchmen or Arise; it would require far too much exposition to make it fit.  Part of her story is here somewhere on this blog, but her story will be expanded and included in “The Clock Man.” As I sat down to work on some of these stories I realized there were little threads that existed between each of them.  The stories all stand on their own but it seemed like there was a link back to something in a previous story or in either Henchmen or Arise.  That got me thinking that maybe the events of Henchmen and Arise were really a part of a larger story.  I guess that’s what happens when you start throwing gods into the mix. Interestingly enough, the very first story I actually sat down and wrote explicitly for inclusion in this collection was based on a dream I had about ghosts in my hallway.  It’s arguably my first true horror story but it has a twist and a half.  Other stories sort of spun up from other ideas I’d had.  Without further ado, here’s a tentative list of what will be in “The Clock Man” when it comes out sometime this summer.

  • The Protectors: Ghosts appear and disappear in a house but that may not be a bad thing.
  • The Hunt: The first adventure of Wilford Saxton and his talking gun.
  • Awaken: Retitled and edited version of the original Henchmen: Awaken.
  • The Clock Man: On Aluna magic is very real and the Clock Man manages the distribution of magic.  But something’s gone wrong and the current Clock Man’s daughter wants Felix Crow to kill her father.
  • Eve: How did a Valkyrie wind up trying to spark the end of the world?
  • Exceeds Expectations: Katherine designs monsters and her skills have attracted some attention.
  • Zona Peligrosa: In a house at the end of the endless highway is something only the innocent can touch.

And there may be one more.  The entire collection will come out to around 90k words, give or take 5k or so.

Clock Man cover design rev 6.  ©2015, Eric Lahti.  Background image © Skypixel

Clock Man cover design rev 6. ©2015, Eric Lahti. Background image © Skypixel


I got to watch Lemmy, the movie about Motörhead lead singer, bassist, and generally awesome guy some time back.  Among other things, it made him seem like a pretty fun guy.  One thing that stands out was Anthrax’s Scott Ian (I think) telling a story about seeing Lemmy wandering around in extremely short shorts.  Ian was doing the normal long short thing, but Lemmy’s were almost non-existent; the kind of thing you’d expect in a porn movie about women in prison but, you know, starring Lemmy.

Which could only make it even more awesome.

So, anyway, Ian asks Lemmy what’s up with his shorts, why are they so short, blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada.  Lemmy’s response?  “I’m comfortable.”

Since I know you’re chomping at the bit for the pic, wait no longer.

It's straight out of 70s porn.  Just needs a good funky soundtrack and some wocka chickas.

It’s straight out of 70s porn. Just needs a good funky soundtrack and some wocka chickas.

This post isn’t about Lemmy’s shorts, though.  I just thought it was a funny story.

Speaking of stories and shorts… (how’s that for a segue?)

No, how's that for a segway?

No, how’s that for a segway?

I’ve always had a love affair with short stories.  The well written ones give you a slice of a story, a tiny little piece of the action.  Mine give you ramblings and probably indigestion.  A good short, though, can be an amazing thing.  I read one a while back – and I’ll be damned if I can remember who wrote it (I want to say either Kevin Hearne or Richard Kadrey, two of my favorites) about a curse that just slowly lost power over time until the demon just drank all the guy’s beer.  It was tiny, a couple pages at the most, but it has stuck in my head ever since.

So, another minor segue here; I toyed with Henchmen for the better part of three years before I put the first words on a page.  When it was done, I was kind of worried that I’d never have another idea.  After all, a few years is a long time to percolate a story and if it took nearly 40 years to come up with the idea and another few to actually start writing it, I’d manage one more story in my life.

Maybe.  If I was lucky.

Fortunately, the idea for Arise came along quickly and while I was writing that one I started getting all kinds of crazy ideas; little stories from the Henchmen universe, brand new stuff, the beginnings of new books and so on.  A lot of them were short shots (not necessarily about short shorts, either), not long enough for a full length novel, but begging to be told nonetheless.

So, I started writing short stories into a collection tentatively called The Clock Man.  Here’s the tentative cover.  (I decided it would be better to start the cover design process earlier than almost immediately before I release the book.)

Clock Man tentative cover.

Clock Man tentative cover.

I also recently came across this link, which was kind of an interesting take on the whole thing.  So, sometime this year (bear in mind I’m kind of lazy) I’ll be publishing a group of short stories including:

  • A Valkyrie going off the rails
  • A pair of ghosts that may or may not be the real bad guys
  • A man with a talking gun hunting the bogeyman
  • The white room and the man in gray
  • The titular clock man
  • A dream cookie

And more.

So, stay tuned.  It may be a crazy ride.