REVIEW OF TOM PICCIRILLI’S SHADOW SEASON

Every March I start saying to my daughters, “This is the last cold day.” It begins early in the month and continues until a week or so after St. Patrick’s Day. Technically the first day of spring is March 20th, but here in Albany, New York, it’s about 30 degrees on March 23rd and it snowed last night. But today really is that last cold day, because tomorrow is in the fifties and the weather will stay over forty during the day until next fall. So that’s how I know today is meant for reviewing my winter re-read of Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli.

For those not familiar, Tom Piccirilli is one of the late 20th – early 21st Century’s finest authors of thrillers, crime noir, and horror. I have featured his work on the blog before, and will again, because I feel his prose occupies a space that is uniquely insightful with regard to the crisscrossing of American cultural forces, and is also so skillfully rendered that it always reads with excellent pacing.

Shadow Season represents one of the novels where Piccirilli has already switched from crime noir-horror mashups to more straight ahead crime noir. It tells the tale of an ex-cop turned private school English teacher who is snowed in at his school’s campus in upstate New York. But Finn contends with something more than an already daunting list of trials from his time in law enforcement. Finn is also blind and must contend with a looming threat to St. Valarian’s Academy for Girls. Walking from building to building while three plus feet of snow is falling is no small feat even for one who is 100% fit—for someone who can’t see yet still detects that there is foul play afoot, it becomes intense and nightmarish.

Piccirilli already knows how to layer an elaborate description into a story without slowing the pace. But in Shadow Season, he delves into descriptions that are at once surreal in their engagement of a blind main character, but also stark in their realistic language so as to keep the mood of the sharp, hard-boiled crime novel alive. Many of the characters he interacts with are given faces from those Finn knew when he could see. This weaves in his backstory as a New York City cop without bogging the narrative down with backstory. It also meshes the present and past, the worldly and the dreamlike, in a web that is clear yet splendorous. When the plot reveals exactly what type of criminal threatens his colleagues and students, the reader has already developed an intimate concern for the Irish expat groundskeeper, the school’s alcoholic head mistress, and the deviant and snide, yet also talented and at times crying-for-help, students. The reader also witnesses a fusion of Finn’s quiet life as a teacher with his volatile past—the love of his life Dani, and Ray, his partner on the police force. Such are brought together in a story that walks the edge of triumph and tragedy, contrasts the animosity and kinship of the urban and the rural, and calls into question which is which.

So when winter comes around again, give Shadow Season a try. It will be there, as will all of this author’s many amazing books and stories, likely to continue to grow in their reputation and importance in the years to come.

 

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. His lives with his family in upstate New York.

Welcome to the Deep Dark Night

So what’s up with the blog? I could come up with excuses—a trail of family health issues, domestic responsibilities, and as always, the rickety old house in need of attention. I could say it was overtime at the day-job (night-shift day job), that it was the polar vortex, the stressful political environment, the bastards who pass out drunk with a pile of losing scratch off tickets in my yard in Albany… But in years past I’ve been able to juggle all this and keep it up in despite, so really, what’s the difference?

Well—no excuses—in fact, only good stuff. In truth, I’ve been playing a lot of guitar and writing songs because I have had a few gigs. After the yearly nightmare of the commercial holidays, winter settles in to the part I love—February, the time for writing, reading, picking tunes by the fire with an ale. I’ve indulged in getting into the new novel I’m working on like it’s a game, an adventure in a snowbound forest with wolves and hunters, blood and lust. I have no apologies for having fun with it all. Because that’s what it’s supposed to be about, that’s why we do these things over others, the excitement, the discovery, the addictive dreams.

The time has come, however, to get things going again, yet with a few tweaks. The Crimes of Heaven and Hell blog as this has been named in the past, featuring the review/interview series Is That an Old Book? and Author’s Own Words has a new name and URL—Deep Dark Night blog—(www.deepdarknight.net).

The name change comes from a desire for a more fluid format. Some of my new material is still set in the Crimes of Heaven and Hell world, but I’ve also been having fun experimenting with more standalone work, the above-mentioned werewolf novel, and even dipping into some fantasy pieces. So I wanted a name that reflected this expansion in themes.

I think kicking off the new name dovetails nicely with Women in Horror Month. It’s always been my goal to read widely, review widely, and interview widely. My vibe is one that celebrates all the art and stories out there. I also try to avoid a lot of the bull. So it’s funny how many conversations I see on various social media platforms about the value of Women in Horror Month as if its existence should be debated. Egads—if nothing else can motivate us to be as inclusive as possible, can it not at least be that the promotions and celebration of women horror writers makes the genre larger, more interesting, and more fun? Any meat-headed resistance and stupid joking (like, When are we going to have Men in Horror Month? (gulp…)) is revolting beyond comprehension. It reminds me of that scene from the Simpsons way back in the day when the comic-book nerd finally finds himself talking with a girl. For a moment, it looks like he might have a real social interaction. Then she disagrees with him about a character and he’s like “Don’t try to change me!” Funny as it is sad and scary…

So for me this month has made me ponder not just who the new female voices in horror are, but also some of my favorite writers from the history of the genre. In keeping with my ‘antiquarian’ proclivities, it’s got me remembering the first time a friend turned me on to Clay’s Ark and the work of Octavia Butler. I think I might snag that one from the shelf and give it a re-read. And as I get the interview series going again, I most certainly be looking for the widest possible range of voices to feature here on the Deep Dark Night. Stay tuned and looking forward to digging into blogosphere once again!

Carl R. Moore is the author of Mommy and the Satanists and Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Sarah and daughters Maddy and Izzy.

MOMMY AND THE SATANISTS EBOOK RELEASED TODAY!



Very excited to announce my new Ebook Mommy and the Satanists is now available from Seventh Star Press (also publisher of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, July, 2017). A disturbing, fast-paced little piece of sardonic horror, it might just brighten your Halloween lights, bring you back up from a sugar crash, cure your hangover, and perform a resurrection on el día de los Muertos!

By way of synopsis:

Overwhelmed suburban mom Annette Williams enlists a Satanic cult to help with the house and kids. When her husband George tries to stop her, all hell breaks loose in their quaint Vermont home.

So have a gander at this evil little book in hopes it will serve as an appetizer for more new work on the horizon!

Hailz and Horns up!

 

 

 

Book Signing at Barnes & Noble

Welcome to the Crimes of Heaven and Hell–the author page for  Slash of Crimson and Other Tales by Carl R. Moore, published by Seventh Star Press, and a number of new works coming soon. This is also the home of the Is That an Old Book review series. Looking forward to many new announcements, the first of which will be a special Halloween Ebook release of the satirical horror novelette Mommy and the Satanists. For now and for those who have not yet picked up a copy of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, please see the link below:

Thanks and read on!

Carl R. Moore

Author’s Own Words features Steven L. Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s KING OF THE BASTARDS

Welcome to the fourth installment of Author’s Own Words. In this installment, we are honored to feature Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards, including an interview with author Stephen Shrewsbury.

Review:

On a bleak coast far from his homeland, Rogan, barbarian king of Albion, finds himself surrounded by deadly threats and spectacular wonders. Tentacles rise from the sea, winged beasts cast their shadows from above, and hungry corpses emerge from dark tides. For warrior-king Rogan, survival depends on steel, speed, muscle, and cunning. Thus opens Stephen Shrewsbury’s and Brian Keene’s King of the Bastards. A thrill ride of a novel with constant action, King of the Bastards satisfies fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fans alike with its blend of sword and sorcery, supernatural terror, and slight dash of speculative technology.

At first, the novel’s narrative arc is a straight shot—shipwrecked King Rogan agrees to save a tribal village from an evil wizard that has fortified himself in a mountain redoubt. The wizard Amazarek has summoned an army of undead humans, crossbred beasts, and Croatoan, a.k.a. Meeble, and ancient demon-like being. In Shrewsbury’s mythos, Meeble is one of the terrifying and fabled “Thirteen”—a group of elder and vaguely extra-terrestrial entities whose sole purpose is to glutton themselves on the suffering that results from torturing humanity. With this striking cast of villains in place, and with Rogan’s believable (if somewhat sardonic) sympathy for the abused villagers binding them together, the novel’s main confrontation draws its raw and enticing tension.

If Lord of the Rings is a heavy-crossbow of a fantasy novel, King of the Bastards is a light yet swiftly firing recurve bow. It is every bit as accurate in piercing the reader’s heart while also nailing the bullseye of its unique stylistic place across genres. In King Rogan, Shrewsbury and Keene create a character who echoes Howard’s Conan, yet who possesses a broader sense of humor and is embroiled in a more textured and nuanced type of political intrigue.

As the novel progresses, the authors weave in their own brand of alternate history. Even as Rogan and his companions—nephew Javan, a pair of amazon-esque archers, and a good wizard from the village—fight their way to Amazarek’s fortress, the dark waters of Rogan’s personal history, the kingdom and family he left behind, begin to tie-in with his motives. These factors intensify as Rogan battles furry mutants, deals with infighting among the tribesmen, and even enjoys a rough yet tasteful erotic scene. All of these elements mix well with the greater story of King Rogan’s life and fate of his kingdom.

When the climactic battle with Amazarek and Meeble arrives, the reader holds a strong stake in what success or failure means not just for Rogan himself, but for his family and dynasty. The climactic battle (without inserting a spoiler) is also where the speculative-technology aspect of the narrative comes into play and does so with the same ease and wonder with which the political-intrigue portion was introduced.

A unique gem in the vast trove of stories with epic heroes, King of the Bastards makes a strong claim to being a true classic. For all who enjoy musing on the various ways in which genre fiction can be served, this innovative novel provides food for thought that is both rare and bloody and offers an action-packed thrill ride into the bargain.

Interview:

Where did you first get the inspiration for writing a cross-genre novel?

SS: I never put on a cap and say THIS IS HIGH FANTASY but tell a story. The way I write comes out rough & brutal, be it a horror, romance or western. If anything, life is brutal and I try to be as close to real as possible. I don’t go out of my way to get my jollies being extreme… though some may think so. Life can be horrific and that is reflected in these tales.

Aspects of Rogan’s personality clearly echo Robert E. Howard’s Conan, and yet King Rogan has a certain rugged yet playful sense of humor that is quite original. What gave rise to this and other elements of his character?

SS: Well, I’d have to guess the dark humor that resides in Keene & myself. I think it’s good to temper such tales filled with action & gore with some humor… but I really don’t ever say I NEED A JOKE HERE. It just happens. A bit of us bleeds into Rogan. Plus, once the chains are off and a character has a broken moral compass, things roll.

While certainly a full-length novel, King of the Bastards is on the lean side for a story with strong fantasy elements. Yet it carries a great deal of depth when it comes to the characters and world building. Was rapid-world building something you thought about while writing the book, or did it come about naturally?

SS: World building is an interesting term. I hear it a great deal. Not a once in any book I do am I so worried about a map or the world that I let the story or characters suffer. I’ve seen folks labor over creating a fantasy realm or world and never start a yarn. I laugh at how folks are SO obsessed with setting such places on other worlds. HEY it’s the freaking EARTH in a different era. Jeez. I set this and my Gorias novels before the flood, in a long forgotten epoch where everything was possible. Certain weapons and metals were invented and lost in that epic apocalypse. Demons walk the earth. Angels too. The rules are fluid. But yeah, the story is pretty simple in KING. A forthcoming Rogan novel is very complex, though.

King of the Bastards is a co-written novel. What was that process like?

SS: Fairly straightforward. We kicked around ideas and lots, what we both wanted in such a work and I slammed out portions. We swapped things back & forth. Pretty fun really.

What makes the barbarian character so much fun, as opposed to say, knights in capes and shining armor?

SS: As I said above, Rogan has some sense of personal honor, but he’s raw, rough and has lived a long time. He will say & do anything to survive and gives all he has in a battle. At times, prolly cruel, but gritty and real.

This series features books both old and new, and King of the Bastards, while a fantastic read, certainly isn’t your latest work. Would you like to tell us about any particular upcoming releases?

SS: The sequel THRONE OF THE BASTARDS is out from Apex. My horror westerns featuring my one-armed ex-rebel Joel Stuart are out from Necro Publications; MOJO HAND, LAST MAN SCREAMING and BAD MAGICK. BEYOND NIGHT (written with Eric S. Brown) is a brutal fantasy about the Lost Legion out from Crystal Lake. Rumor is there is a third Rogan novel bleeding into existence. One never knows what else I’m working on.

 

Author’s Own Words thanks Steven L. Shrewsbury for taking the time for this interview. We wish to add here that King of the Bastards co-author Brian Keene has been badly burned in an accident. A GoFundMe page has been created to help with his medical expenses. Please use the following link if you would like to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/brian-keene-burn-fund

Steven L. Shrewsbury writes in the realms of horror and sword & sorcery. His novels include Within, Philistine, Overkill, Hell Billy, Blood & Steel, Thrall, Stronger than Death, Hawg, Thoroughbred, Tormentor, Godforsaken, and the just released Born of Swords.

Brian Keene is the Bram Stoker and Grand Master award-winning, bestselling author of over forty books, including Darkness on the Edge of Town, Take the Long Way Home, Urban Gothic, Castaways, Kill Whitey, Dark Hollow, Dead Sea, and The Rising trilogy.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press.

Author’s Own Words features Daniel Dark’s KNIFE’S TELL

Welcome everyone to the second installment of our review/interview series—we’re arriving in style with a new name for the series “Author’s Own Words”—and featuring an interview with the darkly elegant and ever enigmatic Daniel Dark! Enjoy!

“What desire can be contrary to nature since it was given to man by nature itself?”

― Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason

I have written on Jack the Ripper before, when I reviewed editor Ross Lockhart’s Tales of Jack the Ripper. For convenience, I will include that review’s opening lines here, pertinent to the current task of discussing a new face of this timeless horror:

Jack the Ripper—the name claims one of our culture’s eternal enigmas, at first calling to mind images almost innocent, a magician-like figure in a top hat, almost campy enough for a neighborhood Halloween costume. Almost—because in a time when the Internet (a term itself becoming as problematic and borderline-anachronistic as “TV”) makes every image that ever existed accessible in an instant, the photos of his victims still hold their own on the shock scale. If you’re over 18 and feeling cocky, Google an image search of “Mary Jane Kelly” and you’ll get shredded faces interspersed amongst nineteenth century photos of a woman in a dress along with a few color stills from the movie From Hell. You’ll also get the infamous crime scene image of a torn apart body lying on a bed. An appetizer of organs sits next to it on a side table. You can find all this with the SafeSearch “on”.

If one reads further in the review from which the above is cut, a hydra of Ripper stories comes to light. They are all offered from Lockhart’s 2014 anthology, which shows an impressive and diverse array of interpretations of this iconic figure.

Here, however, we are taking a turn down a different path. A darker alley awaits—indeed, turn with me and mind you don’t slip on the alley’s damp stones. Slickened with what substance, we cannot say, certainly some rain, some fog, certainly something else as well. When you come along on the journey that is author Daniel Dark’s Knife’s Tell, you are entering a blur of chaos, blades, and blood, but you are also entering something too real, and too authentic, to keep that chaos at a safe distance. In his remarkable novel, Mr. Dark doesn’t want you to merely hear the Ripper’s story, he demands you live in his world, demands you taste its flavors, its sweet, its bitter, its bloody, until you cannot decide whether to flee or join the cackling glee of its ruthless poetry.

Knife’s Tell opens as would an inviting diary—a recounting of the days of an intriguing English doctor. Never mind his name, he speaks in the first person and offers every other intimate detail of his life. In the reader he confides all, his profession as a respected gynecologist, his lovely wife Elizabeth and their adoration for their two-year old son. He introduces his servant Savant (dubbed so for her precocious talent for flowery décor, and because she herself is sweet as a flower), and the governess Narcissa (who combines her talents for Victorian etiquette with the appearance of a not-so-understated vixen). He tells of taking in a street urchin he dubs “Hardwick”, whom he plans on making his laboratory assistant and protégé. He even demonstrates a certain regard for the important role his coachman Howard plays in his life.

Without unveiling too many of the sumptuous pieces of Knife’s Tell’s feast, suffice it to say that this ‘days of the life’ of a Victorian gentleman and professional offers a highly atmospheric and masterfully easy stream of consciousness style. Daniel Dark’s strength comes from his ability to deliver accurate sensual details. As this author, in addition to writing, has worked as a professional Victorian chef, few can match his ability to convey a sense of realism to a bygone era. Victorian authors themselves— Shelley, Dickens, Thackeray, the Bronte sisters—may be said to leave out details which during their time could be taken for granted, but this author of historical fiction conveys a setting to a Twenty-First Century audience in a way that brings the late Nineteenth Century to life. The recipes alone—from roast pigeon to pig’s head cheese (that’s right—the novel includes a set of full recipes for the dishes described in the story) plant the reader jarringly in another time and place.

And yet Dark’s stream of consciousness style does not lack clear signposts. There exist enough touchstones of clarity in the sequence of actions and thoughts that the story’s “treasure map” of events and symbols can be swiftly followed. Indeed, as it progresses, new sensual delights are added to the early descriptions of London’s shadows, candles, ales, banquets, and fog—for the good doctor begins experiencing multiple laudanum-soaked trysts with his servants and a mysterious noblewoman from outside the city. Sex scenes as exquisite as the soft leather interior of a smooth-riding, well-polished coach take the reader for a ride that refreshes our already more than well-represented landscape of erotic literature.

But while we are enjoying these delights, the specter of murder is never far away. Bodies begin to appear in London’s Whitechapel district. The police recruit our good doctor to help with the investigation, and thereby the reader’s lusty feast begins to be laced with episodes of blood and body parts. We understand that the doctor is on a mission that involves finding a cure for his wife’s mysterious ailment, and that he needs something from the desperate ladies of the evening swarming in London’s slums. As the novel progresses, a tension both maddening and enjoyable grows as we fear what the doctor needs for his experimental cure while at the same time sympathizing with him and rooting for his success.

In the end, of course, any novel on the topic of Jack the Ripper must give the author’s take on answering the one all-encompassing question—Who was he?

In this Dark’s success rivals both the traditional and the outlandish. To both those who would say simply that it was a local madman such as Aaron Kosminski, to Patricia Cornwell’s baroque claims that he was modernist painter Walter Sickert, Daniel Dark counters with not only neither, but that there are far deeper shadows of motive moving beneath the surface, and should we not explore those? For in Dark’s novel he simultaneously paints a highly traditional figure in top-hat and cloak, and yet at the same time creates a person who serves as an intricate symbol of the end of one era and the beginning of another, and all the pleasures and madnesses that accompany them. For the doctor of Knife’s Tell becomes an ironic Prometheus—murder is as much self-sacrifice as it is assault. He is a figure that opens a dialogue with Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein about the changing meaning of the heroic and the very nature of success. Without spoiling the novel’s climax and its actual answer to who the Ripper was and his motives, I will say that readers will an experience a satisfying shock and revelation when they realize the true facts of the darkness behind the debauchery. The novel reads with all the fun and sensuality of Stoker’s Dracula, but cuts back across with an apocalyptic and merciless conclusion à la Hardy’s Tess D’Ubervilles. Knife’s Tell’s ultimately beautiful and impossible fantasy is how it binds the future and past together by slicing them apart in so many darkly dazzling pieces.

Interview with Daniel Dark:

Have you ever eaten roast pigeon, and can you really pick your teeth with the talons?

In the cooking society today it is normally called squab. Yes I have eaten it, and if you have ever had quail you have tasted something similar to it. As to the picking your teeth with a talon, after they dried you could.

What first motivated you to become a Victorian chef?

I was drawn to the era in my younger days and as such all aspects of it. When I started studying as a chef it was easy to transfer that study into my passion. I have over thirteen hundred cookbooks in my library, and a few hundred from the Victorian era. Now the new ones that I’m collecting are from the year nineteen ten or before.

When did you begin writing? Was it a conscious decision to choose the novel as a form, or did it come about another way?

I have always written but in my younger years it was mainly poetry. Then after I had a stroke I wrote my first Victorian cookbook as therapy for my brain. It wasn’t until after that that I thought I could possibly write a novel.

You appear to have a very original take on the Ripper for an author so knowledgeable about traditions. How do you feel about Jack the Ripper as an iconic figure, and about “Ripperology”?

In my opinion the truth behind who or why Jack the Ripper existed will never be known. Every part of the case that we still have available has been written about. This is the reason I chose to write about a part of the case that has not been evaluated in a novel. What would cause someone to become the notorious Ripper?

Many of our images coming from the Victorian world today are those of stuffiness, uptightness, and repression. And yet your depiction of 1880’s London and Whitechapel gives it a wild, hedonistic allure. Do you feel that a Twenty-First Century audience has been missing out on the whole picture of the Victorian era, and all it has to offer?

The picture in most movies only shows part of the truth about the life in London during the late eighteen hundreds. There was a definitive stiffness in society, but there was also the underbelly that proper people didn’t speak about. The so called “unfortunates” were known and thriving in those days and people had to do whatever they could to survive.

Your novel makes the case that there may be something tragically heroic in the figure of Jack the Ripper and the Victorian ideal in general. Does the Ripper share anything with Frankenstein’s monster? Are the wages of genius, madness? And vice versa?

The fragility of the mind has always been known and the line between. Frankenstein made his man, and the public made him a monster. Likewise, in my novel, the pressures of life change the man into a monster.

Thank you, Daniel Dark!

Knife’s Tell is Daniel Dark’s debut novel. It can be purchased on Amazon.com.

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. News, information and more can be found at www.carlrmoore.com.

Review-Interview: R.J. Sullivan’s HAUNTING OBSESSION

I’m very excited to announce my new review series, Review-Interview, a combination of a book review and short interview with the book’s author. It is in part a continuation of my blog’s original “Is that an Old Book?” review series. Adding a dialogue with the author brings in an exciting new element. The first featured book is Haunting Obsession, and the interview is with its author R.J. Sullivan. Without further ado, please enjoy the first installment of Review-Interview, brought to you by Carl R. Moore and Seventh Star Press:

A gifted young computer programmer has a passion for collecting movies and memorabilia featuring his hallowed idol—the elegant and alluring Maxine Marie. His colleague and girlfriend, Loretta, tolerates his obsession, but only to a point. When Daryl pays a high price for an old rent check signed by the famous actress, not only does he push his hobby and his girlfriend too far, he also summons an entity that is beautiful and dangerous, electric and evil, arousing and voracious—the ghost made flesh of Maxine Marie herself.

In Haunting Obsession, author R.J. Sullivan crafts a novella about a supernatural love triangle that draws its power primarily from its well-wrought characters. Flawed, somewhat geeky heroes likeable for their brains and sense of humor, protagonists Daryl and Loretta come across as a couple you might know and root for. You can see the attraction between them, Loretta’s affinity for the “mind behind the Star Trek posters”, as it were, and Daryl’s understanding that the woman he loves has the right combination of brains and easy-going tolerant spirit to be long-term material.

As for the villainess who intercedes, the voluptuous Maxine Marie, while certainly drawing on imagery of 1960’s icon Marilyn Monroe, she also flickers, sparkles, and burns like the most intense of cyberpunk beauties. She echoes the uncanny fabrication-meets-flesh attributes of William Gibson’s idoru and even P.K. Dick’s replicants. Sullivan delivers a monster drawn in a prose style that contains a unique and somewhat wistful rendering of technological imagery. In Maxine Marie, the reader discovers an intoxicating mix of the futuristic and the vintage. He offers an electrifying spin on all things supernatural where scares and erotic thrills mingle in a dangerously inviting combination.

Though the novella is set in 2012, Infotech, the company where the protagonists work, comes across as palpably cutting edge for its time, lending a certain energy to the setting. Daryl’s conflicting personality elements—his talent for programming combined with his capacity for retro eros make one wonder whether talent and “tastefulness” are too often used as excuses for age-old greed, lust, and gluttony.

The stakes of such questions turn white-hot as Daryl’s relationship with the ghost moves from fun fling to something tormented, alien, and sadistic. Daryl and Loretta must rise to the challenge to save both their relationship and their very lives. Without spoiling the blow-by-blow of the novella’s climax, we can applaud how Sullivan demonstrates how one’s talents can become one’s flaws, and how they can turn around and redeem themselves yet again. Daryl’s and Loretta’s relationship with technology proves instrumental in understanding the laws that govern the entity’s existence. It also prove useful in locating and bringing in an intriguing ally from a shadowy government agency and concocting a plan that just might overcome the power of their dazzlingly horrific tormentor. Without revealing the outcome of the plan, the result is a high-voltage horror novella well worth the price of admission. In Haunting Obsession, R. J. Sullivan delivers the best elements of a traditional ghost story, populates it with smart yet flawed characters, and renders it in a unique and tastefully tech-savvy style.

One might think of Maxine Marie as a femme fatale, and thereby a villain. And yet there’s certainly some mischief and beauty in her, as well as stated necessity for her to prey upon the living in order to maintain her existence. Any allegory here for fame and stardom in general? Was this a theme you were thinking of as you wrote?

It is certainly fair to read Maxine’s power as an analogy to fame and its addicting quality for both the fan and the object of affection. Maxine awakens in a world with more admirers than she ever likely saw in life. If fame could be quantified and turned into a magical power, then spirits such as Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, and so many others would find themselves “supercharged” by the decades of adoration. Maxine awakens into a world where she can access that energy, and perhaps not surprising, becoming overwhelmed by it. Being caught in these forces, I think, makes Maxine a tragic character.

The idea that objects can be special and have a “soul” if you will, such as a movie star’s rent-check, plays an important role in Haunting Obsession. Where did you derive inspiration for this concept? Are you a collector?

I am a collector, to a point. However, when it comes to the rent check, I side with Loretta. The real-life inspiration came from my seeing exactly that sort of personal check-as-autograph at a souvenir shop. Yes, it was Marilyn’s and it was written to pay a utility of some sort. I suppose I was a bit naïve at the time but the whole thing creeped me out. It was clearly after she had become famous. I remember the address and phone number, still legible, and the account number. I thought it an incredible invasion of privacy. On the other hand she was, after all, long dead. So where was the harm?

But the more appalling idea to me is that this wasn’t a photo signed to a fan. It wasn’t from a public appearance. It was a necessary component to do what we all do as good citizens: pay your bills. And when she signed it, she not only had money TAKEN from her account, but someone else decades later would make money off that check. Also, that check was out there for everyone to see exactly what she paid for that particular utility on that particular date. I mean, what if it wasn’t a utility but written to her psychiatrist, or a credit card bill after a shopping spree? If I were a ghost, I’d die of embarrassment. 😊  So while I found that it crossed a line, I wanted to write about someone who had no problem with it, and how this act raised the ghost to object to being treated that way.

Several years later I was coaxed by Rodney Carlstrom (a friend of SSP) to draft a flash fiction about it. The original idea was, Daryl buys the picture, ghost appears. The end. That grew into a short story that grew into the novella that became MY obsession for four months and became Haunting Obsession.

Did you consciously weave science-fiction style elements into this supernatural tale? Is this something your writing often features?

 It wasn’t intentional, but I’m not surprised when people say this, as I do love SF.

If this novella had a soundtrack, what would it be?

Well, I would have to include “I Want to be Loved By You” in that. If you have not had a chance to see the book trailer, keyboardist and friend Jan Pulsford did a great arrangement of that and her own composition Rezonatta for it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cj93xKP2H8

As I recall, I mention Katy Perry’s ET as Loretta’s ring tone, which says a lot about her. Since the book came out, I was struck by how much Taylor Swift’s Blank Space seems to echo what being under Maxine’s spell might be like. While it was not an intentional choice, the fact that Loretta Lynn performed Stand by Your Man has been pointed out to me. They say never deny an interpretation, lol😊

Any chance for a sequel, or will your fiction feature any of these characters in the future? Will Maxine Marie rise again?

This story introduced readers to Rebecca Burton, she is an ongoing character in several short stories (some of which are now in Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy) and in Virtual Blue. Since the book was released, Maxine frequently appears in my blogs as a sort of mascot. She’s my cryptkeeper, my foil, we’ve made some great comedy together. As a marketing tool, Maxine is an endless fount of inspiration. But as far as an official sequel, or ever appearing in another book I have no such plans.

I would be remiss if I did not mention reader Nikki Howard, who helped launch the book in spectacular fashion by cos-playing Maxine at a haunted house event and doing this after we found out if was the emcee’s birthday: https://www.facebook.com/nikki.howard.1042/videos/t.100000008181402/10152041467775424/?type=2&theater My Maxine Model Lily Monstermeat was part of my author photo, has done a “photo shoot” as Maxine, helped me create an infamous risqué cardboard standee, and did a fun send-up here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd8uTw24nFo

Here are a couple of fun blogs featuring Maxine: http://www.ismellsheep.com/2012/09/guest-post-rj-sullivan-haunting.html

When I received the 40th Amazon book review: https://rjsullivanfiction.com/2014/08/29/elegant-ghost-maxine-marie-responds-to-hitting-40/

You get the idea.

 

Haunting Obsession is part of a loose trilogy of paranormal thrillers. R.J. Sullivan has also released a short story collection (Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy) and the first book of a new SF spaceship adventure series, Commanding the Red Lotus—all released through Seventh Star Press. Learn more at http://www.rjsullivanfiction.com/

Carl R. Moore is the author of Slash of Crimson and Other Tales, published by Seventh Star Press. News, information and more can be found at www.carlrmoore.com.