Author Spotlight, Kindra Sowder Will Eat Your Heart Out


Nearly a decade ago, February received the crown for the Women in Horror Month. For those unfamiliar with this celebration, the month provides a worthy spotlight. The concept is to bring attention to females who contribute to the horror genre. The reason why this is important, is because the genre remains male dominated. Furthermore, it spawns remarks such as the Jason Blum excuse. In 2018, Blum explained he’s trying to make a horror film directed by a woman. Although his intent seemed well, he excused, “But there aren’t a lot of female directors.” Despite his ignorance, which he apologized for, the genre provides many female contributors. This includes, but is not limited to, directresses, actresses, artists, and authors.

To honor the Woman in Horror Month, I have decided to feature one of my favorite indie authors. Two Octobers ago, I had the pleasure of meeting author, Kindra Sowder. Upon introduction, her creative prolificacy and horror genre knowledge interested me. Though she has penned many books, I chose the first two novellas from her Miss Hyde series to read. From there, I was hooked.

For those unfamiliar with the Miss Hyde series, these books are not for young adults, or the faint of heart. Sowder utilizes a formula that proves the horror genre isn’t just a man’s world. With her scenes and descriptions, she doesn’t shy away from gratuitous sex or splatterpunk. Needless to say, she knows how to grab readers by the balls. While her work is unapologetic, Sowder weaves a black widow’s web of suspense and mystery.


“Hello, My Name is…” introduces the narrator, Blythe McAlister. Awakening from a one night stand in her penthouse apartment, she briefs the reader on her past. This explains how the death of her parents granted her a generous trust fund when she was seventeen. Beyond inherited wealth, she is a well renowned art consultant at the Agora Gallery. With a stage set to show she is a successful business woman, the backstory pauses. Approached by her lover of the night, she and he go for a second round. However, little does he know this is the last orgasm he will ever experience. To foreshadow, Blythe notes at chapter one’s conclusion, “Hello, my name is Blythe McAlister, and I’m a killer with a secret. Remember the story of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde? Well, they only got the story half right.”

The following day, Blythe arrives at work where Hannah, her manager, greets her with a hug. Here, Blythe discovers her name alone has gained them a new artist. Upon them interacting, one sees Blythe hates the human touch. Although this counteracts her promiscuity, one learns she hates a caring human touch. This includes hugs and cuddling.

Later that night, Blythe and her co-worker/friend, Lauryn go to a bar. While Blythe enjoys a whiskey sour, she meets Dax, who she brings home for a potential one-night stand. Although something in Dax stirs romance within Blythe, her Hyde personality emerges. Surrounding Dax’s mutilation, more character development and backstory emerge. This includes Blythe’s parents educating her about her Jekyll and Hyde past. Also, one learns what Blythe does to try and keep Hyde at bay, which includes cannibalism.

The next day, Blythe is running late to work when Lauryn calls. Though expecting a lecture for running late, Lauryn explains a new artist wishes to utilize their gallery. Due to Blythe’s tardiness, the artist has waited all morning for an answer on if they will accept her. Though Lauryn can make the same decisions as Blythe, this artist’s work is grotesque. Being that this isn’t Lauryn’s style, she recommends the artist to Blythe. When Blythe walks into the gallery, what she sees within the painting is jaw dropping.

“Hello, My Name Is…” is a great series introduction. It mixes genres, introduces likable characters, and provides cliffhangers that pique one’s interest enough to progress. Among her many talents, Sowder effortlessly modernizes classic literature into today’s standards. Most important, she doesn’t piggyback on the efforts laid by previous literary icons. In the past, I have read books that are a modernized continuation of classic literature. Sadly, most of them have not been worth writing about. Overall, they feel like the author takes the easy street to bank in on an established fandom. However, for Sowder, this isn’t the case. Rather than taking easy street, she stalks the high road to reinvent a timeless subject.

Compared to “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” this work addresses new topics. Although, it presents fresh commentary, it does resurrect original subjects. The main theme of the Stevenson classic shows inner duality between good versus evil. Another theme translates how one composes themselves differently in public rather than private. Both subjects receive attention in “Hello, My Name is…”

Contemporary themes regard the liberated, successful female. This positive viewpoint depicts a woman who can love herself, make herself happy, and self-provide. This success isn’t glorified by Blythe’s inheritance, as that was a gift bestowed to her. Rather its glorification details Blythe’s adult life, such as her ability to establish herself as a sought-after name in the arts community. A community which is cut throat to start with. As one may expect, her work success is a stepping stone into her liberation. Another element that builds her as a liberated individual is her sexual appetite. Due to her dominance in the bedroom, when Hyde isn’t in control, shows she can have no strings attached sex.

In a polar opposite aspect, there is a darker sense of liberation due to Hyde’s existence. This angle provides a similar philosophy to a Marquis de Sade work. The tone indicates one must satisfy their macabre desires, regardless of the repercussions. What I find interesting is that for the most part, Blythe has surrendered to her dark half. Granted she does partake in cannibalism to subdue Hyde’s urges. Also, she wishes the men she murders could be incoherent during the act, whereas Hyde wishes their victims to be alert during the slaughter. This preference shows compassion on Blythe’s behalf. Nonetheless, it seems she has accepted the inevitable of her darker needs. This speaks volumes on Blythe as it urges she has accepted herself, flaws included.


“Pain Killer” begins after the events of its predecessor. In this volume, Blythe’s condition receives more insight. Whereas in “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” an elixir caused transformation, Blythe’s condition is hereditary. After revealing this information, Blythe visits a bar where she meets Kyle. Due to an unexpected turn of events, Blythe falls victim to a potential rape. However, little does her assailant know what he has bargained for.

As Blythe survives Kyle’s attempt, her life progresses uninterrupted. The next day, she meets Kyra. This is the artist who created the disturbing painting featured in volume one. Yet, rather than meeting in public, she conducts business at Kyra’s apartment. Upon introduction, Kyra hugs Blythe and welcomes her inside. Once behind closed doors, Kyra attacks without explanation. After fighting, the reason for their brawl, and Kyra’s work, presents more questions than answers. This turning point reveals that Kyra is now establishing a role in Blythe’s life. May that role be for manipulation, homicidal tutoring, blackmail, or healing Blythe.

After they part ways, night falls and Blythe dreams she is having a three way with Kyle and Dax. Yet, this dream is anything but pleasant. In this detailed vision, she is having graphic sex with their animated corpses. The presented imagery is reminiscent of serial killer illustrations by Joe Coleman. While this volume ends without as huge of a cliffhanger, there are enough loose ends to keep one reading.

As the topics of “Hello, My Name is…” bleed over into this volume, new subjects arise. The most important subject urges that no matter how strong an individual is, no one is invincible. Supporting this statement are the events that happen to Blythe from beginning to end. In volume one, Blythe and Hyde appear as an untouchable duo who are never injured. “Pain Killer” is a game changer as Blythe undergoes attack multiple times. Granted, Hyde does save the day regarding Blythe’s attempted date rape. Because of these incidents, they suggest Blythe and Hyde aren’t an unstoppable force.

Increasing the psychological aspects of the series, multiple topics enter scene. One is the necromantic dream sequence. As Blythe finds this horror desirable, I am uncertain on the dream’s psychological aspect. Is Hyde mentally torturing her? Is Hyde trying to seduce Blythe into abandoning all virtues? Is Blythe’s guilt beginning to manifest and she’s struggling with how to cope? Or, since “Pain Killer” presents more fantastic elements, are these ghosts?

Another subject deserving of attention is the fact that Blythe’s condition is hereditary. Although the subject is briefly mentioned, this sets the stage for genetic imbalance. Yet, rather than an inherited trait of depression, anxiety, or anger, it’s homicidal tendencies. Due to Blyth never asking for this flaw in her DNA, it makes her more righteous that Dr. Jekyll ever was. Reason being is because Dr. Jekyll’s actions were deliberate, Blythe’s actions are forced. Still, Blythe says at the beginning of volume one that Stevenson’s classic was only half right. So, until one knows the exact root of what birthed her dark half, blaming an ancestor for deliberate actions is meaningless.

Because of the issues addressed in my summary, “Pain Killer” spawns more questions than answers. Although this is so, one doesn’t feel these questions will remain unanswered. Considering Sowder is currently writing volume six, I am confident each future book will fill in the blanks.

If one prefers a sarcastic, suspenseful, erotic, splatterpunk series, these books are ideal. Beyond their ability to entertain, another plus side is one can read each book within a sitting. All titles are available in print and eBook. The first two volumes are available through Audible.


Now that one is familiar with this series, Kindra Sowder has provided me a bloody good interview. Since she is a prolific author with a full schedule, I would like to thank her for the time she has gifted me. Without further ado, take my hand as we go on a double date with the light and dark sides of Kindra Sowder.
1. Aside from the main title of each novella, “The Miss Hyde Series,” identifies these chronicles. By this reference, one can conclude “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson was a major influence. Why were you inspired by this work and what other subjects influenced you?

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is actually one of my favorite tales. That made it so much easier. Also, the song by Halestorm titled “Mz Hyde” conjured a lot of images for me. I imagined a fierce, dominating woman and it all went from there. But I didn’t want the story to be so close to the original. I wanted to put a twist on it that no one had seen before, and I feel I accomplished that. Not only is there absolutely no serum, but I put a very modern twist on it, which I feel the story just begged for.

2. Though your books reference the Stevenson classic, they don’t piggyback on his vision. Rather, the Miss Hyde series nods at the past then progresses in our contemporary world. How were you able to separate past literature from your own vision while paying homage?

If there is one thing I’m proud of about myself, it’s that I can very easily turn things from classic to contemporary without much effort. All of my work is either focused in our modern world or in the future. Those are the landscapes I prefer, so taking Stevenson’s story and turning it into something extremely modern was an easy task for me. I felt it definitely needed to nod at its predecessor, but I didn’t want to take his story and just rehash the same old story. I wanted something different, and I feel I accomplished that by bringing it into our modern age.

3. Blythe McAlister is the kind of character who one hates to love. While she is a liberated woman with a fine taste and campy humor, she is an unapologetic murderess. When creating Blythe, did you have a specific complex character in mind? Or, did Blythe create herself as you wrote?

Well, I knew I wanted the Blythe/Hyde duo to be a thing from the beginning, and I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about how their characters have a mind of their own. Well, that’s exactly what happened here. She clawed out from the depths of whatever dark recesses of my mind I had never explored, and did not back down. She created herself as I wrote – 100%.

4. You have a great ability to balance suspense and horror while teetering on the edge of splatterpunk. Do you see the Miss Hyde series fleshing out with this same formula? Or will one genre overtake the other? Why or why not?

I love that! So, thank you (curtsies). While I love horror and the balance of a building suspense, and teetering on splatterpunk makes me super happy, the Miss Hyde series is definitely evolving the farther I go into it. Now, instead of being straight kill, kill, kill, other elements are coming into the fold. Other complexities within the plot are taking shape, which has caused me to change the formula. Now, it also contains some small romantic elements as well as elements of a psychological thriller. As the story has gone on, it felt like a natural transition from the sexy, horrifying world I created to the world that still holds those things, but is evolving. I feel evolution is super important. Of course, with the latest conflict to unfold, a lot more of that same terror and suspense will be coming back to what I feel will be a rather explosive finale.

5. Out of the many books I have read this last year, you are the queen of cliffhangers. While not everyone can craft a successful cliffhanger, your ability to do so shines. What is your secret?

There are things I feel are important when it comes to a cliffhanger, which makes it super easy for me to craft them. Basically, there is an initial set of questions that need to be answered. They are answered by the end of the book, but a new set of questions present themselves that the next installment will answer. And it goes on from there. Over and over until you feel it comes to what you, as the writer, feels is the perfect ending – the perfect conclusion that answers anything that lingers and no more questions could possibly surface. That’s my formula when it comes to cliffhangers. Also, I want them to be full of tension. Like that “AHA!…Oh, wait…” moment for the reader. When I hear readers tell me they hate me because I left it at a cliffhanger and they have to wait until the next book comes out, I get a little giddy. Okay, a lot giddy. It makes me extremely happy.

6. What other projects are you working on?

I am working on so many things. The next Miss Hyde novella, for one. I’m also crafting a world for a spinoff of my series The Executioner Trilogy. My pride and joy, at this moment, is my Ashes of Heaven project. It’s going to be a series where I get to vent a lot about religion. I am twisting it and bringing the darkness in, and I’ll be cackling after its release because I can’t wait to see how many people I offend. I don’t know why, but the thought makes me giggly.

7. Where can people connect with you?

I can be connected with in so many places, it’s not even funny. Below I have included a rather magnificent list of any place I can be followed and contacted.







“The House the Devil Built” Book Review & Author Interview with Benjamin Hively


“The House the Devil Built” by Benjamin Hively is one of the best indie books I read in 2017. This novel doesn’t pussyfoot around with hinting at metaphors or allegories. Instead, it is straight to the point with plot, subplots, characters, and prose. The result of which is a white knuckled read that mixes intense subjects like a forbidden gumbo.

The prologue grants insight into the year of 1962. At the Boudreaux Plantation, a demon has possessed Paul and Elizabeth’s daughter, Isabelle. After seeking medical attention without resolvent, they call Reverend Shlepp for help. Over five days, Shlepp has assisted the family. To no avail, he has tried to remove the evil that has invaded Isabelle. With each attempt being a failure, Paul does the unthinkable. In turn, his actions open a door for future horrors.

Part One, “The Beginning,” fast-forward to modern times. In this century, bestselling author and lead protagonist, Ashton, receives introduction. While one may suspect his introduction to be glamorous, it isn’t. Instead, he receives presentation after becoming cured at rehab for substance abuse. The following pages elaborate on his backstory. Here, one learns he grew up in a home with a tight knit family, free from abuse and neglect. Though spared a bad childhood, Ashton’s problems begin later in life. The first event which causes his downfall regards his father passing away. Adding to his stress, his mother develops Alzheimer’s, which leads to her death. Because of these tragedies, he starts a downward spiral. Like a domino effect, the abuse ranges from alcohol, cocaine, and promiscuous sex.

Throughout this turmoil, his husband, Dillion, dedicates himself to Ashton’s wellbeing. During Ashton’s hospitalization, Dillion has arranged for them to relocate from New Orleans. The primary goal for their move is to withdraw Ashton from an area where alcohol and drugs are easy to access. Also, Dillion feels solitude can allow them to rebuild their relationship. To achieve these goals, Dillion selects a quaint, neighboring town, Acadia Springs, LA. While Dillion’s intent seems well, he has purchased the old Boudreaux Plantation. For the husbands, this property displays the Southern beauty of a bygone era. But they are oblivious that beyond its beauty, an evil presence lurks.

Over the following days, they become settled in their new home. A week later, Reverend Shlepp, son of the reverend who attempted to help Isabelle, disturbs them. Upon his unannounced visit to the couple, he condemns their same sex relationship. Following this dispute, the book progresses into part two, “Love Thy Neighbor.”

In this section, Reverend Shlepp informs his church, South Belle, of “the sinners” who have moved into town. Following his announcement, vandalism begins to deface the Boudreaux Plantation. As the vandalism progresses from bad to worse, Ashton and Dillon refuse to leave. While they suspect the reverend and his church are to blame, they call the local sheriff for help. Unlike the stigmatized small town sheriff, Sheriff Mark Batton is the opposite. While not caring about his personal relationships, he holds the law above all else. This includes bringing justice to those who have been harassing the newcomers.

During part two, subplots and side characters receive crucial development. With Ashton and Dillion remaining the stars, one subplot regards Sheriff Batton. It focuses on his life as a family man and his hidden desires. Secondly, this window opens perspective to how Mark’s wife and children view the new residents. Among them, Mark and his son, Marsh, aren’t troubled by the newcomers. Mark’s daughter, Amelia, who is too innocent by age to judge, also isn’t affected. Opposing their nonchalant behavior, Mark’s wife, Denise, feels contrary. Since she is a South Belle member, she shares Reverend Shlepp’s contempt.

Furthermore, this section is where Reverend Shlepp’s character receives elaboration. Here, indicators show he believes he is holier than thou. Yet, despite his fanaticism, and hypocrisy, he truly believes he is enforcing God’s will. Due to his personality, he is a diluted character who lacks redemption. Still, he doesn’t seem altogether evil. Opposing his dominance is his wife, Janice. Though it is never said she is an abused woman, her actions indicate otherwise. Contending him is his son, Luke, who rivals his poor decisions and narrowmindedness.

Part three, “Into the Darkness,” elaborates greater on more sinister possibilities. With focus on Dillion and Ashton, small incidents begin to intensify. Since their arrival, Ashton has suffered from night terrors. Also, he has heard unexplained sounds that could be mistaken for scurrying rats. However, there is something more unnerving than the dreams or mysterious sounds. Neither, Ashton nor Dillion have seen any vandals on their property. They have only seen the aftermath of the destruction. Since the land harbors evil, one begins to question exactly who, or what, has caused the vandalism.

As stress bares down on the husbands, Ashton takes the brunt of emotional negativity. Because of this, his body begins to suffer what might be an illness. Although Dillion suspects Ashton to be sick, we, as readers, know better. Due to Ashton’s melancholy, one can assume the demon that possessed Isabelle has found a new host.

The final part, “Like a Moth to a Flame,” ties all loose ends together. From here, the novel’s tension goes into overdrive and presents relentless conflicts. Among these pages, some expected twists occur. But overall, many of the curveballs that Hively throws are unpredictable. In time, these conflicts merge into a grand battle. One that will leave the reader wide eyed and jaw dropped long after the novel concludes.

A major aspect I loved about “The House the Devil Built” was the strong character development. While sparing readers of irrelevant backstories, Hively focuses only on vital subjects. For the most part, I found the portrayed characters were not solely good or evil. Rather, they are flawed humans, and like flawed humans, they all have downfalls.

Hively’s greatest achievement is how he avoids stereotypes. My highest praise goes to Ashton and Dillion’s development. Neither of them were campy, melodramatic, or flamboyant for flamboyance sake. In LGBTQ fiction, the qualities I listed are more times overexaggerated than not. To my relief, Hively portrays the husbands as casual human beings. Because of this, Hively’s perspective opens a door to a broader audience. One where any orientation can empathize, or sympathize, with Dillion and Ashton’s marriage.

Although the book lacks stereotypes, Reverend Shlepp is the only real character trope. Still, one can excuse his development due to his unexpected extremities. His utmost insane moments include him gathering a posse and the harm he brings to his own family. Regardless, no matter how Reverend Shlepp causes more harm than good, he isn’t the devil in the flesh.

Superb character development aside, the unrelenting suspense of this work deserves praise. Throughout, Hively uses a Hitchcockian method. By this style, he presents an intense subject, then he writes of other issues. Meanwhile, the reader’s mind screams for closure in regards to the original subject. Then, when one least expects it, each issue becomes addressed in its own time. This tactic is something where if not done right, it can grow old fast. No matter, Hively knows how to weave a suspenseful pattern.

A great contributor to this novel’s fast pace are the subplots. Maintaining structure, Hively’s swapping of perspective receives presentation at the correct times. None of the points of view seem out of place, or are they confusing. Nor are they presented as meaningless information so that a thicker book is the outcome. As the book progresses, each subplot bleeds into another. Upon storylines becoming crossed, character interactions intensify. This form of brutal surprise continues pulverizing the reader, until the last word.

Message wise, the four main characters shine light on important subjects. These characters include: Ashton, Dillion, Sheriff Batton, and Reverend Shlepp.

Ashton’s character comments on co-dependency, depression, grief, and self-abuse. This downward spiral begins with the negative emotions caused by Ashton’s mother dying. In turn, co-dependency becomes relevant as Ashton relies on vices to overcome his loss. These vices become forms of self-abuse, and include drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex. While Ashton does show co-dependency towards Dillion, one gathers he craves other vices more. This toxic mixture makes him a prime candidate for possession. If anything, Ashton’s character suggests it’s okay to grieve, as long as one doesn’t trap themselves in lament.

Dillion is the strength of their relationship. Although Ashton’s wayward life has taken a toll on them, Dillion refuses to surrender. In most cases, one will lose everything trying to save someone from themselves. But under this circumstance, Dillion’s loyalty is not in vain. By today’s standards, Dillion’s commitment isn’t seen in most modern relationships. Due to his devotion, Dillion represents the foundation that most contemporary relationships lack.

Focusing on Reverend Shlepp, one should already envision a fire and brimstone bigot. Nonetheless, he pursues life following his interpretation of “God’s Will.” I wouldn’t say this allows him a pass to mistreat people, yet it does hint he is guilty by insanity. Despite he means well, he shares more similarities to the devil that he condemns than the God he worships. In his wildfire of chaos, he is guilty of murder, destroying families, and discrimination. The message relayed here suggests the dangers and repercussions of being judgmental. These troubles worsen if that individual is a person who is in power or influential.

Last, there is Sheriff Batton. He is the authority figure who obeys the book. No matter if he is friends with a person or not, if they do the crime, they do the time. Although this character walks the straight and narrow, he represents the oppressed individual. Having married and produced children, he falls into a role where he is unable to be himself. The strongest message one can take from Sherriff Batton is one of self-acceptance.

Now that I have addressed these points, I shall elaborate on the overall topic. In the words of Sheriff Batton, “Although tragic, it opened my eyes to what the true meaning of good and evil is and that is not always black and white in the terms we all believe.” By this statement, the novel indicates there are more gray areas in life than one may consider. Not everything is one way or another. Rather the majority of existence is a smear of positive and negative.


As an early Halloween treat, Mr. Hively has agreed to provide me with an interview on “The House the Devil Built.” Considering how busy he has been with writing his sequel, I appreciate him granting me this time. Without further ado, let’s enter the house of the damned to enjoy coffee and beignets with the devil himself.

Opposing your career as a comedian, you are also a horror author. Considering how dark “The House the Devil Built” is, how do you balance your art forms between light and dark? Why the polar opposite between stage and page?

I haven’t been on stage in quite some time but it’s definitely still an interest. With comedy, I am able to find the ridiculousness of everyday life. With horror, I am able to take that ridiculousness and weave it into a horrific happenstance. Comedy and horror, in that sense, go hand in hand. I think if I submersed myself completely in horror, I’d go mad, but we all go a little mad sometimes, don’t we?

What inspired your work?

When I started writing the book, I was still living in Indiana. What’s interesting about this book and its subject matter is that religion is a huge industry anywhere. The main source of inspiration, strangely enough, was the craziness of the Westboro Baptist Church. Globally, the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted and laws are changing to give us more rights. Still, you’ll always have those “religious” folks that want to rain on our (pride) parade. Another inspiration was William Peter Blatty’s ever famous “The Exorcist.” “The House the Devil Built” was my love letter to that novel.

Your book takes place in, and near, New Orleans. Being that it focuses on hauntings and possession, one can connect the region’s lore to the book. Being a resident of New Orleans, have you encountered, or do you believe in, the supernatural?

The great thing about New Orleans, you’re always surrounded in history. The roads, the houses; so many lives have come and gone in the 300 years that New Orleans has been around. Unfortunately, I have not encountered a physical apparition but you can feel it. When you walk into a place and learn the history, it’s a tugging at your veins as if it’s playing a melody. I believe when the day comes and I see a supernatural occurrence, I’d run the other direction.

In your book, I don’t see any of the characters being truly evil. Even the worst deeds are out of concern for others wellbeing. Did you intend to write gray characters or do you see one of them being truly evil? Why?

Much like life, everyone has a potential of great things and pure evil. Initially, I wanted the preacher to be this evil entity but as the story began to unfold, I couldn’t do it. The only innocence is that of children, and I would say 100% that they are completely innocent in the book. Otherwise, everyone on this planet has secrets they’d rather not share.

What can we expect with the sequel?

“The Philosophy of Evil” will give the origin story of the evil that resides in Acadia Springs. You’ll learn what happens to those who survive such an ordeal and when secrets come back out to play.

Where can people connect with you?


Twitter: @therealbengee


“Train Thoughts” Book Review & Author Interview with Jay Sigler


“Train Thoughts” the title enough could pique one’s interest. It causes readers to question what terminology of “train” the author is implying. Is he referring to a locomotive? Or is he indicating how one can train their thoughts? Due to the versatility within these pages, there is no wrong answer.

Upon seeing the cover, its image hints that a train will set the stage. But, as one reads, the text does reveal the idea of trained thought. Supporting this statement is the quote, “The mind is a very powerful thing. You’d be surprised at how much it can get you through.” Stressing significance, this quote appears as a constant reminder throughout the book. It suggests, if one wills their train of thought enough then reality and fantasy can blur.

“Train Thoughts” opens with bleak heavyheartedness. Written in first person, the narrator speaks about the murder of his wife, Vicky. Grief stricken, many negative revelations hit him in a short time. Among them, he realizes he will never receive closure on Vicky’s death. Furthermore, he realizes this tragedy has interrupted his everyday pattern of life. Specifically, this concerns the life he led with Vicky and the pattern of living they shared.

Trapped in a state of melancholy, he attempts trudging forward to resume a normal life. By routine, his morning begins with a two hour train commute to work. During this commute, he will sometimes read. Though he spends most of his ride eavesdropping and living vicariously through passengers.

Among them, he has developed an infatuation with a group of friends, Sheila, Neil, and Frank. Aside from the friends, he is smitten by a separate couple, Gina and Rob. Although he has never spoken to any of these people, he considers them his friends. Because of his observations, he is aware of their routines and habits.

When he arrives at work, most people in his office feel like he has returned too soon and hasn’t had the time to grieve. While at his profession, his pestering co-worker, Julie, visits. In short time, she presents an overbearing and obsessive personality, one that seems like she harbors a fatal attraction towards him. After brushing off her advances, he continues focusing on his duties and himself.

Once all characters are set, the nightmares begin. At first, the visions are nothing more than disturbing imagery. Yet, as the book advances, these nightmares become a window into the death of those he holds dear. In reality, a maniac is killing his friends in correlation to his dreams. Upon detecting a pattern, the narrator tries to stay one step ahead of the murderer.

Over time, the narrator becomes convinced he shares his commute with the maniac. With this revelation, he becomes more observant to other passengers. Doing so, the narrator discovers a mysterious man shares his ride. This enigmatic character, who the narrator calls, Shawn, is a calculating introvert. Like the narrator, Shawn also eavesdrops and observes other passengers.

Daily, as the narrator’s friends dwindle, his suspicions against Shawn grow. Based on dreams and instinct alone, it is now up to the narrator to investigate. From here, the plot becomes a high speed game of cat and mouse.

For observant readers, there are symbolic hidden messages that regard the killer’s identity. These clues appear in the narrator’s nightmares. By dream interpretation, the following symbols are relevant. This includes: rats, wasps, snakes, scorpions, and spiders. Also, in dreams, the killer’s weapons are a switchblade and a staff that appears as Vicky’s severed arm.

Character wise, the entire cast suffers from depression or disorders. For example, the narrator is unable to ever pull himself out of grief. Although he has the opportunity to better himself, he chooses to live in sadness. Eventually, he suffers from obsession and alcoholism. Aside from the narrator, Sheila has an eating disorder. Neil exaggerates the truth to seem interesting. Frank maintains a smile, although he always seems like he is on the verge of crying. Gina and Rob are an unmarried couple. Despite their contentment, one can sense they have commitment issues. Last, Julie’s character displays sexual repression.

Once becoming familiar with everyone’s disorders, I noticed something more important. If one combines each individual’s downfall, these troubles construct the narrator’s overall personality. Examples: Sheila’s food obsession is equivalent to the narrator’s alcoholism. Neil’s verbal exaggerations parallel the narrator’s emotional exaggerations. Frank’s fake happiness matches the narrator’s ability to mask his own depression. Gina and Rob’s commitment issues reflect the narrator’s unstable relationships. Julie’s promiscuity bares similarities to the narrator’s own sex life. Last, Shawn shares the narrator’s greatest qualities… being an introvert and a loner.

After connecting these characteristics, there is but one conclusion. The narrator sees fragments of depression in each passenger. Upon recognizing these disorders, he relates to each individual. This connection is what encourages the narrator to call these strangers his friends.

Above all, “Train Thoughts” presents two separate themes. One is the power of the mind. Mind power receives justification through the narrator doing what is necessary to survive. He presents the idea of distancing oneself from the horrors of the external world to remain sane. This method also speaks of denial. Not only the denial of one’s surroundings, but the denial of one’s actions.

A second theme stresses that humans are creatures of habit. Once something breaks routine, the subject becomes lost. This leaves the subject questioning how to pick up the pieces and continue life uninterrupted.

When I purchased “Train Thoughts,” I received more than what I bargained for. To sum up this book, I would have to call it the bastard child of William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch” and L. Ron Hubbard’s “Fear.” If one has read those two books, you know exactly what you’re getting into. Not every day does a work of horror art like “Train Thoughts” pull into station. I highly recommend this trippy commute that pays homage to old school horror literature. “Train Thoughts” is for adults only.

Now, for the first time on this blog, I am adding something extra. Jay Sigler has agreed to provide me with an interview on “Train Thoughts.” Knowing that he is a busy man, I would like to thank him for granting me this opportunity. Without further ado, here’s a one way ticket into the brilliant mind that brought us, “Train Thoughts.”


AB: What inspired your work?

JS: I have loved reading from an early age, specifically horror and everything Stephen King. I later branched out to Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis, both who were huge influences on my writing.

The story of Train Thoughts came about during my two hour, each way, commute I took to work (much like the main character). I would sit in the same car every day, and see the same people every day. Everyone has their own story of how they got to where they are in life and it fascinates me to hear and learn about them. I couldn’t learn about everyone personally on the train, so I started imagining what their lives might be like based solely on my observation. It was a fun way to pass the time…. until a dark and twisted story developed.
AB: A major part of “Train Thoughts” is dream interpretation. Do you interpret your own dreams and why did you choose dream interpretation to allude to clues and the murderer?

JS: I have always been interested in dreams and what they mean. You can learn so much about yourself and what’s really happening inside your head, if you pay attention to them. It’s amazing to me how different people have certain feelings and emotions represented as the same thing in dreams; it’s pretty creepy when you think about it.

I wanted to use dreams in Train Thoughts as a way to “show not tell.” There is a lot of psychology happening as the main character deals with enormous loss and you can only say that in so many words. The dream sequences allowed me to describe these emotions in a way that touched upon the common themes we all experience in our dreams. I wanted the reader to actually feel them.

I also wanted a way to bring some messed up, insane horror to the story while it still being something believable that could happen in everyday life. Dreams allowed me to do that since there are no rules in a dream!

AB: At one point, I believed multiple characters were guilty and the killer could be anybody. How difficult was it to create a scenario that caused the reader to constantly doubt their suspicions?

JS: This was a bit difficult for me to achieve (if one would say I did). I had to constantly act as if I had never read the story before and be very critical of how each character’s arc played out. I needed there to be just enough to suggest the killer was a given character while also putting doubt in the reader’s mind; I struggled at times to find that balance.

AB: Being a family man, do you allow your kids to read your work? If so, what are their thoughts? If not, at what age would it be suitable for them to read “Train Thoughts?”

JS: I have two children, neither of which will read Train Thoughts until they are at least sophomores in high school! They know daddy’s book is scary and inappropriate for kids. I’ll sometimes take pictures with them holding the book, acting like they are scared but that’s all just for fun. I’m less worried about my daughter (5) looking inside since she can’t read (yet…), but when I see my son (9) start to take a peek, I make sure to take it away. He’s getting a little too smart for his own good but I am glad he wants to read it.

I am proud that both of them say they also want to write books. I think the overall journey of publishing Train Thoughts has had a very positive impact in getting them more interested in reading and writing. They see that I have written a book and it gives them confidence that they can too. My son and I have even started writing a few stories together!

AB: What do you have planned for future works? Will all titles remain
in the horror genre?

JS: I am currently working on what will likely end up being a novella. There’s a very loose tie in to Train Thoughts, which doesn’t require you to read it, but it’s there for those who are interested; more like an Easter egg.

I also have ideas for 2-3 novels and a bunch of short stories I might, or might not, eventually publish as a collection. I just need to find the time to get them all out of my head (read as: I’m lazy). They will all remain in the horror/thriller realm. It’s my favorite genre to read, watch, and live so I would like to contribute back to it the best I can.

(The exception to this, of course, is if my son and I were to ever publish – those aren’t horror related. Well…… maybe….)

AB: How can readers connect with you?

JS: The best way to connect with me as an author is through my author group on Facebook, Author Jay Sigler:

I also have a Facebook page for everything Train Thoughts the book:

I am active on Instagram ( and am getting better about Twitter (

Recently I’ve joined Litsy and here are also a bunch of other random links:

The Works of H.P. Lovecraft

Love him or hate him, H.P. Lovecraft is an iconic literary figure in horror fiction. Despite his casual racism, misogyny, and his morals, his nightmares continue to influence. Modern authors who summon inspiration from this elder include: Stephen King, Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, and more.



When reading Lovecraft, it is difficult to pick which of his tales are the scariest. So when suggesting one of his stories to beginners, it’s challenging to narrow down options. Among horror readers, I’m sure everyone has their top Lovecraft stories to recommend. I’m also sure that due to his diversity, their recommendations differ greatly.

To avoid argument of, “You forgot this tale,” or “You didn’t list the essentials,” this entry will compile my top three favorite Lovecraft chillers. Not only have these stories influenced my own work, they have caused me to sleep with the lights on. So, if one is a writer looking for inspiration, or a reader hoping to lose sleep, here are my top three recommendations.


Lovecraft created “Dagon” for an amateur press journal called, ‘The Vagrant’. When questioned what inspired the tale, Lovecraft shared it partly manifested from a dream. Since Lovecraft preferred factual references in his stories, Dagon is an actual deity. For those unfamiliar with this God, he was part fish and Sumerians worshiped his divinity.

This story opens from a World War 1 marine officer’s perspective. Early on, he reveals he has a morphine addiction, so it’s hard to depict what parts of his tale actually happened. However, trying to determine what is real makes this story more frightening.

The narrator speaks of when he was a prisoner on a German sea raider and how he escaped by lifeboat. After drifting at sea, he arrives on a deserted island. Here, he finds a monolith covered in hieroglyphs. These scribblings depict bizarre creatures smeared between human and aquatic life. Some of the illustrations suggest these beings are of goliath proportion. One portrays a creature killing a whale that is but a little smaller than itself.

Wandering about, the narrator encounters a monstrous thing spawned from a pre-human race. Following his encounter, it is never determined what actually transpired on the island. Afterwards, such as all good Lovecraft stories, the narrator’s fate isn’t favorable.

While psychological and speculative, everything the narrator experiences can receive rational justification. Due to his morphine addiction, his experience could be because he’s high. Since he tells the story from a mental institution, his words might be psychobabble. Being that he imagined the creature, the hieroglyphs could have influenced his thought.

Accompanying the plausibility of his tale, the hieroglyphs might not be authentic. In reality, they might depict nothing more than superstitious lore. Another possibility is the islanders painted these images to ward off unwanted visitors.

In the end, the reader determines what is real or not. Regardless, neither outcome makes this tale any less unsettling.


Lovecraft penned “Herbert West-Reanimator” as a serial story. In order, the tales include: “From the Dark,” “The Plague- Daemon,” “Six Shots by Midnight,” “The Scream of the Dead,” “The Horror from the Shadows,” and “The Tomb Legions.” Among his tales, this serial is the first to introduce the Miskatonic University. As a side note, the Reanimator series parodies Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” Though Lovecraft’s take on reanimated tissue is more grisly compared to Shelley’s elegance.

This macabre adventure chronicles Herbert West and his assistant, the narrator. In sequence, one learns how the two met in college, and how West instigates their deviant actions. Thereafter, dialogue reveals West and his assistant require dead bodies for experimentation. To gain these subjects, they rob graves and return the corpses to their laboratory. Their goal in this crime is to reanimate dead tissue by utilizing a chemical solution.

Throughout the serial, West and his assistant continue forward with their studies. During this time, they excel in school and become doctors. Also, they advance with their private endeavors. However despite some of their successes, most rotting specimens produce tragic failures. In turn, the team aborts these mishaps once poor results are visible. Unfortunately, their precautions don’t prevent blunders. Due to carelessness, the occasional corpse escapes their lab and terrorizes the locals.

Regardless of past failures, where the dead return bloodthirsty, the team continues practice. In one misadventure, they experiment on those who died in a typhoid outbreak. Another concept places West and his assistant as medics in the World War. Of course, with death at their fingertips, their tampering results in gruesome outcomes.

Before the series concludes, the most horrific concept unfolds. In a scenario that urges one to stop while ahead, the team becomes cornered by their own abominations.

Though intrigued from page one, my attention piqued when West and his assistant entered the war. From that point, I felt their experiments became more bizarre. A good example of this is when West decides to animate different severed body parts of the deceased.

Another admirable aspect includes subtle creepy revelations. Particular scenes regard how the discarded reanimated experiments terrorize the community. These brief encounters are more frightening than any detailed brutality. I say this because I would be more horrified by the randomness of something I couldn’t explain. If I had an explanation to the madness, the initial shock might not be as intense.

What I love most about these stories is the point they make. My interpretation suggests one should consider the consequences to their actions. If not, one’s very actions can mean their defeat.

After reading these stories, I couldn’t shut up about them. Never before have I read work so subtle that it causes the mind to exaggerate beyond the context. The “less is more” style here is so well utilized that rot almost wafts from its decayed pages.


“Call of Cthulhu” is where Cthulhu makes his grand appearance. Compared to other Cthulhu mythos, this work grants backstory in full detail. Foremost, the kraken is Cthulhu’s primary inspiration. Yet, aquatic lore isn’t the only factor behind Cthulhu’s existence. In the past, scholar Robert M. Price noted Lovecraft drew from likeminded authors. Names include: Alfred Tennyson, Guy de Maupassant, Arthur Machen, William Scott Elliot, and Lord Dunsany.

Written like a documentary, this infamous tale continues into three parts. In order, segments include, “The Horror in Clay,” “The Tale of Inspector Legrasse,” and “The Madness from the Sea.” It opens, noting (Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston). One can determine at the beginning that Francis has met his demise. Because of this, found documents piece together his story. Although Lovecraft establishes that Francis has died, the tale progresses in mystery. Its style causing readers to question how Francis perished.

The first narrative speaks of Francis discovering notes left behind by his grand uncle. Accompanying these letters is a clay sculpture created by a Rhode Island art student. Its hideousness and craftsmanship erects a figure mixed between octopus, dragon, and human. Uncovering this causes Francis to become infatuated by the deity, thus setting forward his fanatical journey to uncover the mythical Cthulhu.

As research continues, Francis learns of ungodly horrors. One regards a New Orleans Cthulhu cult who participates in human sacrifice. Next, almost two decades later, he learns of a shipwreck in Australia that Cthulhu may have caused. While Francis has become obsessed over Cthulhu, he will stop at nothing until he sees the elder God in the flesh. Consumed by obsession, the importance of answers overrules the importance of his life.

This story has always felt unsettling. By how this piece flows, it feels like the reader has stumbled upon something forbidden. In a sense, the documented style of this work can make one feel like they too can search for Cthulhu. Nonetheless, if one isn’t careful, they can enter into the same fanatical nightmare that consumed Francis.

Another element to applaud is the conspiracy vibe this tale emits. Somewhat, there is a nudge that fate is to blame. Meanwhile, due to the amount of Cthulhu followers, one can assume the cults are manipulating Francis. The scenarios inspire the fear of everyone being against you, and everyone being out to get you. No matter, may it be fate or cult followers to blame, the stars align for Francis in the worst scenario.


Without Lovecraft, the concept of the “Necronomicon,” and Cthulhu, never would have existed. Also, cosmic horror might not be as popular as it is today. As Lovecraft’s style of literature continues to expand, a subgenre stands in his honor. Unlike how even death may die, “Lovecraftian Horror,” will outlast the eons of time and space.

Literature aside, Lovecraft’s nightmares have blead over into pop culture, as well. This includes Necrocomicon themed jewelry, artwork, and genre geek jokes. Also, Cthulhu has expanded his wings. He appears in the form of not only toys, but video games, fashion, and even episodes of “South Park.”

Infernal Reading for a Smoldering Summer


As the summer heat bares down, it is only appropriate to compile a blog featuring books that are hot as Hell. In my opinion, within the horror genre, hellfire and damnation is as hot as one can get.

When seeking infernal literature, I mostly search for classics. Otherwise, I try to find books that provide original concepts. Although there are many hellacious titles to select, it is a devil trying to pick the perfect scare. Still, I was able to narrow my list down to three unforgettable evils.

Featured below are some of my favorite novels within the demonic subgenre. Ones that have breathed new life into the eternal battle of good and evil. Normally, I try to feature books of a lesser popularity. Yet, I couldn’t compose this blog without honoring the classic that opened Hell’s gates.


“The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty is the satanic subgenre’s granddaddy. Over the years, it has gained a solid fandom among Satanists and Christians alike. Reason being is because of its unrelenting approach between good vs. evil. Due to its intense nature, there is no doubt this classic belongs in the horror genre. Nevertheless, because of its glamorization of good conquering evil, it ascends the horror fandom.

The infamous tale of possession is simple. A Jesuit priest, Father Merrin, uncovers a relic symbolizing the demon, Pazuzu. Upon the recovery, a young girl named Regan starts displaying paranormal phenomena. Regan’s atheist mother, Chris, turns to Father Karras for help. Of course, her asking for his help is after all medical and psychological assistance fail.

Once Father Karras examines Regan, he approaches the local bishop for her exorcism. Yet, the bishop deems Father Karras as unqualified due to him being a heretic. In his place, Father Merrin becomes appointed to the case. So that Father Karras learns from the experience, he becomes Father Merrin’s assistant. Together, the men experience horrors that test their spirituality, mental wellbeing, and physical strength.

Book wise, the novel presents a greater depth compared to the movie. Blatty’s approach and description in storytelling is direct and impactful. By his “less is more” structure, he ushers the reader’s imagination into the devil’s den, otherwise known as Regan’s bedroom. Once here, Blatty exceeds the grotesque and strikes deeper with philosophy, psychology, and spirituality.

From a psychological perspective, the book delves deeper than other likeminded novels. Its most vital question asks, can different walks of life unify for a greater purpose? Due to its character interactions and philosophical differences, the answer is yes. As a heretic, an atheist, and a faith strong priest come together to save Regan, the story indicates humanity can bond under tragedy.

Combining philosophy and spirituality, one may be surprised how “The Exorcist” was conjured. While Blatty attended Georgetown University, he learned about a modern-day exorcism. This is what set the stage for his fictional novel. But, shock wasn’t his only goal. With this breakout success, his goal was to bring people closer to God. To achieve this, Blatty used shock value to comment on how God can use adversity to his favor. An example of this tactic receives verification in dialogue. A specific passage states, “His awful Grace.” This suggests that God will use catastrophes to bring nonbelievers to him.


“Mister B. Gone” by Clive Barker might not be as well-known as “The Exorcist.” Still, this novel shares the concept of demonic possession, but with a twist. In an interview with Craig Ferguson, Barker revealed his inspiration for this cult classic. Speaking in rhetoric, Barker asked, “If a demon can possess a little girl, why can’t it possess a book?”

Written in first person, this novel focuses on a lesser demon named Jakabok Botch, who lives in Hell. If that isn’t bad enough, he suffers child abuse from his irate father. Having become frustrated with his enslaved lifestyle, and his family, Jakabok escapes Hell. Upon doing so, he finds himself in the fourteenth century.

As Jackabok believes he is free at last, he comes to realize Earth is almost as bad as Hell. Not long after a corrupt priest captures him, Jackabok uses his first opportunity to escape. Acting upon his primal instincts, Jackabok runs amuck. Determined to become liberated, he does whatever necessary to survive and inflict pain.

Despite how Jakabok remains unredeemable throughout, he somehow gains sympathy from his readers. Perhaps it’s because the reader grows to know him as a personal conversationalist? Or maybe it’s his sense of dark humor and glee that accompanies his mischief? No matter what answer one decides on, this unique book redefines the genre.

Out of all of the books I have read, this is the first that has influenced my sympathy for a devil. Also, this is the first book I have read that breaks the fourth wall. In its first-person perspective, Barker tricks the senses. Because of its unique style, when one picks up “Mister B. Gone,” the book doesn’t feel like a book at all. Rather, it feels like one is experiencing a personal chat with the demon itself.

From beginning to end, Jakabok speaks directly to the reader. In repetition, he pauses storytelling. With panicked dialogue, he asks that the book in which he is speaking through be burned. Of course, we, as readers, disobey his pleas. As one progresses forward, Jakabok begins spouting off threats. He promises us harm if we don’t do what he says. This style of tantrum from a literary character can entice humor within the reader. Upon doubting him, Jakabok proves his existence. He achieves this by temporarily eliminating every other word of a sentence.

“Mister B. Gone” isn’t just a book, it is a literary work of art. One that allows the reader to interact through creative wordplay. Aside from this experience, one can take a message of simplicity away from the text. Someway, somehow, everyone is a slave to something, or someone, even if that something is a book.


“Horns” by Joe Hill presents a new concept that could become comedic. But, in this novel, there isn’t a single sentence that doesn’t stir dread. With Hill’s prior two books, I had already become an invested minion. After reading this novel, Hill has indefinitely captured my soul.

“Horns” opens with the protagonist, Ig, awakening with a hangover. Although being drunk isn’t in his character, last night was an exception. His reason for this unusual binge is because someone murdered his girlfriend, Merrin. Adding to his stress, he is a suspect of foul play due to a public argument he and Merrin shared prior to her death.

Recalling last night’s drunken stupor, Ig remembers vandalizing the town before passing out. The rest is a blur. After he stirs from sleep, Ig realizes not only does he have a hangover, he also has sprouted devil horns.

Throughout his attempts for help, Ig discovers the horns have granted him superpowers. Every person he now comes in contact with starts confessing their darkest secrets. If he touches someone, he receives a glimpse of their sins. His most powerful weapon is how he can make people surrender to their forbidden desires. The downfall is he can’t force anyone to act against their will.

Once embracing his new powers, Ig determines the horns haven’t cursed him. To his amazement, they have gifted him with the ability to solve Merrin’s murder. With pitchfork in hand, and red devil suit ready, Ig begins hunting Merrin’s murderer.

Besides the deep character development and original plot, “Horns” is full of metaphors. The color red reoccurs throughout in cherries, cherry bombs, and red hair. All of which symbolizes virginal loss. There are deep hints that the treehouse Ig and Merrin shared is the Tree of Life. Baptism symbolism receives depiction twice in this book. One is by the river where Ig suffers a childhood injury. Another form of baptism is fire and how it cleanses.

Excluding metaphors, the text provides interesting philosophies. Briefly, Ig speculates that the devil and women have always caused fear in God. The reason for including women in his thoughts is because like God, women can also create. Due to God’s fear of women, this is why he refused to spare Merrin during her assault and murder. At one point, Ig assumes that God no longer appreciates his creations. Opposing God, Ig considers the devil loves all humans despite their flaws.

No matter the thought process when entering “Horns,” or leaving it, Hill causes one to question the fibers of good and evil. He poses scenarios that cause one to ponder if the line between the two is nothing but a blur. By finishing “Horns,” it is the reader who decides what is morally just.


With these books, one is certain to have an experience during their read. By plot and style, these titles break apart comfort zones. By presenting philosophical, spiritual, and psychological topics, readers can engage debate long after completion. Regardless, if one receives a message or not from these novels, one is sure to be entertained during the hellfire temperatures of summer.

Clive Barker’s Most Brutal Visions

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Stephen King once said, “I have seen the future of horror and his name is Clive Barker.” Throughout the years, Mr. King’s statement has proven to be true. Barker’s work has survived the decades, spanning generations with original dreams and nightmares. Today, many modern horror authors, myself included, cite Barker as an inspiration.

With over twenty books, his works vary from fantasy to splatterpunk to young adult. Secure with the title, Professional Imaginer, Barker maintains a poetic vocabulary unlike any other. Even when describing the darkest subjects, he can transform their evil into forbidden beauty.

In this blog, I will focus on some of Barker’s most brutal visions. Ones that excel beyond horror and enter the realm of splatterpunk. Yet, they maintain a charming splendor. If one has never read Barker, and they are strong stomached, these books are ideal for beginners.

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“The Damnation Game” is Barker’s first novel. Since it followed his infamous “Books of Blood,” it parallels an equal ferocious style. For those questioning how gruesome this novel could be, ponder no further. Bound in its pages are subjects of incest, animal abuse, and mutilation. However, those taboos are just the tip of the iceberg.

In the prologue, a sinister alchemist named Mamoulian emerges in the shadow of death. By some, he is known as, the Card Player, due to his unbeatable gambling skills. Similar to the cenobite’s puzzle box, or Katya’s wall, Mamoulian’s preferred weapon is a deck of cards. Throughout the illustrated deck are scenes of child abuse, bestiality, and torture. The objective is simple if one dares to gamble Mamoulian. If the gambler loses, they lose their soul. If the gambler wins… Well, no one truly wins. Except during World War II, a young man, Joseph Whitehead, bargains with Mamoulian. Thinking he has the upper hand, Joseph strikes a deal that allows him to live a prosperous life.

After the prologue, chapter one progresses in current time and introduces a parolee, Marty. Having completed his prison sentence, Marty has accepted the job as Joseph Whitehead’s bodyguard. By this time, Mr. Whitehead has grown into his senior and has become one of the wealthiest men alive. While living at Mr. Whitehead’s mansion, Marty begins to encounter bizarre supernatural attacks. During these horrors, Marty learns of Mr. Whitehead’s bargain and how it’s time for him to pay his dues. Still, Mr. Whitehead won’t bow to the debt he owes, which causes Mamoulian to kill those closest to him. Considering Mr. Whitehead’s sociopathic lifestyle, these deaths are irrelevant.

Deciding he’s in over his head, Marty tries to avoid further involvement. Yet, plans change upon learning that Mr. Whitehead’s daughter, Carys, is next on Mamoulian’s kill list. Determined not to let another innocent suffer, Marty takes control. At last, it’s time for Mr. Whitehead to pay his debt in full.

Throughout the chapters, the serial killer, Anthony Breer, AKA the Razor Eater, snakes into plot. Such as Mr. Whitehead, he too has dabbled with Mamoulian, yet he remains in good graces. Although we don’t see as much of Breer as the other characters, his role is important nonetheless.

I was spellbound by the approach Barker took with this modern day Faustian tale. It provided originality with concept, weapon, and layered characters. Yet, aside from entertainment, “The Damnation Game” addresses something of a greater value. In a strong voice, its message presents various levels of greed and addiction codependency.

With a catalytic punch, Mamoulian, Mr. Whitehead, and Breer personifies the strongest addict. I say this because they gamble on the most important gift of all – life (theirs and others). Also, like extreme addicts, they don’t care who suffers, as long as their needs are met.

Carys represents the moderate addict with her heroin use. Unlike her father, or Mamoulian, she harms no one but herself. In comparison to her father, whose addiction has become unreasonable, she maintains sensibility. All she requires is the correct guidance.

Marty has also suffered from addiction; gambling to be precise. Representing the rehabilitated addict, he has grown to appreciate the value of life and living life to its fullest. Compared to the other characters, he has a stronger willpower. One that implies he will continue to straighten out his wayward life and help those who are worthy of his assistance.

Another message “The Damnation Game” provides is how everybody is responsible for their own actions; specifically, temptations and downfalls. In this concept, there is no devil with a pitchfork jabbing humanity to act in chaos or destruction. Rather one’s freewill is the true instigator. My favorite quote in “The Damnation Game” that sums this concept up is as follows. “Every man is his own Mephistopheles, don’t you think?”

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“Coldheart Canton” is like a garden of evil that is in full, brutal bloom. Complete with ghosts, demons, deformed spawns, and more, this is Barker like we have never seen him. Among the madness, this work reflects the internal struggle of good and evil, and satirizes corrupt, hedonistic celebrities.

The prologue opens in the 1920s and presents an ancient wall painted by the Queen of Hell, Lilith. Covering its every inch are graphic depictions of no limits sex and torture. Upon learning of its existence, actress Katya Lupi, decides she must own the relic. Due to her wealth, she and her agent, William Zeffer, gain possession of the artifact. Next, they transfer the wall from the Romanian monastery, where it has resided, to her Hollywood mansion on Coldheart Canyon. After completing instillation, she names the room in which it stands, the Devil’s Country. Thereafter, the room lives up to its name and provides a vast wilderness of erotic terror.

Once the prologue concludes, the novel progresses into the millennium. Here, Barker introduces aging movie star, Todd Pickett, who recently laid his fateful dog to rest. To worsen matters, while grieving for his pet, he has suffered a botched plastic surgery. With no other choice but to enter hiding, his agent, Maxine, books him a location for recovery. What could either be by chance, or Maxine’s apathy, she sends Todd to Katya’s abandoned mansion. Although Todd is unaware of the mansion’s formidable history, he soon learns of its dreaded past.

As Todd enters into a state of debauchery, ghastly spiritual manifestations occur. Most of his encounters regard himself and Katya Lupi’s ghost, who temps his hedonism. Other, more hellish confrontations flourish throughout the gardens surrounding Coldheart Canyon. Amongst this anti-Eden, he meets an orgy of ghosts. Also roaming about are deformities that have been spawned from the spirits practicing bestiality. These abominations emerge, smeared between spirit and dog, spirit and deer, and more. Yet, the worst entity in the canyon is the actual son of Satan.

Rather than fleeing, Todd becomes seduced by Katya’s ghost. In short time, he submits to her instigations and acquires a debased sexual appetite. As it seems like Todd is a goner, his number one fan, Tammy, comes to the rescue.

Not since “The Damnation Game” has Barker created a piece so appalling. Yet, despite its brutality, elegant words dominate the scenarios with intellectual poise. Aside from style and genre originality, the book’s most enjoyable element is its character development.

The sympathy that Todd influences, and the strength that Tammy demonstrates, mirrors raw humanity. Yet, between the two, Todd is more relatable. He wishes to be a part of a society that he doesn’t fully grasp, and, at times, rejects him. Due to his disconnection, his dog receives his full emotional investment. Of course, upon his pet’s death, he is heartbroken. More-so because he believes his pet was the only one who loved him unconditionally. In his vulnerable state, it is easy to see how he falls victim to Katya’s ways.

Opposing him is Tammy, the number one fan who has reached stalker level status. However, she isn’t like Stephen King’s Anne Wilkes. Instead, she’s hoping for a glimpse into Todd’s life, which she receives while in the canyon. Realizing Todd is in trouble, she risks her own sanity and life to save him.

The combining elements between word, story, and character grant an overall powerful message. It is one that reflects depression and not realizing one’s own complete value. A more important reoccurring theme is mortality acceptance. Even in the acknowledgements of “Coldheart Canyon,” Barker notes Todd was an outlet for himself. In reality, during this time, Barker mourned the recent loss of his own dog.

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“Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium” is Barker’s most bizarre work since “The Hellbound Heart.” Without a doubt, the characters and scenarios in this book pay homage to the cenobites from long ago. However, in comparison to “The Hellbound Heart,” this work differs. Whereas “The Hellbound Heart” only portrayed sadistic evils, this work depicts two evils. One of which is heroic and vengeful and the other is power hungry.

Beginning with a Genesis theme, Barker introduces an unforgettable deity named Agonistes. Unlike the Bible, which states God rested on the seventh day, Agonistes argues otherwise. As a matter of fact, on God’s supposed day of rest, he was busy making darker forces, such as Agonistes. To support this argument, Agonistes bears “the fingerprints of God.”

As one learns of Agonistes, it is hard to distinguish if he is truly good or evil. Since he does nothing against anyone’s will, he isn’t a true villain. Instead, he is a grand surgeon with the ability to transform those who seek his assistance. While focused on helping scorned persons achieve vengeance, many visit him, requesting nightmarish modifications. Even still, Agonistes provides fair warning that once operation begins, he can’t stop. If one still desires modification, they will undergo his knife. Since Agonistes operates without sedation, or anesthetic, any goodness he harbors begins to vanish.

After introducing Agonistes, the city of Primordium receives its backstory. Overall, it is a poverty-stricken land ran by a corrupt government. Early on, an assassin is hired to kill Primordium’s senator and overthrow the monarch. Being the star of this novella, the assassin succeeds. To ensure this empire topples, the assassin’s new lover, Lucidique, brings him to Agonistes. Once modified, the assassin becomes known as a creature named the Scythe-Meister.

Hence forward, the novella receives a horror-based superhero theme. Accompanying the story’s heroes, Barker invents Dr. Talisac as a supervillain. Assisting him is a goliath assassin, Venal Anatomica, who is a creature so hideous that he gives the nightmares themselves nightmares.

I fell in love with this book from beginning to end. It is a fast paced, splatterpunk, thrill ride that isn’t for the faint of heart. The depth of its social message proves one can achieve gore and intellect within the same page. It also proves one can maintain the flowery verbiage of a true wordsmith while writing of depravity. Although governmental corruption isn’t new to literature, it has never received this harsh perspective.

If these characters seem familiar, it’s because they originated from McFarlane’s figurine collection, “Tortured Souls.” Popularized in the early millennium, these grotesque works of art were available wherever toys were sold. Accompanying them was the serialization of “Tortured Souls: The Legend of Primordium.” Unlike Barker’s other works that are available in multiple formats, this compilation is only available in ebook and audio. Despite a few print copies floating around through individual sellers, the price is astronomical.

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In prior interviews, Barker has considered himself to be a professional imaginer. If one were to question his worthiness of this title, I would have to question if they have ever experienced his work. In this blog, I have only focused on his most brutal visions, yet he has created books suitable for young adults. For those who wish for something whimsical, without gore and extreme violence, read “Abarat,” or “The Thief of Always.”

Why One Should Read Shirley Jackson in the Spring and Summer

If one has never read Shirley Jackson, wait no longer, spring and summer are here! Such as autumn belonging to Macbeth, the warmer months should belong to Shirley Jackson; and the reasons why are simple. Foremost, her works of horror can inspire the blood to run cold during the hottest day. Also, three of her most haunting classics transpire throughout spring and summer. So, what better time is there than now to read the mistress of the macabre?

“The Haunting of Hill House” opens with an eighty-year-old mansion that was born bad. Far and wide, it has become infamous for its bloody past and its inhabiting ghosts. Due to its reputation, a paranormal investigator, Dr. Montague, decides to examine Hill House. His goal for doing so is to prove that ghosts exist, and he believes Hill House can provide him that evidence.

After Dr. Montague schedules one week during summer for investigation, he builds a team. Among his crew are two women with a paranormal background, Eleanor and Theodora. Accompanying them is Luke, the spoiled rightful heir to Hill House. While he lacks paranormal interests and abilities, his aunt required he play their host. Thus, granting herself a break from his personality and spending.

Once the week begins, all guests gather at Hill House and become acquainted. On the eve of their meeting, Dr. Montague reviews the property’s bloody history. The artistic way he relays this information is reminiscent of hearing a campfire tale. For any horror fan, his rendition seems like a love letter to the genre.

After learning Hill House’s history, Eleanor begins experiencing paranormal phenomena. Yet, due to her mindset, one could suspect her to be delusional rather than haunted. But if one disregards Elenore’s mental state, the plot thickens. Because of her paranormal background, her telekinetic powers may have awakened something.

Near the novel’s conclusion, Eleanor’s storyline is never deemed paranormal or psychological. Because a definite answer is never provided, Hill House’s bloodthirsty possibilities remain endless. Yet, Jackson’s intensity continues to build for later pages. In the last paragraph, Jackson utilizes a final hair-raising prose. By her style and imagination, she secures a concept that will chill everyone’s summer.

If one analyzes “The Haunting of Hill House”, they must first juxtapose the characters. Overall, Theodora and Eleanor deserve the most attention. In comparison, they are nothing alike, yet, they bond.

Theodora’s character is liberated, independent, and is everything Eleanor wishes to be. To indicate Theodora is a free spirit, she is the only character without a last name. In contrast, Eleanor is meek, introverted, a people pleaser, and bares obligations. One may see Eleanor’s desperation for independence become paramount whenever she longs for her allegorical “cup of stars”.

Dr. Montague and the original house owner, Hugh Crain, provide another interesting comparison. While Hugh Crain’s description reflects deplorability, Dr. Montague’s description indicates courtesy. However, between the two, they share the desire to dominate. Although Hugh Crain’s desire is brunt, Dr. Montague’s is discreet. One can see Dr. Montague’s dominance by his last name being emphasized in repetition. This is to suggest he is the authoritative figure among the cast.

Finally, one must consider Luke’s untrustworthy character. Due to a scene of rescue, many admire him as a gothic hero. Still, this one good deed doesn’t dismiss his delinquent character background. Unlike Jackson’s more complex characters, Luke is nothing more than a flawed person.

“The Lottery” is a ritualistic story that occurs in America on June 27th. On this date, a community participates in an annual name drawing. All seems innocent, until the reader understands participation is a requirement. The story then progresses from a subtle unease to complete dread. By its slow burn pacing, the plot becomes barbaric and reminiscent of ancient practices. Then, such as the villagers, reality strikes.

To review what occurs on lottery day, the steps are as follows. First, the morning begins with each homeowner drawing lottery slips. Next, the individual family members in that same home must proceed in the drawing. This will eliminate participants, until a sacrifice receives nomination. At last, the community will stone the lottery winner to death to insure a fruitful harvest.

For a shorter piece, this tale has a plethora of social commentary. The lottery winner is a scapegoat; one whose sole purpose is to alleviate burdens. By how the villagers ravenously kill the winner, the story maintains a cannibalistic vibe. One that suggests a survival of the fittest concept.

Readers can also determine “The Lottery” concentrates on multiple topics. In its text, the fear among crowds and the danger of traditions are both blatant. Yet, there is a deeper psychology. “The Lottery” is a cautionary tale. One that stresses the dangers of blindly following a group and not thinking for oneself.

“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece. This mysterious, gothic tale of psychological horror and suspense introduces the remaining Blackwood family. Members include the siblings, Merricat and Constance, and their disabled Uncle Julian. All of which live isolated in a dilapidated home that is within walking distance of a nearby village.

Each remaining Blackwood family member is in some way dysfunctional. Between the siblings, Constance displays agoraphobia, while Merricat exhibits codependent and sociopathic traits. Their Uncle Julian demonstrates signs of being obsessive compulsive through his memoir keeping.

By Uncle Julian’s rantings, the majority of the past comes to light. Yet, it is among all three characters that we learn a grim truth. Six years ago, someone murdered the Blackwood family members by arsenic laced sugar.

After the mass murder, villagers believed Constance was the murderess. By how society treated her, we can assume they are to blame for her agoraphobia. However, the villagers’ persecution extends further, causing all remaining Blackwood family members to feel like outcasts.

Due to their treatment, the remaining Blackwood family learns to live in seclusion with Merricat serving as their protector. To insure no trespassing, Merricat utilizes a form sympathetic magic to surround their property. The most prominent talisman is a book nailed to a tree.

All seems well, until one day when the book falls from its placement. Since this omen indicates trouble, it is unsurprising when an unwelcomed visitor arrives. From here, the plot elaborates into a battle of wits, sympathetic magic, and willpower.

This book, such as others by Jackson, revisits the subject of shunning and persecution. By the novel’s theme and character development, some speculate this to be Jackson’s most personal work. In her life, Jackson struggled with disorders such as depression and agoraphobia. Also, rumor went she dabbled in the occult. In the past, some have debated the Blackwood sisters are as Jackson’s inner diversity. It has also been noted that the Blackwood sisters represent Jackson’s own two daughters.

Whether one reads Jackson for an analysis or entertainment, one will admire her alluring prose and imagination, regardless. Just keep in mind, whenever reading a horror story by Jackson, don’t expect gore. Expect to be deeply seeded with psychological fear.

For those hoping to match the books on this list by calendar date, here is a cheat to when one might plan their reading. “The Haunting of Hill House” is unspecific in regards to a particular month. Yet, it does state that the horror develops over a week in the summer. Although “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a bit more specific, its exact date is unknown. Regardless, its tale blossoms out on a Friday in late April. The only book of these three that feature a specific date is “The Lottery” which arrives on June 27th.

For those starting their Jackson extravaganza, I would suggest reading “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” last. It is the final novel Jackson wrote, and one can see her soul still haunts the pages.