Review: Practitioners by Matt Hayward and Patrick Lacey

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Practitioners
By Matt Hayward, Patrick Lacey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Authors Matt Hayward and Patrick Lacey inject fresh life and more than a few sparks of originality into some familiar and well-worn tropes in Practitioners from Bloodshot Books, genre-hopping with apparent ease to flesh out a novel that feels like a dream come true.

On the trope side of things, we have police officer, Henry Stapleton, who is reeling from the death of his wife and is fueled by revenge. Thankfully, Hayward and Lacey upend our familiarity with such a heavily trod character almost immediately. Stapleton, it turns out, is completely off his rocker and his vivid recollections of finding and torturing his wife's killer are psychotic breaks with reality. What's more, he's having waking dreams that lead him to a spate of fresh corpses. His attempts to control his lucid dreaming send him even deeper down the rabbit hole, straight into a paranoid nightmare that could reshape and destroy reality.

Practitioners is a novel all about escalation. The more things Stapleton tries to fix, the worse things get. While Hayward and Lacey embrace the initial noir aspects of their pseudo-cop drama, their story stretches beyond any one genre, preferring to take an everything but the kitchen sink approach. Equal parts cop shop, horror, and fantasy, Practitioners is a hefty blend of cross-genre scares that admirably chugs along without losing sight of its cataclysmic destination.

Stapleton's journey from police officer to dream warrior comes off far more plausible than it should, which is a credit to how well the author's have constructed this story. It helps that Stapleton is initially presented as a bit of a suspect character and we're never quite sure how crazy grief has made him. Hayward and Lacey slowly weave in the supernatural elements, giving us small doses that are just enough to jilt expectations, while embellishing Stapleton's waking-world life with enough paranoia, New Age mysticism, and investigative do-right to prepare us for the headlong dive into madness. This is a book that starts off small and personal and blows up in a wildly cataclysmic and bloody climax that presents a war on two different fronts of consciousness.

It's heady stuff to be sure, but the authors make it all look disconcertingly easy. Practitioners is a highly successful collaboration and the styles of Dublin-based Hayward and Massachusetts-native Lacey mesh seamlessly. I didn't notice any peculiarities in syntax, cultural oddities, or awkward turns of phrase that occasionally occur between authors writing together from opposite sides of the pond.

If I must voice one complaint, though, it's that the various dreams and dream worlds Stapleton journeys through never quite felt strange enough for me. Through it all, there's a certain linearity and even almost-normalcy to it, despite even the occasional appearance of strange creatures. While there's a healthy dose of oddity to the surrounding events that prompt Stapleton to travel between his neighbor's dreams, I wish some of the dream states he found himself in were even more unusual. More often than not, the authors rely on presenting dreams that are either alternate realities where the dreamer engages in particular sexual fetishes or the book's setting of Bellville is depicted as an apocalyptic wasteland. While this latter depiction of Bellville is well-rendered, I could have done with a bit more variety in the various dreamy landscapes. It is also possible I'm simply too inured to stories of my wife's crazy dreams.

While I loved Practitioners and its pulp-noir and chaotic creature-feature sensibilities, few things within Stapleton's lucid dreams are as weird as my darling wife's dreams after she's had Chinese food. This is perhaps too high a bar to set, though, as even the most wildly inventive and creative writer would have a tough time competing with some of my wife's doozies in dreamland. Personally, it's rare that I even remember any of my own dreams, so it's entirely possible my wife is just weird and Practitioners depictions of dream-life are more common and realistic than my spouse's anecdotes would lead me to believe. So, as far as complaints go, this one is certainly nothing to lose sleep over.

Hayward and Lacey pack in enough freshness and a few honestly earned surprises to make Practitioners a book I can easily recommend. It really did hit all the right buttons for me between its awesomely designed cover by Rachel Autumn Deering, and a highly cool concept and well articulated vision from the authors, one that exists on multiple planes of reality and features some neat-o fantasyland magic and killer monsters. I mean, who doesn't love killer monsters?

[Note: I received an advanced review copy of this title from the author.]

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Review: The Switch House by Tim Meyer

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I try to approach each book I read with an open mind, but with the hopeful expectation that it will, at the very least, be a decent read. I want to let the author do their thing and then judge for myself how well their story worked for me. Overall, I think I'm pretty good about selecting titles that should work for me based on their synopsis. Sometimes I'm disappointed, sometimes I'm pleased. The best, though, is to discover a work, particularly from a new-to-me author, that proves itself to be positively exceptional.

The Switch House is a slim novel that absolutely rocks right from the get-go, firing on all cylinders the whole way through, catapulting readers from one crazy violent encounter to the next. Tim Meyer takes a no-holds-barred approached to the scenes of bloody mayhem, and there were a few impactful moments that made me wince. He also proves strikingly adept at crafting psychological horror, and one big reveal in the book's climax wrung me dry, my heart lurching as I mentally screamed "HOW COULD YOU?" at one character.

Meyer uses tragedy as the framework here, building his house of horrors around it, revealing additional levels of complexity with each chapter. Bereft over the loss of their child, Angela and Terry sought an escape from their normal lives by auditioning for, and winning a spot in, the reality show, Let's Switch Houses! Returning to their normal lives isn't easy for Angela, especially after she spots a hole in the bathroom wall that peers into...well, elsewhere. She begins having vivid nightmares, realizing that whoever lived in their home during the swap did some very dark things there.

There's so much I want to say about this book, but I fear that so much of it would dive headlong into spoiler territory. I will say that The Switch House is twisty as all get-out, and is the kind of read that will have you questioning the reality of the events and the characters depicted here. I found myself flip-flopping a few times on whether or not Meyer intended this to be a straightforward narrative and on the reliability of Angela's viewpoints. I think I have my answer, but I suspect yours may be quite different.

Despite its short page count, there's an awful lot to digest here. The Switch House is slim in pages, but filled to the brim with concepts and ideas. Meyer pulls in cosmic horror, psychological horror, chaotic and frightening depictions of hell, plenty of paranoia, and bucketfuls of bloody mayhem. It's a rare thing indeed when I finish a book's prologue and already find myself questioning whatever life choices I've made that I'm only just now discovering Tim fucking Meyer. How the hell have I not read this guy before? That's gonna change real fast, I can tell you that right now.

[Note: I received an advance reader's copy of this title for review.]

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Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On his podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, Keene has mentioned a few times that Darkness on the Edge of Town was partly inspired by Stephen King's The Mist. Commonalities certainly exist, but there's also more than a touch of King's Under the Dome, as if Keene and King had tapped into similar wavelengths and wrote their works concurrently, and likely unbeknownst to each other. King's Dome was published at the tail-end of 2009, and the first edition of Darkness was published by Leisure Books at the start of 2010, so clearly something was in the air, reaching into their minds from the beyond. I mention this only because there's a cool kind of synchronicity that can exist between creators and it fascinates and amuses me in almost equal measure that in being influenced by a much earlier King story, Keene wrote a somewhat similar story to a then-more current King tome (even if Dome itself is highly derivative of earlier, superior King books). For my money, though, Darkness on the Edge of Town is easily the better of the two.

As the title indicates, darkness is the predominate theme to this particular work. The town of Walden has been blanketed in perpetual night thick enough to blot out the stars. This darkness encases the town, and to leave Walden is suicide (but staying put could also mean certain death). Those who cross the city limits are never seen again, the violent cries of their death throes the final thing that is ever heard from them. Trapped within this small-town, madness begins to take hold as time loses all meaning and supplies begin to grow as scarce as hope.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is, suitably, a dark story. Darkness infests the town as much as it soaks the pages, and the people of Walden are driven toward their baser instincts, guided by their own inner darkness and personal torments. Keene slowly ramps up the violence, escalating from grocery store looters to gang-infested streets, home invasions, and rapes and murders that occur right in the middle of the street. It's bleak, but compulsively readable. I had to know what secrets the darkness held, and whether or not Robbie, Christy, and their neighbors were going to survive this endless night.

I also had to know if and how this book tied into the larger mythos underpinning Keene's narratives. Once the homeless man, Dez, made his appearance and began spouting off arcane craziness, my ears perked right up at the familiar concepts the fine folks of Walden brushed off as insane drivel. My patience was rewarded, and I can say that Darkness on the Edge of Town is most certainly one of the levels in Keene's overarching Labyrinth mythology. I got hints of it in the Clickers books he wrote with J.F. Gonzalez, as well as The Rising, City of the Dead, and The Complex, so I was absolutely delighted to see more of that mythology discussed and elaborated on here.

I'm a sucker for multiplicative Earth's and alternate realities and I dig the way Keene has merged scientific principles, like string theory and quantum mechanics, in a very layman way, with mythological stories to create a multi-storied overarching narrative to connect his works. Best of all, though, is that each of these works function independently. You need not have read The Rising to understand Darkness on the Edge of Town, but if you have you'll find some sweet name-drops along the way. This book in particular is a solid stand-alone, but it's made richer by the baked-in connectivity to Keene's other works.

While all that stuff is certainly cool to be sure, the story surrounding all these little Easter Eggs is just as good. I dug the characters and how they responded to the darkness encroaching upon both the town and their psyches. There's some great interpersonal dynamics at play, as well as some smaller examinations of mob mentality and how vicious and extreme human behavior can get in dire, pressing situations. Darkness is a bleak read on the whole, but a highly infectious one. Like Robbie and his neighbors, the darkness got into my head, too, and it forced me to keep turning the pages. Thankfully, I had plenty of light to read by.

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Review: Eat the Rich by Renee Miller

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Eat the Rich
By Renee Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ed is at the end of his rope - a bit of an asshole, frustrated by the dead-end rut his life has fallen into, and trapped by debt and a loveless marriage. He makes the decision to walk away from it all, to trade his home and wife for a life of homelessness and freedom. What initially sounds like a glorified camping trip, minus even those simple luxuries of a vacation spent roughing it, ends with Ed directly involved in an alien overthrow of Earth. Led by Dahl, the human-looking invaders have gone planet to planet, freeing the local populations from the tyranny of oppressive capitalism. As the title might indicate, the aliens have a little bit more in store for Earth's 1%. Freeing humanity from the scourge of inequality is great and all, but even more important is the simple fact that rich people taste delicious.

Eat the Rich isn't quite the in-your-face work of message fiction I was expecting, and even mildly wanting, and while there is some exploration of the good and bad in contemporary capitalism Renee Miller is more focused on delivering a work of super-fun alien pulp horror. Economic politics may be the instigating premise behind Eat the Rich, but Miller is careful not to pound readers over the head with her personal opinions as she explores the ways in which certain ideas may appear superficially attractive but can quickly descend into madness. The denouement is very much a 'be careful what you wish for,' particularly in terms of utopian fantasy, let alone one involving life under extraterrestrial rule.

Of course, any kind of politics in fiction is too much for some reader's to handle, but if one were that worried about confronting opposing viewpoints or afraid of encountering even fictional liberal or conservative values in the first place, you probably wouldn't be looking at a book entitled Eat the Rich lest you're deliberately attempting to offend your own delicate sensibilities. And in which case, you probably shouldn't be reading horror or science fiction in the first place, both of which genres are present in this book in spades.

On the other hand, you have at least come this far in considering Eat the Rich, even if only superficially, and either have some kind of backbone, decent taste in fiction, and are either a cannibal or have a serious axe to grind, and so I encourage you to give it a read. It's fun, schlocky, gory entertainment, with sparse prose that makes for an easy breezy read. I quite enjoyed reading about Ed's encounters with various aliens, the police detective Marin, who is charged with investigating the murders of local elites, and the quisling Gopher who hesitatingly introduces Ed to Dahl. The relationship between Ed and Dahl, in fact, is reason enough to check out Eat the Rich and provides an interesting bit of meat and particular complications as the narrative progresses.

If I have any complaint about Miller's story, it's that it moves a bit too fast, with certain big acts getting glossed over. Some aspects of the alien invasion are told through second-hand sources, like news reports and characters telling other characters about things that occurred off-page. I would have preferred Miller to write about such instances directly, giving them a bit more prominence and a wider stage to play out on. On the whole, this is a fairly minor quibble, but it would have been nice to get some more face-eating action on page.

What action does make it to the page, though, and there is plenty, is highly entertaining. Eat the Rich is more Mars Attacks than in terms of alien invasion concepts, and Miller's focus is more on fun than extrapolations of sociopolitical dynamics. This isn't a book that will change the world, and maybe that's a good thing. After all, one person's utopia is another's dystopian nightmare.

[Note: I received an advanced print copy of this title from the publisher, Hindered Souls Press. It came delivered in a biohazard specimen bag, as somebody at this small press publisher is clearly a marketing genius. Alas, no bones or tissue samples were included.]

No rich people were harmed in the writing of this review.

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Review: Halcyon by Rio Youers

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Halcyon: A Thriller
By Rio Youers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Halcyon is my first novel-length exposure to Rio Youers, although I had previously read only a single short story from him in the anthology Seize the Night: New Tales of Vampiric Terror. In fact, it was that short story that made me eager to read more of Youers work, and Halcyon served as an excellent introduction to his long-form writing. I suspect, though, that a simple WOW! isn't quite satisfactory enough for a review, but it encapsulates my feelings perfectly.

For the first 30-50%, Halcyon is a bit of a dual narrative that ultimately meets in the middle. On one hand, you have a cult whose members are carrying out unrelated terror attacks in various American locales. On the other hand, you have Martin Lovegrove and his family, who are doing their best to cope with daughter Edith's night terrors. Her night terrors, in fact, are premonitions of violent incidents linked to Mother Moon's cult activities. As the story progresses, and without spoiling the nitty gritty of it all, Martin's family and Mother Moon's cult grow inextricably entwined.

Rio's writing is top-notch, and his storytelling prowess is honed to a knifepoint's edge, cutting bone deep at times. He lulls you in with a naturalistic style, and builds up his characters in ways subtle enough that even minor events carry the strength of a powder-keg's blast, but when he really goes for the heart and soul it's with unflinching brutality. Halcyon gave me two particular moments of tragedy in which I had to set the book down for a bit in order to regroup; it's been a while since a book has done that to me on an emotional-level, so huge kudos to Youers for that.

Beyond his excellent character work, I absolutely loved the concept of Mother Moon's cult, which felt perfectly real to me, as well wholly understandable, even a little bit sympathetic. Building off present-day American politics and disillusionment I could, perhaps too easily, believe why people would want to escape to Halcyon and Moon's promise of a simpler, back-to-basics lifestyle. It's more than tempting to leave behind our world of daily mass shootings and the instant-rage machine of social media to live off the grid on an idyllic island retreat, free of the daily grind, where you can reconnect with your family, know your neighbors, and enjoy the beauty of nature. Of course, there is that bit of fine print warning you to be careful what you wish for and if it sounds too good to be true, well then...

This is a book that's packed with suspense, tragedy, several moments guaranteed to ramp up your blood pressure, and plenty of horror from both the supernatural kind and the all too-real world around us. I really cannot recommend it enough, and I think this is a title that is just as deserving, if not more so, than some of this summer's much-hyped reads. Halcyon perfectly balances moments of soul-crushing despair with uplifting hope, reminding us that even in our darkest moments there's still some light to be found if only we look hard enough.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, St. Martin's Press, via NetGalley.]

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Review: Sick House by Jeff Strand [audiobook]

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Sick House
By Jeff Strand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My original SICK HOUSE audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Usually, the haunted house and the home invasion story are two separate tropes within the horror genre, although it could be argued the two certainly have a fair share of overlap, particularly in terms of how the terror is delivered. In Sick House, Jeff Strand tears down whatever walls were separating these particular types of stories to deliver a tale of a home invasion from beyond the grave, one that is, in typical Jeff Strand tradition, laced with plenty of humor in between buckets of blood and gore.

Few authors straddle the realms of comedy and horror as well as Strand, and it can be a difficult balancing act to simultaneously make a reader laugh and feel grossed out. For Strand, though, it’s a natural talent and his comedic chops are firmly on display here. Paige, the thirteen-year-old daughter of new homeowners Boyd and Adeline Gardner, is quintessentially Strand, constantly trying her parents with her outlandish, ribald commentary that leaves Boyd demanding to know, “Why are you so comfortable with me?!” The dialogue between each of Strand’s characters is witty and tack-sharp, and it’s always a pleasure to listen to the character’s conversations unfold.

This lightness, however, is offset by moments to makes you squirm and, eventually, sheer brutality. Shortly after moving into their new home, the Gardener’s begin to notice that their freshly bought groceries rot with incredible swiftness, and soon several of them become ill. Odd occurrences mark their days with increasing rapidity until the ghosts finally make their presence known and the terror sets in. Strand delivers a number of extremely well-executed and shockingly violent set pieces as the Gardener’s struggle to survive, but it comes with a minor caveat. Some of the metaphysical shenanigans got a little too cartoonish for me, but I still found Sick House to be solidly entertaining overall.

Joe Hempel’s narration is wonderfully straight-forward, which serves to help keep the material grounded. I think that a less capable narrator might be inclined to ham it up and lean hard into some of the book’s slapstick elements, but Hempel acts as the straight man to Strand’s comedic stylings. Hempel and Strand make for a great double act, and I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Joe to not crack up at some of the material he reads here. Thankfully, the narration is smooth and flawless, uninterrupted by gales of laughter and gasps of discomfort, which is left entirely up to the audience to supply.

[Note: Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

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Review: Cockblock by C.V. Hunt

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Cockblock
By C.V. Hunt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Heading out for a posh date night, Sonya and her girlfriend Callie find themselves harassed by groups of men as they walk from their apartment to a nearby Italian restaurant. The men quickly escalate from shitty pick-up lines and cat-calling to more sexually aggressive attacks. Sonya and Callie find that escaping into the restaurant has only brought them deeper into a realm of eye-opening depravity. Everywhere, men are transforming into violent sex-crazed zombies, all thanks to a message originating from a radio broadcast being delivered by the President of the United States. If the women of America have any hope of surviving, they have to terminate the message directly at its source. But will they be able to make it to DC and survive the sea of fully-erect men standing in their way?

Cockblockby C.V. Hunt is a work of extreme horror, and an original, wildly interesting, and often-times painful, riff on the zombie apocalypse. Yes, it's violent and angry and sexually-charged and filled with depictions of rape, but never callously or needlessly so. This is a work of extreme horror borne straight from the depths of the Trump administration, and it's necessarily grizzly.

What do you do when the supreme figurehead of your country is a repulsive, pussy-grabbing, racist, morally bankrupt, bigoted egomaniac whose daily existence is a dog-whistle for the absolute worst in American society? What happens when your friends and neighbors, even members of your own family, are suddenly rallied, energized, and transformed into savage, mindless, lunatic zombies by that man's messages of hate? You resist. You fight back. You try to fix your country anyway you can.

Cockblock is a smart and swift slice of Resistance fiction, one that is by its very nature ugly and sickening but with a core filled with enough rabble-rousing girl-power to give readers hope. I have little doubt that men will ultimately destroy this world, and that women will be the ones responsible and smart enough to fix our ineptitude and misdeeds. Sonya and Callie are forced to contend with a world that has changed overnight, in the blink of an eye, and has rolled over to expose its vile, cancerous, dark underbelly. Giving up isn't in their nature, though, and despite all the overwhelming sexual violence levied against them they never surrender - they keep fighting, and I kept rooting for them, living vicariously through them as they kicked every pair of diseased, low-hanging balls that got in their way.

Hunt filters Cockblock through a grindhouse aesthetic (appropriate, as the publisher of Cockblock is Grindhouse Press), drawing upon not only traditional zombie fare but various exploitative film genres as rape and revenge, women in prison, and sexploitation flicks. It's a bit of Caligula, a bit of I Spit On Your Grave, a bit of Roger Corman, and way too fucking much of Trump's America. Hunt's protagonists take their fight straight to the streets and all the way to the top with an angry, energetic fervor that makes Cockblock one of the most surprisingly patriotic splatterpunk reads I've come across, with one of the most satisfying finales I've read in some time. This book is a drop-kick straight to Trump's nutsack, and I fucking loved it. This book gets all the stars, and a few extra stripes of red, white, and blue to go with them.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher.]

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Interview: Hunter Shea, author of Jurassic Florida

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Hunter Shea has been a favorite of mine for a few years now, earning my attention rather quickly with his weird western novel Hell Hole [review]. The fact that Hunter is one of the most reviewed authors on this site speaks both to my love for the man's work and also just how damn prolific he is. I haven't read all of Hunter's books just yet, but it's pretty damn close. Over the last few years, Mr. Shea has become inextricably entwined with creature features, oftentimes of the cryptozoological nature, and his particular brand of horror is all about fun. While the monsters are certainly important, the human element is equally well-crafted and vital to the success of Hunter's works.

This summer and fall, Kensington Books is releasing Hunter's One Size Eats All trilogy. Like last year's Mail Order Massacres, each title will be a stand-alone novella tied to one another by a common theme. First up is Jurassic Florida, which released this past Tuesday (you can read my review here). To mark this new release, Hunter was kind enough to join the High Fever Books blog for a few questions. Welcome to the blog, Hunter! 


Favorite beer and favorite scream queen or Final Girl?

Oh man, favorite beer? It’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. For many, many moons, it was Sapporo, but lately I’m digging 914 by Yonkers Brewing. Love their place on the Hudson River, too. As for my favorite Final Girl, if we’re going old school, it’s Julie Adams from Creature From The Black Lagoon for damn sure. In more modern times, I would have to say Sharni Vinson as Erin in You’re Next. That little waif of a woman was a total bad ass.

It looks like your first published book was 2011’s Forest of Shadows, and over the last seven years you’ve built up a hell of a catalog of titles. How long were you writing prior to becoming a published author and tell us a bit about your writing process. What allows you to pump out so many consistently good and entertaining books so quickly?

I got bitten by the writing bug in the mid-90s. I spent years working on short stories, tried my hand at a couple of novellas, then dove into the deep end and wrote a romantic comedy as my first novel. I just wanted to see if I could sustain that passion and momentum for a whole book. Once I proved to myself I could, I wrote another, this one a pretty dark comedy. All of it was prep work to write my true love, horror. I didn’t want to do it until I felt I was ready. Forest of Shadows took years to write because my kids were babies at the time, and years sitting in one editor’s hands (Don D’Auria) before it got accepted. But it was worth the wait. When I’m working on a book, I try to write at least 1,000 words every day, trying to double the output on weekends. That way, I know I can get a book done and edited in 4-5 months. Novellas I attack like a sprinter. They key is to just sit my ass down and write. There are so many distractions out there, but if you want to be a working writer, you have to learn to ignore them. There’s no shortage of ideas, just time to get them all out of my head.

You don’t just write about the paranormal and cryptozoological, but you actively seek it out. In your Monster Men YouTube series, you’ve discussed all things supernatural and have taken the occasional visit to a haunted cemetery or two. Where did this fascination come from, and have you had any encounters with the supernatural? Tell us about your monster hunting!

Growing up, one of my grandmother’s was a psychic. Not the kind that had people pay her money to read their palms or tell their future. My grandfather said she would hold séances and he’d seen their table levitate a couple of times. By the time she was just grandma to me, she looked a lot like Mrs. Butterworth. She was an amazingly sweet lady who never talked about her gift. Cut to my getting married and my wife and I moved into what we now know is a haunted house. We see a boy walking around from time to time. Not like a pale ghost, but an actual boy. You get this very calming feeling when he’s around. It’s hard to describe. I’ve had several other odd experiences, including one the night my father passed, that make it impossible for me not to believe there’s more to death than just THE END. I haven’t done much monster hunting simply because there aren’t many monster sightings in lower New York. LOL But, I have gone on many, many UFO hunts in Orange County, NY.

Jurassic, Florida just came out earlier this week and revolves around the sleepy little town of Polo Springs coming under attack by enormous prehistoric iguanas. What do you have against iguanas? What made them the perfect monstrosity to base a story around in your latest creature feature?

I hate reptiles. I love animals, just not snakes and lizards. My kids have been asking for a pet iguana since they could talk. I tell them they are free to get as many iguanas as they want when they move out. My editor and I wanted to do this big, Bert I. Gordon inspired novella with giant reptiles. Watching Floridians get eaten by them just seemed like a lot of fun (no offense to Floridians – I get joy out of all people being terrorized by prehistoric beasts). Now I can tick killer giant iguanas off my writing bucket list.

Jurassic, Florida is also notable for being the first in a series of novellas for Kensington Books that are united under the One Size Eats All banner. Last summer you wrote the Mail Order Massacres novella series for them. How did these trilogies develop? What’s the creative processes like in bringing these works to life?

I have a great editor there, Gary Goldstein, who, like me, is just a big kid warped by comic books, B movies and bad television. We had so much success with the Mail Order Massacres series that we wanted to tackle a new one, but shift it from comics to nature gone wild. The original series title was Hunter Shea’s Don’t Fuck With Nature, but naturally we were turned down on that one. Gary and I trolled for stories on the Internet for inspiration. Living in NY, we read a news article about how rats were becoming resistant to rodenticide, so in comes Rattus New Yorkus. Another story about swarms of tiny iguanas got us to Jurassic Florida. The Devil’s Fingers came from I think Gary seeing a horrid picture of what they look like. Once I saw it, I ran with it. Those things look like they’re either from outer space or hell.  

Over the course of your career so far, we’ve had books about Loch Ness, Orang Pendek, a megalodon, the Montauk Monster, chimera fish, and so, so much more. How do you decide what creature to feature from book to book? When you set out to write, does the creature come first, or do you develop a story around the creature first and plug in a threat? Do you have a list of cryptids you’re working your way through?

It’s crazy how I’ve fallen down this cryptid hole. And I love it. I’m a huge fan of cryptozoology, so yes, I do have a list. I always start with the monster and flesh the story out from there. Even though they’re creature features, getting the humans just right is most important to me. People don’t walk away from Loch Ness Revenge wanting more Nessie. They want more Nat and Austin and Henrik. That makes me happy. Plus, I’m just having a ball writing about all the beasties that have fascinated me since I was a kid.

What’s your personal favorite cryptid (and why)? Is there a creature you haven’t written about yet, but that you’re dying to tackle in the future?

Growing up, I was a huge Nessie lover. I wanted to move to Scotland and just live on the Loch. Back then, I loved any aquatic creature. My fascination went from sharks to whales to Nessie. Now, to me, the most fascinating cryptid and backstory belongs to the Mothman, hands down. Everyone should read John Keel’s book, The Mothman Prophecies. We are talking some wild, weird stuff. It wasn’t just about a winged creature terrorizing people. We’re talking ghosts, UFOs, men in black and so much more. I really have to get my butt to the annual festival this year.

You’re perhaps best known for writing really fun, humorous, off-the-wall works of horror that are high on action and adventure. But you’ve also got a few works that are more serious in tone, like We Are Always Watching. In the fall, Flame Tree Press will be releasing its first wave of horror titles, including your novel Creature, which sounds like it’s one of your more serious works with its heroine, Kate, suffering from an autoimmune disease. What can you tell us about Creature and how your own life inspired this book?

I love character driven stories, and Flame Tree gave me a golden opportunity to explore some dark and scary issues. It was very difficult to write because so much of it is drawn from my own life. My wife has a series of autoimmune diseases that have nearly taken her life more times than we can count. I took all that fear we’ve experienced and laid it out on the page. Sure, it’s set in a cottage in the Maine woods, but it’s not a teen slasher romp. I want readers not just to be scared by the antagonist, but to also understand how tenuous their own health and lives are. Nothing is more frightening than that. People who loved We Are Always Watching I think- I hope - will devour this one.

Creature also sees you working again with famed horror editor, Don D’Auria. You worked with him previously when you both were with the now defunct Samhain Publishing. How was it working with Don again? 

I love Don. He was the only editor I sent my very first book to because I only wanted to work with him. And by some magical twist of fate, here we are years later, not just editor and writer, but friends. Don is great because he values the writer’s vision. If he’s chosen to work with you, it’s because he loves your work and trusts your instincts. He’s just there to tighten things up for you. It’s incredible creative freedom. With Don, I can try my hand at just about anything, so long as it hits certain marks and has characters people give a crap about. Without that, you have nothing.

Do you prefer writing the pulpy creature features, or the more serious horror novels like We Are Always Watching? Do you find one style to be more rewarding?

The more serious toned books are much, much harder to write and like all things in life, more fulfilling. It’s just a different experience. I almost feel like when I write the creature features, I’m a kid who can’t believe I get to do this for a living. When I step into a book like Creature, I have to put my big boy pants on and be an adult. Both are extremely satisfying in their own ways.

What comes next for you? Pimp away!

After Jurassic Florida, the next in the series, Rattus New Yorkus will come out in August, followed by the series ender, The Devil’s Fingers in October (just in time for Halloween!!!). Right now, I’m working on a ghost writing project that is a whole new world for me. Once that’s complete, I have a new novella for Severed Press to work on that people who dig The Thing will salivate over. Then it’s on to my next book with Don and Flame Tree. Speaking of that, I have to get the synopsis over to him!

Where can readers find you? Share you links!

It’s all at www.huntershea.com. On Instagram, you can find me @huntershea2017. Feel free to visit me any time! I actually respond to folks when they reach out to me. :) 


Jurassic Florida.jpg

FLORIDA. IT’S WHERE YOU GO TO DIE.
Welcome to Polo Springs, a sleepy little town on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s a great place to live—if you don’t mind the hurricanes. Or the flooding. Or the unusual wildlife . . .
 
IGUANAS. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE. 
Maybe it’s the weather. But the whole town is overrun with the little green bastards this year. They’re causing a lot of damage. They’re eating everything in sight. And they’re just the babies . . .
 
HUMANS. THEY’RE WHAT’S FOR DINNER.
The mayor wants to address the iguana problem. But when Hurricane Ramona slams the coast, the town has a bigger problem on their hands. Bigger iguanas. Bigger than a double-wide. Unleashed by the storm, this razor-toothed horde of prehistoric predators rises up from the depths—and descends on the town like retirees at an early bird special. Except humans are on the menu. And it’s all you can eat . . .


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