Review: How to take the back roads to the frontal lobes and end up cowering under the covers.

51BVk9RHzoL._SS400_Back Roads and Frontal Lobes
by Brady Allen

A collection of 23 short stories
2012 Post Mordem Press
10/10 Arjays (because nothing is cooler than an Arjay!)
Since September, I’ve been doing a progressive hit-and-run reading through Brady Allen’s premiere collection of short stories. I worked on it in chunks, taking breaks between stories, and also tackling  two novels and a holiday collection.

Perhaps because of this approach, more than anything else, my sanity remained intact during the shocking, disturbing, and wonderfully gobsmack-tastic stories presented within (though I suppose some may tell me it’s not as intact as I tell  myself, but I digress).

The title promises to take you to dark places, and the collection does not disappoint. Honestly, as a ghost story and sci-fi reader, it goes to darker places than my recreational reading habits are used to. Paranormal romance readers and Twi “LIGHT” readers, consider yourself warned.

A "candid" photo of R.J. reading Back Roads and Frontal Lobes
A “candid” photo of R.J. reading Back Roads and Frontal Lobes

I gave this collection my highest rating. That does NOT mean that I absolutely loved everything here without reservation. In my opinion, few readers will fall in love with everything here. I didn’t “get” a couple of stories. Others crossed into the realm of “too much.” But I loved most of it, and more to the point, I love the ambition of all of it.

You see, this collection defines what the term “edgy” storyteller really means.

If there is one overused, abused, and burdened word in all of modern horror, it’s “edgy.” Though kicked around all the time in fallback market-speak (I’ve even used it referring to myself), readers rarely experience a writer truly on the edge.

In this collection, Brady Allen makes 23 attempts to take you somewhere unique and exciting. Someplace you have never gone before. A handful of those times, he won’t quite get there. Most of those times, he will. What Brady will never do is play it safe. Never. And that’s what I admire about even the attempts that fall short. Even when I read something that falls a little flat, he by-God went for it, doing the narrative equivalent of standing on the high wire hopping on one foot while juggling chainsaws. So even when a chainsaw falls to the ground, you can’t help but salute the attempt. And when he succeeds, it’s even more amazing.

This collection, more than most, relies on what you bring in with with you, but I can say with confidence you will enjoy much from this collection. You may not think as much of the bittersweet ghost story “Small Square of Light” as I did. You may think more of “Devil and Dairy Cow” than I. You may prefer the sci-fi over the horror, you may gravitate toward the rays of hope in some tales or prefer to bask in the tone of impending doom of others.

One thing is clear with every story. Brady loves people. Rednecks, working professionals, rich or poor, the practical and the dreamers, he loves their spirit, even when the shell has cracked and insanity has overwhelmed them, even when society has turned against them, Brady admires people in their everyday struggles, both in the familiar normal or the new normal his sci-fi tales spell out.

He loves the camaraderie in everyday public gatherings. Just try to count the diners, pubs, truck stops, bars, and other similar places. Each one unique, filled with people and their dreams, desires, so  many of them beaten down and overwhelmed by their own baggage.

Since it’s my review, I’m obliged to discuss  some of my very favorites. And if you’ll pardon the bad pun,  your mileage, and opinion, may vary during your own travel of these back roads.

I very much enjoyed the very insane observations of Ned, who thinks he’s got it all together when nothing can be further from the truth in “Not Over Easy”.

I got a huge kick out of the twin tales “Taste of a Heart” and “Burger”, both featuring Rose Holmes, redneck psycho or perhaps something far more sinister.

I loved the trippy psychedelic journey as “Bear Hogan Walks the Sky”.
I dug the Twilight Zone-esque twist of a hapless late-night traveler’s unpleasant stop for gas and snacks at a filing station where “It Lives and Breathes”.

I wept to his blues tales of “Blues Bus to Memphis” and “The Ballad of Mac Johnstone”. Blues Bus, in fact, hits upon a universal truth of any artist trying to pursue their dream. A highlight in the collection that still haunts me today.

I read while peeking between two fingers of my hand during the–for lack of a better term–“Deliverance fiction” setup of in “Sh**s and Giggles”.

“Praying” and “There Are No Hills” are both powerful presentations of perseverance in two possible distopia / post apocalyptic futures.

And more, but that’s enough for this  review.

But I wanted to give special kudos to “The ‘Ists After the Apocalypse”, what I feel is the best of the bunch. Part political commentary, part zombie thriller, set in a world populated with fantstically drawn characters and situations, a story which, for me,  ended way too soon and could easily be expanded into a larger work. (hint-hint)

Bottom line: Those brave enough to travel Brady Allen’s Back Roads and Frontal Lobes will return much better for it. This collection receives my highest recommendation for those who love dark, edgy horror.

Hoosier Horror for the Holidays

The Mooresville Public Library

and the

Indiana Horror Writers

Present

Hoosier Horror for the Holidays

A gathering of Indiana authors with: Vampires, ghosts, pirates, superheroes, fantasy warriors, wizards, and more!

Saturday, November 3,
1-3 PM

Mooresville Public Library
220 West Harrison Street
Mooresville, Indiana 46158
317.831.7323, mooresvillelib.org

Featuring:

Matt Adams: Indianapolis, Author of superhero prose, lives and works in Indianapolis. Long ago, I planned to patrol the streets as Batman, but ultimately decided writing was safer. www.mattadamswriter.com I, Crimsonstreak.

Maurice Broaddus: Indianapolis, co-editor of the Dark Faith anthologies (Apex Books) and author of the urban fantasy trilogy, Knights of Breton Court (Angry Robot Books). www.MauriceBroaddus.com King’s Justice, King Maker, King’s War, Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, and more.

Nicole Cushing: Southern Indiana, prolific author of horrific short stories. www.nicolecushing.wordpress.com Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beast Within (anthology); and the forthcoming novella Children of No One.

Eric Garrison: Indianapolis, dark supernatural fantasies: ghosts, demonic possession and sinister fairy folk. www.ericgarrison.wordpress.com Road Ghosts (3-in-1), Blue Spirit.

Roberta Hoffer: Indianapolis, three words: Romantic Vampire Series. www.asilentheart.com Silent Heart, Silent Madness.

R.J. Sullivan: Camby, author of edgy ghost stories and paranormal thrillers. www.rjsullivanfiction.com Haunting Blue, Haunting Obsession, Contributor to Dark Faith: Invocations

Kathy Watness: North Salem, serial contributor to fantasy anthologies, such as the Blue Kingdom series, “Terribly Twisted Tales,” and The Crimson Pact, V.1.

Michael West: Indianapolis, prolific author of traditional horror and scares. www.bymichaelwest.com Cinema of Shadows, Wide Game, Poseidon’s Children, Skull Full of Kisses, and the just-released Spook House.

RJ Sullivan Publishing News Press Release

For Immediate Release
February 23, 2012

Seventh Star Press Announces Four-Book Deal with Paranormal Author R.J. Sullivan
Seventh Star Press proudly announces a four book deal with author R.J. Sullivan, making him the seventh author to come aboard the publisher’s main roster.

The addition of R.J. Sullivan comes close after Seventh Star Press’ strongest year yet, during which titles such as Jackie Gamber‘s Redheart and Michael West‘s Cinema of Shadows received excellent critical reception, and the artwork featured by the press also received increased recognition, as Matthew Perry recently won Top Cover Art in the 2011 Tor.com Readers Choice Awards for his cover art on Stephen Zimmer‘s The Seventh Throne.

The first title to be released by Seventh Star Press, Haunting Obsession, tells the story of Daryl Beasley. Daryl collects all things Maxine Marie, whose famous curves and fast lifestyle made her a Hollywood icon for decades after her tragic death. Daryl’s girlfriend, Loretta Stevens, knew about his geeky lifestyle when they started dating, but she loves him, quirks and all.

Then one day Daryl chooses to buy a particularly tacky piece of memorabilia instead of Loretta’s birthday present. Daryl ends up in the doghouse, not only with Loretta, but with Maxine Marie herself. The legendary blonde returns from the dead to give Daryl a piece of her mind—and a haunting obsession he’ll never forget.

A member of the Indiana Horror Writers, R. J. Sullivan resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. His first novel, Haunting Blue, is an edgy paranormal thriller about punk girl loner Fiona “Blue” Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren.

R.J. is hard at work on the next chapter in Fiona’s story, Virtual Blue, which will be released in 2013, followed by two more novels over the course of 2013 and 2014.

“I was with Michael West at several events last year, and I couldn’t help but notice the slick marketing materials he was handing out,” R.J. Sullivan commented as to why he wanted to bring his work to Seventh Star Press. “I saw how Seventh Star had a personal presence nearby to assist at the cons. I realized that having the publisher at those events changes the convention vibe, which can otherwise be an isolated experience. I love that they produce interior artwork as part of their product–it shows an understanding of the genre and its readers. It’s clear Seventh Star understand the modern publishing world, and does everything they can to open up opportunities for the author to succeed.”

Bonnie Wasson, whose cover art and illustrations are featured in Seventh Star Press titles such as D.A. Adams’ The Brotherhood of Dwarves series, will be creating the artwork for the R.J. Sullivan novels.

Haunting Obsession will be released in limited hardcover, softcover (trade paperback), and several eBook editions, including versions for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, and Sony-compatible devices.

For further information on R.J. Sullivan and the upcoming releases, please visit www.seventhstarpress.com or the author’s site at www.rjsullivanfiction.com

Seventh Star Press is a small press publisher of speculative fiction located in Lexington Kentucky

Guest Blogger–Gary W. Olson on his new release Brutal Light

The Story Behind “Brutal Light”

It wasn’t until I looked back to the beginning, and saw the path I had taken–which had led me to a story and a world that felt mired in the weight of everything I was trying to cram into it–that I saw the path that would lead me out.  It was a path that meant leaving everything I thought defined the story behind, save its core, and starting anew with a resolute focus on that core–a hard thing, given how many years I had been trying to make it work.  But I took it… and at its end was what is now my debut novel, being published today–“Brutal Light”.

Identity, I’ve come to realize, has always been a central issue in my writing.  There are so many ways we cling to words and the ideas behind them–and often, any ideas that seem attached to them, whether or not they should be–and, for so many, a terror at having these words and ideas ripped away.  Who am I, underneath all the words I say define me, and am I really sure there’s any ‘me’ there?

On deciding to write my first novel, I drew on stories I wrote for Internet reader consumption in the nineties for inspiration, and wrote the draft at a blistering, NaNoWriMo-esque pace.  The end result was, of course, awful, as I’m told should be expected for such a first draft.  Unfortunately, I no longer have a copy of that draft, so I can no longer say how well the question of identity shines through.  But it was reflection on this quick draft that informed my next stab at a novel.

This new version featured a woman–a former subject of experimentation intended to end the ravages of nanobot swarms–whose change in a crucial moment caused the physical rules of the world to go haywire, causing dimensions to unravel, cities to burn in a perpetual dream state, and worse.  The story centered on her journey–along with that of her involuntary companions–across this strange and twisted North American landscape, pursued by those who want to take her power and those she has wronged.  It was strange and weird and full of spectacle–and it just did not work.  The storyline got completely lost in the second half, though I bulldozed on, convinced I could fix things in the next draft.

I certainly tried.  The next draft kept the general setup, but tried to focus the action and spectacle in a single ‘dreaming city,’ as if it had been the shifting locales in the previous version that had been the problem.  This draft shambled to a halt at the midway point, and another attempt at revision did likewise.  The story seemed dead in the water; for a while, it was.

In 2002 or 2003, a friend of mine asked if I would contribute a story to an anthology he was planning to produce, on the broad subject of heroism.  With little time to work, I looked back on my previous novel drafts for inspiration.  That was when I took stock, and looked back to see the path I had taken.  I realized I had lost sight of what the story was about, and that I had focused so much on the spectacle that I had lost sight of the characters beneath it.  Worse, I had let the character at the center of the ‘power’ issue become a cipher, viewed wholly through other eyes, where the ways she might contend with identity were obscured.

The way out soon became clear to me.  The characters had to become central again, even if it meant ditching the weird wild post-apocalyptic landscape I’d developed and situate events in a modern city where the rules were clear, at least on the surface.  My ‘power’ character became human again, and as I considered her relationship with the power–which, in this version, would sometimes act through her despite her wishes–the story grew, spawning other characters with their own identity issues.  And no matter how weird and bloody the story got–it plunges headlong into territory more twisted and dark than anything in the previous versions–it was anchored by who the characters were… and what they found beneath the words they had for who they were.

The anthology never saw daylight, unfortunately, but the short story became the starting point for a new first novel draft.  When I finished that draft, I knew that the story so long struggling to emerge from my fingertips was out at last.  The rest was denouement–editing, rewriting, polishing, and years of slinging it around at various agents and publishers until I found Damnation Books.

I learned a lot during this journey–not only in terms of storytelling and prose mechanics, though I certainly learned a lot about those.  I learned how to find the core of the story and how to preserve it from ‘spectacle creep.’  I learned how one of the most invaluable traits that aids in making it to publication is a persistence that would make a mule shake its head and say ‘damn.’  Most of all, I learned how to look beneath the words we use to define ourselves to the world, in both my characters and myself.

*

Blurb for “Brutal Light”:

All Kagami Takeda wants is to be left alone, so that no one else can be destroyed by the madness she keeps at bay.  Her connection to the Radiance–a merciless and godlike sea of light–has driven her family insane and given her lover strange abilities and terrible visions.  But the occult forces that covet her access to the Radiance are relentless in their pursuit.  Worse, the Radiance itself has created an enemy who can kill her–a fate that would unleash its ravenous power on a defenseless city…

Rhea Cole is also on the run, after murdering her husband with a power she never knew she had–a power given her by a strange girl with a single touch.  Pursued by a grim man unable to dream and a dead soul with a taste for human flesh, she must contend with those who would use her to open the way to the Radiance, and fight a battle that stretches from the streets of Detroit to a forest of terrifying rogue memories.

*

Excerpt from “Brutal Light”:

The light surrounded them, bringing the crushing hum Gordon remembered. His mind screamed with the sound.

He reached into Havelock as Havelock reached into him. At once he was in the forest outside, in the body of a wolf running hard through brush and foliage. Panic beat with the wolf’s heart.  Rage coursed through its nerves with each impact of paw against soil.  The wolf burst into a clearing and saw a boy’s mutilated body.

The wolf slammed to a halt, and Gordon felt himself thrown as if ejected through the windshield of a crashing car. An image of his body formed without his conscious will, and he flew over the boy.  As he crashed into the ground and rolled, he realized he had seen the boy just moments ago, peering through a window. He was almost sure the boy wore the same orange shirt now on the corpse.

Gordon was on his feet in an instant, facing the wolf. But the wolf was gone. Havelock stood in its place, staring down at the boy’s corpse. Horror and guilt surged through the emptiness that was in his expression only a second before. Gordon thought it was like watching him come out of a trance.

Light seethed beyond the trees and stabbed down through the green canopy. Things moved beyond the edge of the clearing, between the trees and the relentless glow. Some were bestial. Some had human shapes. All murmured with a delirious anticipation.

Havelock saw himself as a wolf—that much was clear. The question of why was not clear, and also of no interest. What Gordon wanted to know was why the memory of finding this boy, the memory Gordon triggered with his attack, had been powerful enough to make him drop his guard.

Gordon became conscious that his right hand gripped a handle.  He didn’t need to look away to know that it was part of a shovel, or that it was already drenched with blood. He didn’t need to think of why it had come to his hand.

Unlike Havelock, he knew his demons.

Gordon leapt at Havelock and swung the blade of the shovel at his throat.

*

Buy links for “Brutal Light”:

Amazon.com (Kindle edition)
DamnationBooks.com (.mobi, .epub, .lit, .pdf, .pdb)
Links for of all other vendors (continually updated): http://BrutalLight.GaryWOlson.com
Print ISBN (for ordering paperback via bookstore): 978-1-61572-539-7
Digital ISBN: 978-1-61572-538-0

*

Bio for Gary W. Olson:

Gary W. Olson grew up in Michigan and, despite the weather, stuck around.  In 1991 he graduated from Central Michigan University and went to work as a software engineer.  He loves to read and write stories that transgress the boundaries of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, while examining ideas of identity and its loss in the many forms it can have.

Away from working and writing, Gary enjoys spending time with his wife, their cats, and their mostly reputable family and friends.  His website is at http://www.garywolson.com, and features his blog, “A Taste of Strange” (http://www.garywolson.com/blog), as well as links to everyplace else he is on the Internet, such as Twitter (http://twitter.com/gwox) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/gary.w.olson.author).

New Flash Fiction: Do Better

Do Better
By R. J. Sullivan

“Tommy?” Fingers dug into Tommy’s shoulder, rousing him from deep sleep. Oh, Jessica. Now I remember. Strange to wake up next to his girlfriend. Even more strange to awaken in a room of near-total darkness. He reached down and pressed against the coarse cold of concrete as he drew up into a sitting position. Jessica’s voice, full of panic, reached his. “There’s someone in here. She looks like an angel.”

“You’re dreaming. How can there be? You locked us in here hours ago.”

“Don’t be mean, Tommy.” He wanted to go on, He wanted to be mean. He bit back snide remarks that tried to push out of his lips. As he recalled what had happened, the anger at their stupidity stung all over again, no less shocking or painful than the first time.

“Lock the door, Tommy,” she had said. “Lock the door? It’s an abandoned building, sweetheart. No one’s supposed to be here. Who’s going to walk in?” He’d pressed his hand on the side of her pale, smooth face. At that time, he could still see her, drink in the sight of her delicate beauty that still melted his heart like butter. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she bit her lower lip with her intensity. Her eyes promised an incredible night he’d never forget, but only if he complied with her wishes.

“I’ll relax more, Tommy,” she begged. “It will make it better.”

How could he say no? He walked across the hard floor of the abandoned mausoleum, his footsteps echoing in the open chamber, and slammed the outer door shut. The bolt, though rusted, slid easily into the cement slot. When we’re finished, it will unlock easily enough.

Only later, he found out it wouldn’t unlock easily enough. It wouldn’t unlock at all, as if the latch had turned to stone and merged with the outer frame during their minutes of copulation. Then he discovered that several inches of concrete can thoroughly block any sort of cell phone signal.

But that was hours ago, before exhaustion forced his eyes closed, and even the thought of what might happen once their parents realized they were gone could no longer keep him awake.

Now he looked over and….indeed, he could barely make out the silhouette of another presence in the room.

Was there really an angel standing over there? The skeptical side of him screamed, “No, of course not.”  Sure, at one time this could be considered hallowed ground, but we’re not supposed to be here. If Mom and Dad ever find out you’d snuck out of the house to meet Jessica in an abandoned chapel on the grounds of an ancient graveyard, they’d more likely raise something from hell than conjure anything angelic to guide you home.

But there she stood, by the door, and even in the near-total darkness, she radiated an inner light that brought the beautiful, somber features of her face into sharp focus. She turned, took in the two of them, and shook her head.

Befuddled, Tommy could only stare as she reached out a hand toward the door. The air split with the discordant grinding of rusted metal, twisting and giving way, and the door slid open on its own

The breeze of frosty night air chilled Tommy’s body.

The apparition’s eyes met his. Did he imagine a twinkle of amusement? As they stood before her in their disheveled clothes, she wagged an index finger at them.  “If you head straight home now, it’s not too late. Go now, and do better.” With that, she vanished.

Copyright 2011 R.J. Sullivan. If you repost, please credit and link to: https://rjsullivanfiction.wordpress.com/  Thanks.

Fiona Dodwell Interview 2–Obsessed!

Obsessed by Fiona Dodwell
(C) 2011 by Damnation Books
Launched September 1

So Fiona, welcome back! This is the second book release in 2011, with The Banishing having launched this past March. (Click here to read my first interview with Fiona.) Congratulations.

Give us the “elevator pitch” of Obsessed. The title conjures up an array of possibilities.

Well, Obsessed is essentially a story about a haunting. My main character, James Barker, witnesses a suicide on the railway tracks of London, and he begins to see visions of the dead man in his nightmares, in his home. He eventually visits a therapist who assures James he is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. However, James isn’t convinced. He believes he is being visited by a spirit, and, in order to find out why, James begins to look into the dead man’s past. What he finds there leads him into a spiral of obsession and mental disorder.

You chose to remain with Damnation Books for both titles. Tell us what you love about DB that kept you there for your follow-up novel.

I love DB because they love horror, they support horror as a genre, they support horror writers. They’re all about the fiction, and the love of scary books. I couldn’t have wished for a better home for The Banishing and Obsessed. The cover-art, editing, support and help I received was so valuable to me.

How did the editing process go a second time, coming into it with some experience? Was it still nerve-wracking, or do these sorts of processes get easier over time?

I’d say it was easier, simply because I knew what to expect. I wasn’t so nervous. I was able to approach it without the nervousness that preceded the release of The Banishing.

What did you learn from the marketing of The Banishing that you took with you in preparing to market Obsessed? What worked? What’s not worth an author’s time or investment?

Well, The Banishing had a lot planned for its release. There were full page ads placed in some magazines here in the UK. I did two radio interviews, had several successful and positive reviews. I took part in blog tours too. I tend to think an online presence works the best, which is my primary focus for Obsessed. Online is magic, because you can reach the larger numbers. One magazine ad, or one newspaper interview is great, but it only reaches its specific audience – at least online you can move about, spread the word in various places.

Part of the process of book promotion is building an audience which you take with you to follow-up projects. How do you balance the joy of hearing from readers with the pressure of knowing you have fans who now have “expectations”?

It’s difficult. The Banishing was a surprise to me, because it was my first novel, I was so nervous. I half-convinced myself nobody would read it, and then convinced myself that those who would probably wouldn’t like it! I was a mess. However, once it was out there, I began to get very positive reviews. People seemed to enjoy it. I had emails from random readers, just because they wanted to tell me they loved my writing, that they had loved the book. It was a fantastic feeling, and something I feel positive about. What comes with that is the hope that you can do it again. I’m approaching Obsessed with an open mind. I believe it’s a good book – or I would not have put it out there – but I am open minded and sensible enough to know that not everyone who reads it will love it. Some will love it, though, and that makes it worthwhile.

How will Obsessed play to your readers who have expectations from you? How will it confound them? When you write, do you concern yourself with such things, or do you just write to the story?

I just write. I try not to think too deeply, or worry what people will think too much. As I said in the answer above, some people will love my work, others will not. That’s life – that’s human nature. I can’t write a certain story or in a certain way to impress people. I have to be honest. I always do the best I can do, and that’s what I’ve done here. People who read it and come away happy, having enjoyed it, are what it’s all about.
I know in writing The Banishing, you dug pretty deep into subjects most people would find uncomfortable–an abused spouse who chooses to remain with her abuser. Did you do the same “digging” in this book?

Nothing makes me happier than exploring those dark places of human nature! The Banishing explored domestic abuse and demonic possession – two great twins of evil. Obsessed is no different – I this novel and I explored and studied suicide, post-traumatic stress, and spiritual hauntings. Really fascinating subjects. I love to write about such things. I can’t do light and fluffy, I’m afraid!
What’s next for Fiona Dodwell?

I have finished my third novel, The Shift, and am currently submitting it to publishers for consideration. My fourth novel – as yet untitled – is at the very, very early stages, but I’m excited about it!

Links:
WEBSITE: www.fionasfiction.wordpress.com
FACEBOOK: Search under “Fiona Dodwell Horror Author” and you’ll find me on Facebook.

Trailer for Obsessed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=malbnCYxAUk