Category Archives: Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: “Tinsel” by John Boden, from Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted 2011

If you haven’t heard of the magazine, Shock Totem, go check it out. I’m on the fourth story in their latest edition, and every one has been worthy of my silly little series. The first story, by Mercedes Yardley, “Heartless,” will be a spotlight in the near future, but we need her to get feeling better before she reads a few stories for us. I spent nearly all my reading time this week finishing Justin Macumber’s debut Science Fiction novel, Haywire, so I was a little behind preparing for this week, and as a result didn’t have time to ask John if he’d like to read a story. That’s okay though; if he wants to in the future, he’s more than welcome. One of these days I’ll catch up… one of these days.

I’m a funny reader; I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, but I don’t read Romance. For the most part, I like action and stories that show people losing everything. There isn’t much action in John’s story, but every action evokes significant emotions of love and loss. “Tinsel” begins when a man first enters his house after losing his wife of fifty-seven years to a stroke. As the main character walks through the house, he connects what he sees to the memories he has of his wife. John gripped my heart with how he portrays the emotion of being with someone that long, and made me feel the enormous sorrow of what life would be like having that person disappear. I can’t remember reading such a short story that packed such a powerful punch of emotion–talk about “bang for your buck,” this magazine is only $.99 on Kindle.

I recently interviewed Mercedes Yardley,one of the slush pile readers for Shock Totem, for an AudioTim episode to be released 4/11, and she made an excellent point that the stories she accepts have to have an emotional impact. This story is a perfect example of that. It’s a little twisted too, but it makes so much sense that it’s twisted in the kind of way that makes you admit you might do the same thing in that person’s situation.

Mercedes also said that she loves reading horror for the times where it makes her want to run home and hug her children. This was the kind of story that made me appreciate the fact that my wife is still with me. As I read, I compared the main character’s stories with his wife with stories I shared with my wife. When people ask me why I read Horror, I want to point them to this story and ask them to tell me that they don’t walk away a happier person who is more engaged with the blessings of life.

You can find John at his author page on Shock Totem’s website, where he reviews books and stories and has the occasional interview (James Newman, author of Animosity, Midnight Rain, and The Wicked; and John Skipp, who edited the anthology, Demons, a Stoker Award nominee). John has numerous short fiction published: “The Worm Eaters” in 52 Stitches, Vol.2, an anthology with a few other Shock Totem celebs; “In the Morning” on the flash fiction site, Weirdyear; “Strange Yield” on the website, Everyday Weirdness; “The Pass” in Twisted Dreams Magazine; and “Peter Peter” in Black Ink Horror #7.

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Saturday Spotlight: “Plastic” by J.L. Bryan

J.L. Bryan’s short story, “Plastic” is the first story in the newly released anthology The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair. “Plastic” started the book off with a great post-apocalyptic story. The Cough has wiped out most of humanity, and our protagonist wanders into an abandoned mall for shelter and supplies. The ensuing period of isolation from humanity, manikins creating a mirage of company, and an active imagination desperate to find company leads to a tale of progressive insanity that feels so real you wonder if you wouldn’t do the same. Minor sexual content warning, but other than that, 5 stars.

I’m only 60% through reading The Gate 2, but I can share my thoughts on it so far. The subtitle “13 Tales of Isolation and Despair” is accurate; I leave each story feeling unsettled. This anthology is showing me the type of stories I like, and don’t like. It is a mixture of happy and sad endings, though more heavily on the sad so far. I prefer stories that show someone in despair but ending in their overcoming their sadness. Continue reading

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Saturday Spotlight: Indie Rocker, Keith Vance and his album “Go Forward”


I’m doing a double Saturday Spotlight today, posting the other “‘Wool’ and ‘The Plagiarist’ by Hugh Howley” on the New Authors Fellowship blog to help fill in for one of our bloggers. My spotlight on Keith today is a little different than normal, as it is spotlighting music instead of fiction. Keith is an old friend of mine and I really dig his music, so I’m excited to share this with you. Keith’s music reminds me of watching Good Will Hunting. His is more upbeat than Elliot Smith from that movie’s soundtrack, but it has the mellow, down to earth vibe that really resonates with my day to day attitude. I often listen to his music while writing and reading because it makes great background music. Continue reading

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Book Review: SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons

I first learned of Dan Simmons from his story “This Year’s Class Picture,” in the Living Dead anthology, and loved it so much I wrote a Saturday Spotlight about him and this story. One of the benefits of this blog series has been learning new writers to follow, and notice when I’m perusing spines at the book store. This was how I found SUMMER OF NIGHT, at Half Price Books. The idea of a bunch of sixth graders fighting ghosts in a small town one summer sounded appealing, and fit right in as research for a Cub Scout zombie story I was working on. The paperback is 600 pages long, but I finished it today concluding that it is one of my favorite Horror reads. For me, the difference between a 4 and a 5 star book is whether you finish it with a “wow” feeling. That’s how this book ended, and I couldn’t be more satisfied. Continue reading

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Saturday Spotlight: “Home Delivery” by Stephen King

Okay, okay, I know, you’ve heard of this guy before. He’s not perfect, though, and I’ve heard people say different periods of his writing were better than others. In fact, I think he says so himself in his book, On Writing. Anyway, this is one of his many superb stories, and it’s found in The Living Dead anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. I’ve got a long reading list, as you saw in my post “Drooling Over My To Read Pile,” and it was a time drain the past two weeks reading short stories that didn’t meet my requirements of excellence for this series. It’s good to explore new writers, and this series has found quite a few that I’m excited to follow, but sometimes it feels good to pick up a story by a trusted author. A few months back, I spotlighted a story by Dan Simmons, “This Year’s Class Picture,” which is also in this anthology. Continue reading

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Saturday Spotlight: “Courage through Fear” by Ruby Standing Deer

Another five-star story from Evolved Publishing’s anthology Evolution: Volume One is “Courage through Fear” by Ruby Standing Deer. This story caught me off guard with my immediate fear and concern for the main character. This 21 year old girl grifting cross-country with alcoholic husband finds out too late the cost of their freedom. Emotional attachment and the temptations for survival prevent her from escaping just as they would anyone else in her situation. This is a story that will keep your firm attention till the end. There is a brief content warning, though I won’t say what to keep the surprise. I asked Ruby to read a section from the story that is sure to pull you in to the young woman’s plight.

Ruby has a book out with Evolved Publishing called Circles.
In her bio, she says “Life presents us a path; how we choose to navigate that ‘circle’ is up to us.” I would say this philosophy is part of what nailed me into the hero’s quest in “Courage through Fear;” I was captured by her dilemma and cared deeply for her to find her way to safety. I imagine her novel, Circles, will evoke the same sense of connection with the main character’s quest.

I asked Ruby to share a little about the unique setting of Circles, and she also gave us a brief excerpt to illustrate the main character’s voice.

Circles is set in a time rarely written about, in a place of plenty and peace. Seldom bothered by outsiders their culture’s not challenged, but rather deeply rooted in every person from birth. Families passionately connected through bonds with band member share everything, be it food or goings on within the band. Little happens that others do not share in.

Life is happy with humor always part of everyday experiences as well as Spirituality, and fears. Continue reading

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Saturday Spotlight: “In the Deep Dark” by Justin Macumber

“In the Deep Dark” by Justin Macumber is the first story in the Abattoir Presents series. Abattoir is the Psychological Horror webzine of Flying Island Press headed up by Scott Roche. They have a few shorter stories up for free by authors like Phil Rossi and Paul E. Cooley, but Justin’s is the first longer piece they’ve put up. Go to Abattoir’s website to purchase Justin’s story and or listen to the story for free.

Scott’s intro for this story on their website:
“In The Deep Dark” is a keen example of the sort of psychological horror I love. He builds good atmosphere and gets at the core of one of our primal fears. Something wicked is at the heart of the Bluestone Mine and unfortunate things follow. This is a prequel of sorts to a novel that Justin will be putting out, and I look forward to it.

What really grabbed me about this story is that it highlights how even grownups can be afraid of the dark. Being afraid of the dark is one of the purest types of fear, and reminds us of when we were vulnerable children with active imaginations about our basements or closets. In this case, that fear is justified, and even added a few twists to make it a more horrific tale. Justin has a very creative setting and his description of mining is accurate enough to this reader to have felt right in there with the thick of things. It gets thick and quite hairy. Well worth your $1.49 for this chilling thrill ride. The fact that this is a prequel threw me off in a good way, and I look forward to the novel. Justin is also the host of the Dead Robots Society podcast, one of my favorite podcasts on writing.

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Saturday Spotlight: Chair by Martin Mundt

I picked up a habit of listening to short stories on my morning commute, but the risk in that is investing my time on a story without a payoff. I thought for this week, I’d share one story with definite payoff. “Chair,” by Martin Mundt is the first episode on a great new podcast called Tales to Terrify. I was a little surprised to find such a humorous story leading off the playlist for a horror podcast, but it does have terrifying elements, and is overall a tremendous story. The best part about this Saturday Spotlight, is you can listen to this story for free on iTunes or

The main character of this story is a hopeless optimist, who is willing to sell whatever he can to put him on the investment track towards becoming the world’s next quadrillionairre. gutligpinkstink128 (couldn’t afford to pay for capitals) lives in a world where white-collar crime has been legalized and one man is CFO of Earth. One day as gutligpinkstink128 lies in a gutter, letting the toxic waters burn one of his remaining limbs (he sold the rest to help fund his celebrity bobblehead doll franchise), a hover limo pulls up and a man offers him a job working for the aforementioned CFO, Monly Slim. What he does for Mr. Slim, as well as what he discovers while working, is fascinating sci-fi and as humorous as it sad. Thankfully, gutligpinkstink128’s ceaseless optimism and dry humor keeps the tale fun and worth many relistens. I’ve heard it three times and laugh out loud every time, often to parts I didn’t notice in earlier listens. I’m tempted to share some of my favorite parts, but I don’t want to ruin them. I’m sure you’ll laugh and really enjoy this story.

Martin has a book just released from Creeping Hemlock Press, Reanimated Americans: A Zombie Novel. Tales to Terrify shares a little bit about this book in the second episode’s intro, and it sounds like if I enjoyed the humor of “Chair,” that I’ll enjoy the humor in this book. I will definitely check it out, and you should too.

Looking into Creeping Hemlock Press, I see they have quite a few zombie books newly released. Their new imprint, Print is Dead, has a sampler of the following three titles:

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Saturday Spotlight

Saturday Spotlight: Jeffrey B. Burton’s “A Building This Size”

The inspiration for this week’s Saturday Spotlight comes from my favorite story so far in the Evolved Publishing anthology, Evolution: Volume One, Jeff Burton’s “A Building This Size.” Jeff’s story is a mystery built on clever dialogue that emphasizes the power and motive behind what isn’t said. A coworker who just lost his wife to a tragic pool accident comes back to work sooner than anyone expected, and asks the main character for coffee. It’s actually this coworker’s last day, and our MC finds it strange that he asked him to coffee. Even more strange is the topic of conversation. His coworker asks questions like “How many working alcoholics are there in this building?” “How many smoke pot before work?” “How many steal?” Things get a little hairy when he asks how many people are having affairs. Continue reading

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Saturday Spotlight: Ed Kurtz, “Pearls.”

This Saturday Spotlight is cast on Ed Kurtz for his short story, “Pearls,” which is published in Dark Moon Digest: Issue 5. (Thanks to Rob Smales for sending me a copy as part of the Coffin Hop blog tour.)

What stuck out immediately from this gross little tale is that Ed has come up with a very unique twist on apocalyptic cannibalism. These are humans, not zombies, and their ability to deceive makes them more frightening. Ed starts the story off with a guy checking a lump under his skin. The way this places the reader into a familiar situation, and then progresses as most of us would as he excises the lump, creates empathetic fear that plays on the base drive for survival in such a way that any of us could transform in the same way. Continue reading

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