Thursday, July 27, 2017

REVIEW: Warm, Dark Places Are Best

By: Mike Duke

Genre: Horror
Publication date: 3.27.2017
Pages: 89

Carl and Jessica are emotionally stretched thin, down on their financial luck, and stuck moving into a really nasty apartment complex after Jessica gets laid off and Carl is already on a fixed disability payment.
            From day one, they see lots of roaches in the hallways, but nothing in their own apartment.  Hoping their luck will hold, they have no idea just what kind of hell is coming their way, or what hideous secrets their apartment, in particular, holds.
            Buckle up.  Carl and Jessica are in for a nasty ride, and so are you.

Note: Not Extreme Horror, but NOT for the squeamish.

After meeting Mike at Scares That Care this past Saturday, and having a long discussion with him about this story, I decided to jump into this book of his, which has been on my Kindle for a couple of months.  (I actually started it the next day while eating breakfast at my hotel, waiting for my friend to join me.) 

Let me start out by saying that I don't particularly dislike bugs.  Now, I'm from Texas... where roaches fly... so maybe I should, but these have never been on the top list of things that bothered me.  Until now.  Two pages in and I was already looking up at the ceiling above me.  (Thanks, Mike!)

Roaches aren't the only bug that we encounter in this story, though, and they are far from the worst thing out there.

Carl and Jessica are good characters, and you find out quite a bit about them, even with the story being less than a hundred pages.  He is on disability from an injury on the job, and she is very caring and protective of him.  My favorite characters were the kids, though.  Like little adults, they were, and full of adventure.  Even though they had to benefit from what ever "good deed" they did, they were still such an awesome part of the story, especially with how quick they were to help Carl in whatever he had planned.

I wouldn't particularly call this a "scary story."  It definitely has that creepy factor - ya know, where you stop for a minute, look around, not sure if you really did see a shadow out of the corner of your eye.  It wasn't until I was laying in bed that the full impact of the story hit me.  Every time something brushed against my skin, I was wide awake, looking around, wondering.  In fact, it wasn't until the next morning, when I went to stand, that I realized just how tight I had been holding my legs together in my sleep.  Shortly after finishing the story, my left ear REALLY started hurting, so much so that I eventually went to the doctor because the pain was unbearable.  The first thing I thought, when he told me it was an ear infection, was "Oh, thank God!" haha.

The ending was particularly good, what with Carl's bond to these kids growing to another level.  I would love to see these characters again.

About the author:
I'm 44, married 25 years, and have a son and daughter who are both grown and out of the house (pretty much).  I was a cop for 12 years (and even spent a few years on the SWAT team) before getting into the training industry.  I've been working full time the last 10 years teaching military, law enforcement, bodyguards and private citizens High Speed, Tactical and Off Road Driving and Hand to Hand Combatives.  I also did a few bodyguard gigs, one for three weeks in multiple South African countries, one in Jamaica, and three for the Ultra Music Festival owner - twice in Miami and once in Sao Paolo.  Had some incredible experiences, especially in Africa.
            I've self-published three works thus far.  Two short novellas - Ashley's Tale and Ashley's Tale: Making Jake.  One short story - The Awakening.  I recently was picked up by Stitched Smile Publications and they are going to be publishing my full length novel Low in the not too distant future.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Scares That Care Weekend 2017

I've been sitting on this post for a few days now, trying to figure out exactly what I was going to say about my latest book adventure.  I wanted to share my experience - my first - with the world, and also have it where I could go back and look at it in a few years and see how different things are when I hit my fifth year at Scares That Care.
          I've been reading what a lot of the authors had to say about their con experience, and I've noticed that, even though they're not just a reader like me, they had a lot of the same feelings and experiences that I did.
          I'm glad they enjoyed it as much as I did.  I was like a kid in a candy shop.  I was like this kid...

I got back from Virginia a few days ago, and am still trying to get my head around the weekend that I had.  Not only was it my first Scares That Care, but it was also my first con that revolved around books.  It was definitely one of the most amazing weekends of my life.


Stephen Kozeniewski and I shared our table with Steven Shrewsbury, who is a seriously awesome guy.  In fact, our little room was full of some great people, and it was definitely not boring, us bonding over a broken air conditioning, a fire alarm evacuation Saturday afternoon, and a lot of shenanigans and frivolities throughout the weekend.
          James WallaceWill Allen, and M.C. Allen are NEVER boring!  They were across from us, and were ready for entertainment.
          Also in our room was Grindhouse Press, their table being manned by C.V. HuntJohn Wayne Communal, and Andersen Prunty.

I won't deny the fact that I had major anxiety about this whole thing.  I was meeting a lot of people in real life that I had known for years, so my excitement level was already through the roof.  Add on top of that the fact that there were some pretty amazing authors there that I would be connecting with for the first time, and the fact that there were lots of people in general, it did take me until about mid-afternoon Saturday to finally feel like I was being myself, and not coming across as some awkward weirdo haha.  (Which would explain why there are not as many pictures on my phone as there SHOULD have been.  Next year's goal: Take more pictures.)

One of the first authors I saw was John Boden.  I'm all "I know you" and he starts telling me how close I live to him (which is no more than fifteen minutes) haha.

Once we got everything set up, I went in search of friends.  Specifically... Jonathan Janz.  Not only is he super talented, and I love everything of his that I've read, but I also consider him a good friend, having had many conversations with him over the years about life and everything that involves.  Remember that anxiety thing I was just talking about?  I had to go over, in my head, several times, what I would say to him when I walked up to him, cause he's this great author and my brain was telling me he would have no idea who I was.

Me: Hey, I was told I needed to come in here and finally
meet this author that I have known forever cause I'm 
Meghan and you're Jo....

I didn't even have his full first name out of my mouth before the look of recognition happened and he went to hug me.  Talk about feeling important haha.
          Jonathan treats everyone like they are on the same level as him.  You can tell that he tries to remember each person's name, and he interacts with each person as if they are a member of his close group of friends, as if they are a member of his family.  


(Note the fact that the excitement caused me to not give a flying-flip what I look like in a picture, any picture, the whole weekend hahahaha.)

While I was there, I introduced myself to the amazingly awesome Paul Tremblay, who I also "know," and who was sharing a table with Jonathan.  (I also went up and spoke to Wrath James White for a few minutes, but alas, was too excited to remember to take a picture with him, any of the times I spoke to him.)

The next room over, I found Jaime Johnesee, who has always been one of my favorite people ever.  For those of y'all who have not met her in real life yet, you definitely need to.  She is so amazingly sweet and loving, and you really feel how much she cares about you... plus there is not one time I saw her that I didn't think, "Man, she's pretty."


We didn't even make it back to our hotel (a half mile down the road from where StC was at) until around 4am, having hung out most of the night with some really great people... and playing a game of Werewolves, which seemed confusing when they were talking through the rules, but maaaaaaan was that fun.


On Saturday, Mike Duke arrived.  Like Jonathan, him and I have had lots of conversations, about books, writing and life, and it was awesome to finally meet him (and his gorgeous wife, Kristi - you ever meet a couple and realize that they are just absolutely perfect for each other?).  When he told me what room he would be set up in, I laughed cause... he was actually in our room, too.  Talk about perfect.

Saturday brought conversations with many amazing people, including Jay Wilburn and Matt Manochio (who I completely didn't recognize at first cause he looks way younger in real life), another two people I was already connected with on social media... plus I had the chance to meet and talk to people I had not already known.  

I'm going to veer off subject a tad here: I'm actually really proud of myself.  I can talk about books, authors, and reading all day long.  I talk to random strangers all the time, connecting with them over what they're reading on their e-reader or the book they are holding in their hand.  I can even scream from the rooftops about The Gal, because this is my happy place... BUT I just can't talk about my editing.  It's not that I don't have confidence in my work, because I know I do a good job, but that I don't have the confidence in myself to do so.
          Steve came up to me Saturday afternoon and told me about a lady - an editor - that was walking around introducing herself to authors and handing out her cards (she had stopped at the table when I was on the other side of the room having a conversation), and he thought it would be really good for me to go do the same thing.  I had a box of my cards there so I could hand them to people when I met them, but the idea of walking up to people and specifically speaking to them about me as an editor was scary.  So we argued haha.  Ya know how it is with your best friend - they tell you to do something, and you tell them why you're not going to haha.  He was right, though... and I rarely tell him when he is.  I went downstairs and had my mini-panic attack with Jaime, who told me I was being silly because she thinks I'm amazing, and pumped me up to go do it... and I was actually able to do it, with authors I know and authors I didn't know... and have been contacted by a few of them in just the few days since I've been home, so that was really cool.

Saturday was also the unveiling of THE official The Gal in the Blue Mask t-shirt, which was designed by author (and cover artist) Michael Bray.  I've had this shirt hanging in my closet for a few months, waiting for this weekend, and only showed it to a handful of people.  (By the end of the weekend, I already had four people that wanted to purchase one.)

During my adventure around the rooms upstairs, I met Christina Hargis Smith of Optimus Maximus Publishing, along with two of her authors, Scott Carruba and the infamous Ricky Fleet.  I can't wait to have them on.

The vendor rooms close at around 7pm on Saturday, but there are a lot of other things going on for you to be a part of - readings, an on-site recording of Brian Keene's podcast, and a live Rocky Horror Picture Show.  
          We met up with Brian for a few minutes while he was grabbing some dinner before the podcast began... and I can tell you honestly that I really can't remember ANYTHING from that because the no-descriptive-word-is-adequate Mary SanGiovanni stuck her hand out in my direction and introduced herself to me.  She was the ONLY person I noticed at the table.  I fan-girled (in my head - I mean, I didn't want to make it awkward) so much that I thought my brain was going to explode.

I quite enjoy The Horror Show, listening to episodes on my iPod while I'm walking, but seeing it as it's happening is pretty awesome.  Especially when you find out that the two surprise guests are Joe R. Lansdale (I kicked myself for not bringing my books and having him sign them) and Chet Williamson.  

Epic moment of the weekend #1.  Brian asked them a lot about their friendship and how they handle each other's success... it was a really good interview (so definitely check that out on iTunes when it goes live).

Brian actually recorded two shows that night - this one and a live Q&A for the people on his show.  As usual when I'm put on the spot to ask a question, I couldn't remember anything I had been thinking about, but the people there were asking some really good ones.  (I actually connected with a young lady over the question that she had asked.)  A couple of authors even presented Brian with a statue to thank him for all that he has done for them and the horror community.


When the show was over, I went to see my VERY FIRST author reading.  I have had an obsession with these since I saw Jessica Fletcher do one on Murder, She Wrote when I was really young, and have seen some on YouTube, but this was my first LIVE.
          This one was After Dark with Wrath James White, Christian Jensen, and David Barbee.  David is a Bizarro author that Brian had seen at a con and knew, from first hearing him read, that he had to be here.  I'm sure glad he came because the story he read was hilarious, in a bizarro-horror hilarious kinda way (haha), and I definitely want to search out and read some more of his work.  Christian is a horror writer.  His story started out with, "Fuck you, Brian Keene" yelled across the room... and since I was sitting right in front of Brian, I was able to witness his reaction to that first-hand, and the laughter that ensued.  I look forward to reading more from him as well.
          Wrath was the last read, and since he had time, he chose to read a longer story.  The only word I can think to describe it was "Wow!"  He made my first reading perfect.


Sunday began for me in the Author Reading Room, where Stephen Kozeniewski and Ralph Bieber would be.  Ralph had also been in our room upstairs, so we had a little crowd of "our people" listening to these two.  Ralph read an excerpt from a future novel of his, and Steve read a story he wrote about a drinking contest he had once with Brian.  (When Brian asked me later what he read, and I told him, he laughed and said, "That's a true story.")


What made this reading EVEN BETTER, was that Jaime Johnesee and Suzi Madron had arrived a little late, and when Ralph pointed out how they missed the beginning, he handed Suzi his papers, and we got a chance to hear his story a second time, but from her.  Talk about neat...

I hadn't actually looked at the schedule of readings, so I was pretty excited to find out that the next authors up were Mary and Jonathan.  To watch two of my favorites in the same place at the same time was overwhelming; to watch them interact with each other was beautiful.  These two people, who are BIG deals, are so down to earth, so real.  It was just really neat to see the way they dealt with each other, and how open and inviting they were to the other people there, even if they weren't all fellow authors.

He went first, walking around, really getting into the characters, yelling - the emotions that came through his reading were epic... and he needs to hurry up and finish this book because I need it in my life.


Mary read her story from the StC 2017 Zine, and if I wasn't already in awe of how fantastic this woman is, and how talented she is, I would be now.  If you have not read anything of her's, you really should.  Definitely worth it.


I mentioned before that seeing Joe and Chet on Brian's podcast (like in the same room with them) was my #1 epic moment of the weekend.  Meeting Jonathan in real life AND meeting Mary for the first time, were very close at #2 and #3.
          In fact, in a conversation between me and Brian, I told him how excited I was about finally getting to meet her, how she is so amazing, and so talented, and she's like my hero... and he wanted to know why I hadn't said that to her.  "Um... didn't want to make things weird."  He laughed and brought her over to me so I could say it to her... and she had tears - TEARS - in her eyes, and we hugged.  I can't put in words just how much that whole conversation meant to me.

The saddest part of the whole weekend... was it's end.  It's kinda like going to summer camp.  You're with a group of people for several days in a row, almost nonstop, and you get this bond.  Then, when it's time to go, ya just don't want to because these people have become friends and leaving them leaves you with this ache in your heart.  Which means next year will be even more awesome, because I will be there and I will see these people again.

I didn't go and buy an insane amount of books while I was there... had to reign myself in... but I did add to my signed cover collection and now have two signed Shrewsbury books, along with a signed Bizarro that's been on my wish list for awhile.  (And Amber Fallon's latest - oh my God I forgot to mention Amber haha.)