Category Archives: Book and Podcast Reviews

The Black Franchise

My writing partner, Paul Cooley, did a really cool thing about a year ago. With the help of fellow hybrid author Jake Bible, he sold a book on the pitch. That means he came up with a story idea, wrote a short blurb about that story, sent it off to a publisher, and the publisher bought it based on that pitch alone. How cool is that?

But once the book was sold, then the fun began and he had to write this book. He typically writes character driven stuff where we don’t know if we’re dealing with our own inner daemons or real daemons. He infuses his prose with social commentary and dwells on our darker nature. This was different. It was to be a classic horror tale in that it’s a creature no one has seen or dealt with before and the humans are trapped and without communication. Think of Relic or The Thing.

First, here’s the pitch:

“Under 30,000 feet of water, the exploration rig Aurora has discovered an oil field larger than Saudi Arabia, with oil so sweet and pure, nations would go to war for the rights to it. But as the team starts drilling exploration well after exploration well in their race to claim the sweet crude, their Autonomous Underwater Vehicles begin to short out, drill bits break and snap, and a deep rumbling beneath the ocean floor shakes them all to their core. Something has been living in the oil and it’s about to give birth to the greatest threat humanity has ever seen.

“The Black” is a techno/horror-thriller that puts the horror and action of movies such as Leviathan and The Thing right into readers’ hands. Ocean exploration will never be the same.”

You would think that when a writer (or any creative person) tries something new they might struggle or have difficulty. And, I’m sure that happens pretty frequently. But the flip side is that when a creative person tries something new, they don’t have any preconceived ideas about how to do that thing. All of their bad habits are wrapped up in doing the old thing so they are free to experiment. Free to just do. I had the joy of watching that happen here. He spent some time researching deep oil drilling, life aboard a platform oil rig, the science of petrochemicals, deep water ocean life, bacteria, and anything else that came to mind regarding this book. Once he started to write, this book flew out of his sick and twisted brain.

41Rcz5oaX-L._UY250_It was sold to Severed Press, a small press headquartered in Tasmania. It was published on September 15, 2014. The original pitch was accepted just 6 months earlier. Small doesn’t just mean that a press is small in terms of their assets or staff size, it also means they aren’t bloated. They are nimble and agile and able to do things in days that takes larger publishers months or even years to accomplish.

By October 6, 2014 The Black had hit #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Release list in the kindle store. By October 19th, it had landed on the Amazon Best Selling Horror chart at #99. And by January 16, 2015 it was climbing three charts. Finally, on January 17, 2015 The Black was sitting at #1 in the Amazon Horror Chart, the Amazon Kindle Horror Chart, and Amazon Sea Stories with an overall Kindle ranking of #63 in the paid Kindle store. Paul was listed as the third most popular horror writer on the Amazon Author charts. Now, fame and rankings are fleeting and after The Black had its turn at the top of the pile, it slowly slid back down but has stayed in the general range of 12,000-30,000 depending on the whim of the market. But to have hit these milestones is no small feat particularly when you realize there are over 5 million books in the kindle store. And yes, I’m just a little bit proud of his achievements.41r-701f9XL._UY250_

The best part of this whole saga is that The Black was intended to be a one-off, a stand alone book. But a funny thing happened on the way to the oil rig… While writing The Black, Paul wrote about how they drilled a test barrel and flew it to Houston. Which is pretty much what they do. The only problem was if the barrel went to Houston, so did the Black. Um… He had a lot of, “Oh, shit!” moments when writing this first book, but that was one of my favorites. Immediately, he had plans for book 2. So while The Black was climbing the charts, Paul went to work on book 2 which ended up being titled The Black: Arrival. That book chronicles what happens in the lab in Houston. It was released 9 days ago and is starting its journey on the Amazon charts.

Early on in that book, one of the scientists accidentally comes in contact with The Black and end up going to the hospital. Essentially, she is this volumes version of the test barrel. Plans are already underway for book three and book 4 (what is slated to be the conclusion but with Paul, who knows?).

Some of the things I love about these books are, first of all, the monster. It’s creepy and weird and different. It also seems to be smarter than we initially think. Second, I love the characters he’s creating to interact (and hopefully defeat) said monster. But my absolute favorite thing about these books is the way Paul slowly ratchets up the tension so that you start with a general feeling of dread and by the time all hell breaks loose the slightest sound makes you jump out of your skin. At that point, it’s balls to the walls action. His storytelling reminds me of a great old fashioned wooden rollercoaster. I can almost hear that click, clack, click, clack when I’m reading…

If you are interested in these stories or any of Paul’s other works, you can find them from his Amazon author page or on his website, 

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Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Book and Podcast Reviews


Dead Ends

Dead Ends

I’m more than a little biased about this title and for three very good reasons:

1.  This title comes up if you do a search under my name because I got to edit this twisted bit of insanity! And, I’m definitely partial to things I’ve worked on.

2.  The proceeds from the sales of this anthology benefit the Office of Letters and Light, the charity that sponsors NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo Young Writers.



This anthology is made up of seven macabre tales and absolutely zero happy endings. These stories are twisted, dark, creepy, and even a bit sinister. In other words, they have ALL the good stuff. Editing these stories was a really fun time. I hadn’t had a chance lately to read anything that was just WRONG, and these gave me a great fix.

Stories include:
“In The Deep Dark” by Justin R. Macumber
“Morning Dew” by Edward Lorn
“Power in the Blood” by Scott Roche
“Getting Even” by Philip Carroll
“Breakers” by Paul E. Cooley
“Breakup” by J.R. Murdock
“Blister” by Jake Bible

Cover by Scott E. Pond.

If you click on the gorgeous cover above (done by the uber talented Scott Pond) you can get your paws on a copy today. Proceeds benefit a great cause, and if you like the kind of stories that have a bit of an “ICK” factor, this is for you.

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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Book and Podcast Reviews


I am Nobody’s Nigger

I am Nobody’s Nigger by Dean Atta is the debut collection of his poetry.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished reading it yet. I read a couple of the poems every day. More than that, and I’m afraid my brain might explode–these are THAT good!  This is the first time I’ve been compelled to write a review prior to finishing the book.

Dean is British, male, brown skinned, and gay. Many of his poems deal with one or more of these topics. And when they don’t, they are certainly from his unique point of view.  I am none of these things. Yet each of his poems speaks to me. While they are about his individual circumstances, they have universal appeal.  Themes of sex and sexuality, identity (as an individual, a citizen of his country, and a member of a larger global community), education, rights and responsibilities, and the larger social condition feature prominently in his work.

As a poet myself, I struggle daily with trying to find the words to express my own inner turmoil as I make my way through this life. I found myself saying, “Yes!” out loud as I read some of these. He so eloquently hits the nail squarely on the head. Some of them are intimate. All are special.

I first found Dean’s work on the Indie Feed Performance Poetry Podcast.  He performed the title poem and I was completely blown away. He has a number of videos on YouTube and has free albums available at BandCamp.

Here’s the description of this volume from Dean’s site:

Revolutionary, reflective and romantic, I Am Nobody’s Nigger is the powerful debut collection by one of the UK’s finest emerging poets. Exploring race, identity and sexuality, Dean Atta shares his perspective on family, friendship, relationships and London life, from riots to one-night stands.

If you haven’t already guessed, I am a huge fan of Dean’s work. These poems are phenomenal when performed but more importantly, they stand up on their own alone on the page. So well, in fact, that I have to limit myself to just a few at a time…savoring them slowly before moving on to the next.

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Posted by on March 12, 2013 in Book and Podcast Reviews


Salsa Nocturna

Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older

Salsa Nocturna by Daniel Jose Older


This review is long overdue. I didn’t keep track of how many books or stories I read or listened to in 2012; but this book was one of my favorites. The only stories I loved more, or read more times, were ones I worked on as editor.

This is an interconnected series of short stories by Daniel Jose Older. Besides being a writer, he’s a musician, song writer (both with Ghost Star), and paramedic. He calls New York City home and the love he has for the city, as well as her inhabitants, is evidenced in every word. And those words….swoon. His prose is tight, full of imagery, and wonderfully evocative.

Usually after I finish reading something, I archive it immediately because my kindle has WAY too many things on it waiting to be read. This book is the exception. I’ve read the entire thing twice and some stories more than that. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Magdelena. Or the title story. Or maybe The Collector… See, this is why I keep going back to re-read them.

I suppose I should try to explain the premise of these stories. They are a mix of ghost stories: the supernatural, urban fantasy, and crossing between the worlds of the living and the dead (the dead have their own bureaucracy, if you didn’t already know). There are multiple main characters and the stories sort of oscillate between them. Some are creepier than others (like those damn dolls), some made me cry, and some made me laugh out loud.

His words mambo, pulling you in close to dance you through the story until you are left gasping for air at the end, wondering what just happened and so glad it did.

You can get your copy here. His accidental poem (taken with permission from a tweet of his) is here. And, you can read his blog here.

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Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Book and Podcast Reviews


Beware the Hairy Mango

The title of this podcast is very bad advice.  Do not beware the hairy mango; embrace it in all of it’s strange goodness.

Matthew Sanborn Smith combines flash fiction with what at first listen sounds like the stream-of-consiousness ramblings of the criminally insane in itty-bitty episodes (4-7 minutes) that pack one hell of a punch.  The stories are massive mashups of bizarro, fantasy, science fiction, satire, humor, and just plain silliness.  There is lots of potty humor, sexual inuendos, foul language (or fowl language, who knew ducks talked that way?), puns, and play-on-words ridiculousness.

As someone who normally mainlines podcasts, I’ve had to change my listening behaviour with this podcast.  It has quickly become my favorite mental floss to clean out the detritus left behind in my grey matter by some of the other podcasts I listen to that make me think too much.  This is not a podcast that you will want to listen to all 137 (and counting) episodes at one time.  It’s too high energy, too insane for that.  Instead it is perfect as is…just one or two episodes at a time.  It is like podcast chocolate…so amazingly wonderful a bite or two at a time.

Meanwhile, there have been a lot of episodes that I listen to repeatedly.  For silly stuff, these bits of flash fiction are well crafted and I want to go back to get all the tasty bits I miss in the first listen.  The style is minimalist.  This is not flowery prose and fear not, no adjectives were wasted in the writing here.  This is definitely an acquired taste; but it quickly becomes an addiction.

There are things in life that I love to indulge in.  Things like chocolate, scotch, and hairy mangos.


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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Book and Podcast Reviews


The Roundtable Podcast

I have found podcast gold! Gold I tell you!

They strive to help writers create literary gold (and they very well may achieve that) but in the meantime, what they have done (and are doing is create podcast gold. They are
Dave Robison and Brion Humphrey, the hosts of The Roundtable Podcast.

Each week they invite a published author and a writer working on a story to get together with them and brainstorm the work in progress; helping the writer overcome any obstacles that may be in his or her path to literary greatness. They also spend some time interviewing the published author and put out a separate show for that. So, it’s really two feeds in one—an interview show and a brainstorming show on writing the next great novel.

So far, the authors and writers have all worked in the various spec fic genres. Most of the time, I’m fine with this. However, I’m not a fan of trope-laden fantasy so there have been episodes where I don’t particularly care if the writer ever figures the story out or goes on to finish or publish it. But, even when I don’t care about the individual story being workshopped I get insightful information on writing in general, and often life too. These aren’t just writers sharing their wisdom, these are amazingly creative people sharing experiences…on writing, creating, and fitting that creativity into their real lives (usually with real day jobs to go with those real bills). But, mostly, it’s about the stories.

They arc themselves silly…plot arcs, character arcs, larger theme arcs, Noah’s ark. Sorry, just kidding about that last one. Arc is one of Dave’s favorite words. So, I’m teasing here. Seriously, when Dave, Brion, and the guest host listen to the writer’s pitch and start to get into the various parts of the story in progress they see things the writer didn’t as is true any time you look at something with fresh eyes. They make the writer think about the things they didn’t and point out the bigger picture.

Put my favorite parts of the brainstorming episodes are the “What if…” moments. I am a “What if…” and a “Why?” kind of person. I’ve been known to ask these two questions (but mostly the what if… ones) of some of my writer friends myself and love when those questions help them keep writing. Those questions are how I ended up dying my yarn the way I do and why I have this website. They are the questions we all need to remember to ask ourselves if we want to grow (or in this case, for the writing to flourish).  I love when someone on the show asks a what if this question and you can hear the synapses firing in the writer’s brain. To be present for an “Ah, Ha!” moment is always a joy. Even better, are those “Ah, HA!” moments I have personally experienced while listening to this show.

You don’t have to be a writer or a creative to enjoy this show either. I think it probably helps, but it’s not a requirement. If you enjoy great stories I think you’ll find lots of value here. It’s a peek behind the curtain where you can see how that book started out and got to where it is. They all started out as just an idea in someone’s head.

The difference between a writer and someone who doesn’t write is the writer does something with that idea. These are those writers and those ideas. Go listen. And, as they like to say at the end of the show, “Go write”.


You can follow @writerspodcast and @BrionHumphrey on the twitter.


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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Book and Podcast Reviews


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S. Lawrence Parrish (take two)

I read and re-read my thoughts on Steve Parrish’s podcasts. I decided to re-do this review as a result. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the process of attempting to write this is that my first instinct (to only write reviews for things I absolutely love) was right. I tend to run hot and cold with just about everything so when I don’t completely love something I can be overly picky and sometimes downright nasty in my criticism. That’s why I try to avoid criticizing things publicly. I am not a very objective person and that’s not fair to who or what I’m talking about.

The short review is this: if you like dark and twisted horror/fantasy start with Chicken Pi and go from there.


I was asked by S. Lawrence Parrish if I would give a listen to any or all of his podcast fiction. This was the first time anyone has approached me like this and I have to say that it felt pretty awesome to have someone say they wanted me to review their work. I’m not sure how he’ll feel now that I have listened and have finally made up my mind to write a review.

Parrish has three works available for free as podcast fiction at Shape ShiftersShat, and Chicken Pi. Technically, this is three reviews in one;  I started with Shape Shifters…

To summarize Shape Shifters I would say take your average werewolf story and add some erotica. The erotica was my favorite part of the story.

I had two major issues with the presentation of this story. The first is the way the story is divided not just into chapters but into numbered sections within those chapters. I heard the numbers one through four so often through the podcast that I had no idea where I was in the story. It would have been better to just leave them out and read straight through. The second thing that made this podcast less enjoyable for me was the sound effects.  Simply put, they were too much and too loud.

I think the two negatives cancelled out a lot of good here. I probably would have enjoyed this a lot more otherwise. I’m not a huge fan of werewolf stories but this one was different enough to hold my attention.  It was entertaining enough for me to say give it a listen and see what you think, or, even better, give it a read and then let me know what you think of the story itself.  Shape Shifters is Parrish’s first self published novel (he has been published in many online zines).

Shat was next…

I’m not usually a fan dystopian tales… I read the review on Podiobooks where someone had a tough time with a sodomy scene… I gave this a try anyway knowing that I might be put off by parts of it…

I didn’t make it past the ten minute mark.

This isn’t necessarily a reflection of the writing or the writer…this just wasn’t for me. I’m going to leave it at that. A part of me thinks a ‘real’ reviewer would still have listened to the whole thing and then given their assessment. The fact that I couldn’t do that has a lot to do with why I don’t think I want to do any more reviews.

I did go on to listen to Chicken Pi. Actually, I’m still listening. I have the last two to go at this point. I decided to do the review now because Chicken Pi is an ongoing collection of short stories. I will continue to listen to these and anything else Parrish puts up for our listening enjoyment.

These shorts are categorized as dark, twisted horror. There is truth in advertising here. I still wish he’d tone the sound effects down a bit; they need to sit just under the narration in terms of audio levels for my taste. But aside from that, these are some seriously messed up stories that I have for the most part enjoyed.

On the whole, if you like dark and twisted (and I mean violently and disgustingly at times) you should give Steve Parrish a listen and a read. For me, he’s hit or miss, but that makes sense considering my preferences. I know many folks who should love his stuff. At the very least, give him a try.

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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Book and Podcast Reviews