A Contest For the Ages

Because my blog receives traffic that doesn’t necessarily overlap with my other social media accounts, I would be remiss if I didn’t share this here.
Because I’m an absurd human being, I’ve decided that I want to reward readers/reviewers of my December 2021 short story, When You’re Here, You’re Fatalities, available exclusively through http://www.godless.com
You’ll want to pay attention to this!

Sadly, this is only valid for individuals located in the United States. If I could extend this to other countries, I would gladly do so, but the logistics involved are just too much of an issue.

Initially, the plan was that if I could sell 250,000 copies of the story, I would randomly select five winners from those who have reviewed the title at Godless. Those five individuals would need to provide me with their contact information–including the physical address–as well as a time frame that would work best for them. I would then plan a road trip with my girlfriend (and possibly my teenage daughter) to travel to that reviewer’s location. We could spend the day hanging out, doing touristy things, or whatever. To conclude the evening, I would take the winner and their immediate family (or significant other and whatnot) to dinner at the nearest Olive Garden location.
I have modified the plan slightly since the original goal is altogether ludicrous. Of course, the adjusted step goals are also ridiculous, but you shouldn’t expect anything different from me.
Upon selling 100,000 copies of the story through Godless, I will select two winners who have posted reviews of the story, to Godless and/or Goodreads.
After another 100,000 sales, I will select another two winners from the remaining reviewers who had not won.
And, if I happen to sell another 50,000 copies of When You’re Here, You’re Fatalities after that, I will select one more lucky winner from those who have not already won.
Assuming every buyer leaves a review, that’s a 1 in 50,000 chance of winning a family dinner at Olive Garden with a horror author who wrote a short story that takes place in a fictionalized version of an Olive Garden restaurant. For only fifty cents to get your name in the drawing, it’s probably a better deal than many raffles and drawings in which one might participate. But there’s always the fact that many people still won’t leave reviews, and that improves the odds in your favor.

The title can be obtained by going to the following link at Godless:

You would also post your review there.

Additionally, I will accept reviews posted to Goodreads at the following location:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59777373-when-you-re-here-you-re-fatalities

You have nothing to lose beyond fifty cents and a little bit of time.

Spread the word far and wide!

The sooner we reach those sales numbers, the sooner you’ll have a chance to sit down for dinner with me.

Manic Christmas by Lindsay Crook

For “Snowflake,” there’s perhaps no greater torture than performing as a Christmas elf at the mall. Understandably, she’d feel that way, from the pedophile Santa to the grimy, screaming children. It doesn’t get much worse than that. Except for maybe being subjected to a hot box apartment with no air conditioning, a bare trickle of water pressure, and an elderly neighbor who listens to her television far too loud for anyone not hard of hearing. She’s got problems, but it’s about to get more interesting. She’s about to make them your problems instead.
With irreverence and humor, Lindsay Crook assaults the hyper-commercialized Christmas holiday. She also sets her sights on inconsiderate neighbors, annoying coworkers, perverts, and Karens through the proxy of her protagonist, exhibiting knee-jerk reactions of violence that every reader is sure to relate to.
How much chaos can one Christmas elf cause in the week before Christmas? You might be surprised.
As with the previous Manic story, Crook manages to hit on topics from misogyny to miserable workplace conditions, while also attacking the seeming ubiquitousness of perverse male behavior, from the security guard to the mall Santa. Sure, it’s a fun romp as well, but there’s a whole lot of uncomfortable truth in this story as well.

This story was released as part of the AntiChristmas event at http://www.godless.com for December of 2021. You can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device. The link is below:

Manic by Lindsay Crook

Is there a more horrible occupational combination of thankless and stressful than working in fast food? Probably not. For the protagonist of Lindsay Crook’s Manic, life at Bill’s Burger Barn is one endless flow of disrespectful customers, sleazy bosses, and revolting working conditions. It’s enough to drive anyone mad. But maybe, if her personal life weren’t also in shambles, she could hold herself together past Wednesday. That’s a big maybe, though.
It’s going to be a long week, but she’s going to make it everyone else’s problem if she has her way. One can hardly blame her when the universe seems to set things up just right.
Crook is making poverty and impulse control issues sexy again.
Wait, were those things ever sexy in the first place?
I’m sure they were.
I’m going to let it ride. Crook is bringing sexy back in a big way!
Lindsay Crook fills these few pages with plenty of violence, biological warfare in the form of toxic food treatment, and even more violence. There’s more than that, though. At the core, this is a story that showcases how unutterably awful life can be for women because, as much a caricature as Manic might be, it’s probably not far off from the average week for altogether too many women. The world might be a better place if those women finally had enough, just like this protagonist did. Of course, it would be a better place if people just behaved better in the first place, but that might be asking a bit too much. Crook also manages to capture the stress and hopelessness that goes hand-in-hand with poverty-level existence and working demeaning, demoralizing jobs, only to barely make ends meet.

You can pick up a copy of Manic by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Drops of Insanity by Jeff Oliver

Jeff Oliver’s Drops of Insanity is a solid collection of poetry consisting primarily of short poems dealing with a variety of topics. Though largely focused on musings associated with identity and mental illness while navigating society and relationships with those factors involved, there are a great many poems that deviate into assorted horror-themed allegories and expressions of pain and suffering. It’s worth taking one’s time, reflecting on the word choice and symbolism implicit in many of the verses, especially since the vast majority are no more than ten lines in length.
It’s when we reach the longer form poem of “Her Soul To Keep” that the collection stands out at its strongest. A narrative expressed through the verse; this particular inclusion is a fascinating transition from the previous material collected in Drops of Insanity. At the core, it’s a breakdown of family, disappointment, revenge, and choices with consequences we’d not anticipated. It’s also a poem about demonic possession, murder, and the dissolution of the soul in the searing flames of Hell. What could be wrong with that?
While it may feel like this collection suffers from some repetition where content is concerned, I’m inclined to believe this was an intentional flourish from Oliver. Occasionally this repetition appears in the form of epimone, but more often it appears to be a method of creating a sort of cyclic flow to the material contained within Drops of Insanity. Hell is repetition, as we learned from the Stephen King screenplay, Storm of the Century, and mental illness is an exceptionally personal sort of Hell. Looking at it that way, it becomes difficult to imagine Oliver wasn’t attempting to immerse the reader in the overarching theme of this collection of poetry.

Devil’s Night by Curtis M. Lawson

Devil’s Night is a collection focusing primarily on the myths and urban legends emerging from the darkness and the destructive tendencies of people during the Devil’s Night eruptions of violence and arson in Detroit. It would be easy to write off Curtis M. Lawson’s short story collection as an outlet for bleak and cynical tales of horror lurking below the surface of those actions, but it would only be telling a fraction of the story. There is a deep and abiding love for Detroit embedded within these tales. Lawson’s is a love that doesn’t cling with shallow superficiality to the glory days of the motor city or Motown but embraces the painful and often ugly reality that coincides with those things that once set Detroit apart from the rest of America.
In these pages, you’ll certainly find stories of the Nain Rouge, The Pig Lady, and other urban legends that are specific to that region, but you’ll also find the far more sinister forces at work, racism, predatory capitalism, and addiction. In Lawson’s Devil’s Night, you’ll meet a city that has a nebulous mind and spirit of its own, one poisoned by generations of residents and the corruption they brought with them. You’ll discover a Detroit where toxic, venomous plantlife flourishes beneath the surface, ready to flay alive any who stumble across it, poisoning those who survive with unquenchable hate and anger.
In Trash-Fire Stories and The Work of the Devil, we meet children who have experienced every tragedy life can throw at them, each event preceded by the appearance of the Nain Rouge, presaging the bad things soon to come.
In D20, we learn that two brothers attempting to escape the cruel reality of their lives through a role-playing game might be awakening a force to affect the real changes they so desperately need.
Devil’s Tongue and The Exorcism of Detroit, Michigan both take us to a place where we catch glimpses of the underlying evil that poisons the city and turns the residents into the monsters they’ve become as Devil’s Night arrives. The latter tale providing the reader with a certain sense of hope and faith that things can be better.
Through Hell for One Kiss shares a haunting love story that proves to be a quite literal haunting for those caught up in the annual remembrance of the ghosts involved.
A Night of Art and Excess showcases the awfulness and depravity of human nature and greed, without any supernatural scapegoat to assuage the guilt.
No One Leaves the Butcher Shop tells the story of a pair of arsonists who stumble across something far worse than homeless people encamped within the building they’ve been hired to burn.
The Graveyard of Charles Robert Swede takes us on a journey with a monstrous serial killer who learns–as the line between our world and another are blurred–the truth behind why he’s chosen the burial site he’s utilized for the disposal of his victims.
We discover that even the devil has standards and sometimes a more stringent moral code than the clergy in This City Needs Jesus.
There’s more within this collection than solely the stories I’ve referenced, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me. Interspersed through the book are numerous illustrations that are positively magnificent. It was these illustrations that first brought this collection by Lawson to my attention, and as awesome as they might be, they’re no more spectacular than the stories they reference.
I wish I had read this collection in the final days of October because this book is so perfect for reading at that time of year. If you have a chance to read this for the first time, I recommend doing so at that time. You will not regret the decision.

The Armies of Those I Love by Ken Liu, Narrated by Auli’i Cravalho

My first exposure to Ken Liu was through his superbly readable translation of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem and the third novel of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Death’s End. To have translated those information dense and character rich narratives from Chinese to English required an impressive literary skill on the part of the translator. When The Grace of Kings, the first novel of Ken Liu’s The Dandelion Dynasty series was released, it was a given that I had to pick that massive book up for myself.
The Armies of Those I Love is definitely a smaller story than the books Liu has been releasing, though only in page count. The size of the story packed into this relatively brief tale is a huge one, taking us to a post apocalyptic Earth that is both familiar and impressively original. On the surface, one can see similarities to stories like Mortal Engines and The Matrix as the narrative unfolds, but Liu molds those familiar elements into something thoroughly his own.
Franny lives on BOS, a massive roaming city that prowls the war torn and ravaged landscape of what was once North America. An orphan, she exists on the outskirts of the rigid society most BOS residents fall into, and this is fine for her. Franny has an unwelcome fascination with old world artifacts and remnants of the world before the Pilots set the major cities adrift to wander.
When a stranger, escaped from LAX, stumbles upon her home and sends her world spiraling out of control, Franny embraces the opportunity to learn more about the world in which she lives as she and the fugitive struggle to escape the BOS citizens hunting them while evading the biomechanical Guardians who protect the city from internal and external threats.
Though it may be best not to seek answers to the questions Franny has been dying to resolve, there’s something magnificent and beautiful in the hope and faith the young woman exhibits even in the face of nightmarish truths.
Auli’i Cravalho’s narration seems perfectly suited for Franny and the story of her adventure. She captures the innocence and desperate hunger for knowledge quite expertly.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08S75Z8CR/ref=cm_sw_r_apan_glt_1FW4M2880WEDVBVSJDTT

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Billy Summers is, in my opinion, the best book Stephen King’s written in a great many years. It also stands out as being one of the best non-horror books of 2021, probably of the past few years at the very least. I’m not one of those to denigrate King just because he’s King; there’s a reason he’s perhaps the best-selling horror author of all time. He knows what he’s doing, even if I sometimes question his ability to stick the landing concerning his endings. Botched endings aside, most of his oeuvre is pretty well stellar, and even the material that hasn’t aged well is still worth diving into.
With Billy Summers, while there are passing references to supernatural forces within the world (commentary on The Overlook Hotel), King has made what I consider to be his most pronounced deviation from the realm of horror and the supernatural. Beneath the surface, this novel has a lot to say about the subjective nature of morality, the fluidity of identity and self-identity, the importance of memory, and the relationships we develop in our lives. None of that overshadows the surface-level compelling narrative of Billy and Alice.
Billy is an almost unnaturally skilled killer. While he’s an expert with firearms, he’s written with such humanity and depth that he never crosses the line into being a caricature of the action heroes from film and television. Highly literate, prone to in-depth analysis of both himself and those around him, and always planning, Billy has nevertheless immersed himself within a character he refers to as his “dumb self” when interacting with the criminals for whom he acts as a shooter. Providing his employers with a false sense of confidence derived from apparent superiority has allowed Billy to avoid being perceived as a threat, and it’s potentially kept him alive through the years.
When Billy accepts what he imagines to be one last job, he’s provided with a long-term identity that brings to the surface a dream he’d never expected to pursue. As time passes and Billy immerses himself deeper within the fictional identity, he begins noticing some disturbing signs that everything might not be as smooth as expected when the time comes to complete the job. Thankfully for Billy, he’s much smarter and more capable than the people who hired him.
As Murphy’s Law takes over and anything that can go wrong does go wrong, Billy finds himself in a complex paternal relationship with a damaged young woman. As they help one another heal, Billy learns that he’s still got one last job to complete, and it’s far more dangerous than the one he’d signed up for.
The pacing is superb, and the balance of character study with narrative as we find ourselves led by King to the conclusion of the tale is about as perfect as one could hope to experience.
Paul Sparks expertly tackles the audiobook narration, thoroughly capturing the different sides of Billy as he slips from identity to identity throughout the story. He additionally captures the secondary characters well enough that there’s never any doubt who we’re hearing in the dialogue. Sparks exhibits fantastic cadence as he guides us along the path King has carved for us to follow.

Santa’s Package by Nikki Noir & S. C. Mendes

I didn’t know Santaphilia was a thing until reading this story from Nikki Noir and S. C. Mendes. I can’t say I was surprised, just that it never crossed my mind to imagine there might actually be an official term applied to individuals with a Santa fetish. As a bearded man named Nikolas–who also happens to celebrate a December birthday–it almost seems disappointing that I’ve missed out on an opportunity to capitalize on this fetish existing.
There’s so much more to this story than just Amber’s frustrated attempts to find a man who is willing to fulfill her fantasy of making love to the Jolly Old Elf himself, though that does set the stage quite nicely.
Rooted in a possible hallucinatory experience when she was 12-years-old, Amber’s fixation on Santa begins at the same point when her family life falls apart. Saint Nick sits her down and tells her she’s special, warning her that life is about to become more challenging and assuring her that she’s strong enough to make it through everything. Ten years later, is it finally time for Santa to return?
At its core, Santa’s Package is a tale that delves into the potential ambiguity of that point where mental illness and legitimate visitation might coexist. How easily can our perceptions and attitudes be manipulated? Are there cases where someone seemingly insane is actually the victim of experiments and sinister machinations?
Santa’s Package may not answer these questions for you, but it’ll certainly raise new questions to consider and explore, and isn’t that what the best literature is meant to do? There’s a whole lot of potential inquiry crammed into this relatively small package, but if you’ve had the pleasure of discovering this one under your tree, you should certainly enjoy it.

Santa’s Package was released through http://www.godless.com as part of the AntiChristmas event for December of 2021. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app for your mobile device. The link is below:

https://godless.com/products/santas-package-by-nikki-noir-s-c-mendes

Stolen Tongues by Felix Blackwell

Felix Blackwell managed to craft a captivating and unsettling narrative that digs its way under the reader’s skin. Like many of the best horror stories, Stolen Tongues envelops the reader in an atmosphere that conveys a sense of both helplessness and fear. As the characters and their plight become more three-dimensional and fleshed out, the threatening force looming in the shadows becomes more unreal and difficult to comprehend. That alien and unfamiliar threat mingling with the all-too-real lives of the protagonists it imperils propels this story beyond the realm of casual, easily dismissed horror literature.
When Felix and his fiance, Faye, begin their romantic getaway at her parents’ cabin in the Colorado Rockies, there’s no way they could have anticipated the disquieting experience that would greet them. If they’d only known the sinister history of Pale Peak, the cabin that rested there in the dark forests, and the way that past resonated within Faye’s dreams and psychology, they certainly would not have stayed.
What unfolds from there is a feverish and unreal sequence of events that follows the couple from waking life into their dreams, influencing their relationships, and impacting everyone who seeks to help. And as the terror escalates, the reader can’t help but wonder if anyone will walk away without being led into the darkness by the creature speaking with stolen tongues.
Growing up in and near the Black Hills of South Dakota and having spent a good deal of my life in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho, I feel like Blackwell captured the beauty and isolation of the environment. Just as importantly, he captured the way these mountain forests can play tricks on people unaccustomed to such places.
As someone who has spent most of his life straddling the outskirts of Indigenous cultures, I appreciated Blackwell’s attempt to avoid exhausted and exhausting tropes while incorporating elements of those cultures in his story. My former step-mother and half-sister are Lakota, my ex-wife, multiple ex-girlfriends, numerous friends, and my teenage daughter as well. This book doesn’t treat the Indigenous characters as overly romanticized token characters, but it does treat them with respect and obvious appreciation for the history of North America before the arrival of European colonizers.

The Breed by Ash Ericmore

The Breed begins with Theo seeking refuge, hoping for nothing more than to use a phone to call his mother, his bike broken down in the rain. When he knocks at the door of Cullis House, his belief that he’s found a refuge is short-lived.
Ericmore leaps ahead a matter of decades and we join two friends hoping to stay at Cullis House in the middle of their backpacking trip. Sore feet and the attention of a sleazy guest already in attendance are soon the least of their concerns.
This story could be adapted to serve as a Hellraiser sequel with only minimal alteration required. One needs only think of the house in place of the Lament Configuration. Ericmore crafts a grotesque, sexually-charged nightmare that even Barker would be hard-pressed to deny as a suitable abbatoir for his playthings to explore.