Supporting the Home Team and Very Much Enjoying My Copy of “A New York State Of Fright” From HWA-NY!

HWANY NY State of Fright covershot

Boy, am I glad that I ordered my copy of this fine collection of stories via Barnes &! It arrived in perfect condition and may I say, this cover is a beauty. As a resident of the Empire State and a Horror writer and reviewer, I wanted to see how we stacked up. So far, I’m three stories in and every one of them has been great! Also enjoyed Editor James Chambers’ foreword. Besides being colorful, it also explains that all proceeds from the sales of A NEW YORK STATE OF FRIGHT will be donated to GIRLS WRITE NOW  This program helps girls in their teens to get mentorship and break into the big world of publishing. The program especially targets girls who would not have a chance otherwise to do these things otherwise and that is pretty dang awesome! So not only are you getting 300 pages of great writing, but you are also helping the next crop of great new writers to step up. Hippocampus Press has done a beautiful job with these books, making them a joy to read and something that will look great on your bookshelf or coffee table! 

Just a few last words-This book is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon. However, Amazon made the road rocky by cancelling pre-orders, so I would encourage you to go with B & N. This is also not an “official” HWA anthology, but it measures up to everything I’ve read in the past. Plus, by helping GIRLS WRITE NOW, you are going to give someone the proper outlet for their feelings, hopes, and dreams. Let’s crush the crack pipes and open those brains up for business! 


Summer Writing Time Almost Over

Summer writing

I like summer writing time a lot. It’s about the only way I can really multi-task because whatever I’m doing outside, even just taking a nap like Murphy Brown here, I can still say I was getting some fresh air and sunshine. Neither of those things is particularly abundant in the Skullcave, where most of the magic happens.

Lately I have gone back to writing with pencil in notebooks and I think it has helped me reconnect with my writing. Somehow the eraser always runs out before the lead, but that’s okay. It also brings me back to the original way I started writing. The days when I thought I was destined to become the next Kerouac. I have boxes of full notebooks to go through when I have time. Sometimes there are a few treasures in them. Other times, it is more like journal reading.

Sometimes I do take one of my portable typewriters outside to the porch, roll a sheet of paper in and see what happens.  Often, it turns out well because there’s so much to see and hear in the middle of an old city that’s struggling to stay alive. A freight train roars by, the mail carrier stops to chat for a minute, and the local garage is firing up an old hot rod. It makes a joyful racket.

How about you, friends? What is your favorite way to write? Would you change anything, if you could? Whatever way you are writing, I hope the words flow like wine at a wedding and that the word bar is never closed.

this day in crime history: august 15, 1914

Nobody Move!


On this date in 1914, Julian Carlton (pictured above) murdered seven people on the estate of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Carlton, a native of Barbados, was employed as a servant at Taliesin, Wright’s estate near Spring Green, WI. Wright was out of town on the day of the murders. Carlton struck during lunch. Several estate employees were in the dining room, Wright’s mistress and two children on a nearby screened in porch. Carlton bolted all but one of the dining room doors shut. He poured gas under the doors and started a fire. After starting the fire, he ran to the screened-in porch and murdered Martha “Mamah” Borthwick and her two children with an ax. He then waited outside the dining room and attacked the employees as they tried to escape the fire. Three employees and the thirteen year old son of the estate’s head carpenter were killed. Only two…

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Happy Release Day to Crystal Lake’s awesome anthology WELCOME TO THE SHOW!Check out Damaged Skull Writer’s Review

Welcome to the Show cover shot

compiled by Matt Hayward
editor: Doug Murano
Crystal Lake Publishing
August 3, 2018
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Welcome to the SHANTYMAN! The shape shifting palace of dreams and conductor of nightmares. While its location remains more or less the same, the experiences it provides to its patrons are vastly different. Maybe it’s because of the closeness to the sea or just being in San Francisco, California? Perhaps. But in the words of onetime manager, Mr. Summers: “Here at the Shantyman we can be whatever we like.” And he is right, as you will see for yourselves dear readers. In this horrifyingly wonderful collection from Crystal Lake, there are seventeen tales for you to marvel at. Naturally, with such a special topic, great writers are required. Brian Keene, Jonathan Janz, Adam Cesare, and Max Booth III spin stories that are tres cool! But enough witty chatter! The Shantyman does not like to be kept waiting…It is the star, after all.

In the late 1800’s, San Francisco was a town based on its main industries: Fishing, shipping, and the toughs that worked the docks. People who don’t waste any opportunity that is presented to them. Whether it be slashing a man’s throat for the coins in his purse, or providing entertainment in a variety of ways. Alan M. Clark’s banjo playing protagonist wants to know What Sort of Rube the motley collection at a nearby pub think he is. Why, he’s just secured a two-week engagement at the Shantyman! Not just anyone can walk in there and pull off such a feat. In fact, he feels so good about it that he offers to buy a crippled old man some lunch and a brew. He is horrified by the tale that the old sea dog tells him in exchange for the grub. But the warning? Now that’s going over the top! Or is it?

As the years roll by, the Shantyman continues its existence. In Jonathan Janz’s story Night and Day and In Between the year is 1926. Well, maybe. In this reality bending tale that reminds me much of the Overlook Hotel’s eternal party crowd, nothing is what it seems to be. A tough private detective arrives from the wharves and heads right for the Shantyman. He’s looking for someone and he isn’t taking no for an answer. Not from the gorilla watching the door, or the creepy manager who calls himself Summers. The bastard even has the audacity to laugh when the detective gives his name as George Raft. The club is full of wealthy aristocrats and socialites there to see the talent sing and play piano. Flappers and bathtub gin, everyone is looking for their favorite sin. Raft is in, but will he get who he came for?

Want a little humor with your horror? Then chances are good that you’ll enjoy True Starmen by Max Booth III. We have arrived in the more or less present day and it appears that the Shantyman has hit hard times. Kind of an out of sync, used to be a cool place joint that does whatever it has to in order to get by. Somebody has to take care of all the orange shag carpet and paneling, right? Martin checks out the unique customers arriving for a podcast and wonders WTF? Why would a whole crowd of abstainers choose a drinking establishment as a meeting place? Turns out that he may just be right for once. I hope that you fine people are familiar with Mr. Booth’s brand of horror. If not, be sure and look him up! The perfect balance of fun, odd, and scary. Pass the Doritos and turn on the bug zapper!

Do you ever go to places that the people you work with might be surprised about? If so, then you might identify with the narrator of Adam Cesare’s The Southern Thing. Even though he’s a lifelong fan of Southern rock band, The Truckers, this guy is an IT pro. Tonight he arrives at a place called the Shantyman all excited to hear them play. But it doesn’t take long for his neurosis to kick in, making him feel like the only clothed person on a nude beach. UN-comfortable! Fortunately, he meets up with a cool dude from Alabama named Chuck and starts to chill. But the Shantyman has other ideas in mind. “Hi! I’m Chuck. What’s with all the screaming?”

Even though the majority of the tales in this book are based in San Francisco, it turns out that the powers of the Shantyman stretch all the way to the opposite coast. In Wolf with Diamond Eyes by Patrick Lacey, a New York City journalist is about to capture the most amazing story of their career. Yes, they’re going to get the skinny from the last living member of the Italian rock band Harpie. Their show at the Shantyman was also the end of the band and a great number of the audience due to a horrible event. But instead of a step by step walk-thru, the journalist leaves with something a lot more abstract and dangerous. Great story that makes excellent use of details to really shock!

Another great story is Pilgrimage by Bryan Smith. This fine piece of writing and historical articulation is gonna kick you where it hurts! But in a good way. Three young adults are on one of those tourist bus tours that are so popular, when they stop at the Shantyman. Karla, a retro rocker seductress decides to drag boyfriend George and pal Jason out for an extended stop at the historic location. They want to soak up all those rock and roll juices! As the trio is joined by a stoner goofball for their walkabout, something goes horribly awry. Maybe the tour guide was right about staying on the bus? The beginning hints at the end, but you won’t see it coming! Go ahead and scream all you want. Nobody is going to save you.

Well friendly readers, I don’t want to reveal too much more of what’s behind the curtain for you to explore. That would just be wrong and the Shantyman does not suffer fools lightly. I’ve spoken with the voices in my head and we’ve decided that Welcome to the Show rates a fantastic FIVE STARS! Actually, I’d venture to say it rates even higher than that. Once you get started reading this highly addictive collection of stories, you won’t be able to stop. Running Free by Brian Keene is so amazing that I left it for you to explore yourselves! Trust me, Welcome to the Show is something you want to be reading NOW.

SHEET MUSIC TO MY ACOUSTIC NIGHTMARE by Stephanie M. Wytovich is Music to the EYES!

sheet music to my acoustic nightmare cover shot

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare
Stephanie M. Wytovich
Raw Dog Screaming Press
December 15, 2017
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

It’s no secret that I dig dark poetry, so getting the chance to review this collection by Stephanie M. Wytovich was a nightmare come true! I’m sure you know what I mean with that phrase, but if you don’t, it will soon become apparent. Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare published by Raw Dog Screaming Press is not your average poetry collection. If you foolishly think that all poetry is hearts, flowers, and things that rhyme, you better pick another book before you either have a meltdown or lock yourself in a closet. Wytovich is opening the door to her mind and daring us to look inside. Make no mistake, this is NOT a frivolous invitation. We’re allowed in with stern warnings about what we will find in those dark, blood-tinged recesses and to beware of Jolene.

Who’s Jolene? Isn’t this book of poems written by Stephanie? Well…Yes and No. Jolene is Wytovich’s muse, something that is different for every writer and artist. Some folks become very jolly when they are creating new work because their muse is a happy one. Blah Blah Blah! You can’t shut these smiley faced mofos up! Unless you bury an axe in their skull, but that’s kind of messy and the whole prison thing is a downer. Others of us like to work alone in quiet places. We need to hear the faint screams and think about how tricky a knife is to hold when covered in blood. Jolene arrives most often at these times to sing her songs and sink her teeth into the dead. She also protects Stephanie because without her host, Jolene will not exist.

To quote the back cover Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare was written “during a time when the road was her home.” And it shows. When reading Wytovich’s work you can feel the melancholy, fear, screaming frustration, and even the orgasms. You are lost on some highway with Stephanie and Jolene waiting for a fat, hairy truck driver to give you a ride. Will you give him a ride in return or jam an icepick into his neck and take all his money? Just another rube killed by a lot lizard. Yeah, this is THAT kind of poetry!

Come on, let’s get between the sheets…of paper that contain her powerful words. Wytovich’s use of imagery to make an ordinary item exceptionally creepy happens in 395 Miles to Memories. Check this:

“The steering wheel holds a toothless grin.
Black gums beneath rotting lips,
It laughs louder with each mile I drive;”

Feel that? This woman is driving away from something while her brain bashes her over the head with a metal folding chair. She thinks about what she’s left behind luridly, but as the distance increases so does the physical until it fades into a ghost. Haven’t you been in that spot at least once in your life? If not yet, you will be.

In On the Other Side of the Glass we are possibly dealing with a ghost. After committing suicide over being cruelly abandoned by her lover, the writer finds herself in a glass prison reminiscent of Alice in Through the Looking Glass. But instead of being in a place where everything is backwards and all the characters are full of whimsy, the woman in this poem is trapped in a frightening space full of other dead things frozen to immobility. Not the desired end result.

This is poetry and also a confessional for Wytovich. A sharing of the burdens held by so many of us who have been used and abused in exchange for unstable “safety” The world is not a kind place. No, it’s a bastard that wants us to fail. It will encourage us to stab ourselves in the eye, slit our wrists, and blow off our own heads with a shotgun.

If you fail to kill yourself, is that a good thing to celebrate or just another damn mistake you should be punished for? There are many people who will be most happy to punish you whether you need it or not. Even if you finally end yourself and achieve what you thought you desired, the quiet nirvana of death is easily shattered. In the poem “Under Take Her” a creepy embalmer gets his kicks with a woman he’s just prepared for viewing. No respect for the recently deceased here! Some people just don’t care where their orgasms come from. There shouldn’t be any children-but just imagine if there are. Demonic bloodless things seeking to share their gift of death-Jolene would be so proud!

I highly recommend Stephanie M. Wytovich’s book Sheet Music to my Acoustic Nightmare to everyone who enjoys poetry that is emotionally charged. Yes, it is dark, speculative work. But it is also a mirror of the human condition. Romances that collapse or cause partners to run away, the desire to kill anyone who’s tried to hurt you, sex that turned sour and deadly. This is as real as it gets, readers! Does anyone else hear music or see a shrouded figure coming their way? I’d tell you to run but, according to the author, it’s already too late.

TALES FROM THE REALM VOLUME ONE is another awesome first for Aphotic Realm! Get YOUR Copy Today!

Tales From The Realm Covershot

Edited by Dustin Schyler Yoak & A.A. Medina
Aphotic Realm Publishing
May 1, 2018
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis

WOW! What a seriously awesome collection of mind-blowing speculative fiction! I have followed Aphotic Realm since issue number one, when they had to explain the exceptionally high quality of their digital publications to me. As a reviewer, this what I like to see and hope for every great first from an independent writer or press. With each consecutive issue, Aphotic Realm has grown by leaps and bounds due to the collective efforts of everyone involved. I think it is safe to say that they have created a community of like-minded individuals who are making the overall writing world a better place. Ahem! Enough compliments! It’s time for me to sit up straight in my chair and give you the rundown on Tales from the Realm Volume One.  

What better way to start off than with Silencing the Bell by rising star Gary Buller? I’ve read quite a few of Buller’s stories and this one has a chilly precision that slices to the bone. Dare I say it? I think Buller’s writing has matured and become more polished. Very tight, clean and dangerous like a brand new straight razor! Harry Stubaker has made a grievous error and it is only fair that he pay for it. In fact the bell demands that he do so. Life has become unbearable, piece by piece until the climax. But will there be an end to the terrorizing? It’s up to the spirit world to make that choice.

From spirits to something more physically tangible, we go on to experience some Black Lung Hay Fever by the master of flash S.E. Casey. This illness will take your breath away with the slow build that starts with a mysterious scarecrow in a gone to hell hay field. Ancient and only visible for small portions of the day, the scarecrow should be a stationary object, but is it? The only residents who might know the truth are the old timers. But they sit under the awning of Jasper’s store in silence while sipping their endless beers. Now you see them, now you don’t!

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I don’t live in a posh neighborhood. Between dealing with the mad fence pisser and pharmaceutical salesmen that do most of their business at 2 in the morning, there are times when a gated community sounds attractive. But, at the same time there’s all those rules and if you deviate by doing something crazy like change your door color from black to yellow there’s going to be trouble. In The Yellow Door by Isha Ro, such a situation occurs and the neighbors go wild. Is their madness caused by a simple door change or by something that was there all along?

Maybe it’s because I used to be a hospital janitor in one of my previous lives, but I really connected with Enid and the Owls by K.T. Wagner. As I read it, I could feel the cool, damp lilacs and the desperation to do things right. Enid Bailey, dutiful cleaner of an old folks’ home, goes above and beyond for her patients. All the elderly ladies remind her of a different kind of owl, which is an apt fit because Enid works the night shift as do the nocturnal hunting owls. There is something about being a uniformed cleaner in these settings-maybe because we listen. Whatever it is, night nurse Abigail is not a fan and when she goes into screech owl mode, everything changes…

Is it possible to haunt yourself and by doing so, make your life an odd charade? My Better Half by Mark Blickley tells such a tale. When Andrew hooks up with his cardboard self, Sir Andrew, life gets great and awful at the same time. At first, it’s kind of funny when Andrew’s better half makes his appearance. But as things roll along, there’s a feeling of desperation. It makes me think of The Picture of Dorian Gray a little bit. As the laughter fades and life continues, you wonder: how does one live up to their flawless self? So convincingly told, it feels like nonfiction and I like that.

It would be remiss to do a review of this collection and not look at S.J. Budd’s The Forgotten House. Kirsten rides the train to work and every day sees something that no one else appears to. There’s a house that could potentially be a home for her. But how would that be possible? All the work to be done…Who would help? Then new developments occur and Kirsten isn’t sure what to think! When she attempts to show her fellow train passengers what she sees, everyone is too absorbed in their electronic devices. In my opinion, The Forgotten House contains two horror stories. Are we all just ghosts in the machine isolated by our own hand? What of Kirsten’s hooded helper? Friend…Or foe?

There shouldn’t be any questions regarding my rating of this book, but just to clarify-FIVE STARS! I highly encourage you to buy the paperback version so that you can display Gunnar Larsen’s fantastic cover art on your bookshelf or coffee table or wherever you keep your damn books! The whole book has obviously been carefully thought out and features just the right amount of writing from the editor. Obviously the editors are glad you’re here, but they let the stories do the talking. Thank you for saving us from those rambling book forwards that go on for 40 pages or so! They haven’t crushed wildflowers and added them to the paper, but they have given each contributor a fun-sized bio where you can find out a little more about them, other places to read their work, and to share the fact that being a Realmer is indeed a worldwide phenomenon!

Twenty fantastic stories in one badass collection. Get your copy of Tales from the Realm Volume one TODAY!

HOT OFF THE PRESS! Strange Stories Volume 1 is Cool City!

Strange Stories Vol one

When this beauty arrived in my mailbox I was amazed! It was like I’d gone back in time and just come back from Kenny’s Newstand with the latest issue of one of the horror comics that we all used to be so stoked about. Those things would get passed through so many hands that I’m surprised they didn’t just disintegrate after the last kid read it.

Now there’s no reason to go searching around somebody’s mildew filled basement unless you want to! STRANGE STORIES Vol. One is only 5 bucks and it comes to YOU in the mail! Not only that, but this thing is jam-packed with stories and groovy goodness. Take a trip back in time and get your copy today at

Review of NARAKA by Stoker Award Winning Writer Alessandro Manzetti!

NARAKA cover shot

Alessandro Manzetti
Independent Legions Publishing
May 15, 2018
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Are you the kind of horror fan who wants things taken to the extreme? Skin peeled slowly and painfully from a live human body and eaten for the purpose of pleasure? Do you want to read a nightmare? If so, then NARAKA by award winning writer, Alessandro Manzetti was written just for you! For those who don’t understand the purpose of profanity, extreme sex, cannibalistic torture, and a horrifying look into the future-Please head on over to the world made by Disney where monsters sing songs, skeletons dance, and everybody lives happily ever after. None of that ridiculous shit happens in books written by Manzetti and I’m not here to apologize. Got that? Good. Now let’s all go to Hell!

Seriously, NARAKA is a Hindu and Buddhist word meaning a hell. In these religious practices there are believed to be multiple hells that we must journey through to complete our life cycle. This intense book takes us through some of these hells and introduces us to the idea of the Moon as a prison for criminals. Much like the current legal system in this country, the rules are complicated and getting killed doesn’t mean you’ll stay that way. This is especially true for more elite criminals who are true professionals at killing. Many have extreme fetishes that boost up their standing in hell.

NARAKA makes me think of writings by William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso to name a few. Manzetti even drops a cool nod (check out page 86) to Ginsberg’s iconic poem HOWL, a piece of writing so controversial that arrests were made and the books seized by police. The result was a U.S. Supreme Court hearing to answer the question of whether or not the book was obscene. What serious writer wouldn’t want to have that effect on society’s precarious norms? Especially a fellow poet? The Burroughs effect is in the overall feeling one gets from reading NARAKA. It’s like dropping way too much acid, followed by getting drunk to a level near alcohol poisoning, while watching bad pornography and getting raped in a slaughter house. Add a dash of Corso for the fiery flames with balls-out anger, and you’ve got some building blocks for this book.

Everybody dies, except the very rich
Human beings are sliced up and rendered
The final product is packed in cans
and shipped out, labelled as “chicken”
From the Moon which has become a
penitentiary farm, and vivisectionist’s dream
Whores are destroyed from the inside out
with specialized tools & humans are eaten alive
Life gets zero respect-Big money rules

There are many ways for readers to take in this powerful book. They could be offended and run away screaming, or look at it in a more constructive fashion. I see NARAKA as a warning to us from Manzetti. He combines timeless religions with ancient traditions such as cannibalism, prostitution, gangs/tribes, and violence. Since this book shows us a possible future, these things are done in a larger hi-tech way. Without a doubt, it is horrible and dehumanizing, but isn’t that what we’re doing to ourselves or having done to us by those in power? There is no middle class anymore in most countries. There is just the struggling lower class majority and the rich minority who hold most of the money and power in their ugly little hands. So characters like “Big Blue, Ute Mobius, the white monkeys, Blaster Miller, and Kiki and are good representations of characters in the struggle to continue living the way they want to.

Humans are ruining the Earth and its natural resources in their quest for more petroleum products and money. This is a fact that has hardened from being a concept held by “tree hugging hippies in tie-dyed shirts” into reality. We will eventually destroy this world we call home until the only resource available is ourselves. Our bodies will become a sources of food, enjoyment in new forms of sex, and the only ones who will be able to continue their existence are the rich, who can afford regeneration and a few very smart criminals. Once Earth is destroyed there will have to be other places to live and exist. Prisons, sex houses, Hells-All NARAKA.

None escape

I have put a lot of time, over a month actually, into reading this book and writing a review of it. A lot of thinking and time spent enveloped in the Hells of NARAKA. “Is it good?” Friends have asked me. “How many stars should we rate it?” My honest answer is, I don’t know. This is not the kind of book you can easily do that with. We are talking about severe dystopias. These are hells and many of the main characters are criminals, sexual deviants, and computers programmed to kill and use whatever they find. I think that the best answer I can give is that NARAKA is something each reader has to experience for themselves. You need to travel the dirty streets of Paris 5 and the stone corridors of The New Belmarsh Penitentiary located a short space-hop from Earth in our Moon, and hear the roar of the slicer as it gets ready for another victim.

None escape

Do you have the strength to, as Hunter S. Thompson put it, “Buy the ticket-Take the ride?” If you do, it’s time to step up and see the show. NARAKA is ready, now it’s your move…A revolutionary novel from a true master, Alessandro Manzetti. Available now from Independent Legions Publishing and your favorite booksellers. Step into madness today.

Alessandro Manzetti biopic