Looking For A Cool Mixture of Speculative Poetry and Prose? Then Check Out Benjamin Blake’s Collection SOUTHPAW NIGHTS!

Southpaw Nights Cover shot

Benjamin Blake
James Ward Kirk Publishing
February 8, 2015
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Hello there dear readers! I think it’s fair to say that most of us like weird and scary things, right? Heck, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading book reviews here! With that thought in mind, today’s review is about a book that combines speculative poetry and short prose pieces to produce a feeling that the author likes to call “down and out.” While some of the pieces are chilling, others are more of a personal statement about the state of the world or Blake’s characters. He covers a lot of ground in Southpaw Nights, so we’d better get a move on if we want to see the sights!

Inverted-An Introduction of Sorts kicks things off and sets the tone of what’s to follow. The narrator wakes up in uncomfortable circumstances and finds that his home has been vandalized by an evil creature who inverted all his crucifixes. There’s something red on the walls, along with words, dates, and crude drawings of demonic creatures. In a nervous revelation the narrator wonders if there really was a creature. Could it have been himself who caused this chaos?

The story continues as we read poems that are like illuminated billboards on a dark road to the next piece of flash In The Beginning The vicar of a church calls its secretary to report something rather bad. All of this occurs in A Fictional Town where things are never what they seem to be. Look to the poems for clues because someone could be watching YOU. Here, have a cookie! Let’s pretend it’s not laced with arsenic. It’s a much nicer, and quieter way to go than taking a ride with Vincent. His hunger is only sated for a short while, but Little Miss Cheer Captain will be missed.

Leaving town won’t help him escape though, because the hotel holds The Phantom Scent of the Midnight Lady. One whiff is enough to drive any man mad with desire until he’s just a trembling mess. He’d better get the hell out of there before it’s too late! No matter which method of escape is chosen, the nightmares stay close. No matter if one is Ascending in a darkly sexual mass, or attempting to Drive, trouble follows until reaching The End of the Line.

Some never even try to leave this strange Necropolis and they are rewarded with strange sex Against Autumns Discarded Leaves where a lover cannot stay. In very rare cases, true love is forged and wraps you in unbreakable chains that dictate your actions. Spaceboy doesn’t want to leave his soulmate in a deep dark hole, so he rescues her. In Love, In Death, Our Love Stays True. There is no choice in that statement, just commands. Whiskey, pills, beer, wine, and some mighty unique lovemaking will keep Owen and Jean together. Forever.

Southpaw Nights’ combination of poetry and prose really works because things fit together well thematically. But the poems can certainly stand on their own just fine. The Ghost of a Smile is a chilly piece that puts us in a house with someone who could be alive, but it’s not definite. I like the ending:

Making long distance phone calls
and hanging up after the “hello”

How’s that for creepy? I also like the imagery of Bird Watcher. Somebody is watching the birds, but it’s not the lead character. He’s watching the watcher. Perhaps he’s the owner of a special Woodland Retreat that likes to hunt does wearing Daisy Dukes? It’s in one’s best interest to be somewhere safe when darkness falls and even that might not offer enough protection.

So what’s this reviewer’s verdict? I give Southpaw Nights FIVE STARS! This is the third book I’ve read by Benjamin Blake and I have to say that he consistently writes good stuff. His poetry is especially strong, like a double shot of espresso in your coffee drink of choice. Blake has created a unique style that blends together the grit of Bukowski with the grace of Poe. His work will stick with you and you’ll find yourself remembering certain lines that apply to your situation. I highly recommend Southpaw Nights, which is available from Amazon.com and other fine booksellers. Want to know more about Benjamin Blake and his other books? Then follow his page on Amazon or go to www.benjaminblake.com for more info. Be sure to mention that you heard about him from Damaged Skull Writer! Otherwise, I’ll have to send Vincent your way and you really don’t want that…

Warm Weather Means More Reading On The Move, So Take TRAJECTORY JOURNAL Along For The Ride! The Miles Will Fly By And You’ll Be The Envy Of Your Fellow Beach Readers With Issue 18 In Hand. Available NOW!

Hey fellow readers! Do you ever want to take your entire library on vacation? Just rent a snazzy U-Haul trailer and some shelves and a couple good lamps and an espresso machine and…I think you get the point. While it’s true that you can take your Kindle, Nook, or other electronic device, do you really want to risk dropping it in the ocean or having the screen all messed up? Luckily, TRAJECTORY JOURNAL is easy to carry, requires no additional power source and will provide hours of entertainment. Not only that, but it just looks classy! So if you’re looking to read some poetry, short fiction, cnf, and dig some groovy artwork, click the link below and check it out.  Poets, writers, photographers, and artists-TRAJECTORY JOURNAL accepts submissions on a rolling basis. It’s a great way to start your career or add to your portfolio. Happy Travels!  

Issue 18

Richard Chizmar’s Excellent Collection THE LONG WAY HOME Is A Must Have For Lovers Of “Uniquely Portable Magic”

The Long Way Home cover shot


Richard Chizmar
Cemetery Dance Publications
May 21, 2019
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Remember those commercials that used the catchphrase: “If it’s brand name here, it’s GOT to be good?” After multiple decades of working himself into the position he’s in as an independent publisher, editor, NY Times bestselling author, and regular contributor to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, I think Richard Chizmar deserves that sort of instant recognition. He’s always doing something new and contributing stories to a multitude of publications. Widow’s Point, his excellent collaboration with son, Billy, has become a movie and just this month he’s announced that there will be a sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box which he collaborated on with a young hopeful from the state of Maine, Stephen King. So call me bold if you want to, but I say “If Richard Chizmar is involved, it’s going to be AWESOME.”

When I got the opportunity to review The Long Way Home I said, “Yes please!” This is a super cross-section of Chizmar’s work that includes 5,000 words of autobiographical notes and two heart-on-the-page pieces. My Father and Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine is about love and what drives Richard Chizmar as a writer and publisher. This essay is something that most of us can relate to, even if they lacked a parent like this. There was somebody-a teacher, librarian, friend that helped us to keep going. The other piece Stephen King at 70-A Tribute to the Gunslinger is about magic. Most specifically, the magic created by the written word and a magical friendship between an author and his rock star. This writing community we’re all part of is built on this kind of magic. Richard Chizmar is a warm, friendly person who makes time to do interviews and podcasts with independent publications. He is constantly talking up creative projects by other writers, and even responds to Tweets from reviewers like me. In The Long Way Home he shows us that he knows what we’re going through and how we feel because he’s walked through the fire more than once.

But wait, don’t let your guard down just yet. Because along with all that warmth come short stories that may cause you to water your leg like the narrator of Roses and Raindrops, who discovers that it’s not always best to know the truth. Aberdeen, Virginia is a really nice place to live, except for one weird problem. Every time there’s a thunderstorm, small children end up dead. No one can figure out the reason why or who is committing these murders. Our narrator is among them until he makes a special delivery to a residence outside of town. He sees everything and although he can’t believe it, he can’t avoid what his eyes are taking in. You’ll be surprised too. Make sure to use the facilities before you start reading this tale!

You’ll also feel that kind of icy terror while reading the first story in this collection The Man Behind The Mask. A woman hoping for some kind of closure after enduring hell as the captive of a mask wearing man gets the chance. The mother of the other female captive agrees to meet with Jennifer. Yes! A chance at redemption and to talk to someone who truly understands what she’s been though. The woman even offers to host their get together at her home. How nice! Jennifer is nervous but knows she has to do this in order to move forward with her life. Unfortunately, neither of the women benefits much from the meeting. Quite the opposite happens. But someone is very pleased with the results! Oh man! This one took my breath away.

A Nightmare On Elm Lane starts off as a harmless sounding story about a kid living in a nice suburban neighborhood with one of those dads who always seems to have a “great idea” for a project. This one is a goldfish pond that Kevin and his Dad need to dig a hole in the backyard for. Despite his initial trepidation, Kevin finds himself enjoying the process and hanging out with Dad. It’s a great summer, until their digging uncovers things that shouldn’t be there. The police are called and the neighborhood becomes obsessed with what is going on. If that’s not creepy enough, someone starts visiting their yard after dark. They’re looking for something special, but only one person knows where it is…Holy Aqua Velva!

The two pieces in The Long Way Home that contain the police detective duo of Ben Crawford and Frank Logan are a treat. I really hope that Richard Chizmar does produce a collection featuring these guys and the unique cases they handle. They are the imperfect yin and yang that mix like chips and dip or tennis and a couple of overweight cops. Their back and forth makes the stories they live in funny as hell and amazing as they unravel puzzles that seem to lack answers. The Witch finds the fellows zooming out to handle a murder that happens on Halloween. Is their suspect just wearing a costume or is there something else going on? The Hunch is a complex psychological mystery that starts with this profound discussion.

“Your doctor’s an asshole”

“Really mature, Frank”

When Frank Logan doesn’t like something, he lets you know right up front. That’s a trait that makes him really refreshing to read and funny. But don’t be fooled by his demeanor. Inside that stubborn head is razor sharp brain that picks up on clues that no one else sees. When Ben tries to force his doctor’s idea of playing tennis to lose weight on Frank, he gets what he deserves. Ben Crawford is the “good guy” in this partnership and possesses a lot more people skills than his partner. Alone neither of these guys would be very effective, but together they are unstoppable.  Great detective stories with highly memorable characters that you can see in your head as you read Chizmar’s words.

I’ve only touched to tip of the iceberg in this vast collection of “uniquely portable magic” written by a man who is a hero to many of us. Not only is he amazing in what he’s achieved, but he’s faced adversity many times and beaten it down with the help of that fellow from Maine I mentioned earlier. The Long Way Home has definitely found a home on the “Wall of Fame” here in the Skullcave and gets a VERY enthusiastic 5 STAR RATING! To cut to the chase, YOU WILL LOVE THIS BOOK. Every story is a gem and the autobiographical portions are gold. Richard Chizmar is a high level practitioner of storytelling magic. You will feel it in your heart when you savor the pages of this this amazing collection. I only wish that Ben Crawford and Frank Logan were not fictional characters so that we could vote for them to be our next presidential duo.

Want to find out more about Richard Chizmar? Then visit his website: www.Richardchizmar.com or check him out on Twitter@RichardChizmar. Thanks for visiting Damaged Skull Writer! Please check in with us on Twitter@skullsnflames76 and visit http://damagedskullwriterandreviewer.com for news and reviews!



Its always great to get good news and finally making it into SLAB issue 14 with a poem close to my heart really turned my dials up to 11. As in the nonexistent 11 on the volume knob of a Fender guitar amplifier. “Blues” is about a little place that doesn’t exist anymore, but will live on forever in this poem. It’s also about your favorite places to chill out, have a couple brews, and forget about all the shit shoveled on you during the week. The SLAB editors also asked contributors some fun questions with their bios and I found that very refreshing. If you haven’t had a chance to read this amazing journal, I highly recommend it. The variety is amazing!

TWIN LAKES: AUTUMN FIRES is a Smoking Hot Read from the Devilishly Good Writing Team of Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason!

Twin Lakes-Autumn Fires cover shot


Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires
Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason
Sinister Grin Press
September 30, 2018
reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Hello friends and welcome to my parlor! Today’s review topic is the excellent novel Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires by the Sisters of Slaughter-Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason. In fact, this novel from Sinister Grin Press is so excellent that it is a Bram Stoker Award nominee. So you know for sure that this is one butt kicker of a read! Without further ado, let’s take a walk on the wild side…

Liz stumbles in off the road after being horribly assaulted by a major creeper. Seeing a campfire in the woods, she heads towards it in hopes of getting help and maybe some clothing. But the person by the campfire isn’t much help to Liz because she’s dead. And yet, that’s not the worst thing about the fire. Someone, or something, else is hiding in the surrounding darkness, waiting for its chance. Even in her battered condition, Liz knows that even though the dead person on the ground is scary, whatever lurks in the shadows is even more frightening.

Next time she comes to, it’s in a hospital and the police want to talk to her. But her memory is spotty and like many women who’ve gone through what she has, Liz doesn’t want to talk about it. Before anybody says much of anything, they’re quickly shut down by the doctor. No ifs ands or buts-this meeting is adjourned! The grey haired chief and his fellow officer don’t seem very intimidating, but why are they so eager to keep what information they have about similar crimes to themselves? I mean, everybody knows from watching TV that it’s time to call the forensics experts and all that jazz, right?

What’s going on around the town of Twin Lakes? Everybody seems very interested in keeping the crimes hush-hush and having secret meetings in a hidden house to talk about it. Even the police have their own agenda and do not wish to have any meddling from “the feds.” Maybe this sleepy little country town is run by mobsters? Perhaps in another novel it would be, but not this one! Twin Lakes is a unique town to be sure and what goes on there is well out of the jurisdiction of the FBI. Many of the residents here are more than just plain country folks. They’re actually members of an ancient family who dovetail with other special residents that possess powers such as shape shifting and telekinesis. It’s also the location of a portal to other worlds. Whoever holds the power there will control what comes through that opening, be it good or evil.

The source of the Autumn Fires is pure, destructive evil and it’s found a chink in the armor of the ancient family. His name is Randall, the ne’er do well son of a woman who runs the local diner. Common knowledge doesn’t explain why he’s so important, but all will be revealed at just the right time in this excellent novel. And what about Liz? Is she but a drifter or does she play a part in this epic struggle? Is the brooding doctor friend…or foe? There is a LOT going on in the pages behind the richly painted cover art! A lot is on the line in this battle between good and evil. Whoever loses will find their entire existence in question. One thing to keep in mind is not to be hasty in one’s initial assessment of things. Appearances can deceive.

Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason is a suspense-packed 5 Star read! I really enjoyed this novel a lot. Another excellent release from Sinister Grin Press that’s a winner, regardless of who takes home the awards at Stoker Con! You’re constantly kept guessing about what’s next, who are the good guys and might they be a bit less perfect than they think? Evil makes a frightening appearance and may even win the war. He reminds me a lot of George Stark, the bad guy in Stephen King’s novel The Dark Half. See if you agree!

I highly encourage you to grab a copy of Twin Lakes: Autumn Fires. The Sisters of Slaughter will take you on one hell of a wild ride with their fantastic writing. Better get ready to call out sick tomorrow, because once you start turning these pages, you won’t be able to stop! Available from all finer book retailers. If you purchase on Amazon, be sure to follow the author pages of this excellent writing team. You can also learn more by going to Twitter and visiting the Sisters of Slaughter @fiendbooks or Sinister Grin Press @SinisterGrinPre or www.sinistergrinpress.com