April 16, 2019

March 06, 2019

JEFF STRAND - A Conversation About his COLD DEAD HANDS

Jeff Strand is the notoriously dark comedic author of over 40 books including the Andrew Mayhem series, The Sinister Mr. Corpse, Pressure, Sick House plus several short stories such as Socially Awkward Moments With An Inspiring Lunatic and Two Twisted Nuts. A recipient of four Bram Stoker Award-nominations, Jeff is quite arguably best in the bizz at combining comedy and fear on the same page. This interview isn't about any of that, but instead centers around his latest novella, Cold Dead Hands, which was released December of 2018.

Feel free to turn up the heat and get comfy as we discuss Jeff's latest offering of cold terror and dark laughs.

DARK BITES: So, how exactly does a person living in the idealistic warm climate of Florida get wired to write a story that takes place in the icy confines of a walk-in freezer?

JEFF STRAND: I've since moved to Atlanta, Georgia, but yes, Cold Dead Hands was written outdoors in beautiful sunshine! The story is more about all of the bad stuff that happens inside of the freezer than the actual temperature (though the temperature certainly causes problems) so it wasn't as if I needed to shove my head inside my freezer for a few minutes at a time to get into the proper head space. I'd lived in Florida for a couple of decades when I wrote the book, but I grew up in Alaska, so it's not difficult for me to recall the sensation of being cold.

DB: You seem to be churning out both full-length novels and the shorter length chapbooks at a pretty solid pace over the past few years in particular. At which point in the writing – either in the physical typing or the mental formulating of the writing – is it determined how long or short the story needs to be? Is it a conscious effort to decide or is the story always the boss?

JS: I almost always know if something is a novel, novella, or short story before I start writing. In the specific case of Cold Dead Hands, Cemetery Dance Publications asked me to write something for their novella series. So I had the word count parameters going into the project. I'd wanted to try a book that took place entirely in a single location yet was extremely fast-paced, and that was an idea that lent itself to novella length. I just brainstormed places a group of people could get trapped and settled on "walk-in freezer." Then I came up with the motive for the bad guys and started writing!

DB: Rumour has it that you've got a film version of Cold Dead Hands in the works. What can you tell us about how the film project got underway and what we should we expect from the end result?

JS: My wife, Lynne Hansen, had written and directed a short film called Chomp that did extremely well on the film festival circuit. Cold Dead Hands wasn't written with a movie in mind, but after she reluctantly turned down another an offer to direct somebody else's script, I mentioned that the novella I'd just finished took place entirely in a freezer, meaning that it was something that could be done on an extremely low budget. She wrote a fantastic screenplay for it and then set about trying to get the financing. Do you know what's insanely frustrating? Trying to get funding for a movie! It was false lead after false lead after false lead after false lead after false lead after false lead, during which time I kept saying, "Wow, I'm glad I just write books." As I answer this question, there are some promising things happening, but the overall process involves a lot of primal screaming.

DB: Considering other film projects you've built from your stories, I'm imagining an entire series of Strand films with each new story you write. What gods need to be appeased for this to become any sort of reality?

JS: All of them! I've had nibbles of movie interest throughout my career but little of it went anywhere. My story "Gave Up The Ghost" was adapted into a segment of the anthology film Creepers that nobody ever saw, and the feature film version of my book Stalking You Now remains half-finished and may never be completed. But recently there's been a surge of interest, including a couple of projects with the possibility of being Major Motion Pictures. Will anything happen with them? Dunno. All I can do is say, "Oooh, that's pretty cool," and keep the focus on writing books, since the movie stuff is out of my control.

DB: As the terrible events unfolded in Cold Dead Hands and the grocery store becomes an improvised war zone for every shopper's worst case scenario, I had to wonder what your worst ever shopping experience was. Care to share?

JS: I'm a procrastinator, so every year at Christmas I'd be frantically shopping at the last minute. Except for one special year. I got it all done before I flew up to visit my relatives. It was glorious. No need to fight the crowds of stressed-out shoppers. No need to venture out in the cold. I could stay at my grandmother's house and relax without a care in the world. But...my dad hadn't done any of his shopping, and he said "C'mon and help me out!" So I had to fight the Christmas Eve crowds anyway. Argh!!!

DB: If you could summarize Cold Dead Hands in only six words or less for those who have yet to read any of your work and don't know what to expect from you, what would you say?

JS: Dark comedy thriller; horrific freezer experience.

DB: Once readers have enjoyed Cold Dead Hands, what other published treats do you expect to have in store for us in the next year or so to look forward to?

JS: Next up is Ferocious, a tender tale about a man and his niece who are trapped in a forest full of zombie animals. I'm sure it'll all work out okay, though.

DB: Can't wait, Jeff. Thanks!

    To order your copy of Jeff's latest novella, and others, you can visit his AmazonStore page 

     You can also visit Jeff's personal corner of the web for the latest updates and offerings.

*This interview first appeared at Hell Notes.*

February 13, 2019


Dean Italiano is a Canadian writer, artist, musician, parent
and librarian, but don't let that fool you. Dean knows how to pack a creative punch that will send you reeling all the way to the bookstore to devour whatever else he has published to date. Although not quite a household name as compared with best selling contemporaries who thrive in the big publishing houses, Dean has been writing in the trenches for many years, carving out his own niche as an independent creationist worthy of your time and purchase.

Honing his skills publishing several short stories, Dean broke out with his first novel, Pain Machine, written under the name of Marcy Italiano in 2003. Dean's sharp wit and talent for capturing real life experiences, both harrowing and beautiful, and then squeezing them out of his pen for all their worth can be found in 2008's Spirits and Death In Niagara, and again in 2009 with Katrina and the Frenchman: A Journal From the Street in which Dean portrays his and his spouse's story of survival upon having barely made it out of the horrors of hurricane Katrina.

With The Starving Queen, Dean is back in full form with a riveting novel about inner demons and personal evolution written from the point of view of someone who has battled his own share of inner demons. Packed full of scares, humility and raw emotion aplenty, Dean once again takes us on a journey which promises to leave us altered for the better having read it.
Join us as we discuss how the Starving Queen was born, Dean's struggles and triumphs with his own inner demons, and a few things in between.

DARK BITES: Dean, thanks for taking time out of your very busy life to discuss your most recent novel, The Starving Queen, with me. Let's get to it and start at the beginning, shall we? How did the concept and eventual writing of the book come about?

DEAN ITALIANO: Ha! You are unknowingly cutting me to the quick with this question. It started in a therapy session. I was battling one of my familiar demons and it was suggested, since I write, that I describe what this particular demon would look like. To embody and visualize a very complicated problem, was surprisingly quite easy. Once I had the Queen, I sat back and decided what to do with her. This was a short story at first. Back when I was able to go to more conferences, I met up with one of the editors who had turned down my submission. Some of those reading this might know Tom Monteleone, who told me, “This isn’t a short story.” I was confused at first, but when I went back to work on the story some more, I understood what he meant. There’s more to it, more layers, that needed to come alive in the story. There were many horrid versions since then, it was hard to find a balance that worked between the other characters and the Queen. Once I found a balance I liked, it was difficult to edit as many of the scenes jabbed at the original demon I battled in therapy. Thankfully I have not had to deal with that for a few years, I’m with the character “Bev” now, standing above the demon.

DB: As far as I'm concerned this is a book which could hold a candle to any of those being published by the big houses today. Can you walk us through the process of deciding to publish The Starving Queen on your own terms and the rewards and challenges that came with  publishing under your own banner?

DI: P.I.C. Publishing was actually created for the music side of our creative output. In Canada, when royalties are collected, a percentage goes to the “publisher” and a percentage to the artist. If you’re both, you need a company name to collect full royalties. It was this name that we started using as an umbrella for all of our creative work, including art, music, and in this case, The Starving Queen. During the years when ebooks crashed into the scene, self-publishing became a heated topic, and some mid-level publishers were disappearing, I sat back and looked at my options. I have many friends in the industry, and Shikhar Dixit offered to edit for me. I also found Mary Madewell, a fantastic artist. There’s a printing shop in town, and I’ve done this journey before with my earlier book, Katrina and the Frenchman. I knew exactly how much work was involved, and the quality of the print shop.

So whaddaya do? Despite the busyness that comes with kids, a job, and my own personal transformation, I wanted to handle this one myself. I had faith in my editor and artist, so G (spousal unit) and I decided to have a triple release for the book, a little one-act play I wrote called The Narrowing, and our new horror/Halloween based CD called From Skull Tavern.

DB: The tale of The Starving Queen really hit home for me on several levels as I believe it will for many readers. Considering all that the Queen represents, was there anything that surprised you as far as what the book meant to you in the beginning compared to what it might have mean for you along the way or even now as you reflect back on it?

DI: Surprises? Oh jeez, where to start with this one. Should I roll my eyes or just shake my head? When one discovers that they are transgender, very often a weight is lifted from their shoulders. Another thing that can happen, is the shedding of light on many issues from your past that at the time, you didn’t understand. To look back and think that the signs were so muffled, trickling out in this book in bits and pieces, is disturbing.

So many of us are very harsh judges of our bodies. We change, we evolve, we age, and we have far too many moments of hating our bodies. But to not know why, to not understand why I couldn’t accept myself, makes me feel sad for my “ex” who lived in such a dark place for so long. As much as the Queen needed to come alive, so did Jasmine. I needed her to to poke and prod at herself, to hide it from everyone, and then to smile. There are specific scenes in the book that I previously felt as if I was screaming them out, but now they simply scream at me.

DB: What aspect of The Starving Queen do you hope has the biggest impact on readers and/or the one thing you hope they take away from the book long after the final page has been read?

DI: You’re not alone. I can’t stress this enough. None of us are alone. Readers might see themselves in one or more of the characters in the story, and some readers might have completely different demons they’re battling. I personally believe invisible demons are the sneakiest.

When I wrote this book, social media wasn’t the powerhouse that it is now. But media in general has been dangerous for decades. We need to step back and see the messages for what they are, what they’re trying to sell us, and what they’re telling us to like, love, and accept. Because if you’re not good enough, you will buy what they’re selling to make yourself acceptable. If you watch how the media puts it’s SPIN on everything, it’s easier to tell yourself that you don’t have to buy into it all. You don’t have to keep up with the Kardashians. Be healthy, be strong, be the best you. Kick your demons in the face.

DB: Although you haven't published any novels since the Starving Queen mid-2017, you haven't exactly been a slouch when it comes to your creative output. You've completed music projects, short stories and some really cool paintings along the way. What do you hope to unleash creatively into the world next in the foreseeable future?

DI: During the time I’ve been re-writing my life, my second sci-fi book has been put on hold. I just didn’t have the brain-space to finish it. I’ve got FIVE chapters left and G says I can’t quit or die before it’s done because he wants to know how it ends. I don’t know if it’ll be a trilogy yet, but I’m going to finish the whole story before I go back to edit and adjust for continuity. I’ll occasionally submit a horror short story to a market, but I haven’t spent a lot of time on that recently. I have a Haiku-length attention span for writing right now.

My artwork has gained some attention the last couple of years. Some friends and family insisted I share more of it, and I’ve since been in two juried shows, and an art gallery downtown for a season. I’m surprised people are liking my work as much as they are. There was one painting I was going to throw in the garbage and it ended up selling. So what do I know, eh? I’ll keep at it, and hopefully sell some more before we run out of wall/storage space at home.

Music… well this is the funny part of the story. G and I generally write music together. When you hear From Skull Tavern, that voice was more in the ...Bonnie Tyler range? In the past year my voice has dramatically dropped and I’ve approached the Brad Roberts range instead. I think it’s settling in and we have to test out what we can write for this voice. G says he already has some ideas. I’m looking forward to giving it a whirl, it’s been kinda trippy. Will we keep the horror/Halloween theme for new songs? Very, very likely.

DB: And, finally, where is the best place for folks to enter the world of The Starving Queen and to further get their fill of your work?

Our website is https://picpublishing.ca/, and we’re on FaceBook and Twitter and so on. Our music can be downloaded on Spotify, Apple Music/iTunes, Amazon Music, YouTube, Deezer… and we have CDs for the older folks like us. *wink* Some of my paintings and artwork are on our website, and some are listed online at Fine Art America.

The Starving Queen is on Amazon and our website, and of course I’ll sign and send hard copies if people prefer a book in-hand.

Thanks so much for your interest in peeking into my world. It’s a zany one.

DB: Thank-you, Dean! And for anyone who may have missed the review for The Starving Queen, you can check it out here!

*This interview first appeared on Hell Notes.*

February 01, 2019

The Starving Queen by Dean Italiano - book review

*Review originally appeared at Hell Notes*

Published by P.I.C. Publishing, 2017
464 pages

The Starving Queen, Dean Italiano's most recent novel, is every bit as terrifying as it is true for far too many of us. The insidious force of Dean's villain burrows into those she seeks when at their weakest moments, no matter how fleeting those moments may be. Her devious methods are invisible in every sense of the word, but she walks hand in hand with her prey all the same. Eternally patient, the Queen requires only the slightest faltering of confidence or self-image to dig a hole through anything positive her victims once believed in. That's exactly what she does to young Jasmine, the high school soccer star who had it all until the Queen notices her for every strip of flesh she’s worth.

Between an inactive father who would rather work with his hands than his emotions, and an overworked mother who suffocates her daughter with best intentions, Jasmine clings to the popularity of her peers and the athletic future she worked so hard to achieve. At the peak of her potential and as a world of possibilities were about to open up for her, Jasmine's doctor confirms the worst: Jasmine's Arthritis has developed to unbearable levels. The best advice was to avoid as much physical impact as possible if she ever wanted to function and be pain-free as possible. No more running, no more soccer, no more life as she knew it to be. Jasmine quickly slides into a deep funk, but forces herself to move forward. Go to college, get the boyfriend, act the part of whatever normal was conceived to be. She would commit to whatever it took to hide the truth, to be invisible and, without knowing it, throws the door wide open for the Queen to enter.

The Queen knows what Jasmine needs and will measure her body, mind, and soul more thoroughly than any lover could. The Queen promises to guide her on how to fit those measurements perfectly, promises to love her until the end, where her new self awaits them. Feeding off Jasmine’s fears and deceptions like fine nourishment, the effects of the Queen's influence gradually spreads beyond Jasmine to those closest to her. The Queen's dominance threatens to pull them all down into a kingdom of despair ruled by her desire to strip them clean until that she may become whole again.

When images are so easily distorted and standards are raised beyond reality in a world rife with broken hearts and shattered spirits, only the bravest will endure. Considering how well Dean captures the underlying terror, The Starving Queen is definitely a case of the right book being written at the right time from an author possessed with all the right tools in which to tell it. Highly recommended.

To order your copy, visit P.I.C. Publishing.

January 25, 2019

A conversation with author and award winning publisher, Barry Hoffman

BarryHoffman is no slouch when it comes to speaking his mind about subjects deemed too taboo by common societal standards. As the publisher of Gauntlet Magazine, he peeled back the corners of “off limits” topics ranging from racial equality to pornography to everything between, all designed to be read and contemplated and learned from. An inner-city school teacher for thirty years, he examined how we develop relationships and co-mingle despite and because of our differences during our most vulnerable and influential early years.

With words for weapons, Barry went from kicking down barriers of censorship with Gauntlet Press Magazine to celebrating classic horror authors with his Bram Stoker award wining Gauntlet Press Publication so that writers like Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson could get the modern treatment they so deserve. With several critically acclaimed novels of his own to his name, Barry’s stories tend to play host to strong female characters who are often forced to utilize their flaws as well as their strengths to survive a world not designed to be merciful to the weak of mind or heart.
Track of My Tears, with gorgeous cover art from the always fantastic Harry O’Morris, is Barry’s thirteenth novel to date and takes its tragic inspiration from true events. ‘Tears is set on a University campus and tells a horrific story of rape culture while exploring the dark conspiracies hidden in plain sight behind a well protected curtain of lies. ‘Tears is about the corrupt side of human nature and the desperate measures taken to get away with it all. It’s about speaking out when you know something’s not right. It’s about exposing human behaviors at their heroic best as well as their unmercifully worst. Mostly, Track of My Tears is the reality-based story about bringing the truth - no matter how painful – into the blazing light of day before more lives can be shattered by the very people who have pledged to keep our children safe.

Welcome to Barry Hoffman’s world in which we discuss his latest novel.

RICK HIPSON: Barry, while you obviously took liberties at changing the names of your characters and other details of the real-life horror the book is based on, how much research and factual aspects of the real-life Baylor University scandal went into the making of Track of My Tears?

BARRY HOFFMAN: As you know there was a lot of reporting on the Baylor scandal including statements by at least one woman who was raped. I followed all the reporting on the case (ESPN's Outside The Lines was a great source with impeccable reporting). Tracks of My Tears puts the Baylor scandal on steroids with a booster running the cover-up (resorting to violence) and others in the administration also involved (all of which is fiction). For previous books I had done a good deal of research on the trauma of rape. It was a matter of going through my notes to show the impact any rape has on the victim. While the characters I create are fictional the depression that results from date rape is all to real. I also interviewed some women raped or sexually harassed who are still coping with the trauma. I found that (as a crime) rape is more insidious than murder because the victim has to live with its impact for a lifetime. Years later a noise, smell or voice can trigger PTSD which had been long dormant. Yet, there are statutes of limitations that at times make it impossible to prosecute rapists (which include priests just recently reported on). And, the sentences for rapists still pale to what they should be. We hear of those cases where someone like Larry Nassar ends up with life in prison, but don't forget the California college student who got off with a six-month sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman (and served three months).

RH: When I first received Track of My Tears it had a working title of Blowback. Why the change?

BH: The Blowback title deals with the violence faced by the main character and those who were working with her during the investigation -- murder, kidnapping, a cyber attack and a beating. When I finished the book I decided that the trauma of date rape victims was the more important message of the book, hence the change in the title.

RH: I love how familiar characters pop up that I’ve already met from previous novels of yours, some of them playing key roles here while others simply pass through. Yet, there was no supernatural elements to be found here. How tough was it for you to steer clear of the supernatural this time around? Was it even a decision you had to consider?

BH: I take every novel I write as an individual entity. After I wrote Tracks of My Tears I wrote a female version of Lord of the Flies (it was inspired by the novel but has little resemblance to it). In that novel the use of the supernatural was required. In Tears the horror of date rape and the trauma young woman have to endure is the focus of the book. Adding the supernatural would, I felt, dilute from both the horror these young woman face and distract from the plot. It was a no-brainer. I think the inspiration for this decision came from Richard Matheson. He wrote in many different genres (horror, fantasy, westerns, mysteries and more). The subject matter of the book dictated whether he would involve the supernatural. I don't want to be a one-trick pony with each novel driven by a supernatural aspect. For Tears it was an easy decision to go straight for the jugular with real life horror (and later redemption) without any supernatural aspects.
I'm glad you mentioned characters from past novels who make appearances in Tears. More than the plot it's my characters who drive my novels and I enjoy adding layers to them from book to book. I even envision the day when all of these characters join together to solve some mammoth conspiracy. It may never occur but it's a thought I sometimes play with.

RH: While I appreciate your talent in guiding the reader through the varying viewpoints of both the attackers and the victims, I was most intrigued by the respectful way you explored how a lack of judgement or mistaken interpretation could almost be plausible in certain situations. Why do you feel it was worth exploring this grey area of perspective along with all the other more polarizing points of right and wrong?

BH: Over the years in my research of date rape there has been an argument by some males and even females that the sex was consensual even when the woman at the last moment changed her mind. You have young men and women controlled by their hormones get to a point sexually where the female saying no is misinterpreted. I may not agree with this interpretation, but with all but one of the women in Tracks having been raped beyond question there are two women where there are mitigating circumstances, one in particular which puts the date rape in a gray area. In one the woman herself questions whether she was raped. It's like pulling the pin of a hand grenade and tossing the pin away. Can you put it back? The other case (I won't go into specifics because it would be a major spoiler) the woman says no for a reason she condemns herself for later. It further adds to her depression. I intentionally work in those grey areas because little in life is black and white. However, all of the males in the book acknowledge to themselves they have committed date rape. Their football coach convinces them to cover the rape up, but there is no doubt in their minds they were guilty. Tears is a thriller and I hope the reader is riveted by the twists and turns that occur. At the same time I want to give the reader something to think about. Is redemption possible for a male guilty of date rape. I pose the question with a plot turn.

RH: As I write this, my new provincial government has actually fought to revert sex education in public schools back to the out of date program it used to be in 1998. How important do you feel it is to educate our children on sexual culture and awareness at a young age and who’s shoulders should these sexual teachings, or at the very least, the advocacy of these teachings, fall on first and foremost?

BH: It's essential for schools to teach safe and healthy sexual practices as well as provide condoms for adolescent students. Kids today are exposed to sex on a daily basis, whether it be through television or the ever present cell phone. And not everything on Snapchat or Instagram is accurate. Moreover, there are stalkers on the Internet posing as sympathetic friends who are actually pedophiles. It's up to schools to provide the needed education. Just as important, parents have to take responsibility for having open non-judgmental discussions with their children. Ultimately, parents are responsible for setting their kids straight.

RH: Above all else, what do you hope readers take away with them long after they’ve read the final pages of Tracks of My Tears?

BH: The college atmosphere today lends itself to the potential of date rape. Whether it be fraternities and sororities or parties held at off campus apartments the prevalence of alcohol and drugs makes the possibility of date rape extremely high. You also have to add peer pressure to the equation. Young women have to learn to be able to say no and if they are victimized to go to the proper authorities rather than hide in shame. I also hope those reading Tracks of My Tears come away with the knowledge that women can't handle date rape alone. Whether it be a therapist, family or friends they must confront the trauma they are suffering and not be shamed into hiding their assault. Recovery is possible but those attacked need a support network to help them through the inevitable bad days. Moreover there is strength in numbers. At the conclusion of Tracks women stand together and gain empowerment. Their rape may define them for months or years but they can take back their lives. Readers, hopefully, see the book as a tale of redemption not despair.

RH: As an author, where do you go after completing such a harrowing tale from your muse? Do you take a shower? Hit the nearest bar? Write a book about butterflies and ponies? In other words, what’s next?

BH: I tackled a project that was ten years in the making -- the female Lord of the Flies tale that I've
just completed (and kept putting off because it seemed like such a massive undertaking). Unlike my other books it consists of all new characters -- 24 women stranded on a deserted island. It was totally different from any other novel I had written. I was able to separate myself from Tears with 24 young women each vying for my attention.

With that complete I was drawn back to the characters of Tracks of My Tears. Before concluding the novel I was intrigued by several characters, two of which, appeared near the end of the novel and were underdeveloped. I wanted to explore them more. The plot deals with college cheerleaders who are victimized (another ripped from the headlines plot). I have a new villain whose identity (unlike Tears) we learn right from the start. There's a wonderful cat and mouse game between this character and Asha and her ever-expanding crew or strong women. It's really difficult to abandon these characters, along with past characters who make appearances in the novel.

To read my review of Barry's novel, TRACK OF MY TEARS, click HERE.

*Interview originally appeared on Hell Notes*

January 22, 2019

Reviewing Track of My Tears by author and award winning publisher, Barry Hoffman

Barry Hoffman
Track of My Tears
Gauntlet Press

With the final words from the last pages only moments behind me, Track of My Tears leaves much to be digested. Across the spectrum of so many moving parts my rolling emotions constitute Barry Hoffman’s most ambitious, gut-wrenching novel to date. Never one to shy away from putting a spotlight on the taboo to better understand it, Barry Hoffman delves into the polarizing subject of date rape without pulling punches were most writers fear throwing them in the first place. The author manages to drive home the chain reaction of anger, shame and frustration following sexual assault with delicate, yet lethal precision while also ensuring due depictions are given to the tremendous courage and caring that goes into the healing process. As much as tragedy is the catalyst for Track of My Tears, Barry keeps a steady focus on the regaining of his character’s lives in the aftermath of their trauma, which separates this book from being just another venture into seeing how much punishment our senses can take.

Inspired – or perhaps provoked – by the real-life scandal at Baylor University in 2016, Barry takes us on a harrowing path snaking through a maze of conspiracies involving unwitting student bodies, key faculty members and a rare few determined to dig up the truth and put the wrong things right no mater what.

The story starts when a student named Cassidy makes a 911 call only to be intercepted by campus security. Instead of filing rape charges with the police as intended, she is instead convinced to allow the university to handle the investigation on their terms. She’s even offered free immediate counselling and a part time job provided she let them do their own due diligence and avoid getting the police involved. Little did this student – or several others - know, but having her case dismissed as nothing more than a he said she said incident that was impossible to prove was only a small thread in the overall web of lies and cover ups she was about to uncover. Desperate to have her story heard and believed and to save her own sanity, Cassidy enlists the help of an unorthodox detective from the DA’s office who makes it her personal mission to uncover the link between student athletes and the unreported date rapes running rampant throughout the campus.

Between utilizing his personal experience as a teacher and being a writer/publisher well accustomed to unpacking controversy, Barry provides an unwavering voice where one needs to be heard loud and clear. This is a novel that’s bound to be just as important years from now as we all become more aware of our social responsibility to help protect one another no matter how ugly the truth may be.

As thought provoking and well written as Track of My Tears is, don’t expect an easy read. This one’s bound to resonate long after you’ve put it down and will no doubt birth more questions than answers. Part crime novel, part social horror, Track of My Tears is all heart despite in its unraveling of the all too human monsters hidden in plain sight. Highly recommended.

To order on Amazon, click HERE!

To order direct from the publisher, Gauntlet Press, click HERE!

For a deeper dive into this controversial book, check out this conversation in which Barry Hoffman and I chat about the inner workings of Track of My Tears. Be a fly on the wall as we delve deep into this controversial book discuss, among other things, the true life event that motivated Barry's hand in the writing of it.

January 29, 2018

A Tribute To Jack Ketchum R.I.P.

It might be a slight exaggeration to say I wouldn’t be the passionate reviewer and interviewer I am today had it not been for crossing paths with Jack Ketchum. Then again, maybe not. His only supernatural novel, She Wakes, was the first book I ever reviewed. The author was the first pro writer I ever interviewed. That seems like a long time ago though sometimes it doesn’t.

When I read of his passing via social media last week, it was as though one of his fictitious human monsters had hit me square in the gut. I knew he had battled cancer in the past and was undergoing treatment again, but… I was struck.

My first encounter with Ketchum was from when I was writing for a now defunct little publication called Insidious Reflections. Long story short, I volunteered to check out an equally now defunct online horror forum called The Red Light District where Ketchum was doing a Q&A session. This lead to me getting tasked to interview him for an upcoming issue of IR.  I remember panicking because this bestselling author who Stephen King referred to as the scariest guy in America was all but unknown to me at the time. It was bad enough I’d never interviewed an author before, but on top of that all I knew about Ketchum’s work was thinly stretched between his website and his reputation for creating gut wrenching stories that had a way of really getting under your skin.  The first of his books I read were The Lost, She Wakes, and The Girl Next Door. I was sold; at once hooked by the writing. Scared shitless of coming across as some newb who would somehow offend and piss him off I figured for sure I would end up becoming the next doomed character he writes about.

As it turned out, Ketchum was one of the most humble, approachable and kind human beings I’d come across. He had nothing to gain by opening up his thoughts to a hack journalist like me, yet he had no hesitation in allowing me to ask him anything while he fired back with his personal style of wit and candid honesty. I’ve interviewed him a handful of times since, read and reviewed more of his writing as well as covered his experiences with having some of his best known books adapted to the big screen. Along the way Jack Ketchum, the author, became Dallas Mayr, the man from which his pseudonym was born, and one I eventually came to call my friend and mentor. Anytime I asked to access his creative process, either to interview him about recent projects or for my own personal gains as a budding writer, Dallas never failed to offer help. He shared his thoughts freely and offered advice on everything from my writing to reassuring me that my 30’s were going to be fucking awesome after I once mentioned a slight concern about leaving my twenties behind me.

I met Dallas in person during the Festival of Fear in Toronto back in 2005 or so. I blew my convention budget on his books which he was happy to sign. We shot the breeze for a while and at some point he asked me to hang out and watch his booth for him while he made a mad dash to the ‘loo. In other words, I got to be Jack Ketchum for about 15 minutes. Luckily, we look nothing alike and fans weren’t fooled when I offered to sign their stuff.

I remember when I threw a stag and doe party to have a bit of celebration and raise some funds for my upcoming wedding, Dallas provided two hand corrected book manuscripts for me to use as raffle prizes. His kindness struck again. That’s just who he was.

I last interviewed Dallas this past September for my blog. Within the interview he disagreed with a sentiment I had made about the world we live in being darker than ever before. He countered my perspective by suggesting that humanity, however slowly, is steadily moving forward, that it’s getting better. I like to think he’s right. I hope that he is and that he gets to watch it all from wherever in the cosmos he may be cruising along. I also hope he gets to enjoy his grandmother’s lentil soup  while writing to eternity. I’ll always be grateful to have called him friend and for all the times I was allowed to dig around inside a truly gifted dark and curious mind of one of the most courageous, impactful writer’s a reader could ever ask for. Rest in peace, Dallas. Travel well, Jack. Thanks always for your kindness and most of all for creating brutal, entertaining worlds that won’t soon be forgotten.

If you want to help make a difference and enjoy some great stories, you can pick up a copy HERE of Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep: A Charity Anthology Benefitting The Jimmy Fund / Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Necon Anthologies) (Volume 5).

From his friend and webmaster, Kev: If you wish to make a charitable donation in Dallas's (or Jack's) name, please consider a no-kill animal rescue or shelter in your area, or elsewhere, particularly for cats. Dallas donated regularly to these, and they are near and dear to his heart.

Feel free to enjoy this audio interview we did a while back in which the powers of that famous Lentil soup are first discussed.

December 29, 2017

DARK BITES Reviews LOVE CURSE by Steven E. Wedel

Love Curse
by Steven E. Wedel
Moon Howler Press 2017
280 pages


Love Curse is a coming of age story predominantly centering around four teens from the small town of Windy Acres, Oklahoma. We soon meet Ashley, a small town girl who keeps herself pretty well adjusted. A top achieving academic, she enjoys blending in with her school’s choir group though she wouldn’t really call any of them friends. She prefers to hang with her true besties, Jen and Anna. The three of them have known each other forever and their friendship and has always been a source of trust and safety, a sanctuary where even Anna, for all her gothed out angsty ways, is free to be comfortable in her own skin. They would soon learn, however, life has a way of taking best laid plans and turning them upside down. Ashley never thought she’d be dating the notorious pot smoking outcast, Keith who claims to have had an epiphany and is committed to changing his bad boy ways. Nor could any of them have expected something as unassuming as the little black spell book Anna found at an estate sale would prove to be so evil to so many.  

Ashley knows Anna can be morose and more than a little cynical at times, but even her worst nightmares couldn’t have prepared her for just how far Anna was willing to go to avenge all the boys who ever did her wrong. Between Jen and Anna cutting her out of their newly minted social circle of two and being forced to analyse Keith’s true nature and intentions, Ashley is left with way more questions than answers. By the time images of winged demons invade her dreams and those around her start to turn on each other as if pulled by invisible strings, Ashley must make the hardest decisions of her life. She can only hope it will be enough to save her loved ones and everyone else in Windy Acres before an ancient darkness consumes them all.

Alternating points of view between Ashley and Keith, author Steve Wedel has no doubt tapped into his own personal experiences as both teacher and father. The author accurately portraits the mindset and tribulations of a typical teen growing up in the new millennium. Keeping it as real as it gets, we’re met with honest depictions of awkward gestures, clumsy learning curves and some mild scenes of sexuality that manages to keep it above the belt. But make no mistake. Steve pulls few punches and when the story arch reaches its fevered pitch we’re forced to trust in the collective efforts of kids wise beyond their years who must struggle to survive and defeat an entity they barely understand.  

Love Curse is Steve Wedel’s second young adult novel following After Obsession, co-written with New York Times best selling author Carrie Jones. Considering how fast the pages turned right up until its heart pounding final act, I for one hope it won’t be his last. A fun, frenetic read for all ages.

You can order a copy of Love Curse now in your favourite format HERE.


October 11, 2017

Dark Bites Presents: The Horror Up North

 - A Conversation With G and Dean Italiano

Although plenty of Dark Bite readers are bound to know the names Giasone (G) and Dean Italiano, most of you likely have not, but that’s okay. It’s not your fault. First, they’re Canadian. Plus they tend to stick more to the Indie side of things when it comes to their brand of dark creations. Don’t let their humble Canadianism fool you though. Whether it’s a haunting song from  G or a raw and poignant passage from any one of Dean’s books, to enjoy either of their work for the first time is to know what you’ve been missing out on all this time. From G’s gritty rock n’ roll zombie soundtrack to Dean’s raw and merciless pen to their co-operative efforts on their newest CD From Skull Tavern, they’ll easily worm their way into your brain and have you coming back for more before your first helping is devoured.

Somehow, I managed to catch Dean and G in a rare moment when they weren’t working, making music, writing books or chasing a pair of twin boys around. I won’t say there was, and I won’t say there wasn’t, a whiskey shot or two damaged during the making of our conversation, but we did get the chance to discuss their creative life, the state of the Indie industry, the art of making beautiful horror together, and a few things in between including but not limited to their Russian hackers.

G, fans may best know your music from the
regular gigs you once played as a member of Brass Pear, a classic rock n’ roll bar band with a few originals of your own. I understand you’ve also enjoyed some success in various song writing competitions as well. For the sake of this blog and keeping the focus on the darker side of things, how did you go from playing the crowds at the local level to where you made the horror themed Johnny Gruesome CD to your most recent horror themed CD, From Skull Tavern? And what did this new - and revisited - direction in your music mean to you?

I have always loved horror themed rock music.
Alice Cooper has always been one of my favourites since I was a little boy. Even during the bar band days we would slip in a “Johnny Gruesome” original a couple times during the set. But while the The Johnny Gruesome stuff was happening at the same time and I would always have to re-focus and change my setlist for Johnny Gruesome promo performances as they were so different. I actually grew to get tired of the bar  cover based setlists as I really (really!) enjoy performing original music especially if it is horror or ghost themed. So, in a way, the Johnny Gruesome writing and performing indirectly led to me not wanting to do the bar  scene anymore.

Dean, you’ve been at this horror thing for a number of years and first broke into the deep of the writing business with Pain Machine back in 2003. No doubt it’s been a wild, winding and adventurous road inside and out of the horror business since then but, if it’s even possible, how would you summarize your creative journey as it relates to the evolution of your writing life between Pain Machine and your most recent literary offering, The Starving Queen?

Writing involves spending a lot of time floundering around in your own brain, which is
something a lot of people, rightfully, don't want to do. Horror stories pull the dark places into view. I'm sure I'm not the only author who ends up adding autobiographical elements even if it's unintentional. Pain Machine wasn't really a horror novel, it was a book about my horror. I was a few shades of green back then (quite a sight) and I learned many lessons from those that were honest enough to deliver them to me. Following that, Spirits and Death in Niagara was written on contract, a research-based book which took me in a totally different direction, as did the Katrina book (Katrina And The Frenchman: A Journal From The Street) for very different reasons. But with each book, each short story, all of the editors,  writing groups, and friends in the business
helped me clean up my work. As a person I grew as well, and my story changes. The Starving Queen was originally a short story, then a novelette, and finally a novel. It grew with me, and tells a story I grew up with. And it's definitely a horror novel, you'll see that from the first page. My work(s) in progress tell a vastly different tale again. ...Jack Ketchum once said to me that he never wanted to write the same thing twice. I loved the idea, and try to follow that advice myself.

G and Dean, although a lot of folks out there may still put their nose down at the notion of self publishing, there’s a lot of quality product being professionally presented and proving, much like your own efforts through P.I.C. Publishing, that self publishing can and does deserve to compete with the big ones. What has your own experiences taught you about the business and rewards of self publishing and how might it influence your approach to writing stories and music?

G: Putting out your own CD has a lot less stigma
attached then putting out your own book. But in reality a good product will find an audience and a bad product will get destroyed by critics or fans. In many ways small press (with some exceptions) is really just self-publishing in disguise anyways. Many small press publishers spend $0 on promotion and make their money off the expectation that each author will buy 50 copies of their own book at wholesale and sell them at conventions. So the whole thing can be a ridiculous argument.

DEAN: As G said, the two businesses are quite opposite. Indie music is praised. Indie writing? Well, it's getting better. But let me tell you what I
see as the biggest problem that people don't take into account. If you are an indie musician, and you have put out CDs or songs or play gigs, chances are you've practiced for thousands of hours and get regular feedback. What works, what doesn't work, fix that part, write a better riff... Not all indie writers get feedback, aren't sure what to fix, some don't have editors, and decide to publish too soon. Everything I publish has been edited, run past writing groups, and beta read. With both industries, the reward is delivering a quality product. Writing the contract book was restricting but, with fiction, where it's published doesn't change my approach at all. In music, if I thought we had to write for the radio? There's a formula, a set of rules as listed in the tune "Pop 101" by Marianas Trench. Google it. That's just not us.

What can you tell me about the collaborative effort that is From Skull Tavern and how this eclectic horror themed beast of a CD came to be?

G: Three years of piecemeal writing and
collaborating followed by three intense months at the end finishing the last two songs and then booking a week’s worth of studio time all at once. Having two kids and full time jobs really gets in the way sometimes.

We have a notebook that we would write song titles or general ideas in. Then one of us would get inspiration and record a melody or a music part and record it into our computer. Then we would show each other the ideas. When we were happy we would record a rough demo in our home studio and then book studio time a month later. We recorded half the album two years ago including drum and guitar parts, and then decided to change lyrics and melodies later. That was problematic as we had lived with the original parts for 2 years already. The last two songs written and recorded come the quickest. “Me and Vincent Price” was written in July of 2016 after meeting Mitch Markowitz at a horror convention and talking about Hilarious House with him. “Bad Hair Day” was all Dean and I added the guitars at the end near the end of the recording sessions in the spring of 2017.

DEAN: The Johnny Gruesome CD was done before we had the kids. Then, life stopped. Eventually we found a little breathing room, and wanted to work
on a fun project again. Remembering the Friday-night-with-martini writing sessions we used to have, inspired us to work together on music again.
But there were no martini nights. We tag-teamed, handed things back and forth when we found time, left edits and corrections and ideas for the next available moment. It was much harder to work this way. Now that the kids are older we have more flexibility. We can go back to scoffing at each others ideas in person. And speaking of beasts? Dark Halloween was a beast to work on, and I'm glad the damn thing is done. The rest was fun, choosing different styles like reggae and metal and pop, choosing topics like Frankenstein and zombies, we had a blast. We hope you like it.

And, as if From Skull Tavern weren’t well received enough in your own backyard, what’s this I hear about an unexpected popularity in Russia? Is there a world tour in the works that we should know about?

G: I think it is amazing that Russian metal fans
that have pirated the album, were complaining about the album they just lifted.

DEAN: That's friggin’ hilarious. Before fighting over whether or not a band can sustain fans using multiple music styles, you should find out if there is a band. We're not taking this on the road, people. Music is ten bucks, sarcasm's free.

What’s next on the horizon for P.I.C. Publishing and what’s the best way for us hungry fans to get more of what you’ve got?

G: This year we’ll be at Frightmare In The Falls November 11th-12th.

The JOHNNY GRUESOME movie will be coming out soon (we hope) as well.

Plus, you can find us at two to three Horror conventions (to be announced) in 2018.

DEAN: To add to what G said, musically I don't think we'll be working on full-length CD projects, but individual songs for release from now on. I've been creating more artwork this past couple of years, not horror related yet but ya never know what'll come next. Writing is writing, as trite as that sounds. Now that The Starving Queen is out in the world, I'll get back to the next brain-child. Stay tuned! You can check out our website at: picpublishing.ca for all things G and Dean.