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June 13, 2019

Dark Bites Presents Thirsty Thursdays free sample: MY PRETTIES by Jeff Strand


Welcome to Dark Bites newest - and first - Thirsty Thursday event in which a free sampler from your favorite author's newest book is shared for your enjoyment. 

Special thanks to Jeff Strandthe funniest scary guy writing today for providing this teaser from his latest offering, My Pretties.

Without further adieu, pull up a stool, grab a drink and enjoy your free sample. There's more where this came.

The Synopsis:


A serial kidnapper is preying upon women. He abducts them, then locks them in one of the cages dangling from the ceiling in a soundproofed basement. There, he sits quietly and just watches them, returning night after night, hoping he'll be in the room at the moment his beautiful captives finally starve to death.

Charlene and Gertie have become fast friends at the restaurant where they work. But Charlene is concerned when she hears how her co-worker spends her evenings: Gertie's cousin is one of the missing, and Gertie wanders the city streets where many of the abductions took place, using herself as bait with a high-voltage stun gun in her pocket. Charlene reluctantly offers to trail her in a car, just in case she does lure the kidnapper and things go wrong.

Unfortunately, the women find themselves the source of unwanted fame. And now they're on the radar of a very, very dangerous man...


A Free Sample from MY PRETTIES by Jeff Strand



Olivia opened her eyes.
She was swaying back and forth.
Not from being drugged. She was in a cage suspended several feet above a cement floor, with her legs dangling free. There was almost no room to move—at her heaviest weight a few years ago, she probably wouldn't have fit in here. The top of the cage pressed against the top of her head. Her shoulders touched the sides.
She could turn her head. When she did, she saw that the windowless room contained a dozen cages, four rows of three, hanging by thick chains from the ceiling. More than half of the cages were occupied.
A wooden chair and a stepladder were in the far corner, next to a door.
The woman in the cage next to her was pale. Emaciated. Her eyes were open and she was looking at Olivia, but it was unclear if she was actually seeing her.
The other women—and they were all women—appeared to be dead. Three of them were dead without question. The other two might have been unconscious, but probably weren't. All of them were nightmarishly thin. Almost skeletal. One was literally skeletal.
The smell of rot was so overpowering that she had a coughing fit that lasted for almost a minute.
When she stopped coughing, Olivia screamed and screamed.
Then she forced herself to shut the hell up and take stock of the situation. Greg wasn't in the room. She could escape. Her mind was still fuzzy, but there had to be way out of this. One that all of those other doomed women had overlooked.
"Don't," said the woman in the cage next to her. Her voice was a weak rasp.
"Don't what?"
The woman blinked twice, hard, as if to focus. "Scream. It hurts my ears."
"Where are we?"
"Does it matter? Wait it out. It's not as bad once you stop feeling anything."
Olivia began to swing her feet. The cage rocked along with her.
"We've tried that. Tried all of that. Tried everything."
"Well, I'm not going to just sit here."
"Yes, you will. That's all you'll do. Sit here. He'll give you water. But no food. Never any food. Soon we'll be like the others."
"They all starved to death?"
"I think he got mad at the first one. That's what I heard. I wasn't here yet. The rest starved."
"We can escape," Olivia insisted. "If we work together, we can get out of this. There has to be a way."
The woman smiled. "You're cute."
"I'm not giving up."
"You will."
"When will he be back?"
"It doesn't matter."
"When?"
"Nobody knows."
Olivia's cage swung back and forth, missing the woman's by inches. They'd probably been specifically spaced out so that they wouldn't collide. And she couldn't imagine that the setup would be so flimsy that she could yank the cage out of the ceiling by swinging it, but she had to try something. She couldn't just sit here and die.
The cage did not pop free from the ceiling.
After a while she quit swinging.
Then she went back to screaming.
Of course the room was soundproofed. The other women would've thought to shout for help. She was wasting energy.
Her legs were dangling free. When Greg returned, she could lure him close to her, then kick him in the face. Break his nose.
That wouldn't do any good, though. She'd still be trapped in the cage.
She could talk to him. Reason with him. Convince him that she'd never tell anybody, not a soul. She didn't know what the other women had said to him. Maybe she could say something different. Something that would change his mind.
She screamed some more.
"You're hurting my ears," said the other woman, when Olivia finally stopped.
"There has to be a way out of this."
"You'll stop believing that. When he comes back, he'll sit in a chair and watch us. Just watch us. Quietly watch us starve."

***

What people are saying about My Pretties:


# Despite the title, there is nothing Oz-like or magical about MY PRETTIES. The only monsters here are humans. This is a Despite the title, there is nothing Oz-like or magical about MY PRETTIES. The only monsters here are humans. This is a crime thriller as well as a horror novel. Jeff Strand's trademark humor comes through in the dialogue between characters, but overall this is one of Strand's darkest and most disturbing novels. Don't start reading this at bedtime; there are several unexpected plot twists that will keep you reading late into the night.crime thriller as well as a horror novel. Jeff Strand's trademark humor comes through in the dialogue between characters, but overall this is one of Strand's darkest and most disturbing novels. Don't start reading this at bedtime; there are several unexpected plot twists that will keep you reading late into the night. #

# My Pretties is a fast-paced novel filled with twists that get more twisted as you reach the climax. What starts out as a story about two young but naive women trying to lure a serial kidnapper into their trap quickly transforms into the grim and sometimes darkly comic tale. My Pretties is a fast-paced novel filled with twists that get more twisted as you reach the climax. What starts out as a story about two young but naive women trying to lure a serial kidnapper into their trap quickly transforms into the grim and sometimes darkly comic tale of a sick man coping with the surprising issues that interfere with the enjoyment of his crimes. In My Pretties, author Jeff Strand shines the spotlight on his villain more so than his female heroines and delivers one of the most original and suspenseful horror releases of 2019.
 
# One of Jeff Strand’s best if not his best book to date. Very dark,brutal and with plenty of twist. All with Strand’s sense of humor. #

To read MY PRETTIES in it's unsettling entirety click HERE if you dare to order a copy in your preferred format.









June 10, 2019

Dark Bites Presents: Your Monday Mourning Report


Welcome to your Monday Mourning Reports, in which I scour the inter-webs digging up the dirt on the latest offerings, happening and general going ons from our favourate authors, film makers and other dark creators.

As a new addition to this blog, as with life, things may come and go or change altogether based on my mood, interests, trial and error and, most impotently, feedback from all of you. As Brian Keene is apt to say, you're mileage may vary. So will this space.

Please do feel free to drop a comment, request or general musing of your own in the space down below. Or better yet, show a little dark-hearted love by sharing it to any social media account you happen to have.


Fresh Meat


###
My Pretties, written by Jeff Strand
Amazon Digital Services LLC (June 2019)

A novel of terror from the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of PRESSURE. A serial kidnapper is preying upon women. He abducts them, then locks them in one of the cages dangling from the ceiling in a soundproofed basement. There, he sits quietly and just watches them, returning night after night, hoping he'll be in the room at the moment his beautiful captives finally starve to death. Charlene and Gertie have become fast friends at the restaurant where they work. But Charlene is concerned when she hears how her co-worker spends her evenings: Gertie's cousin is one of the missing, and Gertie wanders the city streets where many of the abductions took place, using herself as bait with a high-voltage stun gun in her pocket. Charlene reluctantly offers to trail her in a car, just in case she does lure the kidnapper and things go wrong. Unfortunately, the women find themselves the source of unwanted fame. And now they're on the radar of a very, very dangerous man...


###
In The Scrape, written by James Newman and Mark Steensland 
Silver Shamrock Publishing (July, 2019)

Most kids dream about a new bike, a pair of top-dollar sneakers endorsed by their favorite athlete, or that totally awesome videogame everyone’s raving about. But thirteen-year-old Jake and his little brother Matthew want nothing more than to escape from their abusive father. As soon as possible, they plan to run away to California, where they will reunite with their mother and live happily ever after.It won’t be easy, though. After a scuffle with a local bully puts Jake’s arch-nemesis in the hospital, Sheriff Theresa McLelland starts poking her nose into their feud. During a trip to the family cabin for the opening weekend of deer-hunting season, Jake and Matthew kick their plan into action, leaving Dad tied to a chair as they flee into the night. Meanwhile, the bully and his father have their own plans for revenge, and the events to follow will forever change the lives of everyone involved.


###
Beautiful Minds, written by A.J. Brown
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Winter, 2018)

The mind is all a person truly has. It is there when you wake in the morning and when you close your eyes at bedtime. It is there during all the hours in between, when the lights are out, and the world is at its most terrifying.Though you can lose it, it can't be taken from you. It can be swayed, changed and convinced, but it is still yours. It can be open or closed, quick or slow. It can be a steel trap, a sponge or a black hole that swallows every thought. It holds every desire, dream and memory you've ever had. It reminds you of every fear, failure and regret.It has been called brilliant, sweet, devious, sinister and wicked. The mind controls all your thoughts and makes every decision. You can't escape what's in your head; you can't escape your beautiful mind.



Mad Musings


---
A.J. Brown wrote 5847 words the other morning to complete his newest story, Pink Balloons and Lightning Bugs this morning. (Rumour has it he man sold his soul for all his tales and his daily pay back is at least 20,000 words by lunch, or so it appears.)
---
Steve Wedel recently sent a message to the people: “I wasn't at SoonerCon 20 minutes before walking through 2 fart clouds in the crowded hallways. C'mon, people!” (Plus his dog had its first birthday June 6 – Happy birthday Bear!)
---
Author, Nicholas Kaufman, kicks off a healthy discussion by stating, "I wish Rob Zombie would stop with these "hillbilly horror" movies and expand his horizons as a filmmaker. Though I thought LORDS OF SALEM was ultimately disappointing, at least he was trying something different. I'd like to see him try something different again.”


Web Of Fear


###
Sephera Giron wants to tell you your future. If you dare.

###
Greg Lamberson’s JOHNNY GRUESOME is free on Amazon Prime!  Whats not to love about free indie monster movies?

###
You can check out the review and interview with Film maker Gregory Lamberson to learn the making of JOHNNY GRUESOME which Rue Morgue was nice enough to provide an online home for.

#--#


Well, fellow fiends, that’s it for this week. Stay tuned for your next Monday Mourning report – you guessed it – next Monday.

Until then, stay dark…and stay hungry. 




.

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

AN INTERVIEW WITH DEAN ITALIANO: Author Of The Starving Queen

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*