The Waiting by Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is a new author to me but one with a growing reputation as a writer of paranormal thrillers, so when the offer to read and review his latest novella arose I leapt at the opportunity.

Cassandra Pagano falls desperately ill on her wedding day leaving her in a semi comatose state and kept alive by life support machines. Her new husband Brian decides to take her out of hospital and care for her in their new home along with mother-in-law Alice. If this scenario wasn’t nightmare enough there is an entity in the house, a phantom of a boy which appears to show particular interest in Cassandra who is trapped in limbo between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Shea writes a taught chilling little thriller and his characters are so well drawn that you viscerally feel their anguish. We particularly feel for Brian who with the strong support of his mother-in-law and Cassandra’s nurse tries desperately to maintain a normal existence against the odds, hoping that his wife will start to recover and that they may begin their life together anew. If this were not more than enough to cope with he has to contend with the spectre whose presence pervades their home. By grounding his tale firmly in such a awful and tragic scenario and populating it with believable and sympathetic characters Shea deftly makes the incursion of a supernatural more believable and terrifying.

As the plot unfolds and the terrible secret and purpose of the sinister child is revealed the tension and palpable dread mounts towards a climax which will haunt you for a long time after you put the novella down.

Shea delivers a classic ghost story with a refreshingly fresh feel, well and concisely written with a delightfully spooky child and enthralling plot which chills its reader to the bone. This may be the first I have read by him but will certainly not be the last.

Stuck On You by Jasper Bark

STUCK ON YOU coverWith a tag line by the publisher that actually says “Warning! Do not buy this book, gentle reader”, how the hell can I actually stand here (I’m totally sitting, guys) and say that you shouldn’t buy this book?

Because you know what? You should really buy this book.

If you like slashers, you should buy this book.
If you like Deadite Press and their nasty nastiness, you should buy this book.
If you like flesh dripping, genital torturing, disgusting prose, you should buy this book.
If you like Nora Roberts and those Evanovich books, you should… um… not buy this… fuck it, you should totally buy this book.

Why?
Because you’re never going to read something both horribly disgusting, and so brilliantly written, ever again. Ever.

So yeah, I am fully supportive of you all buying this book. It’s horrendously disgusting, and actually made me write to the publisher and ask “What the hell was that?” (Check that with Joe. He’ll back me up.)

Warning! Do not buy this book, gentle reader.

No really, we mean it. Move along, click away from this page and go look at some Dino porn instead. We’re not kidding. The only reason we published it is because award-winning author Jasper Bark has got some serious dirt on us. Honestly, there’s no other reason to put out something this depraved.

This is the sickest, filthiest and most horny novella you’re likely to read this year. It will turn you on even as it turns your stomach. Think you’ve seen everything there is to see in horror and erotica? Think again! Just when you think this story can’t get any lower it finds new depths to plumb.

Why are you still reading this?! Oh God you’re going to buy it aren’t you? You can’t help yourself. You’re going to click on that purchase button and download this little bad boy.

Well don’t say we didn’t warn you…

 – from crystallakepub.com

Flo realz, people. This is the real deal.
Okay… enough talking like an idiot.

The synopsis basically says nothing about the piece itself, but tell you everything about the nature of the style and the delivery of the story. It’s gritty, nasty, depraved, and highly sexually charged. I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that this could be the forefather of a true erotic horror movement, albeit very extreme “horrorotica”.

The story centers around a husband, Ricardo, who has been sent on an errand to Mexico by his wife, Ellen, to pick up a few odds and ends for their “artisan trading” business. The biggest problem with this? Whether or not Ellen can trust Ricardo to behave himself while in Mexico alone. Recently, Ellen had caught Ricardo in an attempted affair, uncovered more past indiscretions, and confronted him violently. Though she still allowed him to cross the border in search of items to sell as their booth in Arizona.

And that’s when he met Consuela. And everything gets worse from there.

When I say “everything gets worse”, I really mean it. Well, everything but the writing.

This sick puppy of a novella, ringing in at 58 digital pages, starts at disturbing, and takes an escalator up to the next level of the weirdo shopping center, to the over-the-top grossness store, and restocks its shelves with cans of whatthefuck pasta (with extra sauce) and vomit flavored Ramen noodles.

There’s nothing else I can say about this that won’t be a spoiler, save for the fact that it’s one of the most imaginative and excessive horror/erotica stories I have ever read. When Bark’s collection hits the shelves, I’m going to be first in line to get my sticky little hands on it.

C.

Note: Being turned on by this story worried me a little bit, but the cover reminds me of a ham steak for some reason and I’m actually kind of hungry… and that’s really beginning to worry me more…

Dust Devils by Jonathan Janz

I’ve long been a fan of the Horror Western but for my money few writers manage to write them convincingly. When I discovered that Jonathan Janz’s next novel was a horror novel set in 1880s New Mexico I had high hopes for a wild ride and I was not to be disappointed.

Dust Devils is at its heart a story of revenge and redemption, its protagonist Cody Wilson is a young man who has married a wanton woman and ostracised himself from his own family into the bargain. After allowing a savage band of vampires who travel New Mexico masquerading as itinerant actors to seduce and slaughter his wife he saddles up in search of revenge, but he also has a few inner demons with which he needs to battle. Catching up with the vampires it isn’t long before the hunter becomes the hunted and joined by a young boy who is the soul survivor of another of the vampire’s rapacious attacks a desperate pursuit ensues. Seeking succour in the small town of Mesquite he finds himself trapped by the brutish and evil men who run the town, the clock is ticking and Adam Price’s feral gang of travelling vampires will soon descend upon Mesquite bringing hell along with them.

Dust Devils is a tense and riveting tale which reaches a ferocious and breathtaking crescendo in the towns saloon where all hell breaks loose. Janz’s vampires are thankfully not the simpering lovelorn creatures we have seen plague horror literature of late; instead they are relentlessly vicious and monstrously carnal. As with Janz’s other novels this fantastic story is grounded by wonderfully drawn characters and it is almost a shame to see even some of the evil ones ripped to bloody shreds.

First and foremost a traditional Western Dust Devils is also a gripping horror story suffused with terror and no holds barred bloody action. With this novel Jonathan Janz lets fly with both barrels blazing.

With its publication imminent I thought I would ask Jonathan a few questions about his novel.

DARK MARK: Why a Western? I felt a love of the genre shone through in the novel but what were your inspirations for the tale?

JONATHAN JANZ: That’s wonderful to hear! I’ve always enjoyed western films, but it wasn’t until about a decade ago that I got into western novels. Now I love them. I think what attracts me—and many people—to westerns is the lawlessness of the environment. Strangely, I think it’s similar to people’s attraction to the zombie subgenre. Essentially, both genres beg the question, “What happens when all threat of punishment is erased?” Outlaws thrived in the Old West because there was very little law to thwart them. Many people turned a blind eye to their crimes. Others joined them in victimizing innocent people. But just as there will always be people who choose the easy route, or even the despicable one, there will be good men and women who will do what’s right because that’s the kind of people they are. Because western stories plumb the depths of humanity, the heroes who rise up to stand against evil shine all the brighter. We like zombie apocalypse stories because we want to see who will loot and pillage and victimize in the absence of authority, but we also watch these stories to witness the revelation of the good within our hearts. So too do the best westerns distil good and evil and dramatize them in the most unflinching way. My inspirations for the novel were the works of Elmore Leonard, Cormac McCarthy, and Larry McMurtry, as well as the films of Clint Eastwood and the recent 3:10 to Yuma. For example, in Leonard’s Last Stand at Saber River, the protagonist has many opportunities to choose the easy way out. But he knows that in doing so he’d be compromising his beliefs, setting a bad example for his sons, and disappointing his wife. The protagonist of my novel grapples with some of the same issues, and I hope I do that internal conflict justice.

DM: I thought Cody Wilson’s relationship with his father had a ring of truth to it, was it based upon that of an actual father and son?

JJ: I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. That relationship might just be the most important one in the entire book. I grew up without a father in the house (at least, until my mom remarried when I was in junior high). A father was something I always longed for, and I felt that void acutely throughout my childhood. I often chose television dads who seemed kind hearted to become my imaginary fathers. They’d take me camping, play catch with me, and generally spend time with me. I think the father in Dust Devils, though he’s not perfect, is the kind of dad I wanted to have and the kind of father I want to be. Now, thankfully, I have a son of my own (as well as two wonderful daughters), and I get to experience all the things I missed out on as a child.

DM: The vampires are rapacious and brutally nasty was this a conscious effort to make vampires scary again? Is there a beast within the mild mannered horror writer that must find release?

JJ: Hah! You’d have to ask my wife about the “beast within the mild-mannered horror writer” part, since she knows me better than I know myself. I’m very happy you found the vampires to be brutal and nasty. I certainly wanted them to be frightening. I don’t hate any book or movie, necessarily, but I know there have been depictions of vampires as angsty, less-than-monstrous creatures. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a vampire who can be seductive—in fact, I think that can be a good thing. But for me, there needs to be that other side. That duality. It’s the darkness that makes the seductive side more frightening. I thought Chris Sarandon did a great job in the original Fright Night of capturing both the allure of the vampire and the viciousness of its true nature. His character (Jerry Dandridge) was one of the inspirations for Price, my lead vampire in Dust Devils. Having said that, the bestial, ravening creature hiding behind the human mask is my favorite aspect of the vampire. 30 Days of Night is a film that I thought did a great job of showing how frightening and inexorable vampires could be. So, for me, the best vampires feature a combination of intelligence, seductiveness, ferociousness, and sadism. I hope my vampires exhibit those traits in Dust Devils.

DM: I thought the book would make a great movie, which of your novels if any would you like to see on the silver screen?

JJ: Thank you! I’m biased, obviously, but I think it would make a great movie, too. I think my most recent two Samhain Horror releases—Savage Species and Dust Devils—would make excellent movies. Both would require moderate budgets, but I don’t think they’d be difficult to adapt into screenplay form. One of the tests I present myself as a writer is the Movie Scene Test. Essentially, I go scene by scene through my stories and make things as visual as possible. If the scene isn’t immediate enough to be imagined on film, I either cut it or rework it until I can see it playing out on screen. Even if a scene is a flashback or a dream sequence (though I rarely do those), it needs to contain action, dialogue that crackles, or some other magnetism that makes it unspool like a feature film. I’m not saying I accomplish that every time, but it’s something of which I’m always cognizant. My other novels would also play well on film, particularly The Darkest Lullaby, which wouldn’t need a robust budget. That one could be a small, independent picture. The Sorrows and House of Skin would be great movies, but the screenplays would be very tricky due to the Gothic format of the books. My superhero novel Bloodshot: Kingdom of Shadows would be a blast on screen, but it (like The Sorrows) would require a ton of money. Obviously, I’m a total unknown to Hollywood, so I won’t hold my breath for those to be adapted. In reading back through my answer to this question, I realized my words could be interpreted as being self-aggrandizing. I didn’t mean them to be. I just love movies and want my stories to be easy to visualize.

DM: What can we expect next? Can I hope for a sequel to Savage Species for example?

JJ: I’m really excited about the prospect of writing the sequel to Savage Species, but I’ll likely have to wait until, at the earliest, the summer of 2015 to write it. This year I’ll have Dust Devils in February and Castle of Sorrows (the sequel to The Sorrows) in July. There’s also something else coming in July that—to my knowledge—has never been done before, but I’m not allowed to talk about it until the contracts have been signed. But it’ll be a pretty awesome thing. I’m working on my seventh Samhain novel now (to be published in January 2015); I also have two really big and awesome projects to write and complete this spring and summer. So…it’s a busy time, but it’s the best kind of busy. I’m just thankful that people want to read my stuff, and I hope my readership continues to grow in 2014. I’m also thankful for places like Dreadful Tales, which is a place that champions horror and helps make the genre stronger.

Dust Devils will be published on February 4, 2014 by Samhain Publishing and will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or direct from the publishers here as well as from where all good books are sold.

- Dark Mark

Violet Eyes by John Everson

The theme of nature attacking has long been a staple of horror literature and the idea that often seemingly innocuous creatures may become ravenously lethal nightmares has been used countless times but Bram Stoker Award winning author John Everson shows with his novel Violet Eyes that the theme still has legs.

A hideous abomination lies in wait on the island of Sheila Key, but it’s contained by geography until hapless tourists explore the idyll and discover unspeakable terror and death.

Moving forwards Rachel Riordan and her ten year old son Eric relocate to the isolated Florida town Passanaette to flee an abusive ex-husband and begin a new life together. Their new neighbour Billy is a survivor of the attack on Sheila Key and has brought back with him a virulent new species which is unleashed upon the unsuspecting town. Before long family pets begin to go missing and a swarm of biting flies and viciously aggressive spiders descend upon the burg. These creatures are hideous and insidious by design and by the time Passanaette wakes up to the peril it may be already be too late…

Everson has created a wonderfully nasty creature with a lifecycle and feeding habits that are voracious and terrifying all of which he describes with unflinching glee. This novel will cause even the hardened fan of horror literature to be filled with skin crawling dread but the real strength of this tale is the believable characters whose actions and motivation ring true. It is the human element which sells a story of this nature and no amount of wonderfully described horror and gruesome slaughter mean much unless the characters are well drawn. Thankfully Everson has crafted a convincing cast and environment upon which he unleashes a truly abhorrent plague.

Evoking old school horror from the 80’s and 90’s Everson’s novel is also refreshingly creative and suffused throughout with palpable dread and gruesome carnage which will have hardcore horror fans squirming and arachnophobes looking for a chair to stand on assuming they survive the first chapter.

People Live Still in Cashtown Corners – Nightmare Fuel

The edges of my vision are flickering as vertigo climbs my legs. This is normal. My diet has been out of whack and I’ve been fighting a head cold for, oh, maybe three weeks. It seemed like a good time to settle into reading “People Live Still In Cashtown Corners” by Tony Burgess. Or, maybe it was the worst time. Who knows.

After picking this up at the last ChiSeries Ottawa night – which was the last reading I did on October 9 for the launch of Postscripts To Darkness IV – I resolved to move it to the top of my reading pile. “Pontypool” was a favorite and with that reading night and launch, I was technically published alongside the man. As usual, I bought other books since then that leapt to the ‘top of my reading pile’ burying the book alive.

After wrapping another novel, I basically turned its last page into the first page of “Cashtown”. That was at ten o’clock this morning. I was finished by noon. On the button. I know this because the last line rung in my mind as I put the book down in order to come back to planet earth when the church bells began to sound off.

If I were to recommend not only the book, but the environment in which to read it, I’d have to say it must be read in one sitting at the very least. Perhaps adopt a bad diet a few days before hand. If you drink, stop for a week. Be ill. Influenza, a cold, it doesn’t really matter. Be confused. A little social drama brewing in a circle twice removed will help. Be out of sorts. Feel weird. This will only help to heighten the experience.

Sure, the experience will be different for everyone, but I must say this one chilled me sufficiently. Looking for short but very hard-hitting horror? This is a good bet. I like true-crime so the images included did the fun job of building the story for me. All in all, the look and feel of the book helped. It is not average book size. It is not average book length. These are more things that take you out of the ordinary and sell Cashtown Corners to your imagination, other than the fact that the physical location actually exists. I enjoy the first-person point of view which is done extremely well in this case. I also enjoy finding one barely noticeable typo in good books. I found one, and it has a typo too. 

Sadly, I can’t imagine this being shoe-horned into a screenplay let alone made into a film. Since Burgess is also great at scripting, he’d be the obvious choice but I just can’t let go of the story in my mind to trust anyone to bring it to life in just the right way.

Take one part ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, your favorite Saladfingers episode, and kill scenes from the film ‘Maniac’ then stir until you are well shaken and that is what reading “People Live Still In Cashtown Corners” is kind-of sort-of like. While it does have quiet parts and revolting parts, the storytelling is where this grabs you by the throat with both hands to whisper in your ear. Hearing the inner dialogue of Mister Clark and nothing else is a trip through a dark, dark madhouse. You can’t help but put yourself in the head of this man since you are led there with a beautifully set up world crafted by a gifted author.

“Bob Clark owns the Self Serve in Cashtown Corners. It’s the only business there and Bob is the only resident. He’s never been comfortable around other people. Until he starts to kill them. And murder, Bob soon discovers, is magic. People Live Still in Cashtown Corners is Bob’s account of a tragedy we all thought was senseless.” – ChiZine

Trailer Review – And The Night Growled Back, by Aaron Dries

I like Aaron Dries work, and was specifically drawn to it due to his book trailers as mentioned in my review for The Fallen Boys. It turns out he has made them himself. This is my second prerequisite for a horror fiction trailer I want to review. The first is that they be good, so here we are!

This one begins innocuously enough. I like the mix of the brooding voice-over, highway shots and live action. By the time the tension and mystery build, the soundscape warps. Some may be turned off by the high pitch tone used, but I love this. Nothing says terror like your hearing giving out, no? It’s at just about that point that this trailer rears up and snaps at you – literally!

Anyone out there looking to release a book trailer can learn a lot from these reviews. And remember, there is a larger life for these videos outside of YouTube. They are far more fun to share than a static image. They make great entries to horror and Halloween film festivals. With a little added audio, most can do well as radio spots and the like. So, to not keep you waiting, here is some conversation with horror author Aaron Dries about the trailer for And The Night Growled Back.

Typicallydia: I want to ask about the technical side. What camera did you use?

Aaron Dries: No grade A camera in use here, sadly. My book trailer budget was miniscule—which is a polite way of saying absolutely bloody nothing—so the bulk of this  production was shot on my partner’s DSLR with an HD video capture function. The one problem is that it’s so lightweight. Lightweight cameras are great if you’ve got a tripod but can be problematic because they capture every shake of your hand. And no, I didn’t have a tripod. The camera had no image stability feature. I actually had more dolly/tracking shots in my shotlist, but my arm just wasn’t steady enough. Not a gliding THE SHINING-esque push in to be found in any of my footage. Oh, and let’s not forget that I didn’t have any dolly tracks laid out or anything. The interior shots were all done in my one bedroom Canberra (Australia) loft. So I cleared away my coffee table and rolled up my shag rug so I had the open floorboards to work on; then I sat on my wheel-based swivel chair and had my partner push me around, back and forth, front-ways and sideways. I’m glad we’re on the third floor of our apartment building. The people on the street would have thought us insane otherwise. But then again, maybe we are.

I used a secondary camera for the ‘highway’ shots, an old Bloggie cam, which is USB powered and is about the size of a small TV remote. We’ll get to how I used this one later…

TL: What sort of lighting was needed? I know how important good light is…

AD: For all of these interior shots, the only lighting I had available was that I could source from around my apartment. I accumulated every lamp and torch I could find and strategically placed them around the limited space, just out of shot. I bounced light off the walls to give the background some definition and to try to cast some shadows over the actor’s faces, where appropriate (especially at the dining table). I used a floor lamp to light their faces, and angled the lamp shade in a particular direction to diffuse the brightness. I would alternate which ceiling lights I’d use depending on which direction I was shooting in, but this was often problematic, as it let too much light into the scene, breaking the mood. Lighting, for the record, was the hardest part of the shoot. You can have a good camera, or a really simple one, and shoot something that looks great—but if it’s not lit well, you might as well have shot your masterpiece in a shoebox. Lighting is critical. It was a challenge, but it worked. Eventually.

TL: Where is that highway, and was the lighting there a challenge as well?

AD: That highway was actually just a road, which kind of looked like an eerie and abandoned highway when shot from a low angle. I tried shooting on an actual highway, but there was too much traffic—highways are well lit, too. I didn’t want that. I only wanted the glare off the tarmac and the blare of the dividing lines, really. I was really going for a David Lynchian LOST HIGHWAY kind of thing. I just wasn’t going to get that on your average Australian highway… So these exterior shots were taken on Mount Ainsle in Canberra, about a five minute drive from my apartment. I waited until the middle of the night so there wouldn’t be any other cars and did it all in one shot.

To capture this image, which to me was crucial (I even considered just using this one shot, unbroken and complete, without any of the interior inserts, just a voice over), I took my little Bloogie cam and used electrical tape to fasten it to the number plate of my car! In order to do this, I had to set the camera to record first and then attach it, crossing my fingers as I did so. I then got back in my car and … sped and swerved up that mountain and then down again. I’m sure if the police had seen me I would have been pulled over for sure. I wasn’t terribly proud, but I was careful. The only real danger up there was all the wildlife bounding about. At one point a Kangaroo leapt out in front of me.

[That, right there, is why I like interviewing Aaron Dries]

So I drove, and the whole time I was praying to the low-budget filmmaking gods out there, “please-please-please don’t let the sticky tape break, please don’t let the camera hit the ground and shatter into a million pieces. After all, the damn thing doesn’t even belong to me. It’s my partner’s as well! I took it without permission because there’s no way I’d get the green light if I’d actually said what I planned to use it for!” (I mean, who would?)

As for the lighting, I knew that the majority of the shot would be in shadow. The night was pitch black. By putting my blinders on I knew I was guaranteed to get the road glare, if nothing else. And that was enough. My problem was focus! This is a low-fi camera we’re talking about here, with no manual focus feature. I just had to luck it. There was also no way of checking the footage until after I’d gone up and then back down the mountain. I pulled over, jumped out of the car and pretty much screamed Hallelujah when I saw that a) the camera was there in place, and b) the footage was useable. Eureka! David Lynch, eat your heart out. In post-production I desaturated the shots and put a slight blue/green filter on it. All of the camera shake was digitally simulated in Final Cut Pro.

TL: There is a wonderful growl at the end… where did you collect that sound?

AD: It’s a good growl, don’t you think? So monstrous and evil sounding… Sorry to disappoint you kind folks out there, but this noise isn’t the roar of some Australian creature in the outback, which I coincidentally captured whilst going up Mount Ainslie. Nope… It’s me. I did multiple takes, ran the sound at 50% speed and overdubbed the tracks. I dropped a couple of audio filters on it, thus upping the bass. I cranked the sound so it would really blare. Done. Easy as pie—only cheaper than your average pie.

All of the sound was done by me, including the score. Not that I can play any instruments, mind you. There’s an out of tune piano at my work (I work in a nursing home), so I went into the room on my lunch break and recorded myself just striking random keys. At home, I changed the footage into MP3 files. I imported the audio clip into Final Cut Pro, dropped the speed a little and played the sequence backwards. The wind sounds and the scratchy record effect were sourced from a generic sound-effects CD that I borrowed from my local library. These worked a treat. Finally, I asked my friend, Leigh, who has a wonderfully laconic voice, to do the narration.

TL: So, you mention a tiny budget of $25. What was that spent on?

AD: The number one expenditure for the entire trailer was the monster at the end. I really wanted to find a bear mask, or something wolfish. But I couldn’t find a single mask that fit that description in all of Canberra. I considered sourcing something via Ebay, but everything was so overpriced. Remember, sadly, we don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia (please let that change, and soon!), so there isn’t the huge market for these kind of novelties like there is overseas, especially mid-year. I went to a costume shop wedged between two XXX adult stores on the outskirts of the city (go figure) and found a zombie mask that I thought would work. Not because it looked like a bear or wolf (I’m not that lucky), but it had these great teeth on it. I also knew it was something I could operate with my hand. I knew the shot I wanted, and I knew that the monster would only be seen for a moment. All I needed was the suggestion of jaws. I also bought a kid’s ‘tiger snout’ (which goes over your nose and is attached with elastic). I went home, widened the zombie’s jaws with a pair of scissors and stitched the snout to the zombie’s nose, thus extending the face. I masked the stitches by cutting off the zombie’s hair and sticking it to the divide with chewing gum!

I remember looking at it and thinking to myself, “there’s no way on earth that this is going to work.” Turns out it did. I knew if this bastard mask was shot from the exact right angle, with the exact right amount of camera shake, it’d at least look threatening. In the end, this composition ended up being my ‘money shot’. So, in the end, I guess getting that mask from the little store between the two XXX adult stores was … well … apt.

The rest of my grand expenditures went towards buying the electrical tape used to fasten my camera to my number plate, and towards a small packet of sewing needles that I got at the local dollar store (for, you guess it, a whole buck), so I could stitch the mask together.

So here’s the budget.

Mask: $17.00
Tiger snout: $3.00
Tape: $3.95
Sewing needles: $1.00

TL: Two bottles of wine were also listed in the budget. Did it cost more than $25 and, most importantly, what kind of wine?

AD: The wine! To thank my wonderful actors (my friends Beth and Harrison, who are very good sports, indeed), my partner and I cooked dinner for them (Malaysian red curry, rice and vegetables—from ingredients all in our pantry) I dusted off two bottles of wines that I found under my staircase. I thought a couple of drinks would ease their nerves. We cracked open a bottle of Shiraz (from the Barossa Valley) and Semillon (from the Hunter Valley, my old stomping grounds) and they were delicious. We didn’t overdo it, though. We shot this book trailer on a Wednesday night. A school night. Hardcore, right? Yep, that’s how I roll.

***

(Before I could get to additional questions about making trailers, Dries beat me to the punch. You can tell he is as passionate about film as he is about writing. There is little I can add to his perfect addendum with tips on making a good short video.)

AD: There are a lot of book trailers out there. 99% of them are god awful. That’s not to say they haven’t been made with love, and often exorbitant amounts of money (and for many of us authors, anything more than a hundred bucks can—and usually is—be considered very expensive). There are many things you can do to make your trailer better, without breaking the budget.

Here are some helpful tips.

  • Don’t put over-dramatic stock music in your trailer. This only ends up making your cheap visuals look cheaper. Scale it all back. Make your music complementary to your images, not dominant. Go for minimalism. Also, all stock music has been heard before. It diminishes the effect. You’re better off just having atmospheric sounds and narration.
  • If you’re going to have any text in your video, choose it well. Make sure it’s appropriate for the material you’re advertising. Don’t use a font that looks like it was written by a fifteen year old girl daydreaming about her first school crush when your content is about blood-and-guts murder. It just doesn’t work. I see this all the time. Keep it simple. Less is always more.
  • Don’t have an amazing camera to shoot your trailer on, as was the case with me? That’s okay. Shoot it on your phone. Shoot it on anything. But whatever you do, light your compositions well. Anything less than really good lighting will make your trailer look as cheap as it really is. But lights don’t need to be something you hire. You can go a long way with lamps and headlights.
  • Don’t have professional actors to work with? That’s totally fine! Use your friends … Just don’t get them to deliver any lines. Getting your friends to pose on camera is very different from having them read a script poorly on camera. Just get them to look in the right direction and create the drama out of the film techniques you’re employing — and you should employ them. Get a book on simple filmic techniques, or model your setups after sequences in the movies you like. Hell, Youtube how to shoot basic conversations.
  • Don’t make your book trailer too long and don’t give too much away. I’ve seen five minute long trailers. I usually turn off about 3 minutes in. Two minutes max, unless it’s really good. Like, really REALLY good.
  • Get creative. Don’t settle for mediocrity.
  • You can download free editing software online, or you can dish out the $200 to buy a copy of the new Final Cut Pro. There’s iMovie, there’s all sorts of stuff out there… But whatever you use, remember this: just because there are effects and transitions in the toolbox doesn’t mean you have to put them all in your book trailer. So, no star wipes, scrolling text, or any of those other awful 3D simulators. If you do, watch out. The night really will growl back at you.
  • When it comes to editing, you want your finished product to look as much like film as possible. You’ll never reach this height, trust me. But you CAN get closer by doing the following: desaturate your footage, increase the grain and color-grade every shot. Make the blacks look really black. Contrast is good. Contrast looks like money has been spent on lighting. And yes, I know it’s cheating, but changing everything to widescreen instantly makes everything look more cinematic. But if you’re going to do this, make sure you allow extra space above and below every shot when you’re filming live, otherwise you’ll end up with chopped off heads when you go to edit. And not the ‘good kind’ of chopped off heads.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. So what are you waiting for? Get filming now! In the immortal lines of the Wicked Witch of the West, “Fly my pretties. Fly!”

*end transmission*

So.

There we have it. I certainly hope I can find more scary book trailers out there with authors willing to share the production experience with Dreadful Tales. Huge thanks to Aaron for giving us a front-seat view of his project. You can pick up this short story, And The Night Growled Back, at Samhain for $2.50 while you wait for him to wrap up his next novel. I’ll be writing up a review on this in the near future too!

All Hallow’s Read (Day 7) – Joyland

Have you read Stephen King before? I am amazed every time the answer is ‘no’. On the other hand, shouldn’t I be amazed every time someone who used to read every book he had has given up? I’m not. To each his or her own. There is always a watershed book that had a King fan fall off. I took a break after Wizard and Glass. Some people have not read a thing since It. I’m not sure why readers would draw a hard line against an author with so much to offer. Romance, crime, mystery, science fiction, coming of age, and horror can be found across his entire body of work. There really is a Stephen King book for everyone.

One of his latest books, Joyland, is an All Hallows Read for those who had given up on their favorite author. It is also for those who have never picked up a Stephen King book before. Now, I could recommend old standbys like Pet Semetery. I could go balls out and say read The Shining, but no. You had, what, an entire lifetime to read those? Let’s go with something new It’s short. As in, not 1000 pages. It’s catchy like a really good pop tune. Carnivals and ghosts… you can’t go wrong with that combination in Kingland! 

I’d buy this book for anyone who has not read Stephen King before. I would counter any former-fan argument with this book too. Not into his writing on women’s issues? This one is nice and balanced. Not into his brand of horror? Joyland is a spook story, a mystery. Not into romance? Well, this guy listens to a hell of a lot of breakup music. Not into aliens? No surprise greys here, folks. Not into the Dark Tower? Okay, I’d love to see where this one crosses over. Not into long fiction? Bam! Joyland.

Those who are not horror fans need not be alarmed. It’s not gory or something that will keep you up at night. His talent for getting under your skin is kicked down a notch. This is fun King. This is King chilling out on a long weekend. This is King Light.

For those who enjoyed creepy carnival horror like Laymon’s Funland, Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury or It, this is for you. Jam packed with old and new carnival references, it’s as fun to read as it is to recall your first candy-floss enhanced trip through the spook show . 

One of us will be reviewing Joyland on Dreadful Tales eventually as two of us have read it. With all the Doctor Sleep buzz and books coming out for Halloween I wanted to talk about this one today so it doesn’t go in one door of this haunted house and never get out.