About Dark Mark

Dark Mark is an English artist and adventurer who is currently located in the darkest region of the former Australasian colonies. When not battling for survival against the local flora and fauna he can usually be found cowering behind the covers of a well worn novel of mystery and imagination. Mark is currently a moderator and graphic designer in residence at The Mortuary: Dissecting the horror genre since 2003.

Dreadful Tales Book Club – July 2014 Edition

NOS4A2The book of the month for July is Carnies by Perth based Australian author Martin Livings. First published in 2006 it is now published again in ebook and print from Cohesion Press and available from Amazon.

“The small town of Tillbrook has a secret. One that has been kept for over a hundred years.
Journalist David Hampden needs a good story to resurrect his flagging career.
His damaged brother, Paul, just needs to find some meaning for his life.
When David is alerted to a century-old carnival, the idea of a feature story is too good to pass up, so he drags Paul along to Tillbrook to act as his photographer.
What they find is darker than they could ever imagine.
Paul becomes part of the exotic world of the Dervish Carnival, est. 1899, and David must risk everything to save his brother.
Even though Paul might not want to be saved.
Come on in, and enjoy the show.
No photos allowed.”

Discuss it here and at The Mortuary

– Dark Mark

Dreadful Tales Book Club – May 2014 Edition

NOS4A2The astute amongst you will have noticed that there was no Book of the Month for April but have fear because we are back with a vengeance with Wolf Creek: Origin for the murderous month of May.

With the release of Wolf Creek 2 on North American screens this month we thought it might be timely to discover what made outback legend Mick Taylor the monster he is today?

“Nature vs nurture turns out to be a bloodbath
The wide open outback offers plenty of space for someone to hide. Or to hide a body.
When wiry youngster Mick Taylor starts as a jackaroo at a remote Western Australian sheep station, he tries to keep his head down among the rough company of the farmhands. But he can’t keep the devils inside him hidden for long.
It turns out he’s not the only one with the killer impulse – and the other psychopaths don’t appreciate competition. Is Cutter, the station’s surly shooter, on to him? And what are the cops really up to as they follow the trail of the dead?
In the first of a blood-soaked series of Wolf Creek prequel novels, the cult film’s writer/director Greg Mclean and horror writer Aaron Sterns take us back to the beginning, when Mick was a scrawny boy, the only witness to the grisly death of his little sister. Origin provides an unforgettably bloody answer to the question of nature vs nurture. What made Mick Taylor Australian horror’s most terrifying psycho killer?”

Discuss the book here at The Mortuary, the official meeting place for the Dreadful Tales Book Club.

Available in paperback and ebook formats wherever good books are sold.

– Dark Mark

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.

Dreadful Tales Book Club – March 2014 Edition

NOS4A2As March is the month of my spawning upon the earth I have been allowed to choose this month’s book. The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers is a classic collection of short stories which inspired H.P. Lovecraft and many others. First published in 1895 the title of the book is taken from fictional play with the same name which occurs as a motif through several of the stories. The King in Yellow causes anyone who reads it to be driven to despair and madness.
Join us and explore tales of beauty, decay and the macabre from a darker more decadent era.

Discuss the book here at The Mortuary, the official meeting place for the Dreadful Tales Book Club.

Now in the public domain It is available free from Amazon and Project Gutenberg.

– Dark Mark

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.

Failure by John Everson

My first experience with John Everson’s writing was with the Stoker Award nominated NightWhere which I found to be a gripping plunge into erotically charged terror and depravity. Hoping for similar thrills from this earlier novelette I was delighted not to be disappointed. Originally published in 2006 and long out of print Failure has recently been re-released as an exclusive kindle edition.
Here Everson weaves a terse and cautionary story about a disparate trio of teenage delinquents who are willing to do anything for the promise of some elicit drugs or sex, including performing sexually for a depraved stranger Aaron. Little do they realise that Aaron is actually a wannabee warlock who is using them as part of a diabolical conjuration which will end in a welter of bloody screaming terror.
Told from the third person perspective of his characters Everson is insightful about their motivations and relentless when it comes to the terrible consequences of the poor choices they make. The real strength of this story was the way in which Everson allows the reader into the hearts and minds of his characters, they are a disparate group of desperate souls who have strayed far from the path but we are made to empathise with them and share their awful plight. This is no mean feat as none of the protagonists are particularly likable but the punishment they receive is so extreme that it is impossible not to feel some emotion for them. That said having spent much of my youth straying from the path of righteousness, I found these protagonists all too familiar. If you thought that unwanted teenage pregnancy was the worst consequence of youthful abandon then think again as far more dreadful penalties are meted out to these foolhardy teens and the wages of sin are a fate worse than death.
This story though short is an extreme and visceral experience which lingers with you long after you have finished reading it and has the power to make even a jaded horrorphile squirm. It’s a brutal and gruesome tale which is not for the squeamish but one that will delight connoisseurs of the dark. Some authors show us evil but John Everson believes in thrusting his readers headfirst, kicking and screaming into its terrible, stygian depths. If you missed this nasty little novelette the first time around I heartily recommend that you get it now.

I decided to ask John a few questions about Failure and what we can expect from him in the future.

Dark Mark: The vulnerable delinquents who feature in the story are very believable characters, are they based on anyone you know?

John Everson: They’re not based on anyone in particular, really. I went to a Catholic high school (30 years ago!), so there were a lot of “Raymond” kids there – people with plenty of affluence who still felt empty and suicidal. And there were girls like Cind who would go under the bleachers to score a nickel bag, and guys like Sal who would do anything to get both the girl and the nickel bag but felt that they were too homely to ever get the girl without a little “help.” In some ways, I think these kids feel things that we all felt in high school – displacement, wanting to just chuck it all, desperation for a score on sex or substances (alcohol or marijuana, pick your poison).

DM: Terrible things happen to the characters in your works. Is there any act of depravity that you have found too strong to write about?

JE: I generally don’t involve kids as victims in my horror stories. There are sacrificial things involving the unborn in The 13th, but I don’t dwell on that aspect and they are not “characters” in the story. I like to deal with characters who have enough maturity to potentially understand and escape from their situations (which their own flaws may have caused). Young children don’t have that maturity, and so I don’t put them in that mix, though their peril would certainly be disturbing. Kicking a young kid or a puppy is definitely horrible, but I just have no interest in using that as a focal device in my stories.

DM: Which authors do you admire and take influence from?

JE: I grew up reading a lot of science fiction, and discovered Richard Matheson, who worked both in the science fiction and horror milieu (both in print and on television, via The Twilight Zone). I loved the twist endings in his tales. Later, when I began reading horror, I found the character development of Stephen King an amazing, enviable thing. And then I discovered the gothic beauty of Anne Rice and the dark depravity of Clive Barker. Over the past 10 years, I’ve been enthralled by the work of Edward Lee, whose novels are among the only ones in my adult life that grabbed me so much that I’ve had to read a couple of them start-to-finish in one sitting.

DM: Is there any chance that we might see a sequel to Failure?

JE: I’ve always wanted to write a sequel to this story… but considering that a decade has passed since I finished it… I make no promises!

DM: What can we expect next from John Everson?

JE: My seventh novel, Violet Eyes, is due to be released from Samhain Publishing in less than a month! This is a fun arachnid novel in the tradition of Kingdom of the Spiders. I have also just put the last design touches on a re-issue of my very first short fiction collection, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions. That book was originally issued by Delirium Books in 2000, but has never had a paperback release. I got the rights back to it earlier this summer, and reissued it in e-book via my own Dark Arts Books imprint. The trade paperback edition will be available (at last!) in about a week.

To find out more about John Everson check out his web page John Everson: Dark Arts and you can purchase Failure for the kindle from Amazon here.