Category Archives: Fantasy Blog

The Pure World Comes: A Review

Rating: 💀💀💀💀

What is perfection?

If somehow we could harness the power to perfect ourselves and the world around us, how would we go about doing it? Sure, there are obvious errors we’d seek to fix immediately: physical defects like a missing leg, spinal or nerve damage, heart problems, various diseases, and the list could go on and on. Then we enter the territory of say aesthetics. What makes an individual beautiful or handsome? What authority decides such things? Such matters seem to involve a variety of variables that are subjective to the eye of the beholder. Some might even argue the same subjectivity would apply to ethics and values. The perfect ideal is a difficult thing to attain, let alone comprehend, and this is a resonant theme from Rami Ungar’s novel, The Pure World Comes.

Shirley Dobbins is a lowly housemaid who one day receives a grand opportunity, a chance of a lifetime. After the tragic death of the Master and wife of the current Avondale household, baronet Sir Joseph Hunting comes to the rescue, hiring her to become the head housemaid of his estate. The rest of the family comes along as well (after some arguably naïve, petty resistance). This includes Lucinda, an entitled brat for the most part, though she becomes more sympathetic as the tale goes on, Griffin, another entitled brat who is hopelessly head-over-hills for Shirley, and cute little Nellie, who is learning the ways of becoming a housemaid from Shirley. They all move into Sir Joseph’s lodge, an old place with cobwebs and mystery. The mystery plays an important role here.

One day Shirley gains access to one of the forbidden rooms in the estate to deliver Sir Joseph his meal. She discovers the secret that occupies his time for the most part, a large machine assembled with glass tubes, dials, and levers. He calls it the Eden Engine. It’s purpose: to harness the energy of the pure world and repair all the imperfections that currently exist in our world. Shirley becomes his assistant after this moment, allowing her access to many of his books on biology, physics, philosophy, and other sciences. She also witnesses his experiments first hand. There’s a scene involving a deformed pig that will make you gasp and moan in shock and sadness, as well as cringe in disgust, a potent mix. Some other odd happenings are going on around the old lodge as well, haunting things. Shirley soon comes to realize that Sir Joseph Hunting’s radical experiments, despite their ideal intentions, are inviting a presence of terror and pure malevolence. If these side effects are left unchecked, it could be the destruction of them all.

My favorite character in the novel was Shirley Dobbins. It was easy to become invested in her growing empowerment as she began studying science and assisting Sir Joseph in his lab. We all hope for life changing moments that aid our growth and development, and it’s easy to cheer for her as her experiences improve. Shirley is also a respectable character, the opposite of the entitled and petty variety that sometimes surround her, so you can sympathize easily. I loved the sense of adventurous mystery surrounding the laboratory and the descriptions of the Eden Engine and its function. I felt a combination of dread and anticipation as Shirley and Sir Joseph carried out each experiment. Surging electricity, the manipulation of dials and levers, all the moments in the laboratory nostalgically made me think of classic tales like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine.

A couple noteworthy surprises to enjoy: Jack the Ripper is in this tale, and no, he isn’t just thrown in willy-nilly. Rami develops a nice backstory for him with connections to Shirley Dobbins. In fact, some of the most genuinely frightening moments in the novel involve the backstory about Jack the Ripper. Let’s not forget the haunted toilet bowl. Yes, you read that correctly. Rami gives us an up close and personal scene of Shirley Dobbins encounter with the fiend in the toilet. What could such a scene rival? Stephen King’s shitweasels perhaps? I also have to mention I even liked the title of this book. Some other reviewers mentioned they found the title wasn’t catchy enough. The title immediately caught my attention the first time I heard it, motivating me to read the synopsis. The title fits the theme of the book, and rings with a sense of intriguing mystery that makes you think.

Does the novel have shortcomings? There’s a small few. The dialogue technique dealing with nervous stammering was repetitive at times, which made it come across as stilted and lifeless. The climactic showdown disappointed me. There are plenty of surprising, suspenseful moments throughout the journey, but this final revealing seemed to have something missing, or maybe the narration rushed us through too quickly. To sum up, this novel is short and sweet at around 208 pages, and it feels a little too sweet. Maybe we need a little more development about the Pure World, a place suggesting so much fascinating possibilities. Perhaps the novel could have depicted more experiments with the Eden Engine. However, would too much development of the Pure World ruin the sense of intriguing mystery, crossing over from gothic horror into the territory of fantasy? It’s a fine line. Would too many depictions of the Eden Engine become skimmable and boring? This brings to mind another point: we often feel disappointed about the final reveal in horror stories. When the monster unveils itself full-frontal, we sometimes laugh or think, “that’s not so bad.” Horror stories aren’t about the monsters, though, are they? They’re about the people reacting to the monsters, and the lives of Shirley, Lucinda, Nellie, Sir Joseph, and Griffin are changed forever.

I award The Pure World Comes by Rami Ungar a 4 skull rating. You will be drawn into the fascinating Victorian world he creates. The many hauntings that fill the novel will keep you hypnotically turning the pages. Happy reading.

You can find The Pure World Comes on Amazon.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. Of course, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use skulls (💀💀💀💀💀). And explanation of the skull system follows.

RATING: 💀

Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: 💀💀

Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING:💀💀💀

Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀

Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀

Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!


As always, if you’d like your gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism work featured, be sure to Submit.


TDS Serializations: Revamped

TDS has always championed serialized fiction. From Issue 1, the pages of our magazine-turned-journal housed small parts of longer works that spanned over time. So it’s no surprise that we’d update our serialization platform to match the new aesthetic of the TDS brand. But, how does the new branding affect the serializations and, more importantly, what’s changing? The answer is simple: EVERYTHING.

Monthly Release

In the beginning, TDS was a quarterly magazine, which means that serialized stories were only updated every 3 months. Now, however, our serialized fiction will be released monthly, similar to manga-style magazines. On the 9th of every month, readers can visit the serialization section of The Dark Forest to find new chapters of their favorite titles.

Chapters

Now in chapters (rather than parts), authors will write their stories in digestible chunks that not only engage readers but also give them a reason to return the following month. The chapters will be approximately 500-3,000 words, depending solely on story and individual author style.

On-Going Run

Originally, our serializations were limited to 3-4 parts for a short-run of 3-4 issues. Now, however, we are looking for LONGER works to serialize over an ON-GOING amount of time. This means, readers can expect stories to run for months or even years – and for stories to turn into a series filled with multiple well-developed character and story arcs. When a story turns into a series, subsequent sequels will be called seasons.

That said, TDS Serializations will still publish shorter works with limited chapters. No matter the length, TDS wants to publish high-quality serializations. The difference, then, is that we used to exclusively look for short-run fiction, while now, we publish both short-run and long-run serializations.

Completed and In-Progress

We now feature stories that are either completely written or currently in-progress. Before, stories had to be finished, ready for publication in full (beginning to end), but not anymore. TDS now accepts works in-progress; meaning, the author is working on the series as it’s being published. Again, this idea comes from manga-style magazines where editors work with authors on deadline. By accepting both completed and in-progress stories, TDS provides readers high-quality fiction while also supporting the different creative preferences of writers.


What’s Next?

On May 9th, TDS Serializations will officially open! As a celebration of the new platform, we’re bringing back the 3 original serialized stories that appeared in Issues 1 through 7. Each will begin with a prologue, with subsequent chapters released on the 9th of every month. Be sure to visit and bookmark: darksiremag.wordpress.com/serializations.


The 3 original serializations are as follows:

VAMPYRE PALADIN by Brenda Stephens
Matthias Kade is a vampire paladin, a traveling doctor who uses his expertise to heal victims of vampire bites. He and his assistant find an underground blood ring that ensnares young children. Matthias vows to stop the vampires – but to do so, he must face his own past, fears, and demons, which force him down the same path of the fiends he so despises. (First three chapters of novel appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 1-4 & 7).

KYUUKETSUKI by S.M. Cook
Shizuka, a member of the Senshin Warriors, is a vampire who seeks the Blood Ruby, a weapon that can control the human race. Her mission is to find the Ruby and return it to the vampire council, who will then lock it away from evil hands. But as she gets closer to finding the Ruby, she falls into the twisted underworld, where she must grapple with her past and the reason behind her transformation. (First three chapters of novel appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 1-6.)

THE LAST SUMMER by Frances Tate
During a long, hot summer, a Tudor vampire meets Mercy, a girl who can manipulate his visions, see through his deceit, and overpower his mind control. He only has three options before his master’s hell breaks lose. It’s a race against the evil if he and Mercy are to survive. (Full story appeared in The Dark Sire, Issues 4-7.)


More serializations are to come, with new titles added when available. Mark your calendar and reserve the 9th of every month for the all-new

TDS SERIALIZATIONS

darksiremag.wordpress.com/serializations


AUTHORS: Do you have a gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism story you’d like published as a TDS Serialization? We want to read it! If it’s completely written, SUBMIT it now. If it’s not completed yet – or is just the idea for a story, email the EIC (darksiremag@gmail.com) with as much info as possible (i.e., synopsis, outline, any already written chapters).


A DARK and GOTHIC SUMMER: Two Calls for Submissions

We are proud to announce two calls for submissions:
Dark Summer and Gothic Summer. Let’s start with…

DARK SUMMER IS BACK!

For those who don’t know, Dark Summer is the only themed issue of TDS. While most other TDS issues celebrate gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism in all their splendor, Dark Summer specifically celebrates the dark and horrific bumps in the night that allow the monsters and creatures to truly rule the darkness. Think of Dark Summer as Halloweenin July.

Yes, the monsters, creatures, horror, frights, and scares do not stop just because the weather breaks. Oh no – in fact, the heat just makes the nightmares more dangerously delicious. Beaches, lakes, camping, picnics, long drives and so many more summer activities beg to be the backdrop for dark adventures centered around vampires, werewolves, serial killers, ghosts, possessed objects, witchcraft – and that’s just the beginning!

What does Summer look like, feel like, taste like for the creatures of the night? Answer that call by crafting a short story, poem, screenplay, or piece of art that declares summer as the domain of the nightwalkers.

Let’s all celebrate Halloweenin July. And remember: We’re called The DARK Sire for a reason. The scarier the story, the better.

NOTE: We do not accept Cosmic, Weird, or Sci-Fi works.

Selected authors, poets, and artists will be featured in The Dark Forest (blog) from July 6 to August 13, 2022. Each feature comes with FREE promotion of the work and its creative, which includes promotion across the TDS platforms, author interviews, author readings, and more.

To submit for Dark Summer:
darksiremag.com/submissions.html

Deadline: June 11, 2022


And the second call…

GOTHIC SUMMER: A Writing Contest IS ALSO BACK!

But this time, it’s a contest to end the celebration of Halloween in July.

Every year, GOTHIC SUMMER: A Writing Contest is opened for writers, poets, and artists to compete for $25 in prize money and publication in TDS. The winner of the contest is also eligible to join the Horror Writers Association (HWA, horror.org).

This year, we’re doing all that and adding a FREE professional consultation with our EIC, Bre Stephens, a professional editor, publisher, and owner of BSC Publishing Group.

Much like Dark Summer, GOTHIC SUMMER examines what traditional gothic and modern gothic-horror looks like, feels like, tastes like in summertime. Think: lake houses, forests, ocean/beaches, hot summer evenings, graveyards, hauntings, and scares. Gothic literature and art are the heart of TDS, so be sure to pull inspiration from the master himself, Edgar Allan Poe. We want to see your best gothic tales, poems, and artworks come to life through your masterful creation. And yes, ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, and vampires are welcomed as staples of the genre, as are all other creatures of the night.

The winner will be selected August 1, 2022 and featured in The Dark Forest on August 10, 2022. Prize money will be sent via PayPal. All creatives (domestic and international, alike) are eligible to enter. LGBTQ+ and creatives of color are encouraged to submit.

NOTE: This contest is for traditional and modern gothic works only. No other genres will be accepted.

To enter GOTHIC SUMMER:
darksiremag.com/contests.html

Deadline: June 11, 2022


GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!


TDS Turns Two: An Interview with Founder, Bre Stephens

October 31, 2019, The Dark Sire was born! To celebrate our birthday, the new EIC of TDS, J.L. Vampa, sat down for an interview with our founder, Bre Stephens.

Bre has 13 years of experience as a writer, publisher, educator, literary judge, and editor. She has worked as Editor-in-Chief of a TDS and has taught university composition, technical writing, and creative writing. Bre holds an MA in English and Creative Writing, an M.Ed. in ESL, and a BA in Art History. In her spare time, she loves attending Japanese festivals and learning more about world cultures.

“Give a Voice to the Voiceless.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: We’re turning two! Congratulations to you, our founder. Can you tell us a little about what led you to begin a literary magazine, now a journal, especially one such as TDS?

Bre Stephens: While studying for my second masters degree, one of my professors asked the class how we would give back to the writing community. At the time, I didn’t think I could. I mean, I was a graduate student who was a writing professor. I didn’t think there was anything left to do other than write my stories. But then, after searching for publication opportunities, I found a major gap in publishing and became aware of all the censorship that magazines employ. The answer to my professor’s question was clear: Start a magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship. To this day – 2.5 years after its creation, TDS has provided opportunities for writers that have given them a voice, which is our motto: “Give a Voice to the Voiceless.” 

TDS: You’ve poured your heart and soul into this phenomenal literary magazine. What are some of your favorite memories with TDS over the last two years?

Bre Stephens: There are literally too many to list, but I’ll try to highlight a few. By Issue 2, TDS was an international magazine – in readership and in represented creatives. I was honored to publish some works that were rejected elsewhere due to censorship; authors told me that it took them, at times, years before finding TDS and getting their voices back. The 1st Annual TDS Creative Awards is a special memory to me because I was able to give back to all my authors; we all had fun and everyone loved the skull trophies. And, I will never forget the joy of working with my authors, sometimes with content or editing, and other times with creative consultations. Most of all, though, my ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.

“A magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: So much has changed for TDS since the inception of your idea and the release of Issue One. Even more has changed recently with a new EIC, a fresh, incredible logo, and more. With a new year and a new era descending upon TDS, what are some of the things you’re looking forward to? 

Bre Stephens: Everything! I know the new EIC is going to be amazing. She’s all about aesthetics and sticking to the original TDS brand. She’s the one who crafted the newest cover and TDS logo. If I had to narrow it down, I’m looking forward to seeing the covers for Issues 10-12, the new TDS Book Boxes, new TDS merchandise (mugs, shirts, mousepads), and a brand-new website that will be for a JOURNAL (not magazine). All of those things are just around the corner.

TDS: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned on this journey as founder and editor of TDS?

Bre Stephens: This journey has taught me so much about publishing, genre, and craft of writing. When I first started TDS, I didn’t really know much about the industry; I learned by doing – and making mistakes. Now, I’m a professional in the publishing industry, a literary agent, and an even better editor. All these skills, and my career growth, is directly influenced by my work at TDS. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not undergone this wonderful adventure.

TDS: TDS has distinct roots in our founding fathers, but what would you say are the three books that most influenced you personally, as both Founder/EIC and in your life?

Bre Stephens: Instead of books, per se, let’s talk genre and specific pieces. Poe was a heavy influence on me as a child. I remember writing like him when I was just 8 and 10 years old. By the time I was a teen, I was crafting short fiction daily in the vein of Poe. A few of his works that are my favorites, and still influence me today, are Tell Tale Heart, Hop-Frog, Fall of the House of Usher, and, my favorite poem of all time, Annabel Lee. Also as a teen, I loved Anne Rice. Her Vampire Chronicles was my bloodline. I combined my love of Poe with the vampires of Rice to create a writing style all my own. To this day, I use that style; though, now, it’s more sophisticated. Put these together and you have the major influencers of TDS. Just add Tolkien for high fantasy and Dostoevsky for psychological realism, and you have the major players needed to create a magazine (nee journal!). 

“My ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: You are an author yourself. What originally sparked your love of writing and editing as well as the desire to champion other authors? 

Bre Stephens: The championing of others comes naturally with my personality. However, championing writers, specifically, comes from my professor’s questions of how I was going to give back to the writing community. With my education and natural energy, I easily became an advocate for the writing community. My love of writing started when I was 6 years old, which is when I wrote my first stage play (5 whole pages!). My 1st grade class had read a play – or maybe discussed plays, and I immediately was interested in writing one. Writing stuck with me from that point. As for editing, I’ve always loved grammar and after studying it when I was earning my undergrad degree, I just fell in love with the process of editing. Add some courses for my second masters degree (in English & Creative Writing) and it was just destiny. 

TDS: When did you know this was a career you wanted to pursue? Has it always been a dream of yours to start a literary journal?

Bre Stephens: I never considered a career in creative writing. My writing is for myself, no publication really needed. However, after about 1.5 of running TDS, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue more seriously. It led me to founding a small press (bscpublishinggroup.com), where uplifting authors is the number one governing rule, and to becoming a literary agent. I am now in the best position to advocate for and uplift writers, making their career goals a reality. I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did.   

“I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did. “

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: Since the journal’s inception, you’ve handled everything from submissions, to editing, to publication and event planning. What is your favorite part of working on The Dark Sire?

Bre Stephens: Layout!!! Taking the raw stories and editing them to fit the TDS Style Guide; formatting the pages for consistency; inputting settings; planning the artwork to go with the works accepted for the issue, which includes pairing the artwork with a specific story. All of that would go under publication, of course, but specifically, layout is my favorite – and I’m going to miss it. 

Help TDS celebrate our 2nd birthday by sharing on social media and don’t forget to get your copy of our newest issue, which is Issue 9, and available now!


TDS proudly brings you gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism
from talented creatives. You can order past and current issues
from the TDS Store.

Finches: A Review

by Kausambi Patra

Rating: 💀💀💀💀

Release Date: October 1, 2021

AM Muffaz started writing this concise novel 15 years ago to process a different trauma. She is facing difficulty in accepting that the beloved country of her childhood has changed into a problematic place that is not easy to question. The author deals with intergenerational trauma and the danger its poses. She wants to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and cultural understanding. In the Introduction, she notes that Charles Darwin wanted to be a parson. But after his journey, he altered his and peoples’ thinking “to see change as beautiful.” The author aspires for that. The novel ‘Finches’ is strewn with quotes from Ayats and ‘The Origin of Species.’

Restless spirits flit around within the novel seeking something. Grandmother Jah deeply resents her husband Ghani’s second marriage, which is legal in Malaysia. She hates the couple with vehemence even after their unnatural deaths. She goes back to live in their family’s old home, claiming it as her own. She experiences ‘cold spots’ in the house and the unquiet spirits. She beats up her dead husband’s spirit and is spitefully uncivil to his wife’s spirit. During an exorcism, she stops the bomoh from forcing a ghost out of a room and locks the door.

The story follows a nonlinear narrative. It moves from one character to another and comes back again. In Rahim’s chapter, he faces the spirits in the old house. His meetings are terrifying, and he narrowly escapes violent harm.

From time to time, the story moves back to the past. The author paints beautiful images of a warm and cosy family enjoying themselves in their flowering garden with abundant refreshments and supporting each other. The children of the first wife seem to share relationships of trust and nurture with the second wife. But the fractures get exposed at times. The author stresses that the granddaughter and the new wife, Aisya, are the same age. Aisya is very good-looking and delicate, in sharp contrast to the granddaughter Khatijah. She is beautiful even more after her death.

The author has vivid flowing portrayals of the physical surroundings and poetic descriptions of everyday mundane activities and objects within the house. She goes into minute details and piques the interest of the reader –

There, the jars had clouded over, some bloodied red, the others opaque white. Her eyes were drawn towards a particular jar in the middle of the rack, whose curtain of white cleared when it had her focus. Inside, a milky-coloured mass curdled upon itself like a clot of grubs, wriggling limbs, she thought, as it rotated in place. From the centre of this clot, wrinkles unfurled like a flower, until, in the depths of its heart, it flicked open an eye. (Page 63)

The pickle jars were Grandmother Jah’s precious possession. The ‘cold spots’ manifest there and respond to her hatred. All the characters sense the ‘cold spots’ and the restive spirits as they gradually become violent and malicious. But the surviving family members are not scared. Instead, they grope for answers. They remain calm and composed and try to piece together their broken fragments.

Reading Muffaz’s words, one can almost see and touch the spirits and inhabit that house. But it is what they have left behind that the living is forced to deal with. Even when these people were living happily, there was the case of the chickens metamorphosing. This mirrors the undercurrent that erupts at the end. When Fatimah is forced to visit the house, the bougainvillaea claws her car.

The scratches ran as deep as the awful sound they’d made, making five broken lines from the side mirror to the handle, their ragged path edged with fine silvery powder. (Page 90)

The spirits, too, answer her hate. 

Ghani and many of the characters are unable to accept the change around them, which pushes the gradual unfolding of the incidents. The house and its environment has soaked it all and rushes to its revelation in the climactic ending. The concluding chapters are left open for the reader’s interpretation.

I found the novel unsettling and the ghosts terrifying. I was scared for the family members living in that old haunted cottage. The narrative is about people trying to understand their past and surroundings and the resulting frictions. The author strongly feels that unless one adapts and faces reality, they face destruction. This short novel is wrapped in the author’s emotion.

Finches is available from Vernacular Books and comes out October 1, 2021. Purchase a copy wherever books are sold, including on Amazon.


RATING:  💀
Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: 💀💀
Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: 💀💀💀
Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀
Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀
Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!

September New Release Books

It’s time to look ahead and see what the publishers are offering in our favorite genres. What mouth-watering, mind-expanding delights are awaiting us in the up-coming month? There are a few on this list that I, personally, can’t wait to sink my teeth into. How about you?

GOTHIC

September 21th

The Bronzed Beasts by  Roshani Chokshi. This is the third book in The Gilded Wolves Series. After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin.

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass.

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself… but at a price they may not be willing to pay.

September 28th

Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by  Christina Henry. In this atmospheric, terrifying novel, everyone in Sleepy Hollow knows about the Horseman, but no one really believes in him. Not even Ben Van Brunt’s grandfather, Brom Bones, who was there when it was said the Horseman chased the upstart Crane out of town. Brom says that’s just legend, the village gossips talking.Twenty years after those storied events, the village is a quiet place. Fourteen-year-old Ben loves to play Sleepy Hollow boys, reenacting the events Brom once lived through. But then Ben and a friend stumble across the headless body of a child in the woods near the village, and the sinister discovery makes Ben question everything the adults in Sleepy Hollow have ever said. Could the Horseman be real after all? Or does something even more sinister stalk the woods?

The House of Dust by Noah Broyles. Deep in the heat and silence of rural Tennessee, down an untraveled road, sits the forgotten town of Three Summers. Mere miles away, on an overgrown river island, stands the house that once presided over the grand plantation of Angel’s Landing, moss-draped, decrepit. Waiting.

Failing crime writer Bradley Ellison and former prostitute Missy Holiday are drawn to this place, fleeing a world turned against them. For Brad, it is work—he must find a compelling story before the true-crime magazine he writes for judges him expendable. For Missy, it is recuperation—four years at “the club” have left her drained.

But the price of peace is high, and soon Brad and Missy discover that something hides behind the quiet. Something moves in the night. Something that manifests itself in bizarre symbols and disturbing funeral rites. Something that twists back through time and clings in the dust of the ancient house. A presence they must uncover before their own past catches up with them.

The Liar Of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater. Don’t trust the Liar. Don’t go in the River. Do not cross the King. In Red Valley, California, you follow the rules if you want to stay alive. But even that isn’t enough to protect Sadie now that she’s unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets.

In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.

And though the Liar has power—power to remake the world, with just a little blood—what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?


HORROR

September 7th

Certain Dark Things by  Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Welcome to Mexico City, an oasis in a sea of vampires. Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is just trying to survive its heavily policed streets when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life. Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, is smart, beautiful, and dangerous. Domingo is mesmerized.

Atl needs to quickly escape the city, far from the rival narco-vampire clan relentlessly pursuing her. Her plan doesn’t include Domingo, but little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his undeniable charm. As the trail of corpses stretches behind her, local cops and crime bosses both start closing in.

Vampires, humans, cops, and criminals collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive? Or will the city devour them all?

Empire Of The Vampire by Jay Kristoff. Twenty-seven years have passed since the last sunrise, and for almost three decades, the creatures of the night have walked the day without fear. Once, humanity fought bravely against the coldblood legions, but now, we exist only in a few scattered settlements—tiny sparks of light in a growing sea of darkness.

Gabriel de León is the last of the Silversaints, a holy order dedicated to defending realm and church, now utterly destroyed. Imprisoned for the murder of the vampiric king, Gabriel is charged with telling the story of his life.

His tale spans years, from his youth in the monastery of San Michel, to the forbidden love that spelled his undoing, and the betrayal that saw his order annihilated. Most importantly, Gabriel will tell of his discovery of the Grail—the legendary cup prophesied to bring an end to the eternal night.

But the Grail was no simple chalice; and its secret was held by a smart-mouthed teenage urchin named Dior. Their journey with a band of unlikely allies would see Dior and Gabriel forge an unbreakable bond, and set the broken paragon on a road to redemption.

But now, the Grail is shattered. And with the cup of the Savior destroyed and the last Silversaint awaiting execution, what can bring an end to this unholy empire?

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull. One October morning, Laina gets the news that her brother was shot and killed by Boston cops. But what looks like a case of police brutality soon reveals something much stranger. Monsters are real. And they want everyone to know it.

As creatures from myth and legend come out of the shadows, seeking safety through visibility, their emergence sets off a chain of seemingly unrelated events. Members of a local werewolf pack are threatened into silence. A professor follows a missing friend’s trail of bread crumbs to a mysterious secret society. And a young boy with unique abilities seeks refuge in a pro-monster organization with secrets of its own. Meanwhile, more people start disappearing, suicides and hate crimes increase, and protests erupt globally, both for and against the monsters.

At the center is a mystery no one thinks to ask: Why now? What has frightened the monsters out of the dark? The world will soon find out.

The Bones of Ruin by Sarah Raughley. As an African tightrope dancer in Victorian London, Iris is used to being strange. She is certainly a strange sight for leering British audiences always eager for the spectacle of colonial curiosity. But Iris also has a secret that even “strange” doesn’t capture…​ She cannot die.

Haunted by her unnatural power and with no memories of her past, Iris is obsessed with discovering who she is. But that mission gets more complicated when she meets the dark and alluring Adam Temple, a member of a mysterious order called the Enlightenment Committee. Adam seems to know much more about her than he lets on, and he shares with her a terrifying revelation: the world is ending, and the Committee will decide who lives…and who doesn’t.

To help them choose a leader for the upcoming apocalypse, the Committee is holding the Tournament of Freaks, a macabre competition made up of vicious fighters with fantastical abilities. Adam wants Iris to be his champion, and in return he promises her the one thing she wants most: the truth about who she really is.

If Iris wants to learn about her shadowy past, she has no choice but to fight. But the further she gets in the grisly tournament, the more she begins to remember—and the more she wonders if the truth is something best left forgotten.

The Haunting of Leigh Harker by Darcy Coates. Sometimes the dead reach back… Leigh Harker’s quiet suburban home was her sanctuary for more than a decade, until things abruptly changed. Curtains open by themselves. Radios turn off and on. And a dark figure looms in the shadows of her bedroom door at night, watching her, waiting for her to finally let down her guard enough to fall asleep.

Pushed to her limits but unwilling to abandon her home, Leigh struggles to find answers. But each step forces her towards something more terrifying than she ever imagined.

A poisonous shadow seeps from the locked door beneath the stairs. The handle rattles through the night and fingernails scratch at the wood. Her home harbours dangerous secrets, and now that Leigh is trapped within its walls, she fears she may never escape.

Do you think you’re safe? You’re wrong.

The Summoning by J.P. Smith. When it comes to contacting the dead, it’s easy to go a step too far. Every year, as the anniversary of 9/11 inches closer on the calendar, Kit Capriol scans the memorials published in the New York Times. It’s a simple thing to look up a name and phone number, to reach out to surviving family members who might still be yearning for connection with their lost loved one… to offer assistance. After her husband went down in the north tower, Kit scraped by as an actress, barely supporting herself and her daughter. But now Zoey is in the hospital, bills are due, and the acting work has dried up. Becoming a medium is almost too easy for someone used to pretending for a living—and desperate clients aren’t hard to come by.

Now, though, something has changed. The seances Kit holds in her apartment are starting to feel unsettlingly real, and the intriguing man she met at a local bar could be more complicated than he seems. As the voices of the dead grow louder in her head and the walls of her apartment close in, Kit realizes that despite her daughter’s absence, she hasn’t been quite as alone as she thought…

September 28th

Court by Tracy Wolff. This is the fourth book in the CRAVE SERIES. This series is a TWILIGHT-like YA series written especially for modern youth and filled with your typical brooding teenagers both vampire and normal. The series follows the adventures of Grace who, after the death of her mother, moves to a small part of Alaska where her uncle and cousin run a boarding school which is not your normal boarding school.

The Ex Hex by Author Rachel Hawkins, writing as Erin Sterling. Nine years ago, Vivienne Jones nursed her broken heart like any young witch would: vodka, weepy music, bubble baths…and a curse on the horrible boyfriend. Sure, Vivi knows she shouldn’t use her magic this way, but with only an “orchard hayride” scented candle on hand, she isn’t worried it will cause him anything more than a bad hair day or two.

That is until Rhys Penhallow, descendent of the town’s ancestors, breaker of hearts, and annoyingly just as gorgeous as he always was, returns to Graves Glen, Georgia. What should be a quick trip to recharge the town’s ley lines and make an appearance at the annual fall festival turns disastrously wrong. With one calamity after another striking Rhys, Vivi realizes her silly little Ex Hex may not have been so harmless after all.

Suddenly, Graves Glen is under attack from murderous wind-up toys, a pissed off ghost, and a talking cat with some interesting things to say. Vivi and Rhys have to ignore their off the charts chemistry to work together to save the town and find a way to break the break-up curse before it’s too late.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik. Book 2 in the Scholomance Series. A budding dark sorceress determined not to use her formidable powers uncovers yet more secrets about the workings of her world in the stunning sequel to A Deadly Education, the start of Naomi Novik’s groundbreaking crossover series.

At the Scholomance, El, Orion, and the other students are faced with their final year—and the looming specter of graduation, a deadly ritual that leaves few students alive in its wake. El is determined that her chosen group will survive, but it is a prospect that is looking harder by the day as the savagery of the school ramps up. Until El realizes that sometimes winning the game means throwing out all the rules . . .

September 30th

Shaula by A.M. Kherbash. The second book in The Stringer Series. The sight of the body did not sicken Ben. Not right away. Guilt was what got him: the mounting consequences rising in his throat, and the truth which would inevitably come spilling out.

Sometime after the events at Duncastor (See Lesath), two men are dispatched to make a delivery. It was a straightforward assignment: take the sealed cargo—a container roughly the size of a child’s casket—and deliver it to a reclusive specialist residing in a lakeside cabin. What this specialist did or specialized in was never mentioned. Not that it mattered, when the task was simple—simple enough that even a young and inexperienced bureaucrat like Ben could handle it. If only he weren’t charged with keeping an eye on his wayward senior.

The lakeside cabin was the last remnant of a closed down resort, which Ben guessed was bought by a dummy corporation belonging to their employers. All the other cabins were torn down, leaving them with an empty property that served to distance the lakeside cabin from public grounds. Something about it reminded Ben of the horticultural practice of pruning spent flowers to further enhance the beauty of the crowning blossom. Not that it did anything to improve the cabin’s appearance he observed, as they stood in front of the stocky wooden building, sheltered under interlacing branches of towering evergreens. Much like the faded photos, an eerie hush permeated the place: no breeze ruffled the reflected image on the lake’s surface, nor whispered through the green needles above. It was all very quiet.


FANTASY

September 14th

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, When her siblings start to go missing, a girl must confront the dark thing that lives in the forest—and the growing darkness in herself—in this debut YA contemporary fantasy for fans of Wilder Girls.

Defy The Night by Brigid Kemmerer. A fantasy about a kingdom divided by corruption, the prince desperately holding it together, and the girl who will risk everything to bring it crashing down.

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

September 21th

The Leopard Behind The Moon by Mayonn Paasewe-Valchev. There are three important laws in Ezomo’s village: Do not go to The Valley, do not go out at night, and never, ever, ever open the magical door that protects them all. But when Ezomo encounters the leopard believed to have killed his father, he and his two best friends embark on a journey that leads them past the boundaries set by their elders.

With his friends by his side, Ezomo chases after the leopard, certain that it has the power to cure all, and in the process he discovers the true history of his village, and that cautionary tales exist for a reason.

The Wolf’s Curse by Jessica Vitalis. Twelve-year-old Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he witnessed a Great White Wolf steal his grandpapá’s soul, preventing it from reaching the Sea-in-the-Sky and sailing into eternity. When the superstitious residents of Bouge-by-the-Sea accuse the boy of crying wolf, he joins forces with another orphan to prove his innocence. They navigate their shared grief in a journey that ultimately reveals life-changing truths about the wolf––and death.

September 28th

Beasts Of Prey by Ayana Gray.

Magic doesn’t exist in the broken city of Lkossa anymore, especially for girls like sixteen-year-old Koffi. Indentured to the notorious Night Zoo, she cares for its fearsome and magical creatures to pay off her family’s debts and secure their eventual freedom. But the night her loved ones’ own safety is threatened by the Zoo’s cruel master, Koffi unleashes a power she doesn’t fully understand–and the consequences are dire.

As the second son of a decorated hero, Ekon is all but destined to become a Son of the Six–an elite warrior–and uphold a family legacy. But on the night of his final rite of passage, a fire upends his plans. In its midst, Ekon not only encounters the Shetani–a vicious monster that has plagued the city and his nightmares for nearly a century–but a curious girl who seems to have the power to ward off the beast. Koffi’s power ultimately saves Ekon’s life, but his choice to let her flee dooms his hopes of becoming a warrior.

Desperate to redeem himself, Ekon vows to hunt the Shetani down and end its reign of terror, but he can’t do it alone. Meanwhile, Koffi believes finding the Shetani and selling it for a profit could be the key to solving her own problems. Koffi and Ekon–each keeping their true motives secret from the other–form a tentative alliance and enter into the unknowns of the Greater Jungle, a world steeped in wild magic and untold dangers. The hunt begins. But it quickly becomes unclear whether they are the hunters or the hunted.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

September 7th

The Final Child by Fran Dorricott. Erin and her brother Alex were the last children abducted by ‘the Father’, a serial killer who only ever took pairs of siblings. She escaped, but her brother was never seen again. Traumatized, Erin couldn’t remember anything about her ordeal, and the Father was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Erin has done her best to put the past behind her. But then she meets Harriet. Harriet’s young cousins were the Father’s first victims and, haunted by their deaths, she is writing a book about the disappearances and is desperate for an interview. At first, Erin wants nothing to do with her. But then she starts receiving sinister gifts, her house is broken into, and she can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. After all these years, Erin believed that the Father was gone, but now she begins to wonder if he was only waiting…

The Magician by Colm Toibin. An epic family saga set across a half-century spanning World War I, the rise of Hitler, World War II. The novel opens in a provincial German city at the turn of the twentieth century, where the boy, Thomas Mann, grows up with a conservative father, bound by propriety, and a Brazilian mother, alluring and unpredictable. Young Mann hides his artistic aspirations from his father and his homosexual desires from everyone. He is infatuated with one of the richest, most cultured Jewish families in Munich, and marries the daughter Katia. They have six children. On a holiday in Italy, he longs for a boy he sees on a beach and writes the story Death in Venice. He is the most successful novelist of his time, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, a public man whose private life remains secret. He is expected to lead the condemnation of Hitler, whom he underestimates. His oldest daughter and son, leaders of Bohemianism and of the anti-Nazi movement, share lovers. He flees Germany for Switzerland, France and, ultimately, America, living first in Princeton and then in Los Angeles.

In a stunning marriage of research and imagination, this novel explores the heart and mind of a writer whose gift is unparalleled and whose life is driven by a need to belong and the anguish of illicit desire. The Magician is an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile. This is a man and a family fiercely engaged by the world, profoundly flawed, and unforgettable.”

September 9th

Keep Me Close by Jane Holland. Someone is hurting the most vulnerable person in your life, but they can’t tell you who it is. What would you do?

When shy publisher Kate Kinley finds mysterious bruises on her mother’s arms she assumes the worst. Suffering with early onset dementia, her mother insists that nothing is wrong; it was just a clumsy accident. But was it an accident, or has her mother’s illness made her forget what really happened?

In desperate need of someone she can trust, her isolation and paranoia grow as the closest people in her life become key suspects.

With each heart-stopping revelation, Kate begins to realise that the perpetrator is no longer interested in inflicting bruises; they want blood.

Keep Me Close is a compelling story of gross immorality, a cautionary tale of how easily wicked people can take advantage of the vulnerable elderly people in your life.

September 14th

Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari. A Gone Girl-esque tale of atonement that proves that in the grasp of manipulative men, women may momentarily fall. But in the hands of fierce women, men will be brought to their knees.

Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.

1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They’re the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.

2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn’t know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.

Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max’s secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won’t be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.


So many amazing books coming out next month!
Which will you be reading?


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out that should have been listed? Let us know in the comments. We love to uplift amazing writers. In fact, if you drop the name of an author for us to include, we will add them to our future new release lists – which are now a MONTHLY staple of The Dark Forest. Check back at the end of September for our late Fall and early Winter new releases.

And don’t forget to ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Camelot’s Reckoning: A Review

Rating: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️

If you are fans of the Arthurian legend, you are sure to get a kick out of Caleb Kelly’s CAMELOT’S RECKONING.  It’s a new twist on the legend and the characters will keep you turning the pages.  In fact, when you get to the end, you will be shouting for more.

This is a high fantasy story that doesn’t start off like one.  It starts us off at an archeological dig as Oliver is on his quest to find Excalibur, the fabled magic sword of King Arthur.  In fact, the legend and search for the sword has consumed his life and practically ruined his reputation in the archeological world.  However, this time he is on to something, and he needs his twin brother to help him continue the search.

Which brings us to a small problem:  Oliver’s brother, Roland, is a lawyer in a high-profile law firm who is bucking for partnership, while sleeping with his boss’ trophy wife.  Roland has problems that don’t include his brother, and a life that couldn’t be more different than his archaeologist brother.

In order to get his brother to accompany him to Scotland in pursuit of the sword, Oliver has to sabotage Roland’s life and get him fired from his job.  In Scotland, Oliver finds Excalibur AND its sister sword.  The brothers are swept into an alternate dimension, a magical one set up by Merlin where they learn that the two swords were wielded by Arthur and Sir Kay.  Kay and Arthur were of one mind and accord and worked in tandem with each other.  Oliver and Roland learn from Garrison, a shape-shifting apprentice to Merlin, that for the magic to work, they, too will have to work together.  And that’s a major problem because Oliver and Roland do not think alike, and thus they disturb the swords’ magic.  Things that are supposed to happen don’t, and vice verse, causing all kinds of chaos to ensue.

As I read this story, one thing really caught my attention: Mr. Kelly’s attention to detail. This book is the first in the Primis Vipris Saga (series). I appreciated that the author spent the time needed to really introduce his characters to the readers.  He methodically charted Oliver’s and Roland’s lives in such a way that I understood them, knew them. These characters were real.  We see Oliver working through the puzzle that is an archeological dig:

“Oliver wiped his brow with the back of his gloves, took them off, and
hurled them against the toolbox across from him.  He got up from the
dirt and brushed away the loose soil from his brown khakis and sweat-
stained tee shirt.  He grabbed hold of the edge of the pit and hoisted
himself out and on to the edge…”

We follow Roland on an intricate court case, one that Oliver sabotages in order to get his brother to accompany him:

“Roland flipped through the files in his lap as the lead prosecutor of
his firm marched back and forth at the front of the courtroom.  He
stopped for a moment to listen to what was unfolding.  The room
was drenched in palpable tension as the veteran lawyer paced in
front of the witness stand.  He stopped and thumbed through the
layers of documentation inside the manila folder.  Anticipation of
the trial had left the entire city of Greenville on edge as the
proceeding unfolded.”

I felt like I was right there, witnessing the events unravel firsthand. With this kind of detail, Mr. Kelly takes us into his magical world; into Merlin’s magic books; and into the confrontation against dragons.  Will Oliver and Roland be able to defeat the beasts? Only if they can manage to come together, strengthen their bonds, and act as one – like Arthur and Kay before them. Their adventure, humanity, and brotherly struggles make this book a page turner.

Be forewarned, however! This book ends at a cliffhanger, one that will make you scream for Book 2. That’s not a bad thing, but there is no information for when Book 2 will be released, so try to remain patient as you wait for the Saga to continue.

Because this story is cleverly written and delves into wonderful characterization, with great attention to detail, I give it a four Fleur de Lis.  If you are looking for a different take on the Arthurian legend in a high fantasy story, you will thoroughly enjoy CAMELOT’S RECKONING. I highly recommend it!

You can find Caleb Kelly’s Camelot’s Reckoning on AMAZON.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. For fantasy, the craft of world building and the story’s classification (high, epic) is also of interest. As always, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use Fleur-de-lis (⚜️). An explanation of the Fleur-de-lis system follows.

RATING: ⚜️
Boring, flat fantasy elements, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️
Fair plot, below average fantasy elements but fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️
Good plot and average fantasy elements, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Great reading experience with heaps of wonderful fantasy elements. Strong recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Excellent prose, amazing fantasy elements, well-written. A MUST READ!

The Creative Nook with Dan Stout

by Zachary Shiffman

Dan Stout is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE. He has served as a judge for THE DARK SIRE Awards for two years now, providing us with his invaluable perspective on submissions. So we were excited to get that same perspective into THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook on YouTube, where I sat down with Stout to discuss a range of topics surrounding the April release of his latest novel, Titan Song.

Titan Song is the third installment in Stout’s The Carter Archives, a noir-fantasy series that blends magic with mystery, murder, and disco. In the interview Stout and I discussed the series and his various balancing acts within it. How do you write an overarching narrative while maintaining a standalone quality to each book? How do you blend mystery and fantasy? And how did these two concepts come together in The Carter Archives? Stout delved into his interweaving of disparate ideas into the final (immensely entertaining) product.

Further into the interview, Stout talked about The Carter Archives’ social themes, such as the depiction of the working class and how that compares to other fantasy media. We also discussed his take on magic (“manna”), his perspective on research, his own personal process for writing, and Stout’s other passions.

We ended the interview with a brief discussion of Stout’s future works and how to stay up to date with them via the Campfire, Stout’s monthly newsletter that you can join on his website.

You can watch the whole interview on THE DARK SIRE’s YouTube channel!

https://youtu.be/g5du2Cgz-mo

The Psychology of Psychological Realism

Psychological Realism is a narrative genre that explores the internal thought processes and motivations of its characters.  The method of narration in the story explores the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, spiritual, emotional and mental lives in order to put meaning to their behavior.  At THE DARK SIRE we hold the works of Fydor Dostoevsky to be the pinnacle of this genre; however, authors like Henry James, Stendhal, and Knut Hamsun are also to be considered at the top of the list.

The success of a Psychological Realistic novel rests solely on the painstaking detail with which the author describes/examines/dissects the various relationships, desires and struggles of the characters.  Much of it boils down to the whole idea of what is real.  A person’s reality is the product of their individual perception of what is happening around them.  We tend to thing of reality as what we can see, feel, hear or experience in some way.  But in reality, no two people see, feel, hear or experience the same event in the same way.  Each person filters that event through the psychological veil that makes that individual an individual.  It is the classic problem of the accident that is viewed from three different vantage points by three different people.  Each person has seen the event, but that does not necessarily mean that each person will describe the event in the same way.  Kurosawa’s RASHOMON is a perfect example in movie form of this phenomena.

This genre allows authors to explore the gritty underbelly of human nature as a character interacts with their environment whether that environment is the slums of St. Petersburg or the social elite enclaves of the New York 400.  However, one of the most interesting facets of this genre is that it also includes the reader’s response to what he or she is reading.  The author of a psychological piece is also asking for the readers to make an interpretation on the actions, thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story… which leads us to an interesting juxtaposition.

The very nature of a psychological realism story forces the reader to internalize that which they are reading.  Is the character correct in what they are doing?  Or is that character mistaken because of their internal thought process is in error?  Like the witness to the accident in the example above, each reader must decide, based on their own psychological make up, whether or not the character in the story is reacting properly to the basic situation at the story’s core.  Which leads us to the interesting conundrum that readers from different generations will interpret the same story differently.  One generation might find a story amusing and the following generation might take offense at it.  Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a prime example of this.

So, what we have in Psychological Realism is a confrontation between the character’s social and environmental realities interpreted by a reader’s social and environmental realities.  Maybe that’s what makes Psychological Realism so fascinating: the author forcing the reader to confront the characters’ psyches through the veil of their own.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known for delving into the psychology of humanity and wrote that psychology into his work. And that’s what we at THE DARK SIRE love about the psychological realism we publish. The tales delve into the psyche of the characters – their motivation, emotions, reasoning. A good psychological tale – and some would say a crossover from Gothic Literature – conveys the the torment of the character itself, through world building, mood, and tone.

We’re always looking for those stories that examine the psyche of its characters, especially those with dark sensibilities. Issue 4 is our favorite for its psychological realism content. But, we need more!

If you write psychological realism, submit at darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

Mother of the King: A Review

Rating: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️

Excellent prose. Amazing fantasy elements. Novelette, 27 pages. A MUST READ.

For those of you who like light fantasy, especially dealing with the Arthurian legend, you will thoroughly enjoy Rami Ungar’s Mother of the King.  When originally presented to me, I thought I would be reviewing a novel.  But Mother of the King is a novelette, making it longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. But let me just say, up front, that regardless of its category, it is a wonderful read, easily consumed in one sitting.

The story takes place in England in an undisclosed future, post-apocalyptic time, in which a new Arthur, that’s right, Arthur, is about to initiate a scientific plan that will protect Great Britain against the world domination assaults of her enemies and keep her as an oasis in what is becoming a dystopian world. 

The story is a confession told from the point of view of Misty Addison, the mother of Arthur Thomas Addison, the Field Marshal of the British Army and future husband to the queen, and the mastermind behind the Camelot System, which will place a protective shield around Great Britain to protect her from those who desire world domination. It is a destiny story that he doesn’t know, and since he is about to become the once and future king, Misty feels he needs to know just how destiny chose her son.

Mr. Ungar does a marvelous job combining history, myth, and fantasy in an easy-flowing story.  He moves us like pieces on a chessboard – from the past to the present to the past, weaving the story of the new Arthur’s rise to a position of prominence. Mr. Ungar deftly separates his Arthur story from the English legend of King Arthur.  According to Misty, much of what the world knows about Arthur is “bollocks;” much of the legend like Merlin, the affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay, the Holy Grail, Excalibur and others were added by later storytellers, many of whom were not even British. But what was true was that “an Arthur” would arise in England’s hour of need.

Mr. Unger also manages to make Arthur’s mother act like a mother, which I found to be a brilliant storytelling touch.  She is down to earth and witty and shows the emotion of a mother protecting her child, yet is also there to give him sage advice in matters of the heart.  In effect, she becomes his Merlin, steering him to become the man who could embody the spirit of the legendary Arthur in England’s time of trouble.

THE MOTHER OF THE KING is a touching story without being maudlin. This novelette is an extremely well-crafted story. There is a sense of foreboding that lurks in the background.  But it is a danger that the lead characters in the story handle or are handling without transferring their dread to the reader.  As a reader, you are swept along by Misty’s optimism in the face of potential doom. The main characters have a confidence that makes one feel that everything will be all right. 

This novelette deserves the five Fleur de Lis. It flows along in such a way that you don’t want to stop reading it. It captures you from its opening line and sweeps you along to its cliff-hanging conclusion. It takes you from the past to the present to a possible future, and in the face of total destruction, it leaves you with hope.

You can find Rami Ungar’s Mother of the King on AMAZON.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. For fantasy, the craft of world building and the story’s classification (high, epic) is also of interest. As always, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use Fleur-de-lis (⚜️). An explanation of the Fleur-de-lis system follows.

RATING: ⚜️
Boring, flat fantasy elements, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️
Fair plot, below average fantasy elements but fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️
Good plot and average fantasy elements, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Great reading experience with heaps of wonderful fantasy elements. Strong recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Excellent prose, amazing fantasy elements, well-written. A MUST READ!

July and August New Release Books

Time.  There is no getting around it.  It takes time to write a book and put it through the process that eventually gets it into the hands of readers.  And all we can do is wait.  To help pass the time, here are a few of the anticipated books in our favorite genres:

GOTHIC

AUGUST 19

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Perry
Fans of the Perry collaboration should look forward to this tale in which a person’s status cannot evade a fate written in blood. Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.


HORROR

AUGUST 3

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee This is s a twisted, atmospheric thriller about a girls’ boarding school haunted by history and witchcraft.

The Perfect Place to Die by Bryce Moore Jack the Ripper meets the Devil in the White City.  When Zuretta’s youngest sister disappears during the Chicago World’s Fair, she follows in her sister’s footsteps taking a job an hotel called the Castle.  The job turns into more than she bargained for.

AUGUST 5

Long Shadows by Jodi Taylor This is the third in Ms. Taylor’s supernatural series. The identity of Elizabeth Cage has always been a mystery. Even she doesn’t know who she is. But someone has suspicions.

AUGUST 10

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko This story follows the adventures of a middle-grade student, who, although she loves ghost stories, never expected to live one.

Mark of the Wicked by Georgia Bowers   A young witch tries to unravel the mystery of who is framing her for dark magic.

AUGUST 17

Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar Mr. Chizmar masterfully blends Horror and True Crime.  It’s clever, heartrending, and terrifying in the best tradition of Stephen King. In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. **Look for the TDS interview of Richard Chizmar on 8/10, where we talk about the release of Chasing the Boogeyman.**

AUGUST 24

Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis   Is a live body worth more than a dead apparition?  I guess you’ll have to read the novel to find out.


FANTASY

AUGUST 3

A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert
When a princess is murdered, her vengeful spirit is doomed to remain with her loved ones until that murder has been avenged.

Monster Hunter Bloodlines by Larry Correia The chaos god Asaq has been quite since the destruction of the City of Monsters, but Monster Hunter International knows that he is still out there, somewhere, plotting for his chance to unravel reality.

August 10

Escape from Puroland by Charles Stross
Bob Howard has been assigned to police the Yokai, traditional magical beings.  A simple assignment turns into a deadly confrontation.

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino   Tess finds herself working at her boarding school’s library dealing with the intolerable patrons.  The worst of whom is Eliot Birch who is constantly requesting forbidden grimoires.  Together the two of them accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.

The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng One minute, Kelly is a free-spirited artist in Chicago.  The next, she opens a door and mysteriously emerges in her Michigan hometown.  Suddenly her life is unrecognizable.  She’s got twelve years of the wrong memories and she’s married to a Eric, a man she barely knew in high school.

AUGUST 17

The Endless Skies by Shannon Price  It will be released August 17th.  Shape-shifting warriors are sent on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to find the fabled cure for a disease that is affecting their children.

AUGUST 19

Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent   For as long as sixteen-year old Adele can remember the village of Oakvale has been surrounded by the dark woods.  It is a forest filled with horrible monsters and that light cannot penetrate.  Adele is one of a long line of guardians, women who are able to change into wolves whose jobs is to protect the village without letting any of the villagers know of their existence.

AUGUST 31

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker
Rora, a shifter with magical powers, uses her abilities to spy for the king.  When a magical illness surfaces in the kingdom, it’s up to Rora to discover the truth.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund This novel is the thrilling conclusion of the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Action-packed and full of fast-paced adventures, the story follows Bershad, the most successful dragon slayer in history—he’s never lost a fight. But now he’s faced with a dangerous conundrum: kill a king or be killed.

Requiem of Silence by L. Penelope This is the fourth book in the Earthsinger Chronicles.  Former assassin Kyara will discover that she is not the only Nethersinger.  She will need to join the others to harness a power that can save or end Elsira.  But time is of the essence and they may not be ready by the time the True Father strikes.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

AUGUST 3

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson Told through three different points of view, it is the compassionate portrait of a community and a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation.

AUGUST 5

The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood Vanessa has always found it easy to pretend to be somebody different, somebody better.  When things get tough in her real life, all she has to do is throw on some nicer clothes, adopt a new accent and she can escape.  Until she couldn’t.

AUGUST 24

A Million Things by Emily Spurr This story follows 55-days in the life of a 10-year old after she wakes up one morning and finds her mother gone.  It’s a gut-wrenching tale of abandonment and what it’s like to grow up in a house that doesn’t feel safe.  It’s an astonishing psychological portrait of resilience, mental health and families we make and how they make us.


So much to choose from, so little time to read everything!
Get your TBR lists ready, because you’re not going to
want to miss any of the above new releases.


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out in July/August that should have been listed? Let us know in the comments. We love to uplift amazing writers. In fact, if you drop the name of an author for us to include, we will add them to our future new release lists – which are now a MONTHLY staple of The Dark Forest. Check back at the end of August for our Fall new releases.

And don’t forget to ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8, set to release on July 31. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Celebrating TDS Issue 8: DARK SUMMER

Let’s celebrate the July 31st release of Issue 8!

To celebrate the release of Issue 8, we’re hosting a TDS Authors Event! The events is this Saturday, July 31st, from 11am – 1pm at The Bibliophile Bookstore in Dover, Ohio. Issue 8 authors will read their work from Issue 8, discuss their writing processes, and sign paperback copies of Issue 8. Come meet John Kiste (Kettering Hall, Issue 2; Tropical Excursion, Issue 8), S. M. Cook (Kyuuketsuki, Issues 1-5; Vampire – Intense, Issue 8), Krista Canterbury Adams (Erebus: Darkness, Issue 4; Nyx Unnested and Phantom Queen, Issue 8), and Rami Ungar (Blood and Paper Skin, Issue 8). And did we mention that literary agent Bre Stepehens (brendaleestephens.com) will be there to talk to any authors? Yep, get your pitches ready because she’s building her list! Anyone attending the event will be eligible for a free giveaway drawing, with prizes including digital and paperback copies of Issue 8, copies of attending author’s books, and other TDS swag.

And now for the Issue 8 reveal of content…

THE DARK SIRE strives to bring you the best in Gothic, Horror, Fantasy and Psychological Realism literature, and Issue 8 doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s packed full of original, spine-tingling stories, poems, and artwork by top-notch authors. And this time, we even have a fantasy screenplay! Here’s what you will find inside:

SHORT FICTION

Grave Fools by Maureen Mancini Amaturo — (Gothic) — A vampire’s loyal servant works diligently to find the best resting place for his master.

The Bookworm by Taylor Hood — (Psychological Realism) — A story-starved boy confronts his zealous father in a darkened room lit only by a halo of light. Their struggle, the consequence of a family destroyed, pits two worldviews against each other. Either the boy must go on endlessly reciting his father’s beloved holy text, or he must at last find freedom.

Tropical Excursion by John Kiste — (Horror) — A man finds fun in the sun, but his day out is interrupted when he’s confronted about his crimes.

We by Alyssa Netters — (Psychological Realism) — A relationship gone wrong until one stood strong to overcome the debilitating effects of being held down. This story was inspired by the need for mental health awareness in today’s society.

Hand in Hand, Dear Sister by Connor Pope — (Horror) — A distraught sister must do the unthinkable to save her sister. This piece is a 100-word flash fiction short story.

Thirst by Zachary Toombs — (Gothic) — In the night, Lex must hunt to survive, but he must listen to more than just his fangs to successfully fetch his prey.

Six Feet by Julie Zack — (Dark Fantasy) — As with most things, it was the mother’s fault. She hadn’t seen the harm in letting the boy run around the cemetery on a summer evening. It was socially distant, after all. That was until they came across a man in a hat, and their lives would be forever changed.

POETRY

Skewered Memory by Casey Aimer — A couple must overcome a psychological break, caused by infidelity, if they are to survive. This poem touches on mental health awareness.

Nyx Unnested by Krista Canterbury Adams — The night is not as dangerous as when the Nyx appear, there to hover, haunt, and devour. The moon will not save you this eve, for the Nyx are utter and pure darkness. Nyx Unnested won 1st place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021.

Phantom Queen by Krista Canterbury Adams — The woods glow brightly, hungering for destruction and chaos. Will it ever find peace?

Vampire – Intense by S.M. Cook — A vampire awakens, hungry, and goes out for a bite.

The Beginning by Dee Espinoza — Dracula, a fallen angel who was cast out of heaven after a holy war and banished to Earth, creates an army of undead blood thirsty creatures.

HOMETOWNWOTEMOH by E. M. Roy — A free-verse poem about the familiar becoming strange the longer you look at it. The longer the speaker exists within her hometown, the more places she knows like the back of her hand start to eat her alive. HOMETOWNWOTEMOH won 2nd Place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021. 

ART

Shaun Power’s This Is Fear is our feature cover art for this issue.  The look, even the style of his pictures, vary wildly on his state of mind. Fortunately for us, he was in a dark mood when he created this pastel on A4 paper.  Other artwork by Shaun in this issue include Hand of Fate and Perchance the Dream.

Also featured in this issue are the abstract works of Christian-Rhen Stefani.  Her style, known as COLORISM, is a mix of Abstract Expressionism and mood creation.  In this issue we present her The Land beyond the Surface and River of Consciousness.

SCREENPLAY

Hobgoblins by James Hancock — (Fantasy) — A young woman ends up trapped in an enchanted storybook and must complete the story to escape.

SERIALIZATION

Blood and Paper Skin by Rami Ungar — (Horror) — Several young adults go out to buy drugs one night, only for some of them to be kidnapped and held in a mysterious jail by their would-be dealer. Their captor, whom they call Old Man, lets them know he has a horrible purpose in mind for them. And if they don’t find a way out of the jail, more than just their lives will be lost.


Well, that’s it – like that isn’t enough! We know you’re going to love our delve into DARK SUMMER, our only themed issue of the year. Copies are now available. Order your copy through Bibliophile Bookstore (support indie booksellers!) or by visiting darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Reality Meets Fiction: The New England Vampire Panic

by Barry Pirro

A century after the 1693 Salem witch trials, citizens of Rhode Island began hearing whispers and rumors of something that frightened them even more than witchcraft. They began to suspect that there were blood sucking vampires in their midst. Even more disturbing, they thought that the vampires were members of their own families, and that they had to be stopped at any cost. But like Stoker’s Van Helsing, these would-be vampire slayers were determined to hunt down each and every one to make sure they stayed where they belonged–in their graves. 

In June of 1784, The Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer published a letter to the editor from a Willington, Connecticut town councilman. In it, he cautioned readers against being influenced by a local doctor who was encouraging families to dig up and burn their relatives’ bodies. The letter said that several children’s bodies had been exhumed at this doctor’s request, and that families were told that the burning of the bodies would stop consumption, now known as tuberculosis, from spreading throughout the family. 

Today, the claims in the letter may sound far-fetched. Even laughable – but they were true. In the late 18th century, people actually were digging up their dead family members’ bodies and burning them because they thought that they were vampires. 

Where did this gruesome practice of exhuming and desecrating dead bodies originate? Many immigrants came to America from Europe, and with them came their traditions, folklore, and superstitions. Throughout Europe, exhuming the bodies of those thought to be vampires was not uncommon. Some corpses were beheaded. Others had their feet bound with thorns to keep them in their graves. If a body was badly decomposed, the skull would be placed facing backwards, and the rest of the bones were carefully rearranged to prevent the vampire from rising. Further methods used to keep the undead down included placing a sickle over the skeleton’s neck, putting a stone in the skull’s mouth, or pinning the skeleton to the ground with a stake. 


The first recorded case of New England vampirism was that of Rachel Harris Burton from Manchester, Vermont. In 1790, Rachel died of tuberculosis less than a year after marrying Captain Isaac Burton. A year later, the Captain married Rachel’s stepsister, Hulda, and soon after she began exhibiting symptoms similar to Rachel’s. 

Around this time, rumors of vampirism had begun spreading across New England, so family and friends began to suspect that Rachel had risen from the grave as a vampire and was making Hulda sick by sucking her blood. The Captain agreed and decided that something must be done about it. So, on a frigid day in February of 1793, three years after Rachel’s death, over 500 Manchester residents gathered at the cemetery to watch as the liver, heart and lungs were removed from Rachel’s exhumed, rotting corpse, placed on a blacksmith’s forge, and set on fire. 

Sadly, Hulga died seven months later. Because the ‘cure’ didn’t work, the townspeople figured that Rachel hadn’t been a vampire after all. Their conclusion? Witchcraft must have been responsible for Hulda’s sickness and death. 


One of the most famous cases of the New England vampire panic occurred in 1799 in Exeter, Rhode Island. One night, a farmer named Stuckley Tillinghast had a disturbing dream in which half of his apple orchard died. A few days later, his daughter Sarah came home complaining that she wasn’t feeling well. She took to bed, and, within a few weeks, died of tuberculosis. 

Several weeks later, the family was still grieving Sarah’s death when her brother James came down to breakfast one morning looking pale and sickly. He complained of feeling very weak, and that it felt as if there was a heavy weight on his chest. Then he said something chilling: Sarah came to him in the middle of the night and sat on his bed. He said that she didn’t speak, but that her pale form sat on the edge of the bed and stared at him all night long. Weeks later, James was dead. 

Shortly after James’ death, two more Tillinghast children died after saying that Sarah had visited them in the night. The family began to suspect that Sarah’s nocturnal visits meant that she was a vampire, and that she was returning from the grave to draw life from the remaining family members. 

A few months later, three more of the Tillinghast children died, then Honour Tillinghast, mother of the deceased children, became ill. She told her husband that all of her dead children kept coming to her in the night, and that she could hear their voices telling her to come with them. 

For Stuckley Tillinghast, this was the last straw. Early one morning he and his farmhand, Caleb, went out to the cemetery where his daughter Sarah was buried. They took with them a long hunting knife, a bottle of lamp oil, and two shovels. As the sun was rising, the two men dug up Sarah’s casket and turned back the creaking lid. 

Even though she had been dead over 18 months, Sarah looked as if she was just asleep. Seeing his daughter’s face looking flushed as if with blood, Stuckley took his hunting knife and thrust it deep into his daughter’s chest. He would later claim that as soon as the knife blade cut into her body, the wound gushed blood. Digging through flesh, muscle and bone, he cut out her heart and lay it on a nearby stone. There, he doused it with lamp oil and set it on fire. He and Caleb watched until the heart was reduced to ashes, then the two of them reburied Sarah. 

In the end, Stuckley Tillinghast’s dream had come true in a symbolic sense. Half of his ‘orchard’ (seven of his fourteen children) had died. After burning Sarah’s heart, Honour Tillinghast recovered from her illness, there were no more deaths in the family, and there were no further reports of Sarah appearing at night. To the Tillinghasts, the vampire curse had finally ended thanks to Stuckley’s intervention; and because the entire town knew how he had saved his family from further deaths, the belief in vampires was strengthened and the word spread near and far.


For the record, although the exhumation of bodies and the burning of hearts and other vital organs were often clandestine, lantern-lit affairs, some were quite public and even had an air of festivity. In 1830, one “vampire heart” was set on fire in front of a large crowd in the Woodstock, Vermont, town green; and in Manchester, up to a thousand people turned up to witness the burning of the heart, liver and lungs of a suspected vampire.    

Mary Brown of Exeter of Rhode Island has the distinction of being known as the last American vampire. George Brown must have felt as if his family was cursed. In 1883, tuberculosis claimed the life of his wife Mary. Six months later, his 20-year old daughter, Mary-Olive, succumbed to the same disease. Then in 1890 George’s only son, Edwin, contracted tuberculosis as well. George watched helplessly as his son struggled to breath, and constantly coughed up blood. While Edwin grew weaker and weaker, his 19-year-old sister Mercy died. 

George Brown was at his wits end. He had to do something to save his son Edwin, the only remaining member of his family. Since medical science failed to help Edwin, residents of Exeter began to suspect that vampires were the real culprit. They thought that either Edwin’s mother or one of his sisters must be one of the undead, and that they were leaving their grave at night to suck the life out of poor Edwin. 

On March 17, 1892, George Brown reluctantly agreed to allow his relatives and neighbors to exhume the bodies of his loved ones interred at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in an effort to stop the disease. George said that he did not believe in vampires, but he was willing to try anything. 

That morning, a small crowd gathered in the graveyard behind the town’s Baptist Church, and the bodies of Mary Brown and Mary-Olive Brown were exhumed. They opened their caskets, but the only thing they found inside were bones–no surprise, since both had been dead and buried for nearly ten years. 

Next, they turned their attention to the casket of Mercy Brown who had been buried just eight weeks earlier. When the lid was lifted off of her coffin, the townspeople gasped in horror. Mercy was lying on her side, and her face was flushed as if she was still alive. Someone quickly took a long knife and thrust it into Mercy’s chest, then cut out her heart and lungs. Mysteriously, there was still blood in her heart and veins.

While he was unable to explain why Mercy was lying on her side in her coffin, Dr. Harold Metcalf, who had raised objections about the exhumations from the very start, said that the preserved state of the body was simply due to the short amount of time Mercy had been dead, and that the cold weather had preserved her body. 

The people of Exeter ignored the doctor’s explanations. They built a fire on a pile of rocks in the churchyard, then took Mercy’s heart and lungs and cremated them. But their job wasn’t done just yet. The group went to Edwin’s house with the ashes of his dead sister’s heart. They mixed the ashes with water, then fed them to him. Disgusting? Yes! But it was thought that this was the only way to prevent Edwin from dying. Sadly, and not unsurprisingly, the “cure” didn’t work, and he died two months later. 

Looking at the timeline of events, it’s baffling how anyone could have suspected that Mercy was responsible for her family’s illness, vampire or no vampire. Her mother and sister had died nearly 10 years earlier than she had, and her brother had become ill two years before she died. But cases of mass hysteria grow out of fear and superstition, and those caught up in the hysteria rarely stop to think whether or not any of it makes sense. 


In 1990, a group of boys playing near a hillside gravel mine in Griswold, Connecticut, found something that they thought was really cool–a skull that was in a grave with other bones. One of the boys ran home and showed his parents. The police were called, and it soon became clear that the bones were more than a century old. Archaeologists were called in to excavate the site, and they discovered that the bones were part of a large family burial plot from the colonial-era. 

A stone crypt was unearthed, and when the slab that covered the coffin was removed, archaeologists were shocked by what they discovered. Some time in the distant past, the bones of the individual buried there had been completely rearranged, and the skeleton had been beheaded. The beheading and other injuries to the bones were thought to have occurred roughly five years after death. The conclusion of all who examined the man’s remains was that he was suspected of being a vampire, and that his heart was removed to prevent him from rising out of his grave. 

The New England Vampire panic died out in the late 1800s after science finally discovered the cause of tuberculosis. But it illustrates what lengths people will go to protect themselves and their families. It’s only a matter of time before some new mass hysteria panic rears its ugly head. Whatever form it may take, historians will surely shake their heads and wonder, “What in the world were they thinking?”


“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on August 27th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: What real-life vampire stories do you have? If you have experience with vampirism tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Vampirism Story). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story on VAMPIRES (as predators!) and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

World Building and the Art of Fantasy

All of us have our favorite fantasy novels, both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.  Here at THE DARK SIRE, our favorite, go-to High Fantasy author is J.R.R. Tolkien for his body of work which includes The Lord of the Ring series, the Simarillion, and the Hobbit (just to name a few).  Low Fantasy would definitely include the Harry Potter series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series.  As diverse as all these books are, they have two things in common: 1. Great characterization and 2. Unique worlds in which those characters live.

Characterization deserves a blog all its own and it will get one in the near future.  But, today, I want to delve into the concept of World Building, the chief cornerstone of both High and Low Fantasy.  It’s what makes the genre work.  Without it, your story will crash on the rocks of the readers’ disbelief. 

Simply put, World Building is creating a locale where your story takes place.  A locale that your readers MUST believe in if they are going to believe in your characters. The challenge with World Building is recognizing that your world must function by a specific set of rules.  It is your task, as the author, to establish those rules and map out how your characters will follow them.  The secret is in the details.  Everything – person, animal, or creature – you write about must follow those rules down to the last letter.  This is key in giving your characters a landscape in which to develop. 

Your characters cannot exist in a vacuum.  They have to move, eat, sleep, and perform all the functions that their kind of character must perform to live.  They must have some place real to live.  Not real in our every day existence, but real to them.  And since your story’s world may be different than your readers’ world, it is your job to make the reader understand how your characters can function in a realm that the reader could not.

Think about questions that could guide your world building:

What are the conflicts in your created world?  Does it only rain once every six months?  Are there other species of humanoids and do they require a special environment to survive and if so, can different kinds of humanoids survive in each other’s environments? How do your characters communicate?  Are there different languages?  What do your characters need to do to understand one another?  What is the landscape in which your characters live?  Do different characters need different landscapes? 

Then, set up the boundaries.  Who is in charge?  Do they use magic like in Harry Potter?  And if so, who gets to use the magic, and can others see it?  What is the tone of the atmosphere?  Is this a dark and stormy place or bright and sunny; or is it a landscape covered in ice? 

Define the culture.  What do your characters believe in?  Is there a religion?  Are there several religions? What are the sacred customs?  What is the history of your characters’ interactions? Is there war, peace, tension between peoples? What is the culture’s folklore and mythology?

Don’t forget to use all five of your senses when creating your world.  You need to make your reader feel as if they are right there standing next to your characters – experiencing everything, feeling what they feel, smelling what they smell.  They need to viscerally inhabit your world no matter how fantastical it is.  Your world needs to feel real and functional to someone who could literally not function in it.

Remember, this is a fantasy world created by you, the author.  You need to know how it all functions and be able to pass that knowledge on to the reader without being didactic. Most importantly, you will have to guide the reader seamlessly through your world without breaking the tone or pace of the story. Any note of straying from the story, just to explain an aspect of your world (exposition) will distract the reader – and that’s game over for your story.


Here are a couple of exercises to help you along the creative way:

  1.  Interview your main character.  Ask them questions.  Get to know how they will react to the environment/problem that you have created for them.
  2. Map out your world. What does everything look like? What is where in this new world?
  3. Write a paragraph on each type of being used in your story. List the attributes of the peoples in each group: appearance, language, fighting abilities, magical abilities, spiritual abilities, clothing, food, shelters/lodgings.
  4. Describe the places in your world either to a friend or in a journal. What’s the scenery, weather, animals like? Be detailed in your descriptions so that a person can imagine it in their own thoughts.
  5. How will your story end?  Write the final page.  What are you going to have to do in this created universe of yours to get your main character to that point? Who or what will your character have to face? Are these obstacles part of the world building? Describe them in detail.
  6. Now that you know how your story will end, how will it begin?  What incident starts your main character on his/her/its path of self-discovery? What will your main character reveal on page one that will make your reader want to turn to page two? And most importantly, how will you convey your world building without heavy-loading exposition? For help on this one, read the first few pages of Tolkien’s The Hobit.

We would love to see what you can do.
Show us your world building in the comments!


We’re always looking for good, high-quality fantasy short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays. If you have a piece ready for publication, please submit it. 

Associate Literary Agent: Bre Stephens

Congratulations to our EIC Bre Stephens, who is now an Associate Literary Agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency! It’s not every day that our EIC steps out of the shadows, so today we’re celebrating her new role and further accomplishments in the publishing industry.

“I am pleased to announce that I have officially joined The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency as an Associate Literary Agent,” Bre posted on her Twitter account. “I am open to #query and look forward to #reading #author works in #mg #ya #adultfiction #nonfiction. My favorite subgenres are, but not limited to: #horror #fantasy #gothic #psychologicalrealism (sorry, no romance or scifi).”

Bre’s full wishlist is on both her agenting page AND her newly updated professional website: brendaleestephens.com.

You can follow her on Twitter (@brelstephens) and Facebook (@brestephens2019). And don’t forget to bookmark her website for event appearances. She already has at least 5 events coming up, beginning July 13. In fact, TDS has an author’s event that she’ll be attending on July 31, from 11am-1pm, at Bibliophile Books in downtown Dover, Ohio. (Details on her professional website!)

We’re so proud of this remarkable woman. She’s a great advocate for all our creatives, and there’s no doubt she’ll bring that same passion to her new clients. Good luck, Bre!

May and June New Release Books

Anticipation – there is an electric joy that surrounds that emotion, like a child waiting for morning on Christmas Eve.  For those of us who have favorite authors, that joy can turn into angst/anger/annoyance as we toe-tappingly await the new release of the next book or the next installment of a series that has captured our imaginations.  For some of us at THE DARK SIRE, our love and anticipation for our favorite authors simply cannot be subsided unless we know what’s coming next – and when.

Therefore, in order to keep our Gothic, Horror, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism readers abreast of what’s happening in their favorite genre, we thought we would look into the publishers’ crystal ball and see what they had scheduled for May and June.

GOTHIC

Gothic never looked so good in June!

Early June saw the release of The Shape of Darkness (Penguin Random House, June 2021) by Laura Purcell, whom some tout as the queen of modern Gothic Fiction. As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another. Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them. But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back.

Another period piece is The Ghost Finders (JournalStone, June 2021) by Adam McOmber. Henry Coxton, a fledgling occult detective, has taken up recent stewardship of a ghost finding firm, investigating gaslit mysteries in the damp cobblestone streets of Edwardian London. Along with his friends and associates—Violet Asquith, a telekinetic with a mysterious past, and Christopher X, a monster of dubious origins—Henry must work against the clock to solve the agency’s most terrifying case, one that threatens to destroy all he holds dear and perhaps even the very fabric of reality itself.

To lead the independently published authors is W.J. Cintron’s Ill Shadows (June 2021). Foxtail Valley is a confined territory where all technology is prohibited. It is home to the forbidden Black Sands beach. Rumor has it, no one ever comes out alive. No one… but them. Jeremy has lived in the Outland for most of his life. Mason is the brother of a convicted criminal, and Natalie is the mayor’s daughter. Bri just wanted to join the fun. Now, they are locked up in dorm arrest after breaking into the forbidden beach, winning the title of the ILL SHADOWS, the only survivors of Black Sands Shore. A reputation like that sure comes with its advantages, but when they see the girl they accidentally killed that night – alive and breathing, the circumstances turn for the worst.

Gothic is our first love! So we hope you enjoy the above titles. You never know, you may just find a classic gem among these new books. Summer doesn’t last long. Read as many as you can before the fall shadows call for something even more sinister – if that’s at all possible.


HORROR

Anyone who thought horror was reserved for Fall should read this list of new releases for the summer. Watch out summertime, something wicked this way comes!

Top of our list is Hailey Piper’s new book, Queen of Teeth (Strangehouse Press, June pre-orders for Hardcover and other releases in August and September). We were totally enthralled by her earlier book, The Worm and His Kings, which well deserved its 5-skull review and Must Read status.  Her new book promises to explore new turns in horror.  In it, the heroine goes from finding teeth between her thighs to becoming hunted by one of the most powerful corporations in America.  In addition to the vaginal teeth, her condition further generates horns and tentacles and possession by a creature with a mind of its own. 

Fans of Riley Sager can look forward to Survive the Night (Penguin Random House, June 2021). A must read summer book that has been touted by the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, The New York Post, Good Housekeeping, Thrillist, and BookRiot, just to name a few.  In it, Charlie (female) finds a ride home to Ohio on the campus ride board and accepts a lift from Josh.  As they travel an empty, twisting highway in the dead of night, Charlie begins to think that she is sharing the car with a serial killer who has been preying on her college campus.  For Charlie, there is nowhere to run and no way to call for help. 

Jen Karner’s Cinders of Yesterday (City Owl Press, June 2021) is the first book in the Legacy of Shadows series and features paranormal hunter Dani Black, who is out to revenge the murder of her partner in a paranormal hunt gone wrong.  While searching for a unique weapon capable of killing the Spectre that killed her partner, Dani encounters Emilie, who is on a quest of her own to reclaim her life and the magic that protects her from the same Spectre that Dani is hunting.

For those of you interested in story collections, you’re going to want to consider Unfortunates (Unnerving, June 2021) by Leo X. Robertson.  The stories are eclectic in nature: a sadistic blogger documents the murders of Hollywood celebrities; a journalist infiltrates a sex club for the physically impaired, finding he has more in common with them than he first assumed; a soon to be dad gets seduced by a water spirit; and a primary school teacher meets his most difficult class, yet —  a class of undead children.  In these stories, ordinary people must confront their deepest fears, ones that they have created for themselves.

For those who like translations of international writers, The Queen of the Cicadas (Flame Tree Press, June 2021) by Violet Castro, translated from the Spanish La Reina De Las Chicharras, is just for you. Set in 2018, the heroine Belinda Alvarez returns to Texas for the wedding of her best friend and must confront the urban legend, La Reina de Las Chicharras, who has also returned to the site in order to avenge a murder from the 1950s. 

Representing independently published authors is Nei Borgert’s The Morning Before Darkness (June 2021), a tale for those of you who love vampire novels. A young man during the English Civil War has spent centuries laying low and feeding off others. But as civilization develops, it becomes increasingly difficult for vampires to exist unnoticed. Seeking his place in the new world, he is soon overwhelmed with a haunting sensation—a call from a force more powerful than himself.  Summoned by the same haunting sensation, other vampires are drawn to the summoning: a former slave from Brazil; a samurai and yakuza enforcer from Japan; and an influential ex-Nazi.  Caught up in a mission that will take them to the ends of the world, humanity’s ultimate predators join together to solve a bloody and terrifying mystery—one that could lead to the enslavement or tragic end of human civilization.

Another independently published author Len Handeland with the novel The Darkest Gift (April 2021).  It is a dynamic, enthralling tale of love, jealousy, and rage wrapped up in the supernatural.  A self-loathing gay man meets an elegant yet incredibly mysterious gentleman who leads him down a nightmarish path involving paranormal experiences, vampirism and possible reincarnation.  Is this love or something much darker? The Kindle Edition will be released in late June.

Yet another independently published representative, Aron Beauregard‘s In The Hands of Heathens (May 2021) made its debut. A group of college students set out to the remote jungles of Madagascar to study a nocturnal endangered species. But things do not go quite as planned. After being saturated with supernatural folklore, an unexpected act of violence forces them to abandon their study and face an attack of chaos and terror. It promises to be a wonderful tale of trauma, paranoia, and horror.

Last but not least for the horror releases is Eddie GenerousThe Walking Son (The Seventh Terrace, May 2021). When a worksite accident leads to a dead hitchhiker with a pocket full of strange coins, the hero is drawn into the grip of a traveling curse born of old, deep wounds. The clock it ticking as the hero embarks on a road trip to uncover the history of the hitchhiker and reverse his terrifying metamorphosis before time runs out.

For fans of horror, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Traditional publishers as well as the Independents have their fingers stirring the pot that keeps all of us enthralled.  We anticipate what they are about to set on our reading platter.  Sometimes, the choices are almost too many – but we try our best to read as many as possible.


FANTASY

For those of you into witches, magic, and all things phantasmagorical, June promises to be a great month.

Look for The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin (Sourcebooks Fire, June 2021). The world is on the brink of destruction and only one witch wields the power to save it. Only, by doing so, it will cost her everything she holds dear. The book was released on June 1st and has already made THE NEW YORK TIMES best sellers list for YA titles.

Million Dollar Demon (Ace, June 2021) by Kim Harrison is #15 in the Hollows series. It’s a vampire story, featuring the new master vampire Constance of Cincinnati who wants Rachel Morgan out. No matter where Rachel goes, Constance is there causing city-wide chaos. Ever since Rachel found a way to save vampire souls, the old-school vampires want her gone.

For fans of Mercedes Lackey, you will love the first book in her new Valdemar series BEYOND (DAW, June 2021 with paperback in March 2022). Within the Eastern Empire, Duke Kordas Valdemar rules a tiny rural Duchy. Anticipating the day when the Empires militant leaders will cast their avarice eyes their way, Kordas’ father sets out to gather magicians in hopes of finding a way to protect their people. Naturally, things don’t go as planned.

For those of you interested in more modern Fantasy, check out Carrie Vaughn‘s Questland (Tor Books, June 2021). Literature professor Dr. Addie Cox is living a sheltered life in her ivory tower when Harris Lang, the famously eccentric billionaire tech genius, offers her an unusual job. He wants her to guide a mercenary strike team sent to infiltrate his island retreat off the northwest coast of the United States where Lang has built INSULA MIRABILIS, an isolated resort where tourists will one day pay big bucks for a convincing, high-tech-powered fantasy-world experience, complete with dragons, unicorns, and, yes, magic. Unfortunately, Addie is wrestling demons of her own—and not the fantastical kind. Now, she must navigate the deadly traps of Insula Mirabilis as well as her own past trauma.

With so much to choose from, readers are bound to find something they enjoy in the above list of fantastical finds.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

As the more literary genre represented, the following is sure to please the palate of any discerning reader who wants more character development while also going for one hell of a ride.

Animal (Avid Reader Press/Simon and Schuster, June 2021) by Lisa Taddeo tells the story of Joan, who has spent a lifetime enduring the cruelties of men. But when one of them commits a shocking act of violence in front of her, she flees New York City in search of Alice, the only person alive who can help her make sense of her past. In the sweltering hills above Los Angeles, Joan unravels the horrific event she witnessed as a child–that has haunted her every waking moment–while forging the power to finally strike back, evolving from prey into predator. Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.

If you like your psychological realism to be of the white-knuckle type, check out Bath Haus (Penguin Random House, June 2021) by P.J. Vernon. Oliver Park, a recovering addict, finally has everything he ever wanted: sobriety and a loving, wealthy partner. Despite their difference in age and disparate backgrounds, they’ve made a perfect life together. With everything to lose, Oliver shouldn’t be visiting a gay bathhouse. But he does. Inside, everything goes terribly wrong, and Oliver barely escapes with his life. He races home in full-blown terror as the hand-shaped bruise grows dark on his neck. The truth will destroy everything he and his partner have together, so Oliver does the thing he used to do so well: He lies. Bath Haus is a scintillating thriller with an emotional punch.

Who They Was (Harper Collins, June 2021 with paperback in April 2021) by Gabriel Krauze. This is a visceral autobiographical novel about a young man straddling two cultures: the university where he is studying English Literature and the disregarded world of London gang warfare. The unforgettable narrator of this compelling, thought-provoking debut book goes by two names in his two worlds. At the university he attends, he’s Gabriel, a seemingly ordinary, partying student learning about morality at a distance. But in his life outside the classroom, he’s Snoopz, a hard-living member of London’s gangs, well-acquainted with drugs, guns, stabbings, and robbery. Navigating these sides of himself, he is forced to come to terms with who he really is and the life he’s chosen for himself. In a distinct, lyrical urban slang all his own, author Gabriel Krauze brings to vivid life the underworld of his city and the destructive impact of toxic masculinity. 

As you can tell, we like a darker literary bent in psychological realism. And the more modern version does just that. There are some definite powerhouses here, ones that will make you think about the world around you.


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out in May/June that should have been listed? Let us know in the comments. We love to uplift amazing writers. In fact, if you drop the name of an author for us to include, we will add them to our future new release lists – which are now a MONTHLY staple of The Dark Forest. Check back at the end of July for our July/August releases.

And don’t forget to PRE-ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8, set to release on July 31. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

The Door: A Review

Rating: 💀💀💀

Alfred Hitchcock, the unequalled master of suspense, defined suspense this way:  You have five people playing cards on a train and suddenly a bomb goes off under their table – that’s surprise.  But you have the same five people playing cards and the audience knows that there is a bomb under their table and the audience can see the timer counting down – that’s suspense.

In The Door, Boris Bacic has constructed a masterful story in the best Hitchcockian tradition.  His preamble sets up Hitchcock’s ticking bomb for his readers.  There is something evil behind the door of the apartment.  In fact, there is another world back there.  We are swept along as a young woman is trapped behind the closed door and then attacked.  The readers know that.  Nathan, the new occupant of the apartment, does not. 

Nathan lives in a rat trap apartment with a do-nothing landlord who won’t even fix a broken toilet.  Looking for a new place to live, he comes across an apartment that is too good to be true.  The place is stunning and it’s well within his economic reach.  Nathan immediately jumps at the chance to rent it.

While the rental agent is checking on his credit, Nathan notices a door and tries to open it.  It won’t budge.  When the agent comes back, Nathan asks what’s behind it.  The agent doesn’t know because that door has never been opened.

We follow Nathan’s angst as he waits to find out if he has been approved and we follow his continuing battles with his landlord.  Then comes the great news.  He has been approved.  Nathan moves in as quickly as he can.

Despite the grandeur of the apartment, things don’t go right from the very beginning.  Nathan has nightmares.  He thinks he hears scratching coming from somewhere.  He tries to open the so-called storage door, but it resists his every effort.  He even hires a door-opening specialist who also can’t make a dent. 

While the door is the focal point of the story, Mr. Bacic peoples his apartment house with an assortment of characters that pleasantly flesh out his novel.  He even brings in Nathan’s close friend, Sam, making Nathan a sympathetic character.  You can’t help but like him and the people around him.  As things grow darker with the door, Nathan discovers that several of his newly made friends know more about the evil than they were willing to tell him when they first met.  When the door opens of its own accord, Nathan sets out to explore what’s behind it.  His exploration leads him down an even darker path.  But despite his own fears, he goes. 

Nathan is a heroic character.  He overcomes his personal fears to attempt to overcome and rid the world of the evil that exists behind the door.  It costs him dearly.  But that is exactly what defines a hero in the classic sense, and Mr. Bacic has created such a sympathetic protagonist. 

Had this book been presented to me as an audio file, I would have no problem giving The Door 4 or 4 ½ skulls.  It is a great story.  It contains all the darkness and horror that readers of THE DARK SIRE enjoy.  But… it wasn’t presented as an audio book.  It was presented as a print book and as such has numerous problems.  When you ask a reader to buy what you have written, you have effectively raised the bar.  You are no longer an amateur but are entering the ranks of the professional writer and as such, you have an obligation to make your book as professional as possible.  Unfortunately, that’s where The Door falls short.  It is not professional.  It is not ready for publication.  The story is ready, but the mechanics of it – unfortunately – are not.

Maybe the trouble is due to language barriers, as the author is not a native English speaker. Though I applaud his efforts and encourage him to continue writing, studying the English language a bit more would serve him well. At the moment, the author doesn’t seem to know basic conversation punctuation.  He also has trouble with when to use had and has.  And there are several places where he has chosen the wrong word, indicating that English is a definitely struggle. 

This book needs to be professionally edited for an American audience so that grammar and mechanics do not distract from the quality of the writing.  The story is too good and the characters too real for anything less.  In short, this book needs a professional presentation that mirrors its actual high-quality of the story itself.

Bottom line: If you are the kind of reader who is more interested in the story than in the presentation, by all means, buy this book – you will enjoy it tremendously.  However, if you are the type of reader who gets distracted by mistakes or insists on a professional presentation, you will quickly be disappointed and should buy with caution.

The Door is available on Amazon.com in paperback, hard cover, and ebook formats.

UPDATE: The version presented in the paperback versus ebook formats seem to use different formatting and spacing. The ebook formatting is much more reader friendly, as the paperback has spacing issues that make it hard to read.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. Of course, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use skulls (💀💀💀💀). And explanation of the skull system follows.

RATING:  💀
Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: 💀💀
Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: 💀💀💀
Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀
Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀
Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!

The Dark Sire presents The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature

New Philadelphia, OH— Tuesday, May 4, 2021 — The Dark Sire Literary Magazine (TDS) has been in search of ways to further uplift writers, poets, and artists. More than just a publish-and-done process, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Bre Stephens, wishes to do what most magazines do not: go “beyond the page.” This motto has transformed the magazine into a beacon of opportunity for creatives, and thus Stephens continually searches for ways to uplift creatives beyond the black-and-white page.

The next step in going “beyond the page” is creating an opportunity for creative writers, poets, and screenwriters to join a professional writers association by way of winning a major writing contest. Any horror writer who wins a $25 cash prize and publication from a writing contest is eligible to join the Horror Writers Association (HWA; horror.org). Although TDS already runs a small all-encompassing free contest, Stephens wanted to introduce a much bigger contest that would center on one particular genre. The first of four writing contests to be introduced is the Gothic.

After deciding on the Gothic genre, Stephens then searched for the right candidate to be the face of the contest, and by being the face would give the contest its name. “I wanted someone with the respect of his community and preferably an educator with a literary background. The ideal candidate would be able to contribute to the judging of the contest, as well, so a creative writer and/or screenwriter was a must.” According to Stephens, it was not difficult to find the right person with the right heart. “Jon Meyers embodies everything that this contest stands for: equality, inclusion, advancement of literature, the uplifting of creatives, the progression of careers. He is an educator who has the respect and loyalty of his students and colleagues and thus understands the true meaning of selfless giving and leading by example. It was icing on the cake that Jon also had a keen literary sense.” In fact, Jon Meyers not only is a screenwriter but also a US Moderator at Into the Script, UK’s foremost online screenwriting advice/writing craft hub. In addition, he is a screenwriting panelist for LitCon in New York, where he has been named the 2022 Literary Fiction Genre Manager.

The new writing contest will take Jon Meyers name, officially called The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, for short). Meyers was humbled by his selection as the face of the contest. “What an honor it is to be asked to judge at an annual literary contest named after me. I’m actually amazed we were able to work out an agreement in one day. Bre Stephens handled the entire process smoothly and professionally. It’s an interesting choice to have me judge. Gothic Lit isn’t known for its comedy, but I guess I am. I’m fairly well-known for my upbeat positive energy, not normally traits ascribed to Gothic Lit. Must be all the black I wear.” The humour Meyers touches on comes from the 18th and 19th centuries when Gothic authors crafted literary works by using aspects of the comedic fool and, in greater extent, the art of wit. It is the latter that will be emphasized in the works submitted for the Jon Meyers Gothic Prize.

The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature will officially open for submissions in September, running the whole month, with the winners announced in October – just in time for Halloween and The Dark Sire’s 2nd Anniversary celebration. Winners will be awarded a cash prize (1st place – $60, 2nd place – $25, and 3rd place $15) and publication by TDS; the top winners will be eligible for HWA membership, a step in advancing their professional writing careers. In-depth submission guidelines will be announced in August. However, writers can begin crafting their gothic tales now. The contest will accept adult short fiction (500-7k words), poetry (1-3 pages), and short scripts (5-12 pages). Works must use dark humour and Gothic storytelling devices/elements and can include monsters, creepy crawlers, werewolves, vampires, supernatural phenomenon, ghosts, and castles; witches, sci-fi, cosmic, or weird elements will not be considered at this time. Those who wish to delve deeper into what dark humour in Gothic literature is can read Amanda Drake’s 2011 dissertation for University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the brainchild for this contest: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1063&context=englishdiss

To stay informed about The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, follow @DarkSireMag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as save the TDS contests page. More information coming in August.

Reality Meets Fiction: Shadow People

by Barry Pirro

There is a paranormal phenomenon known as shadow people, and the sightings people have of them are often terrifying. Shadow people are humanoid figures that witnesses describe as looking ‘blacker than black’ or ‘totally devoid of light’. Unlike a real shadow, shadow people look solid.

While some appear to be bulky and muscular, others have been described as being incredibly thin. The creepiest sightings are those of inky black, paper-thin figures that bend around objects as they navigate their way through rooms. In all cases they are solid black, and they are often accompanied by a feeling of negativity or even evil.

The following story comes from a woman who contacted me about a shadow person she saw when she was a young girl.


            Like most people, I don’t remember many details about my early years. I don’t remember how I learned to tie my shoes, or when I first learned that blue and red paint mixed together makes purple. I don’t remember a lot of things about my childhood, but there is one thing I vividly remember. The night of my seventh birthday. What’s more, I’ve thought about it every night for the past thirty-one years.

All the kids in my class had come over for my birthday party that day, and by bedtime I was really wiped out. Sleep came quickly, and I slept soundly until around 2 AM when I awoke suddenly. At first I thought that a bad dream might have woken me up, but that wasn’t it. Something just wasn’t right. It felt like someone was in the room with me, and that they were standing there in the dark just staring at me.

My room was dim, but it wasn’t totally dark. I looked to see if my mom or dad had come in for some reason, but the only things I could see were the shadows of discarded clothes on the floor, and the pile of presents that sat on my chair. The room was deadly quiet, but the feeling that something was watching me grew by the second, and mixed with it was another feeling; whatever was watching me was bad–very, very bad.

My eyes scanned the room. The farthest corners were lost in murky shadows, but the area near my window was fairly light. Next to the window was my dresser, and next to it stood something tall and dark that at first puzzled me, then terrified me. It was a deep black shadow, blacker than the blackest black, and it was in the shape of a man. This shadow man stood in front of my dresser, and even though I couldn’t see his eyes, I could feel him continuing to stare at me. I’m telling you, this wasn’t just a child’s imagination, this was real.

My dresser had a mirror attached to it, and the shadow figure blocked both the dresser and the mirror. It was very human looking. It stood about six feet tall, and apart from the fact that it was completely black, there was nothing unusual about its appearance. It had a normal sized head, arms and legs.

The thing moved its arms ever so slightly, as if it was becoming impatient from trying to stand still. That’s when I noticed its hands and the thing it was holding–a “shadow knife” about the size of a large kitchen knife. He was holding the knife in his right hand and holding it down on his right side so that it was close to his thigh, and the tip was pointed down toward the floor. The hand that held the knife moved up and down, ever so slightly.

This pitch black figure continued to stare at me, and it seemed as if it was trying to gauge the best time to spring at me. That was one thing I wasn’t going to let it do, so I called out as loud as I could to my mother.

“Mom! Mom! Come in here quick!” I shouted. The hall light came on, and my mother rushed into the room to see what was the matter.

When she came into my room I became even more frightened because she didn’t see this figure standing there. She walked right past it as if it wasn’t there at all! The dark figure never moved, even when she walked right in front of it, which I found terribly scary at the time. Now that I’m older it makes me wonder why this thing stayed so still.

Seeing how frightened I was, my mom stayed in the room with me, and all the while she was with me I could see this black figure standing there. I never told her what I was seeing because I was so scared I couldn’t even get words out of my mouth, and I thought that if I did tell her it might attack us.

Despite how young I was I could tell that it was very negative. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, the way that it made me feel only caused me to be more afraid of it. As best I can remember, it took about an hour and a half for the shadow figure to leave. It either faded out into the air, or it ran out of the room – I can’t recall which.

Years later, I came across an article that talked about the paranormal phenomenon known as shadow people. I was amazed to read that many people have seen these things, and that they described them as looking exactly the way the man in my room looked. I didn’t read about anyone seeing these creatures holding knives, but they’ve seen them moving around rooms, and they sometimes leave by walking right into walls.

I know now that what I saw the night of my seventh birthday was a shadow person, and to this day it’s something I wish I could forget.


The shadow person the little girl saw that night was clearly trying to intimate her. The knife it held was most likely something it manifested in order to appear menacing. But why would it do this? Why try to scare a little girl? What threat could she possibly pose to this incorporeal being?

I think that this particular shadow person was there as an observer, a type of alien or interdimensional being sent to gather information for some unknown purpose. It had probably been in the girl’s house for an extended period of time, and its “mission” was to simply watch the family going about their normal routines. When it was spotted by the little girl, it borrowed a symbol from her mind that it knew she would be terrified of–a knife. It knew that she would be too frightened to tell her mother about it that night. It also knew that no one would believe her if she told them about a dark shadow man holding a knife, so it would be free to continue watching the family for as long as it needed to.

There are many theories about what shadow people may be. These include aliens, ghosts, interdimensional beings, djinn, sprites, fairies, and demons to name just a few. Whatever they are, have no fear. Shadow people are harmless. They can intimidate by sending out feelings of fear and evil, but they can’t do any physical harm. They are literally ‘no body’, and nine times out of ten they’ll literally run away when spotted.


“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article, Demon Encounters, on May 28th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have personally had a real-life encounter with Shadow People, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Non-fiction Shadow People Story). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story on Shadow People and then submit it to us online for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting The Dark Sire! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Barry Pirro

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

The Dark Sire has paired up with Barry Pirro, ghost hunter and paranormal investigator, to bring you a new series of articles, “REALITY MEETS FICTION.” Barry will be sharing his real-life paranormal stories with you every 4th Friday of the month. His first story is on Shadow People, coming this Friday, April 23. But for now, it is our pleasure to introduce you to the man behind the real-life stories, through an interview with the paranormal expert. Sit back and relax as we delve into the investigative world of the paranormal.

TDS: What attracted you to collaborate with The Dark Sire literary magazine?

Barry Pirro: I’m a paranormal investigator, so I’ve been to every type of haunted location you can imagine–private homes, historic buildings, businesses, cemeteries, outdoor locations, you name it. I’ve seen ghosts with my own eyes, seen objects move of their own accord, and I’ve recorded the voices of spirits on my digital recorders. But my experiences pale in comparison to those of the people who actually live in a haunted house. Their experiences are ongoing, and while some of them might sound downright bizarre–they’re true.
            I’m really excited to be collaborating with The Dark Sire because these stranger-than-fiction paranormal experiences that I write about are the perfect source of inspiration for horror fiction writers. Some of the best fiction is based on fact, so I’m sure that horror writers will have a field day incorporating some of the more unusual paranormal phenomena into their works.
            The Japanese, for example, believe that there are different classifications of ghosts. There is the Funayūrei, the ghosts of those who died at sea. These seabound spirits are often depicted as scaly, fish-like humanoid creatures who sometimes resemble mermaids or mermen. Or take the Zashiki-warashi, the mischievous ghosts of children. Just imagine the horror stories that a writer could build around these mysterious entities.

TDS: What does “Reality Meets Fiction” mean to you?

Barry Pirro: Reality meets fiction is obviously not a new style of writing. There are countless examples of authors who have based their main characters on real people. Oscar Wilde based the character Dorian Grey on a real person, John Grey who was a poet, translator, and priest. Truman Capote practically invented the genre of the nonfiction novel when he wrote In Cold Blood. So why should horror fiction be any different?

TDS: How do you think the real experiences you’ve encountered can inspire writers, artists, and photographers?

Barry Pirro: I’m sure that horror writers are hungry for unusual topics, and true paranormal stories can provide an almost endless source of macabre material. People have reported seeing mysterious doppelgangers, inky black shadow people, unspeakably horrific looking demons, and the ghosts of loved ones. They describe seeing floating apparitions, solid looking people who suddenly vanish into thin air, and ghosts who leave a room by walking straight into walls. My clients have reported seeing cryptid creatures skulking in the shadows of their backyards, and black apparitions with red, glowing eyes roaming the hallways of their homes. There are chilling Ouija board stories and tales of haunted objects being brought into homes that end up causing havoc. In the hands of a skilled writer, any one of these topics can be woven into a truly terrifying horror story. I can’t wait to see the horror fiction that contributors to The Dark Sire come up with after reading my true paranormal stories.

TDS: Do you think your experiences with the paranormal are effective examples of “Reality Meets Fiction?”

Barry Pirro:  My own experiences are the perfect example of reality meets fiction. The saying “you can’t make this stuff up” really applies to most of the cases I get involved in.

TDS: What can you share that could help/inspire others to be more receptive to the spiritual world around us?

Barry Pirro: Although I can sense spirits–and I often pick up very specific information while conducting an investigation, such as suddenly blurting out the name of someone who died in the house–I don’t have any special intuitive gifts. Everyone is intuitive, they just don’t know it. Anyone can be more attuned to the spirit world. The secret? Stop blocking it! If you walk into a room and you feel uneasy for no particular reason, don’t push it away. Get in touch with that feeling. Allow yourself to feel it, and allow images to come to you. Don’t consider it as just your imagination. Start to voice your impressions and see if any of them make sense.

TDS: Do you have a sense that more and more people are accepting that the spiritual world is a reality? More believers now than in the past?

Barry Pirro: There are far more believers in the supernatural than there were a decade ago, and people are more open to talking about their experiences. Even celebrities are opening up about their ghostly encounters. These include Keanu Reeves, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Hudson, and Matthew McConaughey to name just a few.


We look forward to hearing Barry’s stories unfold in explicit detail. Don’t forget, his first article on Shadow People will be right here in The Dark Sire this Friday, April 23 at 11 AM (EST). Then join us again every 4th Friday of the month for more fun-filled eeriness.

Those inspired to create gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism short stories, poems, and art should consider submitting their work to The Dark Sire for publication. Works based on the “Reality Meets Fiction” series will be given special consideration.

If you have any questions for Barry, please comment them below. But, if you want to learn more about him and his investigations, simply visit his website: ConnecticutGhostHunter.com. Until we meet again, happy hauntings!