Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

Submissions Open: The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize

The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature
(a.k.a. The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize)

This contest specifically centers on traditional Gothic stories that use dark humour. Humour, in this sense, 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 is officially open for submissions throughout September. Winners will be announced in October – just in time for Halloween and The Dark Sire’s 2nd Anniversary celebration.

CASH PRIZES:
1st place – $60
2nd place – $25
3rd place – $15

All three winners will be published in The Dark Forest, TDS’ blog.
1st and 2nd place winners will be eligible for HWA membership (horror.org).

GUIDELINES:
      adult short fiction (500-7k words)
      poetry (1-3 pages)
      short screenplays (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. (No witches, sci-fi, or cosmic/weird horror!)

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, which was the inspiration for this contest: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1063&context=englishdiss

TO ENTER:
Send your story in .doc/.docx format as an attachment to:

tdscontests@gmail.com

GOOD LUCK!

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 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.

The Art of Writing Gothic

There is a real art to writing a Gothic story.  A Gothic story is far more complex than horror or fantasy, which I have commented on in earlier blogs.  It takes more creative detail to really bring this genre alive to your reader.  You are not just trying to scare your reader; you are not just trying to immerse your reader in a unique world; you are trying to do both and then some.

Think of the great Gothic writers, especially those that THE DARK SIRE holds up as the ones to be emulated: Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley.  Consider what THEY did.  Their stories consist of moody landscapes, supernatural experiences, and an atmosphere filled with dread.  Poe was a master at creating a gloomy and decaying setting (think Fall of the House of Usher).  Mary Shelley created the ultimate in supernatural beings.  Her Frankenstein monster went beyond nature as it was known then, or now, for that matter.  Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca was set in, for its time, a modern setting, yet her Manderley is as Gothic a setting as you could find this side of Dracula’s castle.

Therefore, when you are planning your Gothic story, you have to consider a gloomy setting; supernatural (strange) beings; curses/prophecies, which include omens, portents and visions; intense emotions; someone in distress; and heroes (the one who solves the mystery or survives the doom).  When you think about it, Gothic, as a genre, merges many elements of Horror.  And because of this, you have to be careful not to fall into horror cliché (e.g., starting a Gothic story with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, or trying to shock readers into being scared). Instead, think about the true meaning of Gothic literature, which has always been about the psychological and mindset of the characters. A good example of this would be Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, Fall of the House of Usher, and The Raven – even Hop Frog. Poe used emotion, psychology, and mood to create his creepy and eerie stories and poems.

Your first step should be to create an eerie atmosphere.  Castle; mansion; old, seemingly haunted house; abandoned theme park… some place that is eerie but not necessarily “spooky”.  There is a fine line between eerie (gloomy, doom) and spooky (scary, shocking).  Someplace too spooky and you have a Horror setting, which you don’t want. That’s why an old graveyard or abandoned building is very Gothic; they are eerie and a little intimidating, giving you chills, but they are making your run in fear. Fear is horror, not Gothic.  Thus, the setting is important because your characters will be forced to react to it. And they can react to it in numerous ways.  They can react to its history.  They can react to its current condition.  They can react to a foreseeable condition.  The mood (e.g., eeriness, creepiness, chilling) of the environment will then dictate how your characters react. 

Your characters are as important as your setting.  Gothic fiction frequently features specific types of characters reacting to the situations in which they have been placed.  You have your hero or anti-hero; hopefully someone that your readers will like.  Then you have your villain.  Think of your villain as the Pied Piper of your story.  He/she/or it is the creature that leads your hero/heroine down their particular dark path.  You can also have a person or thing that needs “saving” (in this case, meaning helped or aided).  Your hero may need to save themselves or their loved one; maybe, they have to save a ghost, a cat, the condemned – their own sanity. And, the saving doesn’t always have to be appreciated.  Maybe the one in distress did not want to be saved.  The action between the hero and the person being saved is the catalyst that allows your reader to feel the pity, sadness, fear and joy of your story.

As a writer of Gothic fiction, you must maintain an atmosphere of gloom, suspense and even terror throughout your story.  This is why writing a good Gothic story is an art.  You have to be a literary juggler within the conventions that define the Gothic.  There is a certain sentimentality in the narration.  Characters are overcome by anger, surprise, and panic, having to cope with raw nerves.   

With that said, be sure not to use the standard clichés of the Gothic.  You will have to think of new ways to describe the howling wind; the blowing rain; doors grating on rusty hinges; sighs, moans, and other eerie sounds.  Gothic is defined by a dark atmosphere that stimulates a reader’s anxiety over the danger in which you have placed your characters, so think of some unique ways – your own ways – to bring that dread to life.


Want to have some fun?  Try this:  Create a Gothic setting (1 paragraph).
Choose a location. It can be a house, castle, whatever. Then, think about what that location looks like, feels like, taking the feel of the location into high consideration. Create the atmosphere into which you will introduce your characters.  Now, brainstorm that feeling by using some adjectives – a list of words is just fine (black, chilly, cold, broken, wet, sweltering). Remember: You are trying to create something mysterious and claustrophobic.  Fill the setting with gloom, mystery and doom.
Choose a time period. What time is it during the story, or what year is it?  Is this a modern location – or not?  Your setting is not just a “backdrop” in which your characters will act.  The setting is a character in and of itself; it influences the characters, actions and thoughts of the story.  Use time as an element to help create the mood of your setting. Now, brainstorm what time of day or year it would be in your story – and add notes as to why and how it would help make the story work. For instance, 12 noon would feel different than, say, 12 midnight; likewise, April 22, 1892 would feel different than October 31, 2001. Adding how time can be used in the story will help you shape the world and mood that your characters reside.
Write a paragraph about your setting. Now that you have brainstormed, collect your thoughts and write one cohesive paragraph about your setting. Where are you? What do your characters see, feel? When are we? What does the time/year look like in this setting. Your paragraph should be concise and flowing, with wonderful imagery so that the reader can imagine it on their own, like viewing a picture. Remember: No cliches. Be original, unique, and yourself.


When you are satisfied, share your setting with us in the comments below.  We would love to read about the setting of your next Gothic piece. And, if you turn your setting into a full short story, poem, piece of art, screenplay, or novella, don’t forget to submit it to us by visiting darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

Do you want more blogs on Gothic writing?
Let us know: darksiremag@gmail.com.

The Creative Nook with Villimey Mist

by Zachary Shiffman

Vampires prowl the night in the Nocturnal series by Villimey Mist; fearsome and glitter-free, just how Bram Stoker envisioned and how we at THE DARK SIRE enjoy them. When I read the first book of the series, Nocturnal Blood, I fell into its world of deadly sharp teeth and complex character dynamics, and I wanted to speak to its author as soon as possible. Enter: The Creative Nook on YouTube with myself and author Villimey Mist!

We began by talking of Mist’s series and her ambitions for it. Mist admitted that it didn’t begin as a series. Nocturnal Blood was supposed to be a standalone novel, but sometimes stories and the worlds within them don’t die easily. There are currently three installments of the Nocturnal series: Nocturnal Blood, Nocturnal Farm, and Nocturnal Salvation, with more to come. We also discussed the intentional absence of romance in the Nocturnal series and how that relates to Dracula, the patriarch of vampiric and gothic texts, as well as the series’ portrayal of mental illness through its protagonist, Leia Walker.

We moved on to discuss Mist’s writing process (which includes a lot of notebooks), as well as her other projects, one of which includes the short story, “The Banquet,” with proceeds from the sale of which go to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

If you have any interest in vampires and gothic literature, which – if you’re a reader of THE DARK SIRE – is likely to be the case, this interview with Villimey Mist is a must-watch!

https://youtu.be/uxiLJw6G5io

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. 

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.

Making Vampires Scary Again

Vampires are no longer scary.  In last week’s blog, I traced the path that has led us down this unforgivable (to a horror fanatic) chain of tales to the situation now where a vampire is merely another angst-ridden young adult feeling marginalized by the society around them.  The Cullens (Twilight Saga) are almost the kind of people you would like to have dinner with (as long as you are not the main course).  You feel sorry for Gary Oldman’s Dracula because he is doing everything for LOVE.  Vampires seem to be only dangerous to other vampires.  The Originals was nothing more than a vampire version of Dynasty.

What would it take to make vampires scary, again?  Well, first of all, they would have to lose the “good-guy” image.  From ancient Mesopotamia 6000 years ago, until relatively recently, vampires were monsters.  They were the top of the food chain and humans were their prey.  We need to make vampires monsters again.

Granted, this poses a problem.  It’s going to call for a new mindset, or, rather, a mindset that returns to values held by previous generations.  It calls for a delineation between good and evil, a realization that some things are black and white with no shades of gray.  Evil in any form cannot be explained away.  You need to FEAR evil.  Vampires were once the epitome of evil.  They killed without remorse then desecrated the dead by having imbibed the blood of their victims.  They were a power that the average person could not overcome.  You needed specialized knowledge and specialized weapons to stop the vampire dead in its tracks.  (Pun intended.)

But above all, vampires need to recapture the unpleasant emotions linked to danger: pain and extreme harm.  The people in the stories need to be running away from the vampire and not running to it.  Some of those people will have to die and die horribly in order to get the point across of just how evil a vampire is.  And that will make your vampire hunters all the more heroic, because with a totally evil vampire comes a true definition of heroism (another concept we are short on, in this day and age.)

The hero is as much a folkloric character as is the vampire; in a sense, you can’t have one without the other.  He or she is the person who steps in the gap to fight a battle that they have no chance of winning in order to protect people that they sometimes don’t even know.  They recognize that it is their duty, their calling, their fate, if you will, to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.  I am not talking about some screaming virgin tossed into a volcano to appease an angry god, or a young maiden tied to a stake to be eaten by a dragon or scooped up by the likes of King Kong.  I am talking about someone who walks towards the danger knowing that they might not be walking back. 

A scary vampire story is metaphor for good vs. evil.  Once upon a time, we believed in Evil.  Various religions even gave it a name.  We even celebrate a holiday (Halloween) which began as festival to keep evil at bay.  Now, it’s just a night for children to get candy and dress up.  We have forgotten that people were scared in real life and wanted relief from the horrors of world events.  Horror, then, is an escape from reality.  But what scares us now? 

To make a vampire scary again, an author needs to discover what scares us today, and embody that in the vampire character.  The author needs to make the reader sitting at a table at their favorite coffee shop look over their shoulder and wonder about the person sitting behind them.  Is it safe to leave your table?  Is it safe to walk to your car?  Do you need to look into the backseat before you get in, even though you know it’s empty (or supposed to be)?

With all the social issues of the 21st-Century, it would be easy to play on real-life horror to embody a vampire’s evil nature.  Vampires have, after all, been used as metaphor for drug addiction and substance abuse, physical trauma, the outsider, immigration laws and policies, and so much more. Why not use the vampire to reflect our present-day issues, like human trafficking, opioid addiction, the pandemic, governmental greed, immigration, racism, women empowerment, the dysfunctional family unit, religion or lack of religion, and tolerance? Any one of these topics is a sensitive topic in today’s society, and thus important to us – global humans. By embodying the vampire with the evil traits of these devastating issues, we can reflect society, use vampire as metaphor, and fill the vampire with dread once again, the evil necessary to make vampires scary again.

For anyone interested in writing scary vampire stories, focus on the thought that vampires need to recapture the feeling of dread. Dread: to anticipate with great apprehension or fear.  When you really dread something, you get weak at the knees and there is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You do not want to confront or have anything to do with what is making you feel that way.  At its very essence, dread makes you want to flee, and as quickly as possible.  Your characters are going to have to dread the presence of the vampire.  Even the people hunting it are going to have to overcome their basic primal fears of being eaten alive just to go up against one. And the most dreadful fact of all is that some won’t survive.

So, what is going to be the new evil?  Here in The Dark Forest, we would love to know.  What do you think needs to happen for vampires to regain their horror and fear factor?  Do you have a favorite vampire character that still gives you chills or goosebumps?  Share your thoughts in the comments below to let your voice be heard. We’re listening!


A challenge to writers, poets, and artists: THE DARK SIRE is looking for vampire tales that bring back the scary vampire. Submit your evilest vampire short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays for inclusion in Issue 9 – our 2nd year anniversary issue! Simply visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html. Together, we can strike fear in our readers, one page at a time.

When Did Vampires Become Cool?

The other night I was watching one of my favorite TV shows, LEGACIES.  There was one particularly touching scene that got to me.  It was a proverbial “Aaawww” moment.  MG, a good-natured vampire, wipes the memory of his one true, human friend in order to keep him safe.  It was a true act of ultimate friendship because MG desperately wants a friend.  And in the middle of this sweet scene, I began to wonder: Why isn’t he tearing this kid’s throat out?  He’s a vampire, for goodness sake.  He needs the blood and with the kid dead, his secret is safe.  And then I realized, none of the witches, vampires, werewolves and assortment of “other worldly” characters in this story are particularly threatening to non-other worldly creatures.  But monsters, beware!

When did it become okay to be a vampire?  When did it become okay to give up your humanity, die, and accept the role of blood-sucking, night-dweller who supposedly preys on the living?  I’m old-school.  When you watch the re-runs of horror movies on Svengoollie or whatever your Saturday night monster fest show is called, you have to understand, I saw these at a first run theater as a kid.  The Hammer productions starring Christopher Lee (Dracula) and Peter Cushing (Van Helsing) were the perfect duo to justify your cuddling with your girlfriend in the back seat at the drive-in.  (Google: Hammer films.) 

Dracula was the bad guy.  Van Helsing always killed him before the closing credits ran.  Then, in the next movie, some servant of the dark lord would always resurrect him, and the chase was on again.  Then you had Count Yorga, and he was guaranteed to have your girlfriend screaming to get into your arms.  The hero would go in to stake the Count and, suddenly, the Count was behind him and the tables were turned.  Count Yorga never had to be resurrected because he always won.

Ah, the good old days.  For decades, Dracula by Bram Stoker dominated the genre.  In fact, it was the genre.  It was published in 1897 and virtually dominated the vampire market until 1954.  There were authors who tried their hand at vampire literature, but they are merely footnotes in literary history.  None were able to capture the imagination like the original Count.

In 1954, Richard Matheson published I Am Legend, which took the vampire into the post-apocalyptic age and crossed into the science fiction genre.  But that said, vampires were still the bad guys.  The novel was successfully adapted into several films: The Last Man On Earth starring Vincent Price (1964), The Omega Man starring Charleton Heston (1971), and I AM Legend starring Will Smith (2007). 

Some people credit Steven King’s Salem’s Lot (1975) for ushering in the modern wave of vampires.  However, his vampires were still evil and needed destroyed.  It wasn’t until the following year that the vampire rose from the ashes anew.  Anne Rice took the literary community by storm with Interview With The Vampire (1976).  She gave us a wondrously villainous vampire in the character of Lestat, and the vampire with scruples, morals, and, dare I say, a heart with Louis (played by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively, in the 1994 movie.)  Then, in 1978, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro published her first Count of Saint-Germain novel.  In it, she combined historical fiction, romance, and horror all centering around a cultured, well-traveled, articulate, elegant, and mysterious vampire.  Between Rice and Yarbro, the transition to break away from the traditional vampire clichés and create a totally new vampire character was underway.

The split could be seen in the next couple of movies and TV shows. I remembered the 1983 movie The Hunger, based on the book of the same title by Whitley Strieber, starring Catherine Deneuve (Mariam), David Bowie (John), and Susan Sarandon (Sarah).  Although John and Mariam were both vampires, it was John who becomes the monster when he kills a child in hopes that her young blood would stop the degenerative process that his ancient body was undergoing.  Not much after John’s death, Mariam turns her sights toward seducing Sarah. Though innocent compared to John, Mariam still wasn’t a good guy, per se, though love was a theme throughout the movie. And let’s not forget Forever Knight, the 1992 TV series about an 800-year-old vampire, Nick Knight, who lived as a detective and lamented his immortality.  In fact, Knight was trying to break the curse of being a vampire through blood letting and transfusions.  Though he couldn’t allow himself to forget he was a monster, he tried to correct the wrongs of his life but aiding humans and protecting them from other monsters (human and otherworldly).  Of course that leads us to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), where loving a vampire, though a faux pas, was realized.  The relationship between Buffy and Angel showed a new side to the lamenting, emotional, witty vampire – one that had a loving heart and whom was not as scary as he first seemed. 

The vampire was surely on a path of change, and that change led us to the next transition. Once you felt sorry for Pitt’s Louis, felt intrigued by Saint-Germain, felt vindicated by Knight, and felt empathy for Buffy, the flood gates opened for the romantic and thus Stephenie Myer to pen The Twilight Saga (2005).  If Rice’s and Yarbro’s work gave us the groundwork for good guy vampires versus bad guy vampires – all fighting for dominance, then Meyer’s grabbed a page from Buffy and ran with it to create the all-new romantic vampire being that dripped with teenage angst.  Old vampires passed for young teenagers, lived among humans, and even had romantic relationships with them.  Now, vampires were sexy creatures that humans wanted to be with, not fear, and the humans weren’t very remorseful or shy about their love. 

Fear of the monstrous vampire had been waning before Meyer, but her work was the final straw for irradicating the vampire fiend.  At present, vampires are known for their beautiful/handsome appearance, their human emotions, their strength – both physically and psychologically, and their romantic relationships with humans.  They are your friend, your family, your lover.  They aren’t feared or scary; they are the cool people that everyone wants to be like.  For some of the younger generation today, “it’s hard to be afraid of a vampire who sparkles” because “vampires are dangerous.”  And that’s the problem.

Contemporary vampires are mostly portrayed as romantic, anti-heroes caught in the tragic web of their existence.  And when you look at vampires in this light, there is no other way to view vampires than as watered-down fabrications of what they once were.  Though evolution and progression are good things in general, it hurt the vampire genre a great deal, with the oversaturation of vampire romance fiction an indication that a new transition is way overdue.  So, what will the new vampire look like, feel like, behave like?  Only time will tell.  But I, for one, hope for a return of the fiendish monster who scares viewers at every turn.


What do you think?  Are you ready for another evolution?  Should vampires be scary again?  Or is the romantic vampire still wanted?  Share your ideas in the comments.  And as always, you can read non-romance vampire stories in THE DARK SIRE by purchasing an issue in the TDS Store. Better yet – submit your vampire stories! We’d love to read your work.

Creative Nook with Samuel Marzioli

by Zachary Shiffman

As his blog declares, Samuel Marzioli is a “writer of dark fantasy and horror.” Considering the type of works we publish and massively enjoy at THE DARK SIRE, I knew right away I had to get a better look at this author from the West Coast. That led to my reading of Hollow Skulls and Other Stories, Marzioli’s anthology published by Journalstone, and it only took a couple of stories from that collection for me to know that we needed to invite Marzioli into the Creative Nook for an interview.

Marzioli and I spoke first of his anthology: its origin, its compilation, finding a home for it in Journalstone, and its ultimate publication in January 2021. Then we discussed the Filipino influence present in one of its stories, Multo, which concerns a man reflecting on his childhood encounters with a multo (Tagalog, meaning ghost). It is a story that will linger with you after you finish it, because of its careful and engrossing prose which casts an ominous, yet somewhat nostalgic, tone over the characters. Multos, among other figures and creatures of Filipino folklore, are topics of interest to Marzioli, and he hopes to write more on them in the future.

We went on to discuss Marzioli’s writing style and how he balances the good with the bad, the light with the dark, and the horrific with the hopeful. Marzioli also offered advice for writers frozen in their creative tracks, as well as a book recommendation to take with you after the interview.

Overall, it was an intriguing conversation, one that we at THE DARK SIRE sincerely thank Samuel Marzioli for engaging in and encourage you, our readers, to watch it in full on the Dark Sire’s YouTube channel!

https://youtu.be/bL-kGX_WPLk

Writing Short Fiction Horror

So you’ve just put down THE DARK SIRE Issue 7, and you were enthralled by David Gibbs’ story Devil’s Acre or Kolby Diaz’s Rattling or one of the trilogy poems by S. M. Cook, and now you are inspired to write a horror story of your own.  Good for you.  TDS is behind you 100%.  It is our fervent hope that our stories not only entertain you but that they will also inspire you to try your creative hand.

But where do you begin?  Horror is a unique genre.  It is one that inspires intense feelings of fear, shock, or disgust.  But not everyone is afraid of the same thing, or shocked by the same thing, or feels disgust by the same thing.  In other words, it is not a genre that appeals to everyone.  However, that said, there are primal fears that are fundamental to the human animal, as a whole.  As a writer, you have to search yourself to discover what basic fears you and your contemporaries have and use those phobias as the basis for your horror story.

Take Edgar Allen Poe, for example.  Written over a century ago, his stories retain their power to haunt us because he played on the fundamental fear of people not being what they seem.  Shirley Jackson, in The Haunting of Hill House, builds on Poe’s fear about people not being what they seem by adding a house that seems to have a malevolent intent for those lured inside it.  In Pet Sematary, Stephen King capitalizes on the simple concept of a place where buried things come back to life… sort of.  In Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury rides the carousel of peoples’ fear of losing the natural order of their lives.

Written in different centuries by authors who were incredibly different from each other, these stories all have several things in common that make them great horror stories:  They all have innocent characters with whom the readers can identify while operating on the premise that bad things happen to good people.  Each story preys on what the author feels to be their readers’ common phobias.  There is something sinister about each fear, and those authors take full advantage of that.

Steps to writing a good horror short story:

1.  When writing horror, first start with setting, taking specific care to create a solid, believable location. Ernest Hemingway once said that if an author can get his readers to believe in the place in which the story occurs, they will then believe everything that happens in that location.  This is completely true with horror.  Location, location, location. Sell the location to your readers and they will shiver at whatever terror you unveil, be it psychological fear, gross-out horror, or bone-chilling dread. Establishing the location at the beginning is key, of course, but does not mean just stating the location (e.g., New York City; Hyde Park, 1969; a dark basement). More importantly, use descriptive language to paint a picture for the mind’s eye of the reader. Just enough information will let the reader create a vivid image of the location on their own. Guide your reader through well-crafted suggestions (i.e., smell of flowers, a chill of wet dirt pressing down… could all indicate being buried alive when crafted correctly). Location can be sprinkled in throughout the story with location markers such as these that enhance the story’s premise. Location, then, becomes an integral part of the story and thus works with the unfolding of the narrative. When your readers feel like they are inside the setting and experience the location for themselves, they will feel the terror first-hand.

2.  Make your protagonist’s stakes high.  Will your story be one of life or death for the hero?  For the hero’s loved one?  For the hero’s town?  The higher the stakes, the more evil the villain needs to be; keep the two forces balanced so you don’t have a weak or over-inflated villain.  A good horror story is all about the characters: the hero trying to achieve a goal and the villain trying to thwart the hero’s plan. And remember, the villain doesn’t need to be a person, but can be weather, insanity, animal, self, disease, or monster. So how does the villain conflict with the hero and why is there conflict to begin with? How will the conflict create tension in the story? And finally, how will the protagonist overcome the antagonist while the stakes remain at their fullest intensity?

3.  Avoid cliché.  As the author, you need to balance reality with whatever is going bump in the night in your story.  The hardest thing you will probably come across is coming up with a new angle for your horror story and avoiding trite rehashing of stories that have already been told.  Old stories can be told with new twists.  It’s your job as an author to create them.  With editors reading hundreds of submissions per month, they see a plethora of stories that use the same cliches repeatedly, to the extent of boredom. How many times must editor’s read a character falling when running away or a character being knocked unconscious only to wake up tied and oblivious to their new location? These are cliches that writers should avoid. Instead, think outside the box and ask yourself what you can do to change things up. How can your character react differently? How can they turn the tables? How else can you switch the scene? What other scenarios, actions, dialogue or settings can be created to turn the normal, boring, overused cliché on its ear? The answer is easier said than done: Do the opposite.  By doing the opposite of what is expected, you break the cliché and thus write “in the new.” If you can do that, you’ll get the right kind of attention from readers – and editors.

4.  Point of view.  Who is telling the story?  Choosing the right point of view for your story allows the reader to get into the mindset of what you are trying to achieve.  If you want your reader to be an observer and shocked by the things that are happening, you might choose the third person omniscient point of view.  As a writer, the third person omniscient point of view allows you to enter the minds of all your characters to reveal what they are thinking, their motivations, their hopes and fears… of both your heroes and your villains. Don’t want your narrator to know all? Simply use third person limited, which means that the narrator only knows what has already been experienced – not all.  Or, you could tell the story through the eyes of just one of your characters, through the first person point of view.  If you use first person, you can only reveal what that particular character is thinking and feeling – a personal account.  For instance, a story told through the eyes of the victim can only express the victim’s hopes and fears triggered by what the villain is doing, though it could be totally opposite to the villain’s real intentions, which would have to be revealed through some kind of communication.  First persona and third person limited point of view are limited in nature because they can only reveal what the narrator has experienced or is experiencing; yet, the third person omniscient is unlimited due to the narrator knowing all. Though the omniscient point of view allows the author to express what ALL the characters are experiencing and whether or not they are aware of how everyone else in the story is reacting, it’s not always the best to choose. So which point of view should you use? Think of the characters you’ve created and the story you want to tell. Then consider what the reader needs to know. A story that is written in first person will be a close account story, personal, and great for a bird’s eye view of the main character’s thoughts, feelings, moods, and action. If a more distanced approach is needed, then try third person. The best advice, however, is to try them all to see which one feels better when read aloud.

5. To Twist or not to twist.  The trick with a plot twist is to avoid the cliché. You know, the person you thought was dead isn’t; the monster isn’t a monster at all; the victim is really the killer.  All of these were great plot twists WHEN THEY WERE FIRST USED.  But now they have been used ad nauseum.  To recreate the old into something new, you must think outside the box – again. What isn’t expected that can happen? What hasn’t been done a million times? A correctly written plot twist, especially at the end, is awe-inspiring and hits your reader in the chest. It’s what keeps the story fresh in the reader’s mind long after they have finished the story. But then again, maybe your story doesn’t need a twist.  Maybe your story flows well to an expected and anticipated feel-good conclusion.  Readers love when they know more than the characters and see the hero’s plans falling into place. A twist isn’t always needed to fulfill a reader’s thirst because we all cheer when the hero overcomes all the insurmountable odds the villain has placed in his or her path and succeeds in fulfilling the quest nonetheless.  Whichever you choose, be sure to end with an impact on the reader. There’s nothing worse then a weak ending that will disappoint the reader’s expectation. Remember: The best stories are the ones that leave a lasting impression.

6. Storytelling technique.  A horror story is still just that… a story.  Never forget that.  The drama, the horror, the darkness are all part of the story, so don’t let them overpower your characters’ wants and needs.  Your readers should feel empathy for your characters to give them a reason to continue the reading journey.  It is your job, then, to balance the drama and the horror with realism, suspense, and belief to guarantee that your readers remain engaged and entertained to the very end. This means that story takes precedence. Don’t get caught up in so much exposition that the story stalls – or worse yet, stops. Instead, keep the story in mind at all times and KEEP IT MOVING.

So now all you have to do is write… right?  Believe me when I say that it’s easier said than done.  But if there is a story in you, let it come out.  Don’t be afraid to sit at the keyboard and type away or pick up that old fashioned pen or pencil and scratch away until your fingers get sore.  No one (especially those of us here as THE DARK SIRE) ever said that writing was easy.  It isn’t.  It’s work.  But it can be very rewarding work.  Every author puts their heart and soul into the things they write.  That might sound like a cliché, but it’s true and more than just metaphor.  Your heart beats at around 72 beats per minute.  It might take you hours, days, or even weeks to write a good story and get it ready to send out to a magazine.  How many times has your heart beaten during that process?  Those aren’t just words on a page.  They are the embodiment of your heart beats.  We know – because we’ve been there ourselves.  So get to work, and write your hearts out!


Practicing the six tips above will help you master short fiction horror writing. Here are a couple of application prompts to get you thinking outside the box.

Prompt 1:  A secondary character is running away from the villain.  Brainstorm at least three ways that the character gets away without the stereotypical run and fall and scream method.

Prompt 2:  Write 2-3 paragraphs in a haunted house, where someone is haunted without using a ghost/spirit/or some kind of otherworldly being.

Prompt 3:  Brainstorm 3 ways to invoke terror/horror in someone who is confronted with a common, everyday object. 

Prompt 4:  Using dialog only, convey one person’s horror of something to another person.  Make the second person as terrorized as the first.

Prompt 5:  Write 2-3 paragraphs of a scene with the main character in first person point of view. Then, rewrite the exact same scene in third person limited point of view. Now, rewrite the scene again but in third person omniscient. Read each aloud to see the difference in feeling, mood, and tone.  Which point of view is best for your next story?

Let’s build a supportive writing community.
Share your brainstorming and paragraph work in a comment.


When you have a horror short story ready for publication, we want to read it!
Read our submission guidelines and then submit your work via our website.

Reality Meets Fiction: A Demon in Upstate New York

by Barry Pirro

Of all the paranormal cases I’ve been involved with, the following is one of the most disturbing; not only because of the bizarre and frightening nature of the activity reported, but because I discovered that this was not a haunting–this was a demonic infestation. 

Demonic infestation often begins with the typical innocuous haunted house stuff, such as the sounds of mysterious footsteps and disembodied voices, the sighting of ethereal figures, and the movement of small objects. But unlike a haunting, the activity doesn’t end there. It quickly escalates and transitions into physical and mental attacks; bizarre and grotesque hallucinations; the smell of rotting flesh; cuts, bruises and burn marks on the skin; horrific nightmares and sleep paralysis; severe illness; and suicidal thoughts. And, once a demon enters your life, it is very, very difficult to get rid of.


When Claire and her sister Linda moved into their charming two bedroom apartment in Upstate, New York, it seemed like the perfect place. The apartment complex was quiet and meticulously cared for, and the property had a sweeping lawn that overlooked a small river. But a few months later, out of the blue, all hell broke loose in the sisters’ apartment. 

It started when Claire woke up one night with a feeling that something just wasn’t right. She looked over at her window and was gripped with fear as she saw thick red blood dripping from the shades. Claire stared in amazement at the horrifying sight, then watched it slowly fade away. The vision left her terrified and confused, and she spent the rest of the night trying to figure what she had just experienced. Coincidentally, Linda woke up one night to see her sister Claire slumped over in a chair in the corner of the room. Claire’s lifeless body was riddled with gunshot wounds which soaked her nightgown with blood that ran into puddles on the floor. Linda was terrified because the vision was so real, but after a while it dissipated, then vanished.

Later on that week, Claire and Linda were regularly woken out of their sleep where they would see strange, grotesque objects floating in the room, including knives and axes covered in blood. They would never witness these things together but, in the morning, they would compare notes and were shocked to discover that both were having the exact same experiences. 

A few weeks later the demon finally decided to show itself. It first appeared as a hooded figure dressed entirely in black. The demon came to them in their dreams, and when they woke it would be standing next to their bed, close enough for them to touch it. In another appearance, it showed itself as a monstrous looking creature with a large trunk that seemed to be a conglomeration of a number of different types of animals. And yet another time, it showed itself as a ghoulish looking little creature with rows and rows of fangs in its mouth. The demon kept shifting its appearance, sometimes even taking the shape of a huge spider-like shadow that would crawl up the wall and slowly melt into it. 

The scenes of horror, and the visitations by the hooded man and the grotesque animal creatures, continued nightly for over a year, wearing down the sisters and affecting their health. The demon’s activity increased to the point where it began to enter their bodies when they were sleeping. Both sisters would wake to a feeling of being held down in a state of paralysis; they would have to fight the demon to get out of its hold before they could open their eyes.

The women called in a Catholic priest to bless the apartment, but it didn’t do any good. In fact, the activity increased. Attempts to use holy water and prayers seemed to make the demon retaliate, as it would litter their dreams with images of unspeakable sexual acts between animals and demonic looking creatures.


The reason that a simple blessing didn’t work is that getting rid of a demon requires a priest conducting the rite of exorcism multiple times, and it can take over a year for it to be successful. Knowing this, I contacted the Archdiocese of New York to find out if an exorcist could intervene, but their only advice was to have the women contact a local priest. Since that had already been tried, I decided to contact a demonologist. Although this person was not a priest, he had a reputation of being able to help people who were afflicted with demonic infestation, so the sisters agreed to work with him.

The demonologist came to the house and tried to banish the demon with prayer. During a reading from the bible, the demon actually showed itself to all who were present by flying above them, then disappearing into the wall. In the end, the demonologist’s prayers and rituals didn’t work and the sisters moved from their home, hoping that the demon wouldn’t follow them–but it did. 

Today, six years later, the women are still plagued by the demonic entity that entered their lives for no apparent reason. They hope that someday the church will grant them permission to be exorcised of the demon.

Although religious leaders warn that playing with Ouija boards, attending seances, conjuring spirits, or even getting an innocent Tarot card reading is enough to cause a demon to enter your life, we don’t really know why demonic infestation happens. I’ve conducted three demonic investigations in my life, and in all three cases none of the people involved have admitted to being involved in activities that might account for the demonic presence that entered their lives. In his book, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans Possession, Father Malichai Martin warns, “Possession is not—nor was it ever—some tale of dark fancy featuring ogres and happy endings. Possession is real; and real prices are paid.” Unlike fiction, real life stories are by their very nature open-ended, and life isn’t always fair. Every day, people develop catastrophic illnesses or get into accidents that change their lives forever. In the case of those afflicted with demonic infestation, some are freed from their plight and go on to live perfectly normal, happy lives, while others fight for years to be freed of their living nightmare. For Clair and Linda, the nightmare continues.


“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 June 25th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have personally had a real-life encounter with demonic infestations, 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 Demonic Infestation 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 Demonic Infestation 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 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!

Issue 7: Spring is in the Air

THE DARK SIRE Issue 7 is hot off the press with cutting-edge stories and poems in gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism. They run the gamut of subgenres from Edgar Allen Poe-like period pieces to modern-day nail-biters. And let’s not forget our artists; their eerie and sometimes provocative renderings will guarantee a second look.

David Gibbs’ DEVIL’S ACRE leads the fiction of this new issue. This story provides a touch of the paranormal and questions reality to keep the reader guessing. Mr. Gibbs’ is a former winner of Fiction Magazine’s Story of the Year award, with work appearing in dozens of magazines.

Christopher Hall’s THE TIDE could easily have come from the pen of Edgar Allen Poe. The tale of horror has a touch of gothic nuances while endeavoring to discern the true nature of what’s evil.

RATTLING by Kolby Diaz is a wonderful flash horror story in which the hunter learns how his prey must feel. Mr. Diaz is a published author with stories in the magazines Thriller, Grotesque, and Sanitarium.

HENRY JEKYLL, PM by Sean Fallon takes us back to the mid-1880s and provides a new twist on the Jekyll/Hyde story that would have made Robert Louis Stevenson proud. Mr. Fallon is a UK ex-patriot living in Australia where he is currently working on his first novel.

THE APARTMENT ON WINTERVIEW AVENUE by Amy Elise Lyon rounds out our fiction offerings with an eerie taste of psychological realism. What’s real – what’s not? And do memories make it more so? The story leads the reader down a twisted path to the subconscious.

If you like psychological realism, you will love TDS‘s first poetic offering of Issue 7. MIRROR by Reagan Volk is a poem that explores the difference between thoughts and nightmares… and turning into the person you fear the most. Ms. Volk is a sophomore in high school whose work seems to flow from her pen without resistance.

In case you’d be interested in more gothic poetry, SATIS HOUSE by Joanie Elian explores the concept of a sentient house that seeks justice. Originally from the UK, Ms. Elian now lives just outside of Tel Aviv, close to her five children and seven grandchildren.

To continue the gothic tone, SCORCHED BY THE RAIN, BURIED BY THE FLAMES, and SIRED BY THE DARK by S. M. Cook is a trilogy of poems that tells a continuous story of the damned and depraved. Ms. Cook is a reader favorite and the award-winning author of KYUUKETSUKI, a serialization that ran from Issue 1 through Issue 6.

Issue 7 doesn’t stop there! In fact, it also contains two vampire-based serializations.

THE LAST SUMMER by Frances Tate finishes the tale of a Tutor vampire who discovers the glamour of vampirism isn’t the fix-all he’d hoped it would be. From the UK, Ms. Tate’s work has been published in the magazine for the last year.

In VAMPYRE PALADIN by Brenda Stephens, readers come to the end of Chapter 3 to witness the doctor’s confrontations with his own past fears and demons. Ms. Stephens’ work has been an addition over the last 7 issues.

And that’s still not all! The works of Shaun Power and Jennifer Macintyre are guaranteed to make you look twice and fire up your imagination.

On the cover of Issue 7 (above) is Jennifer Macintyre’s SOLITUDE, a 26″x16″ oil painting on canvas. Ms. Macintyre is a self-taught artist whose early years in Scotland influenced her interest in dramatic landscapes and the contrast of light and dark.

As always, Shaun Power’s artwork graces the pages of this issue, with three new works presented. Mr. Power hails from the UK and uses pastels as his chosen medium.

TDS Issue 7 is packed full of content for any discerning reader who loves the gothic, the surreal, and the macabre. You’re not going to want to miss it!

* * *

Get your copy of Issue 7 today!
Digital copies are available on the TDS website.
For paperbacks, contact The Bibliophile – your new home for all things TDS!


And remember: We always like to hear from our readers. So be sure to let us know your favorite stories, poems, artwork, and serializations. Simply email us at: darksiremag@gmail.com.

Enjoy Issue 7!

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!