Tag Archives: Horrorcommunity

Associate Literary Agent: Bre Stephens

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

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

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

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

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

May and June New Release Books

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

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

GOTHIC

Gothic never looked so good in June!

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

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

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

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


HORROR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FANTASY

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

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

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

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

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

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


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reality Meets Fiction: Premature Burials

by Barry Pirro

In his short story The Premature Burial, Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction. To be buried alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.”

In Poe’s day, fear of being buried alive was very real. During epidemics of plague, cholera, and smallpox, stories of people being buried alive found their way into local newspapers with increasing frequency, and public panic ensued.

A French newspaper of the time told of a young woman who was thought to have died from cholera, and she was buried the following afternoon. When the sexton started shoveling dirt into the grave, he heard a noise in the coffin, so he quickly sent for the medical officer. Upon unscrewing the coffin lid, the onlookers were horrified to discover that the now dead woman had been alive when sealed in her coffin. A terrified expression was frozen on her face, and there were deep scratches on the inside of the coffin lid from attempting to claw her way out.

In another story, a young woman died after a short illness, and the doctor who was present certified her death. He recommended that she be buried immediately due to the intense August heat, so she was laid to rest in a mausoleum just six hours after her death. Several months later, the woman’s husband decided to remarry, so the mother of his late wife decided to have her daughter’s remains removed to her native town. When the vault was opened, a horrible sight presented itself. The woman’s corpse lay in the middle of the vault. Her hair was disheveled, and the cloth that had lined the coffin was in shreds, having been torn apart by the poor woman as she fought her way out of her coffin.

The British Medical Journal ran an article about a case of premature burial that resulted in a court case. A woman from Naples, Italy, was buried after all of the proper steps were taken to assure that she was dead. Several days later the mausoleum in which the woman had been placed was opened for the reception of another body. Her body was discovered lying outside of her coffin. The clothes she wore were torn to pieces, and the woman had broken several bones as she attempted to extricate herself from the living tomb. A trial was held, and the doctor who signed the death certificate and the mayor who had authorised the interment were both found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

One of the earliest and most well documented cases of premature burial is that of Alice Bluden of Basingstoke, England. One day in 1674, Alice made herself a drink of poppy water–a type of tea made from poppy seed pods that contains morphine and codeine. Taken in small quantities, the tea acts as a sedative, but Alice must have ingested a substantial amount of poppy water that day because soon after drinking it she sank into a coma so deep that she appeared to be dead. She was examined by a doctor, but he failed to detect any breath or a pulse, so she was pronounced dead.

Alice’s husband, who was away on business at the time, asked for the funeral to be postponed until his return, but, in those days, freezers weren’t available for body storage. In addition, Alice was a large woman and obese bodies decay at a faster rate than lean ones. At the behest of the doctor, Alice’s family agreed that it would be best to bury her without delay.

Because the burial was so rushed, there was no time for a custom-built coffin, so Alice’s large frame was put into a casket that was so small that poles had to be used to force her arms and legs down so that the lid could be securely nailed shut. But Alice’s coffin wouldn’t remain closed for very long.

Two days after her burial, children playing in the graveyard heard mysterious moans and cries coming from underground. They reported this to the headmaster of their school, but he didn’t believe them. The following day the headmaster decided to check out the children’s story himself. He visited Alice’s gravesite and he too heard the strange sounds coming from underground, so he quickly had the body exhumed.

When the coffin was opened, there lay poor Alice, alive but bruised and bloody from trying to escape her coffin. She was so weak from the ordeal that she collapsed and died yet again. Unfortunately, no one thought to call a doctor to check if she was actually dead, so for a second time, Alice’s body was forced into her tiny coffin and she was reburied.

This time, the family hired a guard to watch over the grave to listen for any suspicious noises coming from underground that might suggest that Alice was alive. But sometime during the night, it began to rain and the guard headed over to the local pub to stay warm. Little did he know that amidst the claps of thunder and the rush of falling rain was another sound–muffled, blood curdling screams coming from Alice’s grave.

The next morning the family discovered that the guard had left his post, so they had the grave dug up just to be sure that Alice was indeed dead. To their horror, when the coffin was opened they discovered that Alice had revived sometime during the night. In her frenzied state, she had forced her hands from her sides and clawed at the inside of the coffin. Witnesses said that her hands were bloody and torn to shreds from attempting to escape. But this time, Alice was truly dead. She most likely suffered a heart attack brought on by the terror of being buried alive not once, but twice.

In Victorian times, fear of premature burial was so strong that a society was formed to prevent such a thing from happening. It was aptly called The Society for the Prevention of People Being Buried Alive, and over time people devised a number of methods to make sure the person thought to be dead was actually dead. Some of these methods were… well, let’s say they were a little off-putting to say the least.

Paris physician Antoine Louis had the idea of blowing tobacco smoke into the rear ends of the dead to awaken them if they weren’t quite dead yet. Why? No one is quite sure, but it does give the expression “blowing smoke up your ass” an entirely new meaning, doesn’t it?

Other methods assumed that pain would sort the living from the dead. One involved pouring scalding hot water on the corpse’s arms. If they blistered, the body was considered to be alive. A French clergyman came up with the novel idea of thrusting a hot poker up the rear end of the newly dead. In 1854, another Frenchman invented the “pince mamelon” (nipple-pincher), a particularly strong pair of giant tweezers designed to shock the supposed-dead back to life by squeezing the nipples very hard.

But there was a much simpler way to make sure that someone was actually dead. Don’t bury them right away. The term “wake” comes from the practice of waiting three days before burying a body to make sure that it doesn’t wake up. In Victorian times, wakes were held in the parlors of people’s homes. By the 20th century, funeral services were moved to funeral homes and the home parlor took on a new name, the living room, because it was no longer used to display the dead.

Some thought that three days wasn’t enough time to guarantee that a person was actually dead, so the Germans came up with their own solution–Leichenhäusers or corpse houses, chambers designed to hold the recently dead until their bodies began to rot. The first Leichenhäuser held up to eight bodies at a time, and it was kept constantly warm with pipes that fed the room with steam to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.

Between 1795 and 1828, Leichenhäusers were built all over Europe. Heaps of flowers were placed around the building to mask the stench of decay, and professional “death-watchers” placed mirrors and feathers in front of the corpses’ faces to check for any hint of breath. The bodies were periodically stuck with pins to check for a physical reaction, and they were attached to a system of strings and bells so that any movement would be immediately detected.

After a while people actually began paying admission for the privilege of wandering amongst the bodies. In Paris, viewing the dead became so trendy that a special morgue was built as a public exhibition space. Behind glass on slanted marble tables were the naked bodies of unidentified victims of crimes, drownings, and suicides. Although the intent was to have the public view the bodies in the hope that some might be identified, the Paris Morgue instead became a wildly popular tourist attraction with thousands visiting each day.

Fear of being entombed alive eventually led to the invention of a number of patented devices known as “coffin alarms.” Some included battery-powered alarms, spring-loaded rods that would raise flags to the surface of graves, ducts to feed fresh air into the coffins, and even ladders so the not-quite-dead-yet could climb out on their own.

Poe was well aware of such accounts of people being buried alive, and he played on the public’s fear by incorporating the theme into five of his short stories: Bernice (1835), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), The Black Cat (1843), The Premature Burial (1844), and The Cask of Amontillado (1846).

With all of the marvels of modern medicine, you would think that the possibility of being buried alive would be a thing of the past. Not so! In 1994, an 86-year-old woman was declared dead, and the examining doctor had her body sent to the morgue. Ninety minutes later, an attendant noticed that the body bag the woman was sealed in was moving. She was quickly moved to the hospital emergency room where she recovered, but she died a week later.

In 2007, a 33-year-old Venezuelan man woke up during his own autopsy when the medical-examiner began cutting into his face with a scalpel. When the grieving man’s wife arrived at the morgue to identify his body, she was shocked to find him alive and waiting for her in the corridor.

In 2014, doctors examined 91-year-old Janine Kolkiewicz and declared her dead. Eleven hours later she awoke in the hospital mortuary with a craving for tea and pancakes. That same year, 79-year-old Walter Williams from Mississippi was declared dead by a hospice nurse. The next day, he woke up at the funeral home. When asked about the experience, he said that he thought that he had just fallen into a deep sleep.

Talk about a close call! A 24-year-old man from Johannesburg, South Africa, was declared dead after an auto accident. He spent two full days inside a cold metal box in the mortuary before workers finally heard his cries and rescued him.

Poe tells us that the terror of being buried alive is “too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction”. But fiction is the place where the subject of premature burial should stay, because the reality of waking from the sleep of death entombed in a cold, dark, damp, silent box six feet underground is far too terrifying to imagine.


“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 July 23rd. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: If you have experienced or have heard a real story of being buried alive, 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 Buried Alive 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 premature burial and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

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

Until we meet again, take care!

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

Dark Chances Contest: Winners Announced

by Bre Stephens

The Dark Sire and Second Chances Lit teamed up to bring the writing community a fun-filled writing contest that held horror close to the chest. The theme was “second chances” in all its interpretations. There were many entries for this swag contest, but only three writers could win.

Among my personal favorites, Juno Dufour’s O, Fortunato struck a gothic cord with a truly unique interpretation of the “second chances” theme; Allison Miehl’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie pitched an emotional curveball; Marie Kelly’s Bury Me in My Dreams hit a home run in psychological horror and mental health awareness; Connor Pope’s Hand in Hand, Dear Sister conjured chills in all the right places through amazing word choice and description; Matthew Hisbent’s Hearts of Darkness tore into the flesh – literally – to escape with a second chance; and Liam Hogan’s Sirens had a twist not expected.

Though all the stories had a fresh take on the theme and were masterfully written, only three authors could rise to the top. And without further ado, I’d like to congratulate the WINNERS of the Dark Chances Contest:

1st Place
Mario Aliberto III
Rescue Me

The water rushed into her mouth, cold, filling her up. Above, sunshine broke upon the ocean’s surface. The man splashed through, blotting out the light. Handsome, strong, swimming towards her. Reaching.

She fell deeper, but in the ocean, it was not called falling. Diving, yes, the man would call it that. But to lure a man it had to look like falling.

His eyes saying, I will save you.

A strong swimmer. When he grabbed her wrist, she grabbed his back. Then she released the breath she was holding, air bubbling up from her neck gills, before falling—diving—deeper.

Bio: Mario Aliberto III lives in Tampa Bay with his wife and daughters, and yet the dog still runs the house. Twitter: @marioaliberto3.


2nd Place
Jenni Meade
Hang Him High

It has rained for days, drops falling on me from the sky, from branches heavy with rot, from his bloated fingertips. My clothes are as ragged as the hope that led me to replace his noose with a chain. Thunder rumbles; prayers rise. 

I kiss his bare ankle. All I need is one strike. The wind howls in fury at my obstinance. 

The crack rends the night—the tree—his limb sunders, the dead of tree and dead of man falling at my feet. 

Neither of us breathes.

“Wake up,” I whisper. 

His hand convulses, cold and pale and alive, alive, alive—

Bio:   When Jenni Meade isn’t writing, she’s either running a construction company, making pork dumplings, or chasing a feral child. When Jenni Meade is writing, she is the feral child. She can be found on Twitter (@jmeadeski) or online at jennimeade.com.


3rd Place
James Hancock
The Chamber

Had I a tongue, I might beg for mercy.  But I know my fate; there would be no second chance.  My room stinks of blood and sweat, and had I eyes to see, the dancing candlelight would show the shadowy form of my keeper.  He who scrubs the rack clean as I fumble in the darkness.  My waist chained tight, forcing me to stand, and pain stabbing with every shallow breath.  I paw with broken fingers, feeling the cold metal walls of my upright coffin.  Eagerly, he approaches and the door before me slams shut.  I succumb to the maiden.

Bio: James writes stories which are a little bizarre, often dark, and somewhat twisted. He lives in England with his wife and two daughters and their many pets. Follow him on Twiiter: @JimHank13.


CONGRATULATIONS to these amazing writers! I enjoyed your work tremendously. Aliberto grabbed and pulled me under the water; Meade left me wanting more, more more; and Hancock delivered a powerful THUD! that echoed in my mind when the chamber closed. Powerful imagery, great description, and a ride filled with adrenaline – that is what these authors delivered. And I was here for it all!


Are you ready to submit to THE DARK SIRE? We’re always looking for short stories, poetry, art, and now screenplays in the subgenres of gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism. To submit, visit: darksiremag.com.

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.

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!

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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 Gina Easton

Gina Easton is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE Literary Magazine.  Her short story, Tainted Love, graced our first issue and her short story, Skin Tight, appeared in Issue #4.  For fans of the Horror genre, Tainted Love delivered everything anyone could ever want.  It was a story that sent chills down your spine.  Where Tainted Love delved into the depths of hate, depravity, and revenge, Skin Tight was the perfect marriage of Psychological Realism and Horror, where real and imagined are blurred and the sane becomes unsane.  Ms. Easton’s work is by far well worth the time to read and re-read. I had to interview her to get to know more about her work.

TDS:  Welcome to the Creative Nook! I’ve been looking forward to this. I loved Skin Tight and would like to start there. What inspired Skin Tight?

Gina Easton: I thought about what might happen if a part of us we take for granted (like our skin) suddenly morphed into something menacing and how that could turn into an interesting horror story. I have found that often the best horror stories contain an element of a seemingly benign aspect of life, in this case a vital body organ, that becomes a sinister and threatening force.

TDS:  Do you have a favorite line or part of the story?

Gina Easton:  I think I enjoy the part in the story where the psychiatrist, Dr. Usher, begins to understand that his patient, Alex, may not be suffering a delusional disorder, and that something far worse is unfolding.

TDS:  Readers love to know a writer’s creative process. Could you explain the creative process you follow when you begin to write?

Gina Easton:  I’ve heard that some authors plan out a story from beginning to end, and shape the story according to the ending they desire. For me, things are never that well-organized in my mind. When an idea occurs to me that I feel will turn into a story, I just begin to write it. I honestly have no idea where it will go or how it will end. It’s hard to explain, but the story develops a rhythm of its own, and the characters decide the outcome.

TDS:  That makes excellent sense. There are a lot of writers who like to write organically. It’s a freeing experience. Speaking of other writers, what authors inspire you?

Gina Easton:   My biggest inspiration has been Ray Bradbury, a true master of dark fantasy. I started reading his work when I was quite young and was captivated by his rich imagination and powerful story-telling. And of course, Stephen King, who is a phenomenal short-story writer as well as novelist. He creates characters that are so real and believable. Clive Barker is another writer whose works I enjoy. And, just to prove that I read genres other than horror, Diane Setterfield, Hilary Mantel , CJ Sansom, Joyce Carol Oates and John Hart are masters at their craft. I also enjoy mystery stories and have several authors whose books I read.

TDS:  It sounds as if you’ve read a plethora of books. Is that how your career as a writer began?

Gina Easton:   Writing has always been my passion, although it remained a hobby for a good part of my life.  I worked as a registered nurse for many years, a career that was very rewarding. However, a disability forced me to give up that line of work. I turned my attention to writing, recognizing that now I had the time and energy to devote to this passion. I had my first short story published in 2019. Since then, I’ve had eleven more accepted. And my first novel, Black Jack, will be released on Dec. 21, 2020, and a second novel will be published in early 2021.

TDS:  Congratulations on your first novel! That’s a very big accomplishment. Like Stephen King, you are a short story writer and a novelist. We’re very proud of you. Let’s celebrate by talking novels. What is your favorite book to read? 

Gina Easton:  That’s almost impossible to say. I have enjoyed so many books, but one of my treasured ones is Swan Song by Robert McCammon. It is a compelling and beautifully written story, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

TDS:  It’s been very nice talking with you. I can’t believe we’re done already. One last question. Do you have any advice for fellow authors?

Gina Easton:  I’m not sure if you mean writers who have not yet been published, but that would make sense, as those who have been certainly don’t need any advice from me. For those authors who are still waiting to be accepted, my advice is, “Don’t ever give up.” If you have the ability to tell a good story and you want to share it, just keep sending it out. We have all dealt with countless rejections; they are an inevitable part of the publishing industry. The answer is to persevere with your passion and not allow anything to deter you.

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Ms. Easton’s first novel, Black Jack, releases TODAY.  The novel takes a look at Jack-the-Ripper as a demon intent on wreaking chaos and horror in the East End of London.  THE DARK SIRE is looking forward to reviewing her book.  If it is as chilling as Skin Tight and Tainted Love, it looks to guarantee a sleepless night or two.

SUBSCRIBE to THE DARK SIRE for the best in Gothic, Horror, Fantasy, and Psychological Realism fiction, poetry, and art.

The Worm and His Kings: A Review

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀

Excellent prose.  Tons of dark tone.  Novella, 116-pages. A MUST READ.

There comes a time for every reader that they suddenly realize that they are not just reading a good story, but that they are also reading something that has transcended simple good storytelling and entered the realm of the special.  Call it literature, call it art, call it what you like.  You know when it happens.  It’s when the story takes on a kind of life that makes you think of bigger things.  Orpheus Descending, Dante’s Inferno, Blade Runner, The Old Man and the Sea.  The Worm and His Kings is that kind of novella. 

There are layers within layers with layers to this story.  The novella begins with a monster kidnapping homeless women from an enclave of the lost in an abandoned subway line under New York City.  Donna is one of the missing.  Monique, Donna’s lover and one of the abandoned (by society and her family), believes the creature has taken Donna to its lair.  She goes in search of her love and that search takes her deep into the underworld of a cult that is waiting for its god, the Worm, to return. 

Hailey Piper draws us into this dark underworld by not only capturing the despair of those whom the world has abandoned but also by drawing us into the subterranean world of her characters’ souls.  As dark and as dangerous as the underworld becomes, the life that her protagonist has had to endure is equally as dark and foreboding.  Monique is a transgender woman whose love for Donna has ruined Donna’s career.  Donna has comforted Monique through her blotched operation and rejection from her family.  Society rejects the love that Donna and Monique feel for each other driving them into the abandoned subway tunnels of the homeless and eventually into the arms of a monster.

The Worms and his Kings is a classic “quest” story, but under the skillful pen of Hailey Piper, that quest takes on multiple layers with multiple twists.  Monique is on a quest to save Donna, much like Orpheus in the classic Greek legend was on a quest to save Eurydice from the underworld or later in the Medieval poem The Divine Comedy, when Dante was willing to brave the inferno of Hell to find his Beatrice.  In the underworld of Piper’s story, the followers of the Worm are also on a quest to fulfill the Worm’s wishes.  Even the monster, the Worm itself, is on a quest to find a resolution for both its own pain and suffering and the faith that its followers lacked eons before.

Then Piper gives the story a twist and asks the reader to question who is the monster?  Which quest is the most important?  The author forces the reader to reassess the meanings of specific words, actions, and thoughts as the story turns on who is doing what to whom.  Eventually, Monique must confront a juxtaposition of both her humanity and sexuality. 

In The Worm and His Kings, Hailey Piper constructs a world of darkness, horror, and desperation as all the characters struggle to achieve their ultimate goals.  Monique must confront the horror of what HAS happened to her and the horror of what IS happening to her.  This is the kind of book that demands to be read and reread, to have its nuances explored.  It is the kind of book that makes us look at ourselves as much as we look at the leading character.  We all have demons to identify and confront and hopefully in the cosmic realm of things, reduce them to their proper places. 

The Worm and His Kings is most definitely worthy of all the accolades we, at THE DARK SIRE, can offer.  It has a depth of darkness that our readers not only appreciate but seek out in the kinds of things they read.  The multiple levels, the twists, and, above all, the ultimate resolution raises this book into a category achieved only by Poe, Shelley, King and a handful of others.  This is a great read.

The Worm and His Kings is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook formats.


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!

Christmas Around the World

It’s that time of year, again.  Charlie Brown, Lucy and the others are on TV (last night 5 different channels carried A Charlie Brown Christmas.)  Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer colored lights and manger scenes are decorating row houses and suburban lawns.  Even the M&M candies get to meet Santa.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of Christmas traditions that fill our western culture.  But what about other cultures? 

Here at THE DARK SIRE, we are interested in how others celebrate the holidays. We found that Christmas traditions are almost as varied as the number of countries and can range from the hilarious to the sublime. 

In the Catalonian region of Spain, there is a Christmas character called Tio de Nadal  or Caga tio, loosely translated as “the pooping log”.  It is a small, hollow log propped up on two legs with a smiling face painted on one end.  From the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (around December 8th) Catalan families give the log a few morsels to eat and a blanket to keep warm.  Then on Christmas Day, people sing a special song and hit the log with sticks and low and behold, the log “poops” presents.

Caga Tio from Catalonia

In Argentina, Christmas is not a winter celebration.  After all, December is summertime in the south of the equator.  The main meal, eaten on Christmas Eve, consists of a full barbecue with roasted turkey, roasted pork, veal and lots of different sandwiches.  Then at midnight, people set off fireworks and open their presents, although many people wait until the 6th of January (Epiphany) to open their gifts.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christmas Eve is an important musical evening with churches having as many as 5 or 6 choirs.  They also celebrate with nativity plays which traditionally begin with the creation and the Garden of Eden story and ends with Herod’s killing of the innocents.

In Ethiopia things are quite a bit different since the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church celebrates Christmas on January 7th, a tradition that came from the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church.  Many Ethiopians take part in a special Advent fast that lasts 43 days during which only on vegan meal is eaten each day.

Did you know that Santa lives in Finland? The Finnish believe that Santa Claus lives in the northern part of Finland, in the Arctic Circle, thus making Santa Claus their neighbor. Christmas, then, is a 3-day event that begins on Christmas eve, when Christmas trees are bought. However, decoration of the tree doesn’t start until Christmas day. And, with light waning in the early afternoon, visiting loved one’s in graveyards and hanging candlelit lanterns is a popular family outing. Even the animals have their own Christmas.  People leave fruit, nuts, suet and all kinds of goodies for the wild birds to eat.

Australia is another summer country, so Christmas can be celebrated at the beach or on camping trips. With the weather so hot, Santa changes clothes to cool down and sometimes changes reindeer for kangaroos. And, instead of milk and cookies, people leave out carrots and cold (usually non-alcoholic).  Christmas dinner consists of fresh fish, prawns, and lobsters with other traditional English foods, such as Christmas pudding. And don’t forget the delicious Christmas crackers!

Australian Christmas Dinner

On the Island of Malta, cribs are central to their Christmas celebration.  Cribs were first introduced to Malta by noblemen from Italy in the 1600s.  At first they were not popular and were more often burned than celebrated.  But then, a crib was built that the culture adopted as “theirs” and the Maltese crib was born.  People started making cribs with moving parts.  There is now a “Friends of the Crib” society that put on a yearly exhibition of hundreds of cribs in all shapes and sizes.

A Maltese Christmas Crib

Many Christmas traditions have evolved from the Colonial era and which dominant European country occupied that particular area of the world.  This also meant that various Christmas traditions devolved from which brand of Christianity was dominant in the region.  There was Roman Catholicism, Greek and Russian Orthodoxy, Coptic, etc.  You can quite literally throw a dart at the world map and discover something unique about the way people celebrate the holidays beneath the tip. 

Christmas around the world is a wonderful celebration of diversity. And we, here at the THE DARK SIRE, want to wish everyone, no matter how they celebrate it, a very Merry Christmas.

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Celebrate the holidays.  Give a subscription of THE DARK SIRE to someone you love. Digital, print, and subscription box subscriptions now available.

The Creative Nook with Brenda Stephens

“My back digging into the wall, I stood in a quiet alley a block away from the Foster house. The jagged red brick poked through the heavy material of my coat, reaching my skin, like little needles on tender flesh. The pain felt good. It reminded me that I was still alive and kept me at-the-ready, though, at that moment, I longed for death… I unconsciously took out my flask from the inside pocket of my coat and guzzled the contents. The flask drained of its translucent red liquid, my legs let go. As I slid down the brick wall, every bump and scratch burned into my skin… I didn’t care anymore.”
Vampyre Paladin, Chapter 3, Part 1 (Issue 4)

Brenda Stephens is the author of Vampyre Paladin, a serialization in THE DARK SIRE (Issues 1-4). The above excerpt describes a man, the protagonist Matthias Kade, who is at the end of his ropes. His mental fortitude has collapsed, all hope exhausted, due to his relived loss of a loved one. Ms. Stephens captured the pain of loneliness nicely. This story caught my interest immediately because of its masterful writing. And so, it was my pleasure to sit down with Ms. Stephens to get to know more about Vampyre Paladin and her other works.

TDS: First off, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the serialization of Vampyre Paladin. There was a dark quality about it that brought to mind the kind of Black & White horror stories of the past. How did you come up with the idea?

Brenda Stephens: I had created a character a while ago that was a doctor who traveled the world to serve mankind. His mission was to cure vampire transformation. I took that character, who became Matthias Kade, and expanded his world to be Vampyre Paladin (which I call VP), a world where nationality plays a big part of how strong vampires are and what their abilities will be.

On a side note, I’ve been wanting to write a story that had vampires as fiends, like the old monsters of the past. Gothic literature of the 1800s had such vampire portrayals, and I wanted to go back to the times when vampires were scary. I created VP to bring the vampire monster to the 21st-Century.

TDS: I have a strong fondness for Van Helsing type characters. I always wonder which character an author liked to write the most in a work of fiction. So I have to ask: Who was your favorite character to write in Vampyre Paladin and why?

Brenda Stephens: Matthias Kade is actually a very complex character. He has so many different emotions coursing through his veins. He has a tormented past – as most protagonists do – but is trying to live in the present, though his past continues to haunt him. Every time he tries to heal a patient (a victim of a vampire attack), he is mentally forced to think of his dark past. Because of that, the tension is great and his eruptive emotion and placid exterior (having to stay calm and emotionless) collide. It’s a balancing act for him, and to write him, I have to decide how much of his emotion to let out. He’s a strong gentleman who practices medicine but is also a weak, emotional man who yearns for peace – which is far from his reach. Matthias is my favorite character to write in VP – hands down!

TDS: Since VP is being serialized in TDS, are you writing the story as it goes, or was it written and then published?

Brenda Stephens: Both, actually. Some was written before the serialization. But, honestly, most has been written as we go. Chapter 3 Part 2 is being written right now. It’s been a hard journey keeping up on deadlines, but it’s forced me to continue writing. And since this is my debut novel, I like that I have to write and keep up with publication. This way, I know I’ll finish my book and reach my goal of publishing the full story in 2021.

TDS: Most of our readers like to hear about a writer’s process. Would you mind sharing some of your process with them?

Brenda Stephens: I literally contemplate the story, what I want to tell, and what the purpose would be. Then I consider what protagonist would best fit the world I created in my mind. I think about the character’s mission, their goal in life, and why they’re needed in this new world. I hardly ever write any of these thoughts down. Instead, I keep them in my mind. It may sound odd, but I consider good ideas to stick with me. If I forget the idea, then it’s not a good enough idea to keep. From there, I create the storyline and write the synopsis. This is also when I title the story. I then set everything aside for a few days or weeks; I like to ponder everything – from the characters, to the setting, to the plot. Afterwards, I begin writing. I never outline, so I write organically and let the story tell itself. Anytime I try to push the story to what I want, the direction goes off track and the story needs to be redirected. So, I’ve learned to listen to the characters, the story, and only write what I’m directed to by them. Typically, once I begin writing (a short story), I finish a story in 1-2 sittings, with a polished story ready in about 3-5 days, depending on what else I’m writing. This has been the process in writing VP, though most parts already published have only taken a couple of hours to write.

TDS: Are there any hidden messages or social commentary in your work?

Brenda Stephens: Most of my current work has social commentary. But I’ve interweaved the messages within the text so well that most readers don’t seem to catch it. I’ve left Easter eggs in a few stories that no one noticed. I thought my subtle hints where beacons with shining lights and red blinking points to the clues, but it turns out that they are hidden a little too well – and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. In VP, the social issues tackled are human trafficking, drug addiction, and child abuse. Like Dracula was used as social commentary in the 1800s, VP is a social commentary of the 21st-Century.

TDS: Social issues such as you mentioned are at the forefront of many of the top stories on the news. Can you elaborate a little more on how you use Vampyre Paladin to tackle these topical issues?

Brenda Stephens: Vampires as fiends are creatures who must feed lustfully on their prey. They represent drug addicts who are always looking for their next fix. The vampires kidnap children, making them victims and thus slaves to the vampire lust for blood. This represents both human trafficking and child abuse. All of this comments on the human trafficking that is so rampant in the world today and how children are becoming playthings to adults who prey on them. Abuse then materializes as mental, physical, and emotional damage on the world’s children, like the children in the world of VP.

TDS: How does Matthias Kade play into everything? What does he represent?

Brenda Stephens: He represents hope, though he also represents struggle and overcoming one’s barriers. Addicts struggle with their drug addiction but need courage, strength, and love to overcome their demons. Matthias not only understands this but has gone through a struggle of the mind and body that he’s overcome to be a servant to his community. He’s the one who’s come out on the other side and is showing all others the way to beat the odds. And since he serves society, he becomes the beacon of hope that things will change, but only if others stand strong with him, following his example of not looking the other way, but facing the wrongs of our world to create change and make a positive impact.

TDS: That’s deeper than the currently published chapters have gone. So when will the readers see these areas of conversation?

Brenda Stephens: First I had to establish the setting, story, and characters, which is what chapters 1-3 did. Right now, Matthias is beginning to break. He’s struggling with memories of his past. He’s supposed to be saving a patient, a victim of a vampire attack, but his emotions are running rampant and he’s falling into a depressive state. Readers are experiencing the depth and heaviness of his thoughts, feelings, and emotions that weigh on his shoulders every day. Guilt. Remorse. Loneliness. Anger. These emotions are all eating at him right now. This is the beginning of the social commentary: Just because a person looks okay, doesn’t mean they are. Mental health awareness then becomes a second-layer commentary, one that I find is gravely important right now during the pandemic. The mental health conversation wasn’t a planned conversation, as usual with my writing, but it’s critical to the character and came out at the right moment. Once we get through this and he makes the decision on whether to save his patient, the story will roll quickly into the other social areas, with tracking the fiendish vampires, finding their coven, and battling them head-to-head not far behind. Chapter 4 is the turning point.

TDS: Not that I want to tease our readers with a spoiler or two, but can you tell us any Easter Eggs that you left behind for us to enjoy?

Brenda Stephens: I don’t like to tell secrets, but I can give you a hint: NUMBERS. I use numbers to add to the storyline. If you understand the meaning of the numbers, you’ll understand Matthias even more and thus the story will take on a whole new meaning for you.

TDS: We will definitely have to keep that in mind. But right now, I would like to switch topics on you. What other stories are you currently working on — or is it just Vampyre Paladin?

Brenda Stephens: I am currently working – slowly – on a short story collection called Heaven and Hell. It will be a book of 10 short stories, 5 heaven stories and 5 hell stories. The heaven stories are ones about a wish coming true while the hell stories are about a nightmare coming true. One of my hell stories, Road to Hell, was published in Issue 5 of The Dark Sire. If you’ve read it, you know that it was definitely a nightmare come to life.

TDS: It certainly was. It was very different than Vampyre Paladin. Is there social commentary or any Easter Eggs in this story?

Brenda Stephens: Much different! Where VP is about control and keeping your demons at bay, Road to Hell is about the demons overcoming you and you falling into the pits of hell (quite literally!) for your sins. And yes, there are both commentary and eggs to be found in this story. The commentary is that if we’re not careful of our choices, we will be our own downfall. In today’s society, there’s so much evil lurking around every corner – so much hate, intolerance, and division – that society is falling apart. Unless we, as human brethren, come together and unite, our world will die a horrible death, one that we will pay for through our own personal losses due to our inaction. As for the Easter Eggs, think of numbers again and pay close attention to the diner.

TDS: It sounds as if Road to Hell is a call-to-action piece then. Would you agree?

Brenda Stephens: Most definitely! The message is simple: Get off your ass and do something to save your neighbor from falling, and by helping them, you’ll help yourself. Our world is too greedy, too selfish. Road to Hell reminds us that we need community to thrive because left to our own devices, we can never overcome our struggles. We need help, support, love – from the right people, those who will be honest with us (the workers at the diner) and not just say what we want to hear (the girls in the diner).

TDS: I’m beginning to understand that your work goes deeper than the surface and deeper than readers may see at first glance. Is this due to any particular influence on your work?

Brenda Stephens: Yes and no. My work delves into the psychological, like Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic legacy. Like him, I like to discuss the depravity and decay of society. So, it can be said that his love for those things has greatly influenced my subject matter. However, I don’t think that I write the stories just because of Poe. As an artist, be it in words or paint, I must create art that expresses needed change. I don’t write purely for the reader’s enjoyment, though my stories can be read for just that. Instead, I write analytically to make a statement, to start a conversation about a particular topic, and to exchange ideas with my reader. If that makes sense.

TDS: With all of this in mind then, what’s the big dream you have for your writing? What’s your goal?

Brenda Stephens: Just to make our world a better place – and to help people who are struggling with their demons. Mental health is so important, and escapism is one of the ways that will help purge dark thoughts. When the reader can relate to a character, the character becomes their beacon of hope, especially when the character wins their uphill battle. I hope to give readers that connection, that hope, that drive to carry on. Saving someone’s life, giving them the encouragement and strength to move forward, is the goal of my life’s work.

TDS: You mentioned art. Was this a metaphor or do you actually paint? What else do you do that is creative?

Brenda Stephens: Yes, I’m a professional abstract artist. I put my paint brushes up for a while, though, due to creating and editing The Dark Sire. I don’t have time to paint much nowadays. When I was painting, I exhibited my work in several states through solo and group shows. My work is Colorism, which is emotive painting that aims for a viewer’s emotional reaction. I also was an actor and still do some voice acting, as well as was a professional dancer (tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical) when I was younger; I retired from the dance competition circuit a 10-year national dance champion. I miss those days! Oh, and I write screenplays and the occasional poem.

TDS: I didn’t know you had all of that in your background! It’s definitely impressive. One last question, if you don’t mind. With all of your experience and background, do you have any advice for other writers and creatives?

Brenda Stephens: Never let anyone dissuade you from your dreams. If you have a yearning that drives you, that’s the feeling that’s telling you what your life’s mission is. If you wake up wanting to write, you’re a writer. Want to paint, draw? You’re meant to be an artist. Get the education – be it university training, watching YouTube tutorials, or reading how-to articles – that’s needed in order to get where you want to be. Yes, we all need that day job to support us while we train and hone our craft, so don’t get discouraged because you need to work a job to survive rather than working full-time on your art. It’s a rite of passage that all of us go through. Let that yearning and passion feed you so you can be the best “you” you can be. Then, take the world by storm and don’t stop until you’re satisfied with the results of your hard work and labor. To anyone who has a dream, I wish them the best of luck and ask them to take care of themselves!

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We hope you enjoyed reading this interview with Ms. Stephens and invite you to read Vampyre Paladin in THE DARK SIRE (Issues 1-4), available in the TDS Store. You can also find her on Twitter (@BreLStephens) and Facebook (@BreStephens2019), as well as read story excerpts on her website. And of course, any time you want to contact her, simply send TDS an email (darksiremag@gmail.com) – she’s always there for you as the founder and editor of THE DARK SIRE.

Be sure to leave comments or any questions you have for Ms. Stephens. She monitors this blog and would love to talk with you personally.

Happy Hanuukah

The eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanuukah (or the Festival of Lights) commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem where, according to legend, the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BCE.  After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided between his generals, with Seleucus I getting territory that encompassed Israel all the way to India.

At first the Seleucid kings allowed the Jews to practice their own religion.  But then in a total reversal of policy Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered all the Jews to worship Greek gods.  When they refused, in 168 BCE, he descended on Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the Jewish holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.

In the wake of this desecration, a large-scale rebellion broke out against the Seleucid monarchy.  The rebellion was led by Jewish priest Mattahias and his five sons.  When he died, his son Judah Maccabee took command of the rebellion and successfully drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem.  Judah called for his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah, the golden candelabrum whose seven branches represent knowledge and creation.

And this brings us to the miracle which Hanuukah celebrates.  According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the others who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to have been a miracle:   There was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, but the flames kept flickering for eight nights, giving those rededicating the Temple time to find a fresh supply of oil.

Judah Maccabee defeating the Seleucid forces at the Second Temple

Hanukkah is rich in traditions.

The first revolves around lighting the nine-branched menorah.  On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown.  The ninth candle is called the shamash (the helper) and is used to light the others.  It is typical to recite blessings during the ritual and to display the menorah prominently in a window to remind others of the miracle that inspired the holiday. Another tradition revolves around food fried in oil.  Potato pancakes known as latkes and jam-filled donuts known as sufhaniyot are eaten in many Jewish homes. Though not fried, a food item that’s steeped in tradition is gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.  The traditions continue in the playing if games, specifically the game of Dreidel with a four-sided spinning top.  And of course, there is gift giving, where most families exchange small, sentimental gifts, like books, games, and even food items, that harken the holiday’s true meaning and grass roots. Lastly, and this is just as important as everything else, the official colors of Hanukkah are blue and white, so wrapping paper and decorations adorning packages and houses will naturally be a bright festivity of blue and white.

From all of us at THE DARK SIRE to all of our Jewish readers, “Hanukkah Sameach!”

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We know that each family has their own unique traditions for Hanukkah. If you celebrate, let us celebrate with you by sharing (pictures are encouraged!) your traditions with us. We’d love to celebrate with you!

If you have a horror and gothic-loving reader you’d like to shop for, be sure to visit the TDS Holiday Store for all your gift needs. We recommend the Holiday Care Box – a present that gives a little of everything, small but personal.

The Creative Nook with Bartholomew Barker

        

The silence surprises me —

no more thumping from my chest —

no more swooshing through my ears —

the little gurgles of a living body

are now absent and missed….

Silence by Bartholomew Barker appeared in Issue 2 of THE DARK SIRE and captured our imagination with its near perfect horror/gothic ambience.  It was and is exactly the kind of poem that TDS feeds on.  It called to mind any number of chilling Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems.  Because of that, The Dark Forest wanted to interview Mr. Barker for our Monday Creative Nook feature.

TDS:  First off, I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Silence.  It reminded me so much of several of Edgar Allan Poe’s pieces that I was wondering which writers influenced you?

Bartholomew Barker: I’m not sure. I read a lot of poetry by both living and dead poets. I’m impressed with Poe’s ability to write metrical rhyming verse that’s also creepy. Whenever I try, it always turns out humorous. That’s why I stick with free verse. I usually enjoy Charles Bukowski, Tony Hoagland and have a crush on Edna St. Vincent Millay.

TDS:  How did you get started as a poet?  Or rather, why did you choose poetry to be your means of expression?

Bartholomew Barker: As with most poets, I started writing to deal with a trauma. Mine was quite minor, just a divorce, it wasn’t even my first, probably won’t be my last. When I shared my angry poems I got enough praise that I thought I’d try to take it seriously. That was ten years ago.

TDS:  This is kind of a which comes first the chicken or the egg question.  How does your poem develop?  Do you write towards an ending, or do you conceive of an idea and start it to see where it goes?

Bartholomew Barker: Depends upon the poem. Some are like fried chicken, others like fried eggs.

TDS:  Most dark poems center around emotions that may appear morbid or disturbing on the surface.  Do you write to the emotion or does the writing act as a cathartic form of relaxation for you?

Bartholomew Barker: I write to the emotion. There are much more cathartic forms of relaxation out there!

TDS:  Have you ever written a poem that frightened you?

Bartholomew Barker: Not really frightened but certainly disturbed that I could think of some images. Makes me wonder where my mind has been.

TDS:  Does a poem ever get so dark that you have regretted sharing it with the public?

Bartholomew Barker: No regrets. When I decided to take poetry seriously, I realized I had to be comfortable sharing my strip club poems with my mother. Once I was good with that, I felt like an emperor with a new suit of clothes.

TDS:  What sparked your initial love of poetry?

Bartholomew Barker: You assume I love poetry. Like all art, 90% of poetry is shit but when you read one of those 10% poems, it’s like injecting another person’s thoughts directly into your veins.

TDS:  What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Bartholomew Barker: When I’m out of wine but too drunk to drive to the liquor store.

TDS:  Do you have a writing group or a community of writers that you share the creation of your work with? 

Bartholomew Barker: Hell yes! I work with Living Poetry, the largest group of poets in the Triangle area of North Carolina. I’ve been participating in workshops for more than ten years and all the success I’ve had is due to the feedback I’ve gotten and given. There’s only one Emily Dickinson per generation who can write masterpieces in isolation. The rest of us have to hone our craft and the best way to do it is through workshops, receiving and genuinely accepting criticism.

TDS:  What other subjects do you write poems about?

Bartholomew Barker: I post new poems to my blog  www.bartbarkerpoet.com on a weekly basis. I post love poems, nature poems, astronomy haiku… These past few months I’ve been writing a lot of political poetry for some reason. My first full length collection was written about strippers and strip clubs. It’s called Wednesday Night Regular. My most recent is a chapbook of food poems called Milkshakes and Chilidogs. Both are available, like everything else in this world, on Amazon.

TDS: Where have you been published recently?

Bartholomew Barker: I have a poem about climbing trees in the current issue of the Naugatuck River Review. I had a fun poem about watching my local fire department put out a practice fire in the Gyroscope Review. I’ve been in various anthologies about everything from dance to science fiction to ekphrastic poetry. And I’m thrilled to have another poem appear in a future edition of The Dark Sire (Winter 2020, Issue 6).

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If you have questions for Mr. Barker, leave them in the comments and we’ll get you the answers.

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Remember to subscribe to THE DARK SIRE and be sure to tell a friend.  Share.  Why keep all the good Gothic, Horror, Fantasy and Psychological Realism to yourself? It is the season for giving, after all.

And speaking of giving, TDS has a new holiday shop open. New sure to check it out and order by 12/14 gir Christmas delivery. Shop now!

!!! GIVEAWAY !!!

 

At THE DARK SIRE we have a mission to both our authors and our readers.  We provide a stage that highlights the taboo.  These are creative works that, because of their subject content, have trouble finding a publisher.  We help authors regain their creative freedoms – giving a voice to the voiceless – while also providing readers a platform that allows them to enjoy the full spectrum of speculative fiction, poetry, and art without censorship. Writers and readers, then, can revel in the creepy, the eerie, the twisted content that harkens back to an older tradition of storytelling, subject matter, and portraiture.

In addition,  TDS endeavors to go beyond the printed page by providing opportunities for promotion, which includes but is not limited to organized author/artist events, book signings, interviews and giveaways.

Which brings us to the purpose of this blog:  We are giving away a SIGNED PAPERBACK copy of Rami Ungar’s ROSE.

Win a signed copy of Rami Ungar’s ROSE

You have read the review.  You have read the interview.  Now own the book. All you have to do to win this signed edition is LIKE and SHARE the TDS giveaway posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram between December 1 and December 14. LIKE this blog post for an extra chance to win!  Those who LIKE and SHARE the TDS giveaway posts (social media, blog) will be entered into an online automated selection program.  The winner will be selected randomly from all the entries.

We are as dedicated to our readers as we are our writers.  You can’t have one without the other.  We want you to have a great reading experience.  Where other magazines have banned slasher, faux pas issues, and Christian themes, you can be sure that you will experience the full creativity of our writers without a governor on their creative freedoms.

So… LIKE and SHARE and be automatically entered in this, our first AUTHOR GIVEAWAY.  Good luck!

Gothic Style Christmas

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,

Please put a penny in the old man’s hat…” 

Too cheery?  Maybe that isn’t your sort of thing.  Maybe you would like something darker… a little Gothic Christmas.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Gothic Santa Claus, Christmas Tree and all the darker decorations that go with it.  Why decorate your tree with a jolly fat man and reindeer when you can use ornaments that inspire supernatural flights of fancy or mysterious creatures straight from the designers’ nightmares.

Well, The Dark Forest put the question of how do you celebrate a Goth Christmas to members of several Gothic groups on the various social media and here’s what the general consensus was:

First of all, you need to start with a black Christmas tree.  You can either by one or spray paint a regular Christmas tree black. 

Then, again, if you don’t want to spray paint a tree or buy a black one, you can always go the Addams Family route and decorate a tree with naked branches.  Bare branches with red tinsel looking like dripping blood instead of icicles was also another favorite theme.  And don’t forget to hang your Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling.

What makes something Gothic?  Characteristics of the Gothic include death and decay, ghosts and vampires.  When you decorate a Gothic Christmas tree, think terror and wonder.  Santa becomes a decomposing skeleton in a red Santa suit.  Snowflake ornaments are black instead of white.  Black bulbs have white skulls on them.   And don’t forget the black wreath for your front door.  If you are in the mood to hang Christmas stockings, black with skulls will do very nicely.  All you have to do is Google “Gothic Christmas” to find hundreds of dark ideas with which to celebrate the season.

Another recommendation that was popular was the graveyard look, which is a blending of Halloween and Christmas.  Then there was the Nightmare Before Christmas theme or  the Addams Family theme.  And what would say Gothic Christmas more than the presents wrapped with Edgar Allen Poe wrapping paper.

Edgar Allen Poe wrapping paper

A Gothic Christmas needs to be filled with purple, black, dark gray or navy blue colors.  And the images of sugarplums need to be replaced with dragons, gargoyles, fairies, wizards, ogres and ghosts. 

Another suggestion from our responding Goths was to go a little more Pagan and sit around and watch the Yule log burn and listen to Christopher Lee reading Edgar Allen Poe.  Don’t have a fireplace?  Don’t worry.  Check your TV listings.  There are several media groups across the country that offer a Yule Log presentation with their free over-the-air broadcasts.  That hours of commercial free TV with just the Yule log burning in all its fiery glory.

Christmas does not have to be traditional by any stretch of the imagination.  Just paint your tree black and let yourself go.

An Interview with Author Rami Ungar

Rami Ungar’s book, Rose, was the subject of a recent Dark Forest review.  The horror story was deceivingly simple with an engaging storyline that held the reader’s interest from the first line of the book all the way to the last.  It even subtly probed that age-old philosophical question: are we who we think we are or are we merely pawns in someone’s  or something’s larger plan?  Having enjoyed Rose so much, THE DARK SIRE felt the need to ask Mr. Ungar a few questions and he was gracious enough to answer them.  Here is the interview:

TDS:  I just want you to know how much I enjoyed Rose.  You were able to capture my interest from the first line and you held it throughout the book.  What gave you the idea to write Rose?

Rami Ungar:  I’m not entirely sure. I was sitting in my science-fiction and fantasy class at Ohio State (yes, OSU had a class like that), and all of a sudden, this idea popped into my head. A story like Stephen King’s Misery, but with a supernatural bent. I wrote down the idea so I would remember it later, and it developed over time.

TDS:  Why did you choose to tell your story through the eyes of a woman?

Rami Ungar:  It was never really a choice for me. I was always surrounded by girls and women growing up, and a lot of my heroes growing up were women. So, while I would never say I’m an expert or that I have nothing more to learn, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of how to write from a woman’s POV. So, when creating the characters, Rose Taggert just came to me naturally as a woman, and I didn’t think further on it.

TDS:  Who are your favorite heroines in horror literature and did you draw on any of them in the creation of Rose?

Rami Ungar:  Buffy the Vampire Slayer! She’s not perfect, but she kicks ass and cares deeply for those around her. However, she didn’t have that much influence on Rose. Otherwise, this would have been a very different novel.

TDS:  There is something incredibly sinister about your villain, Paris.  Yet, you can almost feel sorry for him because of the things he suffered.  How did you research his character to achieve that balance?

Rami Ungar:  I think that was just a culmination of a lot of reading and movies. In college, I was devouring books filled with serial killers, as well as watching movies about them, and I guess I just learned from those who came before how to create a villain that, while sinister, had a sympathetic back story.  That being said, I would warn any reader not to get to be too sympathetic to Paris. It’s not easy for me to get into his mind, but I feel like anyone who shows him genuine sympathy is setting themselves up for pain. And not just the emotional kind!

TDS:  This is kind of a which came first, the chicken or the egg question.  Did the character types come to you first, or did the storyline come first and did the characters develop from that?

Rami Ungar:  While the initial idea started me on this path, the characters came to be before I started on the storyline. That’s generally how it works, especially with longer stories. I’ll have a few key characters, and then I’ll write the plot around them.

TDS:  To be honest, you caught me by complete surprise with your ending.  I wasn’t expecting it.  Are you planning a sequel or sequels?

Rami Ungar:  You know, you’re not the first to ask. I have at times thought about creating a sequel, but at this time, I’m not planning any. I think it’s powerful enough as a standalone and I plan to keep it that way.  That being said, if a good idea for a sequel came to me, I wouldn’t be opposed to writing it.

TDS:  How much research did you do to develop the demonic characters who haunt the background? And why did you choose Japanese over another culture’s demons?

Rami Ungar:  I’m a nut for Japanese culture. I grew up on Pokemon, Digimon and Sailor Moon, and I’ve been reading manga and watching anime since I was a kid. Adding all those beliefs and gods and whatnot to the story seemed like a fun thing to do, so I went with it. And while I did do some light research into the subject, most of the knowledge I needed was already there.

TDS:  As a young author, who are some of the other writers who inspired you to be a writer?

Rami Ungar:  JK Rowling was the one who initially inspired me to write, and I’ll forever be grateful to her for that (though I am rather upset by some of the views she’s espoused recently). Stephen King and Anne Rice were a big reason why I gravitated to horror. And HP Lovecraft and his ideas about an indifferent universe have been an influence in recent years.

TDS:  Are you a member of any writing organization or community? If so, which ones? What benefits do you see from belonging to a community that encourages writers?

Rami Ungar:  I’m a supporting member of the Horror Writers Association. For me, I like being able to post frequently and network with other writers. I also get to organize meetings and projects for the state-level chapter, which is an important responsibility.

TDS:  What message do you hope readers take away from this story?

Rami Ungar:  I hope they enjoyed the story, and I hope it gave them the chills. That’s all.

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THE DARK SIRE sincerely hopes that you have enjoyed our interview with Mr. Ungar.  Anyone wishing to read Rose or any of his other writings is encouraged to follow the link to his page on Amazon.com.

The Novella — Not Just A Short Novel

THE DARK SIRE would like to reintroduce you to a time honored format that has been somewhat ignored in the recent past: the Novella.  You are probably more familiar with this form than you realize.  Many of the “books” you had to read in high school and college were novellas but were not presented as such.  Famous novellas include: George Orwell’s Animal Farm; Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend; and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.  Robert Silverberg, a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, called the novella “one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms… it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book.”

You might wonder why TDS’s interest?  Everyone who subscribes to our magazine will have noticed that we publish serializations.  Novellas, because of their concentrated focus on the story coupled with an equally focused exploration of the subject, lend themselves quite easily to serialization.  The novella is actually quite difficult to sell to commercial publishers.  It is too long for many magazines and too short for book publishers.  Being able to serialize them fulfills a needed niche in the publishing world, especially to authors who write in the Gothic, Horror, Fantasy and Psychological Realism genres.

From Victorian England to the 20th Century, writers of the supernatural have drawn to this form.  In 1879, Margaret Oliphant published one of the most innovative pieces of horror fiction ever written.  A Beleaguered City tells the story of a city under siege from the dead.  (Familiar plot, anyone?)  Charlotte Riddell’s novellas concern mysterious disappearances, ghosts, greed, murder, and revenge.  Florence Marryat’s The Dead Man’s Message has ghosts, ghost animals, spirit photography and séances.

When a novella has been serialized in THE DARK SIRE, our interest does not stop there.  We intend to publish those novellas as CHAPBOOKS.  In a world where there is a lot of talk about readers’ dwindling attention spans, chapbooks are a great way to soak up great writing.  They are, by nature, short.  Edgar Allen Poe said that the optimum length for a piece of literature was one that could be read in one sitting.  A chapbook can.  This is the TDS way of supporting writers whose work doesn’t fit into the commercial publishing pattern.  We want to give them a voice, to tell their stories and, above all, to entertain our readers.  In the changing paradigm of how readers choose books and shop for them, chapbooks look like the new age way to go.  Their compact style is perfect for readers with busy lives.

If you are a writer and have a story that fits into the novella category, please consider submitting to THE DARK SIRE.  We want to support you and your creative journey.