October

Hello and Happy Halloween!

I hope you had a fantastic Halloween because I sure did! Here in Australia, Halloween is starting to take hold. For the past four years my family and I have put a yard haunt display on in our street and this year, we attracted more than 600 trick r treaters. Ten other houses also participated with their own haunts, so it was great seeing so many people in costume coming out and having fun.

Check out some photos of my yard haunt below. Everything you see here is handmade, including the giant spider, which was a labour of love! And yes, that’s me in the horrible zombie mask! 🙂

Free story: HARVEST

Here’s a story I wrote to send a chill up your spine for the most wonderful time of the year (artwork is also by yours truly!) I like playing with the emotion of grief in my stories and I’ve always wanted to flip the trope of pumpkin-carving on its head. Enjoy!

To many, Halloween was the one night of the year when the dead could return to the land of the living.

Michael had never believed in such a superstition, but he was willing to accept anything just to have her back.

The shovel was like a stone in his hands, an extension of his weary body, his anguished soul.

He stared at the grave, read the words on the tombstone through tear-streaked eyes:

Alexandra McBean

Our precious angel

Taken too soon

The thought of his daughter, rotting away six feet under, sent waves of sadness through him and his legs almost giving out beneath him. 

He only wanted to hold her again. 

A gaggle of laughter made Michael turn and he glimpsed a quartet of costumed children skipping alongside the fence surrounding the cemetery. To them, Halloween was nothing more than a sugar high, a flight of fancy. 

To Michael, it was the day his only daughter took her own life.

Alexandra had been one of a spate of suicides on Halloween – thirty-one in fact – and the great loss had always remained unanswered. A wound that refused to heal.

His mind dragged him back one year to the day, to that terrible instant. To the kitchen spattered with blood and the message she’d left on the face of the pumpkin, a single word she’d carved with a kitchen knife before she used it on herself:

HARVEST

The memory flashed away and Michael turned back to consider her grave, to contemplate the task ahead.

“I’m sorry baby…” he said, his voice a whisper lost in the fog.

The shovel stabbed at the earth, SHUK-SHUK-SHUK, over and over. He felt the cold sweat running down her back and found it easy to visualise Alexandra’s blood trailing from her wrists. It urged him on, the shovel carving a path to her through the dark soil. Time passed and after a while, the blisters on his hands burst and eased from burning into numbness. The only feeling left to feel. Was that how Alexandra felt in her final moments?

The light penetrated the blackness inside his head and he was wrenched back to that horrible day. Alexandra’s body on the gleaming steel table, her skin like fresh snow. He recalled hearing the detective’s voice, explaining that she was one of many to die the same way, the only clue being that solitary word – HARVEST. But how could carving a pumpkin have led to suicide?

Another flash left his head swimming, but soon he felt himself sinking inch by inch into the ground, edging deeper, closer to his little girl. He studied his work and was surprised by how symmetrical his digging had been. The edges clean and straight, like the lines of a door. He was building a door in the hope that she’d be waiting on the other side.

The clang of steel on wood jolted Michael out of his melancholy and for the first time in many months, hope reawakened him. He dropped to his knees and swept the dirt from the lid of the coffin. Panting, he retrieved his knife and pried open the door.

Only to find darkness.

No Alexandra, adorned in her favourite dress.

Not even her bones.

He stood in a daze of disbelief. She should be here, he thought. He knew he’d put her in the ground. His heart still had the scar to prove it.

The black mouth of the coffin mocked him.

He grabbed the shovel from the dirt in a rage and smashed it into the coffin, again and again, the wooden frame shattering to splinters. He cried out into the October night, hoping his daughter or anyone would hear his pain and put him out of his misery.

Freezing breath ran across the back of his neck and Michael about-faced to find the apparition had been standing behind him. He stumbled and fell into the coffin, its walls intact enough to contain his terrified soul.

Alexandra stood over him, arms outstretched and clutching the pumpkin, which was now emblazoned with putrid rot. Yet the word HARVEST was still plain to see. Protruding from its flesh was the same kitchen knife, gleaming like firelight. Fresh blood spilled from Alexandra’s wrists and vacant eyes. Tears of pain. She spoke not a word, but her blood and that word told him everything. 

Halloween was a time of HARVEST.

His daughter’s eyes implored him to take the knife and with the steadiest of hands, he plucked it from its resting place. He was willing to add his soul to the collection. The knife’s kiss filled him with relief and his blood mingled with hers.

The edges of the hole Michael had created collapsed then, toppling down like two halves of the Red Sea onto father and daughter. The black door closed in on their combined grief forever.

Alexandra had always known the truth about Halloween, and finally, Michael did too.

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Through the eye of the beholder

I recently binged Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House TV series on Netflix. I found this show genuinely fascinating and creepy. “Horror with heart” is the best way to describe it. The character development and production values were second to none. The way the supernatural elements intertwined with this poor tormented family’s real-life trauma was so very well crafted. Some might not agree with the ending but I thought it was fitting and powerful. I highly recommend you check out this show. Check out the trailer!

 

 

Another Netflix show I’m also loving is The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. This is a really creepy show with a great cast and production values. Best of all it’s a whole lot of fun and thankfully is nothing like the 90’s sitcom. Check it out.

 

 

I’m also a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books

Two titles I recently read and enjoyed were Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage and Flight or Fright, edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent.

I’m currently reading Vampire: A New History by Nick Groom and Bedfellow by Jeremy C. Shipp.

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Works in progress

I’m currently preparing edits on my third novel, tentatively titled Skin Deep. This book, which is urban dark fantasy and poses the question of whether monsters can have souls, will be published by Omnium Gatherum Books mid-2019.

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Recent releases

Artwork

My artwork graces the cover of the latest issue of Morpheus Tales. It’s a bit of digital manipulation on my part and I’m glad with how it turned out. I like taking old photographs and twisting them to suit my purposes. You can pick up a copy of this magazine HERE

 

 

 

 

I’m a huge fan of Josh Malerman’s writing, particularly his novel Bird Box, which will soon be released as a film, starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich on Netflix. It’s a fantastic tale that takes paranoia to it’s limit. I was inspired to create some artwork for it and Josh liked it so much he shared it on his Facebook feed. If you haven’t read Bird Box, I highly recommend that you need to correct that immediately! Check out the trailer for the film!

 

 

 

Cover art

A couple of covers I designed for Matthew Tait and Christian Saunders.

Fiction

Omnium Gatherum Books in the US recently re-released my post-apocalyptic novella, The Followers. Originally titled The Eschatologist, this story is one of two opposing sides of faith – secular faith and faith in one’s self. It’s a survival story in the keenest sense of the word. I also created the cover art and interior illustrations for it. OG will also be re-releasing my very first novella Torment, which is my take on an exorcism tale but set in the Scottish Highlands. Horrible Books Reviews had this to say about it: “A story of family, sacrifice, and the scary idea that even in a world that has completely fallen apart there will always be a lunatic fringe.” You can buy a copy in ebook or paperback at Amazon

 

Specul8: The Central Queensland Journal of Speculative Fiction recently released its fifth edition, a Halloween special called Behold the Nightmare. It contains my tale, “Left on October Lane” which is about a young boy escaping the impact of domestic violence on Halloween night. You can buy a copy HERE

 

 

 

My books

 

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More than monsters

Horror has been much maligned.

Regarded as little more than “blood and gore” with no true message. Shock for shock’s sake.

This couldn’t be any further than the truth.

The horror genre is slowly seeing a resurgence of respect on a wider scale through recent films, but horror has always deserved to be regarded as meaningful and worthy.

There has been many a time at book expos or signings when some people have visibly winced when I’ve mentioned I’m a horror writer. It used to bother me, but over time I’ve shrugged it off and told myself that these people are missing out on an opportunity to not only be entertained, but to explore themselves.

I’ve always maintained that horror is a mutli-faceted genre, more so than others. It provides more than chills and goosebumps. Beyond the werewolves and zombie viruses, is a map of the human condition, of emotion, psychology and even social commentary. Below are some examples of works that I believe speak to the power of the horror genre.

Bird BoxJosh Malerman’s novel Bird Box, is a remarkable example of horror that delves deep beneath the surface of feverish fright. The characters, by being forcibly blinded, are in turn forced to look within themselves and into the eyes of each other at close quarters. The paranoia is palpable, driving the story forward. It’s a story of survival, loaded with symbolism and there’s barely a drop of blood spilled.

By comparison, Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart sheds much blood in its exploration of curiosity gone horribly wrong, but if you peel back its layers there are issues of abandonment, the objectification of women, the empowerment of women, and the power of desire. The Cenobites are secondary monsters – the embodiment of punishment, yes, but moreover they serve as warnings against human frailty.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is equal parts family tragedy and a look at the impacts of mental illness plaguing today’s youth. The story is told so keenly that you almost forget that it’s also about an exorcism. Through sleight-of-hand, Tremblay weaves all of these ideas together while pointing the finger squarely at the sensationalist nature of reality television.

Into The MistPast regrets, losses, and guilt pervade horror fiction. Tim Waggoner’s Deep Like the River is a painful journey both literally and figuratively, as a canoeing trip down a river forces a woman’s past to rise to the surface of her mind. Daniel I. Russell’s Entertaining Demons is an even deeper look at the evil of reality TV, with our worship of it becoming fodder for demons. Lee Murray’s Into the Mist is an exciting action-packed monster hunt, but it also provides an insight into Maori culture, mythology, and the New Zealand landscape. There’s also subtle environmental commentary, the darkened forest where the hunt takes place threatened not just by the creature, but also the dominance of military authoritarianism. Brett McBean’s The Awakening is on the surface a coming-of-age story, taking the zombie sub-genre back to its voodoo roots, but it’s actually a beautiful story about life and death told lyrically through the eyes of a young boy and an old man.

Many books and films that are considered “mainstream” are actually horror. The Lovely Bones by author Alice Sebold and later as a film by Peter Jackson, is one example. On one side you have the psychological aspect of the family processing the grief of losing their daughter, while on the other you have the spirit of the victim herself coming to terms with the fact that not only is she dead, but that she died horrifically. The Silence of the Lambs is another mainstream book and film that would be considered by many more crime thriller than horror, but actually contains all the key elements that comprise good horror fiction, particularly in the second half of the story.

Horror has also encouraged diversity, with acclaimed authors of colour like Victor LaValle (his novella The Ballad of Black Tom won a Shirley Jackson Award and numerous nominations for other awards) coming to the fore. The film Get Out written and directed by Jordan Peele, won an Oscar and a Bram Stoker Award for its screenplay, and could be compared to other psychological thrillers like The Strangers or You’re Next, but what its sets it apart is that it’s a commentary on prejudice and racism. LGBTQI authors also thrive in the horror genre, with numerous films and books containing gay or transgender characters and themes. Again, Clive Barker and other authors like Poppy Z. Brite, Aaron Dries, Mark Allan Gunnells and Caitlin R. Kiernan come to mind.

I could go on, but I urge you the reader to look beyond the misconceptions and explore the horror genre for yourself. These are just a few of the stories that provide the “depth” horror can encapsulate. You’ll note that these authors all strive for meaning in their stories. They’re not all just out solely to splatter you with buckets of blood. Authors like the ones I’ve outlined above and others such as Kaaron Warren, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Mercedes M. Yardley, strive to push the boundaries of the genre and carry on a fine tradition that horror has always had – one of relevance and introspection.

All we horror authors ask is that you look past the lurid cover, put your assumptions to one side and see the meaning between the lines. But most of all, look within yourself.

 

 

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Horror Fiction: A bleak and depressing look at truth

Today’s guest post comes from horror author Greg Chapman, who recently released Pandemonium through the incredible Bloodshot Books. Greg’s essay deals with why his work may considered bleak or depressing and the importance of the truth when it comes to horror fiction. This is an insightful piece that gives readers a look at Chapman’s work and what […]

via Horror Fiction: A Bleak and Depressing Look at Truth by Greg Chapman — Ink Heist

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Hollow House re-opened!

A bit of news I’ve been keeping to myself that I am now able to share!

THUNDERSTORM BOOKS in the US is releasing a limited edition of my Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, Hollow House!

The special ‘Black Voltage Series’ signed and numbered edition will contain Hollow House, plus my novella Torment – and incredible dust jacket artwork by Ben Baldwin.

The book is available for pre-order NOW and is limited to just 52 copies.

Thunderstorm Books has produced amazing limited editions for almost a decade, publishing works by authors including Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, Jonathan Janz, Brett McBean, Ronald Malfi, Tim Curran, David Bernstein and Kealan Patrick Burke. I’m honoured to be part of Thunderstorm’s library of horror!

I’m very excited about this limited edition release and it’s been a great experience working with Thunderstorm’s publisher Paul Goblirsch, so I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of this special edition.

Thanks for your support!

 

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Interview with author Jason Franks!

Fellow dark scribe Jason Franks has a new novel out – Faerie Apocalypse from IFWG Publishing Australia. If the title doesn’t make you want to read it then there must be something wrong with you. I tracked Jason down and demanded he told me more about his latest piece of fiction, and what makes him tick…

How was the seed planted in your mind to write Faerie Apocalypse?

The first novel I ever read was The Magic Faraway Tree, so this genre has been dear to me since I first learned to read. I was an adult when Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST came out, and that led me to look again at all these adventures I’d loved as a kid. There are some dark ideas underpinning that sense of wonder and whimsy. The tropes keep it very constrained on story and character, and I had this idea that someone from a contemporary society would have to be quite damaged to want to really travel to a pastoral world full of talking animals and magical elves in order to execute some narcissistic quest. The fairy folk are bound to participate, as either side characters or villains, and I wondered if they understood that, and how it would affect them.

So that’s what I wrote. What might be the outcome of characters taking a modern awareness of the genre tropes into fairyland, and how far would the infection spread?

What can readers expect with Faerie Apocalypse?

Faerie Apocalypse is a series of tales in which human protagonists transition to Faerie Land and have adventures. Each one is looking for something different: the most beautiful of fairy queens, magical power, a wayward father, an escape from reality, revenge, or just some kind of purpose. Most of these quests begin the way readers might expect, but they soon go awry. Things get darker yet when the different quests become entangled.

This book is written in a much more writerly style than my usual work for and I’ve put a huge effort into the language, trying to make it beautiful but still pacy. It’s Cormac McCarthy meets Neil Gaiman and I know it’s not going to appeal to everyone–but I do think it’s quite a different sort of book and I’ve been really pleased with the way my advance readers have accepted that.

Tell us about when and where you write? Does the lighting have to be just right? Do you need background music? A feather quill?

I write in my home office, on a computer. I’ve tried going to cafes and all I do is get self-conscious and drink too much coffee and then fret about what to do with my laptop while I run to the toilet.

I do most of my writing work in the evening, once my toddler has gone to sleep. When I was younger I used to have music on as well as the TV, so there was stuff to listen to or look at, but I couldn’t get too immersed in any of it. Nowadays I mostly write in silence.

I don’t write anything by hand. I don’t keep any notebooks.

Faerie Apocalypse isn’t your first book – what lessons have you learned on your authorial journey?

Faerie Apocalypse is my third book, kind of.

My first book, Phillips Head, was a straight-up horror novel that I wrote while at university. That was all about seeing if I could go the distance. If I could manage a novel-sized story and a large cast of characters. The book resultant book is unpublishable, but that’s how I learned how to work at scale. Not long after it was done I started writing both Bloody Waters and Faerie Apocalypse. I forget which came first. I’d alternate on the two projects day to day, or, if I had a whole day free–I was young, single, and sometimes unemployed– I’d do a session on each. Bloody Waters proved an easier book to complete– it had a leaner style, with a linear story–so that was the one I started trying to sell first while I continued to struggle with Faerie Apocalypse.

I guess the big learning from Bloody Waters for me, from a craft point of view, was not to be afraid to cut. The published version of Bloody Waters is 50,000 words shorter than the biggest draft and contains just as much story.

Faerie Apocalypse was a different experience. I had to find a new voice for the story, as well as a different approach to character, dialogue and storytelling. This is probably not something I can use for other projects, but I think it’s made me a much better writer overall.

Just as important as the craft, though, has been to learn to own the work. When Bloody Waters went live I was terrified that people would think it was awful and see me for a fraud, and I basically buried my head in the sand when I should have been telling people that the book was out. It wasn’t until Narrelle Harris blogged about it that I realized it was all going to be ok. It went on to be an Aurealis Award finalist, but it never really found its audience. So that was another huge lesson: it doesn’t matter if the book is good if nobody knows it’s there.

You’ve dabbled with writing comics and penned novels in the horror and dark fantasy genres. Which one excites you the most?

Whatever is my current first draft.

I can’t say that I prefer one medium over the other because they afford different pleasures. The most exciting thing about comics is the collaboration, I think–seeing your words realized visually; seeing how an artist improves the story. Prose gives you the pleasure–and anxiety–of direct contact with the reader. Everything the reader ingests from prose is the way I chose to express it.

As for genre, I love the SF, fantasy, and crime genres, and I’ve even done a bit of realist fiction (the phrase ‘Lit Fic’ makes me stabby). But I’m a horror writer at heart and I think you can see that inflected in everything I do–including my comedy stuff. I look for the bad side of everything. I like endings that will disturb readers, rather than comfort them.

Favourite book/film/comic?

Today, my answers are:

Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, Unforgiven by Clint Eastwood, and Uzumaki by Junji Ito. Ask me tomorrow and I might give you different answers.

What’s next for Jason Franks?

Probably the next thing I have coming out is a short (56pp) horror-comedy-SF graphic novel called Gourmand Go, which I like to think of as Cannibal Star Trek. It features beautiful sequential art by Harold Purnell, Laura Renfrew, Gavin Thompson, Matt Kyme, Cristian Roux, Nicole Lawson, Aly Faye and Ben Byrne. The book is all done but for some lettering and colouring.

I am also probably going to self-publish a short novel called Shadowmancy, just to understand the experience. This project actually began life as a comic serial and has a gorgeous cover and interior illustrations by the Nic Hunter.

Otherwise, I am just grinding out the final draft of my new novel, XDA Zai.

How can people purchase a copy of Faerie Apocalypse?

With gold, paper or credit. It’ll be in stores, or you can snaffle a copy online from the following links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Faerie-Apocalypse-Jason-Franks/dp/0646595881

Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Faerie-Apocalypse-Jason-Franks-ebook/dp/B0789FGYFM/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/faerie-apocalypse-jason-franks/1127685252?ean=9780646595887

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/faerie-apocalypse

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/faerie-apocalypse/id1325957273?mt=11

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Faerie-Apocalypse-Jason-Franks/9781925496567

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/faerie-apocalypse-jason-franks/prod9781925496567.html

 

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Midnight Echo Issue 12 unleashed!

Midnight Echo Magazine is back from the dead!

Australasian Horror Writers Association

The new edition of Midnight Echo Magazine is here!

Midnight Echo #12, edited by Shane J Cummings and Anthony Ferguson contains short stories and non-fiction by some of Australasia’s leading horror authors.

ME-12-cover-sml

The issue features fiction by
Rebecca Fung
Angela J. Maher
Chris Mason
Andrew Grenfell
Matthew J. Morrison
Lauren Butterworth
Simon Dewar
Christine Ferdinands
Matthew R. Davis

Non-fiction by
Anthony Ferguson
Kyla Lee Ward and;

Fiction by AHWA short story and flash fiction competition winners
Rue Karney
Glenn H. Mitchell
J. Ashley Smith
Zoe Downing

The issue is on sale for just 99 cents until January 1, 2018 – so get it while it’s hot people!

Thank you for your continued support of the AHWA

Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B078MGBFM4

Amazon US:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078MGBFM4

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Seven years later…

They say seven is THE magic number.

So it’s fortuitous then that the sequel to one of my first published works, The Noctuary, has been released exactly seven years to the day since the original first appeared on the scene.

The Noctuary: Pandemonium was hell to write. The original novella, first published by the now-defunct Damnation Books, came about when I was knee-deep in the mentorship program with the Australasian Horror Writers Association. Pandemonium was simultaneously the sequel I’d been putting off and the one I needed to tell.

Pandemonium, which has just been published by Bloodshot Books in digital and print formats, collects the original novella with the sequel and incorporates it. It’s all very meta and writing it nearly sent me mad.

In the original novella, a down and out author named Simon Ryan is summoned by dark forces to be their “scribe”. When he writes he has the power to alter his own reality. If you could change something with the stroke of a pen would you? What are the subsequent ripple effects of that change?

Pandemonium is all about the power of words and the power of the mind. Losing your sanity is probably my idea of hell and I wanted to explore that fear in the sequel and of course, give readers more insight into the creatures that draw their power from Simon’s words.

Fate is the underlying thread. Was it fate that Pandemonium has been published seven years after the original novella? I hope it’s just a coincidence. Will I be writing another chapter in this saga another seven years from now?

I might be damned if I do and damned if I don’t.

Check out these early reviews of Pandemonium and then see if you’re willing to peer into its pages.

Collings Notes

Horrible Books Reviews

There’s also a few videos with excerpts that I made with voice actor Ricky Grove – one from seven years ago and a new one.

The Noctuary: Pandemonium – read it and weep.

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