And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe By Gwendolyn Kiste

And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe By Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste has a wonderful way with words. In her hands they are beautiful and savage, comforting and terrifying, heart-wrenching and healing.

And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe contains some true gems, tales thick with atmosphere and murky mood. “Evening settles softly on the orchard like black tar dripping from the sky” and later, “the air tastes of nicotine and abandoned dreams.

These stories are about dysfunctional families, twisted sisters, and haunted mothers and fathers.  “The Clawfoot Requiem” is reminiscent of William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily,” while “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray” reads like a nightmarish fairy tale about forgotten princesses.

“My father counts the money each night, pacing circles like a vulture that dines on the carrion of frail dreams.”

and

Little girls don’t earn the right to question the wisdom of men. We can smile and blush and nod our heads, but we can’t tell them no.”

and

“Girls are always expected to carry an impossible burden in life, like a thousand bushels of apples strapped upon a single back.”

Stories like “The Man in the Ambry”, and “Ten Things To Know About The Ten Questions” showcase Kiste’s powerful prose and unique take on familiar horror tropes, while the title tale, about an old film star brought to life by a fan’s love, is fueled by poetry and romance.

“The way you hold me,” you said, your gaze bright as wildfire, “it’s like I’m falling, but you’ve already caught me.”

And the final line:

“And in the final frame, as the universe fades to black, you’ll save each other.”

Indeed, if only we could all save each other. And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe is a brilliant, lyrical, and moving collection of tales.

The Mud Man rises March 27!

Order Now!

Born of mud. Made for murder.

On November 8, 2016, a “Man of Stone” savagely attacked a quiet law office in rural New Jersey. Ten people were brutally mutilated and murdered, the killer was never caught, and the legend of the Franz Rock Monster was born.
The Mud Man is a fast-paced thriller laced with horror and dark humor. Inspired by Frankenstein, folklore, and media freak-shows; The Mud Man explores what it means to be human, the transformative power of grief, and the fine lines between fact and fiction, man and monster.
Some fathers will do anything for their daughters…even raise the dead.
The Mud Man is available in both paperback and digital editions exclusively at Amazon.

New Book Coming March 27th! Autism Dad 3!

Autism Dad 3: Life Skills & Life Lessons: Preparing Our Special-Needs Child For Adulthood

My new book, Autism Dad 3: Life Skills & Life Lessons: Preparing Our Special-Needs Child For Adulthood,  comes out March 27.

Order it here!

Teenagers with autism need life skills and job training. Life Skills & Life Lessons: Autism Dad 3 is a personal memoir told with humor and grace that looks at the unique challenges facing special-needs children transitioning into young adulthood. This collection of essays not only details a father’s take on raising a special-needs child, but tells the story of a family shaped by the everyday challenges and rewards of raising a child with autism.
Essays include…
* What Causes Autism And Can It Be Prevented?
* Teething Pain Is Only The Beginning
* Autism And The Art Of Toilet Seats
* Help Wanted: Employers With Open Hearts And Minds
* Celebrity Autism Insults Real People Struggling With ASD
* Precocious Pre-Teen And Racy TV Ads Yield Parental Torment

Autism Dad 3: Life Skills and Life Lessons
ISBN-13: 978-1983499593
ISBN-10: 1983499595
$10.99 print/$3.99 digital

Panic by K.R. Griffiths

Panic by K.R. Griffiths

K.R. Griffiths isn’t blazing any new ground in Panic, the first of his six-volume Wildfire Chronicles series. We’ve seen the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse before in Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, and Fear The Walking Dead, and all of the familiar horror tropes are employed in Panic (though the Infected of Panic resemble the regular-folks-turned-crazed-killers of Stephen King’s Cell, or Richard Laymon’s One Rainy Night rather than Romero or Kirkman’s shambling ghouls.)

While Griffiths’s tale doesn’t bristle with originality, it is well told, and once he establishes the heroes —a cop, a young girl, and her Of Mice And Men-ish, special needs brother — and the villains —a mad scientist/survivalist (nice trope combo, K.R.!), a sister secret government agency, and an exponentially-growing hoard of killer  cannibals — the story chugs along at a good pace. Panic is a page-turner, and Griffiths plots at an all-out sprint as the novel reached its half-closure/half-cliffhanger ending.

Sure there are a couple of clunky mid-chapter POV changes, and a few things don’t entirely add up. One of the first people infected is a priest who beheads his “wife.” Are priests allowed to marry in rural SouthWales? That’s pretty progressive. And why do the Infected tear out their eyes (other than some latent Oedipal complex)? Griffiths creates modern “fast zombies” but then lessens their threat by having the creatures blind themselves. Sure, the Panic people are pretty spry compared to a Romero zombie, but they can’t see for shit — and it’s their own damn fault!

It’s an odd choice in an otherwise by-the-numbers beginning-of-the-end tale. Maybe Griffiths will address it in the other books in the Wildfire Chronicles series. (Zombies with bionic eyes!) Whatever Griffiths has in mind you can be assured it will be fun, fast-paced, and wholly familiar.

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Write, Print, Publish, Promote by Kyle Burbank

Write, Print, Publish, Promote
The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank

Write, Print, Publish, Promote

The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank

There are a million different do-it-yourself guides to publishing an e-book, and Kyle Burbank’s Write, Print, Publish, Promote is as good as any at introducing authors to the basics of digital publishing.

Burbank published a successful niche book —The E-Ticket Life, about his adventures at Disney theme parks— and Write, Print, Publish, Promote has more of a nonfiction slant than some of the other DIY publishing guides out there. Still, the principles Burbank outlines apply to fiction and nonfiction ooksalike.

Some of the advice is laughably broad stroke, like “learn Photoshop,“ and “learn Adobe Indesign.“ Good advice, akin to “master chess,“ or “learn how to drive a forklift.“ Great skills to have, though some take a lifetime to grasp.

Burbank excels at giving advice on selling print copies of your book at conventions and various distribution models for your work including audiobooks. There’s good advice here at a practical price. In a world of how-to guides, Write, Print, Publish, Promote, The complete guide to writing and publishing a book by Kyle Burbank sticks out for its honesty and feel-good approach to digital publishing.

Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Kathy Ryan has problems. Her brother is a psychopath who tried to kill her when they were young, and now a band of cultists have unleashed an otherworldly invasion on the otherwise quiet town of Colby, Connecticut. Kathy is also emotionally drained from her job battling supernatural monsters. Guarding the inter-dimensional gateway against ancient intruders is difficult work, described in Mary SanGiovanni‘s Chills as:

“It was science and science fiction and magic and religion and physics and mathematics all sort of rolled into one.”

And:

“This here is the language of creation and destruction itself, the language that echoes the sound of the Convergence, the substance between dimensions and the space between the stars.”

It is no wonder that Kathy drinks. Heavily.

Mary SanGiovanni creates an otherworldly winter wonderland in Chills. Described as “H.P. Lovecraft meets True Detective,” Chills reads more like a road episode of the X-Files, if Fox and Mulder or combined into one powerful female protagonist.

Kathy has help on her quest to shut the inter-dimensional doorway and keep the world-eating Old Gods out. Teagan not only provides a romantic foil for Kathy, he also helps her solve a linguistics problem (who knew Old Gods spoke Gaelic? Top o’ the mornin’, Cthulu!)

Detective Jack Glazier loses a loved one, but saves the day, surviving a face-to-tentacle brush with the Old Gods. SanGiovanni makes magnificent monsters, from her Blue People, to her fish-headed assassins, to the messy tentacle-monsters at the novel’s conclusion. But her finest achievement is the way she transforms the weather itself into a fully flesh-out character in Chills. The snow is alive, spawning screaming creatures who “sound not much different in timbre from the waling gust of wind.” Old Man Winter is a mean bully.

“The creatures, though, had raised an incredible din. It sounded to Jack like wind and thunder, and it was growing louder.”

The backbone of this novel is Kathy’s relationship with her damaged brother, Toby. SanGiovanni does an excellent job describing Toby’s detachment:

“Everything is happening around you and you’re in the center of it, but you’re not real, not really there. You’re just . . . superimposed on the world.”

And the suffering of individuals with mental disorders:

“It was unsettling to watch anyone die slowly of intellectual malnutrition in the deserted wasteland of a broken mind…”

SanGiovanni is at her best when she’s world-building (or, other-world building, as the case my be). Her mythos borrows Lovecraft’s structure, but expands upon it in delightful and strangely logical ways (something Lovecraft himself often failed to achieve). SanGiovanni’s prose is lyrical — almost poetic —her characters are believably flawed human beings, and her mastery of tone and atmosphere makes Chills a chilling, edge-of-your-seat read.

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What Do Monsters Fear? by Matt Hayward

What do monsters fear?

Responsibility. Withdrawal symptoms. Owning up to their past mistakes.

One of the recovering addicts in Matt Hayward’s creep-fest What Do Monsters Fear? sums up the plot in a few well-chosen words:

“Three strung-out fucks are gonna stop an ancient evil god?”

Hell, yeah, they are! Because the ancient evil god—a body-snatching baddie called Phobos—has underestimated the drive and determination of men with nothing left to lose.

There’s a claustrophobic quality to this novel comparable to the trapped arctic explorers in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Tensions ratchet up by as Phobos picks off victims and terrifies those that remain. Like Freddy Krueger or Pennywise, Phobos knows what scares you, and takes perverse pleasure in torturing victims with their own deepest fears and phobias.

Hayward’s writing engages the senses and propels the story forward, like when he introduces the shifty doctor:

“A waft of aftershave drifted from him, tainting the honest smell of raw wood.”

Or describes the death of supernatural beings:

“Unlike in the movies when a supernatural entity died, the cat didn’t dissipate into nothingness with a sizzle. Instead, it burned and burned, the smell of charred flesh and singed hair filling the space. Dark smoke packed the room.”

Hayward employs the same multi-sensory technique even when the scenes get visceral:

“Shelly’s body slopped from the table and splashed to the floor.”

Poor liquified Shelly makes another appearance later on:

“He stepped in Shelly Matthews. The liquefied blob of flesh quivered like a fried egg beneath his heel. One eye blinked within the mess and stared back at him.”

Yuck! Sucks to be Shelly! Beyond the blood and monsters, What Do Monsters Fear? tackles the issue of addicts in recovery, and the way they view themselves as they attempt to turn their lives around.

“Peter hated to admit it, but for the briefest moment, he related to the monster.”

But men and monsters alike get second chances. Seeing elderly drunk Henry’s redemption is perhaps the novel’s most triumphant moment.

“I was useful for once in my miserable piece of shit life… My actions meant something.”

That’s the kind of validation we all seek, both addict and non-addict, man and monster alike.

Hayward has a great sense of pacing and a cinematic writing style that makes What Do Monsters Fear? a fast, fun read! He leaves the door open for potential sequels, and implies that the worst kind of monsters don’t live in alternate, cosmic dimensions but inside the hearts of men.

(And women. Chill out, ladies. You’re evil, too.)

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Brain Dead Blues by Matt Hayward

Irish author/musician Matt Hayward puts his impressive writing chops on display in his short story collection, Brain Dead Blues.

The lead story, “God Is In The Radio,” owes much to H.P. Lovecraft’sThe Music Of Eric Zahn,” only it’s more coherent and satisfying than the original. An aging rock star finds an inter-dimensional doorway hidden inside the notes of his latest tune.

Those little off notes in a Blues lick. The ones that make you think of sex and sin… Those blue notes and the tritone are where the secrets lie.

Music and melody drips from every page of Brain Dead Blues, and Hayward sets a colorful scene will a handful of well-chosen words.

The place smelled of sawdust and stale beer, but to him, it smelled like the raw stench of live music.

The intersection of melody and monsters is where Hayward shines brightest.

Something about the melody got under his skin, wriggled about like a maggot, infecting him. He vomited three times.

At times, Hayward uses his tales to portray the sad path modern music has taken.

Honestly, no one gives a shit! We’ve devalued music so damn much that people just expect you to bleed for free.

The real artists, the real musicians, they’re left working in coffee shops and garages across the globe for next to nothing…

A love of Lovecraft is evident in Haywards prose, from panicked, unreliable narrators, to creepy, cosmic creatures.

Other worlds. Worlds that would make you lose your mind even if you only gave them a glance.

Their faces did look eerily similar to an angler fish, lower lip eating the upper.

Hayward’s other literary strength is weaving fairy tales, folklore, and traditional horror tropes into something wholly original. “The Faery Tree” draws inspiration from “The Monkey’s Paw” while turning the “Tinkerbelle”-notion of fairies on its head. “Cordyceps” turns people into exploding seed spores, while “Critter” blends the best parts of ET and When Animals Attack! Even something as innocuous as a will-o’-the-wisp becomes a unearthly nightmare in Hayward’s hands (“An Angel And A Reaper”).

There are vampire and werewolf stories in Brain Dead Blues, but neither are what you’d expect. The vampire tale—“You Get What You Pay For”—is more of a rumination on eternal life and endless loss, while tipping its hat to the “creepy curio shop” trope. The werewolves in “King Of The Gypsies” belong to a kind of monstrous Fight Club that holds love and family sacred.

As an accomplished musician, there is a palpable rhythm and pacing to Brain Dead Blues. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it…until one of Hayward’s strange creations pops up and scares the shit out of you. 

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Tiny Writing On Bath Bottles Is Cruel Joke On The Naked

“Argh! I can’t tell the shampoo and conditioner apart!”

Every time I wash my hair I feel like the victim of a cruel joke…and not just because I’m naked in the shower. It’s because I can’t figure out which bottle is shampoo.

My wife and daughter use a lot of different products, from shampoos and conditioners to body washes and cleansing gels. Everything comes in pretty, decorative bottles with cleverly designed logos and packaging. It’s all too clever for me, who has weak eyesight, and can’t read the labels very well.

What’s in this bottle? I know the brand, and I know it’s called “Hello Hydration,” or “Body Envy,” but what is it? What’s Brazilian Keratin Therapy? Do I need that? One bottle promises “nourishing oils,” while another offers a soupy mixture of rosemary and eucalyphus. Am I really supposed to pour this on my head?

I’ve frequently have to exit mid-shower and find my fogged-up glasses so I can read the labels on bath products. Even with corrected vision it’s hard to tell what some of this stuff is. I know it will “strengthen, enhance, and heal” my hair, leaving it, “sleek and shiny, full of bounce and body.” I know it’s made with exotic-sounding ingredients like kukuli oil, moroccan argan oil, and teatree mint. These things are clearly legible on the bottle. But where are the words telling me what this stuff is?

Ah, there. Printed in a miniscule font usually reserved for legal documents are the words, “shampoo,” “conditioner,” or “body wash.” It’s usually written on the very bottom of the bottle, or stuck in the middle, sandwiched between two larger-type phrases. (Superior Shine / Rejuvenate and Revive).

Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com, I can differentiate between my hair care products!

Manufacturers in the cutthroat hair care industry have over-designed their product packaging to the point of uselessness. They are so focused on making their bottles look appealing, they forget to tell you what’s inside.

Admittedly, I’m out of touch when it comes to hair care. My wife and daughter speak the language; they know what all this stuff is and does. Many products use small-type on labels (“100% Spring Water” / “Chocolate Flavored Drink”) and I don’t demand such explanatory packaging from my hot dogs or potato chips.

But bath products are always used when you’re wet, naked, and vulnerable. You squint to protect your eyes from water and soap, so your vision is automatically impaired. If you wear glasses you’ve got double trouble. How are we supposed to see clearly in the tub or shower? Hey, Mr. Shampoo Guy, how about an easy-read label here? Better yet, put Braille bumps on your plastic bottles. This type of universal design would assist users of all ages and bathing levels, while teaching everyone a bit of Braille and the importance of touch. We’re all blind in the shower.

I’ve learned to pick out my bath products before I get in the tub, an essential procedure for anyone who wears glasses and/or shares a bathroom with a woman. There are so many strange and mystifying products in a lady’s bathroom, it’s best to keep your male toiletries to yourself. More than once I’ve fumbled out of a slippery shower, groping for my glasses, only to find myself holding a bottle of Nair.

Near miss! Lesson learned.

This column ran in TODAY Newspapers in January 2016. Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com for the life-saving labels!

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