The Scariest Part: Douglas Wynne Talks About CTHULHU BLUES

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Douglas Wynne, whose new novel is Cthulhu Blues, the third volume of the SPECTRA Files trilogy. Here is the publisher’s description:

The Wade House has been reduced to ash, but the dreams that plagued Becca Philips and Jason Brooks when they slept in that abomination continue to haunt them. After years of facing trans-dimensional monsters in the service of SPECTRA, a few lingering nightmares are to be expected. But when Becca starts singing in her sleep — an ancient song that conjures dreadful things from mirrored surfaces — she fears that the harmonics she was exposed to during the Red Equinox terror event may have mutated not only her perception, but also her voice. It’s a gift — or curse — that she shares with a select group of children born to other witnesses of the incursion.

While a shadowy figure known as the “Crimson Minstrel” gathers these children to form an infernal choir, something ancient stirs on the ocean floor. And Becca, hearing its call, once again finds herself running from an agency she can no longer trust into the embrace of cosmic forces she can barely comprehend.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Douglas Wynne:

Unless there’s a large measure of luck involved, my son usually kicks my ass at board games. My wife recently had a good laugh when, following one of these whuppins, I exclaimed, “Daddy’s not a strategist! That’s why he doesn’t outline his books!”

When I wrote my first Lovecraftian thriller, Red Equinox, I knew the ending set the stage for a potential sequel, but as someone who doesn’t plan ahead much, I’m tempted to say that the scariest part was committing to writing a series without knowing how it would end. After all, when I’m working on a single novel, I get to go back and make changes to the early chapters in light of what I’ve learned along the way. Improvising the first draft frees me up to follow whatever path feels right for the characters, knowing that rewrites will give me the opportunity to fine tune and correct for continuity.

There are no rewrites for published books.

So it was a leap of faith for me to put plot lines out there that suggested certain story possibilities but for which I couldn’t predict the trajectory.

The biggest cliffhanger that I left dangling at the end of Red Equinox had to do with a generation of children born to witnesses of a cosmic terrorism event in Boston in 2019. In that first book Darius Marlowe — an MIT student and radicalized young member of the Starry Wisdom Church — takes the apocalyptic prophecies of his religion to heart and creates a device he calls the Voicebox of the Gods. The infernal machine is inspired by Darius’ occult communion with Nyarlathotep (H.P. Lovecraft’s dark analog of the Egyptian god Thoth) and is a hybrid 3D printed/lab grown larynx capable of producing harmonics that humans lost the ability to chant aeons ago. Darius mounts the larynx in a boom box and sets it off on a subway train in Cambridge, unleashing cosmic mayhem on the passengers. This union of ancient incantations with cutting edge tech alters the perception of the bystanders, allowing them to see and be seen by monstrous gods from another dimension. As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose.

By the end of the novel, all of the witnesses — with the exceptions of main characters Becca Philips and Agent Jason Brooks — have taken a drug called Nepenthe to shut their extra perception down. In the second book, Black January, children born of parents exposed to the harmonics exhibit the ability to perceive trans-dimensional entities and eventually develop biological mutations that enable them to sing mantras endowed with the power to align our world with that of the Great Old Ones.

In Cthulhu Blues, the third and final book of the SPECTRA Files Trilogy, another avatar of Nyarlathotep known as the Crimson Minstrel arises. Wandering between worlds, this shadowy figure appears to the gifted children in mirrored surfaces and lures them into a twilight realm via seductive music that resonates with the ancient power they have inherited.

Becca, our heroine, has no children of her own but becomes invested in finding and saving the child of a friend and even protecting the child of a family of cultists who may want to contribute to the apocalyptic return of their slumbering gods. Unfortunately, having refused the drug that would have shut her abilities down, Becca also has to contend with the mutation of her own voice and the possibility that she is herself becoming something monstrous, or something to be used in the service of monsters.

As a parent, I worry about all kinds of influences on my child. Everything, from the ingredients in his food to the contents of a phone in the hands of another kid on the school bus, presents potentially dangerous variables; more of them beyond my control with each passing year. I try to keep these in perspective. But I’m also aware that some otherwise rational members of my generation have succumbed to paranoia about vaccines, putting all of us at risk due to the fear that a trace of mercury (another name for the messenger of the gods) might alter their child’s brain.

It’s a powerful fear — the prospect that a child who depends on you for their wellbeing, your precious responsibility to whom you devote so much care and caution, so much nurturing and bonding, could change into something you can’t relate to in the same way.

Of course, that’s also what awaits us to some degree as our children grow up. And some of the best parents I count among my friends have navigated Aspergers and Autism with more grace and resourcefulness than most of us bring to lesser challenges. In other cases, we worry that our children will inherit the same mental and physical ailments that plague us, or our parents.

The mutations I put the children through in Cthulhu Blues are far more chilling than the ones most of us worry about in the real world. In the end, the trilogy without an outline worked out as if I had planned it (and I believe there’s always more intelligent design going on at the subconscious level than the writer is aware of). But imagining a red-robed minstrel with blue fire flickering in his hair, plucking a guitar and leading glassy-eyed children across a twilight shore to sing hymns to a cold blooded leviathan beneath alien stars…

For me, that was the scariest part.

Cthulhu Blues: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound

Douglas Wynne: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Douglas Wynne wrote his first dark fantasy novel at the age of fifteen but has never found the courage to take it down from the attic and read it. After a long detour through music school, rock bands, and recording studios, he came full circle back to fiction writing and is recently the author of five novels: The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and the SPECTRA Files trilogy (Red Equinox, Black January, and Cthulhu Blues). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals.

Lives of the Monster Dogs

Lives of the Monster DogsLives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A charming, playful, imaginative novel, LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS is one I’ll be recommending to friends for years to come. Bakis is a wonderful writer, and there’s so much amazing creativity on display in these pages. (One chapter is written in the style of an opera libretto!) The monster dogs themselves are an incredible creation. With their top hats, tails, and gowns, mechanical voices and robotic hands, they are indelibly burnt into my memory.

One thing I found really interesting is the recurring theme of how complex and fallible our heroes are. Augustus Rank, the creator of the monster dogs who is all but worshipped by canine scholar Ludwig von Sacher, is a violent, selfish man who could easily have become a serial killer had he not become a surgeon instead. Mops Hacker, beloved leader of the monster dog revolution, is churlish, ill-tempered, and petty. Even our protagonist Cleo seems to love the monster dogs more for what they mean to her than for who they truly are. There are no easy answers in the history of the monster dogs, but there is beauty to be found in their lives.

My one complaint about the novel, and the only reason I’m giving it four stars instead of five, is that the end is too abrupt for me. I wanted a lengthier denouement, especially with regard to the mysterious illness that plagues the monster dogs, which is wrapped up too quickly — and frankly too opaquely — to be satisfying. But everything else in LIVES OF THE MONSTER DOGS is an achievement. It deserves all the acclaim it has received and then some. Now if only Bakis would write another novel!

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The Changeling

The ChangelingThe Changeling by Victor LaValle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many authors have tried to write New York City-based fairy tales, but with THE CHANGELING Victor LaValle gets it right. Here, the city is home to monsters both real and imagined, physical and online, hidden behind mystical glamours and cold, hard computer screens, in the forests of Queens and on abandoned islands in the East River. THE CHANGELING expertly balances on a tightrope between horrific phantasmagoria and crisp realism, but that’s something I’ve come to expect from LaValle, whose excellent previous novels BIG MACHINE and THE DEVIL IN SILVER walked that same tightrope just as effectively. (His recent novella THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM jumps gleefully over the rope straight into the playground of genre fiction to sterling effect.) I unreservedly recommend anything LaValle has written, but with characters you can’t help but identify with, even if you’re not a parent, and a story so compelling the pages fly by, THE CHANGELING might be his most accessible novel yet. Besides, how could I not love a novel in which the author makes a passing reference to one of my own books?

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The Scariest Part: Hollie Overton Talks About THE WALLS


This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Hollie Overton, whose new novel is The Walls. Here is the publisher’s description:

A heart-stopping psychological suspense novel about a Texas prison official driven to commit the perfect crime, by the author of the international bestselling thriller Baby Doll.


Working on death row is far from Kristy Tucker’s dream, but she is grateful for a job that allows her to support her son and ailing father.

When she meets Lance Dobson, Kristy begins to imagine a different kind of future. But after their wedding, she finds herself serving her own life sentence — one of abuse and constant terror.

But Kristy is a survivor, and as Lance’s violence escalates, the inmates she’s worked with have planted an idea she simply can’t shake.

Now she must decide whether she’ll risk everything to protect her family.

Does she have what it takes to commit the perfect crime?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Hollie Overton:

When I began writing my second novel, The Walls, I alternated between feeling incredibly inspired and consumed with anxiety. The expectation of whether I could write another book, and if I did, whether it would be as well received, weighed on me. But eventually I realized the only thing I could control was the writing. Focus on that and everything else will fall into place. I set out to do that with The Walls but life had other plans. The scariest part of writing this book was coping with one of life’s greatest losses.

My mother, Betty Overton, was a domestic abuse survivor. She married my father and adopted my twin sister and I when we were just six days old. By the time we were four, his addictions and violent temper were spiraling out of control and her only choice was to walk away. When I first had the idea for The Walls, about a woman who marries a violent man and must find a way out, I thought a lot about my mom and that sacrifice she made, giving up the man she loved for the love of her children.

In the midst of writing The Walls, my mom’s health took a turn for the worse. A lifelong smoker, she’d been plagued with health issues, her lungs ravaged, each breath a struggle. But she always remained upbeat and positive, finding the bright spot in each and every day. When that flash of fear bubbled up about whether the book was any good and if I’d make my deadline, I reminded myself of my mother’s fighting spirit. She rarely complained about being trapped inside her home, trapped inside her own body, unable to walk more than a few feet at a time without getting winded. In Mom’s words, I needed to “get over myself.”

When I wasn’t working, I would head over to her place. We’d cook dinner or order takeout, then curl up to watch our favorite TV shows and movies, pausing every few seconds to share anecdotes. I always hated leaving Mom, but with deadlines looming, I had no choice. She’d wave off my apologies, reminding me how lucky I was to do a job I loved, a job that allowed me to care for her. With Mom’s words echoing in my head, I’d return to my laptop, eager for her to see the finished product.

Unfortunately, my mother passed away two days after I delivered the final manuscript to my editors. Guilt consumed me those first few weeks. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the time I missed out on, time I’d spent writing instead. Whenever I get too melancholy though, I’m reminded of one of our final phone calls. I was working on edits and had promised to drop by but I wasn’t finished yet. I just needed one more day and then I’d come by and see her. I was emotional, knowing she wasn’t doing well, but not at all aware that our time together was running out. Despite my tears, Mom wasn’t having it. “Hollie, you’re being ridiculous. I didn’t raise you to live your life for me.”

My mom’s greatest wish was to see me succeed. Each time a new writing dream comes true, I know she’s cheering me on. The Walls is dedicated to my mom, the person who taught me to be brave, taught me how to write through fear and how experiencing death, the scariest thing there is to face can teach you a lot about life. My mom may be gone but thanks to her influence, I have plenty of stories left to tell.

The Walls: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Hollie Overton: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Hollie Overton was raised in Texas, and draws on her unique childhood experiences for inspiration. Her father was a member of the notorious Overton gang in Austin, and served time in prison for manslaughter. Hollie is a television writer whose credits include the CBS drama Cold Case and Freeform’s Shadowhunters. Her debut novel, Baby Doll, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into eleven languages. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and rescue dog.



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