The Scariest Part: David Mack Talks About THE SHADOW COMMISSION

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my good friend David Mack, whose latest novel is The Shadow Commission, the third volume in the Dark Arts seriesHere is the publisher’s description:

TRUST WILL GET THEM KILLED.

November 1963. Cade Martin and Anja Kernova have lived in hiding for a decade, training new mages. In the United States, Briet Segfrunsdóttir runs America’s top-secret Occult Defense Program from the Silo beneath the Pentagon.

Then the assassination of President Kennedy plunges all their lives into chaos. Briet, whose job was to defend Kennedy, is blamed for his death. Meanwhile, mages all over the world are brutally murdered—with Cade, Anja, and their closest allies being the prime targets.

Outgunned, on the run, and not knowing who to trust, Cade and Anja have just one hope to save themselves and their last few apprentices: they must find a way to fight the sinister cabal known only as The Shadow Commission.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for David Mack:

The Shadow Commission is a dark story, a tale of conspiracy and murder, of greed and lust for power. As its many horrors unfold, my characters find themselves and the people they love in the crosshairs of a sinister cabal that will stop at nothing to achieve a monopoly on magickal power.

All of my heroes suffer terrible losses in this story, but one of the cruelest befalls Briet Segfrunsdóttir, who after World War II was recruited through Operation: Paperclip to head up the U.S. Occult Defense Program.

When shadowy powers turn against Briet in The Shadow Commission, she realizes too late that her lovers, Alton Bloch and Hyun Park, with whom she shares a townhouse in the Washington, D.C., neighborhood of Georgetown, might be targeted because of her. She returns home in a desperate effort to ferry them to safety, only to unwittingly lead a monstrous assassin into their home, setting in motion the very tragedy she had hoped to avert:

The fire on the curtains spread to the furniture and raced across the living room.

Lying on her back, Briet gasped for air and prayed her lovers had fled.

Please tell me you ran. Let this be the one time you listened—

She heard the ker-clack of the shotgun’s pump action being primed. Alton had done the noble thing. The courageous thing. The stupid thing.

The monster pivoted to face Alton—who fired point-blank into its face.

The blast scattered the intruder’s fedora like ashen confetti, revealing its huge, hairless head.

Then it backhanded Alton with terrifying speed and power. A single blow caved in Alton’s skull and knocked his limp body out of the living room, back to the foyer.

No! Hot tears stung Briet’s eyes, but she had no breath for a scream. She stared at Alton’s lifeless form and prayed for the impossible. Please get up! Goddammit, Alton, please. Get up!

His body remained motionless. The monster turned back toward Briet. She fought to draw one good breath but failed. Her head swam as she struggled to get up to face the creature—

And then Hyun’s wails of terror became growls of fury.

Oh, no. No, my love—please run. . . .

Hyun grabbed the coatrack with both hands. With a fierce twist she broke its pole free of its base. Gripping it like a spear, she spun toward the goliath.

The monster reached toward the desperately gasping Briet, who saw its inhuman face for the first time: a viselike closed slit for a mouth, barely a hint of a nasal cavity, deep sockets filled with fire instead of eyes—and, across its broad blocky forehead, Hebrew characters scribed in Kabbalistic pact ink:

 

 

A golem!

Hyun let out a battle cry, charged, and tried to skewer the golem.

Her improvised spear deflected off the golem’s stony hide.

The creature turned and seized the weapon. Tore it from Hyun’s hands.

Hyun froze just as Alton had, staring up at the soulless killing machine.

With one thrust the golem impaled Hyun and staked her to the floor.

Even though the novel (and the series) is packed with demon-driven magic, the reason this scene terrified me to write is because Briet having to witness the murders of the only two people she loves in the world, and to realize that they’ve died because of her mistake, speaks to what feels to me like the most primal of human fears: having to face the loss of those who make our lives worth living, and having to go on alone bearing that pain for the rest of our lives.

The Shadow Commission: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

David Mack: Website / Facebook / Twitter

David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of three dozen novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure. His new novel The Shadow Commission is available now from Tor Books, and his new Star Trek novel More Beautiful Than Death is out now from Gallery Books. Mack currently works as a creative consultant for two animated Star Trek television series.

The Scariest Part: Mark Allan Gunnells Talks About 324 ABERCORN

It’s a Scariest Part hat trick! This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Mark Allan Gunnells in his third appearance on this blog! His latest novel is 324 AbercornHere is the publisher’s description:

Brad Storm doesn’t believe in ghosts, but moving into the house at 324 Abercorn just may change his mind.

Best-selling author Bradley Storm finally has enough money to buy and restore his dream home. Despite 324 Abercorn’s reputation as one of the most haunted houses in America, Bradley isn’t worried. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Then strange things begin to happen. Objects no longer where he left them. Phantom noises heard from empty rooms. Shadows glimpsed from the corner of his eye.

Is his house truly haunted, or is there something more sinister happening on the property?

With the help of Bradley’s new boyfriend and a few friends who are just as intrigued with the seemingly inexplicable occurrences surrounding the infamous house, they set out to find the truth of what stalks the halls at 324 Abercorn.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Allan Gunnells:

The scariest part of writing my new novel, 324 Abercorn, was trying to do justice to a city I love dearly.

Savannah, Georgia, is a place I almost consider a home away from home. My husband and I vacation there at least once a year, sometimes more than once. It is a city where I feel comfortable and at ease, and also a city that gives off a certain unique magic.

For starters, Savannah is beautiful. The grand historic homes, the lush squares throughout downtown, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. It is a banquet for the eyes, and yet there is another quality to the city that is harder to define. An atmosphere, a charm, a vibe. These things almost defy description, and therefore they are hard to convey in words.

Which makes the prospect of trying to capture this atmosphere in a novel rather daunting, but I definitely wanted to try.

I have read a few books set in Savannah where I felt the writers didn’t try all that hard. You know these stories take place in Savannah because the narration tells you so and occasionally a street name is mentioned, but there is nothing of the city’s unique flavor in the book. The location feels more generic, as if it could be taking place anywhere.

I wanted to avoid that. I wanted people from Savannah to read 324 Abercorn and say, “Yes, that is my home, I recognize it!” And I wanted people who have never been to Savannah to read the novel and feel that they knew the place anyway and if they ever traveled there it would feel like a return. I wanted to create a story that detailed the special blend of genteel southern allure and bustling sophistication that pervades the city’s people and history.

And that was scary, I won’t lie.

One of the first things I wanted to do was highlight the city’s rich history, not in such a way that felt like a school lesson, but weaving the history into the narrative so that the two felt intrinsically linked in an organic way. For a city that revels in its history, that seemed the natural approach.

Next, I wanted to feature the geography of the location. Nothing generic for me, but I wanted to be specific about streets and buildings, to the point that I wrote the entire novel with a map of Savannah next to me. If a character walked out of a certain store, headed for a certain park, I wanted to make sure I knew the most natural route he would take.

I also wanted to feature a cast of diverse characters that would speak to the wonderful energy and delightful magnetism of the city’s citizens. This was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the process for me.

That fear of possibly not doing justice to Savannah motivated me to work harder, and I like to think it paid off. Readers will be the ultimate judge of this, of course, but my dearest hope is that when people read 324 Abercorn, they fall in love with the city as much as I have.

324 Abercorn: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

Mark Allan Gunnells: Blog / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

The Scariest Part: Timothy Jay Smith Talks About FIRE ON THE ISLAND

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Timothy Jay Smith, whose latest novel is Fire on the IslandHere is the publisher’s description:

Fire on the Island is a playful, romantic thriller set in contemporary Greece, with a gay Greek-American FBI agent, who is undercover on the island to investigate a series of mysterious fires. Set against the very real refugee crisis on the beautiful, sun-drenched Greek islands, this novel paints a loving portrait of a community in crisis. As the island residents grapple with declining tourism, poverty, refugees, family feuds, and a perilously damaged church, an arsonist invades their midst.

Nick Damigos, the FBI agent, arrives on the island just in time to witness the latest fire and save a beloved truffle-sniffing dog. Hailed as a hero and embraced by the community, Nick finds himself drawn to Takis, a young bartender who becomes his primary suspect, which is a problem because they’re having an affair. Theirs is not the only complicated romance in the community and Takis isn’t the only suspicious character on the island. The priest is an art forger, a young Albanian waiter harbors a secret, the captain of the coast guard station seems to have his own agenda, and the village itself hides a violent history. Nick has to unravel the truth in time to prevent catastrophe, as he comes to terms with his own past trauma. In saving the village, he will go a long way toward saving himself.

A long time devotee of the Greek islands, Smith paints the setting with gorgeous color and empathy, ushering in a new romantic thriller with the charm of Zorba the Greek while shedding bright light on the very real challenges of life in contemporary Greece.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Timothy Jay Smith:

My ancestors arrived in America in the tailwinds of the Mayflower. Like most early settlers, they spent their first few decades in the original thirteen colonies before joining the slow migration to the West. Where they eventually landed was Iowa — the Buckle of the Corn Belt — and for the next two hundred years, they placidly farmed that state’s low rolling hills, largely free of threats by wild animals or venomous bugs. A rare puma might be seen, the timber rattlesnakes stayed in woodlands away from people, and while spiders were plentiful, the black widow spiders were the only venomous ones, and even they were more likely to make you sick than kill you. It was a tranquil, rural, and safe environment.

All that changed for my parents when they decided to move to California; and not just anywhere in California, but to its southern desert replete with deadly snakes, reptiles with strange names and uncertain dangerous potential, huge hairy tarantulas as well as plenty of black widow spiders, and even benignly named ‘kissing bugs’ that promised agony and death.

Simply put: we had moved to a danger zone filled with threats big and small, where we could easily be killed if we weren’t always vigilant. Before getting into bed at night, we checked to make sure that an insect or snake hadn’t crawled into it first. When I became a little older, I was taught how to shoot a rifle if attacked by a mountain lion (there were many in the nearby canyons).

It wasn’t all paranoia. The dangers were real. We’d play in the desert surrounding our neighborhood, and frequently sink ankle-deep into rattlesnake holes. My dog was bitten by a sidewinder. A friend my age (probably ten) was bitten by a rattlesnake. He was lucky to have a pocketknife with him, and had the good sense to slice open the bite to suck out the venom. It saved his life. On another occasion, I came across a flat board, probably three-feet square, that I flipped over, disturbing dozens of spider nests. Black widows by the hundreds scattered in every direction, running across my shoes and climbing up my naked calves.

It was a moment so frightening that I never forgot it.

Fast forward to the present. I’m writing Fire on the Island, and my protagonist finds himself in a cemetery where he decides to upright a fallen tombstone. I flashed on turning over that board in the desert, so of course it’s black widow spiders that flee when the tombstone is disturbed, running over my character’s feet and up his legs. I shivered, recalling all those spiders on my legs many years ago.

But I couldn’t leave it at that, not if I were true to Chekhov’s Gun — the dramatic principle that every element in a story should be necessary and not make false promises by never coming into play. So what to do with black widow spiders?

The choice was remarkably easy. In Fire on the Island, an arsonist threatens a Greek island village, which would also put the local Coast Guard station out of commission during an uptick in the refugee crisis. Nick Damigos, the FBI agent assigned to Athens, arrives to investigate. The secret arsonist obviously doesn’t like that and decides to try to stop him.

Nick pulled back the bed covers, or tried to; they were tucked in tight. Athina must have returned to remake the bed sometime during the day. He yanked a corner loose enough to get between the sheets and jabbed his legs down to make room for his feet.

He was asleep before his head hit the pillow. Dreaming of nothing, and then suddenly he was in the sea, diving down, bubbles caught in the hair on his legs tickling him as they rose to the surface, drifting up his belly and chest. Then, a sting on his thigh, another on his shoulder; inconsequential pricks that his dreamer’s mind dismissed as jellyfish larvae in the warm water. They were annoying not painful. Nevertheless, he kicked his feet to swim faster, and the stinging became more intense.

He woke up with a start. Something was stinging him! Biting him and crawling all over him! He scrambled from bed and turned on the lamp, and flicked a spider off his arm. He saw its red belly. A black widow! He felt more tramping through the hair on his chest and brushed those off, and then knocked off the ones dangling by their fangs from his ankles. He ripped back the bed covers and saw the nests that his feet had disturbed.

Nick bolted for the bathroom, accidentally sending the bedside lamp crashing to the floor. He fished a pocketknife from his dopp kit and sat on the toilet slitting open the bites, pinching out blood and venom. He sucked on the ones he could reach and spat the foul mixture into the sink. By contorting himself in the mirror, he tried to open the bites on his back; but he couldn’t, not successfully before tremors set in. A nauseating dizziness swept over him. He slumped to the floor, closing the bathroom door with his body.

There you have it: the scariest part of Fire on the Island, coming right out of the pages of my childhood.

Fire on the Island: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

Timothy Jay Smith: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. En route, he’s found the characters that people his work. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he’s hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-day crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.

Tim brings the same energy to his writing that he brought to a distinguished career, and as a result, he has won top honors for his novels, screenplays and stage plays in numerous prestigious competitions. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel (for unpublished novels), and his screenplay adaptation of it was named Best Indie Script by WriteMovies. Another novel, The Fourth Courier, set in Poland, published in 2019 by Arcade Publishing, was a finalist for Best Gay Novel in the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. Previously, he won the Paris Prize for Fiction (now the Paris Literary Prize) for his novel, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012.

Tim was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. His stage play, How High the Moon, won the prestigious Stanley Drama Award, and his screenplays have won competitions sponsored by the American Screenwriters Association, WriteMovies, Houston WorldFest, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Fresh Voices, StoryPros, and the Hollywood Screenwriting Institute. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

The Scariest Part: Rex Hurst Talks About WHAT HELL MAY COME

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Rex Hurst, whose latest novel is What Hell May ComeHere is the publisher’s description:

The satanic panic was a moral outcry in the United States over supposed “satanic” influence in media warping the youth of America. Claims that playing an elf in Dungeons and Dragons could lead to demonic possession, that playing heavy metal music backwards would reveal satanic messages, and that therapists could uncover repressed memories of satanic ritual abuse, were all too common. Volumes and volumes of material were produced on this fake subject. These texts leads to What Hell May Come which takes a look at what the world would actually be like if all of the claims of the satanic panic were true.

Set in 1986, Jon St. Fond’s life is a living Hell. Deliberately abused and neglected by his parents, the only joy he has in life is an escape into a fantasy land of role playing games. He discovers that his parents are part of a secret occult religion with hidden ties all across the world. Jon soon learns there is method behind the madness of his life, as his Father begins to bring him closer and closer into the ways of the cult. Ultimately, Jon must make a choice between all the pleasures of the earth and the future of his soul.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Rex Hurst:

With my new book What Hell May Come being released on June 12th, 2020, I was given the daunting task of coming up with the scariest part of my book. Luckily, our good host, Nick Kaufmann, left it open to interpretation for what was meant by “the scariest part.” For me, the most disturbing part wasn’t in anything I wrote, but what I found in the research leading up to the novel.

The book was inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, where it was fashionable to claim that everything embraced by youth culture was designed to corrupt the morals of young people and lead them down the road to damnation. All of this was supposedly controlled by a shadowy Satanic Elite. People naturally reacted and a flourishing book trade sprouted up of people relating their “experiences” with these Satanic forces, which I read more than I should have.

But along the way I uncovered such gems as:

“The unicorn is a symbol of the antichrist, which the prophet Daniel described in his vision as the little horn which rises in the midst of the ten horns. My Little Pony symbolisms may be cute, but they are definitely based on occult symbolisms. The occult symbolisms are not limited to the toys themselves. The My Little Pony cartoon is also laden with the occult.”

  • From Turmoil in the Toybox by Phil Phillips.

Or:

“Rainbow Brite is a little girl who ‘can bring sparkles of color to the darkest day and put a bright smile on a little girl’s face’. … However the cartoon is laden with occult symbolisms. [Occultists] use rainbows to signify their building of the Rainbow Bridge (antahkarana) between man and Lucifer, who they say, is the over-soul.”

  • From Turmoil in the Toybox by Phil Phillips.

And:

“An Illinois fifth-grader developed a serious psychosis clearly linked to D&D gaming and had to be admitted to a state psychiatric hospital. His teacher said that the boy (who had good grades and never had been a behavior problem) had been sitting in the back of the room, staring at the wall. When confronted, he said, ‘the wizard told me to do this.’

“The boy was heavily involved in D&D play and told the principal that voices told him to do things. He admitted to frequent nightmares of being chased by a dragon through a cave and a wizard master telling him to kill his friends and family. The principal also noted that the boy hinted at suicidal ‘commands’.”

  • From The Devil’s Web: Who is Stalking Your Children For Satan? By Pat Pulling (creator of B.A.D.D. – Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons).

Yes, if you let your daughters play with My Little Pony or Rainbow Brite dolls, you are allowing them to worship the antichrist. And if your kid plays a dwarf in a game of Dungeons and Dragons he will become a mentally ill murderer, totally absolving you of any blame for bad parenting.

We can laugh at the ridiculousness with the security of hindsight, but remember people believed this. For many adults, these writings were their first exposure to Heavy Metal music, role playing games, and video games, and they were of the generation that believed everything put into print. So think about the actions of people who were successfully frightened by passages above. People went to jail because of this propaganda. Lives were ruined. That’s what I find truly scary.

What Hell May Come is a serious look into the demented imaginations of people who wrote about things they barely understood. What the world might look like had their suspicions been true? Truly, a very scary place.

What Hell May Come: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / Bookshop

Rex Hurst: Website / Review Blog / Twitter

Rex Hurst is a failed entrepreneur trying to sell do-it-yourself rat breeding businesses. When that failed, he took up writing. He is the author of What Hell May Come; The Foot Doctor Letters: A Serial Killer Speaks Out; and the sci-fi novel Across the Wounded Galaxy – based on the Battlelords RPG game universe.

 

 

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