News & Blog

“Hardboiled Horror” Now Online

My article for the exemplary Nightmare Magazine, “The H Word: Hardboiled Horror,” is now available to read for free on their website. Here’s a snippet:

Some of the best authors of horror and dark fantasy have been utilizing noir for decades now. William Hjortsberg’s famous novel Falling Angel dates back to 1978 (and was adapted into the movie Angel Heart in 1987). It features a hardboiled private investigator, Harry Angel, who takes on a missing person case that turns into a phantasmagoria of ritual murders, voodoo, and Satanism. Peter Straub’s novels Koko and The Throat take a number of noir tropes—murder, amateur detectives, and a colossal distrust of the supposed rules of a civilized society—and mix them with a strong dose of psychological horror.

Click on through to read the whole thing. For free, even!

The Scariest Part: James Maddox & Jen Hickman Talk About THE DEAD


Welcome to the inaugural edition of The Scariest Part, a new, recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. I’m thrilled to have James Maddox and Jen Hickman as my first guests. Together, they’re the creators behind the ongoing digital comic The Dead. Currently, they’re also running a Kickstarter campaign to fund a graphic novel print version of the comic. Here’s a description of the series:

When Sam opens his eyes after dying, he expects to see heavenly clouds or hellfire. What he’s faced with instead is “The House” – a surreal and often-dangerous afterlife of interconnected rooms. As Sam travels deeper into this new world, he finds the strange creators of these rooms aren’t the only residents of The House. Here there be monsters, and if he isn’t careful, Sam’s stay will take a horrible turn.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest parts were for James Maddox and Jen Hickman.

James Maddox, Story and Writing

The Dead is the story of what happens after you die. And before you ask, it’s not a zombie comic. Rather, our story drops readers into an afterlife made up of rooms that are customized by its individual residents. These rooms have the ability to encompass the entirety of any imagination, so as you may have guessed, the settings for this book can get dark and surreal at times. Some of the horror concepts that emerge in The Dead are graphic in their violence, but the scariest parts for me are more subtle and cerebral than simple gore.

In issue two, I decided to show these two particular approaches side-by-side (i.e. human versus natural horror). Here we find a gang of zealots, the Seraphim, who have banded together to kill one of our main characters, Velouria. Though V and her hatchet bloody the ground with viscera and gore at the beginning of the scene, the advantage quickly turns against her. Soon the strength of the Seraphim’s numbers overcome Velouria and the gang of bastards prepare to deliver her to a gruesome and painful death.

Just before the violence against Velouria kicks into high gear, a monster to which I allude in issue one is finally revealed. Called “the Frail”, it takes the ghostly appearance of a beautiful and gentle woman. In our story, the Frail are creatures that look inviting, but cause mental instability in the nearby population. In this example, the Seraphim begin to attack each other and themselves, allowing for Velouria’s escape from danger. One man tears out his eyes, while another is stabbed through his stomach, a victim of a crazed ally. While at first glance this may seem to be supernatural as opposed to natural, there is no real reason for the Frail’s effects. They are a natural and elemental force in this world.

Unlike a human act of violence, the Frail doesn’t cause horror because it hates or covets. As the scene unfolds, we don’t see her become angered or upset. In fact, she seems concerned for the people who are tearing each other apart thanks to her presence. It’s like a tornado: from a distance it is awe-inspiring and beautiful in its enormity; but, up close a tornado is one of the most horrific and terrifying things you could experience. And whether you are a bystander seeing it from a mile away or unfortunate enough to find yourself in the thick of its fury, the tornado doesn’t care in the slightest.

Violence inflicted on one person by another who holds different beliefs is something we can understand on some level. Wars are fought over differences in belief and (mis)understandings. Even if our understanding is that something is sick and demented, it’s still able to be put it into a framework most of us can fathom. Because I am able to wrap my mind around it, this approach to horror is made more real and visceral, but has less of an overall hold on my imagination.

Perhaps this is why I tend to lean more toward the natural force when I read horror and why the Frail are the scariest part of my own work. I get people’s reasons for violence, as dark and disturbing as they may be, but a force such as the Frail (or a tornado, or a sandworm, or a werewolf, or an earthquake,) can’t ever have reasons that can be understood by a human mind. It is the human mind that fills in the blank spots, and with our speculation we make these things more frightening. Is there anything more terrifying than the stories and details that swell in our minds to explain the things bigger and more strange than us? For me, there’s nothing scarier.

Jen Hickman, Illustrations and Colors

For me, fear in storytelling arrives at the moment when we remember just how vulnerable a character (and by proxy we ourselves) is. It’s that moment before anything happens, when your protagonist is standing in his PJs while a lumbering monstrosity chases after him, when all you can think is, “Oh god! He’s just a pile of delicate biological systems that almost anything could destroy!”

In The Dead our protagonist runs into a bunch of these situations, teetering on the edge of safety and danger. What’s fun about the story is that James doesn’t stick with just one type of peril– there’s a little bit of everything. Fear of heights, ineffable Frail, beastly Wretched, backstabbing, and good old-fashioned well-armed zealots. For me, the scariest part is that there are many, many opportunities to remember just how easy it is to die.

The Dead: Website / ComiXology / Amazon / Kickstarter (As of this writing, there are only 9 days left to support their project, so if you’re interested, hop to it!)

James Maddox
After completing titles like the critically acclaimed The Horror Show and Nightmare Unknown, Maddox has continued his comic career with stories like The DeadClown, and the wildly anticipated Blue Nemesis. A versatile and prolific writer/creator, Maddox has only just begun to find and impress his audience. He can be found online at and on Twitter as @jamescmaddox.

Jen Hickman
Jen Hickman is a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Sequential Art program. Her credits in the comic industry include the successfully crowdfunded publications The Playlist Anthology and the digital sketchbook Tip Jar. She can be found online at and @umicorms.

Remember, if you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, you can read the guidelines here.


Announcing “The Scariest Part”

In the tradition of John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea,” Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit,” and Chuck Wendig’s “Five Things I Learned,” and with their blessings and advice, I am very excited to announce that I will be starting a recurring, guest-written feature right here on my own blog: “The Scariest Part”! The first guest blog post should be appearing this week.

The guidelines are below and can also be found on this permanent page of my website: The Scariest Part. As of today, I am open to queries. Please read the guidelines very carefully before querying. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

What is “The Scariest Part,” anyway?

The Scariest Part is a recurring guest blog feature in which authors, filmmakers, comic book writers, and game creators discuss the scariest parts of their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. The definition of “scariest part” is actually pretty flexible. It can be the scene that gave them the most chills, or some personal threshold they had to cross during the creative process. The goal is to help promote these new works to a wide audience of people interested in all things scary. A new guest blog will appear every week, give or take.

Hey, I write stuff and/or make movies! How can I be one of your guest bloggers?

Glad you asked! Anywhere from two months to one month before the official release date of your new work, send me an email at, with the subject line: “THE SCARIEST PART QUERY: [Your Name] [The Title] [Release Date].” (Please note: If your comic is monthly or otherwise ongoing, you can query me at any time.) In the body of the email, please give me a brief description of what you’re promoting. I’ll try to get back to you within a week to let you know if there’s space available. If you don’t hear from me after two weeks, feel free to check in with me to make sure I received your query. If I give you the thumbs up, I’ll assign you a run date for your blog post.

Just a heads up: Traditionally published books are more likely to get a slot than self-published books. That’s just the way I roll. Sending me angry emails about it won’t change my mind. Showing me you respect my guidelines might.

Do I also have to send you a copy of the book/comic/film/game?

Not unless I ask, but thanks for offering.

Hooray, you’ve given me a slot! Now what do you need from me?

Send me a short essay (as a Word file or equivalent, not in the body of an email) about the scariest part of your new work. By short, I mean in the 400- to 1,000-word range, roughly. Remember, you get to decide what “scariest part” actually means. Is it a scene that made you look over your shoulder even as you were writing it? Is it something so grotesque you were surprised that your own imagination came up with it? Is it a bit of real-world research you did that made you wonder how something so awful or strange could have happened? Is it confronting something difficult in your own life in order to better write about it? Consider this an opportunity to tell your audience what freaks you out, gets under your skin, or just gives you that indefinable frisson that all good scares provide.

Be sure to include a short bio. About 150-200 words should do. Also be sure to add any links you’d like to include, such as links to your website, your social media, and where to purchase the work.

In addition to your essay, I will need an image file of your book or comic cover, movie poster, or game box art. It doesn’t necessarily have to be high resolution, but the better the quality, the better it’ll look online.

Your deadline is one week before the scheduled run date. I’m flexible about deadlines, but please do not send anything earlier than that. Send your essay and your image file together to, with the subject line “THE SCARIEST PART ENTRY: [Your Name] [The Title] [Scheduled Blog Date].”

What’s with all the fancy-schmancy subject lines you’re asking for? Control-freak much?

Hey, I get a lot of email and I don’t want your queries or posts to get lost in the shuffle. Sue me.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Yes, two things, and they’re both important, so pay attention.

First, respectfully, I don’t have time to be your copyeditor or personal spell check. When you hand in your blog post, be sure it’s as free of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors as possible. Remember, you’re trying to entice your audience into purchasing the work you’re promoting. Take the time to put your best foot forward.

Second, I reserve the right to reject your blog post or ask for edits if it includes something I find offensive. I’m not easily offended, so I don’t expect this to happen often. However, I don’t take kindly to homophobia, sexism, racism, or any other kind of bigotry. If there’s something in your blog post that swims in those waters, you can expect to hear from me.

Okay. Anything else?

That’s it! Have fun with it!

Goldenland Past Dark

Goldenland Past DarkGoldenland Past Dark by Chandler Klang Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An accomplished and beautifully written debut novel from an author from whom I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more. A coterie of circus “freaks,” a cynical helper monkey, and a seriously disturbed family all share the spotlight in this affecting tale of a circus clown named Webern who is losing his grip on sanity. Webern may be the protagonist, but it’s the female characters in his life who are the most interesting to me: Nepenthe, the reluctant “lizard girl” of the freak show; Bo-Bo, Webern’s outlandishly eccentric grandmother (who really should have been in the novel for longer than she was); and perhaps most of all, the twins Willow and Billow, Webern’s spooky, witchy sisters who share their own nonsense language, speak to others only in rhyme, and make art out of dead animals. While the characters are extraordinarily well drawn, I did find myself wishing there were more of a through-plot on which to hang my hat. But it’s not really that kind of novel. It’s far more interested in letting you explore its world at a leisurely pace, much like the sideshows to which it pays such loving homage. Well worth reading. I’m looking forward to whatever the author comes up with next!

View all my reviews