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The Scariest Part: Shannon Stoker Talks About THE ALLIANCE


Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a 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. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

My guest is Shannon Stoker, whose latest novel is The Alliance, the conclusion of the Registry trilogy. Here is the publisher’s description:

In this deadly endgame, the final move is hers . . .

In America, the Registry weds girls to the highest bidder and raises boys for its army.

Mia Morrissey escaped to make her life her own, and now that she has, she will risk everything so that everyone can be free.

Going undercover as part of a diplomatic mission, Mia returns to America. But life there is more dangerous than ever as the walls grow ever taller, and the forgotten country faces its most ruthless leader yet, Grant Marsden . . . a shadow from Mia’s past. With the help of Andrew, Carter, and other members of the subversive group Affinity, she embarks on a perilous journey to defeat Grant, bring down the government, and destroy the Registry once and for all.

When a terrible betrayal exposes the operation, Mia discovers that her enemies have used her — and so have her friends. Alone and frightened, she’s uncertain who to trust — or whether the mission is worth what she’s sacrificing.

With the fate of her friends and the future of her country on the line, Mia knows that her next step may be the last for her . . . and America.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Shannon Stoker:

Writing the psychological torture of one of the main characters was the scariest part of writing my novel, The Alliance. Andrew has had a tough life throughout the entire Registry series. In the second book he is kidnapped and has his brain scrambled, in The Alliance he is dealing with the after effects. I’ve never dealt with torture or kidnapping in my life, and I hope the average person hasn’t either, so just doing the research was enough to really freak me out.

The group who was after Andrew wanted him as a blank slate but still physically intact. I spent hours looking up different methods real life groups have used in the past to accomplish this goal. It made me realize just how fragile the human mind is and how capable we are of inflicting lasting pain on each other.

Keeping Andrew sane after this experience was difficult, especially because I didn’t want to just sweep it under the rug. He had already been through a lot of hardships that could have destroyed him, but if the torture had worked he would have transformed into an unsympathetic killing machine. I had to write a fine line keeping him away from this fate but still deeply impacted in a real way by his experience.

In the first installment of the Registry series Andrew’s backstory reveals that he has previously been made to take lives against his will. He was raised with zero compassion and his only goal was to be a soldier. As he progressed, his goals change and he realizes there are good people in the world and he can be one of them. This is a big part of why what happens to him in The Collection so traumatic. He is almost back to square one in The Alliance and has to remind himself that there is good in the world and that humanity is worth fighting for.

I’ve always enjoyed violent stories, whether they are action, horror, or supernaturally-based. I think writing fighting scenes is much easier than romantic ones. But writing about broken bones and blood is a lot simpler than figuring out the ins-and-outs of the human psyche and how to destroy it. One of the great freedoms of writing fictional characters is controlling the outcome. I can’t help but wonder if Andrew were a real person whether his constitution have been strong enough to survive, and that’s the scariest part.

Shannon Stoker: Website / Twitter / Facebook / Goodreads

The Alliance: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / iTunes / Kobo

Shannon Stoker lives in DeKalb, IL. She received her undergraduate and law degree from Northern Illinois University where she now works as the Research Integrity Coordinator. It’s not a stretch to say she’s a die-hard Huskie fan! When she’s not working or writing Shannon spends the majority of her time playing with her terrier mix Nucky or her husband. She loves watching horror movies, including those straight to DVD classics most people never heard of. If she wasn’t an attorney or an author she would have been a beautician and is constantly bugging her friends to come over and let Shannon play with their hair.



A reminder: You only have 10 days left to win a free, signed copy of Die and Stay Dead! Check out the Goodreads giveaway!

The Scariest Part: Brian Keene Talks About THE LOST LEVEL

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Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a 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. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, please review the guidelines here.)

I’m very pleased to have as my guest my good friend, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and recent recipient of the World Horror Convention’s Grand Master Award Brian Keene. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Brian for well over a decade, and in that time I’ve roasted him at Necon, been roasted by him at Necon, and shared more than a few evenings full of drinks, laughter, and plans to dominate the genre. But most importantly I’ve seen his career blossom and his popularity as a writer grow with each passing year. It couldn’t have happened for a nicer, more deserving guy. Brian has published over forty novels to date, the most recent of which is The Lost Level. Here is the publisher’s description:

When modern-day occultist Aaron Pace discovers the secrets of inter-dimensional travel via a mystical pathway called The Labyrinth, he wastes no time in exploring a multitude of strange new worlds and alternate realities. But then, Aaron finds himself trapped in the most bizarre dimension of all — a place where dinosaurs coexist with giant robots, where cowboys fight reptilian lizard people, and where even the grass can kill you. This is a world populated by the missing and the disappeared, a world where myth is reality and where the extinct is reborn. Now, side-by-side with his new companions Kasheena and Bloop, Aaron must learn to navigate its dangers and survive long enough to escape…The Lost Level.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Brian Keene:

For me, the scariest part of The Lost Level was the novel’s central conceit — a character trapped far from home in an increasingly hostile and bizarre environment where everything is trying to kill him.

I’m a country boy, raised by country folks, and have always taken pride in the fact that I’m self-sufficient. These days, it’s trendy to be so. People call it “prepping” and there are books, television shows, websites, and trade shows dedicated to it. Growing up, we didn’t learn such skills because they were trendy, or because my parents and grandparents thought a coronal mass ejection would shut down the power grid and summon the zombie apocalypse. We learned them simply because we needed them. Just as a city kid learns skills which helps them traverse the streets and live in the metropolis, we learned how to field dress a deer or run a trout line across the river (to paraphrase the Hank Williams Jr. song).

As a result, I’ve always been confident of my ability to adapt to and survive any sort of adverse emergency situation. A few years ago, I fell off a cliff while hiking alone, toppled roughly twenty feet into a rain-swollen river, got washed downstream about a mile, escaped drowning and fought my way to shore, and then had to hike three miles out of the woods while bleeding from a gash that ran along the entire underside of my forearm.

In the dark.

This was no problem, nor did I have a problem supergluing the wound shut when I finally reached my home. “I can survive anything,” I said.

Which is why the universe decided to teach me a lesson not too long ago.

Until earlier this year, I lived in a remote cabin atop a small mountain along the Susquehanna River. Author friends who have visited there can attest to how far removed from civilization this home was for me. It was absolutely perfect, and I loved it. I chopped my own firewood, grew my own vegetables, and had a grand old time living as my forefathers did, and teaching my six-year-old some of those skills, as well.

Then the 2014 Polar Vortex hit, bringing hurricane force winds, below-freezing temperatures, and a metric fuck-ton of snow (that’s a valid measurement). In the first twenty-four hours, Central Pennsylvania was turned into a disaster area. Millions lost power — and heat. Roads were impassible. Even the National Guard were having a hard time of it. But not me. I sat on top of my mountain, fire roaring in the wood stove, laptop powered by the emergency generator, and feeling all proud of myself for once again being able to survive anything.

That’s when the Polar Vortex swung around for a second strike, dropping a tree on my generator, and two more through my roof. Not to mention the thirty or so more trees it dropped across the one dirt lane that led from my home down to the main road at the bottom of the mountain. The wood stove was unusable, the kitchen was full of snow, and the pipes quickly froze and burst. Within hours, my cabin was reduced to uninhabitable rubble (and just like health insurance and 401Ks, working writers seldom have homeowners insurance, because that’s something else we can’t afford). And we were trapped, unable to drive out because, even if we made it through the snow, my vehicle wasn’t going to transform into a robot and climb over the fallen trees.

It’s one thing to teach your child the same survival skills you learned from your father and grandfather. It’s another to make him live in a house that suddenly has no plumbing or electricity or heat. So, when the snow melted, we moved to an apartment in town. He is much happier because he has Cartoon Network again, and Minecraft, and doesn’t have to eat freeze-dried rations for dinner. And I’m happy because he is happy. And while, despite all its challenges, I vastly prefer living in the country over living in an apartment in town, I do have to admit I’m learning an entire new set of survival skills — like how to muffle the sounds of police sirens shrieking or the neighbors partying at 3 AM. In the country, I secured my trash cans so bears wouldn’t get into them. Here, we do the same to keep out feral cats.

We’re surviving.

And that’s what Aaron, the main character in The Lost Level, is doing, as well. He’s been transported to an alien dimension full of dinosaurs and robots and cowboys and lizard people. It’s a world where even something as innocuous as the grass can kill you. A world where, instead of him saving the Princess, the Princess repeatedly saves him, because he doesn’t yet possess the skills to survive there. He’s trapped there, with nothing other than what was in his pockets at the time. And he quickly discovers that no amount of readiness or prepping could suffice for what this strange new world has in store.

For me, the scariest part of writing the novel was putting myself in Aaron’s shoes, and remembering what it’s like to have your confidence and self-sufficiency shattered and eroded by helplessness and an all-too-consuming despair.

But you know what? You can survive helplessness and despair, too, as long as you don’t give in to fear.

Brian Keene: Website / Facebook / Twitter

The Lost Level: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Apex Publications

Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism. He is the author of over forty books. His 2003 novel, The Rising, is often credited (along with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later film) with inspiring pop culture’s current interest in zombies. In addition to his own original work, Keene has written for media properties such as Doctor Who, The X-Files, Hellboy, Masters of the Universe, and Superman. Keene’s work has been praised by Stephen King and in such diverse places as The New York Times, The History Channel, The Howard Stern Show,, Publisher’s Weekly, Fangoria, and Rue Morgue Magazine. He has won numerous awards and honors, including the World Horror Grand Master Award, two Bram Stoker Awards, and a recognition from Whiteman A.F.B. (home of the B-2 Stealth Bomber) for his outreach to U.S. troops serving both overseas and abroad. A prolific public speaker, Keene has delivered talks at conventions, college campuses, theaters, and inside Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, VA.

Nightingale Songs

Nightingale SongsNightingale Songs by Simon Strantzas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fine collection of weird fiction from one of the most original voices in the field. Strantzas has been carving his own niche in the world of horror and dark fantasy for several years now, and he just gets better and better. Deeply influenced by Robert Aickman, Strantzas writes stories where the everyday is interrupted, often to devastating effect, by something beyond human understanding or explanation. This could leave readers who are looking for narrative cohesion, or indeed any sort of explanation for the supernatural horrors that befall Strantzas’s characters, feeling at a loss. Yet if you look closer you’ll see in those horrors the characters’ deep fears and long-repressed emotions made real. Strantzas’s fiction is routinely dark and rarely offers a happy ending — even rarer is any kind of return to the status quo of the everyday — but the imagination on display in his work is its own reward. This collection, like all his others, is well worth your time.

View all my reviews