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The Clockworm and Other Strange Stories

The Clockworm: and Other Strange TalesThe Clockworm: and Other Strange Tales by Karen Heuler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another exceptional collection from Karen Heuler, a fantastic writer — and writer of the fantastic — whom I wish more people were reading. If you like the short fiction of Kelly Link, Robert Shearman, and Helen Marshall, I think you’ll really enjoy Heuler’s work as well. Her stories are whimsical, surreal, and flavored with a sense of humor that often masks something dark hiding beneath.

The nineteen stories in THE CLOCKWORM AND OTHER STRANGE STORIES include some of Heuler’s best work yet. My favorite among them is probably “Figaro, Figueroa,” in which an author becomes obsessively jealous when two of her fictional characters get together romantically. It may sound like a comical premise, but it’s actually one of the darkest stories in the collection. Because it’s more to my taste, I find myself drawn to Heuler’s other dark stories as well, like “The Reordering of Tonia Vivian,” in which a young girl forms a competitive relationship with the unborn twin she absorbed in utero, and “The People in the Mirror,” which, at least structurally, is the most like a classic horror story, focusing on one family’s descent into madness and tragedy, ostensibly because of a cursed mirror.

I own the Tartarus Press hardcover edition, which is beautifully produced and printed on high-quality paper, but it’s also quite expensive. A much cheaper e-book edition is currently available, and I hope there will be a reasonably priced paperback edition soon, so that more readers can experience the magic of Heuler’s stories. After working quietly and steadily in the science fiction and fantasy genres for decades, mostly under the radar, she’s an author who deserves your attention.

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The Scariest Part: Meghan Holloway Talks About ONCE MORE UNTO THE BREACH

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author Meghan Holloway, whose new novel is Once More Unto the Breach. Here is the publisher’s description:

For readers of The Nightingale and Beneath a Scarlet Sky comes a gripping historical thriller set against a fully-realized WWII backdrop about the love a father has for his son and the lengths he is willing to go to find him, from a talented new voice in suspense.

Rhys Gravenor, Great War veteran and Welsh sheep farmer, arrives in Paris in the midst of the city’s liberation with a worn letter in his pocket that may have arrived years too late. As he follows the footsteps of his missing son across an unfamiliar, war-torn country, he struggles to come to terms with the incident that drove a wedge between the two of them.

Joined by Charlotte Dubois, an American ambulance driver with secrets of her own, Rhys discovers that even as liberation sweeps across France, the war is far from over. And his personal war has only begun as he is haunted by memories of previous battles and hampered at every turn by danger and betrayal. In a race against time and the war, Rhys follows his son’s trail from Paris to the perilous streets of Vichy to the starving mobs in Lyon to the treacherous Alps. But Rhys is not the only one searching for his son. In a race of his own, a relentless enemy stalks him across the country and will stop at nothing to find the young man first.

The country is in tatters, no one is trustworthy, and Rhys must unravel the mystery of his son’s wartime actions in the desperate hope of finding him before it’s too late. Too late to mend the frayed bond between them. Too late to beg his forgiveness. Too late to bring him home alive.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Meghan Holloway:

The scariest part is the beginning. I mean that in both senses of the word: fashioning the opening hook that will engage readers and setting pen to paper for the first time.

More important than a phenomenal cover, more pivotal than an engaging back cover synopsis, the first sentence, first paragraphs, first pages are often the deciding factor for readers. Readers are investing their time and money in an author’s work, and we have limited space in which we can make our sales pitch. We have to grab the reader on the first page to ensure they read to the last.

It can be a daunting task. When I finish a manuscript and begin my revisions, I inevitably find that I have begun the story in a place that does not have the impact I am aiming for. A close friend who has the dubious honor of being my critique partner read the roughest draft of Once More Unto the Breach and said, “Cut out the first chapter. It’s boring, and even though it’s nicely written, I don’t care. Chapter two is the beginning.” And he was right.

The beginning has to have the perfect balance of emotional resonance and intrigue. Preferences in style are subjective, but the writing itself has to be engaging. That opening segue into the story must leave the reader wanting to know more. Otherwise they will not continue turning the pages. And each time I finish a manuscript and begin the revision process, I keep in mind that where I have opened the story may not be the most gripping beginning.

My background is in library and information science, so to say that I love research is a bit of an understatement. But as much as I love research, I recognize the pitfall an author can become ensnared in. It is incredibly easy to become so bogged down in research to the point where you cripple yourself. I was hesitant to write a period piece once I began researching, because I realized that I could spend the rest of my life researching the WWII era, and I would still not know everything. It is easy to doubt your ability to portray an era authentically when you become mired in the research.

I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians, in a region of the south where the landscape undulates in rolling hills and steep ravines, where rivers score the green forests and lakes are deep and cold. When I was a child, I was frequently on the water, and in the center of the lake near my home was a craggy island with a sheer cliff face. The island appeared prehistoric and atmospheric when we would paddle out to it. The climb up the cliff to the jagged cusp sixty feet above the water was daunting. The view from that high perch was even more so, and I found the longer I stood there contemplating that soaring drop I was about to launch myself into, the more frightened I became.

I felt that same tightness in my throat, that same flutter in my chest as I sat before an empty notebook with my research material spread out before me. I was stepping off into the unknown. I had made the climb; I had spent two years doing research. I had my lifejacket; I was prepared and had resource books and primary sources collected about me. I knew that it would be an exhilarating rush; the story was one I could not wait to tell and could not wait to share with readers.

In the end, despite the fear, all I needed to do was what my father yelled up at me from the boat as I was standing on the edge of that cliff: “Just jump!”

Once More Unto the Breach: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / Powell’s / IndieBound

Meghan Holloway: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Meghan Holloway found her first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at the age of eight and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. She flew an airplane before she learned how to drive a car, did her undergrad work in Creative Writing in the sweltering south, and finished a Masters of Library and Information Science in the blustery north. She spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, traveled the world for a few years, and did a stint fighting crime in the records section of a police department.​​ She now lives in the foothills of the Appalachians with her standard poodle and spends her days as a scientist with the requisite glasses but minus the lab coat.

The Scariest Part: J.L. Delozier Talks About BLOOD TYPE X

This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author J.L. Delozier, whose new novel is Blood Type X. Here is the publisher’s description:

Mysterious photos of the world’s most wanted killer, Dr. William Blaine.

Coded letters luring Persephone Smith to Spain.

A little girl who is not what she seems.

Criminal psychologist Persephone “Seph” Smith is back on the hunt for Dr. William Baine, a scientist who murdered half the world’s population with his Type O virus. Now, he plans to rebuild the world in his own image — starting with Seph. When the hunter becomes the hunted, Seph must rely on her genetic gift to outwit Baine — and his shadowy accomplice.

Blood Type X is the third installment of the Persephone Smith series, which includes Storm Shelter (“An unconventional mystery that’s smart and unpredictable” – Kirkus Reviews) and the Thriller Award-nominated Type & Cross.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for J.L. Delozier:

Blood Type X, like most thriller/horror novels, has its share of tense, scary moments. Serial killer on the prowl? Check. Terrorist bomb attack? Check. Uber-intelligent mad scientist conducting terrifying human experiments? Check, check, and check.

But the book’s scariest moment comes not with a blast but via a whisper from its seemingly most innocent character — an orphaned Basque child named Sorne. Sorne’s smart, savvy, and fiercely determined to better her miserable life — admirable qualities for the average little girl. Sorne, however, is anything but average. When our heroine, Dr. Persephone “Seph” Smith, is kidnapped, she throws a kink in the child’s plan with an attempted escape. The girl’s response is swift and brutal.

In this scene, Seph is trapped in a coffin-like closet of a subterranean prison with no hope of escape. No one knows where she is — except Sorne. Seph, a psychologist by training, attempts to manipulate the child into freeing her, with this chilling response:

“You’re nothing. So was Marta. Why would Master think you’re special — worth altering his plan for?” The bottom shelves shuddered as if a petulant Sorne had plopped against the door on the opposite side. “You could ruin everything. I’d have to go back to living in that hotel’s stupid lobby. But if I can make you go away…”

The lilting notes of a traditional Basque folk melody filled the frigid air. The child drowned out Seph’s pleas with a serenade, celebrating her misery with a song.

The final notes faded away. Sorne spoke, her voice once again distant and ethereal. “A song for the lamiak. Do you know about them in America? You call them fairies, I think. They live underground, too, just like you, or in rivers, sometimes. I can tell you their story while you die. My sister and I learned it from Mamá when she was dying from theizurria — the plague.”

Sister. Seph grasped at the one thing she and her tormenter shared in common. “Sorne, I have a sister, too. Her name is Grace, and she would be very sad if I disappeared.”

“You already have.”

Here, true horror arises from a child’s casual cruelty — her breathtakingly blatant disregard of Seph’s suffering to insure her own success. Blood Type X has other villains with their own nefarious and terrifying pursuits. Remember our mad scientist? He wants to change your blood type. In real life, it can be done. In Blood Type X, Sorne is living proof. But our little orphan is not content to serve as our mad scientist’s lab rat, his success story. Instead, she becomes the scariest villain of them all.

Blood Type X: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / WiDo Publishing

J.L. Delozier: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

J.L. Delozier has practiced rural and disaster medicine for 25 years. For inspiration, she turns to science that exists on the edge of reality — bizarre medical anomalies, new genetic discoveries, and anything that seems too weird to be true.Her first thriller, Type & Cross, debuted in April, 2016 and was nominated for a “Best First Novel” award by the International Thriller Writers organization, of which she’s a member. Storm Shelter followed in June, 2017: Blood Type X released April, 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in the British crime anthology, Noirville: Tales from the Dark Side, in NoirCon’s official journal, Retreats from Oblivion, and in Thriller Magazine (upcoming, July issue.) Her first sci-fi short story won the “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” prize of the Roswell Award and will appear in Artemis Journal later this year. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three rescue cats.