Book Review: ‘Beneath’ by Kristi DeMeester

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Written by Kristi DeMeester

Published by Word Horde

When reporter Cora Mayburn is assigned to cover a story about a snake-handling cult in rural Appalachia, she is dismayed, for the world of cruel fundamentalist stricture, repression, glossolalia, and abuse is something she has long since put behind her in favor of a more tolerant urban existence. But she accepts the assignment, dredging up long-buried memories as she seeks the truth.

As Cora begins to uncover the secrets concealed by a veneer of faith and tradition, something ancient and long concealed begins to awaken. What secrets do the townsfolk know? What might the handsome young pastor be hiding? What will happen when occulted horrors writhe to the surface, when pallid and forgotten things rise to reclaim the Earth?

Will Cora–and the earth–survive? The answers–and pure terror–can only be found in one place: Beneath.

Plot summary taken from the Amazon product description. 

‘Beneath’ is a lot of things. It’s a modern Lovecraftian horror dipped in gore. It’s a fists-up throw down against that particularly toxic form of religion that haunts our world. DeMeester’s debut novel succeeds in taking the well worn horror stand-bys (reporter plunging into a BAD situation & a town being consumed by the evil inside of it) and gives them a fresh coat of slimy paint.

This novel’s female lead is powerful and smart, which makes for great reading. As the book progresses her anger drives her forward into the horrible events around her. I like this heroine just as I fear the antagonist that she is pushed up against. The antagonist of this story (the occulted horrors referenced above) are unique and well-drawn.

DeMeester’s writing style is rich and flowing. You can smell the mountain air and feel the dark oppression that this crazed religious community has over it. We’re introduced to a lot of characters here (I want to list them but I don’t think I can without jumping into SPOILERS) but I never felt lost. ‘Beneath’ is well paced and confident. It’s a stunning debut through and through.

There it is. Kristi DeMeester is an incredible writing talent. I’m glad I picked up this novel. Her first collection, ‘Everything’s That’s Underneath’, has moved up a couple of spots in my TBR pile. If you want a gonzo horror novel for this autumn, you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

My 5 Favorite Batman Villains

I am a huge Batman fan. No. Seriously. I own way more Batman shirts than any adult man has any right to. I finished up a recent play through of Rocksteady’s Arkham video game trilogy and I’m currently loving everything Batman. So, because it’s fun and because I want to do it, I’m sharing with you my five favorite Batman villains (ranked!). Ready? Let’s go!

5. Ra’s al Ghul

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“I deem it my mission to purify this planet, to restore it to its former beauty… a mission I will brook no interference in.”

The Demon’s Head. The head of a cabal organization called the League of Assassins. He has possession of a device called The Lazurus Pit that makes him immortal. Most villains only want to see Batman dead. Ra’s al Ghul is different because he respects The Dark Knight and sees him as a worthy successor. It’s a fascinating relationship that leads to some truly awesome battles.

4. Bane

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“I shall simply BREAK YOU.”

He is the man that broke the Bat. As cunning as he is powerful, he is well trained and very brutal. A childhood spent in a South American prison will do that to you. He’s as driven and determined as Batman but with none of the ethical hang-ups. Not many enemies can match The Caped Crusader punch for punch. Bane does that and more.

3. The Court of Owls

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“Oh, don’t worry, my dear. We have so many MORE of them.”

Batman is Gotham. The Court of Owls are awesome because they question that very notion. They are well funded and have an immortal army at their disposal. Not only that, but those masks are CREEPY. Their systematic attack on the Wayne family over the decades makes them a unique enemy for Batman to face.

2. The Scarecrow

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“Shhh… it’s okay to be afraid.”

Fear. It’s Batman’s ultimate weapon and Doctor Jonathan Crane’s obsession. Often portrayed as cunning and cold, his weapon of choice challenges Batman in a way most of his rogue’s gallery cannot. I love Scarecrow because he’s a intellectual opponent for Batman in a very real way. Many of Batman’s foes serve as physical manifestations of his attributes. Fear toxin. It just sounds cool.

1. The Joker

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“This time. No more games. No more jokes. I’m just here to close up shop.”

Everyone loves to hate The Joker. He’s completely insane but at the same time COMPLETELY aware of every action. His every action is part of something bigger. He’s often one step ahead of Batman, which is pretty hard to do. He’s been the star of dozens of some of the greatest Batman storylines (including my personnel favorite, ‘Endgame’). A crazed Ying to Batman’s logical Yang in every way. When The Joker shows up, you never know what you’re going to get. He has no weakness. And that’s why he’s my favorite Batman villain.

Those are my top 5! What do you think? Do you love these nasty bunch of bad guys? Sound off in the comments below!

 

Lessons Learned: Tips for Getting Your Short Stories Published

I want to start with a disclaimer: I’m not an expert here. Anything but. At the date of this post, I have 15 published stories. I’m still a newbie to publishing. But in that time I’ve sent out a boatload of submissions to nearly every market that might be able to use one of my stories. With every rejection/acceptance I feel like I learn something new about the crazy world of short story submissions. Hopefully this advice can save you some time. When I first started sending my stories out, these tips would have been a huge help.

Make Sure Your Story is Perfect

This is the best place to start. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your short story. But, before you send it off, you should take that extra step to make sure that every word is exactly where it needs to be. Run spell check. Do a slow read through to make sure you haven’t missed any omitted words and to catch any awkward phases. Also: here’s a formatting tip. Many places I’ve submitted to in the past prefer the Shunn Manuscript Format. It’s a common enough request that I now format all stories I write this way (unless the market states otherwise).

Know Your Markets

Do some research. I write horror fiction. I use websites like Dark Markets or Horror Tree to find places to submit my stories. Then, once I find a location that I might have a story for, I read the submission guidelines. And when I say ‘read the submission guidelines’ I really do mean that. Look at word count, formatting tips, and stick to them. The short story market is competitive enough without making it harder on yourself.

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Stay Organized

Once you get a bunch of stories out on submission calls, it can get a little tough to track where they are and how long they’ve been out. I like to use a Google Spreadsheet to track what stories are out and what stories still need to be submitted. It makes my process a lot easier when it comes time to draft that e-mail or upload that story into Submittable. It may seem silly. But hey! Baby steps are still steps.

And perhaps, most importantly:

Don’t Lose Hope

Sending out a lot of stories gets you a lot of rejections. Seeing that same form rejection over and over again can sap you of any hope that you will ever get published. I’ve been there. Believe me. A lot of writers have. The first Harry Potter book was rejected by over a dozen publishers. Stephen King had so many rejection slips early in his career that he had to use a spike in his wall to hold them up. Every rejection I receive is an invitation to get better. I always try to remember that the only way to improve is to keep my head down and keep writing. Even when it hurts.

Those are some small tips. Hopefully my myriad of failures will help you on your endeavors. What lessons have you learned from your submissions? Feel free to comment below.

My Three Favorite Stephen King Novels

Last week I wrote a post outlining my three favorite Stephen King short stories. While researching stories I got thinking about all of Stephen King’s longer works and all the scares they’ve given me over the years. His books are often cement block sized monstrosities. Stephen King has published 54 novels. I want to take the time to highlight some of my all time favorites. Cool? Hold on to your butts because here we go.

Salem’s Lot

‘Salem’s Lot’ is Stephen King’s second novel. This is the novel that introduced us to so many things that turned out to be King staples. Huge casts of characters. Working class towns. You grow to hate/love these people. When tragedy finally befalls Jerusalem’s Lot, it hurts.

IT

Pennywise the Dancing Clown. The Loser’s Club. Derry, Maine. ‘IT’ is not only one of my favorite Stephen King novels, it’s one of my favorite novels PERIOD. The sheer breadth of terror and imagination poured into this 1,489 page behemoth is awe inspiring. Pennywise is one of literature/films greatest monsters. Derry is a city, that by the time the story wraps up, feels alive. And, unfortunately for our heroes, it is rotten to the core. WE FLOAT. WE ALL FLOAT.

11/22/63

This one got me right in the feels. ’11/22/63′ belongs to his more recent string of novels. This novel may have a lot less supernatural horrors (it does have time travel though), but it’s not a slouch when it comes to the scares. The evils here are resoundingly human and that makes them all the more blood chilling. Watching Jake Epping (a everyman teacher) experience love and loss in a long-gone time is riveting. You know that tragedy is coming. And you can’t help but keep turning the page to see exactly how it plays out.

Those are my three! I love nearly everything Stephen King has written. Making this list was pretty tough. What are some of your favorites? ‘The Shining’? ‘The Stand’? Let me know in the comments below!

My Three Favorite Stephen King Short Stories

If it wasn’t for Stephen King I would not be a writer. I think most horror writers would probably say the same thing. When I was 13 I was drawn in by King’s behemoth horror masterwork ‘IT’. But, when my stepmother saw me pick it up, she suggested I read a less scary book to start me off in the world of Stephen King. She handed me ‘Pet Sematary’. I devoured it and moved on to ‘IT’, then ‘Carrie’, then ‘Salem’s Lot’. I spent the next couple of years scouring local thrift stores for dog-eared copies of King’s bibliography. I loved them all. And as much as I love his novels, I think his short fiction has stuck with me the most.

A podcast I really enjoy (The Lovecraft Ezine Podcast) had a episode recently where they discussed their favorite Stephen King short stories. That conversation brought me back to all those hours I spent going over all my favorites. So, without further ado, these are my three favorite Stephen King stories!

‘One for the Road’ – Published in ‘Night Shift’

For my first story here I wanted to start with one of my first favorites. ‘One for the Road’, published in his first collections, feels like a classic horror story in every sense. A quiet bar. A blizzard. Vampires. It might not be the most original tale, but it makes up for it with pure atmosphere.

‘The Moving Finger’ – Published in ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’

Let’s get weird. ‘The Moving Finger’ brings it in spades. This story was my introduction to Weird Fiction as a genre. A simple conceit wrapped around a unforgettable image makes this story a mean little beast. From the little details (the game show) to the maniacal wrap-up, I love every word of this one.

‘1408’ – Published in ‘Everything’s Eventual’

When it comes to haunted hotel rooms, everything does seem eventual. We’ve all heard this kind of story. Shoot, Stephen King has written about these kind of things before. But over the course of this novella (I know, I’m kind of cheating, it’s not a short story) we see receive a legend of a VERY haunted hotel room. The intro takes it’s time before allowing our protagonist Mike Enslin into that room. Paintings change. Demonic voices howl through phone receivers. ‘1408’ is a masterpiece and is one of my favorite Stephen King stories.

There you have it! Those are my three. Am I crazy for loving these? Feel free to yell at me in the comments below or chime in with your all time favorite stories!

My 10 Favorite Films of 2016 (Part Two)

Welcome back! This is the second part of ‘My 10 Favorite Films of 2016’ list. The first part of it is available here. Go ahead and give it a read! I’ll wait.

Welcome back! Let’s make this short and sweet. Ready? Here we go!

5. Manchester by the Sea

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“Oscar bait!” You scream, surrounded by empty bottles of Mountain Dew and Doritos crumbs. Well… You’re not wrong. Thankfully, Kenneth Lonergan’s drama avoids a lot of those Oscar bait sins. This drama feels real. No one is screaming to the heavens. Casey Affleck brings a nuanced and quiet demeanor to the film, which is impressive considering the subject matter.

4. La La Land

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Headline for today’s paper: ‘LOGAN IS ENCHANTED: SEND HELP!!!’ ‘La La Land’ floats. The music is beautiful, the performances are fun, and the film goes exactly where I didn’t expect it to. Aided by cinematography by Linus Sandgren, ‘La La Land’ is a moving swirl of celluloid sorbet. ‘La La Land’ is fun. Which, among its fellow Oscar hopefuls, makes it a rare treat.

3. Nocturnal Animals

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‘Nocturnal Animals’ will make you squirm. It’s somehow both sterile and filthy all at once. It’s narrative is tricky and filled with splendid double meanings. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon steal the show. Prepare to be uncomfortable. And, just for once, revel in it.

2. Arrival

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Aliens have never been more peaceful. Movies about aliens haven’t been this thrilling in decades. ‘Arrival’ is a jaw-droppingly genius Sci-Fi film that doesn’t treat its audience like dummies (for once). This is the smartest film of 2016 and worth EVERY second of your time.

Drumroll please…..

1. Green Room

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No films affected me as much as ‘Green Room’. It’s a devastating genre masterpiece. Patrick Stewart has never been more terrifying. This is the most suspenseful and brutal film of the year. Here it is, in print: ‘Green Room’ is my favorite film of 2016. Man. Nazis sure do suck.

That’s right! That wraps up ‘My Favorite Films of 2016’ list. What do you think? Any films that you think should have made the cut? Did I praise any of these films too much? Comment below! Until next time…

 

My 10 Favorite Films of 2016 (Part One)

The quality of films in 2016 was, in more ways than one, highly uneven. I think this is the worst year for superhero films in a long time. Big directors and big name actors had a mixed year as well. 2017 was saved by indies and new ideas. This list below outlines the first half of my 10 Favorite Films of 2016. Not the Best films, but my favorites. There is too much content to include for one article. First half now, second half later!  Ready? Let’s dive in!!!!

10. Blair Witch

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‘Blair Witch’ is a horror film that commits to its mythology and while it can be silly, I admire it for it’s ability to bring some truly creative set pieces to a genre (Found footage) that has run it’s course.

9. The Witch

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The second film on my list also includes a witch. That being said, you’re not going to find two films with less in common than my #9 and #10. ‘The Witch’ focuses on a family in the 1800’s forced to move into the wilderness of New England from the safety of their village. The family is devoured by dark forces, and, in one of the best slow burn experiences of the year, succumbs to everything it is that they fear. ‘The Witch’ is tense and memorable and a fine addition to my list.

8. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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’10 Cloverfield Lane’, up until it’s release date, was a mystery. My wife and I went to see it mostly blind to it’s actual premise. Set in some kind of shared universe with 2008’s ‘Cloverfield’, this film focuses on a young woman thrust into a dangerous kidnapping situation and forced to find the truth, no matter how strange it actually is. With an incredible cast and a terrifying turn by acting legend John Goodman, ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ should not be missed.

7. Moana

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‘Moana’ is the newest entry into Disney’s animation empire and, like so many others, ‘Moana’ is a masterpiece. It has some of the most gorgeous animation I’ve seen in years, coupled with a heart warming story and toe tapping musical numbers. Oh! And Dwayne Johnson can LITERALLY do anything.

6. Passengers

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Coming in at #6 is ‘Passengers’, a new sci-fi film featuring Hollywood superstars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. I was initially dismissive of ‘Passengers’. It seemed to me that it was just a cash grab, built to drain every cent from a dumb public. Thankfully, ‘Passengers’ isn’t that. It’s a deftly written sci-fi/adventure/romance that shifts it’s focus and tone constantly as the thrilling plot plays out. Pratt and Lawrence wield every inch of their considerable charisma to make every choice and set piece really COUNT for something.

That’s Number 10 through 6! Next week I’ll come back and give you my top 5! Do you take any issue with these picks? If so, comment below! Until then, I’ll see you next time…

Next Article: Monday the 30th.