Hunter Shea

To Don D’Auria, my editor

Don D'Auria, myself, and a really patchy beard, at BEA 2015 last spring in NYC

Don D’Auria, myself, and a really patchy beard, at BEA 2015 last spring in NYC

Tonight I drink to Don D’Auria.

I rarely drink. I originally planned on having a beer tonight to celebrate the release of my newest supernatural thriller, Sentinels, from Samhain Publishing, where Don was my editor. I say “was” because Don informed his stable of writers he’s leaving the company this Friday. Why and how this came about, I can’t say. Samhain turns 10 years old this month, and for a majority of that time has published romance, lots of it, and has even seen a few of its titles make The New York Times bestsellers list. Don was hired in 2011 to start a horror line, and he’s done so quite ably. Three of his edited works have been nominated for the coveted Bram Stoker award presented by the Horror Writers Association. He discovered a bunch of eventual Bram Stoker-winners during his days with Dorchester Publishing, where my history with him began.

Don plucked me out of Dorchester Publishing’s creaking slush pile in 2010. I’d written a straight crime thriller and Don offered me a small advance to make the book part of Dorchester’s Leisure line. I agreed, and then promptly saw the deal collapse—and Don laid off—a few months later because Dorchester went bankrupt. I stayed in touch with Don and heard he’d landed with Samhain. I couldn’t follow him there because my book wasn’t horror, but I kept him in the back of my mind, and when I got the idea for my Krampus novel, The Dark Servant, in 2012, he was the first guy I emailed—Don’s primary method of communication. He expressed a few concerns, nothing major, and was enthusiastic to see what I could do. He encouraged me to write, making no promises, and to send him some sample chapters. A line from his email, which I saved: “I have no doubt the book will be well written, unless you’ve had some serious head injury you haven’t mentioned.”

Don believed in me, and that was important. And what I’d hoped to have happen in February 2011 (a book with Dorchester) happened a few years later in December 2014 (a different book with Samhain). And I’m eternally grateful to have earned Don’s trust. He’s easy to work with, states up front his concerns about a character or a plot point. And he’s an exceedingly nice man. I was fortunate enough to attend BEA 2015 in New York just this past spring, and Don was there. We caught up, discussed horror, the publishing industry in general, and it was simply nice to finally see, after five years, the first editor to appreciate my work and offer to pay me for it.

So what now? Here’s my message to the Big 5 publishers: Hire this man. He knows what he’s doing and will bring talented authors with him. I’m not the only author who’s reeling upon learning about his unexpected departure. But I’m also not the only author who believes that Don will land somewhere else and succeed. I have a feeling I’m going to work with him again.

My beer is Michelob Ultra. Don’s apparently a martini fellow. (Sorry, I can’t do that.) But I will be drinking my beer tonight and celebrating two published novels, and an upcoming Krampus novella, Twelfth Krampus Night, which drops in December. I’m proud to say Don D’Auria helped make them happen.

I have a bookshelf of Samhain Horror works by Jonathan Janz, John Everson, Tamara Jones, Brian Moreland, Hunter Shea, and Glenn Rolfe, and I’ll be adding more in the months ahead. (Russell James, Ron Malfi, you’re on notice.) And tonight I’ll drink to all of them and to the man who edited them—Don D’Auria, who gave me my start. Cheers.

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An Apocalyptic Interview with Hunter Shea

Tortures cover

Hunter Shea has had a slow summer. Normally he releases 12 books over a three-month span (or at least it seems that way), but this summer it’s only two: The Dover Demon, through Samhain Horror, and the book we’ll be discussing today, Tortures of the Damned, a novel, released through Pinnacle, about a doomed cluster of reporters forced to cover Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

I’m kidding (sort of).

TOTD ventures into post-apocalyptic thriller land, but I don’t think post-apocalyptic accurately covers things because the book begins pre-apocalyptic in a New York City suburb. Full disclosure: I’m not quite through TOTD, but I’m easily more than 70 percent done, and I’m digging it. Without spoiling anything, TOTD focuses on a loving family (mom, dad, four kids) and their resourceful neighbors hunkering down in a fallout shelter during some sort of chemical/bomb attack on the city/country/world? It’s hard to say at this point. I still don’t know what the hell happened! But when our intrepid heroes emerge from the bunker, they encounter what would be otherwise friendly city creatures—rats, dogs, Italians (I’m kidding! I’m Italian so I can make that joke)—gone berserk! Attacking and biting anything that moves!

What struck me as most scary was the book’s beginning, when New York City falls under attack. Hunter’s a New Yorker, and I’m from neighboring New Jersey, and we both experienced 9/11 somewhat firsthand simply because of our proximity to the attack. Naturally I was drawn to that upon reading TOTD and asked Hunter about how the worst terrorist attack on American soil impacted him and his writing.

Q: Were you in New York City on 9/11/2001? If not, where were you and what’s your most vivid memory of that day?

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Hunter: I was at work in CT when the planes first hit. Once we heard on the radio that other planes were missing and the towers collapsed, I got in my car and sped home like the devil was on my tail. My house has a view of Manhattan, and we watched the smoke billowing with fighter jets screaming overhead. Friends and family all gathered there to watch the aftermath and wonder what was going to happen next. It was scary as hell. One of my best friends was working in the area and we couldn’t locate him. Phone lines were down. We thought this was just the start of the end of everything. And through it all, my kids were only 4 and 2 and we took turns keeping them away from it all so for them, it was just another day. The one good thing to come out of it was my friend checking back in 2 days later. I don’t think we ever breathed a bigger sigh of relief.

Q: How did 9/11 influence you in writing Tortures of the Damned?

Hunter: It taught me that we’re never, ever safe. We live in a very dangerous world. Living so close to a major target has changed my view of everything. I refuse to be lulled into a false coma of numbness, nourished by a steady diet of Kardashians, Donald Trump pretending he can be president and social media. There’s real danger around us all the time. The weapons unleashed in Tortures of the Damned exist. They’re on the black market right now. Any lunatic with enough cash can get their hands on them. A 9/11 event will happen in the U.S. again. Let’s all just hope Tortures of the Damned, as crazy as it sounds, isn’t a glimpse into a crystal ball.

Q: What is it about apocalyptic novels that appeals to both readers and writers? And with so many out there, how do you make them fresh?

Hunter: I think there’s a big obsession with them right now because we’re all uneasy. Despite the news telling us things are better, we’re not stupid. I grew up with air raid tests every month, the tail end of the Cold War all too real. What we see today makes me even more uneasy. Maybe we read and watch these stories to prepare ourselves. How would we react? What would we do? I know there are some folks out there that dig them because they hope it will happen. They picture themselves alpha male/female types that can take on the end of the world and spit in its eye. As a nation, I believe we’re at a glass half full period. You’ll know things are turning around when there’s a resurgence of what they called in the 80s tits and zits movies and stories with brighter endings.

As for making a post apocalypse story fresh, I think if you strip out zombies, you’re already ahead of the curve. You need to add a dose of hyper realism and a dash of the fantastic to grab the reader by the throat and scare the bejeeezus out of them.

Q: Do you have a favorite apocalyptic-themed novel? If so, which one and why?

Hunter: I absolutely love The Stand, especially the extended version. But my favorite is Robert McCammon’s Swan Song. Why? Because McCammon’s work in the 80s and 90s is some of the best horror fiction ever written in any time period. He can take an impossible premise and make it seem real. His writing is that good.

Question from Hunter to me: Now, since you live in Jersey, I have one question for you – is your go-bag stocked and ready and do you know where to hide your head when the shit hits the fan?

Matt: Whoa! What the hell is this?! I wasn’t expecting an inquisition! But to answer your question: I’d be screwed if the shit hit the fan right now. I don’t even have a 12-pack of bottled water in my basement. The closest I’ve come to witnessing first-hand the degeneration of society was the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out power to my house for two weeks. I am ill-prepared. But after reading Hunter’s book, and given our country’s inexplicable apparent willingness to help Iran develop a nuclear bomb, I’ll be going to the grocery store tomorrow, and bottled water will be on the top of my list.

Tortures of the Damned tour logo

5 Questions with Horror Author Hunter Shea

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Hunter Shea’s the first Samhain Horror writer I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person. This happened at Chiller Theatre in Parsippany, N.J., last October. We both went through the heartbreak of Dorchester Publishing’s epic collapse in 2010 (we both signed to have novels published there). Neither of us gave up. Especially Hunter. He’s like James Patterson when it comes to putting out books, but in Hunter’s case, he actually writes them. Hey-O! Hunter’s stopping by blogs to discuss his new book, Island of the Forbidden, and other fun things.

1. You currently have six novels available, including your most recent, Island of the Forbidden, and a slew of short stories and novellas. How do you stay so prolific?

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I just keep writing. That’s not to say I’m one of those people who write every day. I’ve learned that skipping days or just unplugging yourself for a week or weeks at a time helps recharge your brain. I just love the process of writing, of creating entire worlds. Writing can be a lifeline or a refuge. I remember when my dad passed away suddenly in 2013, I slept at the house with my mom all through that awful day and the funeral to give her whatever comfort and support I could. I found myself writing every night (I was working on The Montauk Monster at the time). Working on the book gave my soul a break from the sorrow it was feeling. I told our editor, Don, that I was going to write 4 books in 2015. I’m definitely locked in for 3. We’ll see if I have time to get a fourth in.

2. Are you able to work on multiple projects at once? I know some authors can bounce back and forth from one project to another. Is that you, or do you prefer to focus on one project and see it through to conclusion?

I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me. I’m like a dog with a bone. I have to sink my teeth into one book and work it until it’s done. When I write, a part of my brain is living in that story 24/7. It’s hard for me to drag it out of that world so it can exist in another.

3. Where do you write? I’m always fascinated by author work habits. So do you have an office where you lock yourself away? And how many hours a day do you commit to writing, and do you try to hit a difference word count?

I do have a great what I call writing den, loaded with books and tons of horror related collectibles. But I’ve also spent a lot of time the past couple of years writing in the kitchen, surrounded by chaos. The beauty of working on a laptop is that you can go anywhere. I’ve learned to sit my ass down wherever and just write, canceling out any outside distractions. During the weekdays, I get an hour or two in a night, after dinner. On weekends, I work the mornings, sometimes putting up to 4 or 5 hours before I move on with the rest of my day.

4. Most influential horror movie of the last five years — and it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster or big studio release — and why.

I think it has to be Insidious. James Wan has kind of resurrected the horror atmosphere of the 1970s, updating it to the new millennium. The first half of that movie scared the bejesus out of me. It’s led to this small universe of movies like Sinister and The Conjuring that have given the genre the serious boost it needed.

5. Full disclosure: I’ve yet to read Island of the Forbidden, but it’s absolutely in my Kindle queue, and I believe it can be classified as a ghost story. With werewolves and vampires and Montauk monsters, you have physical creatures roaming around. But ghosts offer more of a psychological element to things. So was it harder writing about ghosts than it was for other supernatural creatures?

Best time to read Island is on a cold night, preferably with a wind storm raging outside. A couple of cocktails can’t hurt, either. J

Living in a haunted house with a small boy who just kind of comes and goes, writing about ghosts and the effect it has on one’s psyche has been pretty easy. The twist with my 20-year experience with this phantom is that, with the exception of one instance, his appearances go hand in hand with a feeling of peace and calm. It’s very hard to explain, though I tried my best in a quasi fictional account of it in my book, The Waiting. If ghosts are real, then souls are real, as is the afterlife. Out of all the things you can write about and explore in horror, I think ghosts are the most fascinating, with implications for the infinite for all of us. Everyone reacts differently to seeing a ghost, whether it be their personal temperament, belief system or culture. As a writer, I get to explore those points of view, which is kind of like taking an anthropology class without all the expense and boring homework!

Island of the forbidden tour logo

Hunter Shea’s Montauk Monster Kicked My Ass!

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Finishing Hunter Shea’s The Montauk Monster is akin to reading any book about the Holocaust and then deciding for yourself which one had a happier ending.

Wait! I liked Hunter’s book (I’m giving it 5 stars on Amazon) and hosted him on my blog last week! And Hunter’s book had zero to do with WWII, let’s clear that right up. But, man, did it drain me and dash my hope in mankind.

Let’s back up: It’s summertime on Long Island, N.Y., and some of the locals have been found ripped up on the beach (Hunter’s hat-tip to Jaws), and what hasn’t been torn apart will soon melt into gruesome gooey puddles. One by one, citizens, tourists and harmless pets are torn to pieces by giant dog-like animals, and it’s up to Suffolk County Police Officers Gray Dalton and Meredith Hernandez to figure out what’s ruining summer on Montauk.

Enter, the Montauk monsters. Hunter introduces us to Plum Island, a government research base off Montauk’s coast where the scientists clearly weren’t trying to create ice cream that never melts. No, these gods in white lab coats spliced together the DNA of a bunch of different animals (boars, wolves, hawks, Philadelphia Eagles fans, you name it) to create war machines—deadly animals whose sole purpose in life is to kill. Think of a Great Dane’s body with a head that has a boar’s tusks and snout, and the mouth is an eagle’s sharp beak. Stay with me! Just think of horrid amalgamations of animals that have blackish-blue diseased skin, and whose bites transmit a deadly virus (Hunter’s hat-tip to Alien). Imagine dropping these things into enemy territory to root out the bad guys, because that’s why they were bred. However, the monsters got off Plum Island and swam for Montauk’s shore.

(Side note: AC/DC’s Black Ice album has a song called War Machine, and I couldn’t help but think of these monsters eating people to the tune of Angus and Malcolm Youngs’ grinding guitars and Brian Johnson’s werewolf howls.)

Montauk’s soon overrun with war machines. Enter the Army, FBI, CIA, CDC, HAZMAT, EPA, DHS, and just about every acronymed government agency out there converging on Long Island to try to stop these monsters and this virus that causes your infected body to bubble and explode.

Hunter’s novel never slows, but that doesn’t stop him from developing characters you want to survive—and that’s tough for the heroes to do in The Montauk Monster. It’s like riding a roller-coaster through hell because of what’s happening to those poor people in the book. Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this sentence if you don’t want to know that you should not get attached to any character in The Montauk Monster.

Here’s what I enjoyed the most about the book: You loathe the monsters because of what they are: merciless killing machines. The only way you could like them is if they were deployed inside the Kremlin to root out Vladimir Putin. But I soon found myself loathing more the faceless people who created the beasts, and the indifference these men and women show toward the innocent men, women and children they just prefer to firebomb rather than rescue if it means stopping the monsters from escaping Montauk. It dawns on Gray and Meredith that monsters need not have fangs.

Montauk Monster Scribe Hunter Shea’s Take on Horror

Courtesy: the Leviathan known as Amazon (which could also pass for the thing on the book cover).

Hunter Shea’s a busy guy and–from an author’s perspective–is having an awesome summer. Pinnacle released The Montauk Monster (TMM) last month, and earlier this month my publisher, Samhain Horror, released Hell Hole.

Courtesy: Samhain Publishing

I’ve yet to read Hell Hole, a horror Western that’s queued in my Kindle, but have tackled TMM, and this much stands out to me: Hunter must’ve loved the original Jaws.

I couldn’t help but think of the 1975 blockbuster upon reading the first chapter of the book, which involves a man and woman with raging hormones and a desire to act on them on a Long Island beach. Now, I’m not gonna say what happens, but if you saw Jaws, you know two things:

1. The movie opens with a man and a woman frolicking along a Long Island beach, and the woman goes skinny dipping–resulting in the summer not ending well for her.

2. Based on Jaws’ movie poster,  you know what happens to her:

Courtesy: the Internet

Courtesy: the Internet

Now, I’m not spoiling anything when I say that a shark is not responsible for any shenanigans at the start of TMM. But something is. Something indescribable. No, really, Hunter does a great job masking what the hell is running (and swimming) around Montauk causing all sorts of problems. Hunter lives in New York, and you can tell through his writing that he knows and loves the area. He also creates likeable protagonists in Suffolk County Police Officers Gray Dalton and Meredith Hernandez, and animal control officer Anita Banks, who are tasked with trying stop these ravenous monsters (that’s right: monsters–plural), whose origins reside on nearby Plum Island, a mysterious U.S. research base where scientists play god and brew up strange creatures with gruesome faces like this one!

Courtesy: Google search

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry

I’m sorry. Did I just get slightly political? Let’s avoid any unpleasantness and move along to a question I asked Hunter–a question I ask of all horror authors: What makes a horror novel? It’s one of those genres that encompasses so many things, making it tough to pin down. Here’s my take. And now, we welcome Hunter Shea!

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OK, Matt has asked me for my definition of horror as a genre, which by no means is the definitive explanation. Perception is unique to the perceiver, so as a species, we can never have full consensus on anything. That’s what makes us so darn interesting (and frustrating).

Look, I’ve been a horror hound since I was a little kid. When bookstores took down the horror section years ago, I nearly wept. How the heck was I supposed to easily find my horror fixes? Do I really have to get on my knees to find John Saul’s books crushed under the weight of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye?

As I’ve gotten older and supposedly wiser, I’ve come to realize that horror shouldn’t be segregated at all. Horror is everywhere. It wears a multitude of disguises. So while the general public will deem anything supernatural, paranormal themes, monsters or crazed killers as horror, it goes much deeper than that.

Horror is about evoking an emotion. Those emotions can be fear, dread, suspense, anticipation, revulsion and on and on. Anything that picks at those scabs, makes us face our worst nightmares or discover new ones has entered into the realm of the horrific.

I was just at an author panel where we had to reveal our favorite horror movie, book and story. For me, the movie choice was easy – Alien. To me, this is the greatest horror and sci-fi movie of all time. Yes it’s set in space, but damn, nothing scared me more than watching Dallas crawl through the ventilation shafts searching for that creature. Talk about dread and fear walking hand in hand.

Someone on the panel brought up a book about war from varying perspectives. Sure, it would never be officially categorized as horror, but the theme and the scenes sure should. Horror can be found everywhere, from the Bible to the most far out fantasy novels and movies. Game of Thrones is bursting with great horror moments, but no one would ever categorize it as such. Zombie armies, The Imp going on a killing spree, the terror of the Red Witch’s hellspawn. You can’t tell me that’s not horror in its most classic form.

You don’t have to turn on the news to know that horror is all around us, waiting for those brave enough to plunge headlong into our most hidden fears. Open the pages of any book and you just may find it, hiding behind a senseless genre classification.###

Thank you, Hunter! Well stated. As for TMM, it’s the ultimate beach read because it never slows, makes you wonder what the hell’s out there stalking Montauk, and people literally get ripped to pieces on the beach! And elsewhere.

The characters in Jaws can be heard screaming, “Stay out of the water!” It doesn’t matter where you’re staying in TMM, because they can, and more often than not, will get you.  

Author Jonathan Janz Defines Horror

Today’s a big day for Samhain Horror authors Hunter Shea and Jonathan Janz, whose respective books, Hell Hole and Castle of Sorrows, hit shelves both physical and digital. I’ll be posting something with Hunter in a few weeks regarding both Hell Hole and his recent Kensington release, The Montauk Monster, which is already on my Kindle just aching to be read. Both guys have been supportive of me in my schlep toward publication come November 4, and I can’t wait to meet both at a yet-to-be-determined horror convention down the road.

But today’s post involves Jonathan Janz, which isn’t his real name and I’m still not sure how to refer to him when I write to him. But that’s another story. Isn’t this a kick-ass cover? (Yes.)

Courtesy: Amazon (Lord of Everything)

Courtesy: Amazon (Lord of Everything)

Castle of Sorrows is the sequel to Jonathan’s 2012 release, The Sorrows, which I read, and which involves the thing you see perched in the window frame on the cover. That is not a nice thing. I know, how could a monster with hooves and ram horns be anything but a cuddly Care Bear with a heart on its fluffy belly.

Courtesy: Google (the Other Lord of Everything)

Courtesy: Google (the Other Lord of Everything)

Put it this way, you don’t want to be beat up or have sex with that thing above (the ram-horned monster, not the Care Bear). I’m waiting for my Castle of Sorrows trade paperback to arrive, and I’m sure I’ll dig it, as I do pretty much anything Jonathan writes. What Jonathan’s going to write about here is how he defines horror. I find it to be a difficult-to-define genre. What say you, Jonathan?

“I see horror as a very broad definition that encompasses much more territory than most people would consider horror. For instance, in addition to stories and films that deal with the fear of physical mortality, I’d expand horror’s reach to narratives that deal with psychological, emotional, or even spiritual horror. Books like King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT, Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY, and Richard Matheson’s HELL HOUSE are almost universally considered horror novels. And I, of course, would agree with that label. However, I also view Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD, Harold Pinter’s THE HOMECOMING, and Arthur Koestler’s DARKNESS AT NOON as horror stories. These stories deal with the shadowy realms of the human mind and the base viciousness of human behavior. The horror I felt during THE HOMECOMING was more powerful than the horror I experience when reading most horror novels. In THE ROAD, McCarthy demonstrates just how terrible and wonderful human beings can be. In DARKNESS AT NOON, Koestler chronicles a slowly unfolding nightmare, and while the political backdrop and social commentary matter, I just see those as further examples of the great potential the genre possesses.

“I suppose this is why I want the genre to be more inclusive rather than exclusive. No, everything is not a horror novel, but horror is far more than a vampire or a mummy or a crazed backwoods cannibal.” ###

Agreed. It’s not about the monsters, as Stephen King once tweeted (I’m sure it was in response to my blog).

Good luck to Jonathan Janz with his latest release! And, Hunter? See you in a few!