Herschell Gordon Lewis: June 15, 1926 to September 26, 2016

I believe we deserve to tip our hats, er, scalps, to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the “Godfather of Gore”. He shall forever be remembered for creating the horror subgenre of splatter films. Though he dabbled in many other types of exploitation films, he will always be remembered best for his unbridled blood-letting. His classic films, mostly made on less-than-shoestring budgets, include Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and She-Devils on Wheels.

Many present-day film makers credit Lewis as an important influence on their own work, including Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Wes Craven, and Tobe Hooper.

I can’t honestly say I loved his stuff, but I did enjoy the sense of cinematic abandon that nearly all of his films embodied. He was a unique voice that shook up the world.

Deadies, we have lost a pioneer of horror film-making.

Rest in peace, Herschell Gordon Lewis.

The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Being an Indie Writer

I know I haven’t been around at all really the past couple weeks. Sorry, but I’m finishing up on the next book, polishing each story, formatting it, all while trying to write my next novel. Dale, though, has done a stellar job of keeping up with the blog while I’m bouncing off the literary walls. Thanks, man. So I know I owed a blog post, and since this is what has consumed me the past few weeks, I’ll talk about that.

There have been times the past few days that I’ve asked myself, why do I do this? And this is what I came up with:

I have no choice. For my own sanity, I have to be a writer.

Publishing has changed so rapidly and completely that it is unrecognizable from what it was even ten years ago. And the way we write and present our work has had to change.

I guess at this stage I consider myself totally an indie writer. I slave over the keyboard for hours each day, juggle a full-time job as well as family responsibilities, and generally tear my hair out with stress and frustration. I won’t lie.

There are a bunch of bad things about being an indie writer. I don’t sleep as much as some people. I neglect my household duties at times, all because I need to write. I fret over every story, every line, and every word, really, trying to be sure I get it right. Then comes the polishing until you can’t polish any more. Then I get back notes from the fearsome creature (I call her EDITOR!). I make changes to calm her. Then comes formatting the entire manuscript. Submitting it and making sure it’s right. And after all that comes the terribly difficult job of marketing. Writing is a difficult and lonely business.

I live day by day knowing that the only way for the story to be told is for me to get my ass writing it.

And the pay sucks. No, really. You don’t do this for the money, because there are thousands of other writers out there, many excellent, trying to do what you are doing, vying for readers’ attention. And the big pay day may never happen. Ever. That’s the reality. And yes, it sucks.

But let me tell you about the flip side, the great side of being an indie writer. Often I’m lying in bed nights, unable to sleep, because a story is forming. There are times that the story is just suddenly there, complete, and all I need to do is write it down. Other times the idea is a saucy tease, a tender seedling that burgeons into something more. And the idea, whichever way it has begun, grows and moves with a life of its own, tapping at my mind again and again all day in spare moments.

And then, suddenly, I can’t wait any longer. I have no choice. I’ve GOT to write the story. I sit and bang on the keyboard for as long as possible, trying to keep the excitement within me going. I try to write it as fast as I can. It’s at that point I am the only one who can write it.

Sure, I still get stuck in places, but I usually stare at the blank page until I need to stop. Usually that is when the story fills in the blanks for me. My subconscious, I guess, is always working on it, because I know I need to do it to get it right. And then I finish the first draft and put it away for two days or so. My mind, however, is still thinking about the story. Ruminating about plot and description, and what needs to be changed. Then I look at it again and fix it. Then I go back and do it again and again, until I have settled in my mind that the story is there, and complete.

To be quite honest, I don’t care which way the story presents itself, whole or in pieces. It only matters that the story is there, and I like it. You see, ultimately, I write for myself.

And that is why I’m an indie writer. I am able to write what I want and like to read, story ideas that are interesting and characters that matter to me. I’d write what I write if only to entertain myself. But I also know that the story is a harsh mistress, and demands to be presented to an audience. A story is not a story if no one reads it. So I force myself to market. This is the ugly part.

I truly and utterly suck at self-marketing. It all stems from my upbringing. My parents, though lovely people, raised me to never, I mean NEVER, brag about myself or my accomplishments. So naturally, I find it difficult, if not damn near impossible, to do proper marketing. Fortunately, for Deadsville, Dale Elster took most of that work, and did a cracking job at it. I know I’ll have to do the marketing all by my lonesome once Banquet of Souls finally comes out, and I guess I’ll just have to deal with it.



This is the joy of being an indie writer. I write what I want to read, and, if I’m lucky, other readers will enjoy it. I love it all. If I tried to get a short story collection published through the standard publishing house, it could take months, if not years, to ever have the stories get to the readers who want to read them. As long as I have an editor I trust (I do), I’ll take it and run with it. I do not have to follow the whims of what publishers believe is salable. I don’t have to emulate any other writer (Looking at you, Stephen King). All I need to do is to develop and refine my craft and be mindful that I’m only beholden to the master of my universe, the story.

That is my joy. I’m a lucky guy.

And, as painful as this is to me, Deadies…


All are Welcome to the Feast!

Banquet of Souls by T.D. Trask coming in October!

The Terrifyingly Talented Artist Gary McCluskey Helps Sell Books!

If you’re an indie writer, take note. You may have written a terrific book, but no one will read it if the cover sucks. Readers are first and foremost visual creatures and need to have something catch their attention, especially when there is an ocean of indie writers out there waving their arms, struggling to get their stuff noticed. Me? I don’t have the artistic chops needed to even consider doing this type of thing. My best artwork comes in the form of horribly disjointed stick figures and wobbly, supposedly straight lines. So when Dale Elster and I discussed the cover for Deadsville, he suggested an artist who had done great work that he had worked with before on an anthologies to which he had contributed. This is the cover:

I said sure, let’s see if he’s available.

Fortunately for us, he was available. And Dale and Gary’s noticeable cover to our anthology came to be. For those of you who don’t know:


The response to the cover was immediate. It got noticed, big time. Reviewers made a point to remark about Gary’s artwork in the reviews. So we sold some books.

Eventually we got to the point that we both figured we needed a blog to spout off and keep our viewpoints sharp and keep our book out there and also to act as a base forum for our future works.

We asked Gary if he could come up with a semi-humorous re-imagining of the Deadsville style, using a pipe-smoking skeleton relaxing and looking Hugh Hefner-ish. And this is, of course, what he gave us:



This art was perfect for what we had in mind. So when I wrote my anthology Banquet of Souls (due out in October, shameless plug), I asked Gary to provide the artwork. I gave him the tiniest of direction. Given the title, I figured a place setting with a face screaming in agony on the plate. Gary grabbed that teeny idea, and then a while later came back with this:



Needless to say, I was thrilled with his work. I fully expect that the cover alone will sell some copies. It also continues the feel of the previous anthology and blog art, which was important to me since the stories are fairly similar in tone.

So this is my point. If you have written something, unless you have an art degree, get an artist. A good one. As good as you can afford. Don’t stoop to using stock photos and trying to do it yourself. Why? Because no matter what you do, it will ALWAYS look like a stock photo cover. It will always give the appearance that you don’t value the words between the covers enough to dress it up in the proper formal wear. Your book is wearing an off-the-rack, ill-fitting suit and rented shoes.

As for who you should get, I can’t tell you that. I just know who I like, because the artwork Gary McCluskey produces matches the tone and themes in what I write. He has a sensitive feel for the horror genre. His art is at times intense, yet playful, with a wry sense of humor. What he creates is a reflection of the types of stories I write.

If you know someone who does good work, check out their older works. See if the art speaks to that part of yourself from which you write. If impressed, talk with them, see if you are a good fit. If you know them well enough maybe they’ll give you a break on the price. But no matter what, they’ll usually be worth it. Finally, if the art they produce doesn’t work for you, tell them. Explain what you were looking for and press them about what the book is all about. If they are truly professional, they won’t be upset. They just want to do the best job possible since it’s their reputation on the line too.

So, Deadies, that’s my rant. If you want to ignore my suggestions, that’s completely up to you. But remember. I’m an indie writer too, and I’ve got some terrific artwork to boast my work.

For more information about Gary McCluskey’s beautiful artwork, go to: https://garymccluskey.carbonmade.com/


For some great bunch of cool tee shirts, coffee mugs, posters, and other neat stuff that has Gary’s artwork on it, go to:  https://www.teepublic.com/user/foggie32


Film Review: Don’t Breathe

Don't Breathe1

Don’t Breathe is a breath of fresh air in the stale home invasion theme in horror. The story is bare bones simple and that is one of the things that makes it most compelling. Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead, 2013) has crafted a terrifically tense film, co-written with Rodo Sayagues (also Evil Dead, 2013 with Alvarez). The direction is smooth and seemingly flawless, and every frame looks gorgeous, even with the crumbling decay of the setting.

Reviews like this one are difficult to present, mainly because the film depends so heavily on not knowing much when you walk through the door, so I’ll only give a quick rundown of the basic plot. Three thieves in Detroit try to rob a blind military veteran who may or may not have a large stash of cash. And they soon discover that taking on a blind guy isn’t as easy as it sounds. Do yourself a favor and try not to read any spoilers before seeing this film.

The rasping, rage filled blind man, is played to menacing perfection by the awe-inspiring Stephen Lang (the bad guy in Avatar). The other main characters, the tough-as-nails Rocky (Jane Levy, Evil Dead, 2013, and Suburgatory, 2011), the cautious Alex (Dylan Minnette, Goosebumps, 2015), and the gleefully reckless sleazeball Money (Daniel Zovatto, It Follows, 2014, and Fear the Walking Dead, 2015) are all great, amoral characters that are certainly not model citizens, but, before you know it, you still find yourself rooting for them.

I would have thought that the entirety of a film set within one small house would have been boring after a while, but that thought evaporated about halfway through the story. Don’t Breathe is a scary, brutally violent 88 minute thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Fresh and imaginative, I give this a nine out of ten gravestones. See this one, Deadies!

Film Review: What We Do in the Shadows

What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows_posterWhat I prefer to review are those films that really impress me with their writing, overall quality and visual style, yet may not be familiar to the average viewer. I like discovering films that I had previously overlooked or dismissed outright, and realizing I was just being kind of a dick about them.

This is, however, NOT the case with this review. I knew I wanted to see this one right out of the gate. Why? Because it takes all of the lore of vampires and makes fun of the entire batch. This is a hilarious film that I recommend to everybody, and no one seems to want to see. Deadies, this one is golden!



vladWhat We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampire roommates in New Zealand. We are introduced to the main characters, Viago, the fussy neat-freak, Vlad, the vampire haunted by ‘The Beast’, Deacon, the youngest of the set who just wants to be the ‘cool’ one, and Petyr, the 8000 year-old Nosferatu look-alike. The film documents the vampire’s everyday existence, from who is supposed to clean the dishes, to going out on the town to find fresh blood.

As the film progresses, you meet several side characters who are as involving as the main characters. Nick, the newest vampire they all find annoying. Jackie, the familiar, who is striving to be allowed to become a vampire. The Werewolves, a pack of irritating guys just begging to be antagonized. Stu, Nick’s friend, who introduces the vampires to the internet and everyone seems to like.

The film reviews and highlights each of the major facets of vampire lore in great detail, and shows each one in the funniest light possible, like mistakenly striking the main artery. At the climax of the film is the Ball, a grand party of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and whatever else you can think of that would fit. Vlad is distraught because he knows The Beast will be there.

I’ve seen this film three times now since last year, and I have to say any film that makes me laugh every time, even when I know the joke is coming, is worth savoring. What We Do in the Shadows co-stars, and is written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, co-creators of the HBO hit series Flight of the Conchords, so you know the comedy chops are there.

Plus, I’m happy to say, there’s a sequel of sorts in the works, this time focusing about werewolves. We’re Wolves is supposed to be filmed next year, last I heard. I can’t wait.

I say, let’s nail the stake through the heart of so many vampire stories. Watch this one and laugh your ass off, Deadies! Ten out of ten gravestones!


I had a bit of a mind-rattling, keep-me-awake-at-night kind of thing happen to me the past few days. Being a writer, I depend upon my computer on a daily basis. Really depend. So last week I got up at my usual time in the morning and did my writing, then went to my other job. I got home that night and turned on my computer to check emails.

As the screen came up, there was my greatest fear. Most of my apps were gone, and worse, all of my files. About 60k worth of writing disappeared for no reason. The next day I took it to my computer repair guy. I wait for a call the next day about whether or not I still have any of my writing found, but nothing. So Saturday I stop in first thing once they’re open.

He found nothing wrong with my computer. I took it home, thinking I was going to have to replicate the first 20k of my next novel, horrified at the setback. I was distraught, sleepless, and more than a little unnerved.

However, my stepson, Pete was visiting us for the weekend. He’s a long haul truck driver who lives in Georgia. Pete is a very bright guy. He’s kind of like a protagonist in one of my stories, except that he has never been chased by a serial killer and rarely stalked by a werewolf. He knows a lot about a lot of things, and has lived all over our great country. This guy has had many different jobs and hobbies. He also knows computers. So after about two hours of me fumbling through different ways to get back my information, I break down and ask Pete for suggestions.

He worked at it for about an hour, and found some unusual things in it. He asked me questions about what exactly happened when I turned on the computer that terrible, fateful day.

Then he said, “I think it may be because of an update has somehow screwed up your computer. I know an IT guy who may be able to help.”

Remember, this is on a Saturday afternoon.

He texted said IT guy.

It all boils down to this. When I bought the computer, it had Windows 8 loaded onto it. I finally gave in and updated it to Windows 10. Fast forward about a year. An update came out and essentially corrupted my profile, forcing all my saved apps and information to be dropped into a deep, dark hole of my hard drive. After following the IT guy’s instructions, he found my files. I saved the files, copied them a half dozen times, and then reset the computer.

Happy ending, the best I could ever have hoped for. No loss of writing, no buying a new computer, and best, not having to pay a cent. End of kind of boring story that has the happiest of endings.

But I’ve been in a reflective mood the last day or so, thinking about happy endings. As a horror writer, I don’t normally write stories that people expect to have happy endings. In fact, most times, happy endings don’t work well in them.

Everyone who reads fiction or watches films always roots for the main characters and hopes for a happy ending for everyone involved in the story. The white ending. But given the very nature of horror and dark fiction, happy endings come only in gradients of gray. Some endings are as pitch black as a moonless midnight in a tomb. This is horror, not a fairy tale. No happily ever after, and I’ll tell you why.

Even though we hope for the best in a story, we know inside ourselves that the best is unrealistic and unreachable. Most of the time, given the constructs of horror, we want a bit of something we can believe in the unlikely situation. The little bit of realism scratches an unknown itch within us, and weirdly enough, satisfies the itch.

What is a white ending? How about most comedies? Pillow Talk or Pretty Woman or any of a couple hundred romantic comedies? Really, Pretty Woman? The rich businessman rescues a hooker with a heart of gold from a terrible life? How fantastic do we want our endings? I’ll admit, it is an entertaining film, but let’s not convince ourselves that it is in any way realistic, except in the construct of comedy. Want to make it real? The hooker ends up dying from an overdose with a number of STDs. But that is horror, not comedy.

The black ending? Think Se7en, the “What’s in the box?” scene. That was one wickedly memorable moment, and the ending, though totally awful, was completely satisfying, at least to me. I can’t think of a better way to end that entire storyline, and I wish I had been the one to write it.

And there are grades of happy endings all along the way in film. Rocky, the original, for instance. Rocky doesn’t win the match. He loses. What makes the ending a happy one?

He goes the distance and proves to himself that he is not a bum.

He reached the goals he set for himself, and that is what makes it a dramatic happy ending. Somewhat realistically.

And that is what makes it satisfying.

As I have more thoughts about happy endings in film and literature, I’ll return to the subject. See you next time, Deadies!

Film Review of Green Room

Green Room

I’m a lucky guy, I suppose. Two terrific horror films in one week. I know I caught a bunch of flak from those who disagreed of my assessment of the last film I reviewed, but oh well. I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.

But on to the real bit of fun. Green Room is an imaginative and totally enjoyable film from the director of the acclaimed Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier. The premise is a deceptively simple one. A punk band, the “Ain’t Rights”, plays a gig at a neo-nazi club and witness a murder. After witnessing the murder, they are trapped in the club. The twists and turns of the plot are ingenious and numerous.

The late Anton Yelchin, Chekov in the latest Star Trek movies, plays one of the lead characters, and does a terrific job. The entire cast does a good job maintaining a desperate tone to the film, but the stand out in my eyes is the great Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the leader of the group. You can tell he ate up this role and enjoyed every evil nuance of his character, and comes off as surprisingly believable.

Darcy has a whole lot to lose if he lets the band get away, so there begins a very suspenseful and violent clash between the two groups. Let’s just say that the band shows much more resilience than what anyone expects. I won’t give away much more than this because I’d love to have you Deadies check this one out for yourselves. It’s a fun and tense film that you won’t soon forget.

8.5 gravestones out of 10.

Film Review of Hush

Hush pic

Take a home invasion premise, strip it down to the bare bones, and what you get is this taut little film. Hush is one of the most bare bones films I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that the film is bad. On the contrary, this is one helluva suspense film, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a deaf writer who has isolated herself in her rural home with her cat. Okay, admittedly, this sounds like a bit of a stretch, but if you can accept that premise, the rest of the film will be a tense rollercoaster ride. John Gallagher Jr. plays the Man, a sadistic masked killer who fancies himself a terrific tormenter, and discovers Maddie. What follows is 87 minutes of nail-biting cat-and-mouse between good versus evil. Just try not to pass out from holding your breath.

I hesitate to go into too much detail, but let me just say that it surprised the hell out of me. I’d never heard of the film before, and now I want to urge every horror film lover out there to give this one a try. Yeah, you’ll be screaming at the screen, but in a good way.

Director and co-writer (with Kate Siegel) Mike Flanagan does a terrific job building suspense and not letting lapses in logic fly beyond belief. This director has another film out soon, called Before I Wake, and apparently has been announced to direct Gerald’s Game, from the Stephen King novel.

Nine and a half gravestones out of ten. Catch it on Netflix streaming, Deadies.


A Writer You May Never Have Read…But Should


King, Straub, Matheson, Campbell, Simmons, McCammon, Barker, Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, and the list goes on. These wonderful writers have been providing chills and sleepless nights for years now, but I want to spend a brief moment to talk about one of the classic writers of the macabre that you may not have known about or read.

MR James b. August 1, 1862 d. June 12, 1936

Montague Rhodes James. He is widely considered the granddad of the modern ghost story. If you have a mind to, pick up Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary and read through it. I was first introduced to MR James when I was in junior high school. Through the years I’d find a story by this writer and, upon reading, it would never fail give me that sense of being in some study, smoking a pipe, drinking brandy in front of a crackling fireplace at midnight while the story was read to me with intense fervor. To me, that was the best way to read ghost stories, snug in the relative safety and comfort of a dark study where the macabre could sneak in unseen and unexpected. And that was the way that MR James started.

MR James was a scholar, a devout Christian, and a teller of frightening tales that professed that the stories meant nothing except to entertain. Any genuine reader, or a writer, of horror, should be checking all his stories out. If for nothing less than the entertainment value and to awe at the sheer imagination that went into them. Sure, the language and stories may be dated and sound stuffy when compared to our present-day short attention span standards. But damn, this guy was GOOD!

To believe that he did it completely for entertainment value is more than a bit naïve. In other words, I believe that is BS. He worked so strenuously and long on his stories that I don’t believe it could account for the driven nature of his fiction. I believe that he actually had incidents in his life that conflicted with his religious beliefs, and this conflict became an annoyance that produced these pearls of terrific stories. Any true connoisseur of the supernatural story should know this writer.

MR James stories for those who have never read him:

Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book

Lost Hearts

Number 13

The Ash-tree

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

…and any other story of his you can get your hands on.

A word of warning. These are not action-packed stories with fast-moving plots. This is an Old English style of telling stories. Give them a chance to do what they were designed to do. Scare you.

For those of you who like your ghost to wear a bed sheet, I present the MR James British classic 1968 classic drama, Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You. It isn’t as faithful to the story as I like, but the feeling is there. The film is less than forty-five minutes, and it’s cool. And yes, I know, it is in black and white. Philistines.


For those of you who would prefer to listen to the actual story being read (my personal favorite way to get the chills) is here. Turn the lights down low. Also less than fifty minutes.


And for those who want a bit more on the subject about MR James’ fascinating life and why in particular he wrote his ghost stories, here is an entertaining documentary (1995). Less than an hour, and it’s also cool.


Have some fun discovering new stuff, Deadies.

Film Review: LIGHTS OUT

Lights Out is a fun little film about those things that you can only see in the dark. Director David Sandberg’s scary-as-hell short film was done so well that he got signed to do the major motion picture, and he did it well. If you want, take a look at the original short film. Don’t worry, it’s only about 2:42 minutes and won’t give away anything about the film.

By the way, check out Dale Elster’s terrific post about short horror films. This one is there, as well as some frightening new films to help you get your creep on.

Now that you’ve seen the short film, imagine that as an entire ninety minute picture. From the opening the viewer gets exactly what they paid good money for, jump scares on screen and the feeling that even in the darkened theatre, no one is safe. There is a surprisingly decent story, and the actors are all uniformly good and believable. Maria Bello is terrific as the mentally ill mother, as are Teresa Palmer as the spunky, troubled daughter, and Gabriel Bateman as the constantly trembling Martin.

Unfortunately, about an hour into the movie, I was getting tired of seeing the same old creaking floors, doorknobs rattling, and silhouettes in the shadows. There is little variety in the frights. True, there are some very fine jump scares, but the same scare over and over again got wearing for me to the point I could see them coming.

But the point that kind of ruined it for me most was one silly little abnormality in common sense and logic of storyline. The back story about how the bad entity came to be in existence was, well, in my mind at least, ridiculous. I won’t give out any spoilers, because I believe Lights Out still merits a watch. Watch it in the dark for full effect. And you can fully expect to see sequels in the future.

So Deadies, I give Lights Out full film 7 out of 10 headstones. The short Lights Out film 10 out of 10.