Guest Post with B. D. Bruns: “How to Make a Monster”


I have been repeatedly asked how I come up with my stories. I don’t have a particularly twisted imagination or way of looking at things. It’s just that if I do get a passing thought I blow on it until it catches fire. And besides, there’s no new stories out there: only new ways of presenting age-old ideas. But one thing I’m known for is my unique creatures, especially the Finger People. So how does one make a monster?
According to rock musician Rob Zombie, making a monster likely involves a teenage werewolf and a possessed cheerleader making out in the back of a car. My process isn’t nearly that exciting, but certainly more plausible. In the aforementioned example of the Finger People, I started with a subject that fascinated me. This is important because passion comes through. I focused on a specific moment in the Civil War, all the better to reveal the grisly details without overwhelming the reader with too much history. My initial thought was to have ghouls gathering up the fallen soldiers. Ghouls, while not generally the fodder of mainstream horror, are well known to us horror fans. Certainly I didn’t want any ghosts of fallen soldiers—that had been done to death (please pardon the pun). So what kind of monster could ‘realistically’ come about during a Civil War battle? It would have to be something we haven’t heard of yet.
What evolved from this exercise was a new type of fully developed beastie, the Finger People. They act like ghouls, sure, but why? What motivates them? Do they collect the dead bodies to eat them like scavengers or for some other, more sinister reason? The latter would be far scarier. And how do they interact with their environment? And there’s a war going on—how do they handle that strain? In short, how can I skip the magic and apply evolution? Applying deep reasoning and logic to monsters is what separates them from the fantasies of childhood.
I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like the Finger People. Maybe they are why The Gothic Shift—my book containing their novella The Swamp Hive—won the 2014 International Book Awards’ Best Short Story Collection.

“I wouldn’t think that any author could come up with anything more brutal and scary than the Civil War, but this he did and he did it well. I will be dreaming of The Finger People for a while to come. *shudder*” – Horror After Dark

Book News: Literary Mortar Boards, Nightmare Fuel & Your Favorite Agatha Christie


Literary Mortar Boards: It’s graduation time, which means you need to get creative with your mortar board.
Nightmare Fuel: Five recommended horror books from Book Riot that will scare the socks off of you.
Selfie Book Club: What if celebrities taking selfies had books photoshopped in place of their phones; yep, it’s as dumb and funny as it sounds.

“A Better World” by Marcus Sakey (Thomas & Mercer, 2014)

A Better World

It’s not easy to make a sequel as good as the first book in a series, especially not when the debutBrilliance – is nominated for an Edgar Award, but A Better World is another great thrill ride that will keep you forgetting about the world for a while and fully believing in this created one.

With a number of “brilliants” now exerting control over the United States, people are starting to get on edge about these superior beings and in congress a bill is on its way to being passed that would require every brilliant to be registered and monitored. Meanwhile a terrorist group, the “Children of Darwin,” led by brilliants, has crippled three cities, hitting them where it hurts and limiting their supplies and abilities to survive as a functioning city protecting and providing for its people.

Nick Cooper takes a new and daring assignment as advisor to the President of the United States. It’s up to Cooper to get himself dropped into the independent heart of brilliants country to get to the people he needs and find out what is making this terrorist group tick and how he can unravel it and shut it down.

Blending thrilling science fiction with action and great plot, A Better World is a great follow up to the very strong start that opens the world more but also makes things that much harder for the “good guys.” Readers will be solidly hooked and left wanting more.

Originally written on April 8, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Better World from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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A Personal Post on HBO’s Game of Thrones

I don’t normally make personal posts about my life and choices on Bookbanter, as I like to keep it mostly about my work, books and writing. But I feel this post needs to be done.

I have been enjoying HBO’s Game of Thrones since its first season. The look of the show is incredible; the detail that goes into the sets and costumes and design is enriching and engrossing. The writers have done a decent job of keeping to the story from the books. Because it’s HBO, they’ve naturally added extra scenes of nudity and sex and even a whole new prostitute character. While this added material hasn’t felt crucial to the story for the most part, because it’s HBO, it’s to be expected. One particular scene comes to mind involving a monologue from Littlefinger gazing out a window, while he has two prostitutes pleasure each other.

Nevertheless, overall I have enjoyed the show and with this new season, because little happens in the concurrent book, they deviated from the story, adding new material that kept the show fresh and interesting.

Except for a couple of particular incidents, unsurprisingly all involving rape.

The first is between Daenerys and Khal Drogo consummating their marriage. In the book, Daenerys is understandably terrified, but Drogo is kind and gentle with her. The TV show chose to make it a disturbing scene of Drogo raping Daenerys.

The second is between Cersei and Jaime Lannister, who are deeply in love with each other, but the writers decided a rape scene between them was necessary.

The third rape scene was in this past Sunday’s episode between Ramsey Snow and Sansa Stark, while Theon/Reek is made to watch, and in fact is the character who is the focus of the scene, as viewers see his reaction with little face-time on the girl being raped. This scene served absolutely no purpose except to abhor viewers. The character of Ramsey had already been established in the previous season with his incessant torture of Theon/Reek, and we already know everything that Sansa has gone through being married to Joffrey. It was so unnecessary.

I didn’t watch the episode, but started hearing about it shortly after it aired, and when I learned what the scene actually was – as I had been somewhat suspecting it in the previous episode – I decided almost immediately I was completely done with the show, and no matter how much they might apologize and admit their error in their terrible decision to do this, they won’t be able to get me back.

Rape seems to be the one conflict male writers turn to when they want to challenge their female characters, and seeing how omnipresent it is becoming both in real life and in entertainment media, it’s a sad telling on our current reality. And I feel the only way to start exposing this as something so very wrong and horrific and to change it is to make a strong and final choice, such as not watching the show anymore, even though there was a lot about about the show I liked.

When I tweeted on Sunday about quitting the show and my reasons for this, I soon received support and other people either doing likewise or those who had been planning to watch the show now choosing never to. There were also other comments and discussions on the events of the episode on social media and the following day The Mary Sue announced its decision to no longer promote the show in this great post.

And over the week there has been more reaction to the episode, from all areas, including TV critics. IO9 made this post addressing the episode. And then there was this fantastic post from Robert Jackson Bennett which I feel is the right note to end this post on.

Book News: Bookstore Secrets, Tyler Durden Returns, Coolest Spaceships & More!


Bookstore Secrets 
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Poehler Vinyl 
With the success of Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please, the publisher is releasing the audiobook on limited edition vinyl, as author recordings used to be released.

Feminist Friendly Romances 
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get with a romance, and finding one with a favorable female protagonist can be hard to come by, which is where this list comes in handy.

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“Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances” by Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2015)

Trigger Warning

In Neil Gaiman’s third short story collection, fans can expect a similar collection to the last, Fragile Things, with an introduction explaining the origin and history of each of the works, a wide selection of short stories and poetry they have likely not read before, and a nice thick novella set in the world of American Gods. The title, however, may have been in poor choice for, while he does talk about it in his introduction, the more correct and appropriate meaning of the term has little to do with being scared and/or entertained with some stories.

The collection runs the true gamut, showing Gaiman’s breadth and spectrum as a writer, and would make an ideal introduction to the author for anyone wanting to read him for the first time. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” is the haunting story of a dwarf in search of a guide to take him to a cave where riches lie. “The Sleeper and the Spindle” is a fairytale that blends Snow White with Sleeping Beauty. “Nothing O’clock” is an original Doctor Who story from Gaiman. “The Case of Death and Honey” looks at an aging Sherlock Holmes looking to solve one last mystery.

No two stories are alike in Trigger Warning, which is what you really want in a short story collection. The stories here cover all the genres and take the reader to interesting and unusual places. There is joy and sadness and everything in between.

Originally written on April 18, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Trigger Warning from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Time Traveler’s Almanac” Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Tor, 2014)

Time Traveler's Almanac
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If you’re any sort of fan of time travel, whether it’s Back to the Future, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, or even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; or perhaps you enjoy discussing, debating and at times lambasting the possibility and impossibility of time paradoxes; then you need to get yourself a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Well-known editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer do a magnificent job of grouping the many time travel stories together into categories, and breaking them up with nonfiction articles on different aspects of time travel. The greats are of course included in this fantastic anthology, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, George R. R. Martin and Ursula K. LeGuin. But there is also a plethora of other, lesser known authors all with their own individual and unique stories on time travel.

There’s the one about a person who travels through time in New Delhi seeing its many forms and the variety of inhabitants throughout its history. The story about a cheap, wonderful apartment in a fancy area of San Francisco, the catch is you have to live in it in the past. One of the most moving stories is “Red Letter Day” set in a world where you receive a letter from your future self on the day of your graduation about how you should lead your life; and what it means for those who don’t receive a letter.

The Time Traveler’s Almanac features 70 stories and has a little bit of everything that can be sampled slowly over time – as I did – or gobbled up as quickly as possible. You’ll be taken to many different worlds, in different times, and no one will be like the other.

Originally written on February 11, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

Book News: Coolest Bookstores Across The Pond, Adaptations, ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’ Gets a Trailer & More!


Shit Book Nerds Do
If you’re an obsessive book nerd you may think you have a problem, but here’s a list to prove you’re not alone and a perfectly normal book nerd at that.

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Adapting books into movies and TV shows continues to be en vogue and here are some new adaptation projects in the works.

Best Reads in April
Book Riot presents its best and recommended reads they discovered in April.

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In A Few Words (1) . . . Loneliness is a Funny Thing

In a Few Words

Welcome to the first installment of “In a Few Words,” where readers get to read and enjoy some original writing. The writing samples used in this segment are generally pieces that were stories that were never finished, writing exercises, or just some writing pieces I’ve discovered in my archives. 

“Loneliness is a Funny Thing” is two thousand words of a short story I started but never finished. It was one of those classic cases where I started the story and then after that first session never went back to it, whether it was because I didn’t know where it was going to go next, or I didn’t get back to it soon enough, it was a story that never came to fruition. Nevertheless, what did get written I think is pretty interesting and I can see the original idea I was playing around with with these first couple thousand words. Also being the start of a story, it’s a rough first draft.

This part of a story is in my “Out to Pasture” file, which you can basically think of as the place where writing pieces and failed stories go to die, as I have no plans to do anything else with them, but I certainly don’t want to delete them. Now at least, they get to see the light of day through Bookbanter.  

Loneliness is a Funny Thing

You don’t realize how quiet and lonely it can get until you start talking to dead people.  That’s what Jimmy Dogan’s subconscious realized once his conscious mind decided to strike up a conversation with the rotting corpse sitting next to him.

“So, it looks like it’s gonna be another scorcher today Red.  Better put some lotion on or you’re gonna burn.  But then, what the hell do you care,” he said with a chuckle.

Dogan looked down for the hundredth time at the cracked, bloody kindling of his legs; forty-eight hours ago the Saab had decided to ignore the road sign indicating a tight curve – had not even bothered to move is front axle – so the car had gone straight off the cliff, just like a cartoon car or one of those where you laugh at the car as it plunges to the bottom of the ravine, because you know it’s not real.

On the road, looking down into the ravine, Dogan had realized he was a hefty percentage over the alcoholic limit, but then as he took the slow-motion plunge – the dive that seemed to last a lifetime – he felt himself becoming more sober, until the painful crash at the end, where the honorable judge Dogan began presiding.

Each person has their own unique reaction to a perilous situation – in this case the situation was either going to kill them, or at least inflict an unconscionable amount of pain.  Dogan’s reaction was to laugh uncontrollably: tears ripped from the edges of his eyes as if tiny talons were reaching out to grab them; his voice hoarse and petering out in volume, until it was an aggravated whisper.  His passenger’s reaction was to scream continuously, as if by venting this amount of volume, a special lifting cloud would be created and escort them to safety.  Soon the two occupants of the Saab sounded like two of the three tenors at age ninety: croaking pathetically.

The landing had been especially painful, Jimmy thought.  The car had landed on its nose, crumpling but not collapsing, then falling back.  Jimmy’d had his seat-belt on, so he’d simply been pulled forward (he knew there was a red, raw band across his torso), while his feet and legs had been crushed by the forced contraction of the Saab.  There’d been a two-second period of crunching, as if he’d stepped on a pile of cornflakes, then the pain had reached up through his thighs, gripping his groin, crushing with tenacity.

Red had not been wearing his seat-belt, so upon impact, he’d shot forward like a hammer on a gun, slamming his head into the dashboard.  With him there was also crunching, though at a lower tone, as his neck was compacted and reduced to merely a thing connective tissue between his head and shoulders.  His juicy brain had taken a hard smack on the top of his skull, causing thousand of minute hemorrhages to erupt in the crevasses and wrinkles of this delicate organ.  The bruised brain had then been sent southwards at an illegal speed, plowing through what remained of the neck and plugging the hole like an expanded, oversized cork in a wine bottle.

For the first sixty minutes, Jimmy had just sat there, not moving, his lower legs a numb wreck best forgotten.  After ten of those sixty minutes, the pain had decreed that his groin had suffered enough agony and had begun migrating further higher up his body, going through his torso, reaching up higher and higher with each rib, as if the pain were using his rib-cage as a ladder to get to his head.

Jimmy’s only defense was to whimper like a baby.  Five minutes later: tears were coursing down his cheek, working against the traffic of his pain.  His only solution had been to begin counting, starting with zero, because when you worked in the computer industry, zero was just as important as the number one.

“Zero . . . One . . . Two . . . Three . . . Four,” he’d begun, speaking aloud, but this had forced muscles into action and caused his body to awake from its quiet sleep and begin working – the pain receptors also began working, so Jimmy stopped speaking, continuing to count in his head.

Five . . . Six . . . Seven . . . Eight . . . Nine.

When an hour had passed and he was at three-thousand-five-hundred-and-ninety-six, his body seemed to have settled into a numbed stasis, where the pain was still apparent (the pain was always apparent) but bearable – like when you have a nightmare where your wife dies and you spend the entire day with the dread in the back of your mind; you know she’s not going to die, but the possibility is still there and grips onto your mind, bugging, annoying, relentless.

At the beginning of the second hour Jimmy began thinking about someone other than himself and his pain for the first time.  His girlfriend was person number one: they were close, had been together for three years now – the relationship had reached a point where the two partners realized they were going to get married and spend the rest of their lives together, and it was now a case of waiting for the respective families to make the connection and therefore make the union a foreseeable event in the future.  His parents next: how long would it be before they realized something was wrong – days?  He talked to them about twice a week and visited them at least once every two weeks.  They wouldn’t suspect anything might be wrong until at least five days had passed and they’d wonder why he’d not called.  As for Lena, she would realize something wasn’t right when he didn’t come home tonight – but that was many hours away.  Jimmy looked down at his digital watch, saw the cracked glass and was unsurprised to find the LED non-functional.  On a gut feeling he looked at the clock above the radio, below the futuristic Saab logo, shocked to find it operational – nothing wrong with that LED.  The luminescent green light pointed out in stark fashion that the current time was 11:34 AM.

It would be a long time before anyone began wondering what the hell had happened to them.

Ninety minutes after the plunge, Jimmy finally faced his fear and forced his neck to creak round and look at his passenger.  Since there’d been little reaction from Red so far, Jimmy assumed he was dead.  As his eyes settled on the mighty cleaved fissure running down the center of Red’s skull he gasped and quickly turned away, the tears and pain flaring up synchronously.  But that wasn’t before he’d seen the halo of blood on his shirt, as if it had once been a healthy yellow, sitting on top of his head, but had dropped down to his chest, blood-soaked.  As for a neck, Jimmy realized that Red no longer had one.

“Oh,” Jimmy sobbed.  Best friends were not meant to see their best friends like that, not dead; if there were a God, surely he would’ve the decency to stop that incident from ever happening.  You’d think.

But now Mike’s sitting there knowing he’ll probably never be able to stand again.  He’s just made the comment about Red needing some sunscreen, and as he chuckles, he wonders where deep within him something like that came from.

It’s been almost three hours now, so the dash LED tells.  His eyes just flicker at the green light, knowing if he fully looks at the time, out of the corner of his right eye he will see Red leaned forward, head on the dash, opened up like sliced watermelon.

He takes a breath.

“I . . .”

He stops himself, wondering why he’s bothering to talk.  Who’s he talking to?  Himself?  Red?

Yes, his subconscious tells him.  You’re talking to Red.  Not because you’ve gone mad from the pain.  Not because you need someone to talk to otherwise you will go mad.  You’ve got things you want him to know.  You never told him when you were alive, so you might as well do it now.

“I . . . I’m sorry man.  Sorry for all this.  I never meant for this to happen.  Well, course I didn’t.  Who the fuck wants to end up mangled and trapped inside a car with his best friend’s brains splattered on the windshield.  But we shouldn’t’ve been drunk this morning, so earlier.  We shouldn’t’ve been drunk still from last night.  I meant to tell you.  I meant to tell you then about it all.”

Mike’s voice is shaking, wavering in the sizzling heat of approaching noon, like a man uttering his last words.  For all he knows, they are.

“I just couldn’t man.  So I was going to tell you in the car, just after we got round that long turn, I was going to tell you everything.  But we didn’t make it.  At least you didn’t.  But I’m not sure how much time I have left, anyway.”

Mike replays those crazy few minutes in his brain: approaching the curve, preparing himself, even leaning to the left a little.  But the wheel just didn’t turn.  It was stuck.  He looks at the wheel and his eyes widen when he sees his arms still extended, hands wrapped around the wheel at ten and two.  He hasn’t moved them in over three hours.  It has been quite the shocking morning so far after all.

He tries to move them, but finds stiffness and pain.  They are straight, the elbow joints locked.  They couldn’t have been like this when the car landed otherwise his arms would be broken in many places.  He must’ve kept his hands on the wheel, loose, and after landing had stretched them out for further bracing.

He begins flexing the muscles all the way up his arms, trying to move his fingers.  There’s a lot of numbness, and as he does this, more pain, but they eventually start to loosen.  Feeling drips back into his fingers and hands.  Then the elbows finally loosen and he lets go.

Mike stops himself.  He’d looked at the wheel for a reason.  He feels a coldness in the small of his back for the first time, branching up and across his shoulder blades.

Slowly, he reaches out and grasps the wheel at ten and two again, then he turns the wheel to the left trying to use his arms only.  There is still pain, a flaring burn in his crotch and below, but the wheel turns not much, because the power steering isn’t on, but it turns.

And why didn’t this happen when they went around the curve?

The coldness enfolds him, making him shiver and exploding pain from below.  He cries out, biting his tongue to hold the pain at bay.  It doesn’t.

Some time later, when he regains his breath and stamina he looks at his hands.  They look worn, not like a software developer’s hands.  But they’re also the hands that didn’t turn the wheel when they should have.  These are the hands that did nothing and let the car fly off the edge.  These are the hands that did nothing because Mike couldn’t force himself to open up and tell Red what he wanted to.  These are the hands that killed his best friend and probably doomed him to a slow and painful death.

“Well I’m going to tell you now Red.  I’m going to tell you what I should’ve told you a long time ago.  I’m going to . . .”

Red’s head lifted off the dashboard with a squelching sound as the reduced brain matter slipped back into its skull.  The head turned to look at Mike.

It wore a frozen rictus, teeth missing, but still terrifying.  One eye was completely white, the other focused on him.  The left cheek bone had been severely broken, jutting off in the direction of Red’s ear, a splinter of bone poking through the skin.

Mike’s mouth was open, a raspy sound coming from his throat.

“Whacha gonna tell Mike?  Whatsh sho damn-fucking important you’ve got to tell me even after I’m dead!”

That was when Mike fainted.

“Less Than Hero” by S. G. Browne (Gallery Books, 2015)

Less Than Hero

It usually only takes a reader a couple of pages to know they’re reading an S. G. Browne novel, as they wrap their minds around a weird and wacky story, and Less Than Hero is another great, prime example of this. Here’s your one-sentence premise: what if some guys who have been human guinea pigs for years, testing new drugs and medications, suddenly developed stranger super powers?

Lloyd Prescott has been in the guinea pig program for a number of years now and it’s what he makes his living from.  For a relatively decent wage, all he has to put up with are some uncomfortable, unsettling side effects. He meets up weekly with a group of guys who are also fellow guinea pigs to hang out, chat about their lives and share info about upcoming trials.

At one of these meetings Lloyd tells everyone about his new-found ability: he can make people fall asleep on command. And then the rest of the group – except one – reveal their strange new powers that they can cause unto others: violent vomiting, seizures, and erections, to name a few. The group decides to use their unusual powers for good and set out to help those in need. Meanwhile in New York there are two super villains – if you will —  who can make people hallucinate and steal their memories.

While the main cast of superheroes could use a little diversity and maybe a female, Less Than Hero has to be the most bizarre yet entertaining superhero story out there. And in true Browne fashion, the reader doesn’t really know where it’s all going to go and what the ending will be like, they just keep going, enjoying the ride all the way.

Originally written on April 8, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Less Than Hero from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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