Michaelbrent Collings brings you one of the “Best Reads of 2019” (Horror After Dark); a “Top 10 Read of 2019” (Sci-fi & Scary)…


All passengers, please prepare for departure…

An employee, a cop, and six passengers; a prisoner, a stowaway, and a madman.

These are the people waiting at the Lawton bus terminal.

 Mostly late-night travelers who want nothing more than to get to their destinations, and employees who want nothing more than to get through the graveyard shift.

But when a strange, otherworldly fog rolls in, the night changes to nightmare. Because something hides in the fog. Something powerful. Something strange. Something… inhuman.

Soon, those in the terminal have been cut off from the rest of the world. No phones, no computers. Just ten strangers in the terminal… and The Other.

The Other is the force in the mist. The Other is the thing that has captured them. And The Other wants to play a game.

The rules are simple:

  1. The people in the terminal must choose a single person from among them. That person will live. The rest will die.
  2. Anyone who attempts to leave the terminal before the final vote will die.
  3. The final vote… must be unanimous. 

A nightmare. And getting worse, because the best way to make a vote unanimous… is to kill the other voters. 

Welcome to the Terminal.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com
Thoughts on the shooting in my home town

Thoughts on the shooting in my home town

I wasn’t born there, but Thousand Oaks is my home town. I lived there over a decade, as a kid and a teen, before leaving to serve as a missionary in South America. I returned and spent a few more years there. It was the one place in California I really enjoyed being – a kind, happy place full of (generally) kind, happy people. In my later teens and early twenties, I would frequently rollerblade or ride my bike through the town at all hours of the night – I’ve never been a good sleeper, and would exercise sometimes at two or three in the morning. I never worried about being hurt or even bothered. It was a Safe Place. It was home.

Today it is a place not safe, a place in mourning. I have been to the Borderline Bar & Grill a few times – people went there for country and line dancing, and I had some friends play in bands there, and it was less than two miles from my house.

I am so happy that (so far at least) none of my friends was hurt. Selfish of me, I know, but there it is. I am so so so SO sad that so many others have friends who WERE hurt.

I think we live in a tremendous world. We live in an age where we have the power to call a friend who lives on the other side of the globe. We cure diseases that were death sentences a hundred years ago. We make machines that bring opportunity and entertainment to people everywhere. We live in a world of brightness and infinite possibility.

But there is darkness, too. I don’t know what happened – what set off the shooter, what “motives” there were, what happened leading up to the event that cost a dozen people their lives. And even when the reasons come out, I suppose I STILL won’t know what happened. Things like this never make sense to me.

People everywhere are going to glom onto this event as an excuse to push agendas. I’m no different. So here’s mine:

Pay attention.

Nope, that wasn’t the wind-up, that was the pitch itself.


There are dangers out there. Pay attention, and do your best to avoid them.

There are people who need help in danger, as with one girl I heard interviewed who fell down and cowered on the floor until a stranger yanked her to her feet and dragged her to safety. Pay attention for opportunities to help someone like that.

Pay attention before the danger comes, too. Stopping it before it happens is always better than hoping it misses you. So many people in this “connected” world of ours feel disaffected, rudderless. That kind of feeling turns to fear, and fear in humans almost always manifests itself as anger, sooner or later.

Watch for the fearful. Pay attention. I’m not saying that everyone can be helped, or that kindness will cure all evil. But I AM sure that if we spent a little less time screaming about how awful [INSERT POLITICAL PARTY/IDEOLOGY/BELIEF SYSTEM/RACE/AFFILIATION OF YOUR CHOICE] is and a little more time looking for opportunities to ask how someone’s doing, and actually give a damn what the answer is, there’d be a lot less rage in the world.

Love doesn’t cure all evils, because evil DOES exist – and it exists to rend and destroy what’s beautiful. That’s its nature.

But fomenting a culture of anger, where people are either “my people” or “that idiot/scumbag/ignorant fool” is psychotic.

Pay attention.

I’m not giving excuses for the shooter – though I fear someone will read that into this little message. All I’m saying is that events like what happened in Thousand Oaks are happening too much. We’re doing something wrong, when things like this happen. And when they happen often, it’s a sign that things have to change on a large scale.

Change isn’t brought about in congressional votes, or presidential edicts. Change doesn’t happen with new legislation. Those things are results at best, and more often are just side effects.

Change happens when we wake up in the morning, when we see the first person of our day and make a choice to engage or to ignore; to condescend or to seek to understand. Change occurs when we reach out to someone and try to REALLY UNDERSTAND what they’re thinking – or when we “listen” to them only so we can find the first “stupid/rotten/ignorant/evil” thing they say and then we pounce on it in the knowledge that doing so will “cure” them.

Change happens when we hear someone we disagree with, and try to understand why they think those things, rather than barreling in with both barrels loaded and ready to fire our “better” understanding.
I am glad my friends and family are okay.

I grieve for the people with friends and family who were killed, and for those dead themselves.

Today I will try to smile a bit more. I will try to listen to people instead of just waiting for them to pause so I can say MY Very Important Thing. Today I will hug my family tight, and remind my children that there are dangers out there… which means they should be careful, and that they should do what they can to be such bright and kind and wonderful people that they inspire the universe to be a brighter and kinder and more wonderful place.

My heart, prayers, and tears go out to you in Thousand Oaks. Things like what happened last night should not happen. Ever. And I recognize that I can’t stop them. But I can do my best to make sure that everyone I meet – EVERYONE – knows I appreciate them as a human, and as a thing of inestimable value. Whether I agree with you or not (and I disagree with my wife/best friend all the time, so I have no doubt you and I will disagree about Big Important Things as well), please know that I appreciate you in my life, and please know – if ever your days are dark – that the way to conquer that darkness is not to make others join you in that darkness, but to find it in ourselves to make more light.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com
The Ultimate Horror Rec List

The Ultimate Horror Rec List

Thanks for tuning in to the First Annual Ultimate Halloween Recommendations list. By which I mean a List I Made and Which I May or May Not Do Again Next year.

Below you will see the favorite scary fare in movies and books from some of my favorite people – many of whom also happen to be bestselling horror authors, Bram Stoker Award nominees and winners, top-of-the-genre horror reviewers and bloggers, and more. These are the best of the best, and I’ve asked each for a few sentences (and in a few cases, they’ve given more… an embarrassment of riches!) on their favorite scary/Halloween movie or book. Please note: if there’s a bit in quotes after their name, it’s a direct quote from their bios. Otherwise, I did my best to show of their Awesomeness Incarnate.

They’re listed in alphabetical order by first name/internet moniker so as not to show favoritism. And without any further ado… Go!

Ania Ahlborn – “Ania’s first novel, SEED, was self-published. It clawed its way up the Amazon charts to the number one horror spot, earning her a multi-book deal and a key to the kingdom of the macabre. Seven years later, her work has been lauded by the likes of Publishers Weekly, New York Daily News, and the New York Times.”

My favorite horror novel isn’t a novel, it’s a book of short stories by Stephen King. But it’s like a deep cut B-side when it comes to his collections. Full Dark, No Stars has stuck with me since I read it in less than two days while laid out with a killer case of the flu. When I finished it, I immediately wanted to read it again. And it makes good on its title. It’s dark, possibly darker than any King stuff I can remember. And if you know anything about me or my work, you know I’m a sucker for a darkness you can’t claw your way out of.

Because it’s such a fun and Halloween-appropriate flick, Drag Me to Hell is my horror movie pick. I still remember watching this film for the first time, fully expecting it to be serious horror. But it’s slow spiral into pure camp is both delightful and hilarious. I’m not big on camp, but I can’t recommend this movie enough.

See her Amazon page here, or on Facebook here, or follow on Twitter.

Bark at the Ghouls – “I’ve been a horror fan ever since I swiped Carrie by Stephen from my dad’s nightstand as a child and love nothing more than talking about scary books.” My reviews can be found at http://barksbooknonsense.blogspot.com/ I am also a founding member of https://ladiesofhorrorfiction.com/”

My favorite movie of all time is Near Dark. I wrote a guest post for Scifi & Scary about it and also posted it my blog feel free to take a little snippet. My favorite horror book is GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn That book, to me, is complete perfection. It’s a grueling read about a couple who decide to create their own troupe of circus freaks by imbibing toxins when the mother is pregnant. It still remains one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read and it’s one of the few books I reread every few years and it never lets me down. This reminds that I am due for a reread!

Visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Bob Pastorella – author of Mojo Rising and co-host for a This is Horror.

As much as I’m likely to change my mind on any given day, I would say that Rosemary’s Baby, both novel and film, is high on my list. Levin pulls the wool over our eyes so many times that we don’t know who to trust, and when we think we’ve figured it out, we realize that yes, “All of them Witches.”

Visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Blu Gilliand – Managing Editor of Cemetery Dance Magazine and Cemetery Dance Online

I was flattered when Michaelbrent Collings asked me to write about my favorite horror book and/or movie. Like most fans, I love any opportunity to talk about the stuff that excites me.

And then I started trying to narrow the choices down.

Keeping in mind that I had not been asked to submit several Top 10 Lists, annotated and supplemented with various “runners-up” compilations and subgenre-specific side-roads, I decided to choose a novel and a book that, for me, do the best job of invoking the feeling of Halloween. ‘Tis the season, after all!

When it comes to books, nothing evokes Halloween better for me than Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. Dark Harvest takes place in a small town on a cold Halloween night in 1963 — a town in which Halloween traditions run deeper and darker than simple trick-or-treating. Yes, there are rites of passage to be completed that night, but we’re not talking egging houses and rolling trees. We’re talking rituals born of dark earth and blood. We’re talking a living embodiment of evil called The October Boy, stalking streets and backyards. We’re talking packs of desperate teenage boys on the hunt for their only ticket out of town. Partridge takes teen-rebel swagger and slaps it onto a Carpenter-esque framework, and delivers it with the kind of tough-as-nails prose that would be right at home in any Hard Case Crime release.

As for movies, I need look no further than Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat for my Halloween fix. Dougherty uses the anthology approach to pack as many Halloween tropes as he can in a film that covers one night in a fictional Ohio town. You’ve got poison candy, a local legend revolving around a fatal bus crash, pranks, werewolves, undead children, revenge stories and more, told in a group of interlocking tales with a mysterious, child-like figure named Sam at the center of it all. It’s a gorgeous movie, filled with truckloads of jack-o-lanterns, orange lights, creepy woods, and suburban streets filled with trick-or-treaters in eye-catching costumes. Every frame screams “HALLOWEEN!” and I’ll likely watch it multiple times this season for the atmosphere alone.

Visit Cemetery Dance here, or follow on Twitter.

Catherine from Red Lace Reviews – Catherine is “a horror enthusiast from Northern Ireland. She spends most of her time in a desperate quest to scare herself silly. She’s an active book reviewer and blogger, and loves every moment of it.”

I’d like to pitch in a book and a movie, both I consider favourites of mine.

High Moor
Graeme Reynolds pulled me into an intense and ruthless experience – something so brutal that I often had to sit back and reassess the murderous events that assaulted me in every chapter. With bone-snapping and blood-spurting entertainment, it quickly became apparent that this was the pinnacle of werewolf fiction. For me, the perfect creature feature.

Ginger Snaps
It once was an obsession, this tale of two outcasts that had the misfortune of a beastly encounter. The depressive atmosphere weighed heavily, but I was fascinated with the doom and gloom. The parallels between coming of age and turning into a bloodthirsty monster were startling – both very drastic transformations indeed. I guess you could say, that at a younger age, I was able to relate to the protagonists (more to do with being the unpopular kid whilst hitting adulthood, not the turning into a werewolf aspect… even though I would have welcomed that, probably.)

See her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Christine Morgan – “Christine Morgan reads, writes, edits, reviews, enjoys baking and weird crafts, and is really fed up with cancer.” [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT: Christine is one of my favorites. She gave me my VERY FIRST “pro” review (you can read it here if you want), has reviewed nearly every one of my horror novels since then, and is a neato-keen person to boot. She’s a continuing cancer warrior/badass/survivor (see her bio above), so send her good thoughts and check out her websites!]

Aaaaaagh these kinds of questions … I have so many favorites, even breaking them down into sub-categories is hard!

The Shining – pivotal life-changer, I read it when I was ten years old and my aunt told my parents it would warp me forever and she was right.

The Hot Zone – not even a novel but this book still scares the heck out of me more than any fictional stuff I’ve ever read.

City Infernal – my introduction to Edward Lee, epic worldbuilding and gore, blew my mind and made me an instant die-hard forever fan.

Invaders From Mars – I always have to look up the title of this one because my mind will not let me remember it, freaked me out so bad as a kid.

The Changeling – subtle and moody, that wheelchair; the scene with the ball bouncing down the dusty staircase; the floaty spectre coming up … shivers all over.

30 Days of Night – vampireociraptors, ‘nuff said.

See her website Christine Morgan’s World of Words here, or The Horror Fiction Review here.

Darren Shan – author of The Saga of Darren Shan, The Demonata series, and more

While I’ve seen and relished many fine horror films over the years, if I had to pick just one that truly terrified me and that I could name as a truly life-changing influence, then it would be the 1970s TV adaptation of Salem’s Lot. When I was a boy (I’m guessing 9 or 10 at most, maybe even younger) my next-door neighbours, knowing of my love of horror, said they’d seen the first half of a two-part film about vampires. It sounded right up my alley, so I watched the second half when it aired. It was Salem’s Lot and it scared the living S-H-EYE-T out of me! Most horror films that I’d seen to that point were set in the past and featured adult-only characters. This was set in the modern day, with some kids — and those kids weren’t immune to the vampiric shenanigans going on around them — “Mark… open the window, Mark…” I loved every minute of it and enjoyed a woke-me-up-from-my-sleep nightmare that night, which I thought was VERY cool — the only other film that ever did that for me was Dracula 1972 AD, which I saw when I was a good bit younger and took seriously, not realising it was meant to be funny. I’ve watched Salem’s Lot several times over the decades since, and it’s always impressed me — for a TV movie, it rocks big time. If you’ve never seen it, and are sceptical about a 3 hour long 1970s TV flick, track it down and surprise yourself.

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – horror poet and reviewer for Hook of a Book; “has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in her field where she is currently an author, a journalist, an editor, and publicist among many other things. Breathe. Breathe. was her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. She has stories featured in several other anthologies and magazines and was the co-editor of the anthology Haunted are These Halls. She also serves as president of the board of her local mental health center and rape crisis domestic violence safe haven.

Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland was one of my first horror novel read outside of Stephen King, and the one that catapulted me into the horror industry as a writer and in my career. I still consider this book one of my top ten favorite reads of all time. Published in 2011, this book is now out of print (cue tears!), but hopefully it will make a comeback eventually because it truly is one of the greatest modern horror novels in my opinion.

In Dead of Winter, Inspector Tom Hatcher just can’t get over what happened when he was on the case of serial killer, the Cannery Cannibal. Meanwhile, Father Xavier, an exorcism specialist on assignment with the Catholic church, visits the serial killer in an asylum. As he realizes the mental patient is possessed by a demon, we sense that the Cannery Cannibal is far more powerful and deadly than anyone could have imagined.

Also, in 1870 at a fur trading fort set in the deep and dense Ontario wilderness, Hatcher confronts his own demons while investigating some gruesome murders. It becomes apparent that a predator from the forest has unleashed a deadly plague among the colonists in which they begin to crave human flesh with an insatiable hunger and take on supernatural powers and body shape to obtain it. Once the shape shifting begins, there isn’t ending it and death abounds.

Based on a real historical Native American legend, Moreland crafts his tale to include the spirituality of the Native American culture who lived in these woods and the conflicting arrogance of the white man who often lived at the forts and outposts. Inspector Hatcher doesn’t know if he can stop the rampage this time, as good is pitted against evil in an amazing battle of wills. Father Xavier arrives to assist him as no other priest has been able to manage or live through, along with passionate Native American Anika, who is disregarded by everyone but Hatcher, accused of being a witch and used as a slave.  Together, they unravel a mystery of epic proportions.

Brian’s writing took me somewhere out of my daily life as I became entranced by the story. His detail and cinematology, coupled with his unique story telling ability, kept me turning page after page.

See her Amazon page here, or visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Fox Emm – ; “Fox Emm writes horror reviews for a variety of sites and also pens stories for the unsqueamish. You can find her work on Amazon”

The best Halloween movie needs to meet a few criteria. It has to be fun to watch, something even non-horror fans can enjoy, and something that I’d want to watch more than once. That makes for an incredibly short list. The original Scream tics those boxes. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has a fairly satisfying resolution.

See her Amazon page here, or visit her Wattpad page here, or follow on Twitter.

Frank Errington – radio personality and horror reviewer for Cemetery Dance

My scariest movie is Alien. Though many consider this to be a science fiction classic. This one really scared me. It still does, to this day.

Visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Gracie Kat – reviewer for Sci Fi & Scary


See her Amazon page here, or visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Hal Bodner – Bram Stoker Award nominee, author of Bite Club!

When I was a kid–oh, so many eons ago!–there was no such thing as the internet, nor even video recording. If we wanted to watch a movie, we either went to the movie theatre or waited until it came onto television.

I remember when I was in the fourth grade, this new thing called “Saturday Morning Cartoons” was created. Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings, we were limited to live action movies on UHF channels — that is, local broadcasting stations. Usually, the movies that they aired were films that could be licensed very cheaply — which meant a lot of bad horror films, spaghetti Westerns, “foreign” films and science fiction pictures, all of which were in black and white.

I distinctly recall one film called THE WITCH’S MIRROR, shot in Spanish and dubbed into English which TERRIFIED me as a kid. There was a scene at the end where a disembodied hand crawls up someone’s back and stabs them in the neck with a scissors. It haunted me for YEARS; I would check under the bed each night to see if five crawly fingers lurked with a sharpened pair of shears!

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here.

John FD Taff – Bram Stoker Award nominee, author of The End in all Beginnings and Little Deaths

My favorite horror book is definitely Peter Straub’s The Throat. I re-read it every couple of years. It’s as dense as a flourless chocolate cake and full of nuance and shading and unreliable narration. Just a fantastic book.

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Kealan Patrick Burke – Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Sour Candy

I don’t always watch the same horror movies every year on Halloween, but there are a few staples: Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), The Fog (1980), Trick R’ Treat (2007) and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Most of these are rightly regarded as classics, but Halloween III is the one that always raises an eyebrow whenever I bring it up. Released in 1982, the film was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Part of the problem was that fans were confused by the absence of the series’ boogeyman, Michael Myers. They’d showed up for some hack n’ slash and instead found themselves watching a gonzo film about robots, killer masks, and Irish druids. In an effort to get away from repeating the same slasher story over and over again, the film was intended to be the first in an anthology series, with each entry telling a different horror story set on Halloween. How wonderful that might have been! But when Halloween failed to make an impact at the box office, the idea was quashed in favor of returning to Mr. Myers’ babysitter-killing exploits.

But, maligned as it is, I happen to love Halloween III. I can, in fact, recall being seriously creeped out by it the first time I saw it, and for many of the same reasons I was unnerved by first viewings of Halloween and The Fog: John Carpenter’s score and Dean Cundey’s cinematography, the staccato synth beats and the wide angle night shots broken by the sudden ominous flare of the villain’s headlights, or the appearance of a sinister figure in a hallway. There’s just a certain feel to these films that gets me every time. I adore the style of them. And of course, you have Tom Atkins, whose wisecracking everyman is always worth a look.

And what of the plot?

It’s silly, of course, but so much fun too. How can you not be drawn in by the notion of kids being murdered by their own masks on Halloween night to fulfil the needs of a druidic cult? It’s as outrageous as it is irresistible, a B-movie done so well that it almost transcends the category. And there are some legitimate freak-out moments too, courtesy of some excellent practical effects work. Those robot henchmen don’t skimp on the gore.

In short, it’s cheap, it’s clumsy, it’s creepy, and it’s got a killer ending, but whenever it comes up, the thing most people remember is the jingle. You know the one. It’s irritating as hell but also summons up the fond memory of an oft-forgotten film that deserves a lot more love.

Three more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween…Three more days to Halloween…Silverrrr Shamrock…


See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Melinda M. Snodgrass – screenwriter of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Outer Limits, and many more, and author of urban fantasy novels

I am such a wuss that I almost never watch horror movies. I get too scared and then I have nightmares. I did see the Exorcist and barely slept for two weeks after that. That Catholic thing runs deep. And Alien scared me to death too.

See her Amazon page here, or visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Mercedes Yardley – Bram Stoker Award winner and author of Nameless and Pretty Little Dead Thiings

My favorite horror movie is the original Poltergeist. There’s a little girl in distress. Her family bands together to save her from something they can’t even begin to comprehend. They call for outside help, and eventually the mother ties a rope around her waist and wanders into hell itself to rescue her child. There are memorable tagline, terrifying clowns, and a tree that tries to eat you, but everything is okay at the end. The movie is chilling and manages to be endearing at the same time. Poltergeist was, unfortunately and unnecessarily, remade. The remake neutered the original story by cutting out a strong female character completely and then having a washed-up TV host rescue Carol Ann instead of having her mother do it. While I’m always a fan of redemption stories, my favorite part of the original was the fact that when things were at their most despairing, Mama wrapped herself up and plunged after her little girl. Parents kick butt.

See her Amazon page here, or visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Michael R. Collings – aka “My Dad,” multiple Bram Stoker Award nominee; horror poet, novelist, and World Horror Convention Grandmaster

In no particular order, some of my favorite ‘horror’ novels (there are too many good ones out there to have only a few favorites) include: Stephen King’s IT and The Shining, both encountered in early adulthood and still enjoyed; Robert R. McCammon’s Wolf’s Hour, for me one of the finest werewolf novels; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and the Julie Harris film adaptation; and Predators, arguably the best and most suspense-filled novel by a prolific writer named Michaelbrent (yes, my son, but that doesn’t keep him from being an outstanding storyteller.

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here.

Peter Dudar – author of The Goat Parade

It’s Halloween again, and I want to pass onto you a movie that has been (in my honest opinion) overlooked in the pantheon of horror films. I’m speaking of 2014’s THE CANAL (written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh). THE CANAL was eclipsed by that year’s cinema darling, THE BABADOOK (written and directed by Jennifer Kent), and all the hype surrounding what William Friedkin was hailing as the scariest film he’d seen in years. Whereas THE BABADOOK was remarkable for being both an import from Australia and the significance of a female filmmaker presenting the year’s biggest horror movie, THE CANAL appeared on streaming video nearly simultaneously, but went largely unnoticed. Having watched THE BABADOOK after following all the buzz it was creating in the film festival circuit, my experience was somewhat disappointing. It’s a flawed movie (and not one I’m going to critique in this essay), but on the whole worth a viewing. A few days later I stumbled upon THE CANAL on NetFlix, and was immediately drawn into its atmospheric style and marvelous storytelling. Like THE BABADOOK, THE CANAL is also an import from the U.K., and unravels in a psychological thriller that horror fans might find similar to the 2001 masterpiece SESSION 9.

The opening sequence of the movie has David (Rupert Evans) addressing some high school students preceding a lecture he’s about to give. The students are chattering away until he pipes up and asks them bluntly, “Who wants to see some ghosts?”, alluding to the people captured on celluloid in his film footage, who have been dead for nearly a hundred years but remain youthful and vibrant in his archive footage. The vignette is short, but sets such a staggeringly effective stage for the dread to come. David, a film archivist working for the city’s historical society, is presented with some super-8 footage of some murders that had taken place in his hometown at the beginning of the 20th century. David is a very overworked husband and father, and comes to suspect that his wife Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) has been having an affair. David begins spying on his wife out of jealousy, and follows Alice and her lover back to his flat. When she fails to return home, the film spins into a tense trail of psychological dread as David tries to piece together what actually transpired between when he left Alice’s lover’s flat the night before and when he awoke the next morning, waiting to confront his unfaithful spouse.

What David comes to learn is that the apartment his family is living in happens to be the same crime scene from the film footage he’s been working to preserve at the archive, as if all of this madness has happened before. When the titular canal outside their apartment is dredged and Alice’s corpse is uncovered, David’s world plunges into a hallucinatory spiral of madness as he’s forced to prove that someone else (possibly a supernatural entity) murdered his wife.

There’s a distinct correlation between how one appreciates a horror film and where that viewer happens to be in his/her own life. I’m finding that this particular film works for me—in sinking those needle-sharp teeth right into my pressure points—because the characters within the film are drawn from a very similar place in age and how I view the world in my own life. It’s entirely relatable (and I’m inclined to make the same argument with THE BABADOOK, that these films are more likely to scare someone in their mid-40s like myself than some teenage horror hound looking for their next torture-porn fix). Both are stories with three-dimensional characters, struggling with the responsibilities of working fulltime, parenting, trying to keep relationships somewhat meaningful during stressful situations; these are the new pressure points for my generation. THE CANAL manages to exploit these stressers, as well as the theme of suburban paranoia and subtle, nuanced flashes of the supernatural.

I consider THE CANAL to be the best horror film of the decade, and easily rank it among the top fright flicks of all time. Its only weakness is that its ability to resonate relies heavily on the point in one’s life when they discover it. I’m happy to keep singing its praise, to keep pulling it up from the depths of obscurity, so that others can enjoy the icy chills I feel whenever I go back and watch it again. I hope you enjoy it.

See his Amazon page here, or follow on Twitter.

Ronald Malfi – award-winning author and Bram Stoker Award nominee [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT: THIS ONE MAY BE MY FAVORITE… AND DEFINITELY GETS THE “TMI” AWARD]

Not sure if I’ve got a “scariest” movie, but my personal Halloween tradition is to watch Poltergeist while finishing off a box of Frankenberry cereal. My poop is pink for the next few days but it’s worth it.

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann – “lover of the written word and sharing her passion on Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads as Mother Horror. Actively reviewing horror for Cemetery Dance and Scream magazine.”

The scariest movie I’ve ever seen is actually a very recent release called, Hereditary. I got excited to see it after watching the previews and seeing Toni Collette (one of my favorite actresses) giving what appeared to be, a standout performance in a “subtly” scary movie. Well Toni Collette did give an amazing performance but there was nothing subtle about the last 45 minutes of this movie. I was so uncomfortable and terrified I was nervously laughing and crying at the same time. I also didn’t sleep well that night and ended up having to watch some late night show about two guys fishing with the sound off so my husband could sleep. I was messed up for about two more days after that screening as well and vowed to never watch a scary movie again. [NOTE FROM MICHAELBRENT – I DOUBT SHE’LL KEEP THIS VOW.]

The scariest book I ever read would be the Exorcist. There were scenes that made my eyes go all funny and my jaw drop open just out of sheer unbelief–“am I reading this right?” I was as terrified as I was disgusted but I flew through the pages because it was just too engaging to throw it across the room. I had to know how it was going to end (I loved the ending by the way)

Visit her website here, or follow on Twitter.

Scott Nicholson – author of the Next series & the Afterburn series

My favorite horror movies are (not in order):

Session 9
Let the Right One In
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Night of the Living Dead
The Thing
Silence of the Lambs
The Shining
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Exorcist
The Sentinel
The Devil’s Advocate

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

The Behrg – author of Housebroken & The Creation Series

One of my all time favorite movies is “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Similar to John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of not being able to trust those you know best, and of waking up to a world you no longer recognize. While the concept for Invasion was based on Cold War fears at the time, I find it remains extremely relevant today but with a very different twist. For those who have suffered, or who know someone who suffers, with mental illness, this movie is probably one of the best metaphors you could find for what that experience is like. Waking up and no longer recognizing the people around you–or, quite literally, no longer recognizing yourself. Having the emotions of joy and fulfillment stripped from your personality. It’s an interesting comparison and if you watch the movie looking at it from that angle you’ll find surprising insights you might have missed. The horror genre allows us to explore the monsters that plague us not only from an external standpoint, but internally as well and often times these true-to-life horrors can be far more frightening than any creature could ever be.

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Twitter.

TW Piperbrook – author of the Contamination series

Favorite Horror Movie: John Carpenter’s The Thing. One of the most intense and claustrophobic movies I’ve ever seen. I love the setting. Also, Kurt Russell plays the lead. Enough said! Favorite Horror Book: Stephen King’s The Mist. I’ve always loved this novella, and I really enjoyed the movie, as well. The interaction between the characters is awesome, and so are the monsters. I love the glimpse of the last beast in the end!

See his Amazon page here, or visit his website here, or follow on Facebook.

It’s me again (MbC). Hope you had fun with that! Do check out these authors/reviewers/bloggers/podcasters – they’re great! And if you’re in the mood for something by yours truly, PREDATORS is my newest. Pick it up here.

And happy Halloween!

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com
A new kind of superhero – BLACK LIGHTNING

A new kind of superhero – BLACK LIGHTNING

I also have Scratch-'n'-Sniff stickers... you'll never guess where!

I also have Scratch-‘n’-Sniff stickers… you’ll never guess where!

For the record: I think the powers are laughable in the show BLACK LIGHTNING, the villains are cardboard to the extreme, and the eponymous Black Lightning has a supersuit that looks like it has puffy day-glo stickers on it, which makes it IMPOSSIBLE for me to take him seriously.

That said, I’m in it for the long haul. One of the magnificent things about black culture is their emphasis on family and faith, and this show nails it.

The family is one that squabbles, that fights. The father (Black Lightning) and the mother (a scientist type who’s there to provide nifty, high-tech observations like, “According to the MRI, her cells are creating PURE ENERGY”) are divorced, but it’s for one of the best reasons I’ve heard – i.e., “You’re a superhero who comes home beaten half to death more often than not and does a significant amount of bleeding in front of the young kids – and even then, they still LOVE each other. To the point that, after nine years, the father is still chasing the mother, and she’s still doing her best to keep the family together within the structure allowed when one of the people is a vigilante. It’s never addressed directly, but there’s certainly the impression that neither of them has ever dated anyone else in those nine years, either: they’re divorced due to a horrifying circumstance, but have stayed faithful… if not to the letter of their vows, then to the spirit of them. Even when at their worst, neither looks at the other and says, “I wish you were gone from my life. I’m outta here, and I’m finding someone who ‘really understands me.'” This last is particularly amazing since you also get the feeling that both of them – especially BL, who is a major power figure and attention magnet in his “real” life as a high school principal – could have as many dates and relationships as they could possibly wish for… but don’t.

Even as “normal” people, there’s plenty of drama. The older sister works at the same high school where the father works, and where the younger sister goes, and there are family dynamics (read: fights and power struggles) between them all as a consequence. The younger sister is a pretty great depiction of a teen: wanting to be “all growed up,” but acting like a child more often than not. She faces a tough choice when her boyfriend is crippled by an errant bullet… and makes a BAD decision with regard to whether to stay with him (or rather, how she goes about implementing that decision). But it’s a decision that most kids would make. And she has the decency of character to recognize her failing, and to worry over it. It doesn’t motivate a magic change in her: she’s still petty and selfish at times. But it does force her to reassess some things and ask herself what kind of a woman she wants to be. She’s not a saint, but she’s a hopeful sinner – which I think most of us are, in the final analysis.

The older sister is a bit of a snoop and more than a bit bossy. She knows what’s right for everyone, and doesn’t hesitate to say so or to stick her nose in where it really doesn’t belong. In other words: a bang-on older sister.

The mother is headstrong to the point of it being a serious character flaw. She’s smart – at least within the confines of a “smart” scientist in any superhero movie, which is to say she’s there to provide exposition when it’s needed and then make a series of dumb moves “for science!” when a plot needs a bit of punching up, which isn’t a trait that only exists when it’s a woman scientist; it’s what passes for “the smartest of the smart” in ANY superhero story, most of which carry as a core tenet that the Everyman/Everywoman has been gifted with extraordinary powers, and then rises beyond his/her limits to become extraordinary as well.

The father… great. He loves his family, he continues to court his ex-wife as far as she allows, always making it clear he wants more but never so much as breathing a hint that he DOES have other options in his life. He hugs his kids, hollers at them, then hugs them all the harder. He vacillates (and this is a trait he shares with Mom) between holding his kids too close and letting them have too MUCH freedom from parental influence. He is a protector who knows he will ultimately fail – but who refuses to entertain the thought that he cannot protect his family.

They even have an adoptive uncle-figure of sorts who, when it comes out that he made some DEEPLY evil choices when younger and has been doing everything he can to make restitution for them since then and is ostracized by the family to some extent (and by BL completely), does not shrug his shoulders and find greener pastures. Nor does he even act petty about it, crossing his arms and returning tit for tat or refusing to help when needed (and he’s their Oracle character, the one who hacks anything, who provides the inventions that make BL-as-hero possible, and who always knows a bit more about the real danger of their situations than anyone else). He stays in the fight. He continues to offer EVERYTHING he has, and when they take nothing or only the bare minimum for “the mission,” he accepts that and just looks glad at what they’ve given.

A family that loves each other? How odd!

Not only that, but it’s refreshing to see characters who go to church, who pray – and who do so unironically, or without the sensation that the writers are rolling their eyes as they think up the scene. There’s no sense of, “Well, we gotta do THIS thing now. Anyone know where the weirdo intern is so we can ask some questions and feel like we nailed our ‘research’?”

It’s a family of faith – in each other, in their belief in More and Greater Beyond, and in the principle that most people are good. It’s a family I would LOVE to have as neighbors.

And it’s a thing that is sadly rare and sorely missed in mainstream drama, most of which centers on “relationships” between ultimately selfish individuals who are in it for the long haul… or until someone lies, or makes a mistake, or even just wants a job somewhere the significant other “has no friends.” Mainstream drama generally centers on “family” as being a longer-term dating relationship – interesting, even passionate, but destroyed all-too-easily at the first sign of trouble. Kids’ needs are second BY FAR to the couples’ convenience – which makes a certain amount of sense, since most kids are there only to show, “Hey, look! We have a kid so it MUST be real love (for now)!” and are quickly shunted offscreen. A nannie, a tough school curriculum, or the kids being the type who live in the cave of their room and so are never seen – all these are the norm for kids in the families we see. The only exception to this is generally in a sitcom, where the kids ARE front and center… but even then, they’re mostly a sounding board to discuss and highlight the buffoonery of one character (usually the father), or a parent’s lack of understanding of what it’s like to be a “real” kid/teen/young adult (and the offending parent here is usually the mother).

An exception: Black Lightning.

So the heroes are weak, the villains ASPIRE to be two-dimensional, and the hero-villain arcs are themselves hindered by the limited capacities of their players.

And I’m in this superhero show for the foreseeable future. Because it’s obvious that the show’s creators know the real heroes are the mothers and fathers who stand by each other, and sacrifice for the kids; the kids who struggle to find their own way and their own identity, but know what they want in the end is to be something that will make their families – both present and future – proud of them. The people who aren’t a part of the nuclear family, but who are there when needed, as surrogate parent figures or friends.

The “hero,” in fact, isn’t ANY of the people. It’s ALL of them, standing back to back against the challenges of the world. Facing problems together, and with the knowledge that they CAN stand back to back, because those behind and next to them will never abandon the fight, and never abandon THEM.

The hero… is family. And THAT is a hero worth cheering for.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

Bore Me and Die

1) Bore Me And Die


This is first because it MUST be the first consideration of any storyteller. It may not be the most “important” from a cosmic “will I be remembered when I die” sense, but it is first from a “will I even sell a book to anyone in the first place” sense. People come to fiction for many reasons, but the thread that runs through all them is this: they want entertainment. They want to experience new things, to go to places and see new things and be new people they have never been.


How many of you have ever looked for a new and exciting book? Whoa, don’t crowd me!


How many of you have ever gone on a quest for a boring book about things you do on a daily basis – something titled, perhaps, My Day Eating, Then Making Breakfast, Then Going to the Bathroom, Then Working a Lot at a Job I’m So-So About, Then Eating Some More, Maybe Another Bathroom Break (or Two Depending on if my Fiber Bagel Kicks in), Then Home, Then….


Yeah, you get the point. You probably phased out around the third “then” in the title. That was intentional.


You gotta excite your audience. Not just once, but over and over. Every page, and more than that (since pages for a lot of people are largely a function of how big or small they set their text function on their Nooks or Kindles), every sentence.


Bore me and I’ll put the book down.


Bore me and I’ll look for entertainment elsewhere.


Bore me and you’ve lost my interest as a reader.


Bore me… and die.



But wait… there’s more!

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

Confuse Me and Lose Me

2) Confuse Me and Lose Me


This is what I look like when I am legit confused. #keepinitreal

This one is a natural extension of the first. You have a riveting story. There’s action, suspense, intrigue, a quirky secondary character with a funny name who collects artisanal bongs and believes the government is secretly stealing his skin. It’s all there.


And the first page starts out:


Dell couldn’t believe it. He was sure it was him that had followed him. Because she was on it when it happened, and she wasn’t there with her. The thing she believed most of all – that God had transported from space and was now there with her – was troubling, but not enough to keep Dell from defending herself from the robot ninja dinosaurs.


Okay, so if you’re like me, you instantly zeroed in on the fact that God came down from space – a highly bizarro and (possibly) fascinating concept. Also, there were robot ninja dinosaurs. Which, as everyone knows, make everything Instantly Awesome.


But I had NO FROIKIN’ CLUE where these character/set pieces/flaming hot piles of radicalness belonged in the story. I THINK Dell is the main character. But I’m not sure if Dell is following or being followed. I don’t know what “it” she was on, or what “it” happened. Heck, I don’t even really know if Dell is a boy or a girl.




Now a sad reality of life is that books are becoming viewed more and more as consumables, less and less as treasures. A few hundred years ago if you could read and you bought a book and it was difficult, you muscled through it. Because it was something that educated people did and because you wanted to be able to impress yon maeiden faire with your impressive myte and knowledge, true. But also because it was likely the only book you could afford, or even the only one you were going to see for a while. It was a treasure.


Now, books are less and less treasures and more and more consumables.


That is great for authors in that people like to read and are plowing through tons of books. It means, though, that a lot of people are going to take any confusion as an excuse (if only subconscious) to put the book down. They’ll watch a show, or feed the kids, or even get another book. Because it’s easy to do all those things, and why try to figure out Dell’s relationship to the robot ninja dinosaurs if there’s probably a TV show on that will explain the legend of RNDs for her, no thinking required?


Books don’t have to be dumbed down. They can be challenging. But I firmly believe that they should say something clearly. If you want to build in layers so that the reader discovers more under the surface on a second (and third and fourth and fifth) read-through, then by all means, do that!


But the first read-through should be understandable. Not just on a macro-level, but a micro-level. Chapters should contribute clearly to the work as a whole. Paragraphs should contain coherent thoughts. Sentences should be phrased so there is no question as to what pronoun refers to what antecedent. Words should be chosen with absolute care.


A few “writers” get all testy about this. “But… but… that’s so much work.”


Yeah. Being a writer is a LOT of work. I used to be a big-city lawyer. Now I’m a laid-back writer. Guess which “me” works longer hours. If you’re afraid of spending time getting it right, go do something easier. Brain surgery, or quantum physics.


You’re a writer. Suck it up.


On to the last part (you’re almost there!):

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

Make Me A Better Person

3) Make Me Better Or Leave Me Alone

A few of you might have noticed that these rules are NOT written from the point of view of the writer. No, they’re written from the point of view of the READER. From the perspective of our AUDIENCE.


This is intentional.


Because the reader is the person on whom I am going to inflict my work. The person who will enjoy my triumphs, but who will have to suffer through my mistakes. And I’m not talking about typos here. I’m not worried about whether I used a semi-colon correctly or if I misspelled “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis.”


No, I mean that every work that goes out into the world should go out with the intention of improving the world. Of making the world we live in, this lone and dreary place, a little bit better. A little bit closer to Paradise. A little bit closer to God. Even if you don’t believe in God as a reality, just as an abstract – an all-powerful, all-knowing being who wants nothing but the best for us.


Who does that sound like? An author, perhaps? You, if you wrote your story correctly?


That’s intentional as well.


You are the god of your story. You craft and create a world, organizing all the ones and zeroes of your computer program into something amazing. Out of the quantum nothing of computerized chaos emerges character, setting, plot.


And what then?


What is the purpose, the point?


Some of you may be turning up your noses at this point, saying, “This is none of his business. I write what I write, and I don’t worry about whether it improves the world. It’s art, dammit!”


But I hope not, because I’ve heard that line of reasoning before, and it always makes me sad. Here’s why: because I have a psychiatrist.


Wait, I’ll explain.


Mental health issues don’t run in my family. They gallop. And then periodic wind-sprints with the song “99 Luftballoons” playing in the background. I don’t know why.


So a lot of us have to see a mental health care person. A therapist, a psychiatrist, or a combination of the two. And they all have one thing in common: they expect US (the patients) to pay THEM (the person listening). Which I think is weird, being as how we’re doing all the talking, but whatever, it’s the way things work I guess.


What does this have to do with writing? Everything.


I think “artists” – meaning people who do creative stuff and expect others to look at it – have a responsibility to leave their audience better than they were before reading it. This doesn’t mean “shiny happy feel-good” necessarily, but BETTER. Sometimes this means challenging them to look at the world in a different way, sometimes it means giving them hope in the darkness, sometimes it means just allowing them some time to escape and enjoy something for a few hours of pure fun.4


But I am disheartened when I hear “artists” talk about how they create without regard to what their art will do or what effect it will have. I have to admit that I always have the same thought when that happens: “You’re not an artist, you’re an a**hole.”


And here’s where the part about my crazy family comes in: if someone is creating without regard for their creation’s effect on the outside world, then what they’re doing isn’t art, it’s therapy. They’re working out their issues, figuring out their damage, opening up their baggage. They just happen to be doing it for all the world to see. Unfurling their dirty underwear and waving it around in the front yard like… well, like a crazy person. And then holding out a hand and saying: “This show is $4.99!”


And remember what I said about therapy? Remember who has to pay? That’s right: the person getting treated. So airing your dirty laundry and then expecting an audience to pay for it isn’t just wrong, it’s bass-ackwards.

THIS is your real job as a writer. And it’s more than just creating words… It’s creating community.

No, if you are going to create art and send it into the world, it isn’t for you anymore, it’s for everyone. Don’t say otherwise – if you do you’re either selfish or a liar. And if it’s for everyone it should make everyone better. It should improve the universe that it has become a part of.


It should represent you, and in so doing, should be your agent for positive change.




There really aren’t many rules that you CAN’T break as a writer. But there are a few.


Three, to be exact.


Break any of them and you’re still writing. But you’ll have a hard time finding an audience. And an author without an audience by definition CANNOT be a professional.


Go forth. Write interesting, clear prose that changes the reader for the better… sooner or later success will come a-knockin’.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com

Star Wars Episode VIII – The One Whose Title I Remember

I saw the new Star Wars movie today. It is hard to compare the new series to the old, because they are doing such different things in terms of social effects and emotional reaction. The first three movies changed cinema in some fundamental ways, and were a great thrill ride to boot. They were trailblazers, going where no one has gone before (and yes, I know I am mixing taglines of different franchises here — what can I say, I’m an anarchist). The three that followed were garbage, pure and simple, and we will speak no more of them.


The current trilogy has a whole different set of goals. Anyone comparing them directly to the first is going to find them disappointing, and whether they realize it or not, I believe that this is largely due to the fact that the new movies are not designed as life-changing experiences. They are meant to carry the torch, to provide a fun movie, and to sell ancillaries (toys, T-shirts, lunchboxes, iPhone cases, brand-licensed contraceptives, etc.).


And they are succeeding.


Episode VII was a thoroughly competent movie, which almost could not fail to carry the torch of the original Star Wars, given that it followed the exact same story beat for beat, up to and including the MacGuffin of the Death Star, the child who comes from nothing but carries with her extraordinary powers, the swashbuckling rogue who doesn’t obey orders but always manages to be in the right place at the right time to do the noble thing, and the series regulars like C-3PO and Chewbacca and the like. It was a good movie. Nothing extraordinary, but nothing disappointing, either – unless you count the lack of anything extraordinary at something disappointing, in which case, again, you are probably looking for the same effect of the original Star Wars and are doomed to disappointment because that will never be replicated. Other movies may change cinema, may have societal impact on a grand scale, may sell ancillaries – one must look no further than the Harry Potter series to see exactly that kind of event. But the original Star Wars’ effects will never be duplicated, and to try and do so would be foolish. Disney is not foolish, they are not trying to do so. They are just trying to keep on with what Star Wars has become.


This is inherently safer, and the movies that result almost necessarily will be blander. That is why I much preferred Rogue One to Episode VII (a sign of its middle of the road approach being that I enjoyed it very much, but can never quite manage to remember its name without really putting thought into it). Because Rogue One was its own animal, part of the Star Wars universe but necessarily separated from it and many fundamental ways, it was free to do different things and was its own reward. I also clapped out loud when it ended the way it did — which ending I will not spoil for those of you who have not seen it, but which was quite a bold move for a family-oriented Producer and distributor like Disney.


Which brings us to Episode VIII, The Last Jedi. Like episode seven, It shared many story beats with its progenitors. In this case, I would argue it mostly moves to the structure and themes of The Empire Strikes Back, which is to its benefits since Empire was the best of the Star Wars movies. But unlike Episode VII, which felt like a Conscious attempt to replicate the structure and appeal of the first Star Wars, The Last Jedi felt much more like an homage, or perhaps even a love letter of sorts sent from writers and directors of today back to those children we were the first time we saw Star Wars, either upon its real original release, or later Via VHS, DVD, or the money-grabbing Millennial tradition of “an all-new, remastered re-release with never-before-seen footage!” It was less heavy-hundred, better-directed, and much more well-written then it’s predecessor in the Star Wars timeline. And its sense of fun was wonderfully displayed, from the excellent comedic turn of our new Rogue, to the (much better then Ewoks cute little sidekick/animals, to the wonderful nods to 1970s culture (anyone else spot the rebels playing Battleship?).


All this to say, I had a great time. It was not the original Star Wars, but it was not intended to be, it never could be, and it was far better off not attempting to be that movie.


I enjoyed it enough – laughing and clapping – that the man in front of me turned around and told me to quiet down, to which I simply responded, “no.“ He told me he would have me “ejected from the theater,“ which I simply responded to with a thumbs up, because theaters will not even toss people for answering their phones in the middle I have the movie, let alone simply laughing loud, clapping hard, and cheering wildly while witnessing a torch perfectly passed in a race long enjoyed.

Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com
The Darklights

The Darklights

The Darklights by Michaelbrent Collings

The Darklights by Michaelbrent Collings

From #1 bestselling horror novelist

and multiple Bram Stoker Award finalist MICHAELBRENT COLLINGS

comes a trip into the farthest reaches of fear…



I am a FixIt.


When the Company has a problem – a factory gone under, books that need auditing, or a rebellious planet to be destroyed – I’m there, and I take care of it. I’m the most successful FixIt in Company history, and I have NEVER failed to punch a ticket.


TF-653 is different. The staff and crew of a terraforming installation on a planet so strange it cannot be described have disappeared. It’s my job to go there, to find the problem, and to stop it. Or kill it.


But some things can’t be killed. Because some things are already dead.


And some things… are even worse. Because some things can only be seen in THE DARKLIGHTS.




Posted by mbc@writteninsomnia.com