The Mortecarni: Book Review

Stories about ravenous undead are a dime a dozen, and they all have pretty much the same core plot: A virus/disease/catastrophe unleashes mindless, flesh-eating revenants, and the humans who remain fight to stay alive. Every zombie book I’ve read is set in the present day and describes a post-apocalyptic world. It’s popular because it’s familiar and readers know what to expect. For prolific readers like me, the repetition gets old. When authors shake things up and deviate from the norm, it gets my attention.

The Mortecarni by Kelly Evans is a unique take on the undead, set in an actual apocalypse—the Black Death—that killed 30-90% of the population of Eurasia. I received a reading copy with no cover, no blurb, and no idea what I was getting into, so I was completely surprised by it.

The prologue is vague but tantalizing. Why were a group of soldiers and archaeologists tearing apart a monk’s grave? One scientist mentions that the monk was a physician, and the book they find in his tomb is a triumphant discovery. To my surprise, the next chapter plunged me into medieval Wales, circa 1347 and my question from the prologue is answered in the first sentence:

“My name is Brother Maurice and I hunt the mortecarni, pathetic creatures unnaturally risen from death to pray upon the innocent.”

My interest was immediately piqued. I have enough knowledge of Latinate languages to know “dead flesh” when I see it, but…a Monk? In 1348? Hunting zombies? Part of me was thrilled, the other part cringing. Would the author do right by Medieval history or was this going to be full of “olde tyme” myths that are endemic in modern media?

The third son of a wealthy merchant, Maurice is taught to read by his mother and learns rudimentary healing from farmers and “wise women”. Since he has two older brothers to carry on the family business, he’s sent to a monastery for further education. His talent in the healing arts convinces the Brothers to send him to study at Salerno’s Schola Medica Salernitana to become a physician. There, he befriends Falayh, an Arab raised in Spain as a Christian.

Brother Maurice’s holy duty takes him across Europe to teach the skills in healing to his monastic brothers so they might heal the sick in body and spirit. At one stop, he encounters an illness never seen before: an infection of rotting flesh that robs the afflicted of their senses and drives them to attack others. The infection spreads, and the only cure he can find is death. The monastery is ravaged, and when word reaches Pope Clement in Avignon, Maurice is sworn to secrecy and sent on a mission to end the mortecarni—by the sword or by a cure—and it endangers both his life and his faith.

I was riveted and read the book in two sittings. It’s like the author took historical fiction, mystery, coming-of-age, and zompoc, and combined them all like an alchemist to make something new and different. Brother Maurice’s conflict over faith and duty is heart-wrenching. And oh, what he must do. Evans assails us with horror that doesn’t turn away from the blood, madness and rotting flesh that this kind of story calls for. It’s definitely not for the squeamish. Even day-to-day “medicine” was a horror with leeches, bleedings, and the worst: draining the buboes of plague victims to save their lives. Evans does her research, and you can get a taste of it on her Twitter page. Her feed is full of links to medieval arts, sciences, and history, and she also writes historical fiction in addition to horror.

Evans did an excellent job showing this historical period, and at the same time acknowledging the realities of the age, like literal witch hunts and the erasure of women, extreme measures taken to stop the bubonic plague, and the indifference of otherwise “holy” men.

One thing I loved was that this book can easily stand alone, although the author’s site shows a sequel in the works. The story wraps up in the modern age, where the answer to the mystery Brother Maurice pursued is rediscovered. We don’t need to know who these modern-day people are; we’ve seen their struggle play out in the 14th century and know what they’re up against. The words of a humble monk will once again have meaning, his work and soul redeemed.

It’s good stuff, so if you’re looking for a completely different take on the zombie genre, this is the book for you. Kelly Evans is an author to watch!

Breakfast: Short Movie Review

You all remember Dinner, right? It’s a short film made by the talented Aleksandra Svetlichnaya. I wrote about it here. Breakfast is the follow-up. I wrote about the trailer here. And, while Breakfast is not yet available for public viewing, the Aleksandra gave me advanced access to see it. Can you believe it? Little ol’ me. She’s the best, you guys.

Dinner clocked in around 12 minutes. Breakfast decided that wasn’t long enough, so it clocks in at a shade over 26 minutes. Once again, we spend the bulk of our time with Dylan (Svetlichnaya), Oscar (Josh Kachnycz) and Hamilton (Ricardo Segarra). Dylan fills the role of Buffy, while Oscar and Hamilton are basically sub-replacement level Scoobies. I guess they’re Scrappies? I need to consult Joss Whedon on this important matter.

Oscar and Hamilton go to a comic shop and find an unfinished comic. Too dumb to heed the warnings of the shop owner – and apparently desperate to start the apocalypse – they steal the comic, run out of the shop and head into the woods.

Meanwhile, Dylan finds herself caught in a time loop. She wakes up, checks her phone, brushes her teeth, puts her hair in a ponytail and declares, “Okay. Breakfast time,” only to exit the bathroom and find a masked attacker. She defeats him, only to find herself waking up in her bed for the same routine over and over again.

What exactly is going on with the unfinished comic? Why is Dylan caught in a time loop? How will she escape? Will Oscar and Hamilton ever actually get a chance to eat breakfast?

These events set up the rest of the film, and it’s an absolute blast. Svetlichnaya’s love for Buffy is on full display here. It’s not totally in-your-face, but there are enough nods to get you thinking in that direction. And, of course, it’s impossible to see a blonde woman kicking faces and not think of Buffy, so my mind would have gone there even without the subtle nods.

Like Dinner, this is a really fun watch. Also like Dinner, this was made on next to no budget, so certain limitations come up. Still, it’s pretty easy to get past that. While I like how Oscar and Hamilton play off each other, I spend most of my time waiting for Dylan to come back and destroy people/monsters/demons.

Breakfast is a fun short with a tremendous ending. Make sure you stay for the scene in the credits. It had me rolling.

I’m a huge fan of what Svetlichnaya is doing. Can’t wait to see what she’s got in store next.


As it turns out, I’m not the only one excited about what Svetlichnaya is doing, as Breakfast is going to San Diego Comic Con 2017!

50+ Essential Subreddits for Horror Writers

Most folks today are at least aware of Reddit. “The front page of the Internet” is both an endless source of information, and a notorious time-waster. You can find whole communities dedicated to even the tiniest of niches, and it turns out that horror writers are no exception.

When we previously posted a list of 10 great online resources for horror writers, Reddit was originally at the top of that list. However, I found that it wasn’t enough to drop a link to the home page of the website; there are many, many nooks and crannies to search through. Some subreddits only have 4 subscribers, or haven’t posted anything new in months. Those places aren’t particularly helpful to those of us working on our latest story, so I’ve rounded up 63 subreddits that have a fair following and an active community.

Whether you’re looking for boogeyman inspiration or a good conversation on the common themes in Stephen King’s works, these horror havens are a great way to enhance the quality of your Reddit newsfeed.

 

*Note: Always check the sidebar in each subreddit for their posting guidelines, especially in the Places to Post Your Stories section. If you get banned for violating the rules, no one will see your literary masterpiece!*

Lit & Authors
r/StephenKing
r/Lovecraft
r/CliveBarker
r/HorrorLit

Art & Inspiration
r/ImaginaryHorrors
r/ImaginaryCarnage
r/ImaginaryDemons
r/ImaginaryBehemoths
r/ImaginaryBeasts
r/ImaginaryMonsters
r/ImaginaryWerewolves
r/ImaginaryLeviathans
r/creepy
r/UnresolvedMysteries
r/oldschoolcreepy
r/serialkillers
r/skulls
r/paranormal
r/CemeteryPorn
r/unnerving
r/EvilBuildings
r/TheDepthsBelow

Cinematic Horror
r/Horror
r/ClassicHorror
r/Horror_Filmmakers
r/UMCU (Universal Monsters Cinematic Universe)
Places To Post Your Stories
r/NoSleep
r/TheChills
r/TrueScaryStories
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Horror_Stories
r/Creepypasta
r/UrbanMyths
r/ScaredShitless
r/ShortHorror
r/ShortScaryStories
r/TheNightmareFactory
r/WelcomeToHell
r/DarkTales
r/OneParagraph
r/FlashFiction
Specific Monsters
r/Skinwalkers
r/Vampires
r/Werewolves
r/Demons
r/OuijaBoards
r/Ghosts
r/Zombies
r/Cthulhu

On Writing
r/Writing
r/WritingHub
r/Screenwriting
r/ShutupAndWrite
r/KeepWriting
r/WriterResearch
r/ShortStoriesCritique
r/LibraryOfShadows
r/WritersOfHorror
r/Fanfiction
r/HighSchoolWriters
r/WritingPrompts
r/Worldbuilding
r/SelfPublish

The Walking Dead – S7:E1 “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”

Sunday finally brought the long-awaited season 7 premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead. The season 6 finale gave fans the biggest bad of the series in Negan, but also delivered a cliff-hanger regarding the death of a major cast member. This play left a bad taste in the mouths of those who have stood by the show’s side through good and bad, as well as those who continue to hate-watch. Executive producers promised a satisfying payoff in the premiere.

By now, everyone knows we lost two beloved cast members. Surprising? Only if you live under a rock without access to the internet.

The premiere starts off after the big kill. That’s not exactly where we left off in April. Negan taunts Rick and tries to assert his power. Rick says very little and, although he feels the loss, he continues to be somewhat defiant. It isn’t until nearly 30 minutes in when we finally get what we came for.

The majority of the episode’s run time dealt with Negan trying to break Rick. A series of quick cut flashbacks slowly divulge the POV from the end of the season 6 finale. It was Abraham’s. Barrel chested and gutsy right to the end, he even gets one last signature Abraham verbal shot in at Negan, “Suck my nuts.” Then, just when we think we’ve seen the worst, Negan turns on his heel and kills the heart and soul of the show (yes, I said it), Glenn Rhee.

With Rick broken and two family members dead, the rest of the group tries to put the pieces back together as quickly as possible. Maggie, who has probably lost more than any other character, declares war on Negan and then sets to getting her husband home, with Rick, Carl and Aaron supporting her. Sasha and Rosita put aside their differences and come together over their love of Abraham.

The deaths, while gruesome and somewhat overwhelming, were not entirely unexpected. Abraham’s story had run its course and even actor Michael Cudlitz said he knew his character was on borrowed time. Glenn dies by the bat in the comic and he’s had so many close calls, not killing him would have been a cop out on the part of the creators.

Was this the satisfying conclusion fans were hoping for? The general consensus seems to be no. Could the episode still have had any shock factor if the audience knew who died at the end of the episode? Absolutely. Since there were two significant kills, with the least impactful being Abraham, why not show that death in the finale? That would actually make Glenn’s death in the premiere even more traumatic.

This is, perhaps, one of the most brutal episodes of the entire series and it’s been a hot-button topic since the episode ended, but let’s be honest, horror fans have seen far worse and viewers have the option of shutting it off or not watching at all.

With only a few days remaining before the second episode, people are still talking about it so whether you loved it or hated it, it certainly made an impact. Kind of like a bat to the face.

Final comments/questions:

  • We get it, Negan is a formidable foe, but the constant barrage of sardonic displays of power and the sexual euphemisms about Lucille will get old really quick. Tone that shit down.
  • Did everyone notice Abraham’s final declaration of love to Sasha? It was brief, but it melts your heart.
  • What is the significance of Glenn’s final statement to Maggie? Does this mean we’ll see Glenn again, maybe when the baby is born or when Rick has tough decisions to make?
  • Negan takes Daryl, knowing he’s valuable to Rick and Alexandria. Will Daryl submit or bide his time? This will probably be the most interesting development since Daryl doesn’t exist in the comics and we have no source to refer to.
  • Carl finally grew a pair and acted like the man he’s been claiming to be since second season.
  • Kudos to the entire cast for their performances, especially Andrew Lincoln.
  • Last season Glenn was looking at the Polaroids of bashed in skulls at the compound. At the end of the episode, you see a guy in the background taking a picture of the damage done to Glenn. The signs are always there.
  • The fuck with that Thanksgiving dinner scene?
  • Seriously, what is Dwight’s damage?

Next week we hook back up with the Oscar and Felix of the zombie apocalypse, Carol and Morgan, as they enter The Kingdom.

The Bride Wore Brains: Book Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Image from Amazon.com

Emily Wesley Stringer’s self-published debut novel, The Bride Wore Brains, is a fun dark comedy with a heavy zombie element.

Kat’s best friend, Claire, is getting married. Like any good Maid of Honor, Kat is doing her best to ensure that the wedding goes smoothly and that the bride has her day. When the guest begin to turn into zombies, however, Kat finds that her work is cut out for her.

This gorefest clocks in at just 70 pages, but the length doesn’t hinder the story in any way. The plot is solid, and I rallied behind Kat right away. The motley crew of characters that she fights beside are engaging and witty. I found the dialogue sharp, appropriately graphic (don’t act like you’re gonna sugarcoat your words during the end times), and I laughed out loud several times. My favorite character was the one named after a sex toy; I’ll let you figure out who that is when you read the book. The minutiae of wedding planning is laid out carefully and repeatedly, allowing for me to really empathize with the Maid of Honor and her impossible task of making sure the day goes off without a hitch. The clever banter between the members of the wedding party kept the talk of bouquets and catering from getting too monotonous, while certain doom lurked on the periphery of each scene, slowly ambling toward a bloody, showstopping (and wedding-stopping) climax.

Unfortunately, this wonderful story has its share of awkward syntax and grammatical errors; so much that I had to re-read whole paragraphs at a time. At times, this took me out of the story, and hurt the flow of the narrative. I’m not sure if this was some kind of stylistic choice on the part of the author or not. Regardless, it affected my reading experience a little bit, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it to potential readers.

When it comes to genre, Stringer is fully aware of her audience. She knows that when we jump into a zombie story, no matter how light it is, we want blood and guts. When the dead walk, it ain’t pretty, and the cleanup is not all Windex and feather dusters. In this case, it involves a chainsaw and a machete. When it all goes down, the author is not worried about our precious sensitivities; tendons snap, blood gushes, and power tools slice with no censorship whatsoever. It’s in-your-face and it’s a good ‘ol time.

Another note about the climax: I like to listen to music while I read, and on this particular evening I had my player set on random. As bodies were dropping (and rising) and blood was being spilled, “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, came on. I kid you not, this is the most perfect song for the wedding-day mayhem that occurs in this book. I laughed so hard my sides hurt, and I ended up putting the song on a loop so I could keep the on-point soundtrack going. I swear to the old gods and the new, if a movie version of this book is ever made, they better play this song during the slow-motion bloodbath.

Overall, this is a solid story full of pull-no-punches dark humor and gratuitous fun, but it could benefit from an editor to smooth out the grammatical errors and slightly clumsy prose, so that readers can get the best experience possible and just enjoy the gory, gory ride. I’d recommend it to fans of [REC]3, Shaun of the Dead, and the Evil Dead films.  Find it on Amazon.