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Book Review: Nomads by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

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Nomads, (sequel to Black & Orange)
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Bad Moon Books
$20 (trade paperback, from Bad Moon Books) | $5.99 (Amazon Kindle)
Release Date: October 31, 2013
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Description:

A decade has passed since the events of BLACK & ORANGE and the Church of Midnight has almost been single-handedly decimated by the Nomad named Patty Middleton. After a series of mass executions, she demands to get answers from the mysterious Messenger, and is tireless in her pursuit, despite the protests of her partner. While Patty seems closer to discovering the identity of the Messenger, she has also developed a dangerous condition with her power to create the invisible fields known as mantles. This condition could kill her or people around her, just when she needs to focus on her enemies, who now include a government group known as the Office of Arcane Phenomenon. Meanwhile, Chaplain Cloth, disappointed and impatient with years of failing, seeks a rumored pair of columns that will hold the gateway open forever. Patty Middleton is more than a match for him though, and half of his Church is gone. If he doesn’t make his move now he might not get another chance for thousands of years. There’s no room for error. He has to get those columns and sacrifice the Heart of the Harvest. But this year the Heart isn’t in our world. This time around, the Nomads and Chaplain Cloth are spending Halloween in the Old Domain.

Review:
As stated in the description above, Nomads is the the sequel to 2010′s Stoker Award-winning novel Black & Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (incidentally, you can read my review here). Both books explore a decidedly different and much darker side of Halloween in a unique and original way.

There’s a touching dedication to the late Michael Louis Calvillo, who the author was good friends with before his untimely passing. Please consider reading his work–it’s some of the most powerful literature you’ll ever come across. As well, my fellow horror blogger Jim from Ginger Nuts of Horror got a shout-out for assisting the author with some Scottish facts and figures, as he hails from the great isle of Caledonia (I could have also said ‘the country that brought us Sean Connery’ but Latin names are more fun ;-)).

One of the most dynamic and exciting things about Nomads is the Scottish setting. Don’t get the wrong idea, though–this isn’t a merry romp through the Highlands going on tours of castle after castle or trying to find out what “haggis” really is. Make no mistake, it’s still very much all about the Heart of the Harvest, but it livens things up to have the sequel outside of the US, although the main characters, including the most important Nomad, Patty Middleton, are, in fact, American. The cast of characters expands considerably making for more interesting subplots and power plays between people, which also makes this an even more compelling read than Black & Orange.

Things start off with an older Scotsman, Douglas, who’s with a girl, Fia, also his daughter’s best friend, in a cabin somewhere. It doesn’t take long before the scenario unfolds the way the reader thinks it will. Like any red-blooded male, Douglas finds Fia is a temptation too great to resist (even though he’s married, although his wife really is a battle-ax, as evidenced by her behaviour when she shows up at the cabin). Things take a turn for the worse when a certain someone with one black eye and one orange eye decides to show up via possession and takes over Douglas. The battle we saw in Black & Orange is far from over.

Then we switch to the Interloper, who is a mysterious and enigmatic figure tied into the fates of each Nomad. H protects them and lessens their burdens, guides them into every Halloween, and is thought to be a benevolent entity, but as the book continues, alliances definitely come into question, making for a more thought-provoking and interesting read.

The Nomads are Patty Middleton and Teresa Celeste. They have blood ties to the Old Domain, the realm from which Chaplain Cloth and his pumpkin creatures come from, among other things, but even though they’re in Glasgow, they have no idea of the monster lurking about. The Interloper saw the monster, Chaplain Cloth, possess Douglas and cause havoc at his local pub. But it turns out it wasn’t just a random possession. Douglas had secret ties to the Church of Midnight, even though he wasn’t as devoted as other members. There’s a great scene at a pub when Douglas is playing chess with another guy, but it doesn’t take long for Cloth to make use of Douglas in the way he needs and to cause a lot of havoc and carnage along the way.

As it’s mentioned in the plot description, although Patty’s power to summon mantles and use them is quite powerful, it’s also out of control and a bit unpredictable, making it a challenging weapon to use. It’s almost like she’s pyrokinetic when she uses mantles, as their biggest function, for lack of a better phrase, is to blow things up. No matter where the Nomads go, there’s always someone chasing after them, and this time around it’s no different with the culprit being a shady guy named Byron.

One of the other unsavoury characters is Camden, who Chaplain talks to about the Church “To Do” list and emphasizing the importance of obtaining the Heart of the Harvest, which he says he and his children will do. Cloth wants the Priestess of Midnight to assist him. But first, Camden must go to a lot of trouble to provide conduit bodies for the Church of Morning members to communicate on Earth from the Old Domain. The Priestess is one of the most interesting characters, a young and misguided girl who could definitely stand to be fitted with a straight jacket, who has a past with Camden. She’s also very insecure and in some ways this makes her easy to manipulate but it also makes her unstable and volatile with the potential to cause a lot of damage.

Eventually things come to a head and the Nomads do their best to undermine the efforts of Chaplain Cloth and his army. This time around, being exposed to more of the “bad guys” so to speak makes this an even more interesting and engaging read than Black & Orange, as well as more world-building and exploration into the Old Domain. There are enough twists and turns to keep readers invested in the story, as well as an ending that, while it does have a sense of resolution, definitely leaves the door open to further exploration of this universe and the characters Ethridge has created.

Nomads was even better than I expected it to be, and is the perfect gift for the horror reader in your life who wants a different kind of read this holiday season and isn’t sure what to read next. Just because Halloween is over, it doesn’t mean this book isn’t just as impactful months later as in its original season. That said, I don’t think that readers who haven’t read Black & Orange will be at a loss, or won’t understand what’s going on completely. Don’t get me wrong, it will definitely help to have read the first book, but one won’t be completely confused if they pick up Nomads first.

For those of you who can’t get enough of the Black & Orange universe, just a reminder that the author also has a collection of short stories set there called Reaping October, which is the perfect add-on gift, containing three superb stories that will entertain and challenge horror readers.

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Blog Tour Post – Interview with Benjamin Kane Ethridge on “Dungeon Brain”

Dungeon Brain
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Dark sci-fi/Horror
Nightscape Press
October 30, 2012
$9.44 (Barnes & Noble)
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of this book! Contest closes December 15, 2012
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Full Disclosure: I organized this blog tour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge and arranged the other blog tour stops.

Plot Description:

June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall– the starting point of her freedom.

But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.

Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

How did you come up with the concept behind this novel that multiple people could be taken into one person’s head?

At first I wanted to tell a story about a schizophrenic person with amnesia. What if you had different personalities in your mind, but none were your own? Then I started thinking about these different personalities. Did they have their own memories? What if they did? What if they weren’t imaginary people at all? Perhaps they’d been real people at one time and now found themselves trapped in this person’s head. From there, I just had to find a way for that to happen. Enter the Dungeon Brain.

Maggie Swanson is one of the most screwed up, frightening characters I can recall. Did you model her after other fictional nurses? Where did you draw the inspiration for her character?

A photo of Bettie Page at a friend’s house set me off. This was the photo of her in the sexy nurse outfit—but in the shadows under my friend’s coffee table, I didn’t find anything sexy about the image. She looked harsh, brutal even, and something about how she leered (or appeared to leer) conjured up a character that had a borderline, obsessive personality.

Mental health is such a hot button issue these days, with conditions like bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, addictions to prescription pills and suicides because of bullying gaining a lot of media attention, but despite that, people are still not willing to discuss suffering from these things publicly or even among friends. Why do you think there’s still such a stigma attached to mental health issues?

As with all illnesses, those involving the mind tend to be cause for embarrassment or shame. Normality is something most people want, from superficial reasons all the way up to survival reasons. People don’t want attention for their defects or the defects of people related to them. Covering it up is easier, since these types of illness aren’t always clearly detected anyway. If nobody mentions them, perhaps nobody will ever be the wiser and the facade of normality won’t be cracked.

The book is set in a bleak, dystopian sci-fi universe with talk of wars on different plants, there are aliens, people having eye implants to watch TV, etc. Did you intentionally make the foray into science fiction deliberately for this story, or did it start out in your head as something you always knew was a sci-fi tale?

Sci-Fi was always in mind for this novel, but the extent of it in the beginning draft was lesser. I originally wanted the story to take place on a devastated Earth in the future, but as the story evolved I desired more isolation from humanity’s origins. I wanted a planet that was in the thrall of war, but at the same time untouched by history. To me, the setting represents the main character better this way. She has inner turmoil, but she’s also a blank slate. She can retreat to who she was in the past, or she can be a different person moving on. Same with the planet.

Are there any passages that you found to be the most challenging to write, or perhaps the most rewarding?

There is a scene in the second act of the book that deals with the duplication of the Dungeon Brain’s prisoners. I knew why and how it had happened, but it took me a bit to form it into a narrative that I found to sufficiently explain the phenomenon. This book had many moments like that, when I’d say to myself, I wonder if the reader will follow this? Not that I felt my ideas were beyond most readers, but because I was attempting a level of descriptive complexity I’d never attempted before. In the end, I was happy with the results because I hadn’t gone too scientific or too esoteric. I don’t enjoy reading tales that suffer under those conditions; to me a story shouldn’t be as rigid as a physics text book, nor should it be as undisciplined as a drug-induced hallucination. In-between the two is where I try to find myself.

Many thanks to Ben for taking the time out of his jam-packed schedule to drop by for this interview on my blog! Be sure to follow Ben’s blog tour, which continues on November 1 and 3 with posts from Carl Alves. For a full list of the other blog tour stops, click here.

Blog Tour Post – Book Review, “Dungeon Brain” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Dungeon Brain
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Dark sci-fi/Horror
Nightscape Press
October 30, 2012
$9.44 (Barnes & Noble)
Don’t forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of this book! Contest closes December 15, 2012
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Full Disclosure: I organized this blog tour for Benjamin Kane Ethridge and arranged the other blog tour stops.

Plot Description:

June Nilman is a woman with thousands of personalities in her head and none of them are her own. Stricken with amnesia and trapped in a room in an abandoned hospital, her caretaker, Nurse Maggie, wants her to remain captive forever. At night June hears creatures patrolling in and out of the hospital, and in time discovers Maggie has mental control over them. In planning her escape, June has an extensive catalogue of minds to probe for help, but dipping into the minds of her mental prisoners is often a practice in psychological endurance. Escape seems impossible until June discovers a rat hole in the wall– the starting point of her freedom.

But freedom in this war-torn world may be more dreadful than she ever imagined.

Dungeon Brain is a locked room mystery of the body and mind that expands across the realms of science fiction and horror.

The third novel from talented dark fantasy and horror scribe Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Dungeon Brain marks his first novel-length foray into science fiction.

We start things off with a woman, Bethany Haines, who says she remembers dying. She’s in a dingy hospital room, and doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror. She thinks she may have amnesia. Her memories are all of another woman. She insists that this woman who she sees is not her. This woman has a strong body, a taller more muscular frame, and is slim. Still, she knows enough to realize she’s in a hospital. She thinks she has been a prisoner at a colony for too long. She’s looking at soldiers in a firefight. She does remember a trial, being stripped of citizenship, and incarceration on the Tyrant CII colony, which has some pretty gruesome conditions. She recalls the day when a regulatory officer was murdered, and all the prisoners died. She thinks it might be because there was an invasion, remembers dying, and then realizes she may be being watched.

Bethany reveals she has a history of violence, mostly against men. She also has had an eye implant removed so she can’t watch any of her news or favourite shows. Unable to tell what’s going on outside with the explosions that continue, she retreats under the bed only to find a nurse who enters her room and at first seems helpful, saying “You’re Bethany today,” suggesting that this protagonist goes by multiple identities. The nurse, Maggie, soon reveals herself to be something of a cleverly put together psycho who goes from hot to cold in seconds, an irrational and insecure being who does not enjoy being lied to. And she’s in charge. :-S

The point of view then shifts to another person, Samantha Wright, who rejoices in being thin because she remembers being close to 300 pounds. Again, her reflection doesn’t match what she remembers of her looks, and she begins to think her mind has been transferred to another body. The point of view character realizes that there are hundreds of people trapped in her brain, which is when things switch over to the Woman. No matter who is in charge of her, the Woman has a deep fear of Nurse Maggie. It was particularly at this point that I started to see a parallel between Dungeon Brain and the short-lived Joss Whedon drama, “Dollhouse,” which features people who willingly allowed their brains to be programmed so they could become multiple people. The “files” in their brains made sure they maintained everything taken from the person they were emulating from the personal look to the emotions to the thought processes. In Dungeon Brain things get even more diabolical.

Nurse Maggie continues to torment the Woman with memories that are vague and blur together, so that the Woman can’t realize the real reasons behind why she’s here, how she got there, and why there are so many people in her head. Maggie reveals she and the Woman were childhood friends, but all the voices tell her to break out of the place she’s in and not to trust a word Maggie says.

We soon discover that the Woman, our protagonist, June Nilman, is a Dungeon Brain, a special kind of “extramental” who can not only suck other people into her head, but keep them there and become them. June finds herself “rescued” by a band of humans who are in the maze she is trying to navigate, which has caused her to hallucinate, among other things. One of them, Bobby, starts helping her fill in some of the blanks. Of course, it also helps that the psychotic Nurse Maggie stops pressing the reset button on her brain every day, and it emerges that Maggie is nicknamed the Dictator, and is an “extramental,” someone who controlled the minds of the Rotvique aliens who originally wanted to kill her and sent assassins against her, like June. It didn’t exactly turn out according to their plans, especially not when Maggie placed then under her control and influenced them to be obedient to her and obey her commands. June is a unique kind of extramental, a Dungeon Brain, who was originally supposed to kill Maggie, but failed, and awoke to receive amnesia in a bottle plus all the other people in her mind.

Another interesting figure, Dalton aka The Labyrinth Man, also comes into the narrative. He, too, tried to stop Maggie, but couldn’t. June learns that she can bring the minds of other creatures into her own, which is why the soldiers like Bobby wear desynth equipment so they can’t fall prey to her influence. Bobby elaborates on her Dungeon Brain abilities, saying “You can read the minds of people like books stored in your head.” There are four other Dungeon Brains in her head, and the only way she is going to make sense of anything, he advises, is to listen to them, and find out how they got there in the first place. When the truth comes out, it’s not pretty. June is disgusted to learn of the acts she committed to get those other people in her mind, and although at the time she seemed to be able to justify the decision, she struggles with it now.

The dissension in the soldier ranks helps keep things interesting, particularly the awkward love triangle between June, Bobby, and Peter, one of the other soldiers. Along with the tension established with Bobby’s enforcement of the rules of the facility they’re in, particularly the most important one, which is that only he can go into the Labyrinth Man’s room and talk to him, it makes for suspenseful tension. But beyond the Labyrinth Man, there is also the Never Nerve, the oldest extramental, to whom June learns she was completely and utterly devoted.

Of course, eventually Maggie gets wise to June’s hideout, and a full-scale battle ensues, and ultimately, everything comes to a head with a nerve-wracking but ultimately satisfying conclusion to what is a dynamic concept and a fantastic read. I’m not known for liking science fiction, with very few exceptions, and I tend not to like what’s commonly termed as “hard SF” which is science fiction that focuses more on the science aspect, the technicalities, etc, as opposed to “soft SF” which has sci-fi elements, but is ultimately a fantasy story, or it’s a drama that just happens to be set in space. Nurse Maggie more than fulfills her role as a memorable villain, one of those people you will truly love to hate, and June, the titular Dungeon Brain, has secrets of her own that will make you as the reader question whether you’re rooting for a good guy or just another villain with slightly different intentions than Maggie. So there you have it, readers. Even if you’re not the biggest sci-fi fan, but you’ve enjoyed Ethridge’s previous horror novels, you will definitely get a kick out of Dungeon Brain which is another finely crafted novel from the author’s thankfully ever-growing repertoire, something I can’t get enough of.

Be sure to follow Ben’s blog tour, which continues on November 1 and 3 with posts from Carl Alves. For a full list of the other blog tour stops, click here.

Book Review: Bottled Abyss by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

Bottled Abyss
by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
$12.99
Redrum Horror
June 30, 2012
332 pages
Review copy received courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Description:

YOU’VE TAKEN PAYMENT FOR A DEATH THAT DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU. WHAT WERE THREE ARE NOW ONE, AND I AM FURY…

Herman and Janet Erikson are going through a crisis of grief and suffering after losing their daughter in a hit and run. They’ve given up on each other, they’ve given up on themselves. They are living day by day. One afternoon, to make a horrible situation worse, their dog goes missing in the coyote-infested badlands behind their property. Herman, resolved in preventing another tragedy, goes to find the dog, completely unaware he’s on a hike to the River Styx, which according to Greek myth was the border between the Living World and the world of the Dead. Long ago the gods died and the River dried up, but a bottle containing its waters still remains in the badlands. What Herman discovers about the dark power contained in those waters will change his life forever…

Review:
Bram Stoker Award-winning author Joe McKinney couldn’t be more right in his praise quote when he says that Bottled Abyss, the second novel from fellow Stoker Award winner Benjamin Kane Ethridge, is “…a book grabs you from the opening line and refuses to let you go.”

From its first page, when Herman watches his wife, Janet, drowning her sorrows in a bottle of whiskey only to announce she’s going to kill herself, Ethridge launches the reader into this tale of sorrow with an impactful point of entry. The couple’s dog, Lester, has gone missing, and Janet implores Herman to look for him, unable to bear any more loss after the tragic hit and run accident which claimed the life of their daughter, Melody.

When Herman reflects on the death of his child in the following quote, my heart couldn’t help but break:

”People still had to live, didn’t they? People had to carry on after a tragedy, not make it grow into some gigantic life-ending monster. There was work to do. Bills to pay. Air to breathe. And runaway Border Collies to find.”

We know there’s work to do, and that our lives have to go on, but deaths that affect us on a personal level are too real. Herman feels guilt for spanking his daughter the day she passed away, and for every time he chided her for something. He wonders what must have been going through her head. He grieves, even if he doesn’t show it all the time.

For as long as humans have lived, myths and legends have told of deals with gods and other beings to cheat death, to go on living a bit longer, even though we know our time is going to come. So when Herman witnesses a stranger help Lester (even though the hound appears to suffer more and coughs up a coin) and sees the power to prevent the dying from crossing over to the other side, he can’t help but be tempted by the life-saving elixir—what is literally bottled abyss, as in the Underworld.

Janet is ecstatic to see Lester when he comes home. And although she and Herman share a passionate scene, all he can think is that she’s dying inside. In a clever twist, the stranger from the woods who saves the dog is a famous mythological figure tied to the River Styx that Greek mythology buffs will instantly recognize.

Turns out that this character’s appearance is a resurgence, and that Lester happened to almost die on a significant spot related to the River Styx, and the coin certainly has its part to play in re-activating a portal that previously remained shut.

We also meet a couple, Evan and Faye, Janet and Herman’s friends. They announce they’re expecting a child, and although Ethridge could have taken the easy way out in reactions, he chooses a far more interesting route, which leads to revealing that not everything is as it seems, and that adoring, insufferly annoying, happy couples are not as perfect as they seem.

Slowly but surely, fate weaves a tangled web for Herman and toward the second half of the book, things become more about Janet, who gets herself deeper into the mess involving the mythological characters, unable to extract herself, which has dire consequences for those closest to her.

Bottled Abyss is true literary horror at its best, a slow burn, a reading experience that delivers its satisfaction to the reader not in cheap thrills and gross-outs but rather a profound and disturbing exploration of the human psyche, what happens when we examine the decay of relationships between people—relationships that we think are “till death do us part” but that have so many problems hidden beneath the layers—revealing the intricate illusions that we continue to buy into, and most of all, highlighting the stark and ugly realities of life that we so desperately try to ignore, deny, and shield ourselves from.

Ethridge’s approach to mythology is also a high point, wonderful because although readers will recognize the characters, it’s not used in a crass, commercial manner. And though the figures have dangerous powers, they’re far more subtle—and memorable—for refraining from overly showy demonstrations of power. “Clash of the Titans” this ain’t, but that’s a good thing.

Bottled Abyss is dark fantasy at its darkest, the horror elements leaning toward the fantastical side of the spectrum. It’s an absorbing read that will remain with you long after you’ve turned the last page. Ethridge is the real deal, readers. He’s a writer’s writer—a horror scribe who I believe will only continue to rise, his star shining brighter with each book. Here’s hoping that Bottled Abyss garners Ethridge a second Bram Stoker Award nomination, and fingers crossed, the win.

WHC Publisher Feature #6: Cutting Block Press

Over the month of March, I will be featuring publishers who are taking pitches at the World Horror Convention 2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The posts will focus on the kinds of things publishers accepting pitches will be looking for, advice, things to avoid, and other useful tidbits you should know before you pitch.

I’d like to thank R.J. Cavender for taking the time to participate in this feature.

Publisher: Cutting Block Press
Editor(s): R.J. Cavender
Genre(s) Accepted: Dark fiction and horror
Submission Guidelines: Cutting Block Press Submissions
Facebook Page: R.J. Cavender (Cutting Block Press)
Twitter: @HorrorLibrary

WHC is less than two weeks away, but if you’re attending the World Horror Convention and have yet to sign up to pitch to a particular publisher, contact R.J. Cavender or Laura J. Hickman here and they’ll advise you as to a particular editor’s availability. Just a reminder that David Youngquist from Dark Continents and Jeff Burk from Deadite/Erasherhead are not attending.

In addition to his work with Cutting Block Press, R.J. Cavender has also traditionally been involved with moderating the “pre-pitching” panels at horror conventions in the past. He is the twice Bram Stoker nominated editor of the +Horror Library+ anthology series (Cutting Block Press). Horror Library IV (co-edited with Boyd E. Harris) won the 2010 reader’s choice Black Quill Award from Dark Scribe Magazine in the Best Dark Genre Anthology category.

R.J. is a publishing consultant and editor with the Editorial Department on the upcoming Horror For Good: A Charitable Anthology which includes stories by Bram Stoker winning authors Jack Ketchum, Ray Garton, Ramsey Campbell, and Benjamin Kane Ethridge. He was also a contributing editor at Dark Continents Publishing and has worked closely with some of the most talented authors in the horror genre. He has edited both fiction and non-fiction over the years, and while his genre of choice over the last decade has been predominantly dark fiction and horror, he also enjoys comedy, memoirs, and edgy crime-noir.

Cutting Block Press is a small press publisher specializing in horror fiction and known for their anthologies, particularly their signature Horror Library line, and also such works as Tattered Souls and Tattered Souls II, which is nominated for a Bram Stoker Award this year in the category for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

Below is a sampling of CBP’s works to date:

1) What’s the most important thing you’re look for from a writer during a pitch session?

RJC: What impresses me most at a pitch session is an author’s ability to summarize and tell a complete story in just a few minutes’ time. If the conversational synopsis of your work feels like pulling teeth on my side of the table, then I’ll have to wonder about your storytelling abilities and whether or not I’ll want to read your work. So it’s important to know your story completely and work hard at pitching me the idea in a way that is both entertaining and engaging. When our time is over, if you’ve pitched the story successfully, I’ll most likely want to know more and be very excited about reading your manuscript.

2) What should writers bring with them or prepare before they’re going to pitch? Do you prefer to see sample chapters (either electronic or physical) or do you prefer sample chapters plus a synopsis?

RJC: As the Pitch Session Coordination, I’d like to answer this question in a broader sense and just say to authors pitching any of the editors over the weekend—be prepared. Have a business card with you no matter who you’re pitching. Have access to print out sample chapters at the hotel business center should an editor or agent ask for these on the spot, although most will not. Have your manuscript on a flash drive for easy access just in case. Bring a pen and pad. The more prepared you are, the better the chance that someone will want to do business with you in the future. However, for +Cutting Block Press+ all I’ll want is to have a great conversation with you about your story. The same applies for longer projects should you want to chat about hiring me as your editor through The Editorial Department. Just show up prepared and bring your A-game, and we’ll be fine.

3) What do you wish more writers would know before they go into a pitch session with you?

RJC: Don’t be nervous about the process—most of us were on the other side of the pitch table just a few years ago ourselves. All of the publishers and editors at these pitch sessions started somewhere. And really, we just want to find quality projects and good people to work with. So, relax, be yourself, and let’s talk about your work.

4) What are some of the most important points on your checklist that make you to want to see more of a manuscript during or after a pitch session?

RJC: I want to be excited about your project, and one of the best ways to pique my interest is to show me that you have a full understanding of every single moving part of your story. Since we only have 15 minutes to chat, I generally like to hear an author pitch for about five minutes before I’ll interject and start asking questions. But once I do, it’s important that I get a feeling that you know enough about your characters, plot, and story arc to be able to answer any questions that I have, as the readers will likely have the same lingering thoughts. So, know your story and know it well. It’s not advised that you try to pitch an idea for a story that you’ve not yet written or something that you just formulated outside while waiting in the hall.

5) We’ve all heard some major Dos and Don’ts from agents and editors on how to conduct oneself at a convention, and some of the more obvious ones include being respectful of the editor’s time, not cornering an editor in a bathroom, being sure to have both physical and electronic copies of the first few chapters of a manuscript, etc, but what are some of your specific suggested Dos and Don’ts or some of the pet peeves that you’d like writers to avoid when approaching you at a convention?

RJC: I’ve actually got a blog post I wrote about the pitching process entitled Pitch to Impress: How to Stand out From the Convention Crowd.

Other than the notes on this blog, I’d say—be “with it”, be in the moment, and (even though we do have a lot of fun at these events) be well-rested and sober at your pitch sessions. I know this sounds rather self-explanatory, I only say this because I’ve had a fair share of pitch sessions with authors who may or may not have been up all night and came to the sessions woefully unprepared and possibly half-soused.

Also, never start a pitch session with “Well, this might kind of suck” or “I just wrote this last night.” Again, I say this because I’ve experienced it. Ideally, your story should be one you’ve worked on diligently and have refined over several drafts. If that’s not the case, then certainly don’t let me know otherwise or I’ll likely not be interested if you’re so readily willing to dismiss it as subpar work.

Also, in a more general social aspect, don’t be a “time thief.” The editors, publishers, and agents at the convention need to make the rounds and if you find that they are trying to get away from you after you corner them for a half-hour at a time talking about your project, it’s because they probably are. Be mindful that these people are here to do business too, and respect that once you’ve made your pitch and given them your card, that you’ve had your allotted time and shouldn’t try to crowbar in more face-time in hopes on influencing their decision on your work any further.

6) What are some of the highlights from last season at your press and what are some of the new titles we can expect in the near future?

I’m overjoyed to say that the new Cutting Block Press collection Tattered Souls 2, edited by Frank Hutton, is on the final ballot for the Stoker award in the Outstanding Achievement in an Anthology category. We’ll also be debuting Horror for Good: A Charitable Anthology at World Horror Convention at the end of March. This is a first for Cutting Block, taking on a charity anthology project, and it’s edited by Mark C. Scioneaux, Robert S. Wilson, and myself, with all proceeds for this collection go to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. We’ll have +Horror Library+ Vol. 5 coming out later this year, a collection we’re still reading for, so we encourage authors interested in submitting a story to check out the Submissions Guidelines at our website.

Good luck to all those who pitch to Cutting Block Press! If it’s your first time pitching, the “pre-pitch panel” that RJ usually moderates is an incredibly useful tool, and even if you already know most of the helpful hints mentioned, it’s a great way to put you at ease before those big pitches ;-) Thanks again to RJ for taking the time to take part in this feature.

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