Nightmare Shard: An Exploration Of Minds

Image by Ivan Aleksic

Some minds are like a beautiful meadow, a field of grass dotted with colorful flowers. Thoughts flow like a crystal clear stream. A mind of pristine concinnity.

Others resemble a grotesque dungeon, a constricting space of stirring shadows and rattling chains. Thoughts wander blindly like prisoners, wailing at walls of misgiving and despair. A mind of haunted asymmetry.

DeathGroundWriter Spotlight: Interview with Author Kateri Stanley

Kateri Stanley graduated from The Open University with a degree in Arts and Humanities and worked for the National Health Service for 8 years. When she’s not writing stories, you can find her binge-watching films, creating playlists for her projects and dabbling in the occasional video game. She currently resides in the West Midlands, United Kingdom with her partner and their two cats, George and Maxine.

Tell us a bit about your fiction. What does it mean to you, and why do you think readers will love it?

Kateri: I’m a big lover of dark fiction, no matter what the genre, whether its sci-fi, horror, thriller, mystery, drama, fantasy, romance, you name it.

My debut novel, Forgive Me (published by indie press house, darkstroke books) is about an investigative journalist called Stripe McLachlan who is hired by Isaac Payne to write an article for his online business. Stripe has had a troubled upbringing as her father was killed by the axe murderer the media labelled “The Night Scrawler”, a monster who was never found. Usually, her projects delve into more uncomfortable, questionable topics, but there’s a deep, almost hauntingly familiar pull about her new client that intrigues her. As she learns more about Isaac, Stripe digs up fresh secrets about the murders, arousing her suspicions. After an awkward confrontation, she wakes up in Isaac’s bed — with a chain around her ankle.
My fiction is like another lifeline, it’s tied to my mental health. As my Mom has said before, “she needs to write or she’ll end up in a mental hospital.” Ha, very true Mom. 🙂
I hope my work gives readers an experience something they haven’t seen before but most importantly, I hope they can get lost in my characters and the story and forget about the troubles and stresses of their day. I know it’s cheesy to say, but it’s true.

Do you remember the first moment the horror/sci-fi genre attracted you?

Kateri: The power of film introduced me to the worlds of horror and sci-fi. I’ve been going to the cinema ever since I was a kid. I remember watching The Fifth Element when I was five years old, utterly besotted with the interior of the cinema as the ceiling looked like it there were tyre tracks painted across it. I also remember being fascinated with Milla Jovovich’s orange hair in the movie. 🙂

What is your creative process?

Kateri: It comes in different stages and not always in the same order. Normally an idea (it could be a situation, a scene, a character etc) springs up on me and I let it stew in my mind for a while. Characters and the story build up and if I think it has potential, I plot it out. Before I start to write a project, I normally have a general idea of what is going to happen in the story and how it will end. I plot several chapters and then I write them out and I repeat this process. Sometimes things will happen, a character will do or say something I didn’t see coming. I love it when that happens, it keeps me on my toes and it means the characters are coming out of their shells. I always write to music and I keep a list of the songs for each project. I find having something playing my ears really helps me get into the zone especially when it comes to a handling a delicate scenario like an emotionally charged scene.

What are some of your favorite books and movies?

Kateri: I have an ever-growing list of books and movies I love so I can’t pick favourites.  But if I had to choose I adore Hannibal by Thomas Harris and the movie, The Crow starring the late and beautiful, Brandon Lee.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Kateri: The power of levitation would be great. I’d make a mug of tea sitting in the office and have it floating up the stairs to my desk.

Any new projects we can see from you in the future? 

Kateri: The audiobook of my debut novel, Forgive Me is being recorded right this second. My wonderful producer/narrator, Zack Kirchner is working really hard and we’re aiming for a Halloween release. 
I recently completed my second novel, a supernatural mystery/thriller called From the Deep. I’m currently putting the feelers out for it, hoping it will be out sometime in 2022.I’ve also made a start on Book no.3 which will be a dark supernatural drama with historical and religious elements.

Learn more about Kateri Stanley:

Website: https://www.kateristanley.com/

Facebook: Kateri Stanley

Instagram: sal_writes

Twitter: @sal_writes

Find her books on Amazon!

DeathGroundWriter Spotlight: Interview With Brian Huntsman, Lead Singer Of El Camino Burnout

El Camino Burnout started at a rock festival where Dio and Brian met. A year later Brian moved from Western Utah to Western Colorado and he and Dio decided to write and record new music. With the help of Jon James they wrote an album where genre didn’t matter. It’s a mix of styles that plays like a movie soundtrack perfect for road trips. During the recording they brought in Paul, Ryan, Rob and were ready for live performances. The idea from the beginning was to not have boundaries musically, and to write and record what feels good, using classic rock as a foundation while blending influences from everyone’s musical past.

What would you say is the mission statement of the band? What does the music mean to you and why do you love it?

Brian: The mission story is kind of funny. We all have been playing in so many different bands all of our lives. There are bigger stories behind that; half of the time we don’t know what we are doing, but the musicianship involved is so incredible. Writing songs is fun. So is playing live. That’s our mission.

What do you think is the unifying element despite all your musical differences

Brian: The diversity of styles of music we have all performed. We breathe a little easier when it’s something we wrote, and now that’s what we play. Great feeling.

What is your creative process? Do you guys have a songwriting pattern, or is it a free for all?

Brian: It is a free for all. Whoever brings a riff or melody is on the block. Jon James (producer/engineering) also adds lyrics as well as producer duties. We have songs we all agree on.

Brian with Dio

How would you describe your personal evolution as a musician over the years?

Brian: Wow. This is hard for me to understand let alone explain. My heart changed in everything I was involved with. I loved everything that I experienced musically, loved country music, loved metal, grunge, and I loved all the 70s and 80s. I love the people that play music. It’s hard and easy. It’s human.

What musicians influenced you the most over the years?

Brian: This is harder for me now, because I’m influenced everyday by people. My tops are still Dime Bag [Darrel], Drive By Truckers, and Death Angel. Still keep up with them. I have been influenced by so many I can’t name them all.

What do you enjoy most about playing live, and what do you love most about studio work?

Brian: Playing live explains itself. It is the true experience between people. I can’t talk for anyone else in the band, but I think that’s the end result. The goal. Studio is fun! Like a bunch of people getting together to create something from thin air.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome as a musician?

Brian: Switching from singing lead, and playing bass, to singing lead, and playing rhythm guitar. It was, and still is a challenge. Rhythm git fiddle is nothing to downplay.

Do you have any awkward or funny stories about playing live?

Brian: Yes! But I may have to get permission from some peeps to tell them.! They funny! No bad stuff. Just embarrassing.

What can we expect from El Camino Burnout in the future?

Brian: More songs. Good, bad, or ugly. We just love the art form. The construction of it. For some strange reason we get together and agree. It’s pretty awesome.

Learn more about El Camino Burnout:

Twitter: @burnout_el

YouTube: El Camino Burnout Band Official

Facebook: El Camino Burnout

My Favorite Song: Rain

Graffitied Soul

Image by Nate Bell

One day I was rummaging through some old folders filled with long forgotten free verse poems I wrote back in high school. Much of the experience was nostalgic. I could remember the very place I wrote some of them all those years ago: the doorway to the faculty lounge and the round table by the trophy case. I could vaguely remember the emotions motivating each piece, most of it teenage angst of feeling like a misunderstood mutant. Nothing was salvageable from the folders, nothing except a title: Graffitied Soul.

I was on the phone with my brother at the time, a man who is a singer/songwriter. I was reminiscing with him about the old days of my youth, reading him a passage or two from these old stack of poems, and usually we got a good laugh from it. Sometimes we cringed. Then I picked up one with that title: Graffitied Soul, and my brother said, “I think you might have something there.”

The original words to this poem were absolutely dejecting. Not that I’m totally against darker themes; I am a horror writer after all, but this one just seemed destined to be something else. The story is always the boss; I merely give it a place to grow. One morose passage declared, “I’m a disease. Burn me alive.” My brother and I bounced around ideas, hoping to update it, to find new meaning out of the intriguing title. Below I will share with you what I came up with. The plan is to utilize the words for a song one day.

Here goes nothing:

“There you stand on the evening horizon, looking back on how far you’ve come. Windin’ trails that lead to abandon. Memories forever sewn in the dark.

And that’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.

Raindrops obscure the view outside the window, a view of a world moved on. Hearts broken. Stale grudges. Lay it to the dust. I’ve forgotten you cuz I was staring in the sun.

And that’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.

Like a train moving on to the fading horizon, time once again is on your side. No longer shall you molder in the dust of dried out umbrage. Time is but a mote on an eternal sea.

And that’s your soul. That’s your soul. Graffitied Soul.”

There you have it. It’s still probably doggerel, but it beats the original lyrics that declared “I’m a disease. Burn me alive.” So I’ll take it!

DeathGroundWriter Workshop: Exploring Your Character’s Private Room

Image by Aaron Burden

You’ve probably heard this writing metaphor before when it comes to characters: what is depicted on the page is just the tip of the iceberg, hinting at something more vast and complex beneath the surface. The vast structure beneath the surface of what you see depicted in a scene is the backstory of that character: what came before to make them who they are in the present. Even if those buried traits do not rise to manifest themselves directly in a scene of your novel, they still serve as an indirect influence in subtler ways.

I like to imagine my character alone in their bedroom. Maybe this room is a small studio apartment, or one of many in a grand mansion. Perhaps your character is a drifter staying in motel rooms or sleeping on strangers’ couches. Whatever the scenario, how they interact with that room will tell you a lot about them. Are they extremely tidy? Do they carefully fold each piece of clothing and stack it in the same place every night? Do they feel near panic at the slightest sight of dust and must clean it immediately? Why? What influences them to be this way? Did a family member from their past exhibit this same behavior? Does your main character still hear this family member’s demanding voice echoing in their mind? If the room is tidy or messy it reveals a lot about the character’s personality and backstory. Explore it.

What else can you describe about his/her private room? Does abstract art hang on the walls? If so, what does that tell you about your character’s way of thinking? Perhaps instead they like to display pictures of family. This tells you family is special to them. Why? Is their a particular family member they value most? All kinds of character revealing pathways to explore in the art and decorations throughout the room.

There’s one important question I always ask myself when exploring a character’s private room. This question really penetrates the heart of them, the juicy center: what secrets do they conceal in their room? It may be an object hidden in the closet or under the bed. What does that object mean to them? Why is it kept hidden? This question can lead to some fascinating answers about your character, and sometimes the answer is the course of a plot, which happened to me while writing a short story called “The Butterfly Girl” (unpublished). I discovered that a hat belonging to her father was very special to her, because it triggered precious memories to her mind about fishing with her deceased father when she was a child. Later she uses the hat as part of a conjuration ritual in an effort to contact her deceased father’s spirit.

The secret doesn’t have to be an object. It could also be an activity they practice alone that nobody knows about. Either way, exploring your character’s bedroom is an invaluable tool for character development and backstory.

Happy exploring!

DeathGroundWriter Spotlight: Interview With Author Shawn Burgess

Shawn Burgess is a dark fiction author, avid horror fan, and Halloween junkie. He has a BA in English from the University of Florida and focused on literature for his postgraduate studies at the University of North Florida. His stories often blend two or more of his preferred genres: thriller, mystery, horror, crime/police procedural, urban fantasy, and suspense.

In his fictional worlds, realistic characters collide with the strange, unusual, and sometimes frightening. Ghosts of Grief Hollow, the sequel to his Amazon international best-selling debut novel, The Tear Collector, is due out in late 2021.

Tell us a bit about your fiction. What does it mean to you, and why do you think readers will love it?

I’m a dark fiction writer with a tendency to blend several genres, so my stories may not always fit neatly into one box. I like to tell complex tales with fairly large casts—perhaps partly because of my propensity for ushering many of them to tragic and sudden ends. I’m a big believer in having at least some relatable main characters that readers may readily identify and empathize with. I’m also intending to ground a reader in a realistic feeling world before things really go sideways so that they’ll maintain a level of suspension of disbelief. You’ll uncover more about my characters through their dialogue, actions, interactions, and behaviors than anything I’ll ever outright tell you in a story, which is my preference for both characterization and pacing.

Looking at the bigger picture, I love the strange, unusual, and terrifying. The supernatural, paranormal, and the occult. Ordinary, every-day people confronted with the most extraordinary of circumstances and phenomena. It’s in those moments and all the ones leading up to it, that we really discover who these characters truly are. Despite modern society’s technological advances, there exists that kernel of doubt, the sense that we as human beings can’t possibly understand everything that coinhabits the Earth with us—and that’s where I like to play most as a writer—amidst all that fear and wonderment.

To me, fiction is pure, unadulterated freedom. I can go anywhere on the page, within the confines of my own story, of course, but the possibilities are truly boundless. I write with one overarching goal, to tell a compelling story that will hopefully entertain and thrill most readers.

If you like action, adventure, mystery, suspense, and horror with memorable characters, I believe you will enjoy my fiction. Like twists and turns as well? We’re probably reading from the same sheet of music in terms of taste for what we like to read and what I like to write.

Do you remember the first moment the horror/sci-fi genre attracted you?

My parents were part of an organization that built haunted houses for their biggest charity fundraising event each year. I was exposed to it at an early age. My father also had a love for Halloween and would build a home haunt to entertain and scare kids and parents alike. I naturally gravitated to these creepy things and found enjoyment in them.

Allowing yourself to get scared by putting yourself in these situations while knowing you’re not actually going to be harmed is exhilarating, fun, and reminds us we’re alive. It’s why Halloween has become a multi-billion-dollar holiday, and why events like Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights seem to print money every year.

As I got older, I found that same enjoyment in books and movies. It was a natural extension of the things I already enjoyed, and my writing would quickly follow in the same path.

My copy of The Tear Collector! You can find it on Amazon!


What’s your creative process?

With my debut novel The Tear Collector, I began with three characters in a dialogue exchange. From that small scene, I got a very clear picture of who each character was. I built the rest of the novel around it. I mostly wrote it on airplanes at 30,000 feet and in hotel rooms while traveling for work. My soon-to-be-released sequel, Ghosts of Grief Hollow, was written during the pandemic. I started with an idea for how I wanted it to start and end, plus a few key scenes, and wrote it from about 10PM-2AM each night over the course of about five months, so it was really quite different for me as far as the execution of it.

As it relates to the creative process itself, I’m rather flexible, depending on the demands of the project. I don’t really have any set writing rituals I keep. I have a notebook of novel ideas and choose whatever sounds like the most fun for me to write. I don’t work from outlines but do tend to plot in my head quite a bit further into the manuscript than wherever I’m currently working in it. I always leave room to take enticing opportunities when they present themselves, and I’m not necessarily married to an ending I’ve selected at the onset. This rough structure works for me and likely leads to the books having more unexpected twists and turns.

What are some of your favorite books and movies?

There are so many fabulous books and movies I love. I’ll start with some books, but I’m going to give more of the love to some indie and smaller press authors because they’re fantastic and they don’t necessarily garner the attention of the King’s and Koontz’s of the world.

One of my recent favorite books was Ross Jeffery’s cosmic horror novel Tome. This is probably the most high-profile book I’ll talk about in regards to indies since it was nominated for a Stoker Award. Jeffery’s writing is terrific, and I was gripped throughout, even as some truly horrifying things were happening on the page. Think the old HBO prison series Oz meets cosmic horror and you have a recipe for an excellent read.

The Navajo Nightmare coauthored by Steve Stred and David Sodergren was a splatterpunk Western that was really a lot of fun. A supernatural tale of revenge about a gunslinger trying to make an honest go of it, and being dragged back into his old life and worse. It’s a true blood fest, but a really compelling read.

There’s a new novella coming out by indie author Dan Soule called The Jam that I got an opportunity to get an early look at, and I absolutely loved it. It was really a fun and unpredictable story.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a few others, Dawn Hosmer’s Bits & Pieces, Angelique Jordonna’s Dani, Charly Cox’s All His Pretty Girls, Jotham Austin’s Will You Still Love Me if I Become Someone Else? and Barlow Adams’ Appalachian Alchemy—all of them excellent reads.

As far as big presses go, Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar was a recent favorite that I tore through, and I thought Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark was fantastic.

Some of my favorite movies are The Silence of the Lambs (also loved the book), Seven, The Lost Boys, Better Off Dead, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, A Quiet Place II, Get Out, Pumpkinhead, Beetlejuice, Jaws, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Jeepers Creepers, The Prophesy with Christopher Walken, and In the Mouth of Madness, just to name a few.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Superpowers are a slippery slope. As a dark fiction and horror writer, I imagine them in the wrong hands being used for very nefarious purposes. Take the thriller, The Invisible Man—no good can come from that. For my own superpower, I’d choose the ability to miraculously heal other people, at the cost of years taken off my own life each time the power was used. Every superpower needs some type of built-in guardrail. Otherwise, I could heal the countless masses, leading to an explosion of the Earth’s population, scarcity of resources, and most likely, my subsequent murder.

What advice do you have for the novice writer?

Write and read as much as you can. Fill up notebooks, even if you know it’s with stories and scribblings that will likely never be published. The more you practice, the better you will become. In my eyes, the most important thing about writing is having fun. If you’re having fun with your story, it’s much more likely to connect with a potential audience. If it feels like a chore, you’re probably writing the wrong story, or perhaps approaching it in the wrong way. Never put too much pressure on yourself. That’s not to say don’t be driven to accomplish your writing goals but remember that writing is only one part of this amazing life we’ve been given. Make sure you live it to the fullest.

What are your plans for the future? 

Right now, I’m just enjoying life with my wonderful wife and two amazing sons while writing on novels in the evening. In the next few months, my second novel Ghosts of Grief Hollow is set to release. I immersed myself wholly into this project during the pandemic. I’m really thrilled with how it turned out and can’t wait to share it with readers. In addition, I’m picking back up on a novel project I paused in order to write GoGH. It’s pretty different than The Tear Collector and one I hope readers will thoroughly enjoy. Other than that, I plan to continue putting out novels as frequently as I can write, revise, and edit them. Ideally, I’d love to see one of more them ultimately translated into film, which is also a medium I love.

Learn more about Shawn Burgess:

Website: shawnburgessauthor.com

Twitter: @ShawnBinjax

Instagram: shawnbinjax

Find his books on Amazon!

To Plan Or Not To Plan…

A Diagram of Ben Franklin’s Daily Schedule

For many, this question might have an obvious answer, but it is something I have wrestled with for years. Back in my twenties, when I was balancing college classes and a job, I was obsessive about scheduling and planning. I accumulated piles of notebooks filled with planning notes. Each day was organized hour by hour, including the exact time I would brush my teeth and eat breakfast. Life is chaotic; I firmly believed that my daily schedule was like a well-armoured tank charging through the enemy of chaos unscathed.

Well, my plans would remain unscathed for a couple days, but eventually even the most rigid armour can weaken. At some point my schedule would topple over like a flimsy wooden fence. What are the reasons for this weakening?

Some of the reasons were internal: my mood would change; I would grow weary of the constant repetition, feeling a little bit like an animatronic stuck to its programmed course. Some of the reasons were external: someone from work would unexpectedly call me to cover their shift, a friend or family member would unexpectedly stop by for a visit, or a homework assignment would take much longer than expected.

Back then I would become overwhelmed with guilt when my plans fell apart. I would beat myself up. I was lazy! Undisciplined! Or I would become frustrated and panicked about the outside world creeping through the cracks of my best laid plan. The vicious cycle would tear me down more, and sometimes I fell into a hiatus of aimless stupor.

Ten years have passed since those days, and I still believe planning to be invaluable. However, I’ve learned to look at best laid plans as a guideline, not a rigid, unbreakable code. I’ve learned to be flexible, you see?

Why do I find planning invaluable? 1) everyone needs an aim. If you want the day to be productive, if you want to accomplish your goals, whatever they may be, you need to aim at something. When you set a target of accomplishment, this also helps you to identify when you have failed, so you can return to the drawing board and recalculate your goals. 2) having a plan makes you more adaptable. When obstacles get in your way, you still have the target in your sights. Thus, you can make the proper adjustments and still hit your target, despite the turbulence. 3) planning is a launchpad. Planning is motivation to live. If we approach each day in an aimless stupor, all we will do is drift. Aimless drifting will not develop ourselves into who we are meant to be.

To plan or not to plan…that is the question. The answer seems pretty obvious to me: make a plan!

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower