Archive for May, 2011

“They just don’t make them like this any more.” Whether it refers to movies, music or books, I am sure you have heard the phrase countless times before. I know I have, and it has been the reason why the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries I’ve been writing are what they are. A throwback to, what I consider, the Golden Era of horror. A kind of story and presentation they just don’t make them like any more.

gothic imageIt seems odd in this day and age for someone to write horror mysteries drenched in gothic atmosphere. While everyone around me seems to be occupied to write modern horror stories that feature either romantic half-monster match-ups or are getting more and more gritty and urban, it appears to me that very few writers actually give a second thought to more traditional horror.

It has led to a remarkable — and very unexpected — side-effect. I deliberately chose the rather unique format for my books and the Victorian England setting to allow me to stand out among what’s currently available, but it has also created the not insignificant challenge for me to explain to people what the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries actually are. People seem to have trouble wrapping their minds around the concept and the initial impressions somehow seem to lead them to wrong conclusions about the stories.

Whenever I drop the term “horror” in a conversation or description, people instantly have preconceived notions. Most people will wave me off right away and tell me they don’t read horror. As a result I find myself explaining to them about the wide gamut that horror actually covers, ranging from something like “Frankenstein,” which many people would probably not even consider horror but an intense character drama, all the way to the ultra-violent and sadistic “Saw” fare. There is a lot in-between and the two ends of the spectrum could not be further apart. Yet, the mere mention of the word “horror” has people dismissing it.

gothic imageEven the term “gothic horror,” which is designed to narrow down the genre somewhat, is all too often misunderstood. I used the term when I released the first Jason Dark stories, because it is what they truly represent. Sadly, too many people associate the term “gothic horror” with pale, pubescent girls wearing too much eye make-up who are desperately crying for attention. Some will see it as a valid lifestyle or fashion trend, but still have only the image of too much mascara in their heads. Neither is what “Gothic horror” means, and neither of it is what my Jason Dark stories are about.

“Gothic horror” is a description for a particular style of horror, which, by tradition, emphasizes atmosphere over graphic violence. A film like the old “Dracula” featuring Bela Lugosi is “gothic,” as is “The Wolfman.” It is all about the creepy imagery and atmosphere. The fog-shrouded forest and cemeteries, castles towering over steep cliffs, things that we know are moving about, terrifyingly dangerous, but we never really see them. Flickering candles in a ghostly house, long, deep shadows and staircases covered in cobwebs. All these are elements of “gothic horror.”

Universal was the master of gothic horror with its early monster movies and the Hammer Film Studios punched it up a notch. Bringing color to the party, they were able to bathe us in deep midnight blue hues, the magnificent crimson satin on the inside of Count Dracula’s cape and the bloodshot red eyes of Christopher Lee. The Hammer horror films were masterfully shot using gothic elements but ramping up their effect over and over again. Sadly, they were often dissed because of their limited budgets, but true fans of the genre will always cherish them for their mood and atmosphere.

It is for those people who love these kinds of horror films as much as I do that I wrote the Jason Dark books. Every time I read and finished a horror novel, I walked away, telling myself, “They just don’t write them any more the way they did.” If you go to Amazon and you try to search for quality gothic horror books you will find yourself in quite a bit of a predicament. Most of them you will probably have read already because they are classics like “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” Edgar Allan Poe’s work and such fare. You may be lucky and find a few, rare gems that are newer, but the majority of more modern gothic stories followed on the heels of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and most of those were already more romanticized than gothic.

gothic imageFinding fresh gothic horror content is hard — in fact I find it virtually impossible. As a result people are no longer familiar with the term or these atmospheric settings and the wonderful creepiness these stories often have. By consequence, they also have trouble imagining what Jason Dark stories would be like.

Using atmospheric cover artwork has always been my main approach to ring across the atmosphere of the books. If you look at Dr. Prometheus, for example with its cover that show gravediggers in front of a full moon, to me the message and atmosphere of the story is immediately clear.

In the sixteen months since I have launched the first Jason Dark books, I have found that it has required my eternal attention to somehow bring across the setting and atmosphere of these stories so that they might find an audience. Maybe articles like this one will help getting people excited about these action-packed creepy mysteries.

On some days you just feel like the world is coming to a standstill for a short moment, giving you the opportunity to relish that single moment just a little bit longer than usual. Such a moment happened to me this morning when I received another blurb about one of my books.

It is always fascinating and very reassuring when you receive little tidbits of acclaim from fellow authors, but when it comes from someone who is universally considered one of the best, it just takes your breath away.

Here is the blurb I received this morning in regards to my Jason Dark supernatural mystery, Theater of Vampires.

“This is the book I wish I had written!” — Bram Stoker, author of DRACULA

I believe, no more words are needed here…

This morning I received a note by horror writer Gord Rollo that I thought I’d share with you real quick. It is a blurb that he wrote for my Jason Dark series of his own accord — meaning, I did not ask him for a blurb!

Naturally, I feel very flattered that a well-known and traditionally published writer took enough notice of my stories that he actually took the time to write about it. So, here it goes…

“I’ll admit it; I’m a sucker for gothic horror adventures and believe they’re a sub-genre woefully neglected these days. Thankfully Guido Henkel knows how to skillfully and smoothly lure his readers from the gore-drenched pages of today’s fiction back in time to Victorian England where the demons and monsters and vampires stalk the fog-shrouded cobblestone streets of a simpler yet deadly period in history. With Jason Dark, ghost hunter and paranormal investigator, Guido has created a hero for the ages; a fearless avenger of evil keeping England safe from the things that slither and creep within the shadows of the night. So put on your overcoat and top hat and hail yourself a Hansom Cab; you’re about to set forth on a journey unlike anything you’ve experienced since the days of Watson and Holmes. Hang on tight. If you’re anything like me, you’re going to love the ride. Highly recommended!”

Gord Rollo
Author of Valley Of The Scarecrow and The Jigsaw Man

Needless to say that I fell very flattered by his comments.

In other news, I wanted to let you all know that it is time for me to raise the price of Curse of Kali to its intended $2.99. If you haven’t bought the book yet, make sure to grab a copy right now, while it is still only 99 cents and before the distribution outlets all update their prices.

I also want to point out, however, that Demon’s Night will remain at a 99 cent price point. I am positioning that particular book — the first adventure featuring Jason Dark — to make it more attractive for people to start reading their way into the series.

I will make this short today, because I’m busy with some other stuff, but I wanted to post these tidbits real quick.

Another guest blog of mine showed up around the Internet today. This time I am writing about eBooks and how There’s more to eBooks than MOBI and EPUB, over at The Creative Penn. If you are a self-published author, I think you should head over there and take a gander. Even if you disagree or think you’re settled just fine, read it, just for the perspective, perhaps.

fangoria 3030 coverIn other news, I wanted to remind everyone to pick up Fangoria issue #303. It contains the second part of my Jason Dark serial Food for the Dead, and you don’t want to miss it. You better hurry, because in about a week or two, this issue will disappear from newsstands already, to be replaced with the next one. I would hate for you to miss one installment in the serial, just because I forgot to remind you all.

Speaking of Food for the Dead I also wanted to give a quick shout-out to my writer buddy Joe Nassise, who – upon my urging – has taken it upon himself to actually edit the serial for me. If you’re not familiar with his work, make sure to check it out. He is a fabulous writer with great stories to tell. Joe did a wonderful job tightening some of my writing and making it more concise.

Writing the Fangoria piece was particularly challenging for me, because I had to write to spec. Not like a short story where they tell you, write something between 7,000 and 10,000 words. Here I had to write every single one of the five installments on spec to fit in 820 words. That is the space and guideline I was given. Fitting the entire story into that framework, making sure the cliffhangers worked while also ensuring I am picking up the story in a sensible, easy to follow way every month was quite a challenge. I spent hours brooding over paragraphs, trying to cut the word count down. What do you do when you are 20 words over budget, but every single one of your words matters? Occasionally I just went crazy and deleted an entire sentence, only to notice after it was gone that, perhaps, it wasn’t all that necessary after all.

Demon's night coverIf you enjoyed Food for the Dead so far, I would like to urge you to pick up one of the other Jason Dark mysteries. Demon’s Night is a great way to get started in the full-length stories, or if you want to check how the latest Jason Dark adventure reads like, give Curse of Kali a try. Both are still available for only 99 cents on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo Books.

But ultimately, the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries are designed so readers can pick up any one of them at any time and just get to reading. They are all stand-along mysteries and you don’t need to read them in order or anything. Just pick the subject matter that appeals the most to you – vampires, demons, ghosts, or whatnot – and give it a try.

You know, of course, that you don’t even need an eBook reader to read eBooks, right? Use Amazon’s free Kindle software and you can read all Kindle books on your laptop or desktop computer – even on your cell phone, if you wish.

So, what are you waiting for? I really can’t make it any easier for you.

Curse of KaliThings have slowed down after World Horror Convention and I’ve been able to follow up with many of my new acquaintances from the show.

I’ve also been able to finish the first book I brought back from the show, Joe McKinney’s brand new The Red Empire. It is truly a fun little read, reminding me so much of the old-school Jack Arnold scifi monster flicks from the 50s, like Them! or Tarantula. Definitely worth a read if this is your kind of bag, as his writing is riveting and the story a fast-paced and action-packed humdinger.

As I’ve been trying to keep promoting my own recent release of Curse of Kali, I have been guest-blogging on two additional sites this week also. Over at Indie Horror I have talked about Prepared to Sell: My favorite book covers. I love cover artwork, whether it’s from books, music albums, games or movies. A great artwork inspires and fascinates me, and in this guest blog you will see some of the covers that I find truly outstanding for many reasons, so make sure to stop by and take a look.

The other guest-post I made was on Bookgasm where I wrote about Hunting monsters in Victorian England. As the title suggests, the write-up explains why I find Victorian England such an exciting setting for my Jason Dark stories, but it also goes a bit further discussing the historical and literary references I use in all of those books.

Please stop by and take a look at either of these blog posts and let me know what you think. Yes, leave comments, if you please. It always looks a bit hapless if there are lengthy blog posts but no one comments on them. I don’t know about you but it always makes me feel like a piece of forgotten cheese that has mold beginning to grow over it. So, please… let me hear your opinions and thoughts on these subjects.

Since I am still in Curse of Kali promo mode, I also thought I’d do something I haven’t done before… at least not in this way. Since you are already here, I decided to present you with a little excerpt from the book. Please, below, enjoy the opening scene from the book…

“I am not so sure I like this,” Jason Dark said, as he looked at the barren warehouse doors that loomed against the night sky in front of him.

“This is the address, right?” Siu Lin asked, allowing her gaze to rove along the unlit, square outline of the building.

It had been after dark already, when a note had been delivered to Jason Dark’s house on Sandgate Street in London’s Southwark district. Written in an unpracticed scribble, the message upon it was short, asking for a meeting in this decrepit warehouse at the dockyards at 10:00 pm. It was signed by Tom Baker, one of Dark’s frequent collaborators: a boy of 16, who had a network of streetwise urchins assembled around him, essentially acting as Jason Dark’s invisible eyes and ears in the cobbled streets of London. On a number of occasions, Dark had made use of Baker’s invaluable services. So, when the unexpected note arrived, Dark knew by instinct that the matter had to be of some import.

Jason Dark eyed a smaller, man-sized door that was set flush into the foreboding barn-size doors of the warehouse, allowing easy access for a single person. Without a word, he reached for the handle and pulled it open. For the length of a few heartbeats he stopped and simply listened. Only the soft lapping of the brackish water against the dock was audible, drowning out even the distant noise of the metropolis at large.

He turned and looked at Siu Lin. Careful, now! He could clearly read her determined face in the bright moonlight.

A thick fog rolled in from the river, its ethereal arms weaving in a sluggish dance, like ghostly wisps, eating away at the moon’s light. Dark blacked out his lantern and took a careful step forward.

The inside of the warehouse was dark, and only shadows allowed the eye to create an image of the interior. Without a word, Dark waved Siu Lin inside and closed the door, careful not to make an unnecessary sound. Together they stood in silence and listened. A foghorn blew somewhere in the distance, lonely and forlorn. Other than that, the warehouse was silent.

Almost in unison, Dark and Siu Lin opened the blackout shades of their lanterns, allowing the soft glow of the kerosene flames to illuminate the room. Thirty feet above them, the slatted ceiling covered the cavernous structure. Stairs and walkways splashed the walls with their wooden rag-tag construction. Large stacks of shipping crates and containers lined up in jumbled rows down the length of the entire warehouse, each announcing its far-away origins by stenciled-on designations. The rows disappeared into the darkness, interrupted only by smaller passages between different stacks.

Dark looked over his lantern and saw Siu Lin tilting her head as she took in the enormous structure. Time and again her dark eyes scanned the walls and walkways, before she returned his gaze and nodded. “You lead.”

As Dark took cautious steps, the sphere of light traveled with him, peeling ever new shapes and details out of the darkness. Two steps behind him, Siu Lin followed, silent as a snake on cotton balls. Walking backwards so she could see behind them, she brought up the rear, taking no chances for a surprise.

“I do not like this,” she finally whispered. “Where’s Baker?”

“Maybe he’s late.” Even as he said the words, however, Dark felt that the answer was more of an excuse, rather than any actual conviction on his part.

“Then who unlocked the door?”

“Let’s just take a look around.”

They proceeded another few yards down the main aisle into the warehouse, when Dark unexpectedly froze. Siu Lin nearly bumped into him and was ready to open her mouth, when she turned and saw what had stopped Dark dead in his tracks.

Did you like it? And that was just the beginning. The story will surprise you, I have no doubt, and take you on a roller coaster ride, so please feel free to get your copy for only 99 cents now on Amazon and Barnes&Noble. Or if you would like print versions, make sure to stop by on the official website

Today I feel like talking about something completely different. As many of you may know, I am a musician also. I have played in heavy metal bands during the 80s, I composed, arranged and recorded orchestral scores for computer games in the past and even though I can play a variety of instruments, the guitar has always been my instrument of choice.

The other day I realized that while there are many great guitar gods we have come to know, featuring names like Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Steve Vai, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, George Lynch, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Jeff Beck etc. it turns out that most of these are playing as the single guitarists in their respective bands where they can fetch all of the spotlight. Guitar duos on the other don’t always get the recognition they deserve.

Therefore, I decided to take a look at some of music’s greatest guitarist pairs and why they should, in fact, be more celebrated.

QueensrycheThe top of the list was very, very easy for me to pick. Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton of Queensryche are easily the most noteworthy guitar pair, because they have redefined how rock guitar arrangements are being made. With their album Operation Mindcrime, they treated guitar arrangement with such subtlety that it turned into a multi-layered masterpiece and a masterclass for any guitar duo trying to use clustering in order to make the most of the instrument pair-up. A tighter pair than Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton you will hardly find in any band.

John Lennon and George Harrison of The Beatles are my second choice. Vastly underrated, George Harrison was a phenomenal guitar player who always played off and expanded upon Lennon’s more straight forward playing. He added depth and nuances to melodies that could have turned out absolutely banal, but were enhanced to become musical classics as the two guitars create sometimes hauntingly beautiful voicings.

Judas PriestGlenn Tipton and K.K. Downing of Judas Priest. Constantly overlooked, Tipton and Downing are without a doubt one of the most accomplished guitar duos in the heavy metal scene. No one plays like these guys do and few guitar players mesh the way they do. Not only do they trade lines like there’s no tomorrow, the fact that they each have very unique styles adds incredible richness to their music. Tipton has a tendency to break the metric barriers of their music by playing odd-beat runs against standard rock grooves while Downing would provide chord voicings that were eerily catching yet surprisingly complicated and multi-layered.

Angus and Malcolm Young of AC/DC. The band’s music may be spartan in many ways and lacking the versatility of some of the other contenders but let’s get one thing straight. Angus and Malcolm will ALWAYS make your foot tap. Here it is Angus’ exceptional syncopating of chords and lines that contrasts wonderful with Malcolms equally syncopated play that makes the magic work. The secret of these two guitarists is the fact that they use different phrasing and syncopation while often playing similar lines. When one guitar stops, the other will fill the moment of silence, only to bounce around and then pause to make room for the other’s guitar line. It is a constant back and forth between these two players, creating an incredibly dynamic sound that translates directly into brutally addictive grooves which have served the band well for over 30 years.

Brothers Mark and David Knopfler of Dire Straits were an equally contrasting pair. Sadly, David left the band fairly early in their career but the first few albums show just how wonderful David’s laid back strumming contrasts with Mark’s sharp syncopation and picking techniques. David provided the wool while Mark provided the colors to the tapestry of music that is Dire Straits’ hallmark.

Iron MaidenAnd then, of course, there are Dave Murray and Adrian Smith from Iron Maiden. Those guys make magic with their guitars, perfectly complementing each other with their different styles. While Murray’s sweeping legato play is perfect for the more lyrical aspects of the band’s music – delivered always with a big smile on his face which makes even the most complex run appear so simple that anyone could do it -, Smith is an aggressive metal player with a razor-sharp sound and shredding capabilities like the best of them. With your eyes closed you can immediately pinpoint who is playing which part and together they create musical contrasts that always stay fresh and have defined Iron Maiden every bit as much as Steve Harris’ bass play.

For me, the list would not be complete without the addition of at least one Thin Lizzy line-up. To me, Scott Gorham and Gary Moore have always been the penultimate pair-up in the band’s history. Thin Lizzy was one of the first bands to fully explore two-guitar harmonies and they took it to a new level that was unheard of before. Skillful in both technique and arrangement, they always surprised as the players played off each, meshed for a bit, only to play off each other again. The songs themselves were perfectly arranged with big voicings that gave each guitarist their unique place in the whole.

ScorpionsGermany also produced one of the most remarkable guitar duos, Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Schenker of the Scorpions. Hardly anyone thinks of these guys when they talk about guitar line-ups but if you ever listened to “Blackout” through headphones you know that these guys were kicking in a league of their own. Schenker is the perfect rhythm machine. He has groove like few others do as he hammers out the band’s trademark chord progressions. Jabs sits squarely at the other end of the spectrum. He highlights the rhythm that Schenker laid down with unbelievably inventive fills. Jabs is always working, always running all over the fretboard, always ready to surprise with another harmonic squeal or a fast run that will steal your breath. If you love guitars, you have to love the Scorpions. At the time they were like a blast of fresh air in a genre that had become very formulaic in its approach to arrangements.

Rolling StonesAnd then, last but not least, there are Keith Richards and Ronnie Woods of the Rolling Stones. I debated with myself for some time whether to include them or not, but despite the simplicity of their songs and despite the recurring themes, these guys do their thing like no one else. Together they create that unique Stones sound. Woods is the guy who lays down the foundation with a series of easy-going chords, but it is ultimately Keef’s contribution, the slurred play, the strange voicings and his unique sense of timing that give it the polish that makes their music stand out above anyone else.

I know, that no list can be complete, and I also know that I have forgotten many shining examples, no doubt. The moment I press the “Submit” button I will probably slam my palm against my forehead going “How could you have forgotten,” but let’s leave it at this for now.

I want to point out however, that I have deliberately omitted the pair-ups of bands like Metallica, Pantera, Megadeth, Slayer, and others because I feel they are not remarkable enough as a unit. While successful, and often exceedingly accomplished players, I felt that none of these were really that outstanding in terms of how the two players complement and contrast each other. How their interplay is so unique that it becomes timeless or impossible to imagine that they would sound the same if one of them would be replaced. When everyone is essentially playing the same thing and/or has the same kind of phrasing and style, they become interchangeable, which I think is the case with these aforementioned bands.

Some of you may also note that virtually all of these pair-ups are from rock bands. The thing to note about that is that rock’n roll is really the home of guitar-centric music and guitar pairs. Most other music genres like blues and jazz, funk or fusion combine the guitar with other instruments or treat them more as solo instruments, but never in the same powerhouse paired fashion as rock music does – hence the bias. no matter how hard I tried I simply could not name a country band where a guitar pair and their players were of any any real import, and neither could I think of anything in popular music where the guitar has been relegated to a filler status or an effect.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed this little line-up and maybe you will have the chance to check out some of the guys on this list if you’re not familiar with their work.

Over the past weekend I was visiting the World Horror Convention 2011 in Austin, a place where horror writers from all over the country get together, share ideas, tips, experiences and lots of beer.

I was on a panel on Friday afternoon, carrying the title “Fresh Blood,” during which I had the chance to relay my story as to how I got into writing. It was a nice, lively panel with some great fellow authors, some of which had great stories to tell. I was happy to see a healthy turnout and hope that those of you who had the chance to attend enjoyed the session and got some entertainment value out of it. (I doubt we were really giving advice per se, since we mostly relayed war stories, but you never know.)

There were a couple of fine panels and sessions during the show most of them involved Brian Keene in one way or another. As a matter of fact, Brian was virtually omnipresent at the show, appearing on every other panel while also holding book readings, hanging at the parties and the mass signing, of course. In fact, when, on Thursday night, I arrived at the hotel where the conference was hosted, Keene was still having a panel at 10:30 at night. Talk about a working man here.

Peter Straub was also walking the hallways relentlessly and appeared on panels almost every day of the conference. In the times in between he was talking to other authors and signing books all the time. I had the chance to chat with him myself and enjoyed it greatly. After all, Peter Straub is not only one of the most prolific writers in the horror genre, eclipsed perhaps only by his friend and occasional collaborator Stephen King, but he is what I would call a writer’s writer. He is the example we are all striving for, not only in volume and sales, but also in quality.

But there were many other memorable moments for me, such as my meeting Gene O’Neill, whom I had talked to online a number of times but had never met in person, as well as Gord Rollo. Gord, as you may know, is a writer very much to my taste as his stories — and his interests, as I found out — are usually rooted much more in traditional horror than modern goreware.

I have made many more acquaintances and hopefully new friends during the show and I am very much looking forward to meeting them all again.

The one thing I did notice during the convention, however, was how absent digital technologies were in all the discussions. Practically all writers came from a traditional background and interestingly enough most of them view eBooks as a sideshow — something that may become interesting at some point, but is not at all at the forefront of their minds. Well, with all due respect, I think it is time to put some educational panels together for upcoming writers conferences that explain to writers that the digital revolution has not only arrived but is about to devour the few scraps they are receiving from the traditional publishing houses.

In the meanwhile things have been moving on here as well, of course. I had decided to take a 10 day Internet sabbatical and disappeared almost entirely from social networks for the time being. I also responded to email only in small time windows during the period and did almost no Internet browsing. These things, combined, are such time sinks that I felt I had to turn my back on them to get some work done just before the show. I am glad to say it did work out well and I may have to do it again, more frequently.

The thing is that I spend so much time trying to get my Jason Dark books noticed that on many days I find no time to actually write. I don’t like those days. I love writing and I feel somewhat robbed of the privilege on days where everything else is bogging me down. It is hard however, to simply sit back and ignore the fact that my book sales are small and stagnant and I constantly feel the need to be doing more to increase my books’ visibility. Ultimately, however, it becomes so frustrating when you see that not only time is fleeting away between your fingers in chunks that could choke a T-Rex, but that in many ways it is for naught. Oftentimes all the effort results in a single 99 cent sale and that is clearly a bad value proposition for the time and energy spent.

So, I have decided to fret less and instead write more, and hopefully I will be able to show some results in the not too distant future.

More guest blog posts should be coming up in the next weeks — they have been delayed by the various site operators for reasons beyond my control — but for the time being, check out this cool interview on Geeks of Doom were I had the chance to elaborate on many things regarding my books. I am sure you will find it an interesting read, and perhaps it will even inspire to pick up one of the books. Don’t forget, Curse of Kali is still available for only 99 cents on Amazon and at Barnes&Noble.

In the meanwhile, let me remind everyone also that I do offer eBook formatting as a service, so if you would like to get your manuscript turned into a proper eBook, feel free to contact me for a quote.