Blog Tour & Book Review: It Will Just Be Us by Jo Kaplan.

Blog Tour & Book Review: It Will Just Be Us by Jo Kaplan.

I am so excited to be a part of the blog tour for It Will Just be Us by Jo Kaplan, a dark, gothic horror book full of ghosts and ghouls. Thank you to Crooked Lane press for inviting me to be a part of the tour and sending me the book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Now before we get into what I think about this bad boy, let’s check out that all important blurb to see what it’s all about: They say there’s a door in Wakefield that never opens… Sam Wakefield’s ancestral home, a decaying mansion built on the edge of a swamp, isn’t a place for children. Its labyrinthine halls, built by her mad ancestors, are filled with echoes of the past: ghosts and memories knotted together as one. In the presence of phantoms, it’s all Sam can do to disentangle past from present in her daily life. But when her pregnant sister Elizabeth moves in after a fight with her husband, something in the house shifts. Already navigating her tumultuous relationship with Elizabeth, Sam is even more unsettled by the appearance of a new ghost: a faceless boy who commits disturbing acts–threatening animals, terrorizing other children, and following Sam into the depths of the house wielding a knife. When it becomes clear the boy is connected to a locked, forgotten room, one which is never entered, Sam realizes this ghost is not like the others. This boy brings doom… As Elizabeth’s due date approaches, Sam must unravel the mysteries of Wakefield before her sister brings new life into a house marked by death. But as the faceless boy grows stronger, Sam will learn that some doors should stay closed–and some secrets are safer locked away forever.

Kaplan’s novel in many ways is a classic style Gothic novel and the influence of like Shirley Jackson is evident throughout. We have a haunted house full of ghosts, a family tragedy plagued by secrets and a history of violence and heartache, a mysterious locked door for a room no one can enter and a malevolent presence that threatens all who inhabit the crumbling expanse of Wakefield. On paper it ticks all the standard boxes for a gothic horror in all the right ways. But what I loved most about this book was the way it used these classic tropes and settings to explore the darkest parts of ourselves for the ghosts that haunt Wakefield are not actual spirits or souls trapped there, but are in fact echos, a simple replaying of past events, good or bad.

Through the death of the protagonists father, we explore mental illness and suicide and the effect of that loss on the remaining family members. The mother of the family finds herself not just haunted with the knowledge of her husband’s death, she does not just picture it in her mind as many haunted by such a tragedy would, she is instead able to relive it over and over again, watching her husband’s death replayed on an infinite time loop, unable to stop him or ask why as a memory is just that and nothing more.

This family are literally watching history repeat itself over and over, the good moments and the bad, from every generation of people who have stepped foot inside the mysterious house they inhabit. And this family history is a particularly black and bloody one to boot. Through these visual images of the past, the reader explores the fact that our pasts and even the pasts of those who came before us, can have a very real impact on our present and in turn our future. The protagonist is an archaeologist. She understands better than anyone the importance of these artefacts, these moments long gone. She attempts to catalogue and record them, for if we cannot understand the past in all of its raw horror, then how can we possibly learn from it? How can we grow from it? How can we avoid the mistakes of those who came before us? During a point in time when our history and the visual representations of that history such as statues and memorials, are becoming more important and meaningful to the current generation, it is very much a book which spoke to me.

Through these same ghosts and the darkness which causes them, the book also explores the concept of fate and destiny. If we are told our future, does that event then occur because it was always meant to be so? Or did it occur simply because we were told it would, drawing us towards that inevitability like a moth to a flame? Would that event have occurred if we had never been given that knowledge in the first place. The ideas of fate and causailty are things which have always fascinated me and I particularly enjoyed the way this book explores them. If history is in fact predetermined then fighting it is useless, we will end how we we end. But if it is not yet set in stone, if the face of our future is blurred and not yet fully formed like the faceless boy who haunts and threatens Sam and her family, is there hope then that this can be changed? It’s a fascinating idea and when combined with the classic horror elements like the haunted house and the ghosts, it only serves to amplify the complexity and the very high and real stakes of attempting to change or bend destiny to our will.

I found myself engrossed from the first page and the book remained engaging throughout. The characters are real, believable, relatable and most importantly as flawed and broken as the house they share. The story is interesting and gripping and it’s full of moments and quotes which cause the reader to pause and ponder on topics beyond the scope of the book itself. My only criticisms would be on the last few chapters of the book when Sam makes some truly questionable decisions. Yes, the reader is aware of why she may make such choices, but it felt very much like those moments watching the female victim of a slasher film run up the stairs instead of out the front door. “No,” we hear ourselves cry, “Not that way!” But alas, we are watching these images play out as they will, unable to interfere or effect them just as Sam and her family have watched the echos of the house they live in so many times over their lives. Whilst this did irk me somewhat, it wasn’t a big enough issue to dampen or reduce my enthusiasm and love for the book as a whole and if anything it merely added to the earlier discussed debates about fate and causality.

I could go on and on about the elements of this book which I loved, these aforementioned topics being at the forefront alongside the style and setting of the book itself, but I would rather let the reader discover these things on their own. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any fans of classic horror and I am keen to read more from the author. Overall it’s a 4.5 out of 5 for me and an excellent read all around. Thank you again to Crooked Press for giving me the opportunity to read this fantastic book and to Jo Kaplan for writing it.

Interview with Indie Horror Publisher Eerie River Publishing.

Interview with Indie Horror Publisher Eerie River Publishing.

Hello readers, I hope you are keeping well in these strange times. For today’s blog post, I had the pleasure of chatting with the minds behind Eerie River Publishing house, an independent publishing house dedicated to bringing readers the best in horror and dark fantasy. Based out of Ontario, Canada, they offer a range of services such as editing and formatting, as well as publishing works and creating awesome anthologies. It was the latter that introduced me to this gem of a company. When the owner Michelle reached out to offer me a copy of their anthology “It Calls From the Forest”, a collection of works dedicated to the horrors which lurk in the woods, I jumped at the chance and immediately fell in love with the book. So much so, I have actually submitted a piece for the next anthology in the collection, this time centring around terrors from the sky with the third and final instalment focusing on the sea (I may also be writing one for that too, I am determined to end up in one of these anthologies!). As well as providing me with a copy of the book, Michelle also agreed to be interviewed, so get comfy and happy reading.

1) For those out there unfamiliar with Eerie River, what is it? 

Eerie River Publishing is a brand new, independent publishing house located in Southern Ontario, Canada. 

We are devoted to offering indie authors, regardless of experience level, the opportunity to publish their words in a paying market. We are still in our infancy, so our pay scale is not at that professional level yet, but as we continue to grow so will our payments. 

2) Tell us about the main members of the team? 

The team is rather small, but we are committed to a level of excellence in professionalism and openness. 

I, Michelle River, am the owner and project manager for Eerie River Publishing. I am a full-time mom by day, and an entrepreneur by night. For those that see our website, Twitter or Facebook I am the person behind the screen on my phone, the one answering questions and posting GIFs between playtimes and snacks. I also do the book formatting, promotional graphics and videos, all that fun stuff. 

I also have the monumentous pleasure of reading and responding to every single short story that is sent in for consideration 

Next in line is the wonderful Alanna Roberston-Webb. An indie author in her own right, I was lucky enough to secure and contract her to edit all of the anthologies for our “It Calls From” series, as well as our dark fantasy novellette call out. She has worked on a few anthologies for other indie publishing houses as well, and is one of the few people that I know of who is always there to help a fellow writer out: Be it to offer to beta read, talk plot, or grapple with word choice, Alanna will have your back. She also has the pleasure of going through the second round submissions and helping select the final stories for the books, as well as assisting with providing author feedback. 

I am also very lucky to have a sister that loves to read! Elizabeth has volunteered countless hours reading through stories that have made it through to second rounds, or for our monthly contest submissions. She provides valuable feedback, and will also be reading through the dark fantasy novel submissions coming through. Thankfully dark fantasy is her ultimate drug, so she is very excited about this new task. 

These lovely ladies aside, the most important members of our team are those that probably don’t even realize they are on it. We are honoured to have a group of wonderful authors and friends that have rallied behind Eerie River since day one, and they continuously help us by promoting, submitting their stories, cheering us on and offering insight where they can. They are very much appreciated! I know that without their continued support, their wonderful stories and their voices, Eerie River wouldn’t exist. I am forever blown away by the wonderful group that surrounds us, and I don’t know how we got so lucky to find them. 

3) What motivated you to start Eerie River? 

That is weirdly a tricky question. I guess there was a catalyst of things that happened that really pushed me to make the decision but these are the two main reasons. 

The first one happened last year in August. I wanted to put together a series of “alien” stories that coincided with the Area 51 Raid. I got in touch with fellow NoSleep and indie authors and over the next month we ended up making it a book and putting it on Amazon. I really enjoyed the process and weirdly enough the stress of it all. I had a 1.5 year old at the time, so I don’t know what I was thinking. 

However, probably the main reason was quality. As an indie author myself, and after being in a few anthologies, I realized that I wanted to offer authors a more professional platform for submission. I wanted to put something out in the world that authors could be proud enough of to show off to their friends and family, or even places like local libraries and bookstores. I knew that I had the technical skills to format books, and I believed that if we did it right we could put out quality writing that showcased the brilliant works of indie authors. And, if I do say so myself, I think we’ve done it! 

4) What is it about horror that draws you to that particular genre? 

There are so many aspects of horror that make me go back again and again. 

I really enjoy being scared. Not “I am going to actually die scared”, but I love the rush, that euphoric sense of relief after a terrifying scene. It’s addictive. 

I have no doubt that it stems from my childhood. With the exception of my dad, who hates horror, my whole family is obsessed with horror and the supernatural world. We love to be scared. We would sit in our dark basement, TV on max volume, and watch horror movie after horror movie. Someone would always try to scare someone else right before a jump scene, which never failed to make my mom scream and swear. It was great. 

5) Out of editing, writing, publishing and creating anthologies, which process is harder and why? 

Right now I find writing harder than it should be, but that is just because I have no time. I get an idea, but with everything else going on, in the world, and in my publishing life, I just can’t devote time to sit down and write. 

However, the most time consuming and difficult part of publishing is not getting the book together, that is easy when you have so many great stories to choose from, but telling people 

that you have a book. Marketing is hard. There were over one million books published on Amazon alone last year, meaning that the market is flooded with new voices. This is wonderful, but how do you get your voice heard among such a flood of books? To do that you need a social media presence. You need people to talk about you, you need to keep ads running, promotions going on and so much more. That by far is the most difficult part, especially in the economic climate we are in right now. 

6) Where do you come up with the anthology theme ideas? 

This last set was really me just getting excited about anthologies, and bouncing ideas off of people like Alanna. I had a few ideas I was working through, but I knew I wanted them to be connected some how. I am not sure how I got “It Calls From”, but I am glad I did. It is perfect for the first collection. 

7) What horror books and authors (apart from your own) would you recommend for those wanting to look into horror? 

That is a hard one because there are so many great horror books out there. If someone is just delving into the genre I would probably suggest an oldie, but a goodie: It’s the collection of short story horror by Clive Barker called “Books of Blood”. They are just long enough to peak your interest, but because they are short stories you can pick it up and put it down whenever you feel the urge. 

8) If people want to submit to yourselves, how do they do so and what are you looking for? 

Depending on the call out we are typically looking for horror or dark fantasy. 

You can view all of our open and upcoming anthology open calls on our website at https://www.eerieriverpublishing.com/open-submission 

We have also just opened up a window for authors looking to query their novel or novella series in the dark fantasy genre. This window is open from June 15 – July 31, so if you have something ready to go that fits what we are looking for then feel free to follow the link and send it in. https://www.eerieriverpublishing.com/publishing 

But that isn’t all! We also have a monthly contest for members of our Facebook Author group, which runs from the 1 – 15 of the month and the theme changes every single month. Details are found on the same submission page, under ‘Monthly Themed contest’. You can join the facebook group here https://www.facebook.com/groups/2420571304929806/ 

We want original stories with characters who are relatable and interesting. If the open call is themed, which it normally is, we are looking for stories that adhere to that specific theme but your interpretation and voice. For horror we want to be scared. We want horror that grips, 

shocks, and terrifies you. For dark fantasy we want all of those wonderful fantasy elements that we love, but with a darker underlying theme. 

We know that every indie author may not have the budget for editors, but please have someone beta read and review your work before you submit. We are not looking for professionally edited pieces, but we are looking for polished manuscripts. Give us the best you can, because the competition is fierce. 

I do want to point out our hard passes. We do not want to read or publish rape, detaileld sexual abuse of children or adults, sexual torture, or bestiality of any kind. I understand that these all have a place in horror, but it is not here with us. Kill the cat, kill the dog, murder a whole town and make us watch it. We do not shy away from gore, but those are my hard no’s, especially for our story collections. 

9) Do you have any advice for horror writers out there? Asking for myself as much as anyone else! 

For horror specifically, I think the best stories are ones that are based on the writers fears. So write what scares you. Scared of ghosts or people hiding in your closet? Write it. Let us feel your terror while we delve within the pages of your nightmares. 

The indie author world is an amazing group to be a part of. There are so many people out there ready to cheer you on and lift you up, who will jump in with both feet and give as much as they take. I suggest reading other people’s stories and offer feedback when asked. Don’t be shy to get feedback from other authors on where to improve your own writing as well. Get involved, and make friends! These people are your allies, and while you may not be able to buy everyone books (because, honestly, who can afford that?), you can still share people’s successes and grow with them. 

Don’t stop writing, and don’t get discouraged by rejections – learn from them. If you get personalized feedback read it, then see if you agree. Make the changes that you are comfortable with, then submit it elsewhere. 

As always, happy writing and stay safe out there.