Patch Lane Blog Tour: Five Things That Inspire My Writing By: S.F. Barkley

Five Things That Inspire My Writing

By: S.F. Barkley


Some people grow up always knowing that they wanted to be a writer. They loved writing essays in school, maybe got their college degree in English, or perhaps they even wrote their first novel before ever finishing grade school. That, however, wasn’t me. I had no idea that I wanted to be a writer until, well, I started writing. To explain what gave me the push to first put the pen to paper (or more realistically, my finger to the keyboard), I’ve narrowed it down to the five main things that inspire my writing.


  1. My Love for All Things Creepy

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to the paranormal. Every eerie sound I heard in my house as a child, every chill down my spine, I always believed in ghosts. It’s no surprise that my favorite books growing up were Goosebumps by R. L. Stine. My interest in the paranormal only grew the older I got. I love going on ghost tours of old cities, visiting supposedly haunted places (big fan of Gettysburg), and hearing the fascinating histories of buildings and places.


  1. My Experiences as a Cop

I was a cop for nearly three years. During that time, I discovered an underground tunnel system, a secret room behind a fireplace, and was dispatched to an abandoned building for 911 hang up calls- all while on the job. First responders commonly find themselves in creepy situations, especially those who work the night shift. All of my experiences left me wondering, “What if…”


  1. My Personal Life

One of the most famous pieces of advice for writers is to “Write what you know.” I know law enforcement, but there’s a lot more to a story than just the main character’s career. I constantly draw on my personal life’s experiences to help build the world and characters in my stories. For example, I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania, so the fictional town I created was in Western Pennsylvania and inspired by the towns that I knew. There are pieces of my life sprinkled throughout my stories.


  1. Reddit r/NoSleep

My first attempt at writing was on Reddit’s subreddit r/NoSleep, which is a forum for realistic horror stories told from first-person perspective. My first short story was about finding dead space in my house, but it only received about 60 upvotes, deeming it not very popular. I still had a lot of fun writing the story and reading the responses though, so I wrote a second short story series. This second series was about being a rookie cop and getting dispatched repeatedly to an abandoned house for 911 hang up calls. In a blink of an eye, the story blew up. It was read over 100,000 times, upvoted by over 5,000 readers, and eventually went on to win Story of the Month in August 2018, having competed with nearly 4,000 other short stories.

Once I received such an outpour of positive feedback, I was inspired to turn the short series into a novel, and that’s how Patch Lane was created.


  1. Wine

There are actually two ways that wine helps inspire my writing. First, it’s no secret that alcohol loosens us up and gets the creative juices flowing. My writing routine involves sitting in my wine/writing room, pouring myself a large glass, and turning on some soft music. Second, by making such a cozy and zen writing setting, I give myself something to look forward to. I don’t allow myself to sip on wine until I’ve sat down with my laptop in hand.

PLane digital cover.jpg

Patch Lane

Publication Date: October 22, 2019

Genre: Thriller

Sarah Hastings is a rookie cop who works the night shift in Amber Forest, a small rural town nestled in the Western Pennsylvania mountains. After repeatedly responding to an abandoned and allegedly haunted farmhouse for 911 hang up calls, she discovers a dead body in a secret room. The forensic investigators determine that the body has only been dead for three to four days, but the case takes an unexpected turn when Sarah runs the victim’s fingerprints and finds that her Jane Doe actually died 20 years ago.

The murder investigation is complicated with a sloppy autopsy and delayed forensic reports. When the US Marshals and FBI join the case, Sarah realizes that she is caught in a web of jurisdictional politics that seem to care less about the victim and are more concerned with a larger confidential case. Sarah soon realizes that she may be closer to the victim than she thought and finds herself drawn deeper into the case, threatening not just her career, but her life.

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The house was in total disrepair. The exterior had white wooden siding with loosely attached, rotting black shutters. The moonlight highlighted the chipping paint, making the shutters appear two-toned. The old brick chimney was pulling away from the side of the house, and small trees were growing on the lower roof. There were no signs of life inside—no lights, no sound, not even a car parked on the property. It was the only house on the lane, so I deduced this was once a running farm. This must have been the original farmhouse. I slowly made my way around the house, trudging through the overgrown grass, to check the perimeter. With no evidence of life or habitation, I was beginning to question if Dispatch had gotten the address wrong. I got on the radio. “1034 to Dispatch.”

“Dispatch, go ahead.”

“I’m at 52 Patch Lane. Can you confirm this is the address?”

“Stand by.” After about a minute, Dispatch got back on the air. “1034, yes, that’s the correct address. Do you need backup?”

“Negative. It appears no one is home, but I’ll update.”

At this point, I knocked on the front door and announced myself. “Officer Hastings, Amber Forest Police Department!” No answer. All of the windows were closed, so I tried the front door. Locked. I didn’t have any extenuating circumstances that would allow a warrantless entry, so all I could do was leave. There wasn’t even enough for me to write a police report.

“1034 to Dispatch,” I radioed again.

“Dispatch, go ahead.”

“It looks like this house is abandoned. I think the 911 hang up might have been some crossed telephone wires. Clear me from the call with no report.”


I began driving back down the gravel lane when another wave of chills shot through me. I hit my brakes and glanced in my rearview mirror. My brake lights flooded the house in red, and for a split moment I thought I saw someone standing in the window watching me leave. I blinked, and the figure vanished. My intuition had kept me alive this far, but I knew Chief Fox would rip me a new one if I tried to enter that house based on my intuition and faintly seeing shadows. I took a deep breath and convinced my foot to ease off of the brake and back on the gas.

Available on Amazon

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Blog Tour Schedule

December 2nd

Reads & Reels (Spotlight)

Horror Tree (Guest Post)

I’m All About Books (Review)

Kim Knight (Review)

December 3rd

B is for Book Review (Guest Post)

Just 4 My Books (Spotlight)

Scarlett Readz & Runz (Review)

December 4th

The Magic of Wor(l)ds (Interview)

Reading Nook (Spotlight)

J Bronder Book Reviews (Review)

December 5th

Cup of Books Blog (Review)

Read and Rated (Review)

My Comic Relief (Review)

December 6th

Didi Oviatt (Spotlight)

Jessica Belmont (Review)

Dash Fan Book Reviews (Spotlight)

About the Author


S.F. Barkley is a former police officer who uses her law enforcement knowledge and experience along with her love for all things creepy to create short stories and novels. She had several eerie experiences as a cop, including having discovered secret underground tunnels and responding to 911 hang up calls to an abandoned industrial building. She has published short horror stories in various anthologies and is publishing her debut mystery novel, Patch Lane, in October 2019. She was raised in Western Pennsylvania and currently resides in Maryland with her husband and their rescue pup.

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Guest Post: The Personal Connection of Horror Fiction

Horror runs in the blood. In my case, I inherited my love of all things creepy from my folks, who both shared a love for all things macabre. My mother, a diehard Stephen King fan, inspired my love of writing early on, and my father shared his favorite movies with me as a youngster, Jaws, Halloween and The Changeling on regular rotation in my youth. This adoration for all things scary was instilled in me and remains to this day.

Because of this deeply rooted and personal connection to horror, both film and literary, when my father passed away in February of 2019, I was struck with an inescapable feeling of how one approached the existential horror of mortality. That, combined with a sadness I had never felt before, led my mind down the darkest possible rabbit holes it had ever inhabited. My entire worldview shifted, and things that once mattered to me, simply didn’t any longer.

Teaching and working in education had somehow lost its vibrance, working with children, something I truly loved, just didn’t matter anymore. Friendships and relationships suffered. The world had just gotten painfully darker for me.

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was in that darkness that I was able to find solace in writing. I had written a lot in high school and during college, winning a few awards for my original works, and found a modicum of success as a journalist after getting my bachelors, all the while, my parents, specifically, my father, cheered me on, reading and talking about my work as much as humanly possible. Had my father lived to see my first collection of short stories published, he would’ve been my biggest fan and cheerleader, but in many ways, it was in the trauma of losing my father that I was able to put these stories together.

The personal connection to writing horror, for me, had gone far beyond passive fandom. I was staring, every day, into a precipice of despair, and instead of falling fully into it, I decided to put a variety of works together. Short stories, flash fiction, a novella, whatever I had in me, spun into deeply personal, creepy stories that, while being “horror,” had more in common with the general human condition than they did with anything in the Saw or Paranormal Activity flicks. To me, the best horror, whether it be a film, literature, whatever the case may be, is the kind that stays with you, the kind that digs its nails into your very soul or your being. Concepts that play on a human being’s deepest, ugliest insecurities and fears.

Having grown up in an era where it wasn’t cool to be a superhero fan or a fan of weird shit like horror, I know what it’s like to have insecurities. While friends and classmates were having success in sports or with girls, I was busy learning everything I could about the last days of Krypton, or trying to understand why a rich guy from Gotham City would put on a mask, a cape and take out his rage on the thugs that lurked around every corner in his city. I wanted to know and understand Michael Myers, wanted to understand how the devil could possess an innocent child. Over time, I didn’t simply want to know or understand these things, I needed to understand them. Growing up, my friends and I would watch horror movies, and instead of the usual stuff like Friday the 13th, I was trying to show them Rosemary’s Baby, Sweet Home or Willard. Horror was my thing, and I was trying to share it with everyone.

It was in these memories, these concepts of sharing horror with people, that helped bring my first novel, People: A Horror Anthology About Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night, to life. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with this weird collection of stories I was building, but I knew I wanted to share them with as many people as possible. The collection held some very intense stories, many culled from my own feelings and reactions to situations in my life, specifically, the passing of my father in the story The Veil, which is, by far, the hardest for me to re-read after publication.

The stories were horror, but a different kind. They weren’t particularly gory, nor were they about old, haunted Victorian mansions in secluded areas of New England. The stories came out of the human side of horror, for me, and the concepts of how individuals react to that horror. The story, Kiwi, for example, is about a haunted doll, but it’s not about the chaos that doll causes, it’s about the person who created the doll, and how she comes to terms with her connection to it. The horror, in this case, is on the periphery, creeping in at points, but not the focal point. That story, for the record, is about my mother in many ways.

The publication of the book was, now that I look at it, me exorcising many personal demons, as well as putting my emotions out there on a silver platter. I’m fortunate that the response to the book has been largely positive, and, I think very cathartic for some readers. Horror isn’t always a cathartic genre to play around in, but when we let that horror into our beings, and let it take hold, we can use it to tell stories that resonate, stories that help others work through issues, whatever they may be. We can also use horror to work through things in a way that traditional therapy may not be able to help with.

Since writing the book, I’m just about finished with my follow-up and will be taking a similar approach to horror that I did with the first collection, only, instead of relying more on the humanity of the situation, it’ll be more connected to everyday fears. I think in discussing and immersing ourselves in horror, and, to a greater extent, in fear, we understand ourselves better, and, by extension, understand each other better, too.

Plus, scaring people is fun as fuck.

Robert P. Ottone

Robert P. Ottone is an author, teacher, and cigar enthusiast from East Islip, New York. He delights in the creepy. He can be found on Instagram: @RobertOttone, and online at

His debut novel, People: A Horror Anthology About Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night is available now, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as other retailers.

People: A Horror Anthology About Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night Synopsis:

A loner hunts down his best friend’s beastly killer. A man discovers new life in the wake of a personal tragedy. An ancient mystery unfolds in the mountains of upstate New York. In Japan, a spirit finds a connection. A woman finds her new side business is fraught with unexpected terrors. A child makes a friend in an otherworldly boy. A high school prom cruise enters uncharted waters. These stories and more are found within.

Guest Post: Embracing Failure: The Requirements of Growth

Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Baby writers are never all the same. It is just the broad strokes–no sense of marketplaces or paths or realistic goals—that give new writers that patina of predictable and homogeneous. What a baby writer has to offer is, by definition, unique and as yet unrealized.

In my twenties, I spent years on journal writing, along with attempts at poetry and fiction that were all imagination—my imagination—but definitely lacked discipline and craft. I wrote boxes worth of notebook prose and MS Word documents that fizzled out long before I figured out how the hell I could make those mental images, feelings, ideas work on the page. 

Bravery or stupidity? I’m not sure, but for this essay, I decided to actually open some of those earliest documents. Dear Lord. A few were more than enough: recent memories parading as short stories, a partial novel liberally sprinkled with clichéd phrases. It’s not that the writing is bad, though it certainly doesn’t feel like the dance my fingers perform across my current keyboard, the really glaring issue is that my writing back then lacked the experience and confidence to burrow into my fleshy predictions, the creepy, augmented bodies, the rough sensuality and the anger, and, yes, the humor and the pain. Skimming a few stories, I remember the settings and characters I imagined far more than I ever expressed them on the page. Yeah, I most definitely failed.

And then after the gap of a few years and a newborn child, in my early thirties, I tried again. In a nod to bravery or extreme stupidity, this afternoon I dug through some of these files as well. But…but…there was a leap somewhere between my twenties and my thirties that I cannot quite pinpoint. I find my writing from this second period has a much deeper sense of “me.”

I still have fond feelings when I think of the vampiric Christmas tree that a couple of rather creepy characters maintained in the basement of a 1950s split-level. The tree and its guardians(?) acolytes (?) were part of a dark fantasy family saga that included the German art scene from La Belle Epoch through to the Expressionists of the 1920s, along with at least a dozen characters based on actual artists, writers, editors, and gallery owners. 

At around 80,000 words, that novel never moved past incomplete, but my failure stuttered in a different way from earlier attempts. It was almost five years of this baby writer’s work. And despite the historic Berlin photography books, the biographies and old travel guides, despite all that research and so, so many written words, I failed yet again—definitely and spectacularly. This time my stumble involved a years-long explosion of words. All that effort and I could not bring the whole damn project to a satisfactory conclusion. 

Thinking about my failures this afternoon as I write this essay, I have realized a different truth. It took away the wrong lesson from that experience. Allowing myself to judge my Storyman novel and decide that longer works were not within my purview—that, in fact, I was incapable of weaving the various elements of a longer story together—that was the real crime. 

Over those four or five years, I hijacked one of my strongest skills, obsession. I organized my research into categories and summary sheets. From a story perspective, I unwound my imagination’s tangle using spreadsheets, outlines, and whatever the hell else I could think of until I had a stable framework I could work from. 

Failure? Really?

For fucks sake. I did not give up when it got hard. I figured out a new tack to get me across the gap. Sure, the goal was not reached. The novel never came to light, but the way I managed that “failure” deepened my writing practice in a way that only hard-won experience can provide. All those spreadsheets and research notes? Turns out, they are exactly how I continue to manage all fiction writing: short and long. But it is not just the craft skills. Remembering the characters that make up the novel, Achim, Melanie, Theo, along with the Storyman’s contentious (imagined) painting, I feel a dreamy sort of satisfaction. Whatever I did or did not deliver, I clearly scratched a very deep itch. 

But lingering with the same story forever was never my game, which is part of the reason the story got so out of hand, I kept adding “more” and then “even more than that.” At some point, I looked at the unwieldy mess and decided to charge ahead and play with short fiction, a form I’ve always adored reading. As it turned out short fiction is a very different creative discipline and one that both suits my swirling imagination and my urge to experiment with structure. It is my sort of creative fun. In my forties, I have published dozens of short stories, and in 2018, seven years after my first published story, my debut collection UNCOMMON MIRACLES was released.

 But I like to try things. I like to play. It was not my love of short fiction that kept me from attempting another longer work after that first novel “failed.” It was that F word, failure, the weight I gave it, the way it made me flinch. My first longer work, a one-hundred-and-forty-page theological horror novella called THE RAMPANT was just released by Aqueduct Press. But it almost didn’t make it into the light of day. I wrote my initial incomplete draft more than five years ago and then set it aside rather than taking the most difficult of steps: slowly exhaling and continuing to try. 

Why did I finally pick up that partial draft of The Rampant and try again? Why did I allow myself to fail one, two, who the hell knows how many more times without tossing the project? Part of me thinks I finally had the necessary skills, but most of me knows that is not the answer. Somewhere along the way, I finally found the confidence to fail and keep going, fail, and ask for help, fail, and battle with myself until I fought through to the other side. On my best days, I learned to embrace failure. On my worst days, I continued to turn away from failure. But there’s a secret I uncovered somewhere along this writer’s journey; a secret some people find much easier to learn than I did: every day does not have to be the best day. Best days are like happy days, or sunny summer afternoons, you only need enough of them to keep picking yourself up, along with the work you are attempting, and step forward once again.


Synopsis: It’s ten years since the hordes of old-world Sumerian gods arrived in Southern Indiana to kick off the end of the world, but things have not gone to plan. A principal player decided not to show. Now humanity is stuck in a seemingly never-ending apocalypse. Sixteen-year-old Emelia Bareilles and Gillian Halkey are determined to force a change, even though it means traveling into the lands of the dead.

Publishers Weekly described the work as “Equal parts playful and heartbreaking, this apocalyptic novella offers one-of-a-kind answers about the end of the world. Gillian Halkey and Emelia Bareilles, both 16, have spent most of their lives enduring the nightmare of the never-ending rapture. It’s been a decade since the ancient Sumerian gods descended on Indiana, promising that the chosen people would ascend to Nibiru, but the terrifying entity called the Rampant—the last of the Evil Messengers heralding the destruction of civilization—seems to have missed the memo. Until he shows up, the rapture can’t happen. Meanwhile, bored gods are eating people. It’s up to Emelia and Gillian to descend to the Netherworld, using Gillian’s prophetic dreams as guidance, in hopes of liberating the Rampant so the judging can begin and the suffering can end. Mixing a coming-of-age and a second coming, the story is unmatched in its idiosyncrasy. Day conveys genuine empathy for the two young women, who are still learning about themselves (including a sweet crush of Gillian’s), while never relinquishing the archaic fear instilled by the presence of ancient gods and the televangelists who have smoothly pivoted into running the Sumerian Revivalist Church. This clever and surprisingly fun take on the rapture is the perfect theological horror story.”

Available on Amazon.

Julie C. Day

Julie C. Day

Julie C. Day’s dark fantasy novella THE RAMPANT was released this September by Aqueduct Press. She is also the author of the collection UNCOMMON MIRACLES released by PS Publishing in 2018. Her numerous short stories can be found in publications such as Black Static,The Dark & Podcastle. Wearing another, related hat, Julie is co-editor of the charity anthology Weird Dream Society due to be released May 5th, 2020. Proceeds from the anthology will go to RAICES.

Julie lives in a small town in New England with her family and a menagerie of variously sized animals. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program and a M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. You can find her at @thisjulieday or on her blog Café writing and long baths with paper books are also a thing.  

Skin in the Game: When Your Antagonist Goes Viral

Imagine this: Your protagonist is faced with a deadly enemy that can’t be seen, felt, smelled, tasted. Undetectable until it’s way too late. Imagine victims dropping all around him, many with horrible and frightening symptoms and signs. Things like blotchy purple skin rashes, raspy, wheezy breathing, bloody vomiting and diarrhea, confusion or psychotic and aggressive behaviors. Yet the cause of all this mayhem is unseen, and unknown.


How do you identify such an enemy, or defend yourself from it?


Infectious diseases have terrorized the world for centuries. The Black Death was just one, the worst, of the plagues that swept through Medieval Europe. It killed one third, maybe one half, of Europe’s population. With many of the above symptoms. The meager state of medical care—-or understanding—in 1350 could do little. The church was equally impotent.


Imagine the terror that gripped the entirety of Europe. What caused these horrible things to happen? Was it bad air, some miasma? Was it spread by one group or another? Was it punishment for your sins?


Where could you go to avoid the plague? What could you do to protect yourself and your family? Who could you turn to? What would you do if an infected stranger appeared at your door? Would you trust your local officials or pray to a God that let this happen?


There were no heroes available at that time.


But there have been, and are, other plagues that are more modern and equally as deadly. The 1918 flu claimed millions of lives around the world. Now we have such pleasant afflictions as HIV, Ebola, and the Marburg virus. Besides, isn’t the coming Zombie Apocalypse due to an errant virus?


Scary stuff.


The Plague was caused by a bacterium that today is easily treated with antibiotics. Drugs that weren’t available in the 14th century. Okay, great, The Black Death can’t happen today. Not so fast. What about viruses? Things like Ebola and Marburg. We have little effective testament for these guys. So, a new Black Death is always possible. And as the world turns, new creatures are evolving. A series of simple mutations could easily produce the next pandemic and yet again kill off half the population. In fact, it probably will someday. History repeats itself.


And such an unseen enemy can make for a nearly perfect fictional antagonist. I mean, you can flash a mirror, or cross, at Dracula, or fire a silver bullet into the Wolfman, or simply run from Frankenstein—he wasn’t very fleet of foot. Godzilla stomping your city to rubble creates different, but not insurmountable, problems.


But where do you hide from a virus?


I’ve practiced medicine for over forty years and I can say without doubt that the greatest stress placed on any human is when they face death, disease, or injury. There are so many unknowns and the feeling of helplessness is universal. The same is true if the sufferer is a parent, child, or loved one. It produces anxiety on a very basic and visceral level.


This innate fear of death and disease is part of the human experience. And excellent fodder for thriller writing. Sure Frankenstein and Godzilla are scary, but what about an unseen, unavoidable, untreatable enemy? One that has no boundaries, permeating the air you breath, the water you drink, the loved one you hug. There is nowhere to hide since the miasma can creep beneath your door.


It doesn’t bite, or maul, or stomp, or any of those physical things, but rather attacks from within. By the time the victim realizes something is wrong, it’s often too late to fix. Or worse, there is no fix.


Infectious processes have been the subject of many thrillers, both written and cinematic. Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain (1971) was an early example. An organism comes from outer space and kills quickly. Earthlings have no defense. Just as Europeans had no defense when the Black Death appeared. Others include The Cassandra Crossing (1976), 28 Days Later (2002), and Outbreak (1995).


Thrillers need a resilient, believable, relentless, deadly, seemingly-unstoppable antagonist. An unseen infectious creature that attacks from within fits the bill.



The Black Death:


1918 Flu:


D. P. Lyle, MD

D.P. Lyle is the Amazon #1 Bestselling; Macavity and Benjamin Franklin Award-winning; and Edgar(2), Agatha, Anthony, Shamus, Scribe, and USA Today Best Book(2) Award-nominated author of 18 books, both non-fiction and fiction (the Samantha Cody, Dub Walker, Jake Longly, and Cain/Harper thriller series and the Royal Pains media tie-in series). Along with Jan Burke, he was the co-host of Crime and Science Radio and hosts the podcast series Criminal Mischief. He has served as story consultant to many novelists and the screenwriters of shows such as Law & Order, CSI: Miami, Diagnosis Murder, Monk, Judging Amy, Peacemakers, Cold Case, House, Medium, Women’s Murder Club, 1-800-Missing, The Glades, and Pretty Little Liars.




Criminal Mischief Podcast Series:

Crime & Science Radio:–science-radio.html

Raised as siblings by an itinerant “gypsy” family, knife expert Bobby Cain, trained by the US military in the lethal art of covert eliminations, and Harper McCoy, nurtured by the US Navy and the CIA to run black ops and wage psychological warfare, are now civilians. Of a sort. Employing the skills learned from the “family” and their training, they now fix the unfixable. Case in point: Retired General William Kessler hires the duo to track down his missing granddaughter, a Vanderbilt University co-ed. Their search leads them to a small, bucolic, lake-side town in central Tennessee and into a world of prostitution, human trafficking, and serial murder. The question then becomes: Will their considerable skills be enough for Cain and Harper to save the young woman, and themselves, from a sociopath with “home field” advantage, a hunter’s skills, and his own deeply disturbing agenda?

Guest Post: The Evolution of Requiem in Frost

It’s 2016. I’m struggling with a novel project—a big, epic dystopian fantasy that I have no clue where I’m taking. I have a big list of short stories I want to eventually write, but I don’t make time for them because I’m too fixated on this novel. A simple story idea occurs to me one cold winter day: a little girl moves into a house haunted by the ghost of a black metal musician. I imagine it being oddly funny and heart-warming, but I don’t have time for it now. I must heed the call of the novel and its ever-reproducing plot holes. The girl and her ghost are banished to the black hole that is my “Story Ideas” Word file.


Flash-forward to 2017. The girl and her ghost are swirling in the “Story Ideas” void, seemingly never to return. I audition for’s “The Next Great Horror Writer” Contest and am accepted, becoming one of fourteen eligible contestants. Every few weeks, we have another writing challenge to compete in—from a horror romance poem to a blog post. In June, hostess Emerian Rich tasks us with writing a music-themed short story. Out of nowhere, I remember the girl and her black metal ghost, and get to work immediately. With that, Requiem in Frost is born, escaping the void as few other ideas can.


It’s hard pairing the story down to fit the word count requirements, but in the end, I turn in a rough draft I’m proud of, and feel connected to. I don’t win that challenge—that honor goes to the amazing Naching T. Kassa—but I do score reasonably well and get a brief mention on the podcast.


I do eventually win the contest as a whole, earning a novel contract with Crystal Lake Publishing and a short story contract deal with They choose Requiem in Frost as the story to publish under their Horror Bites imprint. I’m more than happy for a chance to share the story with people, and also for the chance to expand it past the 5,000-word limit.


Flash-forward to 2019. I’ve edited the story, turned in my draft, and gotten notes back from both Emerian and Naching (who is now working for Their feedback is hugely helpful, and I use it as a guide to whip the story into even better shape. Certain scenes get expanded; others are trimmed. They suggest Ingrid be aged up a bit, and I agree. Eventually, we get it into its final draft.


What I’m getting at here is that even for a short story, writing is a long, multi-year process. And when that story is finally out, it feels amazingly good to share it with others.


I’m stoked that I’ll finally be able to share Requiem in Frost with you after all this time.

BLACK METAL LIVES! Located in the deep frostbitten woods of Norway, Ingrid’s new home is old, spooky, and possibly haunted. Guttural screams wake Ingrid and her mother nightly. When they discover the shrieks belong to deceased former occupant and extreme metal musician, Skansi Oppegård, Ingrid investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Hoping to exorcise Skansi’s ghost, she talks her mom into being part of a metal band. Oppegård’s last musical creation awakens forces beyond Ingrid’s understanding and causes Skansi’s murderer to resurface. In the battle between a madman and zombies, metal may be the only weapon she has. Available on Amazon.

Jonathan Fortin

Jonathan Fortin is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus (coming December 2019 from Crystal Lake Publishing) and Nightmarescape (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian gentleman, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.   

10 Most Hated Zombie Clichés

Okay, maybe hate is a strong word – how about “over-used”? When I decided to write my zombie novel, Body Farm Z, the first thing I did was make a list of every trope I wanted to avoid. I checked online for other people’s opinions too. Only then did I start blocking out my plot. And guess what? I still have that handwritten list in my novel’s research folder. Here’s my opinion – and yours may differ – on the ten most well-worn clichés:


  1. The apocalypse happens in the USA


Americans are incredibly adept at documenting their own culture. The West is dominated by their movies, TV shows and fiction. (Which are often terrific – I’m not complaining.) So, no surprise that almost all zombie stories are set on US soil. This cliché was easy to sidestep because I’m an Aussie. The events in Body Farm Z play out in an area just a few hours’ drive northeast of my home, in the bushland that lies beyond metropolitan Melbourne.


  1. Cities, supermarkets and shopping malls


Of course, I get it: setting zombie stories in urban environments gives the writer a lot of scope. With access to food, cars and guns, the characters have options. But I decided to set my story in an isolated facility without a street address. To find my forensic body farm, you need to key its longitude and latitude into your GPS – but only a limited number of people know the coordinates.


  1. Superhuman strength in a rotting body


As a health and medical writer for many years, this one bugs me. A fit man in his prime could no more fight his way out of a buried coffin than leap over a tall building in a single bound. Not only that, the decay process begins soon after death, which means a zombie would automatically be weaker than the average living person. I kept biology in mind while I was writing, and considering my fascination with human physiology, did I have a choice?


  1. Characters can’t outrun a shuffling corpse


Generally speaking, people don’t tend to fall over very often. Can you remember the last time you took a spill? Yet able-bodied characters in zombie stories are forever tripping up so they can lie screaming on the floor while zombies converge. Twisted ankle, anybody? It’s a well-worn and hoary staple of horror movies overall. I’m sure that no one in Body Farm Z falls over. Pretty sure, anyway.


  1. The ubiquitous chainsaw


This one is right up there with the cliché of never-ending bullets. Actually, one of my characters happens to own a chainsaw – he’s the caretaker at the body farm, which is set in the bush with plenty of eucalypts, paperbark and wattle trees – but uh-oh, the chainsaw is unfortunately at the shop getting repaired when all hell breaks loose. What a shame.  


  1. The defence forces are defenceless


The military forces, particularly in the US, are well-armed and formidable…until a zombie apocalypse occurs. Then, the military is next to useless or, even worse, somehow complicit. Happily, I didn’t have to worry about this cliché. The action in Body Farm Z occurs at the facility and takes place fast – over the course of just two hours.


  1. A bitten character hides their infection


There are variations, including a character hiding from the other survivors that their loved one – typically a spouse or child – is infected from a zombie bite. I turned this cliché on its head. When one of my main characters becomes “zombified”, cataloguing the stages of transformation using his own deteriorating point-of-view both challenged and satisfied me.


  1. The annoying guy who always takes charge


Ah yes, the character you apparently love to hate. His ultimate death-by-zombie is supposed to make you cheer. I avoided this trope completely. Along the same lines, I didn’t have any characters making overtly stupid decisions. (How many times have we seen the girl in a house of horrors run upstairs instead of out the front door?)


  1. Oh no, the real monsters are actually us


Many zombie stories are an allegory for the breakdown of society. And while it was a cool theme at first, the notion that “humans are the scourge of the earth” is now commonplace. (I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of being told I’m some kind of parasite.) My take was to internalise the zombie allegory and explore a range of psychological issues such as identity, self-image, sanity, family relationships, and social isolation.


  1. “What the hell are those things?”


Oh man, this is my greatest bugbear – how come characters in a zombie story don’t have any idea what zombies are? What alternate universe are they living in? Half the plot is taken up with the characters trying to figure out what we, the readers and viewers, already know. In Body Farm Z, the first time a zombie appears, one of my characters yells, “It’s a zombie!” And soon after comes the sage advice, “Shoot it in the fucking head!”


Available on: Amazon

To solve murders, you must understand the process of decomposition. Australia’s newest body farm, the Victorian Taphonomic Experimental Research Institute, is hidden in bushland some four hours’ drive from Melbourne. Scattered across its 150 acres are human donor cadavers and pig carcasses arranged to mimic some of the ways in which police might find murder victims: exposed to the elements, buried in a shallow grave, wrapped in tarpaulin. Forensic scientists and graduate students meticulously track each stage of putrefaction. Today, Detective Rick Evans of the Homicide Squad is at VITERI for the re-creation of one of his cold cases. A human donor will be locked inside a car. But the donor has other ideas… So begins a facility-wide outbreak of the reanimated dead.

Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum. Some of her titles include the horror novels Body Farm Z, Contrition, and Devil Dragon; the horror novella Thylacines; and the collections Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories, and the award-winning Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (Australian Shadows “Best Collected Work 2017”). Her short fiction has appeared in Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Breach, AntipodeanSF and many other well-respected magazines. Her fiction has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts, feature articles, non-fiction books, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing. Visit her at

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