Monday, November 28, 2022

Book Review: The Bighead by Edward Lee

 "The Bighead" by Edward Lee

"The Bighead'll get you if you don't watch out."

Normally I give a premise about the story I'm reviewing. This time though, I have no words to even form one. What and the actual f*ck did I just read 🤮. 

If you're a fan of backwoods Appalachia and movies like Wrong Turn and possess NOT A SINGLE TRIGGER in your soul, then this is the gory story for you. 

Written in alternating points of you, with some serious redneck twang thrown inside, you have a handful of characters that make up the story of the Bighead. The sections of story that focus on Dicky and Balls made me cackle uncontrollably. They were absolutely vile and I should not have been as amused as I was by them 🤣. 

The Priest was a character I also really found enjoyment from. Those dreams of his... whew!! 🥵😱🤣. I really liked that he didn't fit your typical stereotype and he told things the way they were, there was no sugar coating from him. 

The Bighead himself was so incredibly disgusting. Lee really out did himself with that character and I've since decided that if I'm in the mood to just be grossed out and offended, Lee is the author to pull from my shelf. 

The violence and depravity inside this story make it one of the most explicit books I have ever read. It crosses every line and includes every imaginable trigger. I could feel my face scrunching in sheer disgust. After finishing this I have but one question... where did the idea for this story come from? 😱🧐🤣

"But Ned didn't have much choice, did he? God evidently wasn't home."

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Interview with Author Kimberly G. Giarratano about Death of a Dancing Queen
Today I'm welcoming back Across the Board blogger alumni, Kimberly G. Giarratano to talk about her latest book, DEATH OF A DANCING QUEEN. The book releases February 14, 2023, but you can preorder it right now. Check out Kimberly's website or the bottom of this post for purchase links:

Before I pummel Kimberly with questions, here's a little information about her upcoming book:

A female Jewish P.I finds herself involved in a deadly gang war while looking for a murder suspect in this new own voices crime novel.

After her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Billie Levine revamped her grandfather’s private investigation firm and set up shop in the corner booth of her favorite North Jersey deli hoping the free pickles and flexible hours would allow her to take care of her mom and pay the bills. So when Tommy Russo, a rich kid with a nasty drug habit, offers her a stack of cash to find his missing girlfriend, how can she refuse? At first, Billie thinks this will be easy earnings, but then her missing person's case turns into a murder investigation and Russo is the detective bureau’s number one suspect. 

Suddenly Billie is embroiled in a deadly gang war that’s connected to the decades-old disappearance of a famous cabaret dancer with ties to both an infamous Jewish mob and a skinhead group. Toss in the reappearance of Billie’s hunky ex-boyfriend with his own rap sheet, and she is regretting every decision that got her to this point.Becoming a P.I. was supposed to solve her problems. But if Billie doesn’t crack this case, the next body the police dredge out of the Hudson River will be hers.

Karissa: You and I are both Gen X, and I know Gen X culture plays a lot into your books. For example, the title of one of your earlier books was Grunge Gods and Graveyards, which is set in the height of the Grunge Music era of the late 90s.  I've seen some early blurbs about Death of a Dancing Queen in which someone calls Billie, your MC, a "Jewish Veronica Mars." The reference to Veronica Mars alone suggests this book might also have something to do with your Gen X roots. Is that the case, and if so, can you tell us more about how Veronica Mars, and/or your Gen X upbringing, influenced or inspired this book?

KimberlyTo be fair, I'm the one who labeled it a "Jewish Veronica Mars" because it is. I love Veronica Mars and after the show went off the air (and I'm including the Hulu season in this timeline), I was desperate for readalikes. I read Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Sara Paretsky, Kristen Lepionka, and Rachel Howzell Hall. I even read the two VM novels by Rob Thomas. Eventually, I decided to have fun and write my own savvy, wry private eye. I always entertain myself first. Hence, Billie Levine was born. So while I'm Gen X, and you're Gen X, Billie is squarely Gen Z. She's in her twenties and figuring life out. Like we all did at that age.

Karissa I highlighted you previously in a post about Jewish YA authors.  The blurb for Dancing Queen starts out referencing the fact that Billie is Jewish.  How important is Jewish representation for you in your novels, and how much do your own cultural and religious experiences play into your writing (in general and/or for this novel specifically)?

KimberlyWithin 20 seconds of meeting me, you will know that I am a Jewish girl from New Jersey. I don't know if I mean to lead with that, I just do. So naturally, any female protagonist I write is going to be a Jewish girl. My family is also from New York. We're the quintessential Ashkenazi Jews. Immigrated to the US from the Pale of Settlement around the Russian Revolution, settled on the Lower East Side. We use smatterings of Yiddish, and I can't watch any TV or movie without jumping on Wikipedia to see which actor is Jewish. I grew up with a ton of Jewish kids. My Judaism is going to come out no matter what, so I might as well intentionally put it in my novels. It's fun to be seen.
Karissa:  What's one thing we haven't talked about, specific to this book, that you might want readers to know?

KimberlyNew Jersey is a wonderfully diverse state, not just in terms of people, but geography. We have the beach, mountains, industry, and a crapton of farmland. We also have ridiculously high property taxes which is why I moved to Pennsylvania many years ago. I don't miss the traffic. I don't miss the congestion. I do miss access to shopping and noshing. That said, if you want to feel like you're in New Jersey, read this book. It'll be like you're there.

Karissa: Let's get a little behind the scenes. Tell me about the process of writing it and finding a publisher for it. 

KimberlyHa! Yes, let's. I wrote this in 2019 and 2020. Long story short, I had queried my now agent with a different project that was going to acquisitions at a big publisher but was sadly passed on. My agent asked me to query her again with my new project (DEATH), which I did. I actually wrote 30K words in one month, trying to get it finished for querying. And she offered on it! Yay! (I love my agent.) Anyway, we went back to that publisher and said, "You invited her to submit new work, how about this?" And while the editor was kind and complimentary, she was honest: they had a hard time selling private eye fiction to their readers, so they ultimately passed. Truth is, I got to acquisitions at another big publisher and got rejected guessed it, female-led PI fiction is a hard sell. I was told my book was too gritty for their readers, too light for others. Anyway, fast forward a year, and my agent hears that Angry Robot Books is starting a new crime fiction imprint. She submitted DEATH, and my editor loved it. And I love her. I am so grateful for her faith in me and my work. Now, go buy the book so I can prove all those other pubs wrong.

Karissa: Tell me about the gorgeous cover. I always love hearing about authorial input, if there is any.

KimberlyThat cover is so cool, right? In person, it's even more beautiful because it's hot pink and has foil letters. It took a lot of iterations to get to that point. Interesting tidbit, UK covers for mystery and crime thrillers are really different from American ones for a reason. I showed my publisher covers that I liked from crime fiction books in the US and she said, "Those don't scream crime fiction." But she was so open to my thoughts. The first covers had a more noir look to them. Think muted colors, but I am not a muted person. There was one cover that I loved, but it didn't lend itself to branding, and we're all hoping this will become a series. With that in mind, we wanted a cover style that could be replicated for future books. And who doesn't love hot pink?

Karissa: I'll just come out and say I admire you a lot, your tenacity and ambition. I'm at the point right now where I'm struggling to stay with it--"it" being not just the writing but the hustle that goes with it. What drives you and keeps you full of passion after this many years of being an author?

KimWow, thank you. Honestly, I don't think of myself as tenacious at all. And definitely not ambitious. It takes me forever to do anything. I just know that I can't not write. I need the outlet. I guess the thing that keeps me going is wanting to share my art. Like, hey, I made this thing, and I want you to read it. But also, don't criticize me because I'm sensitive. Isn't being an artist grand? Also, I don't know if I am full of passion. I just don't know how to do other things. Believe me, if someone was giving out talent, I'd ask to be a singer or polyglot or something. Ugh, who wants to be a writer? It's demoralizing by its very nature. I don't think this answer helped anyone.

KarissaI disagree. Getting inside the minds of other writers is always helpful/useful to me as I deal with my own authorial brain weasels. It's nice to know other authors have similar thoughts and feelings to my own. Okay, getting back to the book specifically--I have become an absolute audiobook junkie over the last two or three years.  Do you know if there are any plans for Death of a Dancing Queen becoming an audiobook any time soon?

KimberlyYES! YES! YES! It's my first audiobook, and I got to select the narrator! I'm so excited. 

Karissa: My last question has nothing to do with books or writing, but, since today is Thanksgiving, would you mind sharing how you celebrate (assuming you do) and tell us the one food that you can't go without at a Thanksgiving meal? Mine is my Granny B's dressing. She has passed on, but it's not Thanksgiving without her dressing, and thankfully my mom and aunt make pretty dependable replicas of it in my Grandmother's absence.

KimberlyWe're going to my in-laws in Howell, New Jersey. I bring homemade cranberry sauce, and my husband makes his grandma's sausage stuffing. My favorite dish is green bean casserole, but since I am the only one who eats it, we skip it. Sad face. Italian T-day is a trip because there's more turkey than people.

Karissa: Look, I'm not going to lie...I don't mind a good green bean casserole. I don't know why they get so much hate. As long as they're hot and not too soggy or soupy, I will happily put it on my plate.

Thanks for joining me today, Kimberly, and letting me pick your brain about your new book.

DEATH OF A DANCING QUEEN is available now at these fine retailers:

Monday, November 21, 2022

Synergy in the UK

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  Hope all's going well with you.

I am ankles, knees, and hip-deep in NaNoWriMo right now, so you'll forgive me I hope if I'm brief and don't do my scheduled Google Search this month.  In case you're wondering, I'm working on a gonzo mashup of my own THE HEMATOPHAGES and my writing partner Wile E. Young's THE MAGPIE COFFIN.  Watch this space for more info!

But while that is all going on, I can tell you about two big time opportunities to cram some more Kozeniewski down your eye-gullets, and who wouldn't want that?  First, BROKEN-DOWN HEROES OF THE WESTERN NIGHT is free from Veteran's Day through the end of November.  So go grab yourself a copy.

And second, BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS is on sale for $0.99 via the magical powers of BookBub.  Now, this was purely happenstance (one can never predict when the BookBub gods will drop a deal in your lap) but I've never had a book on sale and another free simultaneously before.  So I was interested to see how (or if) those two opportunities would synergize.

But it seems as though...checks notes...the good peoples of these United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are thrilled with the opportunity.  Earlier this week BROKEN-DOWN HEROES hit #1 on the U.S. Humorous Literature list and so far today I've hit #1 on Canada's Post-Apocalyptic list and #1 on...well, just about every list there is in the UK.

Well, three, anyway.  So thanks for all the support everybody, and if you haven't already, grab yourself a copy of one of these books which I now feel confident in calling veritable institutions on Amazon.  And I will talk to you all for real next month after I emerge from my NaNo hole.  Toodles!

Monday, November 14, 2022

Monster Madness

We're approaching the end of another year, and this always makes me a little nostalgic. This post is basically going to be a rundown of my favourite monster from movies this year - now, that doesn't mean that all of these creatures are from movies released this year, just that they're from movies I watched or re-watched through 2022. Enjoy their smiling little faces!

No monster list is complete without gremlins... from Gremlins. I love them so much. Gremlins is one of my Top 3 Christmas movies - I watch it every year! I love their design - they have cat faces with bat wing ears, and the movies still hold up now. Just goes to show what I always say - you can't beat practical effects!

I love them for their cheekiness and their weird, mean-spirited humour. Spike blowing his nose in the curtains before barreling out of the window always cracks me up, as does them saying 'yum yum' every time they find a snack. And don't even start me on the side-splitting hilarity of that horrible old lady opening the door to find a row of gremlins carol-singing on her doorstep, complete with song books, hats, and scarves!

The Thing from John Carpenter's The Thing. Whatever twisted, gross form it presents itself in, it's hideous and scary, and I love it. Once again, you simply cannot have a monster list without including this. It's up there in the best monsters ever made, along with Alien and An American Werewolf in London. Here's a second cheer to practical effects.

The creature/deity from The Ritual. This was so weird and cool and creepy - it really freaks me out! I was nervous watching this movie because I'm a huge fan of the book, and as they were building up the monster reveal I kept worrying that they were going to completely screw it up. But they didn't... oh boy, they didn't! Thank the Dark Lord!

The graboids from Tremors. Once again, amazing practical effects that still hold up, and such cool monsters. Tremors is a perfect film and that is a hill I'm prepared to die on. Contrary to the usual monster movie where people are running around like idiots, making terrible decisions that make you sigh with frustration, this movie is iron-clad. The audience is made aware early on that something dangerous is lurking underground, but the main characters aren't, which is great for tension-building. We learn what the rules of the graboids are before they do, which ups the ante every time we see a character unknowingly do something that could attract them. When the characters DO realise there's something amiss, they're making all the logical and smart decisions, but their attempts are thwarted because the graboids are also smart and adaptable. Honestly, this is a perfect movie. Fight me.

And last, but by no means least, it's the critters from Critters. I love these savage little guys, I really love them. They're like demon-possessed hedgehogs. They're so funny and I love that they have their own language. The best thing about this movie for me is that as ridiculous as the actual monsters might seem, it's played straight. The characters are reacting to them like the characters in Alien react to the xenomorphs. I guess it's an oldie now, but it's a goodie, and I'd recommend seeing it if you haven't treated yourself to it yet!

That's all from me - see you next month for my final post of the year!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Popping My Horror Cherry



For years, fellow writers have been telling me to write horror. Most of my writer friends are horror writers, and the vast majority of my personal library is filled with Horror and Science Fiction. It's been a favorite genre of mine for decades. Yet, I just couldn't seem to sit down and write one myself. The reasoning I had behind it was....what if it's not scary enough?

Well, when the pandemic hit and I didn't work for three months, I finally took the plunge and began my very first Horror novel, titled 'Pendulum.' This past October, it finally became published. Since it's my first of this genre, I have been exceedingly nervous about how it would be received, especially among my peers. It's still new, so I haven't gotten a ton of reviews yet, but I sold over 100 copies in my first week, which is really great for a self-published writer like me. 

So, I'm taking this opportunity to serve it up to you folks on a platter. Follow the link below to get your copy. And please, be gentle! It's my first time!

Monday, November 7, 2022

There's more to a story than plot

Hey everyone! It's NaNaWriMo (that's National Novel-Writing Month to those of y'all who don't spend all your time around writers, in which case, congratulations), which means a lot of folks are whipping out their word processors with the goal of pouring out a novel in one month. Me? I'm using it as motivation to finish the manuscript I started in September. And I've realized there's a problem with it: It's all plot.

These days, it feels like entertainment culture is more obsessed with plot than ever, with people screaming left and right about spoilers every time a major (or sometimes not even that major) new movie is released. As if knowing a single plot point could ruin the whole experience.

Meanwhile, I was on an old movie kick recently and ended up watching some black-and-white trailers. And you know what? They often spelled out the plot. What we would consider spoilers, these mid-century ads considered selling points. Come see this or that movie star do such-and-such in this film!

Which makes sense considering movies evolved from theater, where knowing what happens before the show starts is commonplace. No one goes to see Romeo and Juliet without knowing how it ends. Opera audiences get a whole synopsis in their programs.

To obsess over spoilers to such an extent that knowing how something will happen "ruins" the experience is to say that plot is the only thing that matters in a story. Never mind charming character moments, or exquisitely rendered scenes, or rich world building.

But I find that often, those are what make a story stick, and plot is the road that carries you through. I don't only want to know what happens - I want to get to know another world and the people in it.

With my current WIP, my goal was to keep the word count lean for a change (I'm known for spewing out 120k-word behemoths). And so far, I've been trying to accomplish that by being as efficient as possible with each scene - sticking with the outline and getting across what happens as quickly as possible.

But I think I've swung too far in the other direction... in trying to go lean, I've ended up with a skeleton. I'm nearly halfway through my outline, and I find I am struggling to connect with my own characters. And I realize it's because I've reduced them to names on notecards moving down a timeline of beats. 

Last month, our very own Victor Catano wrote in praise of filler, and I was totally nodding along as I read it. I've known for ages that, when it comes to the books I read or the TV/movies I watch, it's often the "pointless" moments I like best - the banter, the random character moments.

So I'll be revisiting my manuscript with the express goal of adding "filler" and giving my characters actual lives, instead of just having them focus on my outline the entire time. I'll probably finish my current skeletal draft first just to have something more to work with, but I can already tell a lot will need to be rewritten.

They say all writing is rewriting anyway.

Thursday, November 3, 2022


 A week or so ago on Twitter B.E. (Before Elon), a TikTok video made the rounds. 

In it, a young Zennial (or whatever the proper term for a teen-early 20’s person is these days) is trying to get her Gen-X mom to get rid of her piles of CDs. Mom is not having it. 

As Mom goes on to explain “I got rid of my albums, and then they came back… I am not doing this again.” But moooom, I can find a song digitally faster than you can open a CD. “No. I don’t remember the songs that I like. I like seeing them and going ‘Oh, I like Oingo Boingo.’”

Now, I am sure the intent of the young person was to show how crazy her Mom was, hanging on to her hunks of plastic rather than ripping them into the cloud, but the internet comments I saw were squarely on her side. (And also gave her props for liking Oingo Boingo.)

That last comment especially gets to the heart of it. After a summer full of headlines about various media companies pulling content off their platforms, there’s been a heightened awareness about the drawbacks of getting everything out of the cloud.

When you buy a book or a movie digitally, you don’t actually own it. You own a license that lets you view a product on a platform for an indefinite period of time. So if Amazon loses the rights to that particular edition or version, yoink! It can disappear from your playlist or library without warning. Ironically, one of the first times this came to light was over an edition of 1984 that Amazon secretly deleted from their customer’s libraries.  

Oh, did you expect our corporate overlords will maintain and curate a library of classics for us out of the goodness of their blackened hearts? As the new overlords of HBO spent all summer reminding us, they consider tax breaks to be more important than happy consumers. They deleted a Batgirl movie (featuring Michael Keaton returning as Batman, no less!) that now no one will ever get to see because they wanted a tax write off. They purged hundreds of episodes of cartoons without warning, leaving the creators scrambling to get hard copies of their work. (HBO even nuked the clips off of YouTube, which meant the animators had literally nothing to point to for examples of their work.)

Now, I am not about to stop streaming and delete all my kindle books and turn off Netflix. I have literally had a cheap bookshelf collapse under the weight of books I piled onto it. (And good thing I wasn’t asleep at the time, because that one was next to my side of the bed.) I love the convenience of being able to buy a book or get one out of the library while sitting on the couch. I love having the ability to stream just about anything that strikes my fancy. 


There are still lots of things you can’t stream or download. Like one of my favorite books ever, Hot Seat by Frank Rich. It’s a collection of theatre reviews by one of the best in the business and essential reading for any fan of Broadway from the latter part of the 20th century. It’s out of print and not available on kindle. Same for one of my Mom’s favorite weird books, The California Coven Project. I hung onto my VHS copies of Ladyhawke and the Rankin-Bass Hobbit for years because they weren’t available in any other format. Oh, and good luck finding one of the very best TV shows of the 90s, Homicide: Life on the Streets, in any format anywhere. And that’s not even getting into the special features on DVDs that aren’t available on streaming - like commentary tracks and Making Of featurettes and deleted scenes.

And music! There are a ton of CDs in my rack that aren’t available elsewhere. Bands I saw in college, waaay before the dawn of Napster, that I bought a CD from at the merch table. Musicals, jazz groups, local bands, none of which have been popular enough to make a leap to streaming. 

So no, I will not be ditching all of my DVDs or CDs either. Like the mom in the TikTok video, I too will be hanging onto my old music. 

Now let’s hear some Oingo Boingo!

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