This is a short, fast-paced collection of stories that are all set in the Big (Bad) Apple: New York City. The city that Grech puts forth is a dirty, gritty, crime-ridden landscape filled with equally grimy people. I found the characters to be a reflection of the harshness that you can find (if you dare to go looking) in the dark corners of the city itself.
Once you happen upon these people and inhabit their world, what you see is basically what you get, and I'm warning you, it isn't going to be pretty. The characters are very surface-level and up front about their desires. Like walking id monsters, they constantly give into their basest desires, but who can really blame them? That's what the city has taught them to do.
This city certainly isn't the shiny facade that tourists see, it is the dark underbelly, now exposed. Grech digs deep to imagine, what if?, and then shoves us into our darkest nightmares at full throttle.
The stories are definitely horror, but they also tilt toward suspense and crime noir, if a grittier version. There is an old-world tilt to the mannerisms and dialogue that kept me wondering whether the stories were modern or if they might be set in an earlier time. There are surprises to be found here, whether you are a New York native or whether you've never visited.
And now for a special interview with the author, Amy Grech! She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association who has sold over 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines and lives in (where else!) Brooklyn, NYC.
First, for a few easy warm-up questions:
Shelf Stalker: What are you currently reading?
Amy Grech: I just started reading The Drafter by Kim Harrison. It’s white-knuckle science fiction!
SS: Can you choose three favorite authors? Why those authors?
AG: Franz Kafka, Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft. I first read Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in college and was fascinated by his seamless melding of elements of realism and the fantastic; themes of alienation and classism were prominent in his work. H.P. Lovecraft and I actually share a birthday, August 20th, different centuries, of course! I was also introduced to his work in college, most notably, Call of the Cthulhu. Like Kafka, Lovecraft’s work explored alienation and classism, as well as forbidden knowledge, non-human influences on humanity, fate, religion, and superstition; all fascinating themes. Stephen King is my biggest influence. An aunt introduced me to his novels when I was 12. I started with Cujo and have been hooked ever since!
SS: If you could pick one book to read again for the first time, what would it be, and why?
AG: Definitely A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It was the first book that I recall reading that transported me to another time and place. I remember being so engrossed in the story that I read it in one sitting, eager to see how it ended. . . The intricate, complex story focused on the battle between good and evil, free will, and so much more!
SS: And just to round it off: If you had a superpower, what would it be?
AG: I’d have to pick invisibility. . . So many possibilities! I could come and go as I please undetected, I could observe a real-life murder or two up close to see how long it takes victims to die after being shot or stabbed, research for my writing, before snatching the murder weapon from the bad guy and scaring the shit out of him!
SS: Now we’ll get down to the book!
All the stories in this book are set in New York City, which is where you currently live. How did your experience of living in NYC influence the book?
AG: The stories take place in various NYC neighborhoods I have come to know and love over the past twenty years: Alphabet City, Central Park, Hell’s Kitchen, and the Upper East Side.
The lead novella, “Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City,” features a gritty Alphabet City of yesteryear, where buildings were covered with garish graffiti, crime dominated the streets, and young lives were snuffed out with reckless abandon. A devious eye doctor sets his sights on the wrong girl and murderous mayhem ensues when her older sister lures him back to her apartment, where their father is waiting to deliver his own harsh brand of redemption.
Most of the action in “.38 Special,” transpires in a garage and involves a snub-nosed revolver, a lively few rounds of Russian roulette, a cuckolded husband, his best friend, and a most unexpected outcome. I wrote this story after I watched The Deer Hunter and was licking my wounds after breaking up with my first serious college boyfriend.
“Cold Comfort” is set in NYC’s posh Upper East Side and Central Park, a soothing pocket of calm in a whirlwind of chaos. It’s a tragic tale about love and betrayal; the end has surprise twist. . .
“Prevention” is set in Hell’s Kitchen—another section of NYC with a rich history of violence—where murderous, identical twins help their dear mother into and out of trouble. One of my good friends used to live in Hell’s Kitchen, so I became well-acquainted with all of its dark secrets. . .
SS: Where there any books or movies that helped you while you wrote?
AG: I watched a lot of Discovery ID--Lt. Joe Kenda—I love his deadpan stare, to get a crash course on how crime scenes are processed. Old episodes of Dr. G. Medical Examiner were informative as far as learning how autopsies are performed.
SS: What is your writing process like?
AG: For shorter works, I go where my muse takes me! Sometimes, I start with a title, like “Dead Eye,” and build the characters around it, or I’ll start with a place, like Hell’s Kitchen, in NYC and go from there. For the novellas I keep several pages of notes, which is a new way to work for me, but it’s actually extremely helpful!
Some writers need complete silence to be productive but I’m the opposite: I find that listening to music while I work helps me get into the zone—that magical place where time ceases to exist and it’s just me and my characters off on grand adventures!
SS: I noticed that a lot of the characters have blue eyes. Any specific reason for that?
AG: Yes, both my brother and mother have blue eyes, so I’ve been around blue-eyed people my entire life—I find the color to be extremely soothing as well!
SS: I’m work in publishing myself, so I’m always interested in author’s publishing experience. What was the process like with New Pulp Press? How did you end up with them?
AG: After I finished Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City, I started researching publishers and stumbled upon New Pulp Press. An author I know, Ed Kurtz, published a crime book with them a few years ago. After checking out their website I thought I’d be a good fit, so I pitched the book and they agreed! The staff at New Pulp Press are great! They let me choose the cover from a few mock-ups, it dares you to read the book, and they offer a substantial 60% discount on author’s copies!
SS: I feel that horror is an undervalued genre. What draws you to horror and other dark fiction and why do you want to write in the genre?
AG: I started writing seriously in high school after reading several of Stephen King’s novels; I was hooked on horror at the tender age of twelve when an aunt gave me a copy of Cujo! I’ve been reading Stephen King’s books ever since.
Horror is such a primal emotion. Everyone, whether they’re rich or poor encounters fear at some point in their lives. How they react speaks volumes about their character. Fight or flight personified. I noticed there weren’t very many women writing scary stories, so I set out to change that. Why should men have all the fun, writing frightfully good fiction?
Can you speak a bit more about the gender divide in horror?
The horror genre is definitely male dominated. The odds are stacked against female authors, but creative, ambitious women will always run with the boys. Besides me, there are a handful of successful women horror authors: Linda Addison, Louise Bohmer, Fran Friel, Sephera Giron, Nancy Kilpatrick, K.H. Koehler, Jan Kozlowski, Sarah Langan, Joyce Carol Oates, Kelli Owen Gina Ranalli, and Lucy Taylor to name a few. . .
I remember when I first started attending conventions back in the 1990s and male horror authors unfamiliar with my work asked me whose wife/girlfriend I was. I’d just shrug, mention some of my publishing credits and then tell these guys I’d be reading at the con. Some would attend my reading and even buy my books.
Women tend to be more emotional than men, so being a woman allows me to covey my characters’ emotions, no matter how good or bad.
I think men feel threatened by women who write horror and are successful because we aren’t afraid to get down and dirty! Society says women shouldn’t do certain things. Being attracted to the macabre and writing scary, sometimes graphic stories may be one of them, but I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drummer, so I’ll continue to focus on horror! Skeptics be damned! Follow your muse, ladies! If it’s hell-bent on scaring the pants off your readers, then let her rip!
SS: Are you afraid of anything?
AG: Absolutely! I dread thunder and lightning. . . As a little girl, I used to hide under my covers. . . Now I involuntarily flinch no matter when I am, until the storm passes.
SS: And finally, I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about what you’re currently writing. Anything new in the works?
AG: I’m working on several more horror stories; several are set in New York City. Some of them might evolve into novellas. . .
Find out more about Amy Grech
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Assistant editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.