Category Archives: Writing

Dead of Night – Reviews

When it was first released back in 2010, my splatterpunk novella Dead of Night picked up some pretty awesome reviews. I’ve gone back through my files and dug up some highlights. Loved the bitch slap at the end of the last review.

“In his zombie-infested novella Dead of Night, C. M. Saunders draws a picture of horror and desperation for his readers as he unleashes a band of undead Confederate bushwackers on an unsuspecting and innocent couple. As I read, I found myself pulled into the action, rooting for the young hero and heroine to make it through the night.”

“This story is not just hacking and slashing and eating brains; there is a fair share of suspense in Dead of Night that I found to be quite effective. Mr. Saunders gives his readers a chance to get to know the hero and heroine before plunging them into mortal danger, and this makes us care about their fate. Dead of Night contains a sense of urgency that will definitely get the blood pumping. Mr. Saunders brings us into the minds of his two protagonists; we share their terror, their pain, their despair, and their hope for survival.”

  • Book Wenches

“Dead of Night is an obvious product of a great many horror films. The departure from realism, the horrendous injuries inflicted on the hero, the coincidences and lucky breaks – all lead directly from the late night horror screen. Evil Dead in particular seems to be a strong influence, especially with the besieged-in-a-cabin sequence.”

  • Dark Fire (UK)

“Although it has lots of gore, it isn’t all about the blood and guts. Instead it is suspenseful and atmospheric. The scene where Nick wakes up in the middle of the night and first spots a zombie is tense. And being in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from the rest of the world with no one to turn to for help, added to the creepiness.”

“At the beginning, C.M. Saunders takes time to establish the characters, and although some may find that part slow, I found their relationship and discussion of Michael Jackson interesting. Since Nick and Maggie were well-developed I cared about them and found the story more interesting.”

  • Little Miss Zombie

“If you are craving a zombie novel that deviates away from the typical “movie-style” theme – this will satiate your hunger. There are the normal horror elements: new love, remote setting, fight for survival, mass burial. However, C.M. Saunders’ Civil War zombies are intelligent; able to work as a team; possess fine motor skills; and cannot easily be killed. In fact, these “bushwhackers” peaked my curiosity. Would the psychological, mental, and physical aspects of fighting in a war end upon death? It is possible that these zombies are unaware that it is no longer 1861 – 1865. If this is the case, it would mean that they are denied the peace and solace they so richly deserve. The plot was very creatively written and flowed efficiently. I did not experience a single dull moment as I read the novel. Many of you will agree, a vast majority of horror novels have at least one character lacking a bit of common-sense. As others so eloquently state, “too stupid to live”. I feel that C.M. Saunders tried to weed the “stupidity factor” out, and he did a great job of it. The zombies were even spared this humility.”

  • Buyzombie.com

“I have this horrible OCD quirk. It’s doesn’t matter how boring a story is, I have to finish it. Fortunately, that didn’t kick in with Saunder’s Dead of Night. This is a fun, short read that carries on with the latest trend of zombie soldiers. While Saunders doesn’t really bring any new to the table, it’s a cool chapter in the great big scheme of zombie stories. This is a great story. It’s a quick read with great cover art, and I do have to say, it’s MUCH better than Saunders’ first novella from Damnation Books.”

  • Swamp Dweller

dead-of-night-reissue

Dead of Night (Revised edition) is available now on paperback and ebook.


X5 x 10 x 10

To mark the release of X5, my latest collection of short fiction, earlier this year I posted a line from one of the stories from it on consecutive days across my social media channels. Just for a laugh. As each of the X books contains 10 stories, that meant over the 10-day period I posted a total of 10 lines. I know that taken out of context they might not make much sense. The idea was just to give readers a deeper insight into each story than a standard synopsis would allow, and perhaps spark some morbid curiosity. Then I decided to collect all the extracts together here, because blogging.

Demon Tree:

“It looked like a giant moth/human hybrid, complete with a huge set of leathery wings folded behind it, and was covered in grey or black fur which had thinned in places to reveal skin so dry it resembled scales.”

Revenge of the Toothfish:

“Its yellowing eyes were way out of proportion and had realigned themselves so they were on opposite sides of the head. The nose had elongated and extended into a snout, and the mouth was ringed by a pair of bulging, dark grey lips.”

Surzhai:

“Their life force and vitality came from the blood of the vanquished, which they collected on the battlefield and doused themselves in or even drank, vampire-like.”

The sharpest Tool:

“Her head was full of abstract images offering a tantalizing glimpse of some other existence, a distant life full of meaning, colour and joy. But each day the images faded a little more and now she wasn’t even sure if what she saw were snatches of memory or some manufactured product of her fractured mind.”

Something Bad:

“If I stay long enough, shivering in the doorway, mouth hanging open and facial muscles twitching, I see the stringy black stuff on the bathroom floor begin to take shape.”

Down the Road:

“She couldn’t believe she was doing this. Picking up a hitcher? If dad found out he would kill her, if her passenger didn’t kill her first.”

Coming Around:

“He couldn’t see them, but he could hear them panting and snarling.”

Where a Town once stood:

“When Sam was a child, he remembered thinking someone had been drawing on his grandad with a pen and spent hours trying to rub off the ‘ink’. Only later did he find out that the network of deep blue scars carved into his granite flesh were the result of a life spent on the coalfaces.”

The Last Night Shift:

“Something dark was smeared around his mouth, and I noticed he was holding something in his hands. Gradually, horrifyingly, the full implications of what I was seeing dawned on me.”

Subject #270374:

“The guy in a white coat asked if I was getting sexually aroused. Just came out and said it. I mean, what the fuck? Who in this world could or would get turned on by pictures of mutilated bodies and severed limbs?”

X5 is out now


The Stigma of Self-Promotion

Self-promotion is a huge part of being a writer in the technological age. It’s even more important if you’re self-published, because then you’re completely alone. If you don’t sell books, nobody else is going to do it on your behalf. But even if you have work traditionally published, you can’t expect the publisher to shoulder all the expense and responsibility of shifting books in a crowded market place. Especially small-to-medium sized publishers with limited resources.

I’ve noticed that when they sell the rights to a book, a novella, or even a short story, some writers just move on instead of doing a bit of promo to help the publisher shift copies. Don’t do that. Every bit of attention you can generate helps, while simultaneously raising your own profile and giving you something to shout about. So tweet the link a few times, write a promo post for your blog, share it in a few Facebook groups, mention it on your Insta timeline, in short, tell all your friends. You might even choose to invest in some paid promotion, which I investigated in depth before.

A lot of writers maintain blogs, and a lot of writers struggle for things to blog about. Writing a promo post about an anthology or other market that has accepted one of your stories is an easy win. You can even use the cover art to illustrate it. Throw in a few comments about where the idea for your story came from and some buying links and you have the makings of a decent, informative, entertaining post to keep things ticking over. Just try to be creative with it. Inform or entertain, rather than just telling everyone you have a new book out. Make a few jokes at your own expense, or share a few extracts or obscure facts you maybe unearthed while researching the book or story.

If you’re worried about being seen as needy, don’t be. You’re a writer, and you’ve achieved something. Be proud. If nobody else ever gets to hear about your achievement, what was the point?

If this really is a deal breaker for you, try shifting the focus onto other writers instead.

So happy to be rubbing shoulders with Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz in this brand new anthology from This Massive Publisher!

As if that would ever happen. It would make that antho the literary equivalent of Woodstock. But trust me, any other writers you credit, not to mention the publisher, will love you for it. Even the stellar names. It’s a great way to kick-start some cross-promotion, where other writers in your genre chip in give you some mentions, or at least the book you both contributed to. There’s no better way to take advantage of overlapping readerships. Over and above all that, if the publisher sees you are willing to make an effort on the promotional front they just might look at any future submissions of yours slightly more favourably. It’s all about networking and forging mutually beneficial relationships, so don’t neglect your responsibilities and leave all the hard work to other people.


Taking shelter in the Hiraeth Chair

My short story The Hiraeth Chair, is included in the spring 2022 edition of Shelter of Daylight, edited by Tyree Campbell.

Hiraeth is a Welsh word. There is no direct English translation, but it is basically used to describe a deep longing or sadness, often tinged with nostalgia and homesickness. I think the most accurate description would be along the lines of missing something, or some place, to which you can no longer return. You can find a more in-depth explanation here.

I played with the concept for a long time. I find it fascinating. I think it’s partly symptomatic of the human condition; whatever we have, wherever we are, most of the time we wish we were somewhere else. Running parallel to this is the notion of time travel. What if we found a way to return to those places we yearn for so much? And what would we leave behind?

This isn’t actually a horror story, which makes a change for me. Nobody dies, and there are no decapitations or slayings. It would probably more accurately be described as soft sci-fi. One reader told me it was one of the saddest stories they’ve ever read. To my mind, it’s not sad. It’s optimistic. It’s whatever you want it to be, I guess. If what that reader says is true, though, then I’ve done my job.

It’s a nice little coincidence, or pure irony, that Shelter of Daylight is published by Hiraeth Books.


Drabbledark II

I’m pleased to announce that my story The Hungry is included in Drabbledark II: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles, out now on Shacklebound Books. The anthology, edited by Eric Fomley, promises, “A ton of amazing dark horror, science fiction and fantasy drabbles.”

The Hungry was inspired by Dan Simmons’s The Terror, itself a fictionalized account of Sir John Franklin’s lost expedition to the arctic. I’ve always thought they should’ve known better than to get on a ship called HMS Terror. They may as well have called it HMS You’re Fucked.

Check out the amazing cover art:

Go here for the full ToC.

Drabbledark II is out now on ebook and paperback.


Trigger Warning – Speaking Ill

My short story Eeva is included in the new anthology Trigger Warning – Speaking Ill, edited by John Baltisberger and published by Madness Heart press.

From the blurb: “Through strange, terrifying, and disgusting horror, these 9 authors ensure that death is no safe space. No corpse will escape their due through death, but will instead be allotted the full measure of what our authors have in store.”

This is your trigger warning.

Eeva is ostensibly a story about getting a Facebook friend request from some murky figure in your past and all the memories that it might dredge up. That’s probably something we’ve all experienced. On a more personal level, its about a Finnish exchange student I met (who wasn’t called Eeva) at university who may or may not have been a vampire. Vampire or not, the bit about her inviting three blokes on a weird group date simultaneously really did happen. By the end it turned into a ‘last man standing’ scenario. Maybe they do things differently in Finland.

Writing for Horror Tree, Rebecca Rowland said, “For those readers trapped in the monotony of working “stuffed in a corporate box,” C.M. Saunders’ “Eeva” revisits the youthful excitement and nostalgic novelty of strange desires. The narrator receives a friend request from a woman he knew briefly in college. Most of his social media inquiries are from “obviously-fake catfish accounts made in the image of busty Russian beauties called Layla, or Filipino women who tell me they love me then ask me to buy them a new phone,” but this notification piques his interest, and that’s because Eeva isn’t a textbook case of lost love. Hidden beneath her bohemic façade was a primal nature that went deeper than the narrator ever could have imagined. To reveal any more would be to spoil the climax, but be warned: readers should go forth with a strong stomach.”

You can read the rest of her review here.

Trigger Warning – Speaking Ill is out now.


The War on Verbosity

Definition: 

Verbosity (noun): “The fact or quality of using more words than needed; wordiness.”

I know. For years you’ve been hearing about wars against drugs, obesity, terrorism, racism andmale pattern baldness. The last thing you want is another one. But trust me, when considering the future of the written word, verbosity is just as much of a problem as any of those Real World issues, especially among young, inexperienced writers.

We all know those people who talk incessantly, dancing around whatever it is they want to say but lacking the confidence or courage to do so directly. Instead, they hope you connect the dots and do the dirty work for them.

It’s annoying, right?

Likewise, there are the people who hit the point right on the head with deadly accuracy. But then they just keep on hitting, saying the same thing over and over again, maybe using different words in an effort to give the impression that they’ve moved when in reality they are rooted to the spot.

Both these kinds of people waste our time, agreed?

In the literary world, verbosity has a similar effect. Consider this sentence:

“The skies opened, unleashing a slick torrent of rain which lashed against the dirty, lightly condensed window glass sounding like untold numbers of heathens banging their fists against the cold, unrelenting gates of heaven.”

Now consider this alternative:

“It was raining heavily.”

Or maybe:

“The rain lashed down.”

Granted, neither option is as evocative or spectacular as the first passage. But in effect they say the same thing, and move the story along to the same point in a fraction of the time. By comparison, the first sentence is dense and unfocused. You have to wade through a lot of padding to get the point.

You are probably wondering why verbosity bothers me so much.

Let me explain.

A lot of people send me samples of their work to read or critique, something I am usually more than happy to do. If you do this enough, certain patterns or traits begin to emerge. I can spot a novice writer because most of them take forty or fifty words to say something a more experienced writer would say in six or eight. It was raining. Got it. What more do you need to know? Anything else is just superfluous. Set the tone by all means, but know when you are entering ‘overkill’ territory. In the early stages of your writing career it is simply a matter of cutting out the bullshit. It might sound pretty, but does it actually serve the story?

Of course, there are times when a touch of verbosity is justified. Or even required. Especially at points in the story you want the reader to remember for maximum impact. Maybe a touching love scene, or the death of a leading character. By all means, dawdle a bit. But trust me, nobody wants to wade through three or four paragraphs of flowery prose describing in technicolour detail how much it’s raining outside and how wet the water is. What’s the point? You might think it’s the best thing ever written in the history of mankind, but the reality is, it probably isn’t. Unless you keep things moving apace, the reader will get very bored very quickly. With so much choice out there, once you lose a reader, it’s very difficult to win them back.

Any good editor will tell you that you shouldn’t use more words than absolutely necessary. Reading words takes time, and time is precious. Don’t waste it. There was a time when you could have gotten away with it, but this isn’t the 19th Century anymore. Treat words as precious commodities, not something you have a surplus of. Give your readers some respect, and acknowledge they are busy people. Get to the point with the minimum of fuss, and pretty soon you’ll begin to see marked improvements in your writing.

This post first appeared on the now-defunct Deviant Dolls website.

See here for my thoughts on the dreaded writer’s block.


Heartless Cat’s Eyes

Cat’s Eyes, my disturbing little drabble about dating dangerously, is included in Heartless, part of the ‘Holiday Horrors’ series of anthologies published by Black Ink Fiction.

From the cover:

What happens when love goes horribly, gruesomely wrong? A red wedding, a sacrifice to Saint Valentine, blind dates gone amiss…there are so many ways romance can be twisted. This anthology, with over 40 international authors, is not for the faint of heart.

Heartless is out now on ebook and paperback


Don’t Fall Asleep podcast

I’m bloody excited to have one of my stories, The Others, featured on the near-legendary Don’t Fall Asleep podcast put together by those amazingly gory folk at Bloodbound Books!

The Others is about a Tinder date going wrong. Very wrong. You can read more about the furry-themed story and where it came from HERE.

Listen in to Don’t Fall Asleep on Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts, for a chance to win a paperback Burnt Fur, the anthology the Others was originally published in. You can also find it on YouTube.

Don’t forget to check out the Bloodbound Books website for a ton of free content including my splattery short Siki’s Story.


All Tomorrow’s Parties

You might recognize All Tomorrow’s Parties as the name of a Velvet Underground song. I don’t know why I chose that. It’s not even my favourite VU track (that would be Heroine) but all the time I was writing this story I couldn’t get that song out of my head. It just seemed so apt. It’s not the first time I’ve nicked a song title for a story. I’ve done it with The Alarm, The Damned and Springsteen before. And I did it to Warrant (remember them?) and Metallica without even realizing. I think of it as a way of paying homage, but admittedly I’m secretly glad you can’t copyright song titles or I would probably be in some deep doodoo by now.

I’ve always been fascinated with time travel. I’d like to say ever since I read The Time Machine by HG Wells, but if I’m honest Back to the Future probably has more to do with it. Written in first person POV, All Tomorrow’s Parties is about a guy who finds a lost cellphone on the way home from the pub. But it’s no ordinary cellphone. It has an app which serves as a window to the future. You might think that’s a good thing. And it is. For a while. But then things go sideways, and the protagonist soon learns that knowing too much can be just as dangerous as not knowing enough. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground with this story. But in true Saunders fashion I can put a twist in there that you probably won’t see coming.

You can read All Tomorrow’s Parties in issue 10 of SFS Stories, described as, “A throwback to the golden age of fantasy and science fiction.”


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