The reclusive Howard LaVey has presented writers Frederick Brandis, Aster Callahan, Rhiannon Hughes, and Mikhail Orlov with the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to spend a week at his ominous estate and collaborate on a horror anthology. Each of them hopes to get something out of it, ranging from riches to recognition, but egos flare and co-existing becomes a struggle as each writer battles against their own demons and self-doubts.
Soon enough, LaVey House turns out to be much more than they bargained for, and the chance of a lifetime quickly becomes a living nightmare as ancient spirits awaken and torment them at every turn. Four writers, four stories, but the true horror lies buried within the dark hallways and forgotten secrets of LaVey House just waiting to live again!
I don’t make a habit of reviewing my own books; generally, I’m very happy with how they turn out and leave the reviews to other readers as my opinion is going to be a little too biased (as you can tell from the star rating I’ve given this book!) However, The Summoning is a different situation as this was a collaborative effort between myself and four other fantastic independent writers. I originally had the idea to write an anthology book heavily inspired by the likes of The Outer Limits (1995 to 2002), The Haunting (de Bont, 1999), and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison, 1990) in order to bring some of my unproduced short story ideas to life, but I was heavily encouraged by H. Everend to expand the scope and bring in some other indie writers to add a little more variety.
For The Summoning, I wrote the chapters featuring one of the four main characters, Frederick “Freddy” Brandis, the short story he wrote in the narrative (The Peak), the dialogue and scenes featuring the enigmatic host, Howard LaVey, and all of the chapters directly told from Mikhail Orlov’s perspective. H. Everend and Daria Lavrenteva assisted with Mikhail’s backstory and language, and I also provided the gang (as we like to call ourselves) with direction, notes, some context for the house and the frame narrative and, I hope, a lot of motivation to contribute to the story. Brandis is a very morose character, one at the end of his tether and who has failed to really make it as an author; he’s ready to walk away when he receives LaVey’s invitation, and only makes the trip because of the generous compensation offered by the old man. Mikhail is an abrasive and antagonist brute of a man who has been riding the success of his one book for some time; he goes out of his way to cause trouble amongst the other writers, but hides a dark past and is a surprisingly tragic figure even with all his reprehensible actions.
My main motivation for writing up a review was to praise the efforts of my fellow contributors; H. Everend was a perfect candidate to contribute to this project given her own background with shifting narratives in horror, and she really brought a lot of her own experiences and personality to the character of Aster Callahan. Aster is an American and easily the most successful and well-known of the authors present; she isn’t afraid to speak her mind and makes a bombastic entrance at LaVey House, but finds a truth about herself there that she never expected. Aster’s short story in the narrative is The Broadcast, a haunting tale about a town full of people who mysteriously disappear, and the way Ms. Everend infused her character and her writing with a unique twang and internal voice really helped add a lot to Aster’s personality. Jessica wrote Rhiannon Hughes’ chapters. Rhiannon is a pretty successful Welsh writer in her own right who has a broken marriage, an estranged relationship with her daughter, and is maybe one drink away from becoming a full-blown alcoholic. She takes an immediate dislike to Brandis and is completely dismissive of him, while also forging a quick, close friendship with Aster based on mutual respect. She’s much more active than the other characters, keeping fit and throwing herself into her work and writing and staying on track as often as possible despite all the drama and horrifying events that unfold throughout the week. Rhiannon’s short story is The Devil’s Graveyard, a nifty little horror tale inspired by a haunted graveyard back in Jessica’s native Wales and which follows a new kid in town being told of a local legend that tests the patience of a malevolent force. I think one of the things I enjoy the most about Jessica’s work are the little things, such as Rhiannon’s writing process, her complex interactions with Brandis and Mikhail, and the horrific event that befalls her in LaVey’s library!
H. Everend came through again by bringing in Shantel Brunton to contribute It’s All in Your Head, Mikhail’s short story within the fictional narrative. Shantel has one of the most macabre and bizarre imaginations I’ve seen from an indie author and I knew that she’d be able to contribute something chilling to this project, and she definitely indulges her surreal inventiveness with It’s All in Your Head. After being impressed by her short story, The Muscus, and her work ethic, I was excited when burgeoning indie writer Alice Stone agreed to come onboard and whip up a bit of a prologue for us. Alice also has an incredibly creative imagination and really got stuck in with asking questions about the history of LaVey and his house and helped all of us to think a little bit more about the layout, atmosphere, and structure of the story. Alice’s prologue does a great job of establishing a sense of mystery and ambiance to LaVey House and to give a tantalising taste of how strange LaVey’s abode is, and she really took an active role in putting together some promotion and marketing for the book.
The Summoning was a big project that was full of firsts for me: it was the first time I paid for a professional cover, the first time I’d worked with other authors (and taken the “lead” role), the first time I’d used an editor, and the first time I’d really been in the middle of a big marketing campaign for a book. Even though we live all across the country and on different continents, it was easy to stay in touch thanks to Instagram and regular Zoom meetings, and whenever we had any questions or suggestions we were able to agree on a consensus without a great deal of difficulty. After writing a few chapters and giving a sense of what I wanted from the project, I was incredibly impressed and happy with how quickly the others caught on and were able to add individual pieces that still felt like part of a greater whole. Consequently, putting the structure of the book together in a comprehensible but unique timeline that allowed the narrative to clearly switch between characters and time periods. It was a massive project, but one I found very rewarding and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. I’ll be forever grateful to H. Everend, Jessica Huntley, Alice Stone, and Shantel Brunton for their support and contributions to the book and I wish them, and the book, nothing but success going forward.
If you’re interested in checking out The Summoning, and to learn more about the authors and their journeys as authors, visit the links at the top of the page.