Book Title: As The Crow Flies – Enter Haddonwood, Book One
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Available on: Amazon as an eBook and as a paperback
Indie Athenaeum Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Haddonwood is a small Tennessee town with a deep history where everybody knows everyone. Things are congenial, people live their lives and go about their daily routines. But underneath the surface, something is just a little off-kilter. There’s something strange in this neighborhood. People have unusual memories or experience illusions where their reality is drastically different from the one they know. Cats and crows even behave in peculiar ways that seem to indicate they are more intelligent than one would think.
In this town, we meet Chase Rey, a boy who lives with his seventeen-year-old stepbrother Ben, Chase’s mother Aileen and Ben’s abusive alcoholic father Ralph. There’s something different about Chase, who has visions of an alternate reality where he has a kind father and his circumstances are much happier. Then again, he also sees visions of himself wearing orange sneakers and hanging in a noose from a tree (!) It’s hard for Chase to trust anything he sees and even harder for him to share these thoughts with someone. After all, who’s going to believe him if he talks about such crazy and paradoxical things?
As Haddonwood starts to slowly pile up one horrific occurrence after another, the mystery deepens, and reality starts to unravel before everyone’s eyes. How is all of this connected to the old abandoned Grimshaw house up on a hill that sometimes emits strange blue lights? Even more importantly, why is Chase such a key piece to this puzzle?
This tumultuous Halloween follows a bunch of different characters as they navigate the increasingly erratic situations. There are Chase and Ben but we also follow Daisy, an eighteen-year-old who lives with her flighty, rebellious, less-responsible sister Dani and their widowed father. Daisy is in love with her next-door neighbor Tucker Vance, who’s a couple of years older than her and is a police officer.
Ben is dating Marybeth, who lives with her Bible-thumping father, who attends a church where Reverend Julie Kennedy preaches. Julie knows one of her parishioners, Martha Yarn, who seems to be a bit of an eccentric senior citizen. She seems to see things from the near future, bakes a delicious pie and knows when someone is going to die.
All of these colorful characters have rich backstories that bring them to life on the page, imbue them with personality and make you feel for them as they work their way through the most bizarre day of their lives. Every one of them feels like people you know next door, have their own self-doubt and look forward to a brighter future. But when faced with this reality in front of them, how will they each react psychologically to the threats to their own lives?
Also, it must be noted that almost all these characters are depressed or have endured a kind of tragedy in their lives. Dead parents, abusive fathers, marriages gone bad, widows who are now raising children on their own. All of them aspire to a future filled with hope but continue to struggle with their perceptions of reality, the risks to their lives and the horror of a town gone topsy-turvy.
Finally, we can’t forget Raum and Zophiel. These two are part of the larger overarching plot and provide some crucial glimpses behind what is going on here. As we see more of them, we get a better sense of the role they play in the larger endgame.
Some of these characters are central to the main narrative and some are not. Like the novel where you question what is real and what isn’t, you don’t know who plays an important role and who is a more ancillary character. There is a reason why the novel treats characters like this and it is solely plot-based. But that’s also part of the fun of this novel, as you try to figure it all out.
All these characters have different story threads are slowly woven together into a maelstrom of terror where you can’t believe your eyes, more puzzle pieces to the larger mystery are revealed and the tension mounts into an unforgettable conclusion. It gave me goosebumps with its electrifying power, raw emotional earnestness, and deeply unsettling revelations.
It was an ending that left me begging for more of the story but also answered most of the questions I had. But the second book in this trilogy will most certainly follow up on the remaining questions I had here.
Most of the novel takes place in the space of about forty-eight hours or so on Halloween night and afterward. Given the large cast of characters, tremendous story developments and chaotic happenings in this small town, the intensity of the plot became larger over time. For such a small town, big things are happening here and all of reality is now threatened by what happens in a short time.
The feeling of reality not matching our perceptions is a disturbing one and made me feel this trepidation deep in my bones. Imagine the steady ground we walk on unpredictably shifting under our feet and throwing us off balance, ratcheting up the intensity level each time. This novel takes that out-of-sync feeling and amplifies it steadily as the suspense builds, throwing your entire life out of whack.
That sense of unease is only enhanced when our cell phones and internet service, both used for informational and communications purposes, are disabled. Let’s face it, if that happens, many people just freak out over that all by itself. But it also prevents each character from being able to talk to one another to compare notes about what is going on and they must rely on themselves, their memories and each other. In an internet-connected world, not being able to communicate with one another adds another layer of fright and increases the sense of dread at not being able to comprehend what’s happening.
When animals attack, people behave murderously and references to horror genre touchstones embed themselves into our everyday lifestyle, it impacts our ability to behave rationally in the face of increasing fear. It constantly pulls out the rug from beneath our feet by bringing previously thought dead people back to life, erasing alarming incidents from reality like they never happened and having television screens talk to us and identifying us by name. It all causes an unsettling sense of disorientation the further along you immerse yourself in the plot of this novel.
The popular culture references to horror novels, movies, and television shows add a welcome sense of familiarity. Those references are not just to be clever and self-aware, though they certainly accomplish that task. In lesser hands, these references might be considered derivative, without bringing anything new to say about them.
However, the co-authors use them very deftly, sparingly and with careful consideration. They also serve as an essential function to the larger story being told here, which you will discover as you read it. It’s not only a tribute to what has come before in the horror genre but also blazes a brand-new trail with a revolutionary take on what horror can be in our modern, technological age.
Each chapter and each character made me want to read more about them. Then, when placed into this intriguing plot, it sparked my imagination and injected creepy fright with each passing page. I really enjoyed this innovative approach to the horror genre, which also creatively blends in elements from other genres as well. Together, it made for an enthralling novel where I cannot wait to see how the sequel upends the world created here and fleshes it out even further.
If you found this review to be helpful to you, please click here to go to the review on Amazon. Then navigate to the bottom of this review and click on the “helpful” button.
Previous Indie Athenaeum book reviews about stories by Rysa Walker include “The Delphi Resistance – The Delphi Trilogy, Book 2“, “The Delphi Revolution – The Delphi Trilogy, Book 3” and “The Abandoned – A Delphi Novella“.
BONUS FEATURE: An EXCLUSIVE interview with Rysa Walker & Caleb Amsel:
1.) Interview with Rysa Walker:
Indie Athenaeum: What was the inspiration for this novel/series? It’s a unique mix of genres.
Rysa Walker: The genesis of the series was a collection of intertwined stories that Caleb had been working on for a while. They were straight horror, dealing with a haunted town. I love reading horror and several of my earlier works have horror elements, but I’m always looking for the reason why something happens. Just being scary isn’t enough…I want the backstory on how the town got haunted, who’s doing the haunting, what got him or her or it into the whole haunting business in the first place, and how one might go about fixing things. So when we decided to collaborate on the project, we approached it from very different angles.
Indie Athenaeum: How did you and Caleb meet up and decide to work on this book together?
Rysa Walker: We met online. Caleb has been one of my beta readers since the CHRONOS series, and I’d read and enjoyed several different stories he posted on Facebook. I had an idea for a spinoff project for my Delphi series and was looking for someone to work with on that right around the time that he relocated to the Raleigh area. We got about halfway into that book and hit a bit of a snag (although we might get back to one day.) Caleb mentioned that he had the rough draft of a work about a haunted town and what he really wanted to do was to find a way to collaborate on that. I read through what he had written, and we brainstormed ways to turn the idea into a series of novels.
Indie Athenaeum: Every book with two co-authors is handled differently, depending on the people involved. How did the two of you divide up the workload? How does your partnership work?
Rysa Walker: We started with a collection of stories and the idea of the town. Quite a few of the stories didn’t make the cut, partly because juggling that many points of view would have been a nightmare. As I said before, I have to know the reason why, so it occurred to me that all of these characters might be trapped inside a game, with consequences that impact not only the town and their lives, but also the outside world. So we dove back into the project with this in mind.
As for the process, it varied as we went along. Some chapters started with me, some started with Caleb. All of them ended with me doing the final rewrite so that we didn’t have jarring differences in tone, dialogue, and style.
Indie Athenaeum: What do you feel are Caleb’s signature strengths?
Rysa Walker: Descriptive writing. He’s excellent at creating a mood and building tension.
He also writes fast and doesn’t mind if a lot of it falls on the cutting room floor. On that note, if I disappear mysteriously one day, odds are good that he’s finally had enough of me killing his darlings. (Tell the cops that I’ll be buried in a garden somewhere, probably in multiple pieces. 😉)
Indie Athenaeum: What do you like best about working with Caleb?
Rysa Walker: He has a great sense of humor and he’s patient with the fact that co-authoring often means you have to change and rewrite things…especially when you’re working with someone like me who really is not inclined to plot my novels carefully. Many, many things changed between the chapters, sometimes necessitating major revisions of earlier sections.
Indie Athenaeum: What was it like to channel your inner Stephen King and dig into your horror side? Was it more challenging than your usual writing style and subject matter?
Rysa Walker: Most of my books dabble a bit in horror or at least in the darker side of science fiction and fantasy. I usually write at night after the rest of the house is asleep, and there were several times when I spooked myself thoroughly while writing this book. There were also several times where Caleb’s sections creeped me out quite a bit and had me jumping at shadows when I finally headed off to sleep. The most challenging part for me was finding a balance. Caleb’s style is a bit darker than mine, so we had to find a middle ground.
Indie Athenaeum: Which one was your most favorite character to write and why?
Rysa Walker: That’s a tough call. It’s probably a toss-up between Chase and Daisy. Although mentioning Daisy reminds me of how much I enjoyed writing Tucker, too. And Julie. And Luke. Ben was the toughest character for me to write, because I frequently wanted to smack some sense into him. He’s basically a “Peter Pan” type who refuses to grow up and accept his responsibilities, partly because he’s terrified of becoming like his father.
Indie Athenaeum: Did the two of you have fun dropping all those horror movie/tv show/story references into the book?
Rysa Walker: Yes! That was a blast, even though I had to defer to Caleb on some of the movies. I love reading horror and I enjoy movies that have scary elements, but spewing arteries put me off my popcorn. (And give me nightmares. I’m a major wuss.)
At some point, we need to go through and make a list of all the Easter eggs. There are a lot of them.
Indie Athenaeum: Almost all these characters are pretty messed up in the head in one way or another. Dead parents, abusive fathers, marriages gone bad, widows who are now raising children on their own. How did it feel to get deep into their psyches like that to write them?
Rysa Walker: There’s an underlying reason that so many of these characters have suffered major trauma. It’s actually the thing that drew them together in the real world, something that will be explored in much more detail in the next book.
But I think that’s also the nature of most horror stories. Horror deals with death, trauma, abuse, and how the human mind deals with the more painful things in life. But it also gives writers a chance to show people rising above those things, confronting their fears, and sacrificing their own well-being for those they love.
I think the key to writing these types of characters is finding some element of yourself in them, even the ones who aren’t always loveable. Maybe even especially the less-loveable ones. Understanding their pain and connecting it in some fashion to your own experiences helps to keep them real.
Indie Athenaeum: So, will this be a trilogy or an ongoing series of novels? What’s your publishing plan for these books going forward?
Rysa Walker: It’s a trilogy. While that will definitely wrap up this story arc, there may also be a few side stories. The second book will debut in June 2020, and we’re hoping to have book three out in November or early December. We’d hoped to get them out sooner, but I have another CHRONOS Origins book to write before I can head back into Haddonwood.
Indie Athenaeum: The ending of book one just begs for a sequel. What, if anything, can you tease about book two?
Rysa Walker: I can give you the cover and the blurb, since I just posted the preorder link.
When the Cat’s Away (Enter Haddonwood Book Two)
Since the beginning of time as we know it, the Councils of Seventy-Two have maintained a careful balance in our world. Dark against light. Good against evil. Order against chaos. While one side might tip the scale briefly, its counterpart has been always quick to right the balance.
Now the agent of good is trapped in the mind of Chase Rey, who spends his days playing a game that few in the “real world” can see. His allies must get him back into Haddonwood, back inside the game, in order to set her free and restore the balance. But that’s going to take a miracle because hell is quite literally breaking loose around them.
Indie Athenaeum: Please note that the pre-order link for “When the Cat’s Away (Enter Haddonwood Book Two) is here.
2.) Interview with Caleb Amsel:
Indie Athenaeum: For people who aren’t familiar with your work, tell us more about you.
Caleb Amsel: I’m Caleb Amsel—avid coffee drinker, quoter of random movie lines, and I spend most of my days dreaming about the scariest scenarios imaginable. I’ve written in just about every genre you could think of, but horror and fantasy is what I love. It’s where I feel most comfortable and at home. Like Shirley Jackson said, “I delight in what I fear.”
Indie Athenaeum: Why do you feel drawn to the horror genre? What is it about it that fascinates you about it?
Caleb Amsel: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of literature, whether it be reading or writing. One of the first novels that I can remember reading and falling in love with was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I still read that one once a year.
The horror genre is just an amazing avenue; a great character study, to see how normal people react under extreme, not so normal circumstances. There’s a lot of truth there. It’s a way to look at the world and the things that scare us and try to figure out why that is. I think that’s important. Plus, a lot of people just like to be scared. It’s an escape, which is the reason people continue to line up outside theaters, haunted attractions, and inside bookstores.
Indie Athenaeum: I could not tell the difference between your writing and Rysa’s. To me, that means you spent a lot of time together make sure your styles meshed perfectly. How easy or difficult was that to accomplish?
Caleb Amsel: Pretty easy, I think. Our writing styles are fairly similar anyway and our process is interesting. It’s a lot like tennis, meaning that I would write something, send it to her, she would make changes, send it back, and we would repeat the entire process until we had a chapter that felt right. It’s a lot of fun and makes the entire body of work pretty cohesive. I wasn’t ever really worried that there would be glaring differences between styles. We just kind of followed the characters. They told the story.
Indie Athenaeum: What do you feel are Rysa’s signature strengths?
Caleb Amsel: For starters, she has a great ear for dialogue. Some of the exchanges between characters made me howl with laughter and some even made me tear up a little. It’s like that with all her books: CHRONOS and Delphi. She can make a reader really care about the characters and that makes all the difference…especially in a novel like As the Crow Flies. If you don’t care about the residents of this little town then you aren’t emotionally invested, which is what all authors ultimately want.
Rysa also isn’t afraid to follow a character and let me do the same. We never found ourselves in a corner that she couldn’t get us out of. Her mind is brilliant that way. I would hit a snag and then she would come back with a solution that was just so… perfect.
Indie Athenaeum: What do you like best about working with Rysa?
Caleb Amsel: Working on the Enter Haddonwood series with Rysa has been nothing short of amazing. It’s also some of the most fun I’ve ever had. She’s a great partner, and I’ve learned a ton from her. The best thing about working with Rysa is that it feels nothing like work. At all. It’s almost like two friends getting together and swapping scary stories around a campfire. She’s not the biggest horror movie fan, but we love a lot of the same books.
Indie Athenaeum: How similar or different was this than your usual stories? Was it more challenging than your usual writing style and subject matter?
Caleb Amsel: As The Crow Flies started out as something completely different. It was much darker originally, and that gradually changed as Rysa and I found the story together. For me, the story is all about the characters. Each tale is different and told in various ways, but it always comes back to the people on the page.
Indie Athenaeum: Which one was your most favorite character to write and why?
Caleb Amsel: I have two characters that are my favorite to write. One is Luke, who will appear more in Book II, and the second is Ben.
Ben is a complex man. He’s good, but I think his main flaw is that he tries to fix everyone’s problems, particularly when it comes to his family. He’s also very haunted, which will further come into play later on. I think the main joy in writing for Ben was he constantly took me new places that I had never dreamed of. As an author, that’s a lot of fun and exciting. Ben has a lot of growing up to do, but I have full faith that he will.
Luke is another one that’s complex. Some of his chapters had to be saved for the next go around because they didn’t really fit into the fabric of Book One; however, I can’t wait to dive back in and really give him the space he’s been patiently waiting for.
Indie Athenaeum: Did the two of you have fun dropping all those horror movie/tv show/story references into the book?
Caleb Amsel: Yes! That was the best part. It’s literally a love letter to the genre that I’ve been a die-hard fan of for my entire life. It was hard holding back sometimes, reminding myself that there’s still two more books in the Haddonwood saga, and I couldn’t show all the cards right out of the gate. I keep a running list of things I want to include, things I want to see, and moments I want to pay tribute to. The list grows every day.
Indie Athenaeum: Almost all these characters are pretty messed up in the head in one way or another. Dead parents, abusive fathers, marriages gone bad, widows who are now raising children on their own. How did it feel to get deep into their psyches like that to write them? And how did the two of you decide on their backstories?
Caleb Amsel: Sometimes it felt really dark. You have to listen to the characters and be willing to go where they take you. When they hurt, I did too, so it wasn’t always a light day at the office. We couldn’t hold back though. Couldn’t water it down, so to speak. That wouldn’t have been true to them and they would’ve revolted. I think it’s entirely possible that the gang would’ve just stopped showing up.
And I don’t think it was quite like deciding on their backstories. Rysa and I had a general idea at the beginning but even that changed once the characters started to take over. For me, that was the most fascinating part.
Indie Athenaeum: All these characters get put through such grueling paces by the end of the novel.
Caleb Amsel: Very true. It gets pretty rough out in Haddonwood. They find themselves in the middle of their own personal horror movie and there isn’t a whole lot of time to learn the rules.
And it’s only the beginning.
Many thanks to Rysa Walker and Caleb Amsel for taking the time to do this interview!