Howl by Renee Miller is a quick, action packed novella that is probably best read in one sitting. I started it late at night and, though I wanted to finish it, I had to get to sleep and the story had to wait until the next morning.
It is the story of a group of friends whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and once the action starts it never really stops. If I have a criticism of Howl, it’s that there is isn’t enough characterization early in the book. The narrative moves forward but I didn’t really feel like I got to know the characters until they were already lost in the woods. I wish I got to know them better prior to their car breaking down.
Once the characters leave the car, the action starts. There is something howling in the woods they are trekking through as they look for someone to help them get back to civilization. Instead they are chased by something they can’t see and it kills one member of the group. They come across a cabin in the woods and a man and woman who are holed up in there avoiding the same, unseen monster that chased the group of friends. As food dwindles this new group is forced to take action or perish inside the cabin. One by one they get picked off by the monster which becomes more visible as the story goes on. I won’t give away the monstrous ending of this novella, but it’s great and worth the read.
As I said before, I wish I got to know the characters better before all of the action started, but I did get to know them and the characterization is there for all of the protagonists and for the monsters as well. I really understand the monsters by the end. Sometimes in horror we get monsters that are not explained as well as they could be, or should be, but that is not the case here. We don’t know everything about the monsters, but we know enough about them to satisfy us and give us a well rounded and well explained ending.
Miller does a great job of pushing the reader through the story from one event to the next. The pace is frenetic and the action deliciously gory. It hits all the right points and for me checks all the boxes for a fun, quick and horrific journey into the winter woods.
This is another great novella from Unnerving and I’ll be looking for more from Renee Miller and you should too. This one gets a strong 3/5 from me and almost had enough to push it over the top.
What was the major inspiration for this story?
HOWL is one of those stories that just kind of wrote itself. I’m sure the weather (it was winter) played a factor in the setting, but I wrote it during a ‘free write’ period, where I just start with a sentence and go from there. That sentence was later deleted, of course. because it was something like "It was a cold winter day and they could taste the snow in the air." or something just as terrible.
How did you create and plan the monsters, and what was the decision behind how you decided to reveal it all?
I didn’t know what the monster would be in the first draft. I actually left the description out until a couple of revisions later, when I watched a documentary about bear attacks, and the person in the documentary said something about feeling hunted. I’m not sure why that triggered the monster that it did, but I immediately had a picture of it in my mind and planned it from there. The reveal was always going to be mid-way through. The mystery of what the creature is added to the intensity in the first part, but the fear of the middle and end needed a direction, or a focus. I think knowing what was going to kill them turned out to be worse than not knowing.
You've written so many wonderful stories, where do you draw so many stories from?
I don’t know. Some are inspired by something someone has said, by movies, by real events, by people I know, while others are a conscious effort to write. For example, if there's a submission call that asks for this, this and that. The strange thing about those calls is I don’t usually sub the story that I end up with to the call that inspired it. And as I said before, a few, like HOWL, just “happen.”
What cemented the fact that you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always loved writing anything and everything, whether it was fiction or some boring report or essay for school. I’ve been an avid reader since I learned to read. Actually, I was thinking about this the other day, and really trying to remember what inspired me to be a writer, and I remember reading IT, by Stephen King as a teenager, and a short time later watching the movie on TV with my friends. We started a fan fiction piece that told the story “after” IT, but they got bored with adding to the story after a few pages. But I just kept writing it, while my friends kept reading it and encouraging me to write more. I think that’s when the first little spark was lit. It took many years for me to consider publishing what I write, though.
Are you a big horror fan? If so, what things in the horror world do you love?
Huge horror fan. I love the quiet horror as much as the in your face, over the top extreme horror. I can’t narrow it down to just a few things that I love about it, though. I guess I love the way horror is subjective; what scares me might not scare you and vice versa. As a writer, my options for the kind of story I write in this genre are virtually limitless. You can go from weird and impossible, writing about werewolves and zombies and aliens, to disturbingly real, writing about human monsters we could (and some of us have) encounter every day.
At Horror Bound we love being able to spotlight indie authors, and especially female authors, are there any authors you'd like to recommend?
Oh, jeeze. Some Indie ladies I highly recommend off the top of my head: Christa Carmen, Gwendolyn Kiste, Somer Canon, Theresa Braun, Sarah Tantlinger, Gemma Files, I’m leaving so many out, because it’s such a long list. I've found a new world of authors thanks to Ladies of Horror Fiction. They have a pretty awesome directory here.
What's next? Any teasers you can share?
After HOWL, I’ll be releasing THE ONE YOU FEED in September, via Unnerving. That’s the only upcoming project I have a definite date for. No teaser, since it’s still in the editing phase. I’m really excited about it, and also nervous. I don’t think we ever get rid of release day jitters entirely, but I’ve worked a long time on THE ONE YOU FEED, so the nerves are extra intense when I think about it being out in the world.
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