Book Review: Women and Other Monsters by Bernard J. Schaffer (@ApiarySociety)

As a writer, inspiration can hit you at any moment as long as your mind is clear and open. More often than not, however, the story ideas that hit you, while exciting and full of possibility, don’t always leave enough open space to craft an entire novel. You’re left with two options. You can either surrender to your doubt, allowing the story to continue to float past you harmlessly, or you can take your idea and attempt to mine a short story from it. With Women and Other Monsters, author Bernard J. Schaffer has taken the latter approach and offers up a serving of six deliciously twisted tales for your amusement.

In an effort to keep the stories from feeling familiar as the book progresses, Schaffer has carefully insured that each story is completely different from the last. Some stories are based upon the creations that stem from an overactive imagination, while others carry a subtle hint of morality buried deep within the madness. The one attribute that each story shares in common, however, is that each one will make you think. Some will make you laugh, some will make you queasy, but above all else, they will absolutely make you think.

Women and Other Monsters is likely to remind you of other great short story word-slingers, but take comfort in the fact that you’ll only sense influence, not imitation. While Stephen King is the most obvious of which, I was also whisked back to a time in my youth when Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales from the Crypt were the champions of scaring the pants off of suburbanites. To me, this book feels right at home in that same category. That’s not to say that the book is scary, but rather that it creates a pleasing concoction of chills, laughs, twists, and the macabre that will satisfy even the most jaded reader.

Schaffer pulls no punches with Women and Other Monsters. His imagination unapologetically consists of a balance of vast intellect and fearlessness when it comes to spinning yarns. He is going to tell you his story in his way and will make no concessions in reaching that goal. Readers that tend to be more sensitive may not appreciate his work, but I simply couldn’t put it down. I liked this collection of stories immensely and was left wanting more as I’d turned the final page. For the mere price of four quarters, this book belongs in the palm of any reader with a slightly askew take on reality. When one can see reality every day, it’s the gems like this book that make diving into insanity that much more fun.


Q & A with Women and Other Monsters author, Bernard J. Schaffer



[DAVID K. HULEGAARD]: How long had you been working on the short stories from your book before deciding to publish them all together as a collection?

[BERNARD J. SCHAFFER]: David, thank you for having me. Some of the short stories had actually been in existence for quite a while. “A Reluctant Death” was one of my very first as a maturing author, and I’d had it lingering around as an unpolished work. I was never satisfied with it, but it never quite let go of me. When I made the decision to do something in the e-format, I had already published several short stories in larger print mediums. The only other thing I had was a finished manuscript for Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, but it was under contract with an agent. I took a hard look at some of the stories that were already written, like “A Reluctant Death” and “Cold Comforts” and completely overhauled them for publication. By the time I finished “A Reluctant Death” it became something I am truly proud to have written.

[DKH]: Were there any stories that didn’t make the cut?

[BJS]: My editor, Karen “The Angry Hatchet” S., absolutely refused to let me include an erotica piece called “Ancient Rituals.” It was just something meant to fill the pages and maybe titillate a few readers. I thought it was just harmless fun, but she hated it to the point that I had to decide whether to press on without her, or make a change. I remember complaining to her that I now had a story-sized gap in the manuscript, and she told me I could either publish something mediocre or get off my ass and make it awesome. At that point, I was pretty spent. I’d re-written, overhauled, and edited myself to the point of exhaustion. I opted to just write something for me. That I thought was fun. That turned out to be “Codename: Omega.”

[DKH]: I know this is probably going to be like being asked to pick a favorite child, but is there one story in particular in your book that means more to you than the others?

[BJS]: Tough to say. I like each one for their own merits, or for personal reasons. “Nazareth” was a particular victory for me because it was a HUGE struggle to get right. Karen and I went back and forth on that one so many times that each of us would fight, and then break to neutral corners to research our opinions. It became a duel of references. In the end, when it was finally done, I was just so relieved. However, I’d say “Codename: Omega” is my favorite in terms of a story. It’s cinematic and adventurous. Sean Price and I will be spending a lot more time together in the future.

[DKH]: When getting reviewed, your work inevitably gets compared to any number of potential influences, but who would you personally cite as your literary inspirations?

[BJS]: For Women and Other Monsters, the inspiration began with short-story masters like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison. I grew up reading their collections. I also see a clear influence from Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Now, bear in mind, I don’t mean in terms of writing style. Out of all of them, I’m probably closest to King (style-wise).

[DKH]: In the book’s finale, “Digestif,” we’re given a rather touching auto-biographical glimpse at the man behind the pen. Is that an all-encompassing recount of your journey to print, or perhaps a clever parting shot for the reader whose mind has already been twisted and toyed with?

[BJS]: I have a confession to make. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed the most about short-story collections were the introductions that King and Ellison did. Sometimes, I liked the introductions a whole lot more than the story themselves. It’s the idea that the author is giving you a peek behind the curtain. I think it builds a partnership with readers and demonstrates a level of trust. I can tell you a little about myself and trust that you’ll still look at me the same way, just like any relationship.

[DKH]: It seems as though the majority of the stories don’t have a definitive ending. Was that a conscious decision to allow the reader their own interpretation, or did you feel like you stopped at the point in the story that felt the most natural?

[BJS]: The consistent thing people have said to me was that they didn’t want the stories to end where they did. They thought several could be full novels or much larger bodies of work. I’m actually quite happy with that response. It means I gave them a full ride when they expected something little. That being said, several characters will be returning in the next short-story collection (Bernard J. Schaffer’s Codex Leicester) due sometime in 2012. I know people want to see Rob the Vampire again, and I certainly want to go kick the crap out of more Nazis with Agent Price.

[DKH]: I am very excited for your next book, Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes, which just released on eBook this week. What attracted you to the subject matter and what are you doing within the Sherlock Holmes universe to add your own unique footprint?

[BJS]: Last Friday night I was investigating a homicide where a little boy got his brains bashed in with a baseball bat. His father was the murderer. I’ve been a police detective for several years now and have seen things that would make most people run for the hills. For me, the thing about Holmes is that Doyle told us all this interesting stuff about him but it never really mattered. He’s an intravenous drug user, but it doesn’t affect him. He’s an insufferable misogynist but nobody minds. I wanted to take this mythic champion of Good and break him down to human-size and see if he could still rise to the occasion. As for Jack the Ripper, it’s always driven me nuts that this monstrous serial killer who butchered at least five women has been turned into some sort of romantic figure. Nobody remembers the victims. I dedicated Whitechapel to the victims. People might disagree with the level of gore or brutality in the book, but I based everything on actual events as they occurred. I actually had to tone down the reality a bit because it was just too crazy. That being said, I also based the entire setting and all of Doyle’s borrowed characters as people who would actually live in that environment. Goodbye doilies and teacups. Hello Whitechapel.

David, thank you for being such a gracious interviewer. I greatly appreciate it.

[DKH]: The pleasure was all mine. Thank you for writing such an enthralling read!


Buy Women and Other Monsters for: Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords

Buy Whitechapel: The Final Stand of Sherlock Holmes for: Kindle

2 comments

  1. A very enjoyable interview. I have only just discovered this wonderful author. I loved Women and Other Monsters, and I have just finished Whitechapel and it is a masterpiece. Eagerly anticipating more.

  2. ‘Women and Other Monsters’ is an amazing collection. I am incredibly excited about ‘Whitechapel.’ Bernard J Schaffer gives King and Lovecraft stiff competition.
    As a horror writer and fan, I’m impressed beyond words.

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