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“Hansel and Gretel” Meets “Friday the 13th” in Bulwark

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“They say she comes back every 50 years. She needs fresh blood to stay young and beautiful, and she takes children. Steals them and keeps them.”

Welcome to Bulwark, a fictitious small town near Georgia you try hard to believe is cute and quiet. Now welcome to Bulwark, the novelette by Brit Lunden that is not long enough to capture even the slightest tranquility you want this town to have.

Seems like Sheriff Clay Finnes picked a bad week to give up aspirin. In the course of this fast-paced thriller, which takes place over only a few days, he is called to investigate a brutal car accident, a murder, a break-in, werewolf attacks, and a few other oddities.

Perhaps most noteworthy is the appearance – and subsequent disappearance — of a so-called Gingerbread House down a deserted dirt back road, with a decrepit old lady answering the door and the sound of children throughout.

The story brings to mind another tale of a young brother and sister kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch living in a forest, in a house constructed of cake, confectionery, candy, and many more treats than imaginable.  For Bulwark, think “Hansel and Gretel” meets “Friday the 13th.”

Clay’s challenges trying to sort out the book’s many mysteries is overlaid by the relationship with his wife Jenna, with whom he is separated as the story opens. She has fallen into despair after an accident that claimed the life of their daughter Claire. Clay can’t stop thinking about Jenna.

But his obsession is quickly distracted. In the car accident, the woman pulled from the car is delirious, insisting that her children are being held captive in the Gingerbread House on Linden Lane. The first hint that something is not quite right: “He knew every street in the county and had never heard of Linden Lane. He asked her once more, and she looked at him, her eyes bulging from their sockets and whispered, ‘Linden Lane is on the other side of hell.’ ”

So what exactly is – or isn’t – the Gingerbread House? Who is the old lady? And the voices of children – are they real? If so, who are they?

Given the Hansel and Gretel resemblances, it might come as no surprise that author Lunden is also a prolific writer of more than 50 children’s books under the name Carole P. Roman. But besides Hansel and Gretel, this tale is one of suspense, mystery and terror – hardly fit for children.

Bulwark is all about the plot. Lunden keeps the narrative moving at a brisk pace, introducing one catastrophe after another, only to delicately bring them all together. Every character has a purpose; every line advances the story, confounds the reader, but offers necessary clues.

Without giving anything away, readers will do a double-take at the book’s conclusion when Lunden offers two different endings: “One Way to End a Story,” she entitles Chapter 16, followed by “Or Maybe You’d Prefer an Alternate Ending.”

For readers who like mystery, horror and, ok, maybe a cookie roof in the middle of the forest, try Bulwark – especially if you are the type where nothing shocks you.

Lunden recently provided more insights in a recent Q&A with BookTrib.

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BookTrib: The setting of Bulwark, GA, is very much a character in the story. Is the town based on a town from your past?

Brit Lunden: I drove through Georgia when I was 15 years old on to Florida with my family. The quiet, isolated feel stayed with me. We stopped for a rest break in a rural area. I recall a peach farm. I remember getting out of the car and looking at the night sky, and it took my breath away. I had never seen so many stars. I felt like I was in the middle of space.  That sense of wonder never left me, and when I created the characters, I plopped them down in an imaginary town based on that spot.

BT: Sheriff Clay Finnes is an interesting, complicated protagonist.  How did the inspiration for him come about?

BL: None of my characters are well developed in my mind. They come to life and begin to tell me how they want to react or what is right for them. I start stories by jumping into the action, and the characters play the plot out.

BT: When Clay goes to find the gingerbread house, the drive down Linden Lane came to life in a very creepy way.  Was this part of the story fun to write?

BL: I have fun in every part of the stories I write. I never see it as creepy, and only when I reread, I wonder where the heck it came from. I can’t watch scary movies or read horror books — I’m too afraid.

BT: There are many fairy tale references in Bulwark. Do you have a special affinity for this genre?

BL: I was brought up on fairy tales. My grandmother read me a book that was my mom’s when she was a kid. Cinderella was my first movie, and I was enchanted with her ever since. I have so much Cinderella paraphernalia in my home, it looks like Disney threw up in here. I think fairy tales gave people hope in the old days. I think they also served as morality lessons. I think people today are more sophisticated and don’t like stories shoved down their throats. They also don’t want to be manipulated or told how they should feel.

BT: The title Bulwark naturally refers to the town but also to the reference that Clay was Jenna’s  “…bulwark and could stand her onslaught.” Please explain.

BL:  I knew Clay was Jenna’s bulwark. He would stand in front of a tsunami for her. I had such a mental picture of this guy. He was incredibly brave and self-sacrificing, as well as deeply in love with his wife. I realized as I was writing the inhabitants were all sort of depending on Clay, and I felt their isolation –that his bravery and intuition was what was holding the demons at bay. It seemed a perfect name for the town.

BT: You’ve written many stories for children. What made you want to tackle this very different genre and how does the writing process compare?

BL: I read and review mostly adult fiction and nonfiction. When I started writing, I thought it would be the great American novel. I didn’t expect to find my niche with children’s books. Many of my author friends asked me to write romance or adult-themed books. I decided to take a chance with Bulwark, and I enjoyed the experience very much.

All stories, no matter what the genre, come together for me as the plot thickens. I can think I have an idea of where it is going to go, but very often, my characters steer the story in another direction.

ABOUT BRIT LUNDEN:

Brit Lunden is also known as prolific children’s author, Carole P. Roman. She has published over 50 books. Whether it’s pirates, princesses, or discovering the world around us, her books have enchanted educators, parents, and her diverse audience of children. She hosts two blog radio programs and is one of the founders of a new magazine, Indie Author’s Monthly. She’s been interviewed twice by Forbes Magazine. Carole has co-authored a self-help book, Navigating Indieworld: A Beginners Guide to Self-Publishing and Marketing. Bulwark is her first book of adult fiction.

Bulwark is now available on Amazon.

Jim Alkon is Editorial Director of BookTrib.com and Senior Director, Marketing and Strategy, for BookTrib creator Meryl Moss Media. Jim is a veteran of the business-to-business media and marketing worlds, with extensive experience on both the business development and content sides. But Jim is a writer at heart – whether a book review, blog, white paper, corporate communication, marketing or sales piece, it really doesn’t matter as long as he is having fun and someone is benefitting from it.

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