Title: Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths
Author: Anthology of short stories with various authors; edited by Colleen Morris and Joel A. Sutherland
Review Number: 9
Genre: Short Fiction, Horror
Stand alone or Series: Stand Alone
Summary: (from amazon.com)
Fried! contains 23 original tales of horror set in and around fast food restaurants. Each story is written and illustrated by some of today’s newest writers and illustrators. Think Stephen King meets Super Size Me. The book so controversial that a major restaurant chain tried to CENSOR it! Get your fill of monsters, maniacs, murderers and milkshakes. Devour the tale of a band of hobos who crave human flesh. Chow down on the myth of an abandoned restaurant that serves as a gateway for lost and demented souls. Gorge yourself on the story of the veggie burger that turns human beings into human beans. Pig out on the account of the fast food joint that stands as humanity’s last hope for survival in a zombie-infested world. These stories and more from: . D.L. Snell . Gregg Winkler . Michael Josef . Christopher J. Dwyer . Michael Hultquist . Bret Jordan . Shanna Germain . H.F. Gibbard . Andy Kirby . Kevin Lightburn . Jodi Lee . James Patrick Cobb . Cody Goodfellow . Rodney J. Smith . Stephen Leclerc . David Dunwoody . Lisa Becker . MP Johnson . Cheryl Rainfield . Ken Goldman . KJ Kabza . Joel A. Sutherland . Matt Hults
We received a copy of this book from editor and author Joel A. Sutherland, and asked to review it here. Of course I quickly agreed, and was excited to take it on.
Fried! is a collection of short horror stories with a brilliant premise–fast food. Having worked in a fast food establishment during my university days, I am well versed in the nastiness and frankly horrific experiences of a fast food joint. What better a place to give birth to ground-chuck monstrosities–what really lurks beneath the grease vats? What lives in the dumpster outside? What secrets does the meat refrigerator hold? I was ready to cozy up on a nice rainy night, zombie movie playing in the background, and got down with this book.
For what it is, Fried! does not disappoint. However, as is a problem with many short story anthologies, certain stories are better (or significantly worse) than others. On the whole, I can say that the majority of stories in this anthology have good, solidly creepy ideas. It is the level of writing, however, that fails to execute and impress. As Mr. Sutherland related in an email, this was a labor of love that took not only established authors’ work, but also took on amateur writers’ entries–which is an admirable effort, but leaves the result a bit uneven. Certain stories had a clear level of polish and a distinct voice that others lacked, which caused a kind of disjointed reading experience. I found that the stories either were very very good, or very very bad.
In the very good category, I would single out Shanna Germain’s “Sugar Pie, Honey Pie” (my favorite of the book), Michael Josef’s “Station 19”, the pretty funny James Patrick Cobb’s “The FNG”, Ken Goldman’s “Lunchtime at the Justice Café”, Joel A. Sutherland’s “The Bocan”, and Matt Hults’ “Feeding Frenzy” (my second favorite story). Each of these stories not only wrote with a distinct voice that felt real and characters that had dimension, but most importantly had a distinct ending that made sense in context of the story. A major problem with many of the stories in this book (and with many horror stories and movies in general) is the finish line stumble. I applaud each of the above authors for hitting an ending note that worked. In “Sugar Pie, Honey Pie”, I admired Ms. Germain’s creation of a female character that was put in a compromised situation, and for the sake of her daughter and sister makes a sacrifice of her own. Plus, there’s something distinctly creepy about sticky sweet fast food pies, and the ‘Queen Bee’ female hierarchy under the guise of a sweet Grandma type. “Feeding Frenzy” was reminiscent of a Stephen King type of story (think “1408” meets “The Shining” in a fast food restaurant). A perfect note to end the anthology with–I finished with a satisfied smile on my face. (That sounds kind of morbid doesn’t it? What can I say, I love a good scare). Joel’s entry “The Bocan” takes the idea of a Bocan (a gaelic spirit) as the beneficient/malevolent wish granting entity much like a Djinn. A short, and effective tale, if an old one.
There were, unfortunately, a number of stories that left me shaking my head. The very first story of the book in particular did nothing for me and had me doubting the rest of the book. D.L. Snell’s “Meat Drippings” had an interesting idea (bums that were so hungry they attacked and ate humans alive). The delivery, however, was cringe worthy–I felt as though the author was using a thesaurus to find synonyms for certain words, and the plot didn’t make much sense…at all. Not a very strong opening. Another lamentable entry was MP Johnson’s “Snail Wart”. I got about halfway through the story and then was finally told the main character was a male (I was under the impression it was a strange chick). The plot goes something like this: a strange misfit boy buys a pet snail, who he lets climb on his hand every night. Boy gets nasty pustule warts on his hand, that burst open during his shift. The puss makes people FLOAT or BREATHE FIRE. Therefore, a chick that works there LICKS the puss off boy’s hands. All the flying and fire breathing people start developing warts of their own, get pissed at boy and decide to cut off his hand. Boy thinks to himself, “I just want to be home with my snail.”
Yeah…I was mystified too.
All this said though, a fan of horror and of short fiction should give this book a try. I enjoyed it, and the stories that are written well are fun. The majority of stories are not as memorable, but still entertaining. And the terrible stories are fun to read too…if for different reasons.
Notable Quotes/Parts: I’ll do one good one, one bad one (for fairness!).
From “Lunchtime at the Justice Café”
“ “I believe you’ve just hit upon the true meaning of what Justice is all about, mister,” she finally said. “So I might as well fill in some of the details. The man at the end of the counter? That’s Billy Bob Collier, and three years ago he molested little Sally Peters, the preacher’s kid, down in Painted Canyon. But he won’t be doin’ no more molestin’ of young girls ‘long as his arm’s hangin’ on the wall of Sherriff Sweet’s office.” ”
Pretty badass, wouldn’t you say? This story was a good show of how something truly short (barely 4 pages long) can be scary and hit you fast and hard. Loved it.
From “Meat Drippings”
“The vagrant pinned him and slit his stomach open with a shard of beer bottle glass. Instead of intestines, Kevin’s gut was stuffed with hamburger, lettuce, tomatoes, and pickles, all doused in ketchup. The transient buried his face in Kevin’s abdomen and wolfed down the innards, slurping, smacking, crimson sauce staining his beard, brown giblets dangling in his whiskers.
When he woke, Kevin prepared for work.”
When I read this section, I was confused as hell. Wait a minute–Kevin got caught but his intestines were stuffed with burgers and giblets? Was it all a bad dream? Ohhh, I get it, the author was trying to pull a “GOTCHA!” moment. Just…bad, bad writing. Also note the use of “transient” as a thesaurus pull for homeless dude/bum/vagrant.
Additional Thoughts: One short story caught my attention, and while it had a good solid plot and execution, I couldn’t help but giggle incessantly while reading it. The story is Bret Jordan’s “Veggie Burger”–which was cool because there is something inherently wrong with fast food veggie burgers/organic food. It’s a bit of an oxymoron. In any case, the reason for my giggling had nothing to do with Mr. Jordan’s writing, but with the similarities between this story and one of my favorite movies of all time, the hideously wonderful Troll 2.
I HIGHLY recommend everyone to watch Troll 2. It’s the best worst movie ever made. That is NOT hyperbole. Check out this YouTube clip if you don’t believe me.
Verdict: I enjoyed this book, while some of the stories were pretty awful, there were some hidden gems in there as well which make it worth reading if you are a horror fan. Good entry by new smaller publishing firm Graveside Tales, and another big plus since it is available at some bigger retailers, notably amazon.com. Show the smaller publishers some love, and pick it up. It’s not every day you get a creative indie-feel kind of effort like this that is readily available to the public!
Rating: 6 Good, recommend with some reservations
Reading Next: Stardoc by S.L. Viehl
Shanna GermainFebruary 4, 2008 at 2:23 pm
Wow, thanks so much for the nice words about my story, “Sugar Pie, Honey Pie.” Such a treat to know that you enjoyed the story–and I have to give credit to the editors who sent the draft back to me and said, “We really like this, but the ending doesn’t quite work. Would you be willing to rewrite?”
If they hadn’t given me the chance to make the story better, it would never have appeared in the book.
Thanks again for the nice words. Makes an author’s day!
TheaFebruary 4, 2008 at 4:44 pm
The pleasure was all mine, Shanna! I really enjoyed your story, especially for the solid, fleshed-out characters (which I imagine is no small feat in a short story).
I’m glad you were able to catch the review, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of your work!
AnonymousFebruary 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm
Was curious what you thought of my antho entry ‘The Applicant’.
Please don’t spare my feelings, either, I’m genuinely curious.
Thanks (regardless of how you liked/disliked it)
TheaFebruary 6, 2008 at 6:09 pm
Certainly! Your entry “The Applicant” I actually did enjoy–I liked the ritual sacrifice theme you ran through the story (beginning with the father’s offering, the boss’ desk as the altar, and then the main character’s final willing choice to submit himself).
The only problem I found with the story was the writing style. I liked the tragic, kind of tongue-in-cheek observations that the main character made (“His dark eyes skimmed my overblown qualifications: Paper routes, yard work, that half-day of volunteering at the Y. The stuff a Super Happy Fun Burger employee is sought for.”–this is hilarious); however, the humor and the general flow of the story got bogged down at times by lengthy, kinda akwardly verbose descriptions. I know it was part of the character’s personality to ‘think’ in these terms, but when it is every sentence, it’s a bit tiring to read (i.e. “Instead the aromas of grease, fries and flayed bovines were replaced by the tinge of lacquered countertops, choking amounts of disinfectant, and the sweat of customer anticipation for a meal bought on broken resolve.”)
It almost comes across as trying too much, if you know what I mean? There are sections where the character’s real voice breaks through, and it’s funny and feels genuine–and I think if you relaxed on some similes and held back from trying to make every sentence almost poetic, it would help the story move along more smoothly.
Overall I did enjoy this story and the idea was a solid one–creepy, and effective to boot. I think you have a nice, distinct style and if you wrote a bit more…”loosely” (for lack of a better word), it would benefit your stories immensely!
Thanks for stopping by and reading the review. I will keep an eye out for any of your future endeavors!
AnonymousFebruary 6, 2008 at 9:06 pm
Hello, Thea. Thank you for the very thorough and thoughtful review of Fried! It’s flattering that you took the time to read the book and comment on many of the individual stories.
My entry, “Something in the Water,” was one you didn’t comment on. I’m afraid that may be because it was one of the ones you did not like. If so, I could not blame you for feeling that way. I think I had a good concept: overworked fast food workers under extreme stress succumb to an organically-based mental disorder and begin killing eachother. I tried to set the mood and develop the characters within the word count provided. But looking back at the story, I’m thinking maybe the plot didn’t gel the way it should have. There was too much going on and the backstory was rushed toward the end.
Anyway, if you have a moment to let me know what you thought, I welcome any comments.
H.F. (Frank) Gibbard
AnonymousFebruary 7, 2008 at 8:35 am
Thanks very much, Thea.
Appreciate the input.
TheaFebruary 7, 2008 at 4:50 pm
Your story was one that I was on the fence with. It was different than anything else in the anthology because you took a more tangible sort of horror story as opposed to the supernatural. I really liked the idea of the fungus, the spores and the damp water taking root in these poor workers’ minds and bit by bit driving them insane.
I think you hit exactly what had me torn about this one–it started off very strongly; you laid some nice groundwork for your characters, and set a good, dark, frenetic tone. Writing from a character perspective looking back in time can come across as hokey, but I think you did a very good job of it (getting down details of dress, for example when you described Jack’s appearance, or throwing in little touches like calling comics the “funny books”, and the Ghostrider shoutout–nicely done). It all just rushed to a climax and ended very abruptly though. I felt like the first 2/3 of the story was subtle and tantalizingly leading up to something really cool–but then the last 1/3 felt hurried and detached.
Knowing that you had a word count to work with makes sense though. This was quite an ambitious idea, especially for a short amount of space. Personally, I love it when authors spend a good amount of time investing in environment and mood–it makes the payoff all the sweeter. But I have to admit I was disappointed to have all that moody exposition hastily cut short and rushed through at the end.
As is, it’s fine. Not as memorable as some of the others, but not bad either. I think as a longer story, you really could have made this idea work completely–all the way through to its chilling conclusion (by the way, I loved the last few lines, with the character still questioning himself and thinking of the spores he had inhaled as still part of him. Deliciously creepy).
Thanks for stopping by and reading the review–I hope my comments are useful!
*Oh! One final note–I love the description/phrasing of “de-boogering” chicken. I don’t think I’ll ever look at cleaning chicken the same way again!
AnonymousFebruary 7, 2008 at 7:39 pm
Thanks, Thea, so much for your thoughtful comments! I am really impressed by the depth of your analysis of my story and the insight you brought to your comments. I’ve added your review site to my favorites and will definitely be back for more.
AnonymousFebruary 9, 2008 at 7:50 pm
What did you think of the interior artists? Who was you’re favourite? Or were there any standout art in the book?
matthultsFebruary 10, 2008 at 6:39 am
Hi Thea! Matt Hults here. Thanks so much for the excellent comments about my story ‘Feeding Frenzy.’ It was fun to write and Joel and Colleen have been very supportive of it. I should also say that I only had a minimal hand in the newspaper portion of the book. I wrote the article for my story, but Bret took care of the formatting and creating those wonderful ‘used’ looks that characterize each clipping. It’s a great book to be a part of and certainly hope they do it again!
Bret JordanFebruary 10, 2008 at 9:34 am
Thanks for the nice comments about Veggie Burger! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
I haven’t seen Troll 2 yet, but I will definately have to check it out.
TheaFebruary 10, 2008 at 10:27 am
Frank–my pleasure. I’m glad to hear that my comments are useful, and that you like the blog!
Re: Art in Fried! I have to say I am very impressed (and probably should have written about this in my original review). First off, I love the cover art by Bret Jordan. The demonic take on a Bob’s Big Boy (which has always creeped me out in the first place) is very cool. So far as the interior artists go, I have to say probably my favorite single piece is “The Drain”–I believe by Collin Burton (it’s hard to make out the signature). It’s different from any of the other art in the book and I like the negative effect. I am a huge fan of Stephen Blundell’s art which has a kind of comic book print feel (“Station 19”, “Shift Change” and “The Bocan” have a cool, polished vibe). I liked the cartoon/almost anime kind of feel to Matt Hults’ art for “The Playspace” as well. On the whole, I was very impressed with the level (and variation) of art in the book.
Matt–I’m glad you made it over here! Your story, as I said in the review, was the perfect way to end the anthology. I’m a fan! Great work, can’t wait to read more.
Bret–“Veggie Burger” and your art in the book are great. Also, big props on the formatting of those newspaper clips–it was a nice touch (with coffee stains, burn marks, etc). And Troll 2 is worth every penny. Brief synopsis: family goes on an exchange vacation to Nilbog, where the residents try to turn the unsuspecting visitors into giant MLANTS (half man, half plants): a goblin’s favorite food. It’s really in a league of its own.
Dale L. MurphyFebruary 10, 2008 at 11:40 am
My name is Dale Murphy and I am co-owner of Graveside Tales with my partner Anthony Kendall. I am glad for the overall positive review. Fried! kinda fell in our lap. After reading it we and thought it would make a great way to start our Graveside Tales Presents anthology line. When we first received Fried! we decided to spice things up a bit with the illustrations for each story along with a few newspaper clippings. Next came the decision to change the cover. We originally hoped that Bob’s Big Boy would allow us to use their mascot but we were turned down by the President of the company in big read underlined letters that say DENIED. I am glad we didn’t get permission and were able to come up with a mascot of our own.
Our next anthology is The Beast Within which is due out around early spring depending on how things flow in terms of artwork, layout, etc.
~Dale L. Murphy
AnonymousFebruary 11, 2008 at 1:14 am
I just read the comments about the “Fried” art. Thanks for the review of the art, it was a great opportunity for me to be illustrating these great stories. I am a big fan of all the writers that I got to turn their words into images. A big thanks to those guys!
Thea … thanks again, for review the book!
– Stephen Blundell
TheaFebruary 11, 2008 at 8:56 am
I am glad to hear that Fried! is just the first of more Graveside Tales anthologies to come. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for The Beast Within, and for any further publications.
That is hilarious about the Bob’s Big Boy denial–but I have to agree that the new ‘mascot’ that was designed is clever and more memorable than the Big Boy would have been. Great work on the book, and I’m especially impressed with the wide availability of the antho.
Stephen–thanks for stopping by. I read in the ‘about the artists’ section that you are currently working on a zombie comic? Great job on the art, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for your stuff!
AnonymousFebruary 11, 2008 at 2:18 pm
Indeed there is a zombie comic project looming … just working on a few more chapters before I put it live on the web! Its a different type of comic … it has a very bleak outlook for mankind!
– Stephen Blundell
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lisaApril 17, 2020 at 10:42 am
Thanks for sharing the restaurant recommendation love Cheryl! We’re looking into a birthday trip to Brussels and this might just be the perfect setting for a special meal.Christini’s take out