The Cult Called Freedom House introduces the reader to an already deeply haunted police officer named Sophia Rey. With one foot firmly planted in the hard-boiled world, we get a glimpse at the kind of story that will play out over the course of the book’s narrative. The horrendous tragedy she’s been through once before, it is precisely this which sends Rey charging headlong into truly a vision of Hell itself: Freedom House.
Freedom House, the titular and ominous cabal, would make Charlie Manson blush. Its charismatic leader Cyrus and his unnervingly loyal lieutenants send spiders up your back as you trudge through the depravity of their awful machinations. Brutality. Brainwashing (I mean it is a cult, I mean come on), and a buffet right out of Chainsaw Massacre are all featured in this gruesome tome.
The standout, Penelope the chef, is particularly nightmarish by the end. What she’s cooking, you don’t want. Yes, ma’am, check please. I’m out the door.
Don’t go near Freedom House. Ever.
It’s Mickey Spillane meets Silence of the Lambs. And it’s not for the squeamish. Can’t wait to see the next installment of this series that’s off to a kick-ass start.
BURNT BRIDGE had the opportunity to chat briefly with Stephanie about the new book. See what she had to say:
BURNT BRIDGE: What inspired you to write about Freedom House? Any real world analogs at work here?
STEPHANIE EVELYN: I always wanted to write a book but just didn’t know what to write. I started listening to writing podcasts like The Creative Penn, Ink Heist, and This is Horror. The one message that continuously resonated with me was they all said to write what you are passionate about and what you’d want to read. I realized it was right in front of me all along. I have always loved horror, loved the macabre, and have obsessed over documentaries and books about many different cults.
BB: How did Sophia Rey come about? How long have you had her in the back of your head?
SE: I know it’s cliché and overrated to discuss pantsers vs. outliners however Sophia Rey did not come into existence until about a third of the way through the novel! With this novel, I was an extreme pantser and not for any particular reason. I just went with whatever worked, whatever got the words on the page, and whatever pushed me to the finish line to then begin editing.
BB: Did you study famous cults for this book? What are some of the scariest real things you’ve heard about?
SE: So, I studied cults without even studying them. I have an affinity with cults, and I’ve said in other interviews, it’s not because I agree with cult leaders’ morals by any means. I am just infatuated with the premise of such deep manipulation by human beings to the point of no return. It’s dark, it’s scary, and it’s REAL. Some of the scariest things that have resonated with me are stories that the public has heard already. Young teenagers on drugs, breaking into random houses and murdering people? That’s errie. I have seen the documentaries with the real photographs. The blood painted on the walls, it’s just strange and scary. I also thought Jonestown was extremely scary especially because there were children involved. This is real stuff that happens and it’s all because of human beings manipulating and conniving lost minds and lost souls.
BB: So many great, vivid moments and characters. What are some of your favorite scenes/moments, without giving too much away?
SE: I just want to start by saying, I never would’ve realized how mentally and physically exhausting writing disturbing scenes can be. Every time I wrote a scene in this book that was dark and deadly, it took all my energy and emotions with it. Some of my favorites, and also the ones that pulled every ounce of energy I had, were:
- The flashback of Detective Salvino when he discovered the Boulder Creek mass suicide.
- Sophia Rey returning to San Jose to say goodbye to her father.
- Samantha Watson, aka Ivy, out in the woods and in the tent with Cyrus.
- Samantha and Sophia inside of the Red Room.
BB: Okay. So they want to make it a movie and you get to choose the cast (hey it could happen). Who do you pick?
SE: This really is a difficult question. I think Robert Patrick would make a good Cyrus. I would pick Carrie-Anne Moss as Sophia Rey and Haley Ramm as Samantha (Ivy.) As for the disturbing character, Penelope, I think a good fit would be Emma Roberts.
BB: What do you love about horror? Why’d you choose it as a genre?
SE: What I love about horror is how distant and far away it is from reality but also eerily close at any moment. I’ve seen so many shows and movies about real crimes, serial killers, murders, etc. but the fact is, these tragedies can happen to anyone. These things happen to real people and you never think it’ll happen to you. It blows my mind that there are people out there who can and will commit such horrible acts. It’s almost unbelievable. I chose horror because I know it moves readers into the same types of emotions and thoughts as any literary genre. Horror is just as important as any other genre.
BB: What’s your process like? Do you write everyday? Do you set yourself deadlines? How long did this book take you to first draft?
SE: I wish I had a more disciplined and structured writing schedule. I am a wife, a mother, and have a 9 to 5 so it’s not extremely easy to get a schedule down however I do sacrifice my weekends to write and I sometimes turn down going out to write instead. It’s just the way of authors. I write late at night, on weekends, and I am thankful to have my parents who live nearby to have my four-year-old over for sleepovers, leaving me with some time to write. It took my a total of 6 months and a few weeks to write, edit, and self-publish.
BB: Do you write to music? What are some songs on your playlist for this book?
SE: I sometimes write to music but not always. I can rarely write to music with lyrics and especially when it’s music I love because it distracts me. I like to listen to instrumental music when writing or no music at all.
BB: Who are some of your favorite writers? In horror? Other genres?
SE: I am a big fan of the Beat Generation of writers and one of my favorites is William S. Burroughs. Hunter S. Thompson also has had an influence on me. Stephen King, there I said it. I am a fan and he inspires me. A book that scared me was Hell House by Richard Matheson. Josh Malerman is an eccentric writer who knows how to write the eerie. I recently discovered the indie horror writing scene and I am still discovering it. There are so many great writers out there. Some of those authors are: Chad Lutzke, Brian Keene, John C. Foster, Paul Tremblay, Bob Ford, Matt Hayward, Kealan Patrick Burke, Laurel Hightower – this is just naming a few. I have a TBR list that continues to grow at a pace that I cannot keep up with.
BB: You hosted an online book release party via social media. How’d you organize that? How did that play out for you, and would you recommend it to other indie/small press authors?
SE: Alan Baxter gave me this idea. I saw that he did an online book launch via a Facebook event a couple months ago, so I followed the event that day and then reached out to him and asked him questions about how to organize it. He was very helpful. Setting up the online book launch actually kept me accountable in getting the book self-published. Once I announced the date and began sharing the event weeks before, it made it all very real for me. It was a lot of work but so much fun. I incorporate about eight horror raffle prizes and the day of launch asked folks to send me or post their receipts after purchasing my book to enter to win. The online book launch worked well because I had done a lot of work months before growing my online presence and building my community across social media. It takes time but has been one of the best communities to be a part of.
BB: What are your plans for the future of the series? Anything you can share as of yet?
Sophia Rey is ready for retribution, for her sister and for Samantha Watson. She can’t do it alone…
Potential Title – The Coven of Retribution: Sophia Rey Book 2
The Cult Called Freedom House is available on Amazon: