Author Interview – I.E. Lester

This month I’m happy to bring you all an interview with sci-fi and horror author I.E. Lester (aka Edmund Lester). Edmund’s YA supernatural novel “The Stairs Lead Down” is scheduled for release on Oct. 31st.

  1. Let’s start at the beginning. When did the writing bug bite you? Was it something that you aspired to as a youngster or is it a more recent interest?

The thought of writing fiction never occurred to my teenage or twenty-something self. I was a voracious reader in those days, mostly of science fiction, fantasy and horror, although some other fiction would occasionally sneak in. In my youth the reading bug was absolute; as was the collecting bug. As a result forty years after reading my first science fiction book, a short story collection by Isaac Asimov, I have a collection containing more than 16,000 books and magazines.

The first time the idea of writing science fiction appeared was when I created a science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction website called the Eternal Night. On this site I reviewed books, conducted author interviews, wrote articles about science fiction and science fact. I ran the site for the best part of ten years until the age of social media started and people moved away from web 1.0 sites.

During this period I was fortunate to meet many, many authors for the interviews section but also socially; including one particular group called the Terror Scribes. One or two of them wondered why I had never tried my hand at writing fiction. They encouraged me to give it a try although I was very hesitant. My background is in mathematics and physics. My day job was coding software systems. I was used to writing technical documents, an easy switch to the science articles, but I didn’t think I had any chance of adapting my writing style to fiction.

When I hit forty my wife told me to give it a try. Well, how could I disappoint her. So I tried writing some short stories and several of them sold, mostly to webzines but also to some small press magazines and anthologies. I continued with the short form for three years until an opportunity to set up a side line business selling superhero comics, toys, and merchandise presented itself which consumed all of the spare time I had.

When I sold the company after four years I decided to give writing another try only this time I wanted to see if I could write a novel. I did. And then I wrote another. Neither of them was any good but they proved to me I could stick with it all the way to typing those two glorious words, “The End”.

I wrote a third, a huge science fiction alternate history book that was intended to be the first in a series. It was the first novel I’d written where I felt it was actually a novel someone might read. I sent it out to every agent and publisher I could find who might consider it. None of them went for it; although a couple did request a full manuscript so that was encouraging. I wrote a fourth, a horror book based in part on my own childhood growing up just south of Birmingham in the 1970s. It too failed to find a home. I kept trying.

This was followed by a handful of weird novellas featuring a middle-aged, middle-class, middle-Englander whom I torment in strange ways; another horror novel, this one a claustrophobic tale of people stuck in a village store; a ya fantasy novel; a bawdy comedic space opera; two surreal novels on company culture and the fame game; and the YA supernatural, The Stairs Lead Down coming out on Hallowe’en 2017.

  1. I saw you had an article in Darker Matter some time ago called Generation Spaceships. Your other work has centered around the Horror genre, so I’m curious about a piece that is so very much Sci-Fi. It was quite a detailed piece of work.

My background is in science. I studied mathematics and physics at University and trained to be a teacher. I have maintained an interest in science ever since. Before the idea of writing fiction I had written and sold dozens of articles on science, history, horror, linguistics, plus a number of mini-biographies of people I admire.

When the online magazine Darker Matter started the editor was kind enough to consider my suggestion of including a non-fiction article in its first issue. I write a piece on Exoplanets, a topic I’d studied at University albeit it only in theory as it was 5 years after I left that the first one was discovered. The article seemed to go down well with his readers so we turned it into a series of articles on astrophysics. I enjoyed researching and writing these articles and was disappointed when the magazine ended.

You are right about the horror focus on my other published work. When I first started writing short stories the majority of the stories were horror. I couldn’t see the point of trying to write fantasy short stories. Fantasy to me is long form. Science fiction is a very friendly genre to the short form and I did write a number of sf shorts but I found horror much easier. There’s something satisfying about getting a little scare in, in just a few words. I had a particular fondness for writing horror drabbles (100 word stories), especially comedic ones.

For interest here is one I wrote six years ago. It was accepted by a magazine that unfortunately folded before it was published.

Don’t Blame Me

“Don’t blame me, you made this,” he repeated

I looked at him, really looked at him.  His eyes glowed red; his forehead was bumpy; behind him something flickered. A tail?

“Satan?” I asked uncertainly.

“Who were you expecting, Mother Theresa?”

“What do you mean, ‘I made this’?”

“Our policy is to make each hell fit the individual.  Kind of a personal service eternal suffering you might say.”

“But a neon-lit karaoke bar, who would create something like this?”

“You! It’s your idea of the worst possible night out. Eternity here should be complete hell.

Then Satan vanished.

  1. I’m sure you’ve seen the memes that want to give writers a verbal beating because we’re not sitting at our computers writing 24/7, 365. I simply can’t do that. What sort of writing work schedule and routine do you try to keep?

I do not have a very good writing schedule. Routines do not work for me. I go through peaks and troughs with it. Sometimes I can sit and write for hours on end and it all comes naturally; other times it is a struggle. Of late it’s been a trough time so I’m not writing all that often and when I do it becomes a chore.

In contrast when I’m on a peak the words just flow and I never want to leave the keyboard. To give you an example of what these times can be like. I had the idea for my sf alternate history novel walking down a road in the Netherlands whilst on holiday in May 2015. I started writing the novel on my return, with one week of the month to go. I finished the first draft by the start of August; 122,000 words long. In that time I’d also written a 30,000 words novella, the Intersection due out next year. In two months and all while maintaining a day job (I do have to keep paying the mortgage) I’d written more than 150,000 words of fiction. The revision of them both was done in another month.

This year’s been much more of a struggle. I’ve fought through writing a surreal satire around the entertainment industry and a full rewrite of my YA fantasy as requested by the publisher interested in it. They were not easy though. It really did feel like work for much of it.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to get out of the funk soon. I have so many stories I want to tell.

  1. Your first novel, The Stairs Lead Down, is scheduled to be released on Halloween of this year! Can you tell us a bit of the back story, what inspired it, and maybe share a little sneak-peak excerpt?

The Stairs Lead Down was one of a couple of the stories I’ve written that have come around because of films I’ve watched; only for all the wrong reasons. If I watch a good film or a good TV series I will walk away with happy but with a clear head. I am satisfied with how it was told. If however, I watch a film I find terrible it is quite the opposite. I start wondering how I would have written it; what I could have done to make it better.

These thought processes always end up with nothing of the original story remaining. My brain swaps out literally every single part of the film, its setting, its plot, its characters, its time period; everything. Then I sit down with a notebook and start scribbling down my idea. I keep an A5 notebook for every story idea large enough in scope to potentially become a novel or a series. If at the end of this scribbling I have enough I construct a framework plot, flesh it out with characters and scenes, all still in the notebook. Then when I’m happy I start typing.

The Stairs Lead Down, is set in my hometown, Ashby de la Zouch (rather than the big city in the USA in the film that started me thinking). There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly it makes research really easy. I know we live in the age of Google Maps but actually walking up and down the streets where the story is set is so much more valuable to me. But the main reason I picked Ashby is its history. It’s existed for more than a thousand years and everywhere you look there is history. When you’re writing a ghost story this is invaluable. I can have ghosts from any point in history just drop in as needed.

Having the two main characters as twins is possibly the only holdover from when I started thinking of the story. Twins are simultaneously freaky to non-twins but common enough that having them in a story isn’t unrealistic. (There were no twins in the film the idea started from.)

The twins in my story share a power that allows them to see the ghost realms (also non-existent in the film) hidden to everyone else. It also exposes them to danger as there are people in the world who want to rip this power from them for their own, obviously nefarious, purposes.

The house where the majority of the action takes place is based on the one where an old friend of mine grew up. It has a history almost as old as Ashby, albeit was rebuilt by the Victorians. My friend’s house was actually older, or at least part of its basement was. The foundation of his house was thought to be Roman, some 1,700 years old. The twins house has a later origin being originally built a mere thousand years ago.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Chapter One of The Stairs Lead Down:

Lizzie twisted herself almost entirely around so she could see through the rear window of Dad’s car. Standing outside the gate of her, now old, home was Michelle. There were tears running down Lizzie’s face as she waved to her friend, growing smaller as Dad drove away. It wasn’t fair. Just because Mum and he wanted to move to the country, why did she have to? Her whole life was here. What did she want with Leicestershire?

The car turned the corner. Michelle was now out of sight. A few seconds later she turned back around. Looking back was depressing; and not a little uncomfortable. Dad drove the route she had walked each morning since she’d moved to high school. Within a minute they would be passing the gate she would never walk through again.

Lizzie wasn’t interested in taking one last look though. She fished her iPhone from her pocket and started tapping in a message to Michelle. It was her intention to spend the whole journey like this. She certainly had no intention of saying anything to her father. Five minutes later she’d run out of things to write. She could tell from her messages Michelle was feeling as uninspired as her. She said a quick goodbye to her friend, promising to talk later.

She looked out of the window. She didn’t recognise the road Dad was driving along. It wasn’t somewhere she’d been before; or if she had she hadn’t cared enough to remember it. It was a London street like any other; rows of houses and shops, bus stops and bollards. It wasn’t as nice as Twickenham; but when she thought about it, nowhere was. And she was sure this Ashby de la Zouch, the nearest town to their new house, wasn’t going to be either.

What kind of name was Ashby de la Zouch anyway? It sounded French. What was a town in England doing with a French name? It was stupid. She’d seen pictures of it on the internet. It looked boring; boring and stupid. And it was her new home. She felt miserable.

Lizzie glanced at the Satnav screen. There was still more than two and a half hours to go before they’d arrive; two and a half hours of misery and the weather looked like it agreed with her. Rain started to fall as Dad turned onto the M25. Two hours; it felt horrible. That’s how far she would be from everything she liked about her life; two and a half hours from anything civilised.

She wondered where Noah and Mum were. They’d set out half an hour or so before Dad. He’d agreed to stay to the end; handle the handover of the keys to the estate agent and take care of any last minute paperwork. Lizzie had been glad he had waited. That extra half an hour with Michelle, in civilisation, was precious to her.

For once the traffic on the M25 was free from queues. Every time she’d been on this road (usually for days out or holidays) they’d been held up. Dad would usually start to grow angry and begin cursing. Mum would always tut and remind him of Lizzie and Noah. Mum needn’t have bothered. His language was nothing she hadn’t heard in school; and not even close to the screams of the girls on the hockey pitch. There was nothing she could learn from him.

Her attention was caught by the clicking of the indicator. She looked through the windscreen to see where they were. The sign indicated he was turning onto the M40 and headed for Oxford and Birmingham. Oxford was as far north as Lizzie had ever been before. Her school had organised a trip there last year to visit the Ashmolean Museum. She’d found the museum boring but had enjoyed walking around Oxford itself. The college buildings were pretty.

Birmingham though was something else. She’d never been. From everything she’d heard she never wanted to. She’d met one or two people from the city and they sounded awful. She could hardly understand them. She also couldn’t understand why they allowed themselves to sound like that. She knew if she’d been born there she would have done everything possible to not have that accent.

A horrible thought passed through her head. Would the people in Ashby sound like that? Was she going to be surrounded by people who talked…wrong? Could anything else make this worse?

~*~

Noah was glad Lizzie had opted not to join him and Mum on the drive up. It meant he wouldn’t have to listen to her whining or suffer through the inevitable argument with Mum it would lead to. It also meant he would get to see the house first, explore it and stake his claim on the best bedroom. Lizzie had had the largest, other than Mum and Dad’s, in their house in Twickenham and now it was his turn.

Mum announced a detour. She was going to drive along the high street in Ashby de la Zouch before they headed for the house. Noah was happy when she’d suggested that. It was something else he was going to get to do before his sister. She usually insisted on being first at everything and would always remind him of being born first whenever he questioned it; as if twelve minutes made any difference, beyond their having different birthdays anyway. He’d always liked that. He got his special day and didn’t have to share it with her.

High Street, no Market Street he corrected himself, looked normal. Okay it was a little smaller than Twickenham’s centre but it seemed okay. There were plenty of places where he could hang out with the new friends he was sure he would make. It would be different but he reckoned he would get used to it; and so would Lizzie. She would just be insufferable until she did.

Mum pulled the car into the drive of their new house just behind the first of the removals vans. The drive way was enormous; just like the house. Back in Twickenham one van like the one ahead of them would have filled their driveway. Mum and Dad had had to park carefully if they wanted to get two cars on the drive. Here you could probably fit more than a dozen.

As the removals van turned around ahead of them Noah saw another vehicle was already there; a car he didn’t recognise. The man leaning against it was also unknown to him. Mum did seem to recognise him though. She waved as she pulled on the handbrake and switched off the engine. That was it. Their journey was over. They were here.

Noah unclipped his seatbelt and got out of the car. The gravel of the driveway crunched under his feet. He stared at the house. It looked weird. The stones, wet from the recent rain, gleamed in the sunlight. It looked wrong. This house was so old he thought it would look far better through mist than in bright sunshine.

Mum had crossed the distance to man she’d waved at seconds before. They were talking warmly. When the two of them moved to the front of the house and he unlocked the front door, Noah realised who he must be. He was the estate agent his parents had bought the house from. Mum stepped inside. That confirmed it. It was real. This was his new home.

He had this uncontrollable urge to rush inside and explore but wasn’t sure if he should. Would he just be getting in the way of the removals men? His restraint was never going to last. There was no way anything was going to keep him from seeing where they would be living. He virtually ran across the driveway; wanting to get a closer look at his new home.

A few feet short of the door he pulled up to a halt. There was a name carved into the stone about the door. It was weathered but still just about readable. His new home was called Clemency House. It was an odd name. He wondered what it meant. He shook his head. That was a matter for later. Right now he had more important things to do.  He jumped through the large oak front door into the entrance hall beyond. He was in his new home.

5. What other things have you got going on in the writing arena? Now that you’ve written one novel, and have another one in the works, do you think that will be your preferred method of story-telling or do you have some more short stories in mind?

I have aforementioned finished novels I will be submitting out at some point in the future once they’ve been revised and polished. I’ve been a little remiss on doing this so at least six are sitting there at first draft only. I like to convince myself it’s because I have had to concentrate on the revisions of the books publishers want but it’s not entirely true. Writing new fiction is much more fun than revising a previously written story; especially once you get to drafts 3 and above.

The draft of The Patternmaker’s Daughter I sent in to the publisher at the end of August was draft 5 (plus a final polish so you might almost call it draft 6). All I know is by the time I had gone through it that many times, I was finding it hard to keep liking the world and its characters as much as I had when I was inventing them. I can’t complain too much as I can see how much these reworking have improved the story. I’m just hoping the publisher believes it sufficiently improved to be worthy of publication.

I do have a number of possible projects. I have written the first 3 chapters of the sequel to The Stairs Lead Down. This second book, called Breath of Imagined Dead, a title which will make sense to anyone who reads it, is set a few months after the end of the first book. The characters are having to deal with the consequences of the events in book one and getting used to having powers and wondering what perils are likely to come their way in future. These chapters, when I’ve polished them, will be available as a taster with the release of book one. I’ve left them with a bit of a cliffhanger. I hope people aren’t too annoyed by me for where I’ve left the story.

Away from that I have a number of other novel ideas in preparation, all adult level rather than ya. There are two fantasy stories, both of which will take a number of books to tell, one set in a roughly Industrial Revolution period world and the other in an alternate 21st Century, having diverted away from our history in the 1930s. I’m a little hesitant to pick either of these two as if Patternmaker’s sells it will start its own series and maintaining two fantasy series simultaneously does not seem a good idea.

The main science fiction idea I have is also a multiple book story. It would probably take three books to tell. It’s a post nuclear war Earth recovering tale set in Africa and Australia, the two areas least affected by the war and involves the fast rise of a new religion.

Then of course there are the weird novellas. I have scribbled down nearly twenty ways in which I could make the life of my middle-aged, middle-class, middle-Englander go to hell in a handcart. These are so much fun to write. I base a lot of this character on me, although with characteristics from some of the people I’ve known over the years to blur it a little. For one thing he’s not as tall as I am. I didn’t want him to be anything other in average in any way. Making him 6’8” wouldn’t fit with this. Also he has a child, whereas I don’t. Most people do have children so he needed to if he was going to be ordinary. I made him an accountant too, as one of my former colleagues was an accountant and I felt having a boring character being an accountant might annoy him.

As far as short stories go, none of the ideas I’ve had for fiction since returning to writing have fitted the short form. I’m not dismissing the idea of writing any in future but when you have a world encompassing idea that needs dozens of characters in various different countries to tell you just need more words than a short story can contain. Let’s see what the future brings though. I might get a slew of short fiction ideas. That would be fun.

  1. Where can people learn more about you and your work? Website? Twitter? Facebook?

My main social media presence is Twitter. I like the 140 character limit. You can find me at https://twitter.com/ielester/

I tweet most days. I tweet most often on writing days, usually giving progress reports and announcing the music I’m using for inspiration. I always write listening to music – I’m doing this interview with my foot tapping along to Ian Dury and the Blockheads. A band I’ve loved for more than 30 years. I have an eclectic taste in music and use many different genres to keep me going. As a result you’ll see mentions of bands and artists like Rush, the Who, It Bites, Lou Reed, Metallica, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Springsteen, Tanita Tikaram, Marillion and Ultravox. I don’t see the point sticking to a particular type of music. I go where the mood takes me and will even admit to listening to my guilty pleasures.

I tend to interact with people a lot on twitter and will always reply if someone tweets at me. I don’t reply to the automatic DMs that get fired off when you follow some people. They annoy me. Obviously personal DMs have a much better chance. I reply to most of those.

Twitter will also be the place where I make any announcements regarding my writing.

I do have a blog although I have to admit to being terrible at maintaining it. I’ve just noticed it’s been seven months since I last posted. I will have to change that. In fact I’m going to post once I’ve finished this interview.

Here’s the link – http://ielester.blogspot.co.uk/

In the past I’ve been a lot better, posting much more regularly. This seems to go in the same phases as my writing with the peaks and troughs. I’m hoping typing up the answers to this interview might inspire. For some reason I’ve found it easy to type (hence the huge amount of words). This could be a turning point.

I have got a Facebook page. My wife set it up for me last year but I keep forgetting to update it. I must get better at this. As for a website. For someone who maintained a sffh website that ended up with 22,000 pages I have been completely terrible at getting around to creating an author website. I must make time for this.

Thanks, Edmund! What a great interview! I wish you all the best on your new book and may it lead to many more.

Folks, if you want to look further into Edmund’s novel The Stairs Lead Down – check out Writer’s Sanctum Publishing for all the details.

http://www.writerssanctumpublishing.co.uk/the-stairs-lead-down/4593890758

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Shadow Fabric by Mark Cassell

On the second day of his new job, Leo is witness to a murder. His boss, Victor, stabs his own brother, Stanley, with a mysterious dagger known as the Witchblade. But Stanley suffers from no normal stab wound. Instead he is drawn into what appears to be a black piece of fabric and is consumed. No body is left behind and Leo can’t rid himself of the final, terrifying image of Stanley before he completely vanishes. What madness has Leo gotten himself into by taking a simple job as a chauffeur?

The more questions Leo asks, the deeper he finds himself as part of the insanity. Soon, there is no escape. He must see this through to the bitter end. He wants answers, not the least of which what his friend Richard Goodwin has to do with it all. It was Richard who got him the job with Victor and also Richard who seems to know much more about Leo’s forgotten life than he’s willing to say.

The Shadow Fabric is an action-packed and fast-paced run through the underbelly of a realm of darkness, insanity, and a secret mythos that all but the very few are aware of.  Leo took my hand, gripped it tight, and yanked me along through it all right along with him. His fears became my fears. His desire to find the answers, were mine. The feelings of betrayal and hopelessness that he felt made me cling to each page, urging him to continue to fight and find the truth.

I’ve not been held so tight by a novel in a long time and am looking forward to reading more of Mark’s work in as near the future as possible. The mythology he’s created around the Witchblade and Shadow Fabric is rich and deep and there’s no doubt the depth will be plumbed even further in the other stories related to it. He left me knowing enough to end the story, but with the promise that theres more to this telling than a single novel can hold.

Check out the Book Trailer Here.

5 out of 5 Ravens.

Author Interview – Israel Finn

I’m pleased to be able to bring to you an interview with the author of “Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs”, a collection of twelve imaginative short stories, Israel Finn. He is the winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition and lives in Southern California.

Q: Every writer has a story on how it all began for them. When did you first begin to realize you had a knack for story telling? Was there someone that influenced\encouraged you down the path of being a writer?

A: I can hardly remember not wanting to be a writer or storyteller. It seems like something that’s always been there, inside me. My dad encouraged reading, but never really took my writing aspirations seriously, which was heartbreaking for me. If not for my mom, I may have abandoned my dreams early on, but probably not. Dreams are persistent that way. But my mom always made me believe I could do anything I wanted. She knew I was the odd ball among my siblings, and she actually nurtured that oddness.

Q: I’ve been asked many times which book of mine is my favorite, usually by someone trying to decide which one to buy. Do any of your stories stand out as a favorite to you? And why?

strandedA: There are two short stories in my collection, Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs, that really resonate with me. The first is the opening story, Stranded. It deals with a man who experiences dark karma because of an angry comment he made in the heat of the moment. That comment comes back to haunt him in a real way. I wrote it after my wife and I had an argument (can’t even remember what it was about now) and I realized the power that words hold. Sometimes we say things in the heat of anger that we don’t mean, but that we can never take back. Stranded was my way of examining that, and also trying to teach myself a lesson in restraint. The second story is The Present. It concerns a woman named Mary in the 1960s who is abused by her husband. In those days, women had far fewer resources and recourse than they do today, so Mary is truly trapped in a horrifying situation. But as tends to happen in my stories, dark fate intervenes, and she discovers a possible way out. Mary was real to me, as was the world around her, which began to change in profound and disturbing ways. There’s a touch of time travel and other-dimensional exploration in the story, which I’m a huge fan of. And it introduces the pale man, an integral character who will appear in the novel I’m currently writing.

Q: Though I’ve written a fair amount of short-stories, I don’t consider myself very good at it. Are you strictly a short-story writer or can we look forward to something of novel length from you one of these days?

A: I’m a little over 50,000 words into my novel, which is a gritty, realistic tale about an inter-dimensional traveler who is given the daunting task of saving the multiverse from collapse into chaos. I know “realistic” and “inter-dimensional traveler” would seem to cancel each other out, but it’s my belief that you must first establish a real world foundation if you expect your readers to buy into the fantastic.

Q: Some writers swear by an outline, others go at it much more organically. How much do you plan ahead for a story or is it something that comes to you pretty much intact?

DATTOML digital coverA: It varies. Short stories come to me almost fully formed, or at least with a strong idea that can be quickly worked up. But I’ve learned that writing a novel is much different, at least for me. And especially with the one I’m writing now, with all its detail. I think maybe you could write a completely linear novel by the seat of your pants, but one with a more complicated storyline, like my current project, you need some structure. I don’t micromanage every tiny detail, but I have set up the main plot points. It’s like architecture: The outline is like nailing the studs and putting up the drywall. The writing itself is more like decorating, hanging curtains and picking out furniture.

Q: Every writer I know always has several projects in the works. Can you tell us about any current projects you may have going on?

A: I’ve got a long list of works-in-progress and half-formed ideas, and I’m always adding to it and pulling from it. Right now I’ve got three in the works. One is a straight-up ghost story. Another is a dark time travel story. And yet another is about an artist who realizes that what he paints becomes real, so he decides to paint his dead wife.

Q: Where can people find you lurking on the internet and where can they purchase what you already have out there?

A: My website is israelfinn.com. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And much of my work is on Amazon.

Thank you for participating, Israel.

Folks, check out Israel’s collection of short stories, Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs. You’re sure to find something thought-provoking and slightly sinister, or both!

 

 

My Worst Kept Secret … ssshhhhhh….

It’s a secret I don’t talk about all that much – though I’ve posted about it on Twitter and a wee bit on Facebook. There’s mention of it over at LinkedIn. And, it’s on my resume. There’s even a link from my official website. My parents know. My close friends know. Even my kids know, though the thought of them actually KNOWING is a bit uncomfortable. They’re adults so I guess it’s okay, plus, as their parent it’s still part of my job to embarrass them now and then, too, even if they are Growed-Ups. 🙂

I won’t deny it. I’ve written and had published some rather racy erotica. We jokingly call it The Porn around here. We’re not just talking about one book, or a couple of short stories, either. This is five full-length novels. When most people ask me how many books I’ve written, I usually only confess to the four mainstream titles.

So, how does one find themselves writing about the literary sexual adult playrooms and bdsm dungeons of the world? It started out as a dare. A friend challenged me to write out one of my fantasies. So, I did. Then I wrote another. And another and another and found out I was pretty darn good at it.

A couple years later, I found myself getting involved in the US Civil War reenactment scene. I knew the Victorians weren’t all quite so proper and prudish as they appeared on the surface and so were born Lucy, Beau, & Vivianne – the stars of what would become The Greenbrier Trilogy. My knowledge about the time period in general and further research into the Civil War, allowed me to make it as historically accurate as I could. And for those who know me, I really do love doing research.

Starting in 2006, and under a pen-name, they each found a home with Pink Flamingo Media and are still there to this day. In 2012, the company underwent a re-org and asked if I’d like to re-issue the books as an official trilogy. It gave me the opportunity to do a bit more editing, make any minor changes, and update the covers if desired. I said, SURE!

But, Pam, you say, a trilogy is three books. You said there were five. What gives? During the re-org I was also given the opportunity to pull any of my titles and take back all rights. I pulled one that I am hoping to one day work differently, to make it less ‘porny’ and more ‘horror-y’. The fifth title is still there, but you’ll have to go to the publisher’s website to see what it is.

Curious? HERE’S THE LINK. Your secret is safe with me.

 

Welcome To The Witch’s Backbone

C’mon in, folks. Grab a seat and take a load off. Story time is just about to start. You ain’t afraid of dark, back roads way out in the countryside, are you? You know the kind I mean, the ones with woods on either side, no streetlights, and kinda twisty with a deep, dark ravine along one side. No telling what’s down in there. Could be anything.

‘Round these parts we got what’s called The Witch’s Backbone. Ain’t much to look at during the day. But, at night …well, that’s something entirely different. Let me recite a little poem for you about the old witch that’s suppose to haunt that little section of road.

WitchLegendPoem

There you have it. Every kid around these parts knows it. The smart ones avoid the place. Back in 1980, a bunch of kids weren’t so smart as they thought they were. Sorry to say, there were consequences.

Learn More about THE WITCH’S BACKBONE, in my latest novel of the Barnesville Chronicles series. Available for $3.99 in eBook (Kindle) and $12.99 Paperback.

 

 

The Horrors That Grew Me – Rod Serling

It was late summer as my husband and I traipsed around in a small, quiet, and isolated cemetery in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York. We’d come to visit a grave, which was quite a normal thing to do in a cemetery. I’d only ever seen pictures of the headstone. I had never met the man buried there, but his influences on the mind of the young girl I once was and the woman I’d grow up to become, are immeasurable.

I’d hoped there would be some sort of map directing us to the grave. There wasn’t. Frustrated, I feared we’d come all this way for nothing. Although it wasn’t a big place, it was big enough to be intimidating at the thought of finding such an unimpressive headstone. We walked in different directions. Maybe ten minutes later, my husband’s voice beckoned. “Sweetheart? I think I found it.” My heart leaped as I surrendered my futile search and headed in his direction instead.

On Christmas Day 1924, in Syracuse, New York, Rodman E. Serling was born to Samuel and Esther Serling. When Rod was two, the family moved to Binghamton, New York where he would spend the remainder of his youth and graduate from high school in 1943. Binghamton is a mere 40 miles from the small town I grew up in and I’m currently only a dozen or so more miles further away. By the time I came into being, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had been cancelled for over a year. Lucky for me, re-runs of the program were very popular during my early, impressionable years and I ate them up like nobody’s business. I couldn’t then, and I still can’t, get enough of The Twilight Zone. If it’s New Year’s Eve\Day, you can be certain The Twilight Zone marathon is playing on my television.

I feel very at home with Rod Serling’s work and in his world. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we grew up so very close to each other, in the same REAL world – give or take a few decades. It’s entirely possible he passed through my small hometown and knew the same streets, sights, and sounds of towns near me. Maybe his mother took him shopping at J.J. Newberry’s in Owego. It’s possible he enjoyed a beer or two at The John Barleycorn. It’s been there long enough. He most certainly knew the mighty Susquehanna River and the C.F.J. Carousel in Johnson City, and I dare even say he rode on it as a child, just as I did. Rod Serling feels almost like kin, even if it’s some distant, never-met cousin.

NightGallery

But it wasn’t just The Twilight Zone that captured my imagination, but his other series The Night Gallery whose pilot episode stared my all-time favorite actor, Roddy McDowall. (Serling was also a contributor to some of the Planet of the Apes screenplays, btw.) The first episode aired in 1969 and whole thing would be cancelled in 1973. The Night Gallery leaned more towards horror and suspense than TZ had, something I quickly picked up on as a budding writer and student of the macabre. Each episode took place in a fictional museum gallery, of which Mr. Serling was the curator. He would present to us, usually three, sometimes only two, paintings. The painting depicted a scene that was sometimes horrifying, sometimes seemingly quite innocent. Behind every image was a dark tale to be told. The first episode of the first season was called The Cemetery.

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I made quick work of finding my husband and approaching the grave he stood in front of. That was it, alright. Small, unassuming, level with the ground, and covered with offerings of pebbles, coins, pens, and a little green Army guy that had toppled off the back edge. I put the soldier back into place. Several of the stones had been painted on. “Best in Show RIP” one was marked. Another said, “Time At Last”. A third simply stated “Willoughby” after an episode of The Twilight Zone titled “A Stop At Willoughby”. It was this episode that Serling freely admitted to being his favorite of the first season. I looked down at the stone and said, with laughter on my lips, “Willoughby! Next stop, Willoughby!” Seeing the somewhat blank look in my husband’s face, I added, “You have no idea what that means, do you?” He admitted he didn’t.

A soft breath escaped me followed by a moment of silence as I looked back down at the grave, then the unexpected happened, the tears came. I was suddenly very sad and heartbroken, mourning a man I’d never met and only knew by his work I’d seen on television. I realized then how much I have always idolized Rod Serling and how hard I’d strived since day one of knowing that being a writer is what I wanted to be, to being even just a little, teensy-weensy bit, no matter how pale a shadow that may be, like him and his work.

DSCF3487 - CopyI pulled myself together as quickly as I could, wiped my tears, took some pictures and had my picture taken at the grave. The power of that visit has clung to me ever since, the emotions bubbling to the surface as the most unexpected times, and the gratitude I feel for all that Rod Serling brought into my world, felt through and through. On June 28th 1975, after two heart attacks and undergoing open heart surgery, Rodman E. Serling’s life succumbed to a third, fatal heart attack. He was fifty years old. Only a year younger than I am now. His funeral took place on July 2nd, followed by a memorial service at Cornell’s Sage Chapel on July 7th.

When we left that cemetery, I left a little piece of myself behind and took with me a much greater appreciation for the quiet, privacy in which one of my idols rests. I hope he’s found his way to Willoughby. RIP Mr. Serling, Rest In Peace.

A Legend In The Making

It’s probably pretty likely that wherever you live in this world, there’s some sort of local urban legend or haunted location nearby that has some sort of spooky reputation and a diabolical name. For me and mine, that’s The Devil’s Elbow. It’s a stretch of road reputed to be haunted by the classic ‘hitchhiking ghost’. Here’s a short little video about our particular version. Haunted History – The Devil’s Elbow

I’ve always loved Old Wive’s Tales, Urban Legends, and Folklore and thought I’d look more into what was out there as research into writing something of my own. While clicking my way through the Internet, this came little ditty came to me. “If at night, ye dare to roam, along the twisted, witch’s backbone, avert thy gaze, meet not her eye or cursed thy life and soon t’die.”

While researching my second murder-mystery that involves The Shadow Man, I chanced upon a reference to another being known as The Night Hag, or simply The Hag. She shows up while you’re sleeping and, as the legend would have it, suffocates her victim by sitting on their chest and sucking out their last, dying breath. Nice, huh? With the Hag in my head, and now the aforementioned poem in there with her, the concept began to gel. Her story would be a perfect addition to The Barnesville Chronicles.

We’re told that there’s some grain of truth in all these old stories, so what if one day some innocent kid, just minding her own business, suddenly finds herself looking straight into the eyes of this old woman? Just how much truth is there in that legend … and if she’s real, what about the curse associated with seeing her? Yes, she’s real. Her name is Rebekkah Hodak. As for the curse, I’ll just leave you with this …

“Avoid the dangerous paths she treads. Stay safe and sound within thy beds. For ’tis always best to neither walk nor ride, along the witch’s backbone at night.”

Consider yourself warned.

The Witch’s Backbone is now available for your KINDLE device. Paperback coming soon!

 

 

 

New Release Preview – The Witch’s Backbone

It seems so long ago that I first introduced the people of Barnesville to the world by way of murder. “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon” (originally titled “Blood of the Scarecrow”) was the first novel that took me away from the erotica I’d been writing prior. It was my first attempt at a murder-mystery and brought me blessedly back to my life-long love of the paranormal and horror. Though it’s probably not my greatest work, I learned a lot by writing it. It verified that this was the genre I truly wanted to work with and hopefully be known for.

“…Scarecrow Moon” was originally released in 2013. My second book that featured Barnesville was “That’s What Shadows Are Made Of”, again a paranormal murder-mystery and, dare I say, a more well-thought out one than “…Scarecrow Moon”, and came out in 2016. I was gaining a small following by this time. People were asking for the second book and when they finished, they’d reach out and ask for a third.

As writers, we learn as we go. We learn what works for us and we learn what our readers want. I always knew there would be more stories coming out of Barnesville and its neighboring towns. With so many asking to know more about the residents and what would happen next in such an innocent-looking town, I began to give the third book more serious thought.

Along with the paranormal, I’ve also long had an interest in urban legends, their origins and the truths that may or may not lie behind them. With that in mind, “The Witch’s Backbone” came into being. It’s been a year since I started and I’m super excited to be able to now share with you the fruits of my labors.

Within the next couple of weeks the third book involving Barnesville will be unleased on the world in both eBook and paperback formats. “The Witch’s Backbone” is not a murder-mystery nor is it contemporary. Instead, we take a step back in time to 1980, meet new characters from the nearby hamlet of Meyer’s Knob, and see familiar faces turned some thirty years younger.

And so, without further ado, I give you the first two chapters of “The Witch’s Backbone – The Curse” as a teaser into what you’ll be finding between the pages of the next installment of The Barnesville Chronicles. Enjoy!

 The Witch’s Backbone – The Curse by Pamela Morris © 2017 

                     The Legend of The Witch’s Backbone

If at night ye dare t’roam
along the twisted, witch’s backbone,
avert thy gaze, meet not her eye,
or cursed thy life and soon t’die.
Thee won’t find her flying o’er the trees,
but lurking amongst the molded leaves,
  and crawling in the stony crags
   in the stagnant filth, this loathsome Hag.
She’ll seek ye out forever after
making thy death her cruelest laughter
as sits she upon thy sleeping chest,
   and draws from thee thy final breath.
Avoid the dangerous paths she treads.
 Stay safe and sound within thy beds,
for ‘tis always best to neither walk nor ride
along the witch’s backbone at night.

Chapter One

     The open mouth of the bottle of Dr. Pepper nearly knocked Tara’s two front teeth out. “Jeeze, Dad!” she yelped, eyes watering with pain, as she pressed her palm to her mouth where the glass edge had smacked her in the gums. There wasn’t any blood on her fingers when she pulled them away, but it sure felt like there should be.
“Sorry,” John Fielding, her step-father, didn’t take his eyes off the rut and mud-filled road they followed, but he did slow the station wagon down a little bit. “You’d think the town would maintain this road better.” John eased the car to the right, halfway into the tall weeds and dangerously close to the water-filled ditch on that side, trying to avoid another tooth-jarring pothole.
Tara rubbed her teeth again, checked her fingers, still no blood, and rested the bottom of the soda bottle on her thigh instead of trying to take another swig. “It gets better,” she said. This wasn’t their first trip down this particularly terrible stretch of road and it wasn’t likely to be their last. It was a dirty, stinky, nasty job they had to do, but Tara loved every filthy second of it, especially if she got to see a rat.
In the isolated hills and valleys of the Appalachian Mountain Basin in Central New York sat Meyer’s Knob, where the population of dairy cows easily outnumbered people twenty to one. Most folks simply called it The Knob. In The Knob creative road names were not something the locals had much interest in. The names, like the residents, were practical, logical, and to the point.
It was exactly what the name said it was, nothing more, nothing less. Valley Creek Road ran north and south of the central hub of Meyer’s Knob and took you down into the valley on a road that, more or less, followed the long and lazy curves of the creek.  Gorge Hill Road took you east, up over the hill then down into a narrow, tightly winding road that had been cut by both God and man, with high stone walls on one side and a shallow, shaded ravine on the other, guardrails optional, and enough blind curves to make your tense jaw ache. Old Sixty-Seven Road, the only road known by an actual number, was about as obscure as things got. Old Sixty-Seven took you further out into a countryside of rolling hills and farmlands west of Meyer’s Knob. For close to twenty miles farmhouses and the barns that went with them, fields of corn, and herds of grazing black and white dairy cows, stretched out as far as the eye could see. Even when you reached the end, the town you’d find there wasn’t much to look at. It was bigger than Meyer’s Knob, but most places were.
These three main thoroughfares were paved, but lacked center lines. That was not always the case with the rest of the nearby roads, many of which proclaimed the status of Seasonal, Limited Use. No Winter Maintenance. Surprisingly, the road Tara and her step-dad bounced and swerved down was not one of them. Town Dump Road was a dead end offshoot of Knob Hill Road that eventually connected to Gorge Hill, which was a branch of Meyer’s Road, where the sons of Silas Meyer, who had first settled The Knob back in the early seventeen hundreds, built their homesteads and raised their families for generations.
If you stood at the junction of Valley Creek and Old Sixty-Seven you’d find yourself smack dab in the middle of The Knob. The tree-filled village square and the houses that surrounded it had not changed in over a hundred years. You’d never know by looking at it, but the newest structure was the white pavilion in the very center of the square, and even that was pushing thirty years old.
The original had been destroyed by fire. Arson was likely, but no one had ever taken the blame for it. Its replacement was a clone, right down to the green gingerbread trim, and still took center stage to every village-wide celebration or event. It was the sight of first kisses and just as many broken hearts. People had fought and people had made out, all under the octagonal roof.

The square and its fancy gazebo were all well and good, but that was a place Tara went to practically every day. Today, however, was Saturday and Saturday was garbage day and garbage day meant a trip to the county dump with her dad and, in this case, nearly getting her teeth knocked out by the open mouth of her soda bottle.
The station wagon came to a smooth stop as they waited their turn in line behind a pick-up loaded to the gills with bagged trash. Bob Gunderman, who ran the gate and took the dumping fees, was a talker.
“Can I get out here?” Tara asked.
John nodded. “Just don’t go too far. Stay where I can see you.”
“Cool.” She didn’t wait for him to change his mind, not that John ever had in the past, but he knew as well as Tara that her mother would have a fit and fall in it if she knew he was letting Tara run wild, as she called it, among the mountains and pits of trash. The last thing either of them wanted was for Tara to fall into some forgotten mound and get buried alive. That might be a little hard to explain back home to Mom.
“Watch out for the seagulls,” he shouted just before Tara’s door slammed shut.
She gave him a thumbs up in reply.
The results of last night’s storm squished under the rubber soles of her boots, sucking and splatting her way to where the gate attendant leaned against the battered doorway of the dump station’s shelter, Tara slid on a pair of yellow dishwashing gloves. “Hey, Mr. Gunderman!” She saluted.
He shook his head and chuckled. “Heading in?” he asked, saluting her back with a tip of his Texaco ball cap. When he wasn’t tending to trash, Bob did small engine and appliance repair out of a rusted and lop-sided metal shed set up behind his equally akimbo and well-maintained mobile home. They’d passed on the left, halfway up the road. Tara suspected he got a lot of parts from the dump.
“Yes, sir. Got anything good this week?”
“I’m sure you’ll find a treasure or two. Stay clear of the back west though, it’s been shifting a lot lately.”
“Ten-four, good buddy.” She strode past the pick-up truck, ducked under the wooden security arm that had probably been white once, but now was more a mottled grey-green, and made her way into the refuse-littered landscape beyond.
It stank. It stank a lot, especially after last night’s rain, but it wasn’t anything compared to how it would be once the late August sun rose high and hot. Sometimes John wasn’t so early getting the trash around and that’s when coming here wasn’t as much fun. How Mr. Gunderman could stand it, Tara didn’t know, but he didn’t seem to mind.
“You get used to it,” he’d told her once.
The pick-up passed by at a crawl; the side-to-side motion created by each muddy rut threatening to toss one bag or another of garbage out the back end. Tara paused to watch as it made its way around to the left of the ever-growing ring of refuse. In the middle of it all was The Pit, the massive hole in the ground that was slowly being filled. The road circled all the way around The Pit, which was further ringed by a section devoted to dead washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators next to a heap of lawn mowers and a bunch of vacuum cleaners. Another was nothing but discarded tires. A section of small appliances; lamps, toasters, blenders, small radios and record players lay jumbled together in a mound at least six feet high and twenty feet around. There was a vague sense of order to the place. Tara tried to decide what sort of something she wanted to look for today.
She could use a new tape player, but if it was here, chances were it didn’t work and she didn’t know so much about fixing those. Tara wandered off to the right, away from the man and boy hurling bag after bag into The Pit from the truck bed. Their actions had sent the flock of gulls into a dive-bombing, screaming frenzy overhead. Rats with wings, that’s what Mr. Gunderman called them.
“What are sea gulls doing around here anyway?” Tara wanted to know. “We’re not even close to the sea or a lake or anything.”
“There’s Meyer’s Pond,” Bob had offered. “And Miller’s Pond and …”
“Then these are pond gulls,” Tara interrupted with a laugh.
“Or trash gulls. Just rats with wings, Tara. That’s all they are, rats with wings. If there’s a free meal to be ‘et, that’s where they’ll be.”
Strolling from pile to pile, Tara kept an eye out for just about anything. Sometimes there was hidden treasure. Sometimes there was nothing. Today felt like a nothing day. She’d reached the furthest point from the front gates by now. Her dad’s car was parked near the pick-up whose occupants were finally done and climbing back into the cab. Dad only had a few bags so he wouldn’t be long. It hadn’t really been enough time to look the place over very well, but Tara could always ride her bike up to come back later in the week.  Maybe she could even get a friend to come with her. Maybe Danny as long as it was just him and not his annoying brother or, God forbid, his whiny girlfriend, Susan; not Sue, not Susie, but Susan.
With her hands on her hips, Tara looked out across the piles towards the slope of weeds that ended abruptly with a thick line of shrubs and Birch trees a couple hundred feet out. The wind, thank God, was blowing in her favor, lifting the feather of her bangs off her forehead just enough to feel a tiny bit cooler. Something moved along the tree line. It was low and slow and brown. Probably a deer. Nah, too dark to be a deer, she immediately determined. Not much else could have been seen this far away. Its back was hunched up, pausing as it maybe nibbled on some grass or wild berries along its path. Maybe it was a bear. A bear would be a lot more exciting to see than a deer. Whatever it was pivoted, displayed a flash of dark brown or black fabric and a feather on top of its head and stopped. Tara’s jaw dropped. She saw its eyes, small, black, and glistening, staring right at her.
It wasn’t a bear. As Tara turned to run as fast as possible back to the station wagon, she prayed it wasn’t what she thought it was. If it was, she was as good as dead.

Chapter Two

     Shoving the spoonful of Fruity Pebbles into his mouth, Danny eyed the sunburst-shaped clock over the kitchen sink tick dangerously close to nine o’clock. Milk dribbled down her chin followed by a resounding slurp.
“Slow down,” his mother chided. “Breakfast!” she shouted towards the kitchen porch where Danny’s father stood puffing on a cigarette and drinking coffee from a chipped, mint-green cup.  She set the plate of steaming eggs and bacon down across from where Danny was lifting the empty cereal bowl to his lips and guzzling down the sweet, pink-colored milk. “What’s the rush?” Danny’s mom asked, reaching for the toast that had nearly thrown itself from the chrome toaster and onto the counter without human assistance.
“Tom and Jerry,” he explained. Danny pushed away from the table and retreated towards the living room where the summer sun was just starting to shine through the blinds, drawing bright lines and dust motes across the front of the television.
“Bowl,” his mom reminded.
“Mom! Tom and Jerry!” he protested.
“Rinse out the bowl or no television,” she added.
“Jeeze, Louise!” Danny muttered, snatched the bowl and carried it to the sink. “Gonna miss the beginning.”
The screen door released a resounding smack against a wooden doorframe as Henry, Danny’s father, stepped into the shade of the eat-in kitchen of the log cabin. Grampa Jameson had built the place back in the 1950s. There were only four rooms, but they were plenty big enough for the family of four. The whole front half was wide open, kitchen bleeding into a dining room, bleeding into the living room, with walls of exposed pine logs that still had all the bark on them. It was a pretty cool place to live and they had acres and acres of woods to play in all around. It didn’t get too much better than this.         “Gonna be another hot one,” his dad said. “Hey, Dan-o.” He reached out his big paw of a hand and messed Danny’s hair more than it already was.
“Hey, Dad.” Danny grinned up at the man. Henry Jameson was a decent guy and, unlike a lot of his friends, Danny really liked his parents. Oh, they were annoying sometimes, too, but he knew how lucky he was to have them. They came to all his football games. Danny loved anything and everything that had to do with football. He played it, watched it, lived and breathed it. When the season was over, Danny got antsy. Luckily, there was one thing he liked just as much as tossing the pig skin around, hunting. He’d finally gotten his own rifle for his birthday that past spring and had been practicing a lot. As soon as deer season started, he was going to be out there with his old man every chance he got.
“What you and Adam got planned for today?”
Danny looked longingly towards the living room where his kid brother had already claimed the sofa to watch cartoons from. Each precious second of Tom and Jerry was slipping away. He shrugged, “I dunno. Tom and Jerry,” he said, desperate to get into the living room.
Henry settled into the squeaking wooden chair. “Looks good, Peg,” he said. One of these days Danny was sure that chair was going to collapse under Henry’s generous frame. He was a big man, tall and beefy with a shock of pitch black hair. He’d played a lot of football in his high school days. Danny could but hope he’d be that big eventually, though as it looked now, he took more after his thinly built mother than his dad. His stupid little brother was the husky one.
Danny took this opportunity to dash into the living room, punch his brother in the arm for taking the sofa spot, and plop himself down in his dad’s recliner to focus on the cartoon. The recliner was better than the sofa anyway.
“Ow! MOM! Danny just punched me for no reason.”
“Did not.” He reached out and nudged his brother in the head with an extended foot.
“Now he’s kicking me.”
“Daniel Mark Jameson!  Behave or you’ll be canning Dilly Beans, doing laundry, and washing dishes with me today.”
Danny stopped, but couldn’t help getting in the last word under his breath. “Tattle tale.”

Not even the phone ringing, which usually sent Danny flying across the room to answer it, could pull him from the television on Saturday morning. His dad got it instead. Mumbled a few things then said, “Danny. It’s Tara.”
He moaned. “Can I call her back? Scooby and Scrappy-Doo are next. I’ll call her back after that.”
“Popeye!” Adam protested. “We watched Stupid-Doo last week.”
“Popeye is lame,” Danny snapped.
“Mom!”
“She says it’s urgent,” John held the phone out; its long, spiral tail bouncing across the kitchen table now spread with newspapers.
“I’ll call her back, after Scooby.”
“Can he call you back in an hour, Tara?”
“Dad, we watched Scooby-Dumb last weekend.” Adam stormed off the couch, tripped over his brother’s extended foot, sprawled on the floor with a scream and got up swinging. From the chair, Danny grabbed Adam’s arm and yanked it back, forcing his younger sibling to twist around uncomfortably.
“Daniel! Let him go!” Dad bellowed, an order that Danny immediately obeyed, while shoving his brother backwards at the same time. “Adam, go ahead and change the channel to whatever you want.”
“Dad!”
“Don’t Dad me. Talk to Tara. You’re done watching cartoons.”
“Oh, c’mon!”
“Move! And make it quick. I just decided to clean the garage and you’re helping.”
Danny moved with a growl in his throat, tossing a hateful glare brother. “Jerk face,” he muttered as he took the phone from his father and headed into the kitchen. “Hello?”
There was a pause, then he thought her heard a nervous breath. “Bad time? It can wait, I guess.”
“No, Toad already got control of the TV. What’s up?”
“I saw her,” Tara was practically whimpering.
Danny had known Tara all his life and she normally had balls bigger than Paul Bunyon even if she was a girl. Right now she sounded petrified. “Who?”
“Her, the… you know, her, the old lady in the woods, that her.”
He sank down in the kitchen chair, bowing his head and lowering his voice. His dad’s gaze pulled from the sports section and studied Danny with brief interest. “You mean Rebekkah, her? Where? When?” Danny asked, not quite believing.
Tara’s moan was followed by a trembling sigh when Danny dared utter the name.   “Yeah, about half an hour ago up at the dump.”
Danny let that sink in. The dump wasn’t that far away at all. “You sure? Maybe it was a Bigfoot.”
“It wasn’t Bigfoot. I wish it was a Bigfoot! I thought it was a bear, but then it … she turned around and looked at me. She looked right at me!” Tara’s voice shook like she was about to burst into tears.
“Damn,” Danny whispered. “Okay, chill out.”
His dad looked up again, eyebrows arching, but instead of saying anything about Danny’s swearing, he reached for his cup of coffee.
“Can you meet at the square in a little while?”
Danny glanced at the clock again before looking at his dad and frowning, “Don’t think so. Dad and I are cleaning the garage today.”
Another moan filtered through the line. “Tomorrow? You going to Sunday School?”
“We going to Sunday School tomorrow?”
“Do you want to?” Peg took off her apron and hooked it on a knob beside the refrigerator eyeing her eldest with surprise and suspicion.
“Um, I guess,” he lied. He hated Sunday school, but Tara sounded desperate and maybe if he went voluntarily they’d be allowed to hang out at the gazebo instead of going to church. “Tara wants to know.” Danny offered a weak smile.
“Yeah, I can take you down,” Mom offered. “But, you’re taking your brother, too.”
Danny slumped. “It okay if Adam comes?”
“Yeah, I guess.” He could tell she wasn’t any happier about it than he was, but they really didn’t have a choice.
“Okay. Tomorrow. Want me to call Tony, too?”
“You know he and Susan will be there anyway.”
“True, but we should give him a heads up. I’ll call them both.”
“Thanks. I’m really freaking out here. What if I don’t make it until tomorrow? What if something happens tonight?”
“Nothing’s going to happen.”
“I hope you’re right.”

Of the five Delanio children, Anthony Delanio was dead center. At eighteen, Constance was the oldest followed by sixteen-year-old Albert, then Tony, who was fourteen. Beneath him Roberta came in at ten and the baby, Mario, was all of six. With Nonna and Nonno Delanio still living at the family homestead, a five bedroom farmhouse that had been in the family since 1915, it was always full and never quiet.  Connie, as Constance was called, was the only one lucky enough to have her own bedroom. Tony shared his room with Bert. The two youngest had the room right across the hall from their parents, Batista and Maria. His grandparents got the largest bedroom at the front of the house. All this and only one bathroom.
Because of that, there was never a dull moment come Sunday morning, until, that is, Tony found himself sitting in a Sunday school classroom. He had no choice. If you were a Delanio, you went to Sunday school and church and any other public event associated with St. Matthew’s Episcopal whether you wanted to or not. Tony stared at the chalk board scribbled with Scripture notes about this week’s topic, Sloth. The teacher was on a Seven Deadly Sins kick this summer and they had three more sins to go after this. Tony was pretty sure he didn’t have time to be slothful. Nonno and his dad made sure of that. There were more than enough farm chores to keep the entire family busy all day long.   The arrival of regular school was a blessing, not that he was the greatest student in the world. He was doing well enough now to stay on the baseball team and out of trouble and that’s what mattered. Fourth grade had been rough. He’d been held back. The good part of that was he’d gotten to know Danny better. Danny was still a year behind Tony, but neither cared and it suddenly became acceptable for the two of them to hang out.
Tony felt a sharp jab just below his right shoulder blade, jarring him into some sort of attention. He sat up a bit straighter, pretending interest in Proverbs 13:4 and something to do with a diligent soul being wealthy. The jab came again, then a whisper from a female voice behind him, “Note from Danny,” it side.
Tony’s hand rose to scratch at a non-existent itch on his shoulder and pulled away with a small piece of paper folded in half inside.
“Gazebo after class. Important.”
Tony glanced left over his shoulder then his right before finding Danny. Tony gave him a single nod. Message received and acknowledged. Tara, who sat beside Danny wasn’t looking so hot. Susan, on the other hand, was looking exceptionally well. Yeah, she was Danny’s girl and Tony wouldn’t dream of coming between them, but man, what a fox. Man, that Danny was one lucky dude.
“Mr. Delanio, please come up and write an example of slothfulness on the board.”
He shifted in his seat, scratched his head, and rose slowly. “Sure,” he mumbled, his mind racing at what to add to the list others had already contributed to. He stood there a second then wrote, “Napping in the outhouse.”
The room erupted into laughter.
He turned and shrugged; a wide, mischievous grin on his face as he handed the chalk back to the teacher. “With a family like mine, you gotta do what you gotta do to get some alone time.”
Even the teacher couldn’t hold back her smirk, “Very insightful, Mr. Delanio.” She looked at her watch. “On that, we’re out of time. Let’s say our parting blessing and I hope to see you all in an hour in church.”

“I thought it would never end,” Tara moaned.
“We got Dum-dums,” Adam boasted, the white stick of his reward poking out of the corner of his mouth, his legs swinging and dangling over the edge of the railing he sat on.
“How appropriate,” his brother replied.
“Huh?”
“Never mind.”
Danny and Susan both leaned against one of the railings as Tara paced back and forth across the gazebo’s creaking wooden floor. Tony mounted the steps and propped himself against the nearest post. “So, what’s up? What’s the big emergency?”
“I saw her up at the dump,” Tara said, arms clutching across her stomach as if she were going to vomit at any second. Her stomach hadn’t stopped hurting since yesterday.   “And she saw me.”
“Who?” Susan slid her hand through the loop of Danny’s arms created by his hands being shoved deep into his pant’s pockets.
“The witch.” Tara could barely talk.
Susan burst out laughing and Tony rolled his eyes. “Are you kidding me?” he asked. “You dragged us here for that bogus crap?”
“It’s not bogus,” Tara snapped. “I’m telling the truth. I saw her and she looked right at me.”
“So, now what? You keel over dead or something?” Susan snickered.
They didn’t get it. Tara hung her head, holding back the fear and anger. These were supposed to be her friends, even if she didn’t like Susan all that much. “Never mind.”
“What witch?” Adam asked, sliding the sucker out his mouth.
“The witch, stupid. You know about the witch, right?”
“Everybody knows about the witch,” Tony added.
“I don’t.
“Why do you think they call it The Witch’s Backbone down there if there ain’t no witch?” Danny went on.
“The legend says if the witch makes eye contact with you, you’re going to die a horrible and early death. She’s supposed to live somewhere down in the gorge. I guess she hangs around under the bridge just before the really narrow part opens up or something,” Tony explained.
“Oh,” Adam looked confused. “What gorge, where?”
His brother moaned. “The gorge, Toad! The gorge. God, you’re such a douche bag. When you’re almost to Barnesville on the road that goes by the red church, there’s a grated metal bridge at the end. We’ve only ridden across it on our bikes a billion times. She’s supposed to hang out there at night, waiting to kill people or something.”
“Oh! THAT gorge!” He popped the nearly empty stick back into his mouth. His wide eyes stared at Tara. “And you saw her?”
“Yeah, yesterday morning when dad and I were at the dump. It’s not that far from the gorge, you know, not if you cut across through the woods and stuff. I thought it was a deer at first, then maybe a bear.”
“Would have been cool to see a bear,” Adam added.
“It wasn’t, though. It was her and she was wearing some sort of weird-looking hat. Not pointed like a witch hat, but more like a dark bonnet, brown or black …” Tara shrugged and let her shoulders slump. She could read their expressions perfectly well. The only one that might have believed her at all was Adam and he hardly counted.
“There’s no witch, Tara. It’s just some old legend that’s been kicking around Meyer’s Knob and Barnesville for a long time.” Danny gave her a slight smile. Even he didn’t seem to believe her and if he didn’t, who would? “My grampa’s talked about the witch and if she was around when he was a kid, she’s gotta be dead by now.”
“It’s just something someone made up to keep kids from wandering up in the woods around the cliffs and getting killed. Those things are damn steep and slippery.” Tony added. “I’m pretty sure you’re not going to die a horrible death any time soon.
“Well, I saw someone! I know I did and it was a woman and it looked just like a witch,” Tara persisted. She still couldn’t shake the feeling of cold dread that had run through her when she’d seen whatever it was.
“I believe you, Tara,” Adam piped up.
She appreciated the vote of confidence from the kid, but what good would it do her? “Thanks,” she muttered all the same, casting a hopeless eye to each of her friends until her gaze came to rest on Tony’s warm brown ones. She pulled it away quickly and turned her back on them to look at the corner of the cemetery that was tucked behind the church.
“You know,” Tony suddenly said, “there’s only one way to find out for sure, right?”
Tara turned, interested.
“We go up there and check it out. Spend the whole damn night and everything,” he went on. “We ain’t been camping at all this year other than up in Danny’s tree house.”
“I’m not sleeping on the ground,” Susan snapped.
“Yeah,” her boyfriend ignored the complaint completely. “We could do that! We got a ton of camping gear, tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, everything.” Danny slipped out of Susan’s hold, moving to the center of the gazebo, grinning. “It’s only like, what? Three miles from my place.”
“Or, we can go up Diamond Road and come around that way,” Tony offered. Tara could practically see the gears in their heads spinning.
Danny nodded and started to pace. “Yeah, fewer steep hills to climb that way. Once we got up the main one there, it’s pretty flat the rest of the way.”
Susan scowled. “I’m not sleeping on the ground,” she repeated, “and I’m not camping at any gross dump. Can you imagine how many rats and bugs are crawling around up there at night?” She gave a full body shudder.
“So, don’t go,” Tony replied.
Tara smirked. “You don’t have to go, Susan.”
“Now, how do we convince the parental units to let us go up there?” Tony asked.
Tony chuckled, “Lie.” He shook his head when they all looked at him in shock.   “Amateurs,” he continued. “Don’t tell them that’s where we’re going. We say we’re going to the usual spot down by the creek.”
“What if someone comes to check?”
“Has anyone ever come to check, Danny?”
“Well, no, but …”
“I think we should do it,” Tara’s confidence in her friends was returning. “But, maybe not right at the dump. Susan has a point about the rats. Besides, Mr. Gunderman will see a campfire from his trailer if we’re too close. He’s a nice guy and all, but he’d kick us out if he knew we were camping up there and report it back to our folks. Some of those piles of trash aren’t very stable.”
“You sure do know a lot about garbage, Fielding,” Susan snorted out a laugh.
God, I hate cheerleaders, Tara thought as she bit her tongue into silence. “Hey, Danny, don’t you have a cousin or something who’s into witchy things?”
He gave a nod. “Yeah, sorta. She’s got a Ouija board and stuff.”
“You think she’d let you borrow it? Might come in handy.”
He looked doubtful. “I can ask, but that means telling her what we’re up to.”
“Maybe she can help?”
“Come with us, you mean?”
Tara nodded, the wheels in her own head starting to turn. “Sure, if that’s okay with everyone else. Takes one to know one, right? And if she doesn’t want to go or let us borrow her board, you can at least ask her for some tips.”
“I guess,” Danny replied. “When we going to do all this?”
“I’m not doing any of it,” Susan crossed her arms in rebellion. “It’s gross and stupid.”
“Next Friday?” Tara offered.
Danny gave a nod. “Yeah, my folks go bowling on Friday.”
“What about me?” Adam had been listening to their conversation with greater and greater interest. “I can go, too, right?”
Danny obviously didn’t want his little brother tagging along, but what choice was there? They couldn’t leave him alone until his parents got home from the bowling alley. Tara gave a shrug when Danny met her gaze. “I guess,” she said. “As long as you don’t chicken out and ruin everything.”
The youngest boy grinned. “I won’t.”
“You okay with that, Tony?” Danny asked.
“Sure.”
“Awesome.”
Tara felt better. Even if they found nothing and even if what she had seen proved to be something completely normal and natural, and even if they were just patronizing her as an excuse to spend a night out in the woods, she was okay with that. This was going to be the camping trip they talked about for years to come.

Dusting Off The Cobwebs

I admit, I’ve been a lazy blogger as of late. It’s not that I don’t have anything to blog about. I have a regular weekly schedule that I try to keep on top of, but sometimes I just can’t get into it. My brain gets covered in cobwebs and there I sit, coated in them. I’ve got book and movie reviews I should be writing up and getting out. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trapped in editing mode for so long. I have been working on projects, trying to get several things wrapped up all at once for a new release. I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs entirely.

All that aside, I do have something to share! Last week I was asked by author Jason J. Nugent if I’d be interested in participating in his “Author Spotlight” blog feature. Of course, I said yes. There’s even a except from the soon-to-be released third book in the Barnesville Chronicles here!

FOLLOW THIS LINK over to Jason’s page and enjoy!

I’ll be writing up more reviews this week – at least that’s the plan – along with another installment of “The Horrors That Grew Me” and silently pecking away at the keyboard as I journey back to Barnesville and Meyer’s Knob in the year 1980!