The First Ladies of Gothic Literature

I had no idea that February was Women In Horror Month when I first started researching the following article back in September 2016. I was hoping to use it for a blog post in October, but life being what it is, just never found the time to wrap it up. Therefore, instead of holding off on it, I thought it was quite topical for February instead!

As a female horror writer and a long time reader of 19th century literature, mostly along the lines of Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Edgar Allen Poe, I recently decided it was time to learn more about those ladies who have come before me in the genre. The best place to start was at the beginning, or as near to the beginning as I could find out there. That search led me back to 1778.

Before Anne Rice’s vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac told us all about Lestat in that famous Interview With A Vampire; before Daphne du Maurier introduced us to the cruel and promiscuous Rebecca; and even before the creation of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in 1816, there was Clara Reeve and Ann Radcliffe. Reeve’s novel The Old English Baron was published in 1778. Radcliffe followed suit in 1794 with The Mysteries of Udolpho.

What passed for horror then is a far cry from what we know today, but the basic elements remain the same. 18th and 19th Century horror was more of the emotional variety. It was a mental state of being linked to unfortunate and seemingly inescapable circumstances. A sense of claustrophobia was key to these novels, be that in a physical sense as in bodily imprisonment or in a mental sense with feelings of madness and mental illness. Today’s version puts the characters in some sort of insane kidnapper’s isolated torture chamber or house of madness trying to escape as one by one as they are bumped off in the bloodiest, most gruesome ways possible. Not quite so with the works of Cleeve and Radcliffe.

Classic Gothic literature is considered to have started in 1764 with the writing of The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Within it contains elements of realistic fiction and romance with overtones of the paranormal. The setting included the now almost cliché isolated castle with secret passages, trap doors, clanging chains, and pictures with eyes that shifted and watched passers-by and set a standard for many, many future Gothic novels. The term Gothic stems from the setting, specifically Gothic-style Architecture that was popular during the high and late medieval period, roughly from the 12th-16th centuries. The most common use for this type of architecture was churches and castles, though hundreds of stately homes and colleges also employed the style.

ClaraReeveClara Reeve was born in 1729 to Reverend William Reeve, M.A., rector of Freston and of Kreson in Suffolk, England and his wife, whose family were jewelers to King George I. Clara did not begin to write seriously until after the death of her father. Originally titled The Champion of Virtue, a Gothic Story, The Old English Baron was written in direct response, and perhaps even as a form of literary rivalry to Walpole’s 1764 novel. Very little is known about Clara’s personal life.

Ann_RadcliffeAnn (Ward) Radcliffe was born in London in 1764 to William and Ann (Oates) Ward. At twenty-three she married William Radcliffe who was a journalist and Oxford University graduate. As he often worked late and the couple was without children, Ann took up writing to help pass the many hours she spent alone. As with Reeve, Radcliffe left behind scant information about her private life outside her accomplishments as an author.

More times than not, the main character is a seemingly hapless and helpless woman destined for a life of misery should things continue as they are. More times than not she is also an orphan. This loss of parents or any sort of close, positive and loving family member to protect and guide her is only the beginning of her troublesome fate. Emotions are the biggest foe as well as the greatest ally to the Gothic Horror heroine. Time and time again she will be brought down, dragged through the emotional mud, her mind and spirit and sometimes her body taken to the very brink of doom and despair. She is ruled over by an iron fist in the form of an older man or woman who wants to control everything she says and does for their own personal gain. Usually, that gain is monetary and comes with an increased level of status. These guardians are actually more like cruel, heartless prison guards. This is where the monsters we’ve come to associate with horror novels and movies today were spawned.

Straberry-Hill-Walpoles1798

As powerful and omnipotent as these very human monsters appear to be, they have their weaknesses and their secrets. Finding that weakness and unravelling the secrets is the only way the damsel in distress is going to be set free. Most assuredly there is a knight in shining armor out there, because romance is what makes a Gothic Horror, Gothic and not just Horror, but she can’t rely on him to rescue her. And this where those emotions that have so far worked against her, become her greatest weapon.  She cannot hope to overpower them physically, but at some point in her upbringing, before she was orphaned and life went to hell in a handbasket, someone taught her some powerful psychological and emotional lessons. She may be poor and she may be destitute, but she’s far from stupid. She must use her wits and beat her captors at their own game. How she does that is what drives the plot forward.

Have you noticed that not once have I mentioned anything supernatural actually going on?

The earliest Gothic novels contained very little in the way of the paranormal. And even if there was a ghost, strict limits were often placed on its behavior. The ghost of Lord Lovel in The Old English Baron for instance, is a silent apparition. He is detectable only by sight, never heard or sensed in any other way and is never brought forward into daylight so we can have a really good look at him. There is no confirmed ghost at all in The Mysteries of Udolpho, but we do catch sight of what may be a corpse wearing a black veil.

For obvious reasons, these sorts of novels were tremendously popular with female readers and were very often targeted towards that audience by first appearing as serials in the leading women’s magazines of the day. Within the confines of the story they could see themselves portrayed as the ‘weaker sex’ and taken advantage of by men, and sometimes other women, of wealth and power.  And yet, despite the hardship, there was always hope that the main character would triumph because of her quick thinking. She may be physically weaker, but to see another woman win because of her smarts must have been a wonderful ego boost and given feelings of empowerment to the women reading. If the poor and pitiful Emily of The Mysteries of Udolpho can survive all that she was put through, surely, I, the reader, can overcome my troubles. Feminism was taking root even back then.

From Reeve to Radcliffe, Shelley to du Maurier, Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters up to our current female women in horror, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Anne Rivers Siddons, Caitlín R. Kiernan and even myself, we have all strived to present horror in a way that not only frightens but may also empower our readers. Without consciously trying to target a female audience with my own work, I’ve noticed that the majority of my main characters are very strong-minded women. They face the most bizarre of situations and yet they keep fighting for what is right. They discover their inner strengths as they battle the real or imagined paranormal madness that surrounds them. In that way, I feel I am giving a very respectful nod of recognition to the female horror writers who have come before me and am proud of what I have been able to offer the genre in the past and what I hope to present to it in the future.

If you liked this post, you might find my The Horror of Women blog post of interest, too.

That Boy Needs To Build Some Character!

Not so long ago a friend asked how I go about creating characters. Her son is an aspiring writer and she’s noticed he puts a little bit of himself into at least one character in everything he writes. It’s not always a main character, but he’s in there. I told her I do the same thing.

In a sense, my stories are my children and as such, the characters are natural extensions of myself.  Why wouldn’t I put part of who I am into everything? With some characters it’s very obvious. For others, it may not be detectable to anyone but me. There are, of course, the characters that do not resemble me in the slightest but may be based on family and friends or no one at all. None of them are exactly like the real people. A look is borrowed from one, an attitude from another, a fear, a past, or a quirk may come from yet a third.  I don’t go into a book knowing everything there is to know about my characters any more than you would know everything there is to know about someone you meet on the street. Who they are unfolds page by page, moment by moment. But how, exactly, is a character, especially a totally fictional one, created? To be honest, I don’t have a real cut and dry answer for that, but I can give you an idea of the process that I go through.

You’ve Got The Look

First impressions are often based on physical appearance. Even without speaking to a person or knowing anything about them, you can see them. You can see the way they dress and move. There’s always body language to consider. You can hear their voice. You can smell the scents that waft around them, for good or bad. You may, if you get close enough, even be able to taste that individual. It’s no different when creating a fictional character. Sometimes looks mean absolutely nothing holding true that old saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when writing you need to consider how a person comes across in these ways and the impression you want to give to your readers.

What’s Your Story?

Creating characters involves creating stories within your story. For my novel “No Rest For The Wicked”, I use the tagline, “Every ghost has a story. Not all of them want it told.” This may be true for ghosts, but when it comes to creating your characters, you better know their history if you want to give them any depth at all.  Why do they act like they do? Why does he walk with a limp? Why is that fifty-year-old man still afraid of the dark? What happened to this person before you came along to make them say and do the things they are saying and doing now? You can find Character Sheets online to help you sort all this out. These will ask you questions about your character that you may never have considered. I’ve only filled out a few of these that, in the end, I never referred back to once I got into the story. Some people swear by them and their use really can’t hurt. I tend to work a lot more organically.  Don’t think of your characters as just characters. Think of them as people. Listen to them. They’ll tell you everything you need to know… eventually.

Becoming An Environmentalist

The setting of the story plays a huge part in what sorts of people are going to populate your world. And those people will play a role in who your specific characters are.  Past, Present, or Future? Rural or Urban? Poverty, wealth, or somewhere in between? A loving home or one full of violence and pain?  Are they messy or a neat freak? What is your characters relationship to the other members of the family, their neighbors, and where do they fit in to the community as a whole? Are they native to the area or a newcomer? Does your character even like where he or she lives? If not, maybe that’s part of their problem and their motivation. Use those things to find out more and propel your plot forward. I do a fair amount of research on the settings in my books. I want my readers to BE THERE! I want them to see where all this is going on as vividly as I can.

Lastly, Show Don’t Tell

I’m told there are no rules when writing, but I firmly believe that “Show, Don’t Tell” is a rule and it’s something EVERY writer of fiction needs to understand and do. Years ago my daughter had to write something for English class and she came to me for help. Her story started out something like, “Ethan Havoc walked down the road. It was raining. He had headphones on listening to his favorite band. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him.” This is an example of TELLING the reader what’s happening. It doesn’t show me much. I asked her a few questions about Ethan, his appearance, posture, how he’s walking (body language).  Then I asked about the rain (environment). Is it raining hard or just misting?  Does he have an umbrella? Next, we moved on to what kind of music Ethan is listening to. It could be anything from Anthrax to Beethoven. We can’t tell from what is given and knowing a character’s choice of ‘favorite band’ is going help us understand him better (backstory). After our talk, she came up with this, “Aiden Havoc scuffed his feet as he walked home. Water dripped off the ends of his hair and soaked the back of his hoodie. School had just let out for the day and his headphones blared loud shreds of The Misfits in his ears. He sang every word of the song out loud not caring who heard him or saw him shake his greasy black hair to the music.”  Ah, ha! We know Ethan and his surroundings a WHOLE lot better now, don’t we?

So, there you have it, my take on character creation. There’s a lot more to it than this, but that’s something that I can’t explain in words without sounding certifiably insane. As the story moves along, the characters reveal more through their thoughts and actions based on whatever it is they are facing in their environment. It’s not always something I consciously decide. It just happens. And that’s when the real magic of writing takes place. I hope this has answered some questions for readers and if you’re a writer, I hope it helps you become a better one!

Write On!

In Search Of… Horror.

Visited our local *Buns & Noodles store this afternoon. As we wandered the aisles I came to realize something I’d never noticed before and frankly, I’m annoyed.

We always seem to gravitate towards the YA section first so Jim can see if Cousin Scott has come out with something new we’re unaware of. He’s sneaky like that. This time I wanted to check out Book #3 of the Peculiar Children series. I’m in the middle of #2. It’s only available in hardcover now so I’m going to wait for the paperback. Sorry, I’m cheap like that.

After the Young Adult section, we’re on our own. They have the Children’s section, the Romance, and the Sci-Fi sections. There’s History, Mysteries, Cooking, and Self-Help. Manga and Graphic Novels have their own section as does Religion, Travel, and Crafting.  All of these are nicely labeled with big, bold signs over the tops of the shelves making them oh-so-easy to find. What they do NOT have is Horror section. WTF B&N!? If I want to find Horror I have to search through the ‘Fiction & Literature’ section. How much more vague can you possibly get?

I’m aware of a good many Horror novelists, but I sure as heck don’t know them all and those that I am most aware of, like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub have been around for decades and are maybe considered a bit Old School. If I’m looking for something or someone new, I’m rather clueless. Directing me to the ‘Fiction & Literature’ section isn’t going to be very helpful. And for as much as I love to browse a bookstore or library, damn it, at least let me be in the section I am most interested in so that I know that every book I pick up is a Horror contender.

I ended up getting Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep” because I’ve heard of him, know he’s good, and know he mostly sticks to the Horror genre with a few exceptions. I’d love to have given a lesser-known writer some business, but pft … damned if I have the time to stand there reading every single back cover of very single book that looks like it might be what I’m interested in.

*Barnes & Noble and all you other bookstores, big and small, can you PLEASE create a Horror Section? I and so many others like me would truly appreciate it.

The Writing Process – Dark Hollow Road

Folks quite often ask how long it takes for me to write a book. As I’ve just finished the First Draft of DARK HOLLOW ROAD, I thought I’d use that as an example to answer the question. It just so happens I know exactly when the idea, the title at least, came to me, September 22, 2014.

We were driving through the wilds of eastern Pennsylvania just minding our own business, stopping at various junk and antique shops and enjoying the fall foliage when we zoomed by a small side road that led even further and deeper into those wilds. The road sign read, “Dark Hollow Road”. I laughed and said, “If that’s not the title of a book, I don’t know what is.” At the time I had no idea what that future book would be about. I had other things in the works. My Muse, who for some odd reason I envision as a dark, mysterious version of Tinker Bell, would do what she does best and find out what the story deal was and get back to me later.

She did so in June of 2015 by introducing me to Mary Alice Brown and her family. I started out writing exclusively from her first person perspective. I knew I wanted to keep her world, which in the context of the book starts in 1948, very separate from what was going on today so contained all of that to the odd-numbered chapters. I’d written at least five odd-numbered chapters before having a clue what the ones in between would contain.

One day, six-year-old Brandon Evenson showed up. He got me going on what would be happening in the modern even-numbered chapters. By October of 2015 I’d written sixteen chapters. In January 2016 I was forced to draw up a timeline to keep track of the two sections running simultaneously. In April 2016, I was sitting alone at a small campfire I had going in my backyard. As I sat there pondering whatever it was I was pondering, along came this old, slightly grouchy looking man. He introduced himself as Lee Yagar and told me who knew a fair amount about Dark Hollow Road, but had never been too keen on talking about it to anyone. He didn’t live there, but he knew the Brown family. That’s all he had to share. It wasn’t very informative, but it was something.

Then, last night, August 9, almost two years after we drove by that Dark Hollow Road sign, I typed the final, very satisfying sentence that ended it all. So, there’s your answer as far as getting to the end of the first draft to DARK HOLLOW ROAD goes. Of course there’s still a whole lot of editing and proof reading to do on it, but it’s written. It will likely be another year before it sees the like of day.

Normally there are at least two books in progress at the same time. They are at very different stages along the creation process timeline which is why it seems like I’ve come out with two new titles, rewrite and re-release a previous title, and finish a first draft for a fourth all in a year’s time. It really took a lot longer than that, but you get the idea.

I’ll take a break for a while. I’ll try to at least. Sometimes the Muse gets over-zealous and doesn’t allow that break. Sometimes she takes annoyingly long naps. She’s quite unpredictable.

Today after I have the first draft of DHR printed up, I’ll put it aside until after we get back from our honeymoon in September. I’ll give it a once over, make my own corrections,  then hand  it off to my editor friend who will have it for a few months more. The idea is that once I see it again, my eyes will be fresher and my mind will have maybe forgotten a thing or two. Makes it easier to spot errors that way.

As another example, NO REST FOR THE WICKED which is coming out this September, I started to write the summer of 2011!! It all depends on the book and what’s going on in the rest of my life, I guess.

Last night I was trying to figure out how to explain what it feels like when I type that last sentence in a novel. It never fails that I think, “I like it!” I wish I smoked so I could lean back and savor the moment. Maybe it’s like very satisfying sex, that instant when all is said and done and the parties involved lay back and bask in the afterglow of their passion. It’s definitely a mental high.

Not five minutes later I’m thinking, “What’s next? Now what do I do?”

Indeed, what do I do next? For now, nothing. Focus on the wedding, enjoy the honeymoon, and maybe getting that back deck finished up.

Stretch and breathe before taking a ride on … THE WITCH’S BACKBONE.

 <wicked evil grin>

Stepping Stones Across Hell’s Half Acre

It has only taken ten years since the release of my first published novel, but I finally reached a milestone I’ve been dreaming of for much longer than that decade. Last night I had my first book signing event! I got to talk about my progress as a writer, my novels, my inspirations for those novels, and answer questions from the audience. I got free food and even sold 80% of the books I took with me! All while feeling old and youthful at the same time.

As this was a private, local event, the gathering was only around 30 attendees, but among them were several folks from my much younger days! A former grade school teacher, a woman who remembered me from when I was in Headstart, the parents of two girls I went to high school with, and a former baby sitter. Even if they didn’t know me, a lot of them knew my parents! Ah, the world of being ‘a local girl’ as I was called. Yes, to these folks, this 50-year-old was just a girl. They were a fun bunch of ladies and gentlemen and I enjoyed hanging out with them for a few hours talking about books in general. Funny how I work in a large university library and almost never talk to any of my co-workers about what we’re reading. Maybe it just feels too work-related and who wants to talk about work-work? Blech! Not me! Unless it’s away from the office and really has nothing whatsoever to do with my job or most of the people that job pertains to. It’s weird.

I even managed to get a laugh out of them with my opening and the story about how I first realized maybe I wasn’t like the other in Mrs. Dodd’s 3rd grade class. It was in that moment that something deep inside me clicked and my writing dream was born.

So, really, last night was something like 40 years in the making and wishing and dreaming. These things take time and I’ll admit I’ve not always been very patient about it getting here. The writing gig has given me more lows than highs, but the highs are what keeps me going. This may seem like small potatoes to those who are further along in their journey than I am, and I know I’d be jumping the gun if I believed for a moment I’d made the big time with this single and simple event, but it’s one step closer.

A week or so again I posted a Facebook status of “Remind me again why I am doing all this.”  It becomes so frustrating and disappointing at times. You want something so badly and it’s so important to you and you pour so much of yourself into it that when things don’t happen how you hoped and dreamed or as fast as you want, you feel like a complete failure and like giving it all up. You question what’s the point in even trying. Why even bother? No one cares. No one appreciates. No one understands any of this, let alone you, and it seems it’s all for nothing.

Then, something like last night happens. I am forced to remember that day in 3rd grade and a little girl who was terrified she’d done her weekend homework assignment wrong. I am forced to look back at where I was ten years ago in this process. I have to remember how devastated I was when the publisher of my first murder-mystery went out of business and how utterly defeated I felt. All that work … and I’m sent back to Step One again.

But, once I really looked and understood, I knew I wasn’t at Step One at all. My path had merely been diverted by a very annoying and slippery rock that sent me on my ass into the icy cold stream. It took me two years to regroup and in those two years I focused on other projects. I built my resume one little article and a second murder-mystery at a time. I looked back and saw my stepping stones zig-zagging all over Hell’s half acre, but I’d traversed them. I may have slipped, stumbled, crumbled, cried, and cursed, but I mostly FOUGHT my way across those damned stones. I was not about to give up now. I’m too stubborn for that and seeing all the progress I’d made helped, too.

I’ve got at least two more events planned for this year and now that I have the first one under my belt, I’m looking forward to the others even more. Baby steps. This process is not going to happen overnight. The trick is not to let the down times and the imagined failures drag me into the muck of my own raging self-doubts. I will continue to fight for this dream because I don’t know any other way. It’s too much of who I am. I am blessed by being surrounded by those who believe in me when all I really want to do is chuck it all into a bonfire. Words of encouragement are not just words, they are vital to the process that keeps me going when I feel like I just don’t want to anymore.

All that from a simple two-hour event held in the middle of nowhere. Thank you all for your continued support, your kind words, and the opportunity to share and entertain you with my dream. You are each a hand held up out of that crazy stream of life that helps guide me from one stepping stone to the next and I am truly grateful beyond all measure.

Excerpt from “No Rest For The Wicked”

     The following is the the intro and first two chapters of my upcoming ghost story, NO REST FOR THE WICKED scheduled for release Fall 2016. Please note this novel contains some explicit sexual content. If that sort of thing turns you off, you may not wish to read further. However, it is intricate to the plot and to the hauntings you will learn about further in the story. The rest of you brave souls … read on.
August 1882
     She didn’t have to see it to believe it. She could hear them just fine. She’d suspected the truth for months. It was time to do something about it. She’d waited and planned long enough. Lucy looked up the stairs, gripping the top of the wooden balustrade with a firm, steady hand. Oh, yes, he was up there. He thought her so meek and submissive, but he knew as well as anyone who had not hesitated to shoot those damned Yankees point blank during the War. Yes, Beauregard Addams and his little trollop really should know so much better than to do what they were doing up there. You didn’t cross Lucy Addams without paying a price.
     She dried her palm against the folds of her dressing gown before pulling the revolver from Beau’s holster. Idiot, she thought, keeping his gun loaded and ready on the table at the foot of the stairs like that. He’d done it for years, though and now it would be his undoing. Her footsteps were silent and slow as she climbed each tread. Sweat dampened the brow above her hazel eyes, but her heart had gone cold and the color of her rage was icy blue and lethally calm.
     “C’mon, suck it,” she heard him order. “Suck it, my little slut.”
     Feminine moans and grunts of pleasure shuddered through the closed bedroom door as Lucy’s damp hand wrapped around the knob. She turned it oh-so-slowly. Lucy licked her lips.
     He had his back to the door as a dark-skinned woman knelt on the floor in front of him, naked. Beau’s trousers were pushed down to just above his knees. He’d not even taken off his waistcoat yet. Both of his hands held the kneeling woman’s unseen face against his groin as he rocked his hips back and forth faster.
     Beau moaned.
     Lucy knew that sound well. He was about to climax. Let him, she thought as a smile touched her lips and she raised the gun, aiming it at the base of his skull not ten feet away. Her husband’s ass flexed as he pushed himself into the other woman’s mouth and tipped his face towards the ceiling with a helpless groan that bordered on a yell.
     “Beau,” Lucy said just loud enough to be heard over the noise of his release.
     His eyes shot open.
     Lucy exhaled slowly and squeezed the trigger just like he’d taught her to do.
***
Chapter 1
     Twin, square columns painted ghost white and topped with massive cast iron planters stood guard on either side of an iron gate into which had been worked an impressive letter ‘A’. Vines poured from the tops of the planters and reached out in opposing directions. Their delicate stalks twisted along the top of the fencing to create a thick, tangled drapery of vines and leaves. Behind the fence, two more sentinels loomed tall and foreboding in the guise of ancient gray elms. Their yellow-tainted leaves shivered as the Harley and its two riders passed slowly beneath the entwined branches of the trees.
     Hidden further back stood the house. A ripple of fear stroked Grace’s spine and set the hairs on her arms on end. She hugged Eric’s sides just a little tighter. Bone-white with black shutters, the entire front facade boasted a two-story porch where thick, lathed spindles held aloft paint chipped railings. Half a dozen steps led up to a wide door framed by a fan window on top and glass side panels. Two more urns, like the ones atop the front columns, squatted empty on either side of the front door.
     As they passed beyond the elms, Grace turned her attention to the left. A single story room of some sort jutted out from the main body of the house. Solid-colored drapes prevented any chance of seeing what was inside. More of the familiar vines spread their long, greedy fingers around the corner and had worked their way halfway across the front, almost touching the narrow windows.
     The grounds were unkempt and ragged. Wisteria grew at random lengths over the porch while shrubs stood tall and jagged at the corners. In the center of the circular carriageway they now rounded, a scantily clad statue of a woman stood poised above a brier of roses gone wild with dead and withered blossoms.
     Eric pulled the bike to a stop behind a white compact car while lowering his boot-shod feet to the ground. The engine was cut. For a moment, silence rang in Grace’s ears. The house would easily accommodate both of their businesses, but for what price? Grace put her hands on her husband’s shoulders and swung one leg over the back before landing with a soft hop on the dry, Virginia soil.
     Both worked off their helmets before speaking.“What do you think?” Eric asked. At just under six foot Eric was a lean one hundred seventy pounds and towered a good nine inches over his petite wife. He hung his helmet on the end of one of the bike’s handlebars.
     “It’s huge,” she said.
     Eric chuckled.
     “Oh, stop it!” she mock punched him on the arm, “Men are such pigs.”
     “Oink,” he grinned and leaned in to give her a tender kiss. Eric looked every bit the bad-ass biker dude with an unruly beard, made even more so after the ride, and long blonde hair he kept pulled into a ponytail that, even when braided, reached the middle of his back, but Grace knew all too well he was nothing but a teddy bear inside. In their eight years together, she’d never seen him start a fight. He’d broken up a few, but he was never one to throw the first punch or deliver the deciding blow. Eric used his hands for making music and when they saw the ad in the paper for this property, it had sounded a perfect space to set up the private studio he’d been talking about for the past year.
     The front door squeaked open and a well-dressed, balding man emerged carrying a single manila folder, “Afternoon, folks. Welcome to Greenbrier,” he grinned like some seedy, used car salesman. “Couldn’t help but hear you pull in.” He thrust out his free hand to Eric. “I’m James, James Fletcher. Pleased to meet you.” He shook Grace’s hand, too.
     “Eric McLaughlin, and this here is my ol’ lady, Grace.”
     “Pleased to meet you both.” The realtor looked slightly uncomfortable. “Well, let’s not waste any time, shall we? Let me show you around.”
     “Lead on,” Eric replied as he reached back and took Grace’s hand. “C’mon, woman. Let’s see what this boy’s got to offer.”
     Grace gave him a little smirk that the realtor didn’t catch, “Stop,” she mouthed silently and was about to punch her husband in the arm again until Mr. Fletcher turned around.
“This poor place really only needs some T.L.C., you understand? It’s been empty for years,” the realtor said. His thin lips turned up in a grimace. Grace didn’t like it.
     “How come?” she asked.
     “The last folks abandoned the property nearly five years ago. Just up and left. Some sort of family emergency, I’m told.” Mr. Fletcher pulled the grand front door open and motioned for the prospective buyers to proceed ahead of him.
     Even before she stepped through the door, Grace’s nose crinkled. “What’s that smell?”
The front entry was generous, but not overwhelming. To the left and right doors, led into what appeared to be twin rooms on either side. In front of them a large staircase ran up along the left hand wall. A wide hallway running parallel to this staircase led to rooms lost in a murky haze of dust and cobwebs. Grace sniffed the air again. “Do you smell that?”
Eric and Mr. Fletcher both sniffed but shook their heads.
     “What’s it smell like?” Eric asked.
     She shrugged. “Like something burning, maybe? Or like … like when we went to Gettysburg.”
    Eric’s eyebrows arched, “Gettysburg?”
     “Oh, you know how all that cannon smoke smelled.”
     “Gunpowder?”
     Grace nodded, “Yeah, just like that, just like gunpowder.” She sniffed again, but the air held nothing but the scent of an old, shut up house, dust and aged wood. “It’s gone now.”
     Mr. Fletcher chuckled, “Well, you’re near Winchester. We saw a lot of the War here. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s a re-enactment going on west of here about sixty miles. Get the right sort of wind blowing and you can smell those things for miles. However, I can assure you this house saw no part of the real war. Greenbrier Plantation was built several years after it ended to replace the original house that burned down in 1862. The story goes that the owners, Dr. Addams and his young wife, Lucy, fled in the middle of the night and spent the rest of the battle torn years in France.” The realtor adjusted his glasses and walked into the room immediately to the right. “This was the front parlor, the ladies parlor as it was known, very bright and cheerful in its day. Just needs a bit of paint and new paper on the walls to bring it back to that.
     Grace hugged her elbows to her stomach, looking at the room and the cobweb-draped light fixture that hung from the ceiling. “I like it,” she said as she turned slowly in place. “Would make a great room for painting in. The natural light that comes right through is perfect.”
    Mr. Fletcher grinned his approval and ushered them towards the room across the hall.
“Originally, this was the dining room.” He headed towards another door along the back wall. “Kitchen is through here. Plenty big enough to be an eat-in if you’d like.”
     “Hold up,” Eric said. “What’s all this about?”
      The realtor paused and looked at the pile of sheetrock and stack of two-by-fours as if he’d not seen them at all before. “Oh, those, well, the last owners were renovating the place. Those are the materials they left behind.”
     Eric strode closer in long, easy steps over. “He left his toolbox,” he bent down and picked up what appeared to be nothing more than an old rag, “and his apron. Still has nails in the pockets.” Eric steadied his gaze at Mr. Fletcher. The biker knew how to look mean when he had to. “Tell us again why these folks left, Mr. Fletcher?”
     The older man licked his lips nervously. “In the night, quickly. They packed up their car as if a tornado was coming and were gone.”
     “I thought that was how the first owners left.”
     “Yes, well,” Mr. Fletcher stammered, “yes, they did. It was during the War and the original place was on fire. They had to run for their lives. These folks just had a family emergency.”
     Eric crossed his arms and planted his feet firmly on the hardwood floor. “That must have been some family emergency.”
     “I only know what the office told me, Mr. McLaughlin.”
     “It’s haunted, isn’t it?” Grace’s voice was edged with hope.
     Dust motes sparkled in the beams of sunlight that streamed through the dirty dining room windows.
     “I’ve heard that, too.” Mr. Fletcher conceded. “Most places around these parts claim to be haunted.”
     Grace felt herself smile, “How exciting. Who by, Mr. Fletcher? What happened?”
     The realtor nudged his glasses up on his nose again and was about to speak.
     “Another time, huh?” Eric said with a chuckle. “Let’s finish the viewing first. If we decide we’re interested and want to discuss price, you two can talk about ghosts.”
     “Party pooper,” Grace mock pouted, “ruining all my fun.”
     Eric reached back and swatted her ass playfully, “I’ll show you some fun later.”
     Fletcher cleared his throat and looked away. Eric chuckled, “Sorry. Back to the business at hand.”
     The kitchen had been updated completely by the last owners and from Grace’s perspective needed nothing more than a good, hard scrubbing and some fresh paint more to her liking. A narrow staircase led from the back left corner of the kitchen up to a small room that the realtor told them was probably used by a servant A second door led into the upstairs hallway, but Mr. Fletcher took them back to the foyer the way they’d come.
     “The den,” Mr. Fletcher said as he swung open the second door on the right. It was the same size as the ladies parlor but was dim and very little sunlight came in through the single east-facing window. Layers of brittle wallpaper clung to the walls. “Electric was put in sometime in the early fifties. Apart from the kitchen and bathroom, it’s not been updated as far as I know.”
     “Damn,” Eric let out a breath and shook his head. “All I’m seeing are dollar signs, babe.”
     Grace ignored the remark. “How long did the last people live here?” Grace eyed the walls, calculating how much work would have to go into peeling, scraping, priming, and repapering them.
     “About six months.”
     “Things that go bump in the night,” Grace snickered.
     Mr. Fletcher smiled. “Family emergency,” he corrected her. “After the family left, the estate was handled by their lawyer and the bank. They never came back. The house was foreclosed and has been empty and on the market ever since.”
     Eric nodded. He had never been one to believe in ghosts or any of that kind of thing. That was Grace’s fancy, not his, and he had always let her have her harmless fun with it. Her sense of wonder and fantasy had also helped make her series of children’s books and illustrations very popular. Who knew, maybe the house and its alleged ghosts would inspire that young adult novel she’d always wanted to write. She found inspiration in the oddest places.
     Mr. Fletcher stepped back out in the hallway. “Shall we go upstairs?”
     “Lead on,” Eric replied.
     Hand-carved woodwork greeted them throughout the house, from the carved balustrade to the floors, the wainscoted hallway, doors and frames, and windows casings All spoke of the finest craftsmanship. Sunlight streamed through the dust motes the three of them kicked up in the front bedrooms. A room in the back had been updated into a large bathroom. The claw foot tub with its draw-around curtain was lovely and nostalgic but not practical; plus, the thing was an oasis of rust. With four bedrooms and the servant’s quarters, the place was almost too much.
     “What about that little room I saw from the outside, along the west?” Grace asked as they descended the front porch steps.
     “Ah,” the realtor’s eyes lifted. “If you think the thought of ghosts is fun, you’re going to love what went on over there.” He pulled the ring of keys from his pocket and fished through them.
     “What’s over there?”
     “There were coffins,” Mr. Fletcher said, giving Grace a wink.
     “Coffins?” Her heart gave an excited extra beat.
     Eric pulled back to a halt. “Whoa now, wait just a fuckin’ minute. Why the hell were there coffins here?”
     Concern etched deep into the realtor’s forehead and the hopeful look of a sale dwindled. “Alright, I’m having a bit of fun with you two. Let me show you and I’ll explain.”
     Eric didn’t move even when Mr. Fletcher started to walk away.
     The realtor turned back. “I assure you, there are no coffins in there, not anymore. The original owner, Dr. Beauregard Addams, was a very successful undertaker until the time of his death. That little addition was his place of business.”
     Still, Eric didn’t move. “You’re saying this place was a funeral home?”
     “A hundred and thirty years ago, yes.”
     Grace giggled as she watched her husband’s face. “Don’t tell me big, bad biker man is afraid.”
     Eric scowled, “No, I just think it’s damn creepy, that’s all. Let’s go look.”
     Mr. Fletcher resumed walking as he fiddled with the keys in his hand. “If it helps any, Mr. McLaughlin, there is no access from this wing to the main house. From what I’ve heard, the doctor’s wife was about as thrilled with her husband’s occupation as you are. She requested the two areas be kept apart during the reconstruction.” He slipped the key into the lock and swung the door open. “Well, here we are…”
     Grace stepped forward and peered in.
***
Chapter 2
     Mr. Fletcher moved aside, letting Grace tug Eric into the room as if leading him into a cheap carnival spook house. It wasn’t a big room by any means, fourteen feet wide and maybe twelve feet deep, but with nine-foot ceilings, the emptiness gave the impression of being much larger. Sunlight poked through what remained of a shabby, brown curtain coated with dust and partially eaten by moths.
      Rubble from the crumbling ceiling crunched under Eric and Grace’s boots. From every corner, sheets of cobwebs sagged under their own thick weight. Each was filled more with dust and debris than food for the spiders that had spun them. Portions of the plaster walls that had not already fallen away from the lathe were bowed and cracked.
     At dead center, a trash can waited to be filled by the heap of wallpaper on the floor next to it. Grace let go of Eric’s hand and bent over to pick up the push broom from the floor. “Wow,” she whispered as if afraid her breath alone would send more of the walls and ceiling crashing down around them.
     “Just a little T.L.C., eh, Mr. Fletcher?” Eric chuckled, stroking the length of his foot long beard with one hand.
     The realtor moved away from the doorway and joined them in the dark staleness of the space. “You’ve seen the rest of the house. I assure you, this is as bad as it gets. Even the carriage house is in better shape.”
     The biker grunted and crossed his arms.
     “Someone started to work on it, at least,” Grace said, leaning the broom handle against the trash can from where it had fallen long ago.
     “Where’s that go?” Eric nodded his head towards a door on the opposite wall from the front one.
     Mr. Fletcher searched his key ring again, “That’s the embalming room.” He hesitated when neither of his clients said anything, “Do you want to look or …?”
     “Baby?” Eric deferred to his wife.
     She nodded and brushed her hands off on her jeans.
     The inner room was only slightly larger than the first, but instead of hardwood floors, these had been tiled in white. There was a large drain in the middle of the floor. “Lovely,” Eric muttered. “Bets on what went down there?” For him, at least, the place had lost all its Victorian charm.
     The walls matched the floor a third of the way up before yielding to more cracked and crumbling lathe and plaster walls. There were no windows. Eric noticed Grace’s nose crinkle as she tried not to breath in the bitter tang of what he suspected was formaldehyde. “The tiles aren’t in too bad a shape,” she noted. “Only a dozen or so would need to be replaced.”
     Mr. Fletcher smiled then laughed weakly, “See, no coffins. Just empty rooms.”
     Eric couldn’t help but shake his head, “I dunno. It’s a lot of work and what the hell would we use this for?”
     Grace sidled up to her husband and took his beefy hand in hers. “Let’s go see the carriage house.”
     Eric didn’t like the look he saw in his wife’s eyes. He knew that look and it told him she still liked the place despite the damn funeral home wing. “Alright,” he gave her hand a quick squeeze and looked towards Mr. Fletcher. “The Old Lady’s still interested. Let’s do like she says or I’ll never hear the end of it.”
     Mr. Fletcher broke into a smile, “Excellent, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
     “Better be,” Eric grumbled and followed the realtor.
     The lower level of the carriage house was much as Eric expected, a cobbled-stone floor, thick plank walls and open beams. The logs appeared hand hewn and were notched together at the corners. Both sets of double doors, one on the front of the building and the other at the back, moved with surprising ease on huge iron hinges. On the left and right hand sides were open-air carriage ports. Bright sunlight reflected on the single, but fairly good-sized, window over the front doors.
     “Would make a good garage,” the realtor offered.
     Eric hated to admit it, but Mr. Fletcher was right. He hated not having a garage for the bike and with the carports, they would have room for it as well as Grace’s car and his pick-up. “And up there?” he pointed to the window.
     “Let me show you. Entrance is around back.”
     It was clear the back stairs were a recent addition. They ascended along the back of the right hand port and ended with a nice-sized deck that ran the full length of the main body of the carriage house. Eric estimated it to be about eight feet wide. It was all pressure-treated lumber and not in the least bit unstable.
     “Oh, look at the view from up here!” Grace’s eyes sparkled.
     Beyond a gently sloping embankment that stretched several hundred feet, a stream sparkled in front of a line of trees. “That stream is the property line,” the realtor told them.
     “What’s the acreage again?” Eric asked.
     “Just under five. It was five times that originally. And you get the added bonus of a small slave’s cemetery just over there. It’s hard to see from here, but it’s there.” He pointed off to the east to an area that looked like nothing more than overgrown fields.
     “Ooooh,” Grace cooed with interest, craning her neck to try and see anything off in that direction.
     “Oh joy,” Eric sighed. “But five acres is plenty to keep the neighbors at bay,” Eric found himself smiling again. Maybe he could tolerate that old funeral home idea. He wasn’t so sure about being a cemetery caretaker though.
     “Let me show you inside.”
     Grace gasped as Mr. Fletcher swung open the door, allowing them their first glimpse of the interior. “Oh, wow! It’s an apartment.”
     “The previous owners were living here before they got called away.” He remained out of the way and let the couple roam the space at their leisure. “Bathroom is through there. It’s small but all redone five years ago.”
     “It’s incredible,” Grace was looking through the cupboards. “It’s perfect!” she added. “We could put the leather sleeper sofa up here, Eric, and decorate it all southwestern. Look at these beautiful beams. They must have taken ages to sand down like that.” She ran her fingertips over the glowing wood.
     “All it needs is a good cleaning,” Mr. Fletcher said. “You could do what the other owners were doing, live here while they worked on the house.”
     Eric nodded slightly, not wanting to seem too interested, but the realtor did have a very good point. They couldn’t afford to keep the apartment they had and the mortgage on this place, too. In all their house-hunting over the past few months that had been an issue they’d discussed at length, move-in-ready or no deal.
     “Were you expecting to show the house to others, Mr. Fletcher?” Grace was standing at the front window, looking out.
    “No. Why?”
     “I just saw someone upstairs, a young woman. She looked out the window at me and smiled. She’s gone now; went further back into the room.”
     Mr. Fletcher and Eric came up beside Grace. “Which window?” the realtor asked. Grace pointed it out. “That’s the room over the kitchen. We better go look. The last thing we need here is vandalism.”
     They took the shortest route, through the back door that led directly into the kitchen. A quick search of the house revealed no intruder or signs of anyone having been there other than themselves.
     “There was plenty of time for whoever it was to go out this way,” Eric offered as they stepped off the front porch.
     “We’d have heard a car, wouldn’t we?” Grace looked back at the house. Worry lines creased her forehead.
     “Not if it were kids, baby.” Eric could almost hear his wife’s imagination working. “It wasn’t a ghost,” he added.
     “You don’t know that.”
     He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he turned away, knowing to argue was pointless. “We’ll have to talk it over, Mr. Fletcher,” Eric said as he extended his hand to the realtor.
     “Of course. It’s a big decision.” Mr. Fletcher reached into his suit coat pocket and pulled out a business card, “Call me as soon as you’ve decided.”
     Eric handed the card over to Grace who tucked it into her purse without even looking at it. Her attention was still firmly focused on the house. He knew that look all too well. She was in love; funeral parlor, cemetery, ghost story and all.
     “Babe?” Eric nudged his wife’s shoulder.
     “Huh?” She snapped out of her semi-dazed state, then realized the realtor was extending his hand towards her. She gripped it and muttered some sort of nice-to-meet-you gibberish and smiled.
     Mr. Fletcher headed back towards the house.
     “You alright?” Eric touched her arm.
     “Yeah, tired. Long day.” She shuddered as if cold and gave him a peck on the lips. “And I’m famished! Let’s go eat.”
***
     Grace offered Eric full access to her already satisfied and sweat-dampened body. The sound of her moans alone made him twitch, but he wasn’t quite ready to fill her that way.
Eric drew his mouth back slightly to blow on her sex then slid two fingers inside her. He pumped them back and forth a few times before introducing a third digit. He wet the fingers of his other hand with her spent juices and pressed on her anus, easing them in slowly. Grace was not always receptive to ass play, but she’d had a couple of glasses of wine with their dinner and that was sometimes enough to make her more willing.
He was throbbing hard and he wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be able to hold off. “Come on, baby. Do it again for me.”
     Grace’s tempo increased in response as her hand slid down to rest atop his. Her whole body went rigid and still. Her breathing stopped then gushed back into her as he felt his fingers clenched and released by the involuntary throbbing inside her.
     He rose up between her fully spread legs and entered her with one smooth thrust of his hips. Grace’s legs wrapped around him, hands shifting to his flat stomach before finally coming to rest on his hips. She urged him forward and down until his chest pressed to hers.
     Her hands moved to the small of his back as her lips parted and pressed to his. Eric pumped harder until the muscles of his body clamped him into place as he shouted with the orgasm. Eric’s head grew light as his consciousness threatened to slip away. Then he was back, grunting and sweating over his wife again.
     “God, baby,” he mumbled, pressing his face into the side of her neck, tasting her damp skin and smelling her hair. Eric’s hips rocked unconsciously and he wished he could spend the rest of his life just making love to her over and over.
     She made a soft, soothing sound beneath him as her hands slid up his back and stroked the base of his skull with a tenderness he found unreal. Grace kissed his shoulder and sighed, “I love you, hon.”
     “Love you, too, babe.” He knew he should roll off her but this felt so good right now. Eric flexed his ass, giving another playful nudge into her.
     “Mmmm…” she clenched around him, teasing. “We should sleep,” she whispered against his ear.
     Reluctantly he withdrew and rolled to his back to lie beside her in the bed they had shared for nearly ten years.
     Eric was half asleep when Grace spoke again, “What?”
     “The house, what do you think?” she repeated.
     “I dunno, babe. Too tired to think about it right now.”
     “Oh,” she was quiet, but after a few minutes he felt her roll to her side, away from him, and sigh.
     “What do you think?” He gave up trying to sleep and turned to wrap his left arm around her waist, pulling her close under the blankets.
     “I like it.” “It’ll be a lot of work. I thought we’d decided we wanted a place move-in ready?”
     Her shoulders sagged a little. She didn’t just like it, he could tell. It was the house she wanted. “But with the price so low, we could have a lot left over to fix it up with, maybe even hire people, too. And we can live in the carriage house. It isn’t much smaller than what we have here.”
     She was right on all counts. “Let’s sleep on it, okay?” He really was tired and if he let her go on much longer, she’d have him signing the paperwork in his sleep. She had a way about her that sometimes he just couldn’t say no to.
     “Deal,” she said, hugging his arm tight and kissing his forearm.
     Eric closed his eyes. Few things in life felt better than laying with her like this, except maybe the way they got to this point in the first place. His mind drifted, letting the feel and smell of her and their lovemaking sink deep into his muscles and bones.
     “She was naked.”
     His eyes popped open again. “Huh? Who?”
     “The woman I saw in the back window of the house. She was naked.” She said it rather timidly which was somewhat unusual for her.
     “You sure you weren’t just seeing some sort of reflection in the glass? You know how the glass in those old houses can be warped and rippled. Maybe it was a cloud or something.”
     “It wasn’t a cloud,” she insisted. “It wasn’t a reflection of anything. I saw her, Eric, clear as I would see myself in the mirror. She was young, early twenties, I’d guess, and real pretty. I saw her face, her breasts, and they were bare. She looked right at me.”
    He pulled her a bit tighter into his arms. “I believe you saw something, baby. Can’t we just sleep and talk about all this tomorrow?”
     “Sure,” she said, her voice dull and resigned to dropping the subject for now.
     Eric kissed her again. “Go to sleep.”
     Grace said good night, but it was hours before she was able to sleep. The woman’s face would not be erased from her inner eye, the soft tilt of her dark brown eyes and the curve of her full lips turning up ever so slightly. She’d told Eric and the realtor that the woman had smiled and she had, only it wasn’t a happy smile. It was forced and pleading and it begged to be seen. Their eyes had locked for a split second before the woman seemed to step away and fade back into the darkness of the room behind her.
    Or maybe, Grace thought as sleep did finally pull her down, she’d not stepped back at all. Maybe she’d simply dissolved like the ghost Grace believed she was.
***
    The warm aroma of brewing coffee tickled the inside of Eric’s nose before he opened his eyes. Grace’s side of the bed was cold. She’d been up awhile. Pity, he thought rather selfishly as he lightly fondled his morning erection. His initial idea was to toss off right here and now in bed. Grace would have a fit, though. She’d either be upset she’d missed out, or pissed off he’d made a mess, or both.
     Naked, Eric padded to the bathroom and closed the door, still holding himself. He lifted the toilet seat and gazed into the blue water with a blank, just-woke-up stare. Having Grace know he still jerked off now and then never sat comfortably in his head. He didn’t want her to think she was doing something wrong or maybe she wasn’t enough. Women were weird like that. The only time she ever turned him down was when she was having her monthly.
     With a generous amount of toilet tissue, he cleaned himself and the edge of the toilet bowl off, then flushed. As he washed his hands, he looked in the medicine cabinet mirror. “Damn, you’re getting old.” He scowled a bit, wondering where all the wrinkles had suddenly come from. The wild days of his ill-spent youth were catching up way too fast. Eric ran his fingers through the head of hair that was already starting to gray even at thirty eight. “Better old than dead,” he said, quoting his grandfather now many years the latter.
     A pair of arms snaked around Grace’s waist as warm lips and the brushing of long whiskers tickled her neck. “G’morning,” Eric’s soothing voice whispered against her ear.
     She let out a soft purr and turned her back on the eggs she was scrambling up in a bowl. “And a good morning to you, too,” she kissed him on the mouth. “Sleep well?”
     “Yes,” he grinned and was on the verge of adding how he’d waken up with a hard-on but decided against it as soon as the thought crossed his mind. He didn’t want her asking what he done about it, and she would. “Whatcha making?” he asked instead, eyeing the eggs.
     “Scrambled eggs, omelets or French toast. Name your poison.”
     “Omelet,” he decided and pulled away slowly from her inviting body to pour himself some coffee. “Going for a smoke,” he continued, lifting the half pack and lighter from the countertop and heading out to their small patio. It was just off the kitchen through a pair of sliding glass doors and just big enough for two lawn chairs. Eric lit up and looked at the cityscape below. He found himself imagining standing on the back deck of that carriage house in Virginia instead. Maybe he had made up his mind.
     He had grown to dislike city living more and more lately. Twenty years ago when he’d been a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed high school graduate it was everything he wanted. He’d landed a job with a security company helping to install and update systems. This led to designing layouts for contractors, builders, and pre-existing businesses all over the city. The pay was good, real good, and he enjoyed doing it. The rest of the time he’d spent with his band mates getting way too drunk and stoned after practice and gigs. They were good, or at least he thought so. But, as it goes, people meet new people and end up not wanting to, or being able to, hang out with the old ones.
     Eric was just as guilty as the rest of them. He blamed Grace.
     There she was, sitting off to the right one night during a show. He could barely take his eyes off her. His playing suffered. He’d never believed in soul mates or love at first sight until that night. Maybe it was the dusting of freckles on her otherwise flawless skin or her light brown eyes. Whatever it was, Eric was hooked. This one was not going to get away. The whole thing had felt crazy. After only a month of dating, he’d popped the question. Without a moment’s hesitation, Grace had said yes. He’d do everything in his power for that woman.
     He drew in the last bit of smoke from the cigarette and crushed out the butt in the clear ashtray. “Good-bye, city lights,” he said to the gray steel and brick buildings nearby then went inside to tell his wife the good news. She cried, just like he knew she would.

What Scares You? Reading, Writing, & Watching Horror

As some of you may know, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series almost exclusively since last August. I’m over halfway through the final book of seven. Yesterday, the damn thing had me crying into my Ramen noodles at lunch time. Seriously, tears fell into my bowl of Ramen. I mentioned this to one of my fellow car poolers, Jean, who has also read the series and she smiled and nodded. As I’m still not done with the series, I’m going to hold off on a lengthy review just a little while longer, but at the mention of Stephen King the other car pool lady, Irene, piped up about King being scary. We explained that these particular King novels aren’t really all that scary. They are more adventure-scifi-western-weird creature-fantasy-love story type things. Irene then asked if King, in general, scared me. After a moment’s pause I said, “No, not particularly. I’m pretty hard core.”

There has only been ONE book that ever truly scared me to the point I had to stop reading it at night before bedtime. That book was The Owlsfane Horror by Duffy Stein. I’ve been reading all sorts or mysteries and thrillers and horror for as long as I can remember, so it’s not like reading a ghost story novel was anything new to me while I was in high school. I still have that very same book sitting on my bookshelf. I really should read it again after all these years to see if it’s as frightening as it was 30+ years ago. The only other book that has left a long-lasting creepy impression on me was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’d read the book before I saw the movie and, well, damn. The original adaption, The Haunting made in 1963, is just downright insane and ranks as my #1 favorite horror movie of all time. Seriously, don’t bother with the 1999 remake. It blows. It blows hard and in a very bad way.

All this got me to thinking about why I read, write, and enjoy horror, thrillers, and mysteries so much. Obviously it’s not as cut and dry as liking to be frightened because if there are only two novels that have done that, why do I keep reading it if it doesn’t truly scare me? It’s not for the gore because I’m not a fan of slasher stuff at all. It’s much more subtle than that. It’s the build-up of events, the leading me into a darker and darker place as far as the human psyche goes. Scary things can happen in broad daylight just as well as in a dark, hidden back alley. Show me what is normal and then twist it around and show me what happens when things start going horribly wrong. And, as if we humans aren’t cruel enough to each other, add some element of the paranormal in there to drag me even deeper. When I finish a chapter, make me lean back and think, “Damn, now what are they going to do? How are they going to get out of this mess? What exactly is going on here?” Those are the questions that make me want to keep reading! And because those are MY questions, they are also the ones I try and leave my readers with as I wrap up each chapter.

As I work my way through the first draft of DARK HOLLOW ROAD, I’m finding and exploring some very dark elements of what it means to be human. This is why I call it Taboo Horror. When people are raised under terrible, abusive circumstances, to what lengths will they go to survive? What happens when everything they have done to try and keep their sanity intact is taken away? What if people, completely oblivious and innocent, find themselves in the cross hairs of that sanity no longer kept in check?  My kind of Horror happens, that’s what.

I ask myself a lot what scares me. If it scares me, surely it will scare someone else, right? I can’t be alone in my fears so that’s what I try to write about. SECRETS OF THE SCARECROW MOON takes on scarecrows. Yeah, I’m not a fan of those at all. THAT’S WHAT SHADOWS ARE MADE OF deals with a paranormal entity that has freaked me out, not to mention fascinated me, for decades, Shadow People or The Hat Man. This fall will see the release of NO REST FOR THE WICKED which explores my love of the classic haunted house and the story behind what generated the hauntings to begin with. You’ll get a look inside the minds of the ghosts themselves as some try and tell their stories while others work like hell not to be ratted out. With DARK HOLLOW ROAD I am trying to take that concept a little bit further and a little bit darker.

I’d love to know what scares you. What draws you to read horror or watch horror movies? If you’re a horror writer, what attracts you to the process?  Do you actually enjoy being scared or is it something else?

Amazon Author Rank & Other News

I just checked my Amazon Author Rank. While certainly not even close to the #1 spot, the trend is inching upward. The highest ranking I’ve seen since the release of THAT’S WHAT SHADOWS ARE MADE OF was #109,426. I’m currently at #271,558. Lower, yes, at the moment, but as you can see by the chart, the trend is climbing. So… what can I say? BUY A BOOK, PEOPLE! If you already have, thank you and be sure to POST A REVIEW. At the very least, give what you’ve read a star rating. Every little bit helps that chart spike up a little higher each time and keeps it from falling too far down.

Some would say all this doesn’t mean a lot and the rankings are less than accurate, but it’s all I have to go on and it gives me hope. I’ve been writing since I was ten years old and by God, anything that tells me I’m not at the bottom of the Author Barrel is a good thing.

I set up my 3rd author appearance for 2016 and am very happy and excited about all of them!  1st draft progress on DARK HOLLOW ROAD is coming along nicely despite the utter HORROR I felt when I realized a couple weeks back that I’d lost nearly two whole chapters to a corrupt file. We’ve worked past and through that and things are chugging along well once more. Well, nice for some characters, not so nice for others. No wait. Everyone is pretty much either terrified, crying hysterically, heart broken or all of the above this moment. Good times, people! Awesome, horrific good times are being had.

Cover art for NO REST FOR THE WICKED is still in progress. The plan is to have fresh off the presses copies for the October First Friday Artwalk at Riverow Bookshop in Owego, NY, a book release party, of sorts! The bookstore manager is already getting terribly excited about the decorations! What better way to kick off October but with a ghost story set in an old, Virginian plantation house?

That about wraps it up for today! Thanks for stopping by.

The Bitter, Dry Pill of Failure

Failure. It’s a bitter, dry pill to swallow. It can wedge itself in the back of your throat. It can make you gag. You may even throw up. Failure is never pleasant and it’s not what we strive for. No one sets out to fail. Failure never fails to show up despite our best efforts to avoid it.

My first published novel, Virgin of Greenbrier, was released in 2006. It wasn’t the genre I’d ever imagined myself being published in, erotica-romance, but I was still over the moon at this taste of success. More books along the same line followed. Happy as I was, I wasn’t really happy with putting out these types of books. Bound To Be Bitten, my personal response to the whole nonsense of lovey-dovey, sparkling vampires, was published in 2010. As with the novels before it, it was erotica and it would be the last novel of that genre I would write. I had struggled horribly trying to make it what the publisher wanted. I wanted to write thrillers, horror, and murder-mysteries so I turned my pen to doing just that.

Blood of the Scarecrow  was the result. The joy I’d always found in writing had returned. It was published in 2013 by a new and small indie publishing house. By 2014 they decided to close their doors and returned all rights to me. So much for any success with that. Chalk another one to failure. I was devastated and heart broken. Had I just wasted ten years of my life going through all these steps? What was the point? I was back to zero! Why was I even bothering to work on a second murder-mystery? Beyond my Beta Readers and some close family and friends, who would ever read it? Why did I care?

What did all these other writers have that I lacked? I’d read some of their stuff and thought a lot of it sucked. I’m no Stephen King or Anne Rice and I don’t live under the delusion that I’ll ever be as good as them, but damn it, I’m not horrible either, am I? Am I?

My friends and family say no, but let’s be honest here, they are partial. They want me to succeed. They want me to feel good about that which they all know is my passion. They don’t want to hurt my feelings, see me sad, or be part of the reason I give it all up. They don’t want to pulverize my dreams so they say they like what I’ve done, even if they don’t. With their help, maybe I’ve brainwashed myself into thinking what I write is halfway decent. I try and tell myself that all I need is the Right Person to read something and give me a good review, someone who has no emotional stake in my happiness or misery, A Person Who Matters. Here I am ten years and eight novels into this writing gig and I still don’t see myself as a success.

I gave up submitting queries to traditional publishers and agents. The rejections became unbearable. The idea of vanity publishing made me cringe. It was something I swore up and down I’d never do. Only the lowest of the low and most pathetic would ever do that. What sort of sad-sack failure would stoop to something so abominable? Not me! No, never me!

Yes, me. Failure after failure got the better of me. Well, failure and those same friends and family and co-workers who continually asked, “When’s the next book coming out?” After doing my research, I decided on CreateSpace through Amazon. Had I made the right decision? They offered their self-publishing for free which was exactly what I could afford. I turned to friends with editing experience for help and happen to have a fiancé who’s a kick-ass graphic designer and website creator.

Thank God we work together so well. Over a period of about six months we were able to create the final manuscript of That’s What Shadows Are Made Of and unleashed it on the world in December 2015. We were also able to re-release the first book under the new title of  Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon. I’m proud of all that. Both have really awesome cover art and we got a website up to help with getting what was unknown, known. Well, semi-known-ish. It’s still an uphill battle. After ten years I finally have my first book talk and signing this spring, may have another this summer, and will be making a real live bookstore appearance in the fall with yet another new title release. Even with all that, I still don’t where this is going.

However, instead of letting all those failures, doubts, and rejection weigh me down and shove me into a gutter of hopeless despair, I’m trying to build on the little successes I’ve had. They seem minuscule at times. I still question if they are worth it when I don’t see the sales I’d hope for. I still get frustrated. I still doubt. I still cry. At the same time, I can look back over those ten years with a sense of accomplishment. I may never make the big time, but at the very least I can leave behind me something in my life to be proud of.

We all have dreams. We all have passions. The majority of people in the world will never have those dreams realized. They will die never feeling they’ve done their best to fulfill that passion. Some won’t even try or will simply give up when the going gets a little too rough. The pot hole will turn into a river they can’t cross and they’ll turn around and go back. They will forever wonder, what if? What if, instead of turning around, I’d found another way across that river? What if I hadn’t been so hasty and impatient with the situation? What if I’d just waited for the water to go back down? Maybe the path would have been opened up again.

We may know where we want to go, but we really don’t know how we’re going to get there, none of us. We can take the GPS and print out MapQuest directions. We can plan for alternate routes and we can make reservations, but for the most part we’re all just bumbling our way along hoping for the best, swerving to miss the pot holes, taking detours, and getting annoyed and pissed off when obstacles get in our way. That’s part of the journey. Sometimes the journey sucks but even then, as long as we’re moving forward, that’s a positive sign. We have to hold on to that little bit. Sometimes a truck full of live turkeys crashes a hundred of miles away and all you can do is keep in your lane and inch along with the rest of traffic. True story.

Failure. It’s a bitter, dry pill to swallow. You can let it choke you or you can crush it up, swallow it down, and move on. Take the alternate route. Find a new way to reach that dream destination even if it means doing what you said you’d never do, (self-publishing in my case) because even if you find yourself up shit creek without a paddle, you’re still moving and those muddy waters are taking you somewhere. Who knows, it may even be to a shortcut you never imagined existed!

Good Luck & Keep Your Dreams Alive!

Catching Up With The King

One of the greatest requirements of being a writer is also to be a reader. I’ve always been a huge reader. My earliest hard-core reading memories involved Nancy Drew Mysteries. I was ravenous for books by Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Wilkie Collins, Dickens, Peter Straub, Ellery Queen, Ray Bradbury, and then there was the King; The King of Horror, Stephen King.

In middle and high school I devoured one Stephen King book after another. Every year for Christmas or my birthday I’d be gifted the latest King novel. My god, how that man took me away into his worlds of bizarre and divine darkness. Very few understood my passion for King. “Don’t those things give you nightmares?” was a common opening line when someone found me curled up somewhere with my nose buried in the likes of “Pet Semetery” or “The Stand”. Never, ever, did reading King give me nightmares. His words were fuel to my writer’s soul. I wanted to be the next Stephen King. Hell, if I could write even half as good as him, I’d be one happy camper.

Then something odd happened. Once I was out of high school and trying to make my way in the world, I read less and less, King included. Maybe it was because I was now a working stiff. Maybe I was too busy being a wife and mother. Dr. Seuss and Winnie The Pooh took over and before I knew it a good twenty years had passed. The new and wonderful worlds of Stephen King became lost to me. Where had I left off?

Late in 2013 and into 2015 I started to play catch-up with King. I met Gerald and witnessed his horrific game. “Delores Claiborne” stepped in to say hello. I entered “Black House” and learned “Lisey’s Story”.

Reading became a passion again. I needed to read as much as I had always needed to write. Every book, King or not, became inspiration. Between bouts of visiting the King-dom there was Tanith Lee, Hunter Shea, and Scott Westerfeld to fill the gaps, but King was always the goal.

In August 2015 I started King’s Dark Tower Series. I remember knowing when the first book came out back in the 1970s. I’m not sure why I never picked a single one of them up! Now, I’ve worked my way through the first four books of the seven part series, having only just started the 5th last week, “Wolves of the Calla” and even picked up a copy of “The Wind Through The Keyhole” yesterday. It seems to be some sort of side book to the original seven books. It’s a good start, I’ll grant you, but even with having read four Dark Towers and “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” in 2015 alone, I’m still not even half way through King’s bibliography that I lost in the world of my own life.

Time to read, time to write, time to live my everyday life; Time to raise my children and enjoy the company of friends, time to be with family as often as I can.

I may never catch up with the King. It’s taken me fifty years to get as far as I have. I doubt I have another fifty in me to complete the task, but I’m going to try my damnedest.