Book Review – Whispers From The Depths by C.W. Briar

Admittedly, I was skeptical at first. I always am when I start reading a genre that isn’t my usual fare. But, given a little time my skepticism began to wane and Whispers From The Depths became one of those books I had to get back to reading any chance I got.

Tosna, Betka, and Asi are Whisperers. They speak to and control the waters of their land, but enslavement by an invading force have made the three young women prisoners. Their powers can be used for something as minor as stirring a cup of tea to calming a raging storm at sea. They can be used for good, or for evil – but using them for evil will only bring enormous suffering to the Whisperer itself. This keeps them in check, a fact their captors use to every advantage.

When Betka is given the chance to find, and she hopes, to rescue her sister Tosna who was taken away when they were children, she finds herself aboard a ship with fellow Whisperer, Asi. All too soon things start to go horribly wrong. The water spirit seems both enraged and absent at the same time. They cannot hear it. They cannot control it. At their final destination, the castle were Betka’s sister was taken, they find death and destruction everywhere.

This started a bit slow for me, while Briar mapped out the backstory and led me through a series of odd place names and events that I couldn’t seem to link to each other. I had a hard time keeping the character names straight, who was good, who was bad, who was somewhere in the middle. But this was really the only distracting flaw. Briar’s writing is both complex and simple at the same time, descriptive without being overly so, moving the plot forward at a pace that started somewhat plodding and confusing, but ramped up page by page until I wasn’t able to read as quickly as I wanted to.

Well written, well edited, and well worth the time for any Fantasy reader.

Raven Rating: 4 out of 5 Caws.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

The Proof Is In The Guest Room Closet

We’re into week what now? 16? 17? I have it written down somewhere. Time is both crawling and flying in the same moment. I may be returning to work in the office this month, or I may not. My boss hasn’t gone back yet. I imagine she’ll go in for a week to assess the situation before calling me in. I think it will be another couple of weeks at the very least. I’ll get a week’s notice at any rate.

I’m still doing that Audiovisual Transcript Remediation as reported back in April. I think I’m on my twentieth video now. Something like that. What a wide range of topics I’ve been doing. The creation of 4-H, Child Development, Home Economics, a Haiku poetry reading, philosophers discussing Kant, Heidegger, and Aristotle, film makers talking about their films, authors reading one of their short stories, retirement migration in the US, the creation of Land Grant universities, the vision that one of the creators of Cornell had, and many more. Like the number of weeks that have passed, it’s all written down.

I like to keep track of things, I guess. I’ve kept a journal in the normal sense of the word since 1977. I’ve kept and abandoned numerous dream journals over the decades, too. Somewhere there’s a record of a whole bunch of Ouija board sessions documented that go back as far as the mid-1980s. Haven’t touched one of those bad boys in at least ten years. Not out of fear or anything like that, just have kind of lost interest in it, I guess.

When I’m not learning about some obscure topic through a Cornell video or working my way through the online class I’m taking via EdX and Georgetown University (Sign Language Science: Emergence & Evolution of Sign Language – Part 1), or trying to do my own writing, or trying to come up with catchy song lyrics for The Hubby’s tunes, I’ve been sorting out things in the guest bedroom. God, but I have a lot of crap!

I dove into the closet last weekend with much fear and trepidation because, ya know… spiders, that and boxes, boxes, boxes of things I’ve not looked at in more years than I can remember. I’ve not even touched the boxes on the upper shelves, but I did dare to drag out one that was on the floor Sunday afternoon. I had no idea what was in it, but dang, it was heavy. I found a clear spot on the bed and pulled off the lid and was greeted by a series of mismatched notebook spines; old spiral bindings, comb-bindings, spines that were nothing more than the edges of the pages in between thin, cardboard covers. I knew immediately it was all mine but what, exactly, was it?

I pulled out one of them. The cover was labeled, “Misc.”. Boy, that narrowed it down! First, a hand-written essays from high school; Nazi Germany, then Concentration Camps, then a biography on comedian Steve Martin, a report on witchcraft in Salem followed, and a speech outline on the general topic of witchcraft, an outline for a paper on ‘The Vampire’, a random dream, and a plot summary for a short story I must have wanted to write at some point, then… pay dirt, my friends! PAY DIRT!

I started to grin, rather foolishly I’m sure. “Ah-ha!” my brain chuckled. “Told you so and here’s the proof!” Last time I blogged, I mentioned my mom’s old Smith-Corona typewriter and the meticulous hours I spent at it doing then for fun what I’m doing now for pay, the aforementioned A/V transcription.

Before me, in all its Smith-Corona glory was my first A/V transcription; “The Cemetery” From: “The Night Gallery” 1969. The entire thing, character names and descriptions, Serling’s introduction, and then seven pages of the entire dialogue and short scene descriptors. I was downright giddy! Next was “The Legend of Hell House” 1973, (18 pages), Dracula 1972 (29 pages), and 16 pages worth of the parts in “The Exorcist” when the demon is talking. Is it just me or does someone else detect a theme here? And this was all in just ONE of the nearly dozen notebooks I’d just unearthed.

My earliest A/V transcription. “The Cemetery”
from Rod Serling’s series “The Night Gallery”

The others held story after story after story. Most of these seem to have been written (rather poorly) when I was around sixteen. Dreams and more dreams could be found in another notebook, and there was even a hard copy of the first novel I ever wrote, a fantasy tale called “The Pride”. Yeah, I guess I like to write things to keep track of them, don’t I? I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse.

All these notebooks will be added to my file cabinet that’s already got a ton of family genealogy documents in it, various research articles, the handful of children’s stories I’ve written, poetry, and the like. Maybe some day I’ll have the time to give these all a more complete read and knowing me, typing up everything that’s still handwritten.

Though, God knows why, I’d still not be able to part with the originals!

Book Review – Hell House by Richard Matheson

Ah… Hell House. The book and the movie (released as The Legend of Hell House in 1973) have been favorites of mine since I was a teenager. I was attracted to the movie first as it stars my favorite actors of all time, Roddy McDowall. The film simply blew me away and I have remained in awe of it ever since.

The premise, like so many other haunted house stories, follows a group of researchers who are out to prove or disprove the survival of spirit after death. Known as the “Mt. Everest of haunted houses”, Hell House has killed before. At least one of the newly arriving members believes it can, and will, kill again. He is physical medium. Benjamin Fischer. He was the sole survivor of a previous attempt to exorcise the house 30 years before. Florence Tanner is a Spiritualist and psychic medium who in convinced she will be able to find and release the tormented and trapped spirits of the place regardless of how demented, evil, and sexually perverted they are. Dr. Lionel Barrett, assisted by his wife, Edith, is the scientist and skeptic. He’s created a machine that he believes will remove the energy and spirits of the house once and for all. Not so fast there, Dr. Barrett.

Shortly after seeing the movie, I read the book and was amazed because of how closely the film follows the book. It’s not exact, but the dialogue is almost word for word from book to movie. I haven’t read it in almost 40 years. I don’t tend to re-read books. I’m SO happy I gave Hell House another read.

For some, the pacing will be a bit too slow and maybe the imaginary somewhat weak with not enough blood and violence, though there’s a fair amount of sexual shenanigans going on between the ghostly sheets. For me, the balance is perfect. I’m more into suspense and mysteries. Give me a puzzle to solve. Guide me along as if I’m one of the visitors to Hell House. Show me the evidence and see if I can figure out what, if any, answer there is.

Highly recommend reading the book first…. and now I really need to go and watch the movie again … for like the 100th time!

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1972) MOVIE TRAILER

Raven Rating: 5 out of 5 Caws.

The Raven Scale:
1 Raven: Yuck! Don’t eat that.
2 Ravens: Bread crumbs, but it’ll keep us alive.
3 Ravens: Oh, hey! Peanuts, popcorn and cat kibble!
4 Ravens: Lunch time pizza place dumpster. Hell, yeah!
5 Ravens: Holy Shit, Fellas! Fresh Road Kill!

My, my, my, my mom’s Smith-Corona!

What a long, strange three months it’s been.

I’m doing what I can when it comes to working from home. I still work a full-time job so let’s get that right out of the way. No, I’m not really enjoying all this free time to write. In fact, I’ve written next to nothing new in well over a month. Working From Home (WFH) wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least not at first, but we’ll get to that later.

I’ve been editing and re-writing both the current WIP – “The Inheritance” and a decade old novel titled, “Bound To Be Bitten” – it was my retaliation piece when all that Twilight sparkling was going on. Originally BTBB was an erotica novel, but I was never really happy with it as such. When a chance came to get the rights back, I took it and have been pretty much sitting on it ever since. Last summer when I wasn’t feeling much like writing, I decided maybe I could at least work on that a bit. After my surgery in November, I lost interest once more – mainly due to pain issues and not being able to comprehend anything but pain.  

When writing wanted to happen again, I decided “The Inheritance” was more important. My Beta Readers had reported in and after taking their feedback into consideration, changed a few things then shot it off to a proofreader. In mid-March, he got it back to me. More rewrites and corrections and even as I am formatting it, I’m finding little errors he and I both missed earlier. It’s a never-ending process!

And now with Covid-19 running amok, I can’t get to the local artist to see the painting he did for the cover. *sigh* I’ve never had so many delays with a writing project before. I can set up a temporary cover for a proof if I want to but that would waste money really. Proofs aren’t free, so it’s best to order as few as possible when the time comes. I’d like to think this will be out by my first book signing event in July —- if that even happens at all.

Last weekend we made our first BIG shopping trip in almost three weeks. It was expensive, but we’re good to go for a while now and shouldn’t have to venture out for much of anything for another week – at least – I hope. Both my kids and husband have ‘essential jobs’ out there. I won’t lie. It scares me. My daughter is a cashier, my son is an auto mechanic, and my husband works at a big DIY store. He had his 2nd shoulder surgery last month (after technically dying on the table during the first attempt for reason still unknown – nope, no stress there!) and all went well. He’s been home recovering from that for the past three weeks, but returns to work on April 15th. Mixed feelings about that.

I fear for them all, that dreaded call or text … “Hey, Mom…” or “I’m not feeling so good …” conversation, or even myself realizing I’m not feeling right. That’s what keeps me awake at night. That’s what makes me find a quiet place away every now and then to cry and get the anxiety out of my system even if for only a few days. Everything is so frightening, frustrating, and uncertain.

Uncertainty – yeah, that’s the name of the game lately, isn’t it? My first week of WFH went well. Being as I can’t technically do my office job from home and the University wasn’t keen on me taking a trunk full of books home that Friday afternoon – I was told to take advantage of a massive number of online classes available to me. I want to keep in work-related at least so spent my first two weeks trying to fathom the depths of Excel along with a couple of writing classes, one work-related, the other not so much. Excel and I aren’t friends. Let’s make that perfectly clear. I can make the simplest of spreadsheets now, but that’s about it.

Then came the big BOX meeting Thursday morning. There were only 6-8 people in the group, but over half had no idea what BOX was or is, let alone how to use it. I felt lost, confused, frustrated, and emotionally overwhelmed — I’m supposed to use this tool for future work when I can’t even tell which end is up? Seriously?

I had a mini-meltdown later that afternoon wondering how in the world am I ever going to do this? What work are they going to send and expect me to do when I can barely open the program to get to the work? Friday, I could barely force myself to open work email. More bewilderment as I saw several messages added to a BOX folder\file Boss Man had set up and now, not just 6-8 people, but around 70 are involved?! I pushed through the hour of my daily Excel Tips & Tricks, finished up the yawn-inducing “Technical Writing: Reports” course.

This week, much to my surprise and delight – I started doing something I began training for when I was about 12 – Audiovisual Transcript Remediation. Who would have thought when I was recording movies on my little cassette tape deck and playing them back while sitting at my mom’s Smith-Corona electric typewriter, copying over the dialogue, that such a strange method of self-entertainment would come in handy over 40 years later during a Coronavirus Pandemic?! Really enjoying the work and wow, am I learning a lot of the history and world of Human Ecology as it pertains to Cornell University!

Each day ends feeling grateful I, we, made it through another one still feeling healthy. Each day begins feeling grateful I felt well through the night to sleep. But then the doubts and fears start creeping in all too fast all over again. Do I not feel well because I’m stressed out (probably) or because during one of my/our few and far-between outings, somewhere it found me? How are my kids doing? My parents? My friends? It’s beyond surreal, like we’re all living in an episode of “The Twilight Zone”.

I keep seeing all the positive messages of “We’ll get through this!” I believe the world will, certainly. I try to keep that attitude at the top of my mind. I hope you all can manage to do that, too. I’m going to keep writing, keep creating, keep working and learning on whatever it is Work assigns me. I’m not a big one on prayer … but if you are … keep doing it. Light a candle. Recite a chant. Burn some sage. Bang some sticks together, paint your body blue and dance clockwise around a tree naked … Whatever it is that you do, keep doing it. It sure as heck can’t hurt.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Top 10 Reads of 2019

10. The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

War and global destruction has once more befallen Earth and we find ourselves in the desert dictatorship community of St. Louis, Missouri. It ain’t pretty when the book starts. It’s even uglier at the end – but in a good way, I suppose you could say. Meanwhile, a dozen residents of St. Louis, led by a mute stranger who has recently escaped the death penalty, decide to make a run for it and take their chances beyond the wall of “The Sanctuary”. Cross country adventure ensues. This, along with the status of St. Louis after their departure, is our plot.

9. Ghost Mine by Hunter Shea

Ghost Mine takes us out to Hecla, Wyoming where mysterious shenanigans are taking place. President Teddy Roosevelt wants this place checked out and hires two of his former Rough Riders for the task.

As with all of Hunter’s work, it doesn’t take long for our adventurers to be flung into the fray and fighting for their lives against the strange and powerful entities that populate the book.

8. The Gordon Place by Isaac Thorne

Lee Gordon just wants to live his life, unfortunately, he wants to do it at the expense of his son having a life, too.

The beginning was a little slow for me, but once things started happening it was an enjoyable read that kept me turning pages. The dog was pretty creepy and all the main characters were well-rounded, believable, and relatable. That’s really important to me when it comes to enjoying a book – even though Lee was about as repugnant a person as can be – you knew where he stood and what he stood for. Not overly scary and the gore factor is pretty low. I’m not into gore so that was fine by me. But, there was enough going on outside of that to keep me interested. I wasn’t expecting that ending at all, either.

7. All Hallows by W. Sheridan Bradford

All Hallows follows the old and cantankerous witch, Maren Glover as she tries to make her way home on Halloween Night. All of them are sorely tempted by a high bounty placed on Maren’s head. But, Maren, old and road-weary as she is, keeps her handy-dandy bowling bag of tricks always on hand and she isn’t about to go quietly or easily into that sweet night.

The first half is slow, but then the narrative quickens. The dialogue and characters blossomed and were a delight. They drove all the action forward at a wonderful pace. It became a book I couldn’t wait to have time to sit down and get back into. Had the first half been written like the second half, I would have easily given it a higher rank without a second thought.

6. Devoured by Jason Brant

Are they zombies? Are they vampires? Are they lab experiments pumped up on Incredible Hulk steroids that never run out of anger? I’ve no idea at this stage and frankly, it doesn’t matter.

What really matters is getting the hell out of their way and praying to God they never find you. Just ask Lance and Cass, strangers who have found each other while running for their lives and themselves in the middle of the mayhem, doing everything in their power to survive in the madness that has become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Fast-paced, gory, and yes, even mildly funny.

5. The Taking by Dean Koontz

H.P. Lovecraft meet H.G. Wells. From day one, page one, I did not want to put this book down, but work and sleep required it in stretches way too long. Told from Molly’s perspective, we are draw minute by minute into the weird and terrifying realm of an alien invasion.

I was anxious and horrified. I was completely and utterly entertained. I loved every aching, ugly, terrified minute of those twenty-four hours. By far, the best Dean Koontz book I’ve read.

4. Reaping The Aurora by Jason Palmatier

The final book in the Erenthall series is chock full of battles both large and small, concluding with a war that could be the last this Fantasy world ever sees. The very fabric of reality sits in the balance and it’s up to Kara, her friends, and war-weary allies to try and fix it. Time is running out. Complete annihilation could happen at any time – it’s this premise that pushes Reaping The Aurora towards its monumental conclusion.

I really enjoyed this trilogy and am looking forward to exploring even more of his work.

3. Those Who Came Before by J.H. Moncrieff

Not I expected and it kept me engaged all the way through. The creature in question isn’t one that’s written about in fiction all that often and it was nice to have something different. The characters were engaging and realistic. The backstory was really interesting and fed into the current events going on perfectly. Writing style was easy to read, no filler or fluff. Moncrieff jumped right into the story and didn’t dilly-dally around with anything.

2. Eight Minutes, Thirty-two Seconds by Peter Adam Salomon

The Apocalypse is here. Two people have survived.

They have no idea what happened, how they ended up in this vast network of corridors and rooms. They don’t even know their own names. They simply go by L. and M. What they do know is that they can access the former lives and memories of six other people, people from the world that was, but only for eight minutes and thirty-two seconds at a time and they have to die in order to do that.

Where is everyone? Why are they the only two left? And why are there so many rooms and locked doors and so many supplies as if the place were meant to house thousands?

Read this 200 page novella in two days! BAM! Read every spare minute I could find. If you’re into books about the Apocalypse, you’re going to love “Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds”.

1. In The Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson

Over the past forty years literally hundreds of other vampire novels and short stories have crossed my path. Most of them have been quite forgettable. Andy Davidson’s In The Valley Of The Sun is not one of them.

First, it’s original. The word vampire is never used and the effects of becoming one of the undead doesn’t adhere to the traditional.

Set in West Texas, we follow the wretched and lost life of Travis Stillwell, a deeply disturbed and traumatized Vietnam Vet. Even before he meets up with Rue, he’s not a particularly pleasant fellow. After they meet, well – it goes from ugly to absolutely monstrous.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book of this length (almost 400 pages) in less than 10 days and that’s always a good thing. Loved this book to pieces and would recommend it as a MUST READ to anyone who loves the vampire genre as much as I do.

The Crow Report : Part 6 – It’s A Conspiracy

It’s been ages since I posted a crow report! There have been some changes.

For those who haven’t been reading along for the past few years – I’ve been doing my best to lure in and befriend the local murder of crows. After a couple years of this, they were FINALLY getting the message that I am a friend not a foe. I could go outside, whistle for them, and within ten-fifteen minutes they’d arrive and start cawing from the treetops to let me know. Once they arrived, I’d toss them several large handfuls of shelled peanuts then retreat inside while they enjoyed the snack. The goal is to not have to go back inside, but for them to trust me enough to let me stand there and watch.

Then, tragedy struck. A year ago this past summer, a dead bird appeared nearby in the yard of the empty house next door. READ “When Death Comes Cawing” HERE. After that I stopped seeing them; I didn’t even hear them! POOF!

In January of this year, what appeared to be an EPIC RETURN happened. READ “The Return” HERE.

This past summer something else began to ruffle their ebony feathers, ravens! Ravens have been rare around these parts for decades, but are slowly making a comeback. Breeding pairs are being spotted more and more frequently. I’d occasionally hear their distinct throaty croaking sounds in the distance to the northwest, but would never see them. A couple friends in nearby towns said they’d seen some. Here’s an article from five years ago about our local raven population. I’m sure it’s grown since then.

RAVENS MAKING A COMEBACK.

 I had never seen a raven in the wild until this year and when I did, they were clearly in a sky battle with my beloved crows. Honestly, I wasn’t sure who to cheer for. I love my crows, but ravens, y’all! RAVENS!!! I stood fascinated, staring at the sky and their fancy swooping and dive-bombing each other and all that raucous cawing going on. The crows nested in the southwest and the ravens didn’t seem too keen on that. All summer I’ve done my best to keep whistling and putting out treats for the crows all while secretly hoping a couple of ravens would also show up. I’m so torn! The interaction has been slow at best. I think they were just too darn busy finding a new roost to nest in away from the ravens, but not too far away from familiar food sources, to bother with the scant peanuts I toss out.

This past week, however, more changes, and yesterday was epic! I gathered my offerings – the usual peanuts with a handful of leftover chicken wings from dinner the night before. The usual routine involves me stepping out on to the kitchen porch, whistling a few times, and waiting for a caw in reply, whistling again and going back inside. I won’t put any peanuts out until I actually see and know the crows are there – otherwise the darn blue jays take them all. It takes a while for the crows to come, but when they do they’ll sit in the Maple tree in the front yard and caw to let me know they’ve arrived.

Yesterday, I opened the kitchen door, whistled, and before I could even turn around, four crows came swooping in and perched in the tree on the other side of the yard, watching and waiting. Also, when I came out with their treats, they remained in the tree instead of flying away. I whistle while I do this so they associate the food with that sound. This morning – same thing. I’m calling that progress!

I’m super excited about these developments. Maybe this summer will finally see me able to remain outside and watch them eat and get some good pictures, too! As for the ravens – their still around, though I haven’t seen or heard them lately. For now, I’ll keep my focus on my crow buddies and smile knowing that maybe they really still do kinda like me.

The Holidays Can Be Painful

We had much to be thankful for at Thanksgiving – living, for example – painful though it has been the past four months – is still living.

People often tell us how lucky we are. I agree. Then, my brain flips to what have could have been the worst outcome, not that we both could have been killed – but that only ONE of us had died. The very thought of it quickly sets me to crying. How could I go on without him? The devastation would be mind-boggling and I try not to go there, though sometimes I still do and am grateful for my physical pain. The mental pain of losing him would be greater than anything a few broken bones will ever bring me.

Jim is 8 weeks out from his shoulder surgery, his stitches are gone, and his sling is off. He’s still unable to sleep on his right side and isn’t supposed to be reaching that arm up over his head and does take the occasional Ibuprofen for pain. On the bright side, he’s able to play guitar again! Today he heads to his first Physical Therapy appointment.

I’m 2 weeks out from my clavicle surgery, the stitches were removed four days ago, but I’m still in the sling 95% of the time. I can’t sleep on either side yet and am still propped up with pillows when I do so. Good thing I’m okay with sleeping on my back. I was given a couple simple exercises but, for the most part, the elbow stays tucked to my side in an effort to not move things around too much. Pain pills are taken 2-3 times a day. It sucks. It always hurts even with medication. It’s frustrating and sometimes downright infuriating not being able to do for myself.

With a great deal of help from Jim, the tree is up and the house is decorated (at least inside – no outdoor lights this year). We got our first major snow storm Sunday-Monday. A foot of the horrible white stuff fell. Thankfully, the same young man who mows the lawn also does snow removal – not that I’m going anywhere without help.

As I’m still unable to drive, my son took me Christmas shopping yesterday. Didn’t get it all done, but certainly a majority of that is complete. Gift bags and boxes will replace much in the way of the actual wrapping of gifts.

Doing what I can on the writing front. Try to edit a few chapters every day. Progress is slow, but it’s still progress. I’m thankful for that, too.

Yup, the pain tells me I’m alive. I’m no fan, but it’s a constant reminder that we escaped a far greater tragedy and are meant to keep on going – in sickness and in health, for better and for worse.

The Holidays can be very painful. Mortality rates go up during this time of year. I hope you all are able to find the positives in a sea of negatives and that you can find something to be grateful for each and every day, no matter how small. It’s amazing how monumental just cracking an egg into a bowl can be!

Take care of each other and do what you need to do to take care of yourself – especially when that means asking for help. We all need help now and then. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask for it.

The Phobia Phactor

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Cynophobia, a fear of dogs. Where it stems from is anyone’s guess as I have never been attacked or bitten by a dog. We always had a dog when I was a kid and I wasn’t quite so afraid of them as I was other canines in the area. Always been a cat person instead. I don’t like being afraid of dogs. It’s a phobia I’ve been working on conquering for my whole life with some level of success – thanks to my husband and daughter and their dog-loving ways.

I also have Arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. The movie of the same name was torture to watch, but I forced my way through it. It’s the spindly legged ones that bother me the most. Oddly, if I HAD to pick an arachnid to hold, I’d take a Tarantula over a Daddy Longlegs (aka Harvestman and technically NOT a spider) any day. It’s all about the legs. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not gonna happen, kids! Snakes, on the other hand, no problem!

One of my more common phobias is Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, or more specifically in my case, the fear of public SINGING (Decantophobia). In high school I was in Drama Club which involved several cases of group singing (which was fine) and a couple minor speaking roles, not a problem. I also took an elective class called Public Speaking. As a writer I’ve done a couple talks on my work and always enjoy one-on-one chats with people who stop by to talk about my books. Singing solo in front of other people, on the other hand, terrifying!

My Decantophobia may stem from the numerous times my Nana required me to sing to her Church lady friends during their get-togethers on Sunday afternoons following services. I was all of six or seven when this madness began and INTENSELY shy. I’m still very quiet and shy around people I don’t know. But, without fail, if I were staying with Nana and Papa and it was Nana’s week to host the luncheon, I’d inevitably hear “Come and sing for us, Pammy. Oh, she has such a pretty voice.” I remember trying to hide at least once, but I was always found and pretty much forced to perform either “Over The Rainbow” or “Take Me Home, Country Roads” under the watchful eyes and ears of The Church Ladies.

With this deeply entrenched fear of public singing, I went and got myself hooked up with a musician about six years ago. I am more than happy to let him stand in the spotlight while I sit at the table in the crowd and enjoy his talent and skill. Unfortunately during one of our many Skype calls, he apparently heard me singing while I thought he was out of the room eating dinner. Once he moved in, I’ve never heard the end of “You need to sing more. You have a really nice voice. You should sing karaoke when we go.” Yadda-yadda-yadda. Like the whole spider thing, “No, no, no, and no. Did I mention, no?”

I’ve been considering this for a long time – over a year, at least. “Absolutely not” began to morph into “Only if I’m drunk enough,” to “Maybe, if you let me hide in the ladies room while I do it”, to “Maybe, if I can hide behind the stage,” to “Maybe, if I can just sit here at the booth.” to “Well, if I were to do it, I’d sing this.” to “I’m pretty sure I could sing that a whole lot better than she is.” You get the idea. And in no way, shape or form was I going to stand up there ALONE! Way too self-conscious for that. For months I’ve carried around one of the slips you have to fill out with the name of the artist and song you want to sing on it that you hand into the DJ before the singing starts. That, however, would require a solo. So, again, no.

That all changed while making chicken gravy and biscuits for dinner.

Jim came into the kitchen and said, “You want to go to karaoke tonight?” Aloud I said, “Sure.” In my head I heard, “And you’re going to be shocked at what I’m going to do when we get there.” Lest I chicken out, I didn’t mention this internal dialogue to the spouse. The closer the time came, the more nervous I got, but something kept pushing me to do this. You’ve done more difficult things. What’s three minutes of public singing? Pft. Nothing. Before I could change my mind, I went up and grabbed a slip of paper and the song book while Jim went and got us each a beer. By the time he returned, I’d filled out the song and sat at the table waiting. I slid the paper over to him. He read it … nodded, but obviously didn’t read the bottom line where instead of writing just ‘Jim’ I’d written, ‘Jim and Pam”. Needless to say, the look he gave me was one of utter surprise. “Really?” he said. “What brought this on?” All I could do was shrug.

I spent the next twenty minutes forcing myself to think of other things, nervously looking out the window, trying not to guzzle down the bottle of liquid courage set before me, swallowing down those feeling of pure terror, and taking big calming breaths. I could do this. I would do this, damn it. With my heart in my throat and my hands shaking, I joined Jim after his solo performance and took up a mic of my own. “Just be calm!” If you start freaking out it’s only going to make it worse. Just do it.

Three minutes and one Dr. Hook song later (Sylvia’s Mother), it was over with. I made it. I hadn’t passed out, thrown up, or burst out sobbing with embarrassment even though I messed up a bit. Pretty sure my face was beet red by the time I scurried back to the booth, but … done.

The point of this long-winded phobia-facing rant is this. I’m a Horror writer. I’ve written about some pretty dark and disturbing situations. I love scary movies and books. I love cemeteries and haunted places. I’m fascinated by the darker side of life and for some reason a lot of people think that makes me immune to fear. Everyone has fears. EVERYONE! If someone tells you they aren’t afraid of anything, they are full of shit.

At 50+ years old, I am still learning and exploring who I am. I want to grow and do things I’ve never done before it’s too late. Accomplishing that and being all I can be and having no regrets means pouring some water on those flaming fears that hold me back. I want to like dogs. I want to be brave enough to hold a tarantula. I want to be confident in front of strangers. And, apparently some place in me wanted/wants (?) to sing in public. Who knew?!

Our perspectives of our fears are always a lot more extreme that the actual result of stepping up to the mic and facing them. I encourage everyone reading this to work towards conquering those fears you have one tiny step at a time. And you people out there who mock people who have phobias like mine, KNOCK IT OFF! Have some sympathy and stop laughing. You aren’t helping. You’d not put a bottle of whisky in front of an alcoholic trying to better themselves or a full needle of heroin in front of an addict trying to stay clean, would you? If so, don’t even bother speaking to me. I have no use for people like that.

Just like overcoming an addiction, the decision to face and try to defeat a phobia must come from the one who suffers from it. They have to want it, but it’s nice to know there are people out there who believe in you and will stand by your side (sometimes literally as when I took that microphone in hand last week) when you’re ready. Be encouraging, but don’t push. For me, being pushed into something is possibly what started this whole case of Decantophobia.

I became a little bit braver that night than I was the one before it. The relief and the sense of personal accomplishment for facing a fear I’ve had since childhood was amazing. That isn’t to say the fear is gone, not by a long shot. But, a bit of the edge has been trimmed. It’s a start … and who knows where it will go from here?

Speaking of phobias – check out my short story Because, Spiders over on Amazon!

Now with …

Research for my recently completed first draft of “The Inheritance” began in October 2018 as my husband and I headed out from Salado, TX to Terlingua, TX some 400+ miles west. He came up with the main character’s name – Liberty Hill – years earlier. After a couple false starts, a plot began to form. I’ve been a fan of Gothic Literature for a good many years and decided the isolated locations we visited in West Texas would be perfect for that genre. I took copious notes and lots of pictures. Some of the scenes in the book actually happened to my husband and I.

Once we were back home, I began to write. Over on Twitter (@pamelamorris65) I post updates on my progress, being as vague as possible so as not to give anything away, but still make it interesting. They are meant to be amusing\silly and I’ll often pick the most obscure of details to share. What follows are those updates. Enjoy.

Mar 3: 9am on a Sunday and I’ve already managed to add over 1200 words to my Texas Gothic Horror novel “The Inheritance” – now with the tall, dark, and handsome caretaker’s son – Miguel Alvirez. #amwriting #Texas #gothichorror

Mar 6: +1269 words. And so ends Act 1 of the current WiP – “The Inheritance” at nearly 30K — now with an Irish bar, members of The Widow Makers MC, and vomit. Good times! #amwriting #writerslife

Mar 16: +1055 words during this morning’s writing work on “The Inheritance”. Now with bikers, bikers, and oh, yeah, bikers. Not bad, not bad at all. #amwriting #Texas #GothicHorror

Mar. 20: Final scene of Chapt. 12 finished on my Texas Gothic Horror novel, “The Inheritance”. Now, with shiny gold buttons and a pocket watch. #amwriting #Texas #gothichorror

Mar. 25: +2674 words this weekend on my current WiP novel, “The Inheritance” – now with a link to Greenbrier Plantation, more poisonous & biting Texas critters, and an outhouse. #amwriting #Texas #GothicHorror

Mar. 31: A mere +2244 accomplished on current WiP during the week (Mon-Fri). Nothing yesterday. Maybe today will prove productive. At least now we have a flirtatious farm hand, an old family album, and obituaries to work with. #amwriting #Texas #GothicHorror

Apr. 10: Sneaking up on the 50K word-count mark for my Texas Gothic Horror novel “The Inheritance” – now with a hysterical Mexican housekeeper, booming shotgun blasts, and ROMANCE! #amwriting #Texas #gothic #horror

May 17: So hey – writing work accomplished at Goodyear while I waited for my ‘tars’ to be changed! Now with flags in the desert, people that were possibly burned and/or buried alive, and a farmer’s market. #amwriting #TexasGothic #horror

May 26: Over the past two days I’ve managed to scrape together 1659 for my #Texas #Gothic #Horror novel “The Inheritance”. I wish it were more, but progress is progress. Now with a western wear shop, cemetery notes, & five drops of rain on an old pick-up truck. #amwriting

June 4: Sun-Mon word count for my #Texas #Gothic #Horror ‘The Inheritance’ +1632. Most of it achieved on Sunday. Now with a taxidermy antelope head, an angry Texas cowboy, & a Horny Toad Harley-Davidson t-shirt.

June 19: +674 words later, Chapt. 25 of my WIP “The Inheritance” wraps out. Now with El Paso TX, White Sands NM, & an Apache arrowhead. On to the next… #amwriting #Texas #gothic #horror

June 27: +738 words on my #Texas #Gothic #Horror novel “The Inheritance” Chapt. 27 done. Now with Perro Loco, a pillow case, and shaky, dark camera work on a cheap cellphone. #amwriting

July 6: Writing finally happened. +1177 words added to my #Texas #Gothic #Horror novel “The Inheritance”. Now with a small haboob, funny biker nicknames, and a BIG BOOM – possibly a cannon, but maybe just thunder. Chapt. 29 done. #amwriting On to the next.

Aug. 15: Yesterday was pretty productive on the writing front. +2342 added my #Texas #gothic #horror novel “The Inheritance” now with a biker threatening to kick another biker’s ass, permits to carry concealed, and about 20 ATF officers. Total word count: 93,180.

Aug. 24: 2 days + 3420 words = 99,740. Now with bikers in a Cadillac, a West Texas ghost town & cemetery, an attempt to enjoy some beers, and a yapping Chihuahua. #amwriting #WritingCommnunity #WIP

Sept. 16: It took almost two weeks, but finally +2711 words added to the WIP and was able to finish Chapt. 41 – now with fresh chicken eggs, freshly unearthed human skulls, and fresh from the oven pizza! #FeelingFresh #amwriting

Sept. 20: +2299 words added to my WIP, The Inheritance. Now with an oily darkness that tastes and smells of death, an eye-shaped tunnel, and a nearly impenetrable cold fog. #amwriting #Texas #gothic #horror

Sept . 26: I am happy to report that the First Draft of my Texas Gothic Horror novel, “The Inheritance” is now DONE at 114k words.

As I begin the editing process, some of these ‘Now With…” events may vanish, but I thought this would be a fun way to show you all a bit of my writing process and demonstrate how long it takes me to write a first draft. “The Inheritance” will be available in early 2020.

Summer’s End

Summer turns to Fall in the wee hours of tomorrow morning.  Yesterday we did some spiedies and fresh garden squash on the grill. What the hell are ‘spiedies’? I hear the non-locals reading this say. It’s our regional culinary claim to fame. Tip: If someone is trying to pass this delight off served on a roll with toppings like lettuce and/or cheese, it ain’t a spiedie.  A slice of Italian bread, maybe a touch of butter, meat. That’s it! Don’t mess with it! Today, Jim fired up the smoker and tossed a big ole slab of pork ribs on the grate. Six hours later – meat candy! Add some macaroni salad, beans, and watermelon and that says Summer!

The Harley roared to life this afternoon, too. It didn’t leave the garage, but still … it’s the first time I’ve heard it since we wrecked in mid-July. I have to say, it made me tear up a little bit, that sound, the feel, the smell. She, like us, has taken a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’. If there were any doubts in my mind about getting back on once the old girl is fixed, hearing that rumble shoved them all away.

A shame Summer is over with so fast, but you can’t stop the march of time and despite not accomplishing all that we had planned, there were some positives!

I read some awesome books! Andy Davidson’s novel In The Valley of the Sun takes top billing! As a long-time fan of vampire fiction, this book simply blew me away! It’s going to take something phenomenal to bump it from my #1 spot of the year – including Stephen King’s The Outsider that I finished up a couple weeks back. Sorry, Steve! You’re good, but Andy’s got you beat this year. I also laid my eyeballs on some Sci-Fiction I really enjoyed with Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds by Peter Adam Salomon and top honorable mention to W. Sheridan Bradford’s debut novel, the literary Horror title All Hallows. I’ll be finishing Hunter Shea’s latest release Ghost Mine this week, too. Thank God for great summer reads to push aside the aches, pains and boredom of the past three months or so.

We were able to get No Rest For The Wicked re-released after a brief hiatus. That felt good. I really hated having the book down and unavailable even if it was only for a couple of months. I expect to finish the first draft of my Texas Gothic Horror – The Inheritance by the end of this week. YAY!

I also did some paintings. Just as our trip last November to Terlingua, TX to be part of their Day of the Dead celebration was an inspiration for writing The Inheritance, it also inspired some art work in the form of four 8X10 paintings, El Cuervo, El Gato, El Lobo, and El Lagardo – The Crow, The Cat, The Wolf, and The Lizard. I’ve already done some prints for the first two, but haven’t managed to get the second two that far. Still – it’s been nice to have a paint brush in my hand again – and I don’t mean painting the house. That’s another story all together that I really don’t want to talk about.

Several things loom large for the Fall season, like book signing events! First one is coming up October 4th and 5th in Oneonta NY at the Horror-SciFi Festival. It will be my first convention. I’m super excited as well as a bit nervous. Maybe a bit more now that I won’t physically be up to speed. I still have a broken collar bone and a lot of pain so, it’s going to be a huge challenge. The second signing will happen a month later on November 1st in Owego NY at Riverow Bookshop as part of the village’s First Friday event. A lot closer to home and a lot less stressful. Those are the positives.

The negatives will see Jim getting surgery for his separated right shoulder on October 11. I’ll be taking a week off work to take care of him as best I can. Six weeks later, I go under the knife to get my collar bone put back together by way of pins and screws. It’s going to be a very rough fall and into the holidays for us. Sorry, family – Mom won’t be making Thanksgiving Dinner this year! Hopefully, this will be the beginning of the end of all this pain and suffering. Recovery, recovery, and more recovery.

New short story ideas have popped up here and there. I might go back to writing a Barnesville Chronicle I got overwhelmed with last year or work on re-writes for another title while I’m out (again) from the day job. Plenty of things to do that aren’t all that pressing in my mind right now, but will keep me from going too stir-crazy – I hope.