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?

Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon – Coming Soon!

Things are chugging along nicely with the upcoming release of Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon, a rewrite to my first paranormal murder-mystery formerly known as Blood of the Scarecrow. Even if you’ve read the original, you’ll still enjoy the rewrite! I’ve added several new scenes, new information about some of the characters including a link to the novel I’m currently still writing, Dark Hollow Road, and you’ll find out what happens to the scarecrow that wins the competition. Fun stuff!

For those not familiar with Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon, here’s the blurb!

For nearly two-hundred years the sleepy, little town of Barnesville has kept a secret, several in fact. Had it not been for the gruesome death of Peter Wakely, those secrets may have remained hidden another two centuries. Authorities deem it an accident when an 85-year-old man is crushed to death under a headstone during a particularly heavy March snow storm. Detective Sergeant Simon Michaels and his assistant, Angela Jennings, are two of the first on the scene. Angie grew up in Barnesville and almost immediately suspects that not all is at it appears to be. Without the help of police to back her suspicions, she quickly takes it upon herself to investigate.

The more she digs into the victim’s life and the role his family played in the founding of the town, the more bizarre things become. Even the town historian and librarian, a good friend of Angie’s mother and a self-proclaimed witch, is reluctant to discuss matters until after the passing of the Scarecrow Moon. It seems the past has come back to haunt and torment the current residents of Barnesville or at least those involved in the witchery on which it was founded.

Even Angie is not immune as vivid and gruesome dreams and uncanny hunches begin to plague her. Eventually she must face one of her deepest fears to unravel the mystery, break the spell, and reveal the dark secrets of the Scarecrow Moon; secrets and laced with blood, witchcraft, and at least one scarecrow that refuses to stay where it should.

We’re hoping for a late March release date! Stay Tuned!

Photo Credit: http://elvisegp.deviantart.com/art/The-scarecrow-304692467

 

Theatre of the Mind

Remember when the radio was actually a source of genuine entertainment instead of something we just turned on for background noise; occasionally singing along while driving, doing housework, or puttering around in the garage? No? Maybe you’re too young, but back when I was a kid, and even more so in the days of my parents, radio was king. The air was full of radio waves that made us laugh along with Amos & Andy or Benny Goodman; or thrilled us with dramas like Charlie Chan or The Avenger. The air waves mystified, thrilled, and chilled us with such programs as Cloak & Dagger, Ellery Queen, and Radio Mystery Theatre. Cowboys like Hopalong Cassidy and The Lone Ranger carried young boys and girls off into the Wild West while Buck Rogers sent them into the future.

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If you have never listened to radio theatre, you are really missing out. There’s a reason it’s called the Theatre of the Mind. Like reading, radio theatre requires you to use your imagination. Two people sitting side by side listening to the same program are going to experience the story differently and that’s part of the fun. You’re going to see the characters in your own way, the setting will be slightly different to your mind’s eye than your listening partner’s, and you may even interpret the story at a different angle. Personal experiences will color everyone’s interpretation differently. This, I think, is why very often you hear people saying that the book was so much better than the movie. When reading, you let your mind wander and create, just like with radio and few things, imho, can beat that.

Radio theatre, also known as audio dramas or radio dramas, began in the 1920s and became wildly popular into the 1950s. In 1922 The WGY Players out of Schenectady, NY introduced a method of radio theatre that would forever change the art of the craft. They began using music, sound effects, and a regular troupe of actors instead of just simply reading the listeners a story. Other stations quickly caught wind of this and followed suit. This expanded beyond the normal practice of putting on existing well-known plays to employing full-time writers to create original story lines. One of the best known radio programs, broadcast in 1938 by The Mercury Theatre on the Air, was an interpretation of an H.G. Wells classic, War of The Worlds. It’s still wildly popular nearly 80 years later.

Unfortunately, just like “video killed the radio star”, television killed off many radio stars and programs in the early 1960s. Despite that, some programs still remained and new ones were born. The creator of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, created a radio program called Zero Hour for the Mutual Broadcasting System, National Public Radio aired Earplay, and Himan Brown brought us CBS Radio Mystery Theatre and General Mills Radio Adventure Theatre.

Though it has suffered a huge decline since its hay days in the 1920s-1950s, new radio theatre continues to be made. Doctor Who, Dad’s Army, and The Tomorrow People have all been revived into radio programs. In the early 2000’s new episodes of The Twilight Zone aired with moderate success. Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere was released in 2013 by BBC Radio 4 and featured a cast of well-known film and television actors.

Today, we have Podcasting whose programs are often serialized stories or discussions employing the use of music, sound effects, and a set cast of actors and/or hosts. The big advantage to Podcasts is that you can listen and download what you want to hear any time that’s convenient for you without missing anything. You don’t have to be sitting next to the radio at all! You can listen directly using any device that can store and play audio files. I will confess, I have nearly zero experience and know very little about Podcasting. I’m kind of old fashioned that way.

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But on the bright side, I’m not so old and set in my ways that I don’t know how to manipulate my way around the Internet where I’ve found a plethora of sites offering me the old time radio programs my parents and I grew up listening to. For the past year I’ve been working my way through CBS Radio Mystery Theater which was a huge favorite during my early double-digit years. I’ve only gotten as far as 1975 so far. I’m thinking I’ll move on to Ellery Queen or The Whistler next. In either case, I don’t think I’ll suffer with a lack of things to listen to thanks to the amazing powers of the internet and the foresight people took to preserve these entertainment masterpieces.

So, pull up an easy chair, put on the headphones, check out the aforementioned links as well as those below, and take a trip into your personal Theatre of the Mind.

Radio Lovers

Old Time Radio Downloads

 

The Attractiveness of the Well-Read Man

There are a lot of lists out there suggesting what books a Well-Read Man should read. I didn’t agree with any of them. Mind, they are good books, fine books, classics even, but in many ways, limiting. Even when that list included 100 books, how could that possibly cover the entire gamut of what’s out there to read? I’d like for my man to enjoy reading the same things I do, but that hasn’t happened entirely. My man is into science fiction, David Weber to be more specific. I lean in the direction of Stephen King. I dare say neither of us has read even half of the books on those Must Read lists, and yet I consider us both well-read individuals.

But being well-read isn’t entirely based on the books a person has read. When I think of a well-read man I think more along the lines of his life experiences; his willingness to explore and try new things. The well-read man of my dreams can be found learning about HTML, CSS, and Javascript or driving the back roads with his camera looking for the perfect old barn to photograph and when we get home, he fires up the computer and plays Fallout for a couple hours or plops down in front of the television to watch some college football. He’s a man who wants to learn new things. He has a sense of adventure and wants to share those adventures and explorations with me. The sharing part is vital. I find that very attractive. Well-read, for me, is synonymous with well-rounded; complex, deep, and multi-dimensional. I consider my father a well-read man though he freely admits he’s probably not read more than a dozen novels in his entire life. He’s a newspaper and magazine type guy.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. Let my well-read man have a variety of interests. Let him read all the science fiction he can find, but let him also be willing to pick up a murder-mystery or a romance or a western and enjoy it just as much, too, or at least try to. My well-read man can wear jeans and a t-shirt, smell of motorcycle grease, and guzzle down a six pack one day and the next he’s just as attractive and comfortable donning a suit and tie, combing some Bay Rum oil through his beard, and taking us out to a romantic dinner.

Being well-read, like being well-educated, isn’t all about the books we’ve studied and enjoyed. I’ve worked a good many years with some highly educated people. They know their field of study inside and out. They’ve worked hard to get where they are in life and I’m not putting them or that hard work down, but all that book learning doesn’t always make them attractive to be around. All too many times what they’ve gained in education, they’ve lost in common sense, and a person without common sense is not at all attractive in my book.

As an author and an avid reader, I value the written word. Reading increases your vocabulary, improves your spelling, ignites the imagination, improves your memory, and allows one to explore the worlds we may not be able to visit in person.

Reading, like everything, is subjective and highly personal. A fussy eater limits themselves to a very narrow pallet of flavors. An artist who paints only in black and white, narrows their creative powers. A person who listens to only one type of music denies themselves a world of new sounds and rhythms. Locking yourself into a room with only one window that permits a singular view day in and day out, narrows what you know of everything beyond that window. Though we all have our preferred genre when it comes to books, mixing that up is just as important as trying new foods, listening to new music, or walking out that door to explore a brave new world beyond the mailbox.

This attractiveness isn’t limited to just men. Being well-read applies to all of us. Does a man want a partner who is only interested in one thing? Maybe some do. If all he wants is for you to be a good cook, keep a clean house, and be great in the sack, is that the type of guy you want to be around? To each their own, I suppose. That’s not what I’m into. I want a partner and friends I can discuss a myriad of topics with. That reminds me of an old boyfriend I had back in my early 20s. He was really good looking and he could tell you just about anything you ever wanted to know about the local fish population or the trees that grew in our area. And that’s where it ended. Yep, fish and trees. Not that I have anything against fish and trees, mind you, but I need more, want more, deserve more. The relationship lasted about six months.

I expect more from my partner and I want to be more for them as well as for myself. I don’t want to ‘complete’ anyone. No person, relationship, or religion should complete you. They can enhance what is already there, but the completion of the self comes from within, not from anything beyond that. Nor do I want to feel complete only because I am with someone. Come to me whole. Come to me well-read, well-rounded, and multifaceted. For me, that is where the attractiveness of a well-read man lies… that and he really must be a lover of books and reading.

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.

On The Recent Passing of Author Tanith Lee

“Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.” Tanith Lee, 19 Sept. 1947-24 May 2015

Tanith Lee died the other day at the age of 67. Most people I know have never even heard of her, let alone read any of her books or short stories. From what I’ve heard, she was struggling with getting any of her new work published. Hers was an unusual genre and style. Sometimes it was very difficult to read and understand where she was going or where exactly she’d just taken you, but at the same time it was always fun and thought-provoking.

My first exposure to Tanith Lee was a series of short stories called, “Red As Blood, Or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer” back in 1983. It contained some amazing twisted fairy tales that I immediately fell madly in love with. From there I went on to read “Sometimes, After Sunset”, before moving on to “Night’s Sorceries” which was the fifth and final book in her Flat Earth series. Only last year I read the Paradyse series for the first time. With 90 novels and over 300 short stories to her name, I am woefully behind. I fully intend to get to work on correcting that situation.

Her writing has a sort of ‘Modern Art in Literature’ feel to it. You have to stand there and look at it for a while. In just the right light it makes all the sense in the world, but when the sun shifts just a little, you may find yourself lost in another realm, twisted around backwards walking through an upside down haunted forest only to step a few more paces to find your place again and wondering what the hell just happened. It felt weird, but in a good way. I loved that about her. I loved the uniqueness. I loved her voice and her style even if I didn’t always quite get it. Most of the time I was right there with her, wrapped in the images and sounds. She was one of the few who could actually make me see the things in my head she was describing no matter how obtuse.

No one else ever made me ‘see’ science fiction the way Tanith Lee did. It’s no secret that Sci-Fi is NOT my genre of choice for that reason. Visualizing future technology has never come easy to me. Tanith could do it though and she seemed to do it so easily. I’m not sure why, but it worked for me. Perhaps it was just something in the female psyche we shared.

In that regard, she inspired me to write in such a way as to have my readers do more than just see the people and places of my own works. Many have complimented me on that ability and told me, “It was like I was right there while I was reading!” I have Tanith to thank for that, for making me so much more aware of including not just what is visually in a space, but what is there in the other senses. What does the air smell and taste like? What sounds are steady or just passing through? How does that glass of milk feel in the characters hand?

Something that very, very few people know is that Tanith also inspired me on a more spiritual basis. Not so much the actual beliefs, as I have NO idea what sort of spirituality she practiced, but with her name. Tanith. Tanith is likely derived from the goddess Tanit who was worshipped in what is now known as Tunisia. She was the equivalent of the Goddess Astarte, and later worshipped in Roman Carthage in her Romanized form as Juno Caelestis.

I was really getting interested in Paganism around the same time I discovered Tanith Lee’s work. One of the first things many people do is to adopt what is called a “Craft name”. It’s the name you are known by during ceremonies, a name of your choosing, a name you use to keep your mundane identity a secret. The name Tanith fascinated me. It was unique and magical sounding all on its own. But at the same time I didn’t want to copy it completely so I combined it with my Totem animal, the Raven. Using the first three letters of Tanith and the last three letters of Raven reversed, my Craft name became Tannev. Before now, I don’t think more than a handful of people have ever known how that name was created.

Even though I no longer consider myself a pagan, I still hold that name Sacred, as part of who I was, the things I learned during those ten or so years and how those teachings lead me to where and who I am today.

Tanith inspired me to write my own twisted fairy tales. She inspired me to write with all my senses. She inspired me to believe and be part of the magical realm. She made it okay to write weird things that maybe only I would ever really understand. My heart goes out to her family and friends during this sad time.

R.I.P. Tanith, you were a wonderful and will ever be an inspiration to me.

Cursive, Hieroglyphics of the Future

Recently there has been a lot of debate over the teaching of cursive handwriting in American schools. Maybe it has something to do with my love, not just of writing, but of history that makes me Pro-Cursive.

Every now and then I sift through the few old letters I have managed to save written by my grandmother’s. I am struck each time with the notion that the person who wrote those words took time out of their busy day to stop, sit down and write to me because I was important in their lives. It made me feel special. Every now and then we read in the news how new, historic documents have surfaced after many long, forgotten years. Quite often these are letters from war veterans to their families and in most cases these snippets of history are written in cursive. As a lover of history, I am filled with dread that one day these documents and their importance will lose all meaning.  Only those that hold degrees in cursive writing will be able to translate the obscure swirls, loops and humps of this cryptic form of writing. So much will be lost then.

What of the documents we already have carefully preserved in museums and library archives? What will become of them? They may be saved for posterity but what of their physical link to our nation’s past? When the vaults are opened and the common man is permitted a glimpse of these relics, will he be able to connect to that document merely by reading it in the very handwriting of the person who so carefully crafted it? What leaves a more lasting impression, reading the Gettysburg Address on a computer screen or standing before the very item knowing its history and reading its words for yourself? Will there be any sense of awe, purpose and pride gained when we have put ourselves at such a distance from those things that matter to our liberties? Or will these documents hold onto our hearts as much as an image in a book of Egyptian hieroglyphics we cannot begin to understand? 

To those school children of the distant future deprived of an understanding of cursive writing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and original Bill of Rights may as well be in cuneiform and will feel just as distant to them as such. For the non-history buffs, imagine being given the opportunity to lay your eyes on the scientific formulas of Newton or Einstein not just in a book or on a cold monitor, but right there in front of you. What a thrill it would be to be permitted to hold the very quill of Archimedes or the ink pen which Beethoven used to write his 9th Symphony and not just look at these items but understand their meaning, to be able to read those special languages of scientific notation, mathematics and music.  Cursive holds that power over me, that love, that connection to those before me.

It is said that those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it. If the generations to come are intentionally allowed to forget a form of written communication, what affect will that have on the collective memory of our nation? How much will be forgotten simply because we were too busy to teach them the simple art of cursive and there is no one around anymore who can read it. Is this a risk we really want to take? I believe it’s not. Whenever that day may come that I am a grandmother, I will take it upon myself to teach my grandchildren and all their friends this craft. Too many people depend exclusively on the typed word, restricting their research and experience base to that leaves out so much of the world.

There are those that will argue cursive is out-dated, old-fashioned and simply too slow a method of communication. To which I reply, “What’s the rush?” We humans have rushed ourselves far too long. We seem to think we must constantly be ten steps ahead of the next guy and that somehow we are superior because our technology is more advanced than someone else’s. Sure, we can wipe out life on this planet in the blink of an eye if so inclined. That hardly makes us better, just more dangerous and maybe just a little bit more insane than the other living things we share this earth with. Faster is not always better.

I think we need to slow down, not speed up. We need to communicate better not faster. How about instead of stopping to smell the roses, we let ourselves stop and get a cup of tea or coffee, a pad of paper and a pen and write something down in the  slow, graceful, easy curves of cursive for the future generations to remember us by.

20 Terrible Covers Not To Judge By

20 Embarrassingly Bad Book Covers for Classic Novels

This makes me really appreciate the cover art I have been able to get for my book. Unlike the authors I have spoken to about the topic and what I’ve read online, I actually had some say in what went on my cover. Years ago I went to a book signing. One of the books offered depicted what appeared to be a Native American shaman whipping up some magic. He was shirtless and looking pretty shmexy. The book contained two short stories by two different authors. Neither story had anything to do with Native Americans. Go figure.

Right now a cover is being created for a potential, self-published eBook. It’s a collection of short stories and poems I have written since 2000 and finally got around to putting together last year. It still needs some editing work. Again, I am blessed with the presence of someone who cares enough to ask my input on the cover. I have a very clear idea in my head of what I want to convey with it and he’s doing a bang-up job of bringing that vision to life.

I know we are all told not to judge a book by its cover but there’s also that whole thing about trusting your first impressions. Oh the things in my life that would have been so very different if I’d followed that rule. Ah well.

I’m not sure why publishers seem so uninterested in the author’s opinion of what they want for cover art. Maybe they think that because we write we can’t possibly have any sort of artistic sense when it comes to visual art. I dunno. It’s always seemed grossly unfair to me. That’s our baby they are messing with. Seriously. I understand they want to sell books and maybe putting a scantily clad, buff Native American man on the cover of that book I bought inspired me to buy it but it disappointed me when he wasn’t actually in there. And to be honest here folks, I don’t remember what the two stories were even about, just the mismatched cover.

I bet the authors of those stories would much rather I remembered what they wrote than the judgment I passed on their cover.