My Writer’s Book Bag

It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of May already. Spring has been desperately trying to spring here in the Northeast. Here’s hoping our recent bought of warm and sunny weather is going to stick this time! April proved to bring us a plethora of rain. May has certainly blessed us with flowers. One of my four lilac bushes is literally drooping to the ground under the weight of its own flowers. The small murder of crows I’ve been trying to lure in with peanuts and cat kibble are slowly making a comeback by perching in the trees outback and cawing at me. Our back yard is mostly set up and ready to go for a summer’s worth of friends, family, evening fires, fair weather, and food. In between all of that, along with writing and submitting a couple novels and a bit of dark poetry to some publishers – one of which has already been accepted – I’ve managed to get in some reading time.

In last month’s Book Bag, I’d just started Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress by Robert Miles. I’m happy to report, I’ve emerged victorious from this adventure into some serious literary analysis, yes, Sigmund Freud even showed up! It reminded me way too much of all those English classes where the instructor insists that the color of the chairs is symbolic of the four Cardinal directions as specified in some mystic’s dream book from the early 15th century. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I don’t use a lot of symbolism when I write and the one time I tried to be clever that way, I got so bogged down in trying to remember what represented what that I completely lost track of where I wanted to go with the plot. I tend to believe the chair was blue, red, yellow, or green because the writer liked that particular color and thought it would be nice, but maybe that’s just me. That aside, I learned the difference between ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ as it was defined back in the late 1700s and that Romances weren’t considered Novels. An interesting and educational read despite the academic dryness.

While slogging my way through that, I managed to get in some good old short stories from Israel Finn’s collection, Dreaming At The Top Of My Lungs. I’ve been eyeballing this book for a good long while and finally decided it was time to give it a read. As with any collection or anthology, you’re going to find some you really enjoy, some that leave you confused, or some that just don’t hit the spot. Happily, most of Finn’s stories were very enjoyable and better still, memorable! My biggest complaint on this one is that it was way, way too short! I’m hoping to add more of Israel’s work to the TBR pile in the future.

I recently dove back into the dark and murky depths of another Hunter Shea cryptid book. This time it’s poor old Nessie that he’s picking on. Hot on Shea’s aquatic tail (see what I did there?) is a Lyle Blackburn book that takes us beyond the realm of Boggy Creek to look at other cryptids of the ‘Squatchier kind found deep in the American South, but we’ll save any further details on those for next month.

2017 Bookshelf-To-Date

January
Montauk Monster by Hunter Shea

February
Maledicus by Charles F. French

March
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe,
The Beast of Boggy Creek by Lyle Blackburn

April
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Sinister Entity by Hunter Shea

May
Ann Radcliffe: The Great Enchantress by Robert Miles
Dreaming At The Top Of My Lungs by Israel Finn
Loch Ness Revenge by Hunter Shea

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.

The Horror of Women

I was ten or eleven the first time I read “Dracula”. Before that I was reading things like Nancy Drew. I may have delved into Stephen King at that young age, too. I’d certainly read “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson before I reached my teen years. The point is, mysteries and thrillers have been on my bookshelf and in my blood from a very early age. Up until quite recently I’ve never paid much attention to who did the writing. As long as the story was good and scared me, I was all for it. Didn’t matter if it was written by a man or a woman.

Quite recently Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name by Catherine Nichols came to my attention. As I read it, my dander became more and more riled. As I am a woman struggling to make her mark in the publishing world, you can probably figure out why. It took me two years to find a suitable publisher for my erotica titles, but when I gave that all up to follow my real love of writing horror, things have not gone so well. You’d think having five novels already out there would give you a little bit of credit regardless of genre. Apparently not.

Since 2011 I’ve completed three paranormal thriller manuscripts and am working on a forth. One was published in 2012. Unfortunately the publisher went out of business shortly after my book was released and I have been forced to start my quest over from square one. It’s been anything but fun. It’s been anger and frustration. It’s been hopelessness. It’s been tearful. What makes it worse is that I have been told by people who have read my books that I write a whole lot better than some of the other well-known authors they’ve read. Yeah, I know my writing is far from perfect. I make mistakes, especially in blog form.  It’s all free form-first draft style here, kids, but, I sure as hell write better than I did when that first erotica was unleashed on the world. On top of that, I’ve read some pretty lame horror myself over the past five years or so. I am normally very humble about my work, but sometimes you just know you’re just as good as this other person who sells by the millions, if not better, and yet what do you have to show for it? Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness. Tears.

The article by Catherine Nichols got the gears going. I began to question even further how to make my way in this industry that seems to favor the man, or who they perceive to be a man. And then I thought about my chosen genres, horror, murder-mysteries, thrillers and the paranormal. I began to consider some of my favorites in that genre. It dawned on me that the majority of them are men. Heck, even the Nancy Drew books were written by a man under the guise of a female name.

There are a variety of lists out there about the top ten or top twenty horror writers of all time. Men dominate that list. Why? I’ve seen it argued that maybe men just have a better sense of blood, violence, and gore. Maybe. I don’t need those things to make something horrific. I can watch the news if I want to see that sort of thing.

Truthfully, I don’t care for slasher books and films at all. I want nuance. I want depth. I want to see normal, everyday life turned inside out. I want the slow, psychological build up that keeps me awake at night not because I’m afraid a stranger is going to come into my bedroom and attack me with a butcher’s knife, but because I am wondering if that sweet, gentle man beside me in bed is somehow going to go nutso for no apparent reason. Or I’m going to wake up and discover one of my children is missing. That’s scary!! Woo me gently into that darkness with a trusting hand and a tender voice until I have no choice but to go deeper. Don’t shove me in at knife point. It all appears so normal, but it’s not.

That’s what I want to read. That’s what I strive to write. And, modesty aside, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of it in the books I’ve written. That’s when I start getting angry again. That’s why Catherine’s article hit me so hard. Seeing those lists of great horror writers and so few women on those lists gave me another level of dismay. A writer’s mind is a very delicate thing. We are moody and we are fragile in some ways about what we’ve written. We’re full of doubts. We suffer a lot of rejection and for most of us, not writing isn’t an option. We are compelled at in inexplicable level to write.

As a female writer I now feel I have added two more battles in my war to win in the publishing world. It’s hard enough as it is. I read somewhere that of all the manuscripts submitted, only two percent are published. There’s battle one. Battle two, beating the odds because I’m a woman in what really appears to be a male-dominated business. Battle three, writing horror, a genre that has a far, far more masculine presence in the world than does the feminine. I must truly be insane because I keep on writing it despite all these rows of cannons aimed at me.

But, there is good news. We’re out here, honestly! And some of us are pretty damn good! I found a couple great lists of female horror writers: Top 25 Women Horror Writers You Probably Haven’t Heard Of and Horror and Women Who Write It to get you started.

I have no intentions of giving up on this, nor will I change my name to try and beat the odds. I am who I am. I write what I love to write. I am a woman and I love to write horror. Hopefully, one miraculous day, I’ll beat the odds stacked against me and win these battles.

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.

Behind The Bedroom Door

Ten years ago my writing career began. It wasn’t the sort I’d been dreaming of for as long as I could remember, but we all have to start somewhere and I was willing to put my toe into the water in places I’d never trod before, let alone swam.

In 2004 I completed writing the manuscript that would eventually become my first published novel. Contrary to what most people out there think, it was not “Blood of the Scarecrow” which was released just over a year ago. No, this little gem was called “Love In Chains” and would eventually find a home in Michigan with established erotica publishers, Pink Flamingo Publications (NSFW) in 2006. As you can imagine, I was pretty nervous about the whole thing. What would people think? What would my parents think? Egads! What had I agreed to? At the time I was using a nom de plume and it seemed a godsend. Like Anne Rice with her Beauty Series, I could get published without anyone knowing it was me. Considering the genre that’s exactly what I wanted. One thing led to another and by 2010 I had five titles under Pink Flamingo’s wing.

The reactions of family and friends weren’t as horrified as I’d thought they would be, but I have still kept it very quiet. I think the main reason is because I truly believe that what goes on in the bedrooms of consenting couples belongs there and is nobody’s business but those involved. I also kept thinking that because of the nature of the books, people would be under the impression I was an avid practitioner. On some level, I was, but certainly not to the extremes presented in the book. Everything I write involves an amount of research. It has to, to be believable to the readers.

I posted a disclaimer on my Facebook awhile back in regards to my writing, about the supernatural topics and strange research tangents I’ve gone on for the murder-mystery-thrillers. Yes, I read about serial killers. I’m well-versed in vampires, witchcraft, and ancient alien theory. I enjoy reading about encounters with the various forms of Bigfoot. It just so happens, crazy as it may sound, I enjoy sex, too. In fact, in high school I read A LOT of vampire novels – dozens and dozens of them. Why? Because I liked to be frightened? Hell, no! Those books were ripe with sexual encounters and I was a very healthy and curious teenager. Just because I learn about a topic does not mean I practice it to the full and sometimes outlandish extents others may enjoy. And ya know what… it’s true. Sex Sells. In fact, my fifth and final title with PF (Bound To Be Bitten) is a vampire-erotica based storyline.

I’ve not struck it rich like the author of “Shades of Gray”, though I’m told by people who have read my work as well as that one that mine is better. I wouldn’t know. I’ve not read “Shades of Gray” and have no plans to do so. As far as I am concerned my erotica writing days are over and I want to focus on my real passion and first true love – horror.

So, why am I bringing this topic up at all? Well – Last fall I was contacted by one of Pink Flamingos editors and was asked if I’d be interested in doing a re-release of three books as a trilogy. I accepted. Over the past six months I have been re-writing and editing all three books, selecting new titles and choosing new cover art. They are historically-based stories set between the years 1859-1865 in Virginia and France. Not exactly a quiet time period for the United States.

Book #1 “The Virgin of Greenbrier”
Book #2 “The Mistress of Greenbrier”
Book #3 “Mistress For Sale”

These Are Erotica Titles. The situations and imagery in them are portrayed graphically and are not for the sexually timid or prudish. They are what they are, a phase of my writing where I learned to hone my craft in the ways that were made available to me. My pen-name will remain in place with them as a way to differentiate them from what I am currently working on and wish to do. There are no plans to write new erotica but I could not pass up the chance to re-release this set when asked.

There is no release date as of this writing, but I hope to have one soon. As far as I know, they will be available as singles, too, but a discount will be employed if the whole set is purchased at once. Both paperbacks and eBooks will be available.

If you want more immediate news on this venture and all my other Writerly Shenanigans, please visit and LIKE! me on my Pamela Morris Facebook page. As soon as the Greenbrier Trilogy is available my website will be updated as well.