A Turtle In A Field Of NaNo Hares

Apparently I created a NaNoWriMo account three years ago. I have no memory of creating it, but when I decided to join this year, I discovered one already existed. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month. The premise is that for the month of November you write 1667 words per day to reach a goal of 50,000 by the end of the month. This is supposed to be either a complete novel (I’d call that a novella, but anyway…) or a very good start on a longer work to be completed later.

As I was having such a hard time getting into gear with “The Witch’s Backbone” I decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot. It couldn’t make matters worse and from what I’d read it’s supposed to be all inspirational and you can find writing buddies to motivate you and join all kinds of chat forums to compare notes and talk about your book. So far, I’ve not been overly inspired by any of the automated messages I’ve been sent, I don’t have a single writing buddy, and I figured I had better things to do (um, like actual WRITING) than chit-chatting with others about the books we’re working on.

First off, I don’t have the time to write 1667 words a day. Sorry. I work a full time job and I sit at a computer from 7:30am – 4:00pm. Very often the LAST thing I am interested I doing when I get home at the end of the day is to sit down at my home computer for any reason. I’m tired. My mental focus isn’t always entirely intact. It’s certainly not going to be all that sharp to write anything I’d be proud of and frankly, I’d rather write something half way decent than crap just so I can say I made my daily word count. When it comes to my writing, that’s simply not how I operate. I’m a turtle not a hare. I’ll take my time and do quality over quantity.

That being said, you guessed it, with only ten days left I’ve not even reached 25,000 words towards this alleged ‘win’. I haven’t reached 20,000 either. I’m averaging 878 words per day. I guess that’s something interesting to know.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again next year? I don’t know. A lot depends on where I am with what is already out there and what stage other projects are at. I’m trying to stay positive, but lately it’s just not been going as well as I’d hoped. Sales are abysmal. What I have sold isn’t bringing in the amount of reviews needed to get anyone’s attention. Queries are answered with silence. Places I’ve been encouraged to submit to aren’t taking submissions. It all has a way of dragging a hopeful author down. All I have are a few little straws to hang onto and my hands are getting tired.

I’ve been told, “You’re doing all the right things.” and “Just keep writing great stories and putting them out there.” Considering the source of that advice and encouragement, that’s nothing to ignore or brush aside, but after so many other dead ends, I still feel very discouraged and lost. I’m doing my best and for the past five years, my best just hasn’t been good enough.

But, I hate to end a post on a negative note so …

On the positive side of this NaNoWriMo business, I have made progress on the novel! There are things I know about what’s going to happen that I never even imagined when all this started, some rather shocking things! Things I really DON’T want to have happen, but know they must to move the plot along in the way it needs to go. When I was reading Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” a friend of mine who’d read it before would ask me every day, “Did the cat die yet?” The death of the cat in that book is pivotal to the novel. After the cat dies, all hell breaks loose! It’s that sort of little kick in the pants event that I really wasn’t expecting to have to deal with, but boy, will it get the point across! I look forward to it with a strange mixture of dread and delight.

I’d be interested to hear from others who have used NaNoWriMo and what your experiences were with it. Good, Bad, Indifferent?

Upcoming Book Giveaway!

Another book giveaway is about to start.

Last time it was That’s What Shadows Are Made Of. This time around we’ll be giving away three signed copies of No Rest For The Wicked.

Starting on Black Friday (Nov. 25) and running through until Christmas Eve, the fine folks over at Goodreads will be offering up a chance for you to win a copy! Names will be drawn by them! You need to be a member of Goodreads to enter. So if you already are, awesome! All you have to do is log in sometime between Nov. 25-Dec. 24, visit my author page there and click the button to enter. If you’re not a member, SIGN UP soon! It’s super easy and they don’t spam you. Been there a few years myself and have never had a problem with unwanted emails!

Click the pretty blue link below to get yourself started!

NO REST FOR THE WICKED – BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

 

 

Write What You Love: The Joys of Genre Hopping

Back in November of 2015, I blogged about The Horror of Women . It dealt with the difficulties women have getting published in the Horror Genre. Though I still struggle with the reality of that whole situation, I’d much rather write horror than what I was initially published in, erotica.

For centuries women have been viewed by the publishing world as inferior writers. For that reason they have used more masculine or gender neutral nom-de-plumes . What many people may not know is that some of their favorite female authors have also written in multiple genres.

Judy Bloom, known best for her “Fudge” series took a walk on the trampy side with her novel, “Wifey”. Anne Rice took a side trip from her witches and vampires to explore kink with the “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy.  Joyce Carol Oats wrote gothic horror, murder and crime fiction, romances, historic fiction, fantasy, realism and surrealistic novels. All these woman are successful writers who dared step outside of their comfort zones and explore beyond the old adage of “write what you know”. I’m more inclined to write what I enjoy writing and I’ve had several different loves.

As a young adult I dreamed of writing Children’s fiction and even took college level classes in Children’s Literature and Illustration to pursue that goal. Somewhere along the lines for reasons that are unclear to me, my first novel turned out to be in the Fantasy genre. Beyond what was require of me in high school and the reading of The Hobbit, fantasy’s not my thing. On an awkward dare from a friend, I began writing erotica. I never saw that one coming (pun intended). Five published novels later, I’d had enough.

Having always loved murder-mysteries, horror, and anything to do with the paranormal, that was my next genre pick. This, I feel, is where I truly belong. Witches, ghosts, and bogeymen, oh my! In 2013 I saw my first paranormal murder-mystery published and was on cloud nine until, about six months later, my publisher announced they were going out of business. Now what? I already had another novel done and in the editing process for these people. Heartbroken, but knowing this was where I wanted my writing to go, I carried on and finished the second book and began the whole query, query, query, submit, submit, submit, rejected, rejected, rejected process all over again.

Had I messed up? Should I go back into the closet and return to the erotica where I was still seeing decent sales and a monthly royalty deposit in my account? Don’t get me wrong, the erotica was fun to write and I learned a great deal about some aspects of the publishing business, but my heart and writer’s soul wasn’t into it. No. I just couldn’t do it. I’ve never felt so creative and productive and pleased with my writing since making the genre hop. With fans of the first murder-mystery contacting me at least once a month over when I’d have another book out, I realized it was time to change tactics … again. The traditional publishing Gods were not with me. I was letting everyone down. I had to do something drastic and decided to self-publish.

Because of that, I had the pleasure of being invited to five author events in 2016. I’m hoping to do at least that many for 2017. It’s rather difficult to peddle your erotic-wares in public knowing your mother’s pastor is likely to walk by and say hello or you’re going to see old friends and teachers and try to explain how you know about “those sorts of things”.  It’s called research, people. As I’ve said before, I like vampire and murder-mysteries, too, but that doesn’t mean I believe I’m a vampire or that I’m going to go out and murder someone. Sex may sell, but not in a small town family-friendly community center or a privately owned bookstore. It’s a lot easier when it’s a murder-mystery or something about haunted houses or Shadow People or urban legends.

With three paranormal novels now out and another on the way later in 2017, I may not be raking in the dough as much as I one day hope to, but I’m having a lot more fun and I’m getting much needed exposure. I’m mingling, setting up displays, doing book talks and signing and, though I write under my maiden name, I’m not really hiding behind a pen-name anymore. I’m being myself and sharing my love of the macabre.

I’d still love to put out a Children’s book, too. Maybe I will one of these days.

If you’re considering writing something different than what you’d normally do, do it! Don’t limit your imagination to a single genre. You have a slew of successful female (and male) writers who have already dared to be different. Georgette Heyer, who is better known for her romance novels, has also dabbled in detective fiction. Children’s book author Sonya Hartnett wrote a rather sexually graphic novel that created a bit of a stir. You’re in good company no matter where you decide to let your writing take you, just don’t be afraid to explore.

Taking that step could very well lead you exactly where you want to go. Start walking!

Creation In The Midst Of Chaos

Creative writing hasn’t really been in the cards much for the past couple months, what with getting married in 24 days and all! I’ve been jotting down things here and there for other stories as well as doing a final read through of No Rest For The Wicked before it’s ‘off to the printers’ as they say.

Once I’ve recovered from all these wedding and honeymoon shenanigans, I’ve told myself I’m going to work diligently to get the first draft of Dark Hollow Road done. I’ve got two more author events lined up for after our return that will take me into October. That will likely be the end of my 2016 Tioga County Book Tour, all of four events. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s four events more than I’ve ever had before and maybe in 2017 I’ll double that number. I’m new to this and being an introvert doesn’t lend itself well to self-promotion.

Still, I’ve come a long way in the past 41 years since Bill, The Worm Who Ran Away debuted and I realized that being a writer is what I wanted to do. My little girl dreams amounted to nothing more than being a published author. Now that I have that, I need to up the odds and add ‘well-known’ to that dream and yes, dare I say, able to make a real living off it.

As the wedding date draws closer, the concept of how much time we have left becomes more in focus. With it, I am reminded of my own mortality and I can’t help but wonder if it’s too late to truly achieve that author dream. My Spring Chicken days are behind me. I’ve worked on this almost my entire life and yet, here I am 50 years old and I’ve still not made it.

I have to remind myself a lot why I do it. I have to remember that Bram Stoker was 50 when Dracula was published. Little House on the Prairie was not published until Laura Ingalls Wilder was 64 and when Henry Miller’s first novel, Tropic of Cancer was published, he was 44. Alex Haley was also 44 when The Autobiography of Malcolm X came out and he was 55 when Roots was released.

My first novel has only been read by a handful of people and has never been published. I finished writing my second novel in 2004 and found a publisher in 2006, just a few months shy of my 39th birthday. Granted, it was erotica, but a published novel is a published novel. I wrote several more erotica titles for the same publisher over the next four years before deciding it wasn’t what I loved writing. It didn’t give me the joy I wanted. With Bound To Be Bitten (out of print) in 2010 I tried to bridge the gap between that and what truly called me, writing horror and the paranormal. I was never entirely happy with the work and that’s when I decided to say goodbye to that aspect of my writing career. I have no regrets for having done it and none that I gave it up, either.

I longed to type in the fingerprints of those authors I’d started to admire as a teenager: Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Agatha Christie, Peter Straub, Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and Tanith Lee. Paranormal-horror meets Murder-Mystery. Oddly, I found myself a bit lost when it came time to write it, but I knew I had to give it a shot. Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon (originally published as Blood of the Scarecrow) was the result. When the publisher went bankrupt, my book’s sudden death was heart-breaking. At 47 I felt my writing career was back to ground zero. Ten years of serious effort had been reduced to little more than a hill of beans.

At 50, I still get some royalties for the erotica, but the battle to get myself out there as a horror writer rages on. Female horror writers don’t seem to be as popular as male ones. Maybe publishers don’t think we women can come up with the blood, guts, gore, and violence like our male counterparts. It’s easy to convince myself it will never be what that little nine-year-old me dreamed it would be. All too often I feel I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing.

Getting nowhere fast with traditional publishers and\or agents, I decided to self-publish for the mere fact I had various people who had read “Scarecrow…” asking me on a weekly basis when the next book was coming out. All I could do was shrug and feel disappointed that I was letting everyone down, including myself. Their words of encouragement have kept me going. With the help of my future husband, That’s What Shadows Are Made Of was our first release in 2015 followed by Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon in early 2016. In just over a month, No Rest For The Wicked, the third of our self-published novels will be coming out.

I’m still trying to finish writing Dark Hollow Road. I’ve promised Hunter Shea I’ll post a review for his newest book The Jersey Devil as soon as I can. I’ve been meaning to get in touch with the editors of Mountain Home Magazine to see about writing for them … but … ack, ack, ack! Maybe after the wedding and honeymoon I’ll be able to focus more on all of this. I’m just too scatter-brained right now. I fought with tulle and my head piece last night. I’m still trying to get my wedding shoes stretched out so I can wear them a few hours during and after the ceremony. I created a pair of ‘I’m sick of wearing these shoes’ back-up sneakers. There’s a DJ station set up in my living room. Trying to figure out how else to decorate the miniature white suitcase that will serve as a guest book and a place for guests to drop off cards is proving harder than I thought. We have a regular guest book, too. There are always dishes and laundry to be done and toilets to clean. Still not 100% sure what’s being used as a cake topper. We want to get our deck built before the snow flies which around here can happen in October! My dress is still in the making. I haven’t properly cleaned the guest room for Jim’s mom yet.

Calgon, take me away!

My Slightly Fictional Childhood

Life certainly throws some strange punches.

For the past thirty years I was fairly sure I’d grown up in the 1970-80s real-life version of Mayberry, USA. It was a quiet, idyllic, free-range childhood. Summers were spent walking the creek beds catching crayfish and stuffing them into a Pringle’s can only to free them further upstream. It was the thrill of swimming in Snapping Turtle Infested waters, camping in backyards, and riding our bikes down the steepest, most twisted road in town. It was racing to the R\R tracks with a shiny penny in hand when we heard that train a’coming, followed by the frantic hunt to find whose got squished the flattest. It was all the town kids gathering together after dark, unsupervised, setting our own rules and boundaries for a game of Hide-n-Seek or *Commander Tag.

I say I was fairly sure I’d grown up like this, but after attending Saturday’s ‘Blueberry & Books Festival’ in my hometown and visiting one of the haunts I frequented back in the day, I’m starting to wonder what was actually real and what is imagined.

The setting for my first murder-mystery, “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon”, is the fictional version of my hometown, Berkshire, NY. Nell Miller, the town librarian and a main character, lives in a small, two-story apartment  attached to the library. She also runs the town’s history museum that is upstairs from the library. Unlike most kids, I spent a large portion of my Friday nights at the library hanging out with Mrs. Leonard the librarian. I was there a lot! I went up to the museum a fair amount of times, too. The library was a safe haven. Ah, I remember it all so clearly.

Or not.

When writing “…Scarecrow Moon” I closed my eyes and brought to mind every nook and cranny I could remember of the library. The little apartment that always fascinated me, the front entry,  the small section of Children’s books front and center as you walked in, the larger section to the left where I did all my browsing, and the research area with its wall of card catalog shelving all sprang to life in my mind’s eye.

Apparently, my mind’s eyes need glasses.

One day as I was driving by on my way to my mom and dad’s, I looked fondly towards the library and realized, “Hey, there’s only one level to the little side apartment section.” How, odd. No matter. It’s fiction, but I could have sworn there was an upstairs to that.

BerkshireFreeLibrary

The real life Berkshire Free Library.

Yesterday, after a thirty year absence, I was able to visit the library once again while the crowd was at a lull and one of the library workers offered to sit at my author table to keep an eye on my things. I walked in, the thrill, the nostalgia, the sheer wonder of… where the hell am I? Is this even the same place?  Yes, yes, there’s the familiar front door and the desk it right where Mrs. Leonard always had hers. And over here to the left are the larger stacks. Okay, well, those shelves are metal now instead of the wonderful, dark wood ones I recall, but that’s progress. In front of me is, not the Children’s Book section at all. The Children’s section had been expanded back into another room I never even knew existed. The research area with the big table and card catalogue was now full of more shelves and books and… No, say it ain’t so! The little apartment is gone! GONE! I wandered in slowly, and slightly horrified, at what should have been Nell Miller’s living quarters. It was about a quarter of the size I thought I remembered and so, yeah, where are the stairs that go up to her bedroom and bathroom? That’s right. No upstairs. This is reality. *sigh*

But, the museum, surely, SURELY that’s the same, right? Wrong.

The stairs were in the same spot. That was a good sign. I headed up, smiling, my hope renewed. I swear to God the place has shrunk. What’s up with that phenomenon? They say it’s because you were so much smaller\younger, but I’m the same height I was back then. It’s not like I was five years old the last time I was there. Anyway…

That big room where the Scarecrow stands guard at the top of the stairs in the book? Nope, not there. How about those two big rooms laid out side by side, one at the front and one at the back and all those display cases and the door that connects them on the far end so you can walk through and loop around? Nope, sorry, kids. That ain’t so. Well, damn, my brain has been lying to me. And if it lied to me about this place, what else do I have wrong? What other parts of my Berkshire-berry USA childhood are fictional?

DSCF2858

One of the museum rooms upstairs in the library.

Did we really walk the creek and put crayfish into Pringle’s cans? Did we really swim with Snapping Turtles? Those trips to the pond in the middle of a farmer’s field to go ice-skating, those really happened right? What about the time our toboggan of five went barreling over the cliff and into the freezing water of the creek below? I know thirty town kids plus played Tag and Hide-n-Seek on those long, hot summer nights, but could I produce any witnesses to this? What about the rotten apple fights we had in Slate’s back yard!?

My mind reels. What I thought was reality, maybe wasn’t! If it wasn’t, then where was I and who was I actually with all those times? Aliens? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s all a Barnesville conspiracy. Maybe what I wrote about isn’t fiction at all. Maybe that’s the reality, not this here and now place that’s messing with my old, forgetful brain. Could innocent Mrs. Leonard have put something in my cup of Kool-Aid during Summer Movies in the library basement? I mean, after all, Nell Miller’s grandmother was good friends with the librarian from Nell’s childhood, and Nell’s grandmother was some sort of witch, so it only stands to reason … .

I guess my fiction is a lot more fictional than I thought it was!
Life … strange punches.

*Commander Tag. I probably have the name of this game wrong, too! This was played on the baseball field located in the center of town. The Commander was chosen and would stand on the pitcher’s mound. Everyone else gathered around. He or She would then cover their eyes and count  just as one would do in Hide-N-Seek and also like H-n-S, the rest of us would scatter in all directions. Hiding, however was optional. The Commander was not permitted to step beyond the baselines, instead, the players would slowly start to inch their way in an effort to reach the pitcher’s mound without being tagged. If you did so, you were Free and would head over to the bleachers to wait out the rest of the game. If you were tagged by The Commander, you became one of the Soldiers and you joined his forces to tag other players as they came in. The longer a Player waited to make his move, the harder it was to reach the pitcher’s mound. Good times!

Author Meet & Greet Tomorrow!

I will be lurking in the lower level of the Berkshire Community Hall with copies of “Secrets Of The Scarecrow Moon” and “That’s What Shadows Are Made Of” along with other local authors sharing their books. Stop in and say hi, get a book you already own signed, buy a book, visit the library and museum that inspired the fictional versions in the books! Eat Blueberries!

Main events held at the Berkshire NY Community Hall, Fire Station & Library.(Corner of Rt. 38 & Jewett hill Rd.) 9am-4pm FOOD! Blueberry Pancakes 7-10am at the Berkshire Fire Hall. Berry Cake Sales, Chicken BBQ, Burgers & more! Bake-Off Competition. ENTERTAINMENT! Live Music ALL Day (including: Sister Moon, Valley Harmony w/ Tina Salasny, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Steve Holcomb Band), raffles, local authors meet & greet, Miss Blueberry visit, Art Show, Vendors, classic car show, Berkshire History Musuem tours, antique appraisals with Bob Connelly, and activities for the kids!

 

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Ah, that first English assignment when returning to school after the summer off. How I always looked forward to that moment. Yes, I was a strange child, but I think that was established some time ago and I have since grown up to be a bit left-of-center adult. Now that school is out for the kiddies, my mind drifts back to those care-free days and those two months of pretty much doing as I pleased. Oh, to be that kid again.

When I realized that the “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” writing assignment was pretty much an annual event for English teachers, I began to consider what odd thing I could do to make my assignment stand out from the rest of the Muggle Crowd. (Of course, we didn’t have Muggles back then as these were the pre-Harry Potter days, but you get the idea.) God forbid I should do something entirely normal. I can’t remember all of those summers, but there is one that sticks out in my mind the most. I spent at least three weeks of one particular summer vacation in the nearby cemetery. Well, not full time there, but during the days. I probably would have spent the nights, but I’m sure my parents (as well as the authorities) would have frowned on such a thing.

I’ve never had a fear of cemeteries like so many people do. No idea why. They just aren’t in the least bit scary to me day or night. I’ve always enjoyed wandering among headstones taking pictures and enjoying the peace and restful quiet they offer. On this particular summer, however, I was on a mission.

At least three days a week for nearly a month, I’d load up my Army green backpack with lunch, my little transistor radio, lined paper, graph paper, a supply of pencils and a sharpener, a pen, and my camera in the morning. I’d toss it over my back and hop onto my bike for the mile and a half ride to Berkshire Evergreen Cemetery. Once there, I’d set to work.

I worked my way north to south, west to east, getting deeper and deeper into the cemetery. One by one my graph paper filled with tiny black squares, each marked with its own unique number. Each one set in a sub-divided section of the grounds created by the various roadways throughout. On my lined paper I started with Section 1. Grave #1. And wrote down everything on the headstone associated with that space. My goal was to document and map every headstone in the place. That, to me, was summertime fun!

I couldn’t have been happier or prouder of my time spent there. This was a huge undertaking even for an adult and here I was probably about 12-13 years old doing it all on my own for the mere amusement of the thing. I did eventually complete the project and boy did I have something unusual to write about come September and the inevitable English essay.

Unfortunately, this tale does not have the ending I wish it did. For years I kept that project alive. I’d add black squares and information as new graves were created. But… now, almost forty years later, I have NO idea whatsoever what happened to the folder I had it all in. That really could have been a useful tool for future genealogists! I can’t imagine throwing it out. I can’t imagine either of my parents throwing it out had they come across it over the years. I mean, sheesh, my dad once presented me with a small composition notebook he’d found from my elementary school days full of little stories I’d written as writing assignments!

The years have gone by and I no longer have to write “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays for English class, but I kind of wish I did. Vacations don’t last for two months anymore and they usually don’t take place in the summer. I’m old and try to escape the New York winters for a couple weeks now.

That isn’t to say that I still don’t enjoy spending some of my summer days wandering through nearby cemeteries taking pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet that being surrounded by the dead brings me. Old habits die hard and I’d rather this one not pass away until I do.

So.. what are your plans for summer vacation?

Featured Image: Berkshire Evergreen Cemetery, Berkshire, NY. Courtesy of the author.

Stepping Stones Across Hell’s Half Acre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from “No Rest For The Wicked”

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

What Scares You? Reading, Writing, & Watching Horror

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

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

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

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

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

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