Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Shorts - Halloween spooky story!

The screams should have stopped us. But for some reason, hearing screams in a graveyard on Halloween night only made us grin at each other like fools.

“Dare ya.” Mark’s eyes were bright, fueled by the line of coke we’d shared at the party. The skeleton paint job on his face made his face disappear into the shadows so that he really did look like the creature he pretended to be.

Another scream reached our ears. “I dunno.” I bit my lip nervously. The wind was howling, whipping my cheap Dracula cape into a frenzy of black nylon. I tasted chemical laced sweetness from the fake blood on my tongue. “Ya think it’s safe? What if it’s some weirdo doing Satanic rituals and crap?”

Mark rolled his eyes. “No way that scream is real. It’s just a CD to scare people. Geez, Jason. It’s Centerville. We haven’t had a murder in this town since my Dad was a kid.” He waited, tapping his foot on the ground. He finally threw up his hands. “Then stay, scaredy-cat. Wait’ll my friends on Facebook find out what a wuss you are.”

He braced himself and climbed the narrow iron bars like the ropes in gym class. With a flip of his hips, he was over, without even hooking his pants on the spiked tops. The moon came out from behind a cloud then and freaky shadows seemed to flow over the ground like mist. They were right behind Mark and he didn’t see them. “Mark! There’s something behind you!”

But the wind was too loud and then full darkness returned. He turned and cupped a hand to his ear but I couldn’t hear his response. He took a step backwards and . . . disappeared.

Another scream sounded and this time it was Mark’s. Crap. Had he fallen into an open grave? I should have run for help. That made perfect sense. What would have made more sense was to bring along a stupid cell phone. But nooo . . . that would spoil the costumes. Damn him anyway. We were going to get grounded for a month if he’d broken a leg.

Getting over the fence wasn’t as easy as Mark made it look. I eased forward slowly, feeling my way along the dark, leaf-covered path, feeling my heart pound and my breath turn to frost into the frigid air. If he was pulling my chain, I was going to kill him myself. “Mark? You okay?”

“Oh, God, Jason. It hurts! It hurts so bad!” I raced forward at that, because he wasn’t kidding. In a few steps, I saw him and bile rose to my throat. He was covered with what looked like invisible people. The ghostly creatures flowed in and out of his skin and with each fly-by, another chunk of flesh was removed. He couldn’t seem to get up. The ghosts were holding him down, leering at him as he screamed and then taking another bite. His wails turned to whimpers and then to rattling moans. I would have run, but I couldn’t because the invisible hands were now pulling me down too. Hands scrabbled and teeth bit until I couldn’t think anymore from the pain that made my vision go red and my mind turn to putty.

The screams should have stopped us. I could only hope it would stop the pair of girls I saw on the road. I hope they sto...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween Hunks! Who's your fav?

Ooo...those supernatural cuties! There's nothing like an otherworldly hero to get the blood pumping. I have to admit that when I was growing up, nothing made my heart beat faster than the first prime-time vamp, Barnabas Collins! He had that whole 'homely-cute' thing going that made me (and millions of other teens and women) swoon.

I admit to a fondness for vampires. Shifters come and go, but those vampires keep me coming back for more.

Of course, no hunk list would be complete without the bad boy we wanted to love to hate (and hate to love): Angel. His first appearance as Angelus on Buffy the Vampire Slayer made me drool!

I know there are a lot of Spike fans out there, but he's not really my thing. Guess I just like those brunettes. :)

A recent favorite is (pitta-pat!) Mick St. John from Moonlight. Yowzers what that guy did in a single season to grab the audience. I was really surprised when the series was canceled. I figured for sure it would last a little longer.

So how about the rest of you? Who's your favorite Halloween hunk? I just love me some bad boy vamps, but who makes you drool?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

History of the Horror Novel

There's nothing like October to make us think of things that go bump in the night. But where did it all start? When did authors start writing books and stories for the sole purpose of scaring the readers?

Books that we would most likely consider horror by today's standards were actually the "women's fiction" of the time. In the late 1700s, women wrote books for a primarily female audience that featured kick-butt heroines (of a sort) fighting off creepy creatures in a gothic setting. Vathek by William Beckford (Arabian woman who is captured by the demented, demonic Vathek and forced to marry him instead of the man she loves--shades of Phantom of the Opera!) came out in 1786 and then a series of other similar works, including The Italian by Ann Radcliffe (lovers trying to escape The Inquisition) followed throughout the rest of the century.

But what contemporary readers consider to be the first "true" horror novel is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein - Or the Modern Promethesus The first edition was a three book set bound in leather (and a copy sold at auction in 2007 for an estimated $125,000.)

Frankenstein, of course, was a morality play of the 'evils that men do'. But then along came Bram Stoker, who took horror into the supernatural range with Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and H.P. Lovecraft added in ancient, other-worldly evil with his Cthulhu reality.

There was a swelling of the genre when Stephen King's Carrie hit the stands and a thousand other writers from Peter Straub's psychological terror, to Robert Bleiler's grisly, gory slasher stories took center stage.

But then the genre changed. Other genres started stealing pieces of horror's homestead. "Dark Fantasy" was born that complicated the story and added romance, drama and angst. Laurell K. Hamilton was an early addition to this new genre, before it really was a genre. Her first works in the Anita Blake series were actually spine labeled as horror.

Now there's paranormal romance, urban fantasy, dark fantasy taking up the space where "horror" used to reside. But I doubt it's done. The pendulum has yet to swing again. What's your favorite horror novel, the one you go back to time and again to raise the hairs on your neck?

And who wants to get back to the old style of horror, where it's just man against . . . well, against things that go bump and scream in the night? Raise your hand. Mine's up! :D

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Shorts - Part 5 of "By Any Other Name"

At last, the ending is revealed!


A tentative knock on his office door made Dan raise his head. He smiled as Denise walked in the room. He leaned back in his chair and offered her a seat with a wave. “I hear congratulations are in order. Justin told me the Judge dismissed the Motion to Suppress yesterday.”

“Yeah. Finally, something went right on the case.” She looked down at a piece of paper in her hand. Her expression was somewhere between nervous and excited, but she was having trouble deciding what to say.

He decided to give her the chance to think. “Have the police in Burlington gotten back to you yet?”

Denise sat down on the edge of the wingback chair and smoothed her gray pinstripe skirt over her knees. She nodded. “They caught them checking in at a motel in Pueblo. You were right about the license plates. It had never occurred to me to check to make sure that I had the same plate on the back as on the front. It probably only took her a second to replace my front plate. Unless she got pulled over, and the cop actually examined the car she would be me — my license, my make and model of car, my plate number. Did I tell you that I recognized her the minute they showed me her mug shot?” At his shaking head, she nodded. “She was a grade lower than me in high school and was constantly competing with me, even in stupid little things, like who got in line for lunch.”

She shook her head with small movements that spoke of both frustration and confusion. “All her preparation — getting my birth certificate, social security card, even a duplicate driver’s license. She followed me around, stole things, practiced my signature — that’s a level of something that’s . . . eerie. I might not have ever found out if we hadn’t made the trip.”

“But what was she going to do to you? That’s the part I don’t get.”

Denise shuddered and rubbed her arms as though cold. “The police involuntarily committed her after her first interview. At times, they said she believed she was me. She was rational and clear-headed and gave my history as though she’d lived it. But then she’d flip and claim she wanted to ruin me — my name, my reputation. She wanted people to hate me as much as she did, said I needed to be punished for succeeding, when she couldn’t. She was never very good in school. She had to struggle even to get average grades, and somehow I guess she translated that into being my fault. Steve Lofgren said that the transcript is pretty weird, like she has a split personality. I don’t really care whether she winds up behind bars or in a padded cell, but I hope she’s off the street for a really long time.”

“What about the accomplice? Any story on him?”

She shrugged and tapped the roll of paper on her knee. “He was just in it for the money, I guess. He was using her to kite the checks and I guess he was picking pockets too. Steve said there were a bunch of wallets in the car with them, so they’ve got a pretty good trail of their crimes.”

There was nothing else to say, so Dan just nodded. The telephone on his desk rang right then, but he ignored it. He kept his eyes firmly on Denise, waiting. His intense gaze brought a nervous smile to her face that lasted until the final ring faded. He motioned to the phone with his head. “Is there anything else you want to tell me before I check voice mail?”

She looked down at the rolled paper in her hand and opened it, smoothing it against her skirt to straighten it. “This was the toughest puzzle I’ve ever worked. You threw me by putting in numbers and not showing the length of the words.”

His voice was teasing, and pleased. “You seem to enjoy a challenge. You’re here, so I presume you figured it out.”

Standing up with a raise of one brow and a smirk, she tossed the slightly curled anagram on his desk. “Yes, I did. I thought the roses were beautiful, and I would like to have dinner Friday at seven. I’d like it very much.”


Monday, March 26, 2012

Writing help - creating "voice"

A little while ago, I proposed a YA paranormal series to Tor based on a short story I wrote for them. One of the things my editor mentioned was that I need to plan for a "teen voice" which is apparently different from a Young Adult voice. After asking a number of people what the difference was, I'm thinking it's more a "tween" thing---that murky water between childhood and adulthood, where there are equal thoughts of playing with dolls and dressing like one. LOL!

It doesn't seem that long ago since I swam in those same murky waters, even though I know it has been. But I think I'm stuck in a sort of permanent adolescence because many of the shows I watch on television are tween and teen ones. I actually like a lot of the reality shows. I also like cartoons and nearly anything offered on Disney or Nickelodean. the Fairly Oddparents and Spongebob are just as likely to be on a set in my house as House or NCIS. Fortunately, my husband is more than happy to plop down with a plate of food and watch the Simpsons or Phineas and Ferb. (Yeah, we're sort of weird.) I like Hannah Montana and Wizards of Waverly Place and a host of others.

So I guess I'm more confused about how to write "adult" some days. In many ways, being a kid is less complex than being an adult. You get to let some decisions be made by those older and really don't WANT to be the one to make them. I know many adults who didn't have a real childhood (and I don't mean the Michael Jackson sort, but those who were missing a parent or were forced to become the parent for younger siblings.) I've always felt bad when that happens and even though I write angst in teens when I write them, I like them to have some stability, some sense of family that those reading can cling to.

I've had teens tell me they can really relate to my characters and that's probably because I know where they're coming from--even though I don't have any kids of my own. Yes, life has changed and has gotten more complicated for kids now, but it's also gotten easier in some ways. It's pretty evenly balanced from when I was their age.

My "voice" in writing wants me to create kids who struggle with the obligations of being a kid, and are thrust into situations that are scary, but always have someone strong rooting for them in the background (whether an adult family member or sibling or such) and helping them with a hand up out of a mess. Life is hard enough without having nobody to count on. Y'know?

How about you? Did you have a strong adult role model when you were growing up or were you the "adult" in your family? Would you change it if you could? I'm interested to know! :)

(BTW, regarding the YA paranormal? I'm still working on some of the edits they wanted, amongst all the other stuff I'm doing. LOL! Amazing how fast the time slips by.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday shorts - Part 4 of "By Any Other Name"

So, what is going on with Denise? Who's stalking her? More drama in Colorado!


“I wouldn’t believe this if I wasn’t staring at it myself.” Steve Lofgren shook his head as two officers wearing white vinyl gloves carefully bagged and tagged the items in the room. “That woman is the spitting image of you, Ms. Richardson. She even has your voice down pat.”

Denise just nodded, still taking in the sheer number of individual bags covering the bedspread. Her face flowed with so many emotions — anger, confusion, relief and worry. Dan could understand them all. If this had all been happening to him instead, he couldn’t even imagine what he would be thinking.

“So you agree with me that this is more than a simple case of identity theft?” Dan crossed his arms over his chest and then followed Lofgren as he stepped outside into the chilled night air.

Steve’s face glowed red for a moment as he touched a flame to the end of a cigarette and then took a deep pull. “Oh, yeah. I don’t quite know what it is, but the few cases of identity theft I’ve seen are usually just taking someone’s name and social and then getting a job or kiting a few checks. Yeah, those are here too, but this person has been making a real point of wandering around town, making friends and then burning them. Looking back, it feels very planned.”

“So, what do you—” Dan’s question was interrupted by Denise’s startled voice inside the room.

“Wait! Wait, pull that back out for a second!” Steve quickly dropped the cigarette onto the asphalt and ground it into pieces with the toe of his boot. Dan had stepped into the triangle of light from the doorway and watched Denise stare at a large black coffee table style book being held by one of the officers.

She glanced up as Steve entered, with Dan right at his heels. “This is my book.” She motioned for the officer to flip the book over and open the front cover of the volume, entitled Painted Ponies. Inside, Dan could see a bookplate with Denise’s name glued inside the cover. “It’s been missing for nearly a year. I couldn’t find it when I moved into my new place, but I figured it just got misplaced and would turn up. It’s probably got my prints all over it.”

Lofgren nodded. “And hopefully hers right alongside. Thanks, Ms. Richardson. Do you have any idea who this woman might be?”

Denise shook her head and walked to stand next to Dan. “I’ve been thinking about that. My first thought was that it must be someone that I know, but I don’t have any enemies that I’m aware of, so maybe it’s random.”

Steve nodded. “Hawk explained that you’ve got to get back to Vail for court on Monday, but I’d appreciate it if you could stay as long as possible tomorrow. We might want to talk to you again since we don’t have any leads on a vehicle. I’m certain that with all the activity in this room, the woman and her companion have probably already noticed and fled the area. I’ve got a general description out to the state patrol, but maybe we’ll find something in here that will jog your memory.”


Back at the motel, Denise paced in a tight circle in his room — from the door to the dresser and back — around and around with arms crossed. Her face was a study in concentration, from the furrowed brows to the corner of her lower lip tucked between her teeth. Dan sat just out of range of her intense movements in the room’s single cloth-covered chair, watching with amusement. He didn’t know if she’d figure out the answer, but he could tell that the mystery was intriguing her to no end. And she was intriguing him as a result.

When he spoke, it broke her concentration. She bumped into the corner of the bureau and looked up, startled. “This isn’t a puzzle you have to solve, Denise. The police will do their job. There will be fingerprints, DNA samples and probably clues to where they might have gone.” He shrugged. “Maybe you need to back off for a little while, think about something else. Sometimes your subconscious will solve it for you when you’re doing other things.” He crossed his own arms and sighed. “I just wish we’d considered watching the place to see if they showed up before going to the police, though. It would have really helped if we’d been able to provide a vehicle description or a plate number.”

The change in her was abrupt and grabbed his attention. Her jaw dropped and her face went slack, but her green eyes started moving from side to side quickly, as though she was processing something. He knew that look, because he’d been accused of having same one too often by others.

“You’ve thought of something, haven’t you?”

Denise shook her head and smiled at the floor. When she raised her eyes, the smile was all for him. “You’re brilliant! I’ve been pacing back and forth, trying to figure out where the woman might go next, what she might be driving — trying to get into her head. But you just made me realize that I don’t need to think like her. I need to think like me!”

It took a moment, but only a moment, before he understood just what she meant. “She’s trying to live your existence—”

Denise nodded and sat down on the corner of the bed, facing him. “She’s using my looks, my voice, my whole personality. So why wouldn’t she use—”

A chuckle rose from Dan’s chest. “Your car!” He reached for the telephone. “And it might even be easier than that. You already know that she’s following you, taking photos, bits and pieces of your life—” He dialed a familiar number, watching Denise try to follow his train of thought as he dialed too many numbers for the call to be local.

Justin was understandably grumpy due to the hour, and Dan’s request stopped him cold for so long that Dan wondered whether he’d hung up the phone in sheer annoyance. “Justin? Are you still there?”

The young investigator yawned, but his voice sounded thoughtful. “Yeah. Y’know, I don’t know that I’ve ever checked my own plates for that, Dan. It’s just simple enough to make sense. But can this at least wait until morning?”

Dan’s hand tightened on the phone, but he tried to think of it from the other side. “I’ll let your conscience be your guide. How far do you think they could get by then?”

A long pause, and then a sigh. “Fine. I’ll go over there now.” A dark chuckle crept into his voice. “Maybe I’ll wake Barbara and have her go along with me. She keeps complaining we don’t do things together. Driving down and breaking into a business in the middle of the night should be a real bonding experience, don’t you think?”

Dan’s voice held a bit of reproach. “That wasn’t what I had in mind, Justin. It might be easier to just call the owner and ask to be let in, you know. Or drop by the police station and get an escort.”

Justin laughed, and it sounded like old times back in New York. “Hell, Hawk — where’s the fun in that? Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.”

His light growl caused a second round of laughter over the phone, but he didn’t know what it meant. “Uh-huh. Well, call me back, regardless of the time, or if you can’t get through, call the police and leave a message for Steve Lofgren. Do you need to write that down?”

Another yawn was followed by a sleepy, “No, I’ve got it. Hotel or Lofgren. I can call information for the number. But I really need to go grab a cola to wake myself up now. I’ll call you back.”

Dan turned to Denise as he hung up the phone. “There’s really no reason for you to stay, if you want to go back to your room and hit the sack. In fact, it might be a good idea. If I’m up all night, you might wind up driving us back to Vail tomorrow.”

Her eyes were shimmering with excitement, and he didn’t think it was because of his idea with the license plates. “I know where she’s going.” At his questioning look, she continued. “Remember what I said about the carousels? There’s one other town in Colorado where I’ve wanted to go. Why wouldn’t she go there too?”

He smiled in return. They were going to have a lot to discuss with the police in the morning.

...[more next week!]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing Help - Want to learn to write? Then READ!

I volunteer writing advice on a number of websites. I do it to 'pay it back around' for the help I've gotten over the years from various people. One of the things I've noticed lately is a number of questions about how to get started writing. Now, these aren't questions about how to get published or writing a query or even sticky plot points, but how to start at all.

That leaves me stratching my head a little because the obvious answer is: sit down and start. But I can tell that the question is far deeper than the obvious. The phrasing gives away that the person really has no concept of how a book is created. Every one of them claims to have a great idea for a book, but can't figure out how to transform that idea into actual writing.

Several have asked whether I could recommend a good online or college course. Unfortunately, I have no idea and even after investigation of what's out there, it's nearly impossible to judge whether the teacher is appropriate for the genre the author wants. I've recommended watching for workshops from known authors, but really, it occurred to me that the answer might be much simpler than courses.

I ask if the person READS. Most of them say sure, they read. But often it turns out they don't actually read what they want to write. Nor, I discover, do they actually read for more than simple pleasure.

So, let me state outright that if someone out there reading this wants to write but has no idea how to start, I fully recommend picking up a dozen (yes, a full DOZEN) books in the genre of choice that you want to WRITE---the one that your great idea is pushing you to put down on paper---and READ them.

Read them all fully, cover to cover. Don't give up and toss one or five down as a "don't like." See, someone liked it or it wouldn't be for sale. On the other hand, if you love it, WHY? Is it the characters, or the plot or the world (secondary characters, town/city descriptions, etc.?) If you hate it, likewise: WHY? Where did the author lose you?

Then read them again and this time, take notes. Does the author do something exceptionally well, but other things not so much? Grab some sticky notes and start pasting. Was chapter 2 amazing but then the plot falls apart in chapter 8? What would you do differently? Yep, write it all down. Think about the sentence structure on books you loved. Are the words dark and moody or fast and terrifying (or even beautifully romantic or hilarious?) When did you discover the mystery and how did the author keep it a secret? Or was what was intended to be a mystery completely transparent and it annoyed you? Write it all down. Paste a hundred post-its in the three or four hundred pages.

Do that for a dozen books and you'll suddenly discover how to do it. You'll discover paced plotting and creating rich characters because you'll see it right in front of you. You don't have to know the names for the writing terminology. You'll learn that as you go, just like a lot of us did.

So tell me . . . have you ever read a book for more than just pleasure? If you like to write, have you used other fav authors for research? If you don't write, have you ever thought of a book as more than just a few hour's escape, considered the structure of it? I'm interested to know!