Thursday, October 10, 2019

October Frights: Nightmare Fuel: The Other Jack




Welcome to the October Frights Blog Hop! I'm Samantha Bryant. If you visit here regularly, you already know that I'm a Halloween fan (if you're new here: Welcome to the Madhouse!).

Last year at this time, I posted a blog series on 31 days of Halloween. My *favorite* thing the past few years though, has been #nightmarefuel

The Nightmare Fuel Project is the brainchild of Bliss Morgan, a talented friend whose work you should definitely check out!

Each day in October, she posts a creepy picture prompt and invites anyone who wants to play along to create something macabre or magnificent and post it for the group to enjoy. This is my third year playing along, writing creepy flash fiction each night in celebration of spooky season.

Here's my favorite of what I've written so far this year. You can check out all my creepy flash fiction for the project on my Facebook page.

The Other Jack

Jimmy’s room wasn’t really a room, it was more like a partition. His mother had found some smoky plexiglass somewhere and used it to divide the space into two tiny bedrooms, each barely big enough for the bed and a narrow chest of drawers that was also the desk and the nightstand. It wasn’t much, but it gave him and his brother a little illusion of privacy, something that mattered more now that his brother was older.

Jimmy had to pretend he didn’t hear a lot of things these days, especially if Mom wasn’t home. He’d never tell, of course. Brothers didn’t rat on each other, even if the girls were mean or the smoke smelled weird.

But he missed the nights when Jack would turn a light on the plexiglass wall and make shadowpuppets for him or press his face against the wall smooshing it comically and getting them both in trouble for wild laughter.

Laying on his bed drawing, Jimmy heard a tap on the glass. He jumped. He hadn’t thought Jack was home. He looked over his shoulder and saw a hand laying against the glass. He laid his own over it on his side of the wall and Jack spread his fingers wide so Jimmy could compare the size of his hand to his brother’s. Jack was almost ten years older than Jimmy, so catching up was taking a long time, but he felt sure his hand was bigger than it had been the last time. Pleased he knocked three times, their secret signal for happiness. Jack didn’t respond.

The hand moved away and Jimmy went back to his drawing. The cat-man he had invented was having an undersea adventure this time and Jimmy was having a hard time getting the bubble helmet to look the way he wanted to. After a few tries, he threw the wadded up paper at the wall in frustration.

There were two hands on the wall now, pressed flat enough that Jimmy could trace the lines in the palms. Jack was pushing hard, like he wanted to come through the plexiglass wall instead of climbing over his bed to get to the narrow hallway like a normal person. The makeshift wall scraped against the ceiling, groaning like a train car. “Stop it Jack! You’ll get in trouble if you break it.”

The pressure released. Jack could be crazy sometimes, but Jimmy could usually get him to stop before it got too bad. Just as he was thinking about picking up his drawing again, the hands were back, clenched into fists this time and pounding against the wall, making it scrape and groan and shake ominously. Jimmy yelled “Stop it Jack! Stop it!”

At the foot of his bed, the door opened. “Stop what, Squirt?” Jack leaned in, still wearing his fast-food tee shirt.

“J-J-Jack?” Jimmy pointed at the wall behind him, wordlessly. The Other Jack still pounded the surface again and again and when Jimmy turned to look, he thought the fists might be bleeding. His mouth went completely dry.

Suddenly, Jack had him by the armpits and was pulling him out of the trailer into the chilly night, barefoot. The two of them got into the car and Jack was backing away, driving before Jimmy had even put on the seatbelt. “Where are we going?”

Jack didn’t answer him. He was on the phone, talking fast to someone, He said their address and said there was an intruder. He said he didn’t know where their mother was. He said other stuff, too, but Jimmy couldn’t understand--it was hard to hear over the squealing inside his head. Then, his brother was shaking him, telling him it was okay.

There were blue lights flashing and a woman with a flashlight and a clipboard. There was yelling and a loud bang. An ambulance that took away someone. Jimmy wasn’t allowed to see. Jack held him too tightly, kept Jimmy’s head pressed against his chest.

It was years before Jack got the full story of the night his mother died and he almost died, too. They told him his mother was a hero, that he was lucky. She’d trapped the man in Jack’s room with her. If Jack hadn’t gotten home when he did . . .
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Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, please check out the rest of my site to see what else I'm up to, or subscribe to my newsletter (no more than one email per month). I've got a collection of Weird Tales coming out at the end of the month! Stories from Shadow Hill is a series of weird and macabre tales that take place on the dark side of a suburban neighborhood suspiciously similar to the one I live in . . . Details will be forthcoming in my next newsletter!





Be sure to also check out Deadman Humour, my most recent publication. This creepy anthology is a collection of stories about what scares clowns. My story "The Gleewoman of Preservation" shows that there are things scarier than clowns in the woods near Preservation.






If ghost stories are more your style, you can read my daylight ghost story, "The Girl in the Pool" in Off the Beaten Path 3 from Prospective Press, alongside some excellent ghostly tales from other fabulous authors. 




Remember to hop on over to check out the other participants' offerings as well.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Wording Wednesday: Arcachne and Her Sisters


The new season of Wording Wednesday is underway. Fellow author Andy Brokaw collects a set of prompts and puts them out there for the world to use for inspiration.

You can check out my stories for Season 2 (weather) here: CloudyClearSunnyRainWindSnow

And for Season 1 (beginnings) here: InfancyMorningTravelMeetingFirst SnowCeremony

For Season 3, the theme is creatures and this week's inspiration is a friendly arachnid by Rose Tursi, whose work can be found at: www.tursiart.com My post from last week can be viewed here.

Check out the links and play along if you'd like, or just enjoy reading.
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The nicest thing about having been transformed into a spider was all the extra limbs. All eight of her appendages were dextrous and agile, strong and useful for a variety of tasks, from weaving to climbing. 

The worst thing had been the revulsion. Arachne couldn't really blame her sisters for their reactions. She had once felt the same way about spiders, skittering, skulking creatures watching you with far too many eyes. When her sisters returned to their chambers and found her clinging to the massive glittering web she had constructed in her first few hours as a spider, the screaming nearly brought down the house. 

Luckily, her youngest sister, Alethea, had witnessed the entire contest with Athena and was able to keep their eldest sister, Ademia, from squashing her with a shoe. Ademia still screwed her face up like she'd been eating lemons every time she looked at her once-favorite sister, but she left Arachne in peace, so long as she constrained her weaving to designated areas. 

The webs she wove now put her earlier creations in tapestry to shame. Thread was so thick and clumsy in comparison to spider silk. And she could work so quickly! 

Alethea had been such a dear, waiting patiently while Arachne wove her messages in webwork and doing her best to get the things that her sister wanted for her happiness in her new life. 

Only today, she'd managed to find the tiniest of teapots and to assist Arachne in brewing lemon olive tea. Drinking it was almost like being human again. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

IWSG: Writers Who Don't Read




Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 2 posting of the IWSG are Ronel Janse van Vuuren, Mary Aalgaard, Madeline Mora-Summonte, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor! Be sure to check out what they have to say, too.

This month's question: - It's been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand, how can you expect other people to want your writing, if you don't enjoy reading? What are your thoughts?
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Okay. I don't take many hard stances in my life. 

I know that nearly every circumstance is smeary and gray in the boundaries rather than crisply clear with lines delineating "good" and "bad." 

Ambiguity is where the interest lies, in life and in fiction. 

But here, I draw a line. A firm, bold, uncrossable line. 

Writers must read. 

Reading is the number one best method to improve your craft, and every writer I've met who has told me they don't read has disappointed me on the page if I got that far. 

Generally when I meet a writer who tells me they don't read, they spend a lot of time talking about other kinds of story: film and television mostly. 

Film and television are lovely. I enjoy both a great deal, given the time. 

But they are not books and if you are trying to write books that are like film and television, you are ignoring the bulk of the magic, limiting yourself to visual, cinematic view and losing out on all the other senses, and interior life. 



As for the argument that not reading means your ideas are new and original? 

Hogwash, I say. 

Not reading just means you're influenced by non-literary things (film and television, mostly). 

Unless you go full-on hermit and shut out the world entirely, you are a human moving through the world and are influenced by it. 

There's no purity of vision to be had, immaculately contained in a bubble of only your own making. We're all made of and by our experiences, both literary and other. 

Now, "I'm not reading much right now" or "I don't read in the genre I'm writing while I'm writing it" are not the same thing as "I don't read." 

Lulls happen. Everyone has to find their own process. 

But not reading at all? 

Sometimes I miss the way I read before I was serious about my writing. It was easier to lose myself in the world and not analyze what the author was doing while I read. But that doesn't mean I'd ever give up reading! When I *do* get that truly immersive feeling, I know I've found a wonder of a book because it made it past my writer-vision and got all the way to my underlying story-loving brain. 

What do you think, friends of the internet? Do you have an example to prove me wrong? A writer who doesn't read but still writes compelling fiction themselves? I'd love to hear form you in the comments. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Wording Wednesday: At Least There's Still Coffee


The new season of Wording Wednesday is underway. Fellow author Andy Brokaw collects a set of prompts and puts them out there for the world to use for inspiration.

You can check out my stories for Season 2 (weather) here: Cloudy, Clear, Sunny, Rain, Wind, Snow

And for Season 1 (beginnings) here: Infancy, Morning, Travel, Meeting, First Snow, Ceremony

For Season 3, the theme is creatures and we begin with "Warm and Fuzzy" by Mateo Dineen. This piece and others can be seen on the artist's website at https://www.mateo-art.com/

Check out the links and play along if you'd like, or just enjoy reading.

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Herbert hadn't been sure what to think when his transformation had begun. It had started as a strange patch of green fur on chest, there among the wiry white wisps standing out against his brown skin He noticed it one day in the shower and scrubbed at it, but didn't worry too much when it didn't wash away. In his years as a contractor, he'd stained his skin and hair a variety of colors. It always wore off eventually.

He'd never been good about going to the doctor, especially for ailments that seemed more like nuisances than real problems. What did he care what color his chest hair was? But, it hadn't remained a change he could hide under a flannel shirt. One morning he woke to find it had spread down his arms and back. The next, on his cheeks. His body seemed to be shifting as well, flattening in some areas and broadening in others.

He decided to try the walk-in clinic early the next morning. Generally, if you went early enough you didn't have to wait that long. He could probably still make it to his kitchen rehab job on time. Chances were they'd just take his blood and tell him they'd call him about the results later anyway.

He liked to tease the pretty young phlebotomist about her relationship with Vlad the Impaler. The girl was always nice enough to smile at his poor attempts at humor, even though she probably heard some version of that joke from every older man she stuck.

Thinking about the phlebotomist, he didn't take notice of the number of cars in the parking lot until he'd walked into the waiting room and realized with a start that it was jam-packed with a crowd of colorful characters.

Colorful not in the sense of big personality, but literally in rainbow hues. A woman with pink fur sticking out in tufts around the neck of her white sweater had an arm around a child whose flesh was a startling, vibrant blue. A group of purple, roundish women gathered around the coffeepot. A forest green man leaned into a corner and snored loudly. Herbert rubbed his eyes, but the scene didn't change.

"Herbert?" a voice called. "It get you, too?"

Herbert turned and saw a man standing over by the window, thumbs hooked in the belt loops on his jeans and suspenders holding up the pants. "Jimmy?" It couldn't be, could it? But who else wore suspenders like that?

"Yep," he answered. "It's me." He brushed a long, white forelock off his furry pink face with an equally furry paw-like hand. "I thought I'd had too much to drink at first, but I've been sober almost a week now, and I'm still pink."

Herbert nodded, his gaze bouncing across the room. He tried to identify people he knew among the muppet-like creatures that waited in the cheap plastic chairs, but it was no easy task. "They know what's going on yet?"

Jimmy shook his preternaturally large head, making the wisp of white hair wobble like a horse's mane. "Not yet."

Herbert headed for the door. "Come on then. Let's go to the diner. We might as well get some coffee while we wait." He scanned the room again, meeting set after set of strange eyes, oblong, slitted, and distorted. "I think the doc will be a while."

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Literary vs. Genre Fiction: Are We Still Arguing About This?

www.tomgauld.com
As a speculative fiction writer, I run into the literary vs. genre fiction divide often.

Literary sorts can be dismissive of spec fic, suggesting that it's "just entertainment" and doesn't "enrich the mind."

Genre fiction sorts can be dismissive of literary fiction, suggesting that it's "navel-gazing" or "boring" or "self-indulgent."

They're both right and they're both wrong.

The worst of genre fiction can lack depth (though sometimes, a lack of depth is just what I need: I'm all for a good escapist read from time to time) and the worst of literary fiction can be eye-rollingly self-important.

Luckily, I try to read the best of both instead.

When I introduce myself as a speculative fiction author, people are often surprised how "well read" I am. That's another term that gets on my nerves, as it places a judgment on the value of what people read, suggesting that some books make you "well read" and others--well, I guess the opposite would be "poorly read"?

I help run the First Monday Classic Book Club at my library with another speculative fiction writer, , and more than one attendee has been surprised to discover kinds of things we write.  James and I can talk with you about Les Miserables or Wolverine, whichever you'd prefer, or about how Jean Valjean and Logan share loner/hidden hero characteristics, as well as harboring secret physical gifts.
www.tomgauld.com
James Maxey

I was an English major, and my Master's degree is also in English. But, even before I started climbing that ivory tower, I was already a voracious reader.

I like to think of myself as omnivorous when it comes to books. I'll try reading anything. I wish more people would be a little more open to considering the value of other kinds of art.

I love comic books AND classic literature and this doesn't feel like a dichotomy to me.

Good story is good story. Compelling writing is compelling writing. A story about non-realistic things is just as likely to make me ponder deeply as one about realistic things. Maybe even more likely because it won't feel pedantic and un-artistically direct.

And *so much* classic and literary fiction plays with speculative elements. Isn't "magical realism" just literary speak for "speculative fiction"? Isn't Margaret Atwood, Guggenheim Fellowship and Booker Award winner, also a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the author of one of the best dystopian works ever written? (Handmaid's Tale). Didn't Jane Eyre have a gothic moment when she heard her love cry to her across the distance? Isn't Mary Shelley's Frankenstein read by genre and literary fiction fans?

Isn't it time we set this one aside folks? Different strokes for different folks and my preferred reads aren't better than yours. There's no objective scale for measuring these things, and if we're going by the test of time and seeing what endures? There's a lot of both kinds of literature still kicking after all these years.

Do you find you have biases against certain kinds of books? Or regard them as lower quality because of genre alone? Do you run into those attitudes in your reading circles? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

New Release! Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown

Look guys! New book!

One of the best parts of a writing life is the opportunity to try new things. I love writing something unlike anything I've written before. That's part of why I enjoy writing for anthologies. It's a chance to explore new styles, themes, and subject matter.

So when the fabulous Dave Higgins put out a call for this anthology, asking for stories about what scares clowns, I was intrigued. Though I enjoy reading and watching horror, I'd only tried my hand at it a couple of times.

The resulting story, "The Gleewoman of Preservation," played off a news story that circulated in North Carolina a year or two ago.

Mysterious clowns were spotted all around the state, hanging out in the woods near playgrounds. No one seemed sure what they were up to: trying to entice children, just standing there being creepy?

Whatever it was, it had the kids at my middle school all atwitter.

So, as I do for many a story, I began with "what if?" What if the clowns were there to protect people from something else?

The anthology releases this Friday, Friday the 13th, of course, during the same month that the new It movie released. So, if you can't get enough horror with clowns, I hope you'll check it out! Myself, I can't wait to see what the other authors came up with.

Here's a teaser for you, a bit of the beginning of "The Gleewoman of Preservation."


“CREEPY CLOWN HAUNTS LOCAL PLAYGROUND.” The headline screamed across the page in twenty point gothic font. Maggie snorted. This codswallop was news? Honestly! Across the breakfast table, her husband looked up from his phone. “What?”

Maggie turned her newspaper so he could view the lurid headline. “A little over the top, don’t you think?” 
Her husband reached for the paper and she let him take it, picking up her coffee and taking a sip. It was still a little too hot and burned her upper lip. She touched the sore place with her fingertip. Not too bad. It probably wouldn’t even redden that much. George always did make the coffee superheated. She joked it was because his heart was just that cold. This is what it took to defrost him. 
He was back on his phone now, apparently in an active chat. She sighed, wondering why she bothered to get out of bed to have breakfast with him anymore. It wasn’t like they talked. They might as well be two strangers on the bus. Maybe it would be better when he retired too here in a couple more years. Maybe it would be worse. Time would tell. 
Suddenly, George stood. “I’m going to have to go,” he said, shoving his arms through his suit-jacket sleeves. He knocked his phone onto the floor. 
Maggie glanced at the clock as she moved to pick it up for him. It was still only six-thirty. “So early?”
George took a gulp from his still steaming mug, unfazed by the tongue-searing heat. “Things are already on fire over there.” 
Maggie held out the phone, startled to see a group chat labeled “Gleemen.” The last message said, “EMERGENCY. Here. Now.” What was the man up to? 
 George pocketed the device, leaned over and gave her kiss on the cheek, lips still warm from the coffee. “Lunch today?”
Maggie nodded, pulling her bathrobe tight around her. 
As soon as George was out of the house, Maggie went to the bedroom and pulled on her retirement uniform of yoga pants and a voluminous blouse, ran a comb through her gray and brown mop of hair, and grabbed her purse. What in the world were Gleemen? 
Crackpot theories went through her head. She’d heard stories about women her age finding out they’d been living a lie all these years, that their husbands have secret lives they’ve known nothing about. Mistresses. Gay lovers. Shady business ventures. Dark hobbies. She had to know what George was doing. It was the surest way to shut down her hyperactive imagination…


Check out the anthology for the rest of my story, and the works of the other twelve authors. Happy Spooky Season!

PURCHASE LINKS:
Amazon 
MOBI: https://smarturl.it/DeadmanHumourKindle
Paperback: https://smarturl.it/DeadmanHumourPrint

Kobo
EPUB: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/deadman-humour

Barnes & Noble
EPUB: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadman-humour-dave-higgins/1133387783
Paperback: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadman-humour-david-r-higgins/1133395385

iBooks
EPUB: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1478619815

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

IWSG: Where Would I Write?



Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking.

If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

The awesome co-hosts for the September 4 posting of the IWSG are Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantiner!

And the question: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?
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Over the years, I have learned to write anywhere. I've written in moving cars (not while driving), on the Mom couch at krav maga lessons, standing in the kitchen, sitting in bed, and hiding in a bathroom, among other more comfortable places. I'm good at blocking at distraction, too--which matters when you're trying to fit your writing life in the edges of an already full life. 

That's not to say that's what I prefer. It's just what I've adapted to. 

A few times, though, I got spoiled by getting to go on a writing retreat. I've been to the mountains and the sea, with other writers I knew and with strangers. The most valuable part for me has always been the temporary dropping of all other responsibilities and being *only* a writer for a few days in a row. The location is secondary. I feel as though a retreat almost anywhere would work for me, though it does help if there's easy access to good walking and scenic views. 

The very best such experience I ever had was the Week of Quiet and Writing through RCWMS, an experience my husband found for me as a gift one year that still ranks as one of the most wonderful gifts I have ever received: basically you pay around $100 a night for a place to stay with walking distance beach and wetland access inclusive of meals! It may sound "churchy" but I'm not an outwardly religious person, and I felt comfortable and welcomed. 



It's not fancy…in fact it feels a bit monastic: a small, plain room with only basic furnishings (bed, desk chair, dresser) and simple dining hall meals at prescribed hours. Myself, I liked that, I found it focusing, narrowing my non-writing world for a few days. The very plain simplicity of it really helped shield me from distraction. 

Pelican House is a wonderful place for focus, and sitting in the cupola there, up the spiral staircase, with the window open so I could feel the sea air and hear the waves crashing while I wrote is my writing-related happy place. I'd write there every year if I could arrange it!

How about you, readers and visitors to my blog? Where would you go to invoke your muse for your own endeavors, given your druthers?