Wednesday, October 26, 2016

31 Spooky Things I Love

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It doesn't come with the baggage that the emotional family ones or religious ones come with. It has candy, costumes, and creepy stuff. Three of my favorite things. So, in celebration, here are thirty one things (one for each day of October) that please my ghoulish little heart. It'll be a media heavy list, because, well, I like media. In no particular order.

#1:  Wednesday Addams. In all her iterations. I *loved* the black and white television series. I loved Cristina Ricci's version of her in the movies. And I love Adult Wednesday Addams on YouTube. Wednesday Addams might be my spirit animal.

#2: Vincent Price. House of Wax and House on Haunted Hill have been two of my favorites (Hmmm, what is about houses and Vincent?). Then, later when he did the voice for the Thriller video when I was a teenager…and his part in Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price is the voice and face of that cheesy short of scary that is the fun kind.

#3 Living Dead dolls. My older daughter collected these when she was little and I loved the combination of chubby little girl cuteness with ghoulishness. Plus dolls are inherently creepy. Just ask Karen Black.

#4 The Walking Dead television series. I'm in season 6 right now. I know, I'm behind. The series makes good use of zombies to scare me, but it also knows that sometimes the real monsters are the other humans. Sometimes, I get so tense, I have to press pause and walk around before I can finish watching. That's some good TV.

#5 Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I re-watch at least part of this series every year. I'm back in Season One this year, and enjoying watching the dynamics of the Scoobies develop and, of course, the monsters. Cordelia is more interesting than I remembered.

#6: The Creature from the Black Lagoon has been a favorite monster movie of mine as long as I can remember. I probably watched in on late night television with my mother when I was a child. The parts filmed underwater always made me sympathize with the creature.

#7: Graveyards. Seriously, especially old ones. I haven't yet gotten to take a ghost tour in one, but it's on my list. Walking through a historic graveyard always give me a shiver and my imagination loves to make up stories there. It's an inspiring place.

#8: The Thing. 1982 version. Kurt Russell and those crazy slimy special effects. Fast moving
creatures on the floor that make me want to pull my feet up into the sofa, just in case there's one beneath it.

#9: Fog. Especially at twilight. Even better if there are unexpected headlights shining through it.

#10: Sweeney Todd. Not so much the recent movie. I mean, it was okay, but it left some of my favorite bits out, and Helena Bonham Carter is no Angela Lansbury, who sang the part on the CD I fell in love with in college. Talk about a tale of dark vengeance. "There's no place like London." Indeed.

#11: Zombieland. Because I like horror mixed with humor. Runner-up: Shaun of the Dead. Ask me again in an hour and I might flip flop those. Or pick An American Werewolf in London instead. All of them are really well done and play on a variety of emotions as you watch.

#12: Spiders. They fascinate me, and completely wig me out. At the same time.

#13: The Bad Seed. Creepy children always get to me. The sweet face cover cold evil gives me a shiver every time.

#14: When you wake up in the middle of the night and your daughter is standing next to the bed, looming over you half asleep herself, face glowing in lamplight. Yeah. Real children are creepy, too.

#15: Betrayal at House on the Hill. It's a board game. A really great one, where the players work cooperatively to try to survive the horrors a haunted house throws at you. There are still a lot of scenarios we haven't tried.

#16: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1978.  Good Lord, but this one creeps me out. The half-formed body of Jeff Goldblum in the bathhouse scene. Leonard Nimoy's gaslighting the people who feel like their husbands and wives have become someone else…and I'm pretty sure that was when he was still human.

#17: Jaws. I know this one isn't exactly a horror movie, in the traditional sense. But it sure scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kiddo. I didn't even want to take a bath by myself just in case of sharks.

#18: Poltergeist. This one doesn't hold up that well. I saw it again recently…and it didn't get under my skin the same way. But when I was a kid, I stayed up all night talking it through with my mother because I was so disturbed.

#19: Hitchhiker ghost stories. You know, the one where a guy picks up a girl and lends her his jacket, then finds it draped over a tombstone? I LOVE that one. In all its iterations.

#21: Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. Possibly the first gothic novel I ever read. And definitely feeding into my interest in scary children. Plus ghosts. And garden globes.

#22: The Cask of Amontillado or maybe The Tell-Tale Heart. Oooh. Or The House of Usher. The Masque of the Red Death. The Pit and the Pendulum. Dang, it's hard to pick. Edgar Allan Poe really knew the darkness.

#23: Gloom, the cardgame. You get a family--a weird one, like of circus freaks or misfits or misanthropes--and you're trying to kill them off by giving them the worst life possible. There's a lot of humor in the cards, and the fun part, IMHO is telling the story of Poor Angel, the Starry-Eyed Serial Killer who was pursued by poodles, written out of the will, and was driven to drink before she was finally devoured by weasels.

#24: Frankenstein. The original book, many of the movie versions, many of the times the story was retold as an episode of a TV show. I find mad scientists fascinating and compelling, so there's Victor, but Mary wrote such a sympathetic creature as well. It's a story that pulls at the heart from so many angles, and horrifies without showing much.

#25: Speaking of mad scientists: The Fly. The 1986 version. Hmmm . . .that puts Jeff on this list twice. But yeah, wonderful for the body horror of it. (Shudder)

#26: Jack-o-Lanterns. Thanks to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and just some very talented pumpkin carvers, I've seen a lot of good ones. They both make me smile and creep me out a bit.

#27: Night noises in an unfamiliar house, especially an old one. They're harder to explain away. Rational's got nothing to do with it.

#28: Stephen King and Joe Hill. I know! Two of them in one family. And they've both creeped me out muchly with their words. The Shining. Heart-Shaped Box. Pet Sematary. Locke and Key. When I was in middle school, I made the mistake of reading something of King's when I was alone at home. I had to sit at the top of the stairs with my back against the wall while I finished just in case something found me. I think it was Salem's Lot.

#29: Halloween lights. I'm especially fond of the purple and green ones. They're pretty, but also just a bit creepy.

#30: Dead flowers. They're just sad, all brown and crispy.

#31: The Univinted. A ghost story favorite. Or The Others. Or The Innocents. A Tale of Two Sisters. Oh heck, I can't pick. GHOSTS!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why I LIke the Dark

I was talking with someone recently. A colleague. A sunny sort of woman dressed in draping sparkly things. She's kind and intelligent and I like her quite a bit, but you wouldn't have to look further than our wardrobes to see that we don't have much in common. 

We were talking about books, as us reading-folk are likely to do. I'm a pretty eclectic reader, and I'll give almost any kind of book a shot, but Sparkle and I couldn't find a single title in common in our recently reads or TBR lists. 

You see, I like the dark. 

In real life, I try to stay in the sun, in the sense that I'm looking for the up-side, the silver lining, the half-full glass. 

But when I read, watch television or movies, write, draw, play video games, or even listen to music, I skew dark. I'm drawn to pessimistic characters, wounded birds with vengeful hearts. I'm not really interested in the happy, glossy stuff and I distrust completely happy endings. They feel false to me. 

Maybe it's like Papa Tolstoy said:

Maybe in spite of my can-do attitude and belief that hard work can get you out of almost anything, my deepest darkest heart takes, well, a darker view. Am I a cynic at the core? 

I'm not sure. I mean, I am a skeptic. But like Mulder, I want to believe. I don't think it's just morbid fascination. It's not that I like pain and suffering, even on the page. It's more like I value the coming out on the other side. The hard won truths. If it comes too easily, I doubt the value. 

I'd like to think it comes from personal high standards. I'm the type of person who pushes herself--looking for the crucible that transforms me into the best version of me. I want to be challenged, to prove myself. 

And I'm looking for stories that do that, too: test the limits of the heart, the body, the mind. Confrontation reveals the best of us (and sometimes the worst). The dark night of the soul of the hero's journey. 

Maybe that's it. I explore the darkness, the better to live in the light. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop: Guest, Mary Schmidt

Hi, I’m Samantha Bryant, author of the Menopausal Superheroes series, among other things, and I’m your host for this stop in the Hunt. For my regular readers, please note that this is a special guest post as part of the Virtual Fantasy Con Blog Hop.

If you would like to find out more about the Hunt, please click here -

Somewhere on this page is a hidden number. Collect all the numbers from all the authors’ posts, and then add them up. Once you’ve added all the numbers, and if I am your last author, please head to the official website and click on the ENTER HERE page to find the entry form. Only entries will the correct number will qualify to win.

The author I’m pleased to be hosting for Virtual FantasyCon’s Blog Hop Hunt today is Author Mary Schmidt

Hi I’m the author of “When Angels Fly”, and seven other books, and I’m your guest for this stop in the tour. My husband and I write under the pen names of S. Jackson and A. Raymond.

S. Jackson is a retired registered nurse; a member of the Catholic Church, and has taught kindergarten Catechism; she has worked in various capacities for The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, (son, Noah, is an Eagle Scout), and sponsored trips for high school children music. She loves all 49 forms of art but mostly focuses on the visual arts; as amateur photography, traditional, and graphic art (especially fantasy works and book cover) as her disabilities allow.

A Raymond is a member of the Catholic Church, and has helped his wife with The American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Cub and Boy Scouts, and sponsored children alongside his wife on music trips. He devotes his spare time to fishing, reading, playing poker, Jeeping, and travel adventures with his wife. Keep on reading until you find our give-a-way!

Our first book, ‘When Angels Fly’, is a touching memoir, and it is a memoir, survival fraught with tragedy that will hold your soul. In utter sadness, great hope and faith grows. This is the inspirational story about a woman who was able to rise above an extremely abusive childhood and later marriage, to learn faith, love, and motherhood from her own son’s courageous fight with cancer. It provides an illuminating example of how women who are in physically, mentally and emotionally abusive relationships can successfully escape even in the most challenging of times. It also warns of how the actions of medical professionals can be a soothing balm or a deadly arrow. The story draws the reader into the life of a mother and her wonderful little boy who is strong beyond his years and who leaves a lasting impression on all who knew him.


Excellent read. Tragic story of a woman and the abuse she suffered growing up and later in marriage. This book shows the struggles she faced while in an abusive marriage, losing two children, and one child's battle with cancer. She tells of hospital life while sitting by her son’s bed and having to be two hundred and thirty miles away from her other child. And how she finds true love and a man to love, cherish, help her through, and spend the rest of her life with. ~ Janese Base, RN, BSN
Tissues are a must. A true story about pain and suffering, life is not the same for anyone, and in this case it is so very tragic. A heart-warming story and I don't want to give anything away, but once you sit down to read it, you won't put it down. This is a must read book and a must share when you are done. I highly recommend When Angel Fly. ~ Susan Vance, Author, Eyes Like Mine

I was fortunate enough to be given this book as a gift, and I am so grateful to my friend for giving me this to read... it was truly inspiring. I can honestly say that no book that I have read in recent times has had the emotional impact on me that this book has had. I rode right alongside this mother from the first diagnosis of her child's illness, right through to the conclusion. Even before her child's illness, I had to keep asking myself; are there really parents out there who treat their children as horrifically as this woman's mother and her family had treated her? She went from an abused child, to a loveless marriage filled with physical, mental and sexual abuse, to losing her first child to a stillborn birth and then finally reaping the rewards with two beautiful young boys. Life was finally looking up for her before little Eli was struck down with cancer. We follow his journey, step by step as the young mother attempts to keep her sanity, split her time between one child in the hospital and one two hundred and fifty miles away. You can really feel her anguish and pain in every page. All the while, the very people who should have been helping to ease her burden; her mother, her siblings and her soon to be ex-husband were so busy plotting and planning on how they could benefit from this turn of events, she was left to struggle along with support only from some special friends.

This book is a harrowing read, make no mistake, but it is also incredibly rewarding. To anyone who has ever complained about how hard their life is - I say; read "When Angels Fly". To anyone who has ever said their life sucked - I say; read "When Angels Fly". When you have seen the courage, the fortitude and the immense challenges that this woman and her beautiful son faced you can't help but be uplifted and reminded just how much we all have to be grateful for.

This book reveals our indomitable human spirit in such a powerful and uplifting way. The book is in a large part a daily journal of Eli's time in hospital but I totally understand the need the author felt to document every day - every day with her son was so very precious. This book had a powerful impact on me as a reader. I was truly moved by and genuinely felt everything this poor woman had to endure... mostly alone. There was no way I could not give this book five stars. The memories of Sarah, Noah and Eli will live in my memory well after I've consigned this book to the "read" shelf. I feel privileged to have shared Sarah's harrowing journey. When Angels Fly does exactly what it sets out to do I believe - it reminds us that "There but for the grace of God, go I". I recommend this book to all.... it will make you cry, but it will also uplift you. Well done.
~ Grant Leishman, Author, The Second Coming

We have a picture book out which contains forty works of art from the M Schmidt Photography Gallery for others to enjoy. Mediums used include photography, traditional watercolor and oil paintings, as well as digital works and fantasy pieces mostly using bamboo, watercolor and/or ink stains. Please enjoy our selection of surreal works, which include fantasy, dark, sensual, and supernatural pieces.

We also use our real backyard squirrels, along with their funny antics, as inspiration for our visually creative comics, geared for young and old alike. We think that our funny squirrels mixed with old costumes and scrap art pieces will have readers laughing for a long time. Prop illustrations/graphics belong to our children and are used for educational purposes. One of our squirrel books is educational, and promotes all of the United States National Parks.

Lastly, we have an educational children’s book series in the works with two books published so far. The first, How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends, is about how one small dog, a baby squirrel and his mama squirrel become best friends. A baby squirrel is lost and found safely. This story book helps children to learn how to be safe when they are outside their home and illustrates that children always need to keep the adults in their lives aware of where they play and how to stay safe.

Review: “How a Dog and Two Squirrels Become Best Friends” was an enjoyable read from the first page. One would never think that a dog would not only befriend a squirrel but help him. I was reading with a smile on my face. I will certainly read this story to my grandchildren and buy as a gift for others. This would make a wonderful children's story for my church. Thank you for your efforts in making this a lovely book. The graphics are awesome..." Susan Vance, Author, Forever My Sister

Connect here: @MaryLSchmidt

Your chance to be chosen to receive one of five fantasy book covers / art pieces that I will give-a-way!!! I will post ten designs and five lucky winners will each receive a free one!!!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

#IWSG: How do you know your story is ready?

So, the prompt for this month's IWSG is right down the dark alley of my insecurities: How do you know your story is ready?

I have a history of mild overconfidence and it has definitely bitten me in the butt before--embarrassing me by having my work in front of people when it wasn't really ready. When the kind-hearted publisher or editor has to say something diplomatic like, "Maybe you should go through this manuscript one more time to clean up the inconsistencies."

Then again, constantly waffling and second-guessing yourself isn't going to "get 'er done" either. You can easily devote your entire life to a single piece that way.

So, like everything, it's finding a balance. Perfection is the enemy of the good. And if you want to make a career of writing, as I do, you have to finish things--and you can't take ten years per project either. We need something between slapdash and OCD. 

What's been working for me is a two-pronged tactic: utilizing first readers, and knowing when to put it down and walk away for a while.

When I'm writing something new, I LOVE it! I think it's the best thing ever…until I hit the first snag. Then I think it's all garbage. Un-rescuable. A stupid idea in the first place. 

Then, I find my way past the snag and I love it again…until I hit the next snag. But I've learned to persevere. That the most important thing about a draft is finishing it. Making it good is what second, third, and fourth drafts are for. 

My first readers (I use a few different groups of people, depending on what I'm doing, where I am, and how much time I have to get it write: online writer friends, real life critique group with a schedule, the husband and older daughter, etc.) are often there for me in the middle of that process. Helping me see the things that are good in something I might only be able to see the flaws in. Letting me bounce ideas off them or pissing me off by being right. I'm so lucky to have them!

The "walking away" advice is some of the best I've ever gotten. You don't do yourself any good banging your head against the wall. You do stupid things in that mindset, like deleting whole manuscripts or slashing and burning indiscriminately. So, when a piece of writing really isn't working for me, I put it down. I take a walk. I write something else (because I write every day… even on days that I can't make progress on my main project). I call my mom. I watch bad TV (it really helps: I know at least that my writing isn't *that* bad). 

So, how do I know when it's "ready"? 

I read it again after a pause of at least a few days…longer if the piece is really personal. If it still mostly feels good and right, it's time to stick a fork in it and call her done. If it doesn't, I'm usually calm and distant enough after that pause to be a little dispassionate and manage to throw out the nasty bath water without also losing the baby. 

If I can't find the problems for myself, I go to some of those first readers and see what they have to say. Often, it's not that they tell me what to do, but something in the conversation will be the click that puts the gears back on track and I get my A-ha! moment and fling myself back at the keyboard with gusto. 

I often wish writing was more like baking, where you could literally poke it with a toothpick and know that if it comes out clean, you're ready for primetime. But these are the best tests I've found. It's still a game I play by feel. 

What works for you? Whether it's writing or some other creative endeavor, how do you know when you're done? 
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.