Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Slowing Down for Snow Days

Time, it seems, has sped faster with each year of my life. Most days are so stuffed that at the end, I fall onto the sofa feeling like I've been run over. It gets to me after a while, even when the things my day is stuffed with are all pleasant and fun. 

I get frazzled and grumpy if I don't get to slow down, appreciate, and reflect often enough. 

Writing is good for that. It's a quiet, solo activity, reflective and thoughtful. But there are times when even that is not enough to reset my equilibrium. 

But, as I write this, I'm on my second snow day, with the possibility of yet another one coming. The timing couldn't be better. Thank you, Mother Nature! 

My house was well stocked with yummy things thanks to our Chanukah preparations. Our power
stayed on, so we could enjoy the full gamut of entertainment options we've gathered over the years. We had enough wood for fires and all four Bryants were already at home when the weather hit. 

As a group, the Bryants finished some lingering projects for school, cleaned up, caught up on laundry, baked, slept extra, played games, read, played in the snow, petted the dog and told him he's pretty, and just sat and talked beside a fire with cocoa. 

Even the husband who still had to work, because his work can be done from home, got to sleep later, avoid driving, eat warm food prepared with love, and enjoy better breaks during his day. 

We didn't run any errands, do any shopping (except maybe the clicky kind: online), visit anyone outside of walking distance, or attend any events. 

I'm glad the weather forced us into a little quiet time just as we needed it. All of us are the better for the lull. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

IWSG: Five Objects in Your Writing Space

It's the first Wednesday of the month which 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 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 December 5 posting of the IWSG are J.H. Moncrieff, Tonja Drecker , Patsy Collins, and Chrys Fey! Be sure to check out what they have to say, too!

December 5 question - What are five objects we'd find in your writing space?

So, I had to laugh when I saw the question this month because I literally just posted about making a writing space for myself LAST WEEK. I'm so excited about having a "room of my own" at long last! I totally don't mind talking about this some more.

Our house didn't really have an available space that I could claim solely for writing until the beginning of this school year, when the eldest left for college. Since then, I've been transforming the room that had been the youngest child's bedroom into an office for me.

It'll be a slow go. Remodeling takes time and money, two things I am perennially short on, since the two things I do for a living (teaching and writing) both pay rather poorly, at least in dollars.

But I am already using the space in its transitional phase and am thrilled to show you five objects from my writing space.

First, there are plants. I've never been particularly good at raising house plants, but I love having pieces of nature around me, so I'm trying to raise some house plants in my new space. I can breathe better when I'm among plants (literally and figuratively). They calm me with their silent beauty.

The room has a large window with good light and so far my three botanical guests are thriving. I have some purple Wandering Jew transplanted from my outdoor plant before the frost killed it. Since I'm vaguely Jewish myself, and a bit of a wanderer, this purple leaved beauty seemed a natural choice.

On her last visit, my mom got me a Christmas cactus. It's beautiful! And hard to kill, or so I'm told.

Lastly, I have a red begonia purchased from the kids in the gardening club at my middle school. Our science teacher is a wonder with plants and I get the benefit of that with inexpensive plants that our shared students have had a hand in. 

The view out the window right now is of a back yard full of fallen and falling leaves and winter-baring branches, so I've got a taste of Mother Nature out there, too. Sitting in here the other night when it was raining was an absolute joy.

Second, is Franklin. He's my compart-amus: a hippopotamus foot stool, with a hidden compartment.

He holds my tea on his flat back, my post-it notes and pens inside, and sometimes my poor achy feet at the end of the work day.

Occasionally my dog has been known to cuddle up to him, too.

I spotted him online and knew he was the right blend of useful and whimsical to make my office feel like my own space. Isn't he cute?

Next is my Irish shawl. I'm at that phase of life where my temperature gauge is unreliable. I go from hot to cold and back again in endless cycles that can make it hard to stay physically comfortable and focused on my words.

I'm a fan of shawls rather than jackets or sweaters. They are flexible, letting me cover whatever part of me might need covering at any given moment. They're beautiful and soft, making me feel feminine and glamorous even if I'm wearing my Punisher tee shirt and holey sweatpants underneath.

When I was earning my Master's from Bread Loaf School of English, I was fortunate in that I was able to spend a summer semester at Oxford. I admired shawls like this one, but didn't have the budget to buy one.

But my mom--champion of thrift and yard sale shopping--found one for me at an estate sale, which I have treasured and cuddled ever since. 

Fourth is my planning chart. After reading parts of the DIY-MFA book by Gabriela Pereira earlier this year, this lifelong pantser decided to try a kind of outlining.  (Gasp! Shock!)

Ms. Pereira calls this technique "scene cards." For each scene, you make a card (I used color coded post-it notes: orange for Kye'luh; green for Jason; and gold for Malcolm, my three POV characters; and pink ones for revision or other random thoughts I don't want to lose) and record four pieces of information for each scene/chapter:

  • a title for the scene
  • the major players
  • the action
  • the purpose (structurally)
I gave this a go at a summer writing retreat, making a descriptive outline of what I had already written by the seat of my pants, and using it to identify holes and make plans for the rest of the book. I was stuck big time, and I figured it couldn't hurt. 

It's really helping me visualize the work. And finally having a wall of my own that's not in the middle of family traffic is a delight because I can hang my chicken-scratch mess up and not feel bad about leaving an eyesore for others. 

Lastly:  my lamp. 

Another great thing about having my own writing space is having control over the light. 

I like soft, warm light, generally not blaring down on me from above. I get enough bright, painful lighting at school, thanks. 

This lamp is a creation of my Mom and Dad's. He wired the metal tropical fern sculpture for electricity and she affixed the Tiffany-esque light fixture atop, combining several of my favorite things into one unique piece to light my writing space and remind me of the love and support my family gives me in these endeavors.

So even though I still have remnants of the Disney princess border, an odd pink stripe that was left when I removed the moulding, ugly carpet that came with the house, and cutesy flowered wallpaper, the room already feels welcoming and right. I've found renewed productivity having my own space. 

What's in the space where you create? What do you wish you could have? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Making A Room of My Own

I officially have an office now, guys. Since September, the smallest bedroom, formerly inhabited by the youngest kid has been my office. It's not painted or furnished as I'd like yet, but it's a room that's mine. It's been a good sixteen years since I had a designated writing space and I'm so excited!

Ever since I realized that sending a kid off to college was going to make this possible, I've been plotting. Here's my kit of plans for the room:

I already have a few things. Some plants sitting on folding tables. I've got a great couple of oddball lamps (thanks, Mom!). I've purchased two things: the comic book spinner rack I bought early this year even though I didn't have a place for it yet and last month: my hippo stool.

My hippo foot stool is the bomb--his name is Franklin and since he has a compartment inside him, he's a compartamus.

Other things I'm making do with right now until time and money coincide to let me do better.

We removed the Disney princess banner that came with the house and pulled off the weird low-level moulding that I guess was meant to affect wainscoting. We removed the crappy old blinds and child-pleasing draperies, leaving me an open unadorned window that lets me watch fall leaves fall in my back yard. I'm using a futon and a chair coopted from other parts of the house for now.

It'll be a slow process, turning it into my own space, but I can already write in there and that's already so good for my head space! It's lovely to just leave the book I was reading open and not worry that it's in anyone's way. It's wonderful to stick planning documents to my walls! It's great to close the door!

Do you have a room of your own in your home? A designated space for your projects and creations? What's the best part of it? Or what do you dream of doing to make it perfect?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thankful for my Writing Life

I have dreamed of being a writer since I learned to read and figured out that someone WROTE that story I just read.

And while you can't yet find me on a NY Times Bestseller list, I've been beginning to make a living from my words, an experience that still makes me giddy inside each time I consider it. I *am* a writer, a real one by nearly anyone's definition. w00t!

So in this season of Thankfulness, here's a few things I am thankful for in my writing life.

1. The support of my family. Any creative endeavor takes time and energy, so it's important that those around you who also need your time and energy have your back. My husband, my daughters, my parents, my sister, my in-laws, my aunts and uncles and cousins, and even my dog allow me the space I need to create and have worked alongside me to make my events successful. They are proud of me, and help me do this as guilt free as a woman can be. I'm a very lucky girl.

2. The writing community. As I've found my path in writing and in selling my work, I've made a lot
Me with fellow Broads of Broad Universe
of friends and developed relationships with people who have mentored me, directly helped me, or just listened to me when I needed it.

Some are formalized relationships, through organizations like my critique group: WIP (Works in Progress), the Insecure Writer's Support Group, the Women's Fiction Writers Association, The Pen and Cape Society, and Broad Universe.

Some are just folks I met on panels or at events.

But most of the people I have encountered in this business have been kind, generous, and patient. More proof of how lucky I am.

3. A measure of success. Guys, people WHO DON'T EVEN KNOW ME have bought my books. Some of them even LIKED them. Once I even won an award.

That's such a boost. I mean, I would still write even if no one at all ever read my work. I need to tell the stories. Writing is how I process life.

But that feeling when someone else "gets" what you've done? It's one of the BEST THINGS EVER! (and getting paid? That's a relief!)

Someday I hope to be only a writer, instead of a writer with a day job and too little time, but in the meantime, I'm grateful for how far I've gotten and hopeful for the future. Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving for those who observe, and a great day to everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Guest Post: Kristen Brand: Superheroes as Metaphors

It's my pleasure to welcome Kristen Brand to my blog this week. Kristen writes superhero, too, and we've recently "met" on the internet. She's the author of Hero Status, a novel I'm 3/4 finished reading and that I'm really enjoying! If you enjoy my Menopausal Superhero books, I think you'd enjoy Kristen's work as well. 

Here's her guest post on Superheroes as Metaphors:


You’re running late for a date with the girl of your dreams. You’ve got errands to run, a demanding boss who won’t stop contacting you on the weekends, and to top it all off, the Vulture just started attacking Downtown, so you’d better put on your costume and swing over to stop him.

We’ve all been there, right?

Well, maybe not that last part, but most of us can probably related to being pulled in five different directions by vying responsibilities.

At a glance, superheroes don’t seem all that relatable, what with their incredible powers, idealized/sexualized bodies, and often otherworldly origins. It can be hard to see ourselves in billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, who sneaks out of charity fundraisers to don a cape and cowl and beat up murderous clowns. But many of us can sympathize with having a loved one hurt by violence and feeling the burning need to do something about it.

And I doubt anyone reading this grew up on Themyscira (though if you did, could you tell me how to get there?), but we may recognize that feeling of leaving home for the first time, filled with wonder at the outside world, only to realize it’s filled with some terrible people and can be just awful sometimes. (But we have to carry on and try to make it better anyway).

The X-Men are a metaphor for prejudice and discrimination. Captain America is the perfect vehicle to explore the dichotomy of loving one’s country while fighting to fix its problems. Ms. Marvel is so popular in part because of how the title uses superheroes to address a number of social issues. As decades come and go and culture shifts, superheroes have stood for any number of things.

But boil them down to their most basic concept, and superheroes are about making the world a better place. There’s something appealing about that idea, that if you were bitten by a radioactive spider or secretly had alien DNA, you could use your powers to help people and truly make a difference in the world. Because face it—the world could really use some help, and it would be nice if all problems could be solved by flying really fast and punching a masked villain in the face.

Every year, there are articles saying superheroes are on their way out, that the market is oversaturated and there are no new stories to tell. I’m sure that will be true someday. Nothing lasts forever, after all. But as long as the genre keeps addressing meaningful themes in a way that resonates with its audience, I think it’s here to stay. Superheroes are about a lot more than epic, city-destroying fights with villains.

Don’t get rid of the fight scenes, though. That’s the fun part. 
About the Author

Kristen Brand is a comic book fan and all-around geek. She writes novels with lots of action, witty banter, and a bit of romance. You can find out more about her work at, or check out her first novel, Hero Status, about a superhero who retired and married his arch-nemesis.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

IWSG: Evolution of Creativity

It's the first Wednesday of the month which 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 and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life. 

After you see what I have to say, be sure to check out the rest of the hope and our excellent co-hosts: Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor,Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman!

The November 7 question - How has your creativity in life evolved since you began writing?
I've been a writer since I learned how to write. Maybe even before that, because my drawings always had stories to go with them, even when I didn't know how to make letters yet. I was one of those kids that would make house guests grin tensely at my mother and say, "My, she certainly is creative, isn't she?" with a little nervous wobble in their voices. I guess not everyone was ready for gruesome ghost stories from a squeaky four year old. 

Luckily, my mom got it. She has a creative bent, too. And a leaning towards the weird and macabre. (like daughter, like mother?) She supported my endeavors, keeping me in paper, pens, bound books, and later in computers and printer ink. More importantly, she didn't try to tell me that my creations were inappropriate. I know now that I was very fortunate. A lot of young creatives don't meet with that same kind of support. 

My childhood creativity was half self-expression and half a desire to evoke a response from adults in my life. Whenever I felt strongly about something, you can bet I was going to write a firmly worded letter or a maudlin and melodramatic poem. If something I wrote got a gasp of surprise or a belly laugh, I'd feel like I'd won. 

As I grew into adulthood, writing became a coping mechanism. A lot of this was writing I would never show anyone, but writing that was really a kind of thinking and reflecting. 

Writing it out was cathartic, and helpful sometimes for organizing my wayward thoughts into a coherent understanding of my own feelings.  I still wrote all the time, but I wasn't seeking an audience for most of it. It was private. Almost a secret. 

I started lots of things and finished almost none. 

After a few years where I didn't write much at all (too much life in my way), I found my way back to writing while dealing with a bout of postpartum depression. Somewhere in there, I came full circle and writing became again what it had been for me as a child: half about self-expression and half about connecting with an audience. 

I think that's a long-winded way to say my creativity hasn't evolved at all. I just rediscovered what I once knew instinctively and claimed it again. Me and Pablo Picasso, huh? 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

#31 of 31 Days of Halloween: Writing Horror Flash Fiction

Today I'm playing along with a blog hop: The Storytime Blog Hop and finishing my 31 Days of Halloween. Participants are asked to post a speculative fiction story less than 1,000 words quarterly.

I've been writing horror and Halloween-themed flash fiction all month for Bliss Morgan's Nightmare Fuel, so here's one of my favorite stories of the thirty-one I wrote this month. If you'd like to see the other stories, you can view the collection at this link.  I enjoy writing these short horror pieces each October and I hope you'll enjoy reading!

Starving Artist

At first, she wove thin silken death for small foolish creatures, like the others of her kind. Subtle work, invisible unless you stood in right place. Intricate, delicate, effective.

It didn’t satisfy her. She wanted more. Something lasting.

She raged each time one of her creations was destroyed. She rebuilt over and over, until finally she decided it was time to move someplace more secluded.

She found an abandoned house and spun it throughout with masterpieces which hung glittering with condensation in morning light until the house glowed as if filled with gems. It made her heart full with delight for a while, but this too became not enough.

Wind blew through broken windows and snapped the edges, flinging her work aside. Frustrated, she fumed in cold silence, her heart turning chill with anger. Even here, alone, it was not enough.

Then she noticed the thick white ribbons of frost that streaked across a window. Inspiration. She sucked in great gasps of frigid air to fuel her. When she spun again, the strands were thick and soft and beautifully white. They glowed in moonlight and sun alike.

No insects disturbed their cold beauty, but hunger was nothing in the face of such creations. When she died, resting in the middle of a unbroken lattice of white snow, she had never been happier.

Be sure to check out the other stories in this blog hop. Happy Halloween Reading!

Snow White Tabloid Style, by Fannie Suto
The Halloween Dance, by Barbara Lund
Her Majesty, by Katharina Gerlach
Chris Bridges Posting Storytime Blog Hop.  Give her shout out and say Hello!
Black Moon, by Lauren M. Catherine
Poe's Heart, by J. Q. Rose
Hanks A Lot, by Joe Bouchard
In The Gray Lake, by Karen Lynn
The Right Honorable Brotherhood of Spirits, Poltergeists and Ghosts, by Vanessa Wells
Life of a Pumpkin, by Bill Bush
Why Should I?, by Gina Fabio
Reaper, by Juneta Key

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

#30 of 31 Days of Halloween: La Llorona

La Llorona is not a story I grew up with, but one I learned as an adult. She's a creature of Latin American folklore, a ghost or demon who preys on children who wander too far from home or on cheating men, depending on who is telling the story. She's a character in the traditional of The Woman in White, who is also a vengeful ghost seeking retribution for her wrongs or forgiveness for the wrongs she has done.

She's been gaining in popularity here in the United States, making an appearance on an excellent episode of the popular television series Supernatural

I love how these stories pull from many of my favorite ghost story elements. How ghosts can be remnants of powerful emotions, like vengeance, or how wandering as a ghost can be a punishment for wrongs, like filicide. Sometimes there's a phantom hitchhiker vibe to the stories, when the woman in white wanders the road, and might wreak horrible revenge on the man who picks her up.

There's a lot of meat to those stories and I end up being sympathetic both to the "monster" and to its victims, which is a place I like a horror story to take me.

Monday, October 29, 2018

#29 of 31 Days of Halloween: Werewolves

Of all of Halloween's creatures, my favorite is probably the werewolf. Cheesy or terrifying, I love the Jekyll and Hyde torment of a good werewolf character.

I don't remember when I didn't now about werewolves as a mythology, so I'm not sure who my first fictional werewolf was. Maybe Eddie Munster? Or Wolfie from the Groovy Ghoulies?

But An American Werewolf in London has remained a favorite film of mine since I first saw it as a teenager. It's the first thing I think of when I think of werewolves.

The special effects were amazing, but what really made it for me were the performances. When the two young men were frightened on the moors, I ran with them in my imagination. David Kessler's disbelief about what was happening to him and fear as he began to believe that maybe he wasn't "just" suffering delusions and hallucinations got me, too. It was also one of the first films I saw that combined the horrific with the comedic, which is a combination that still grabs me when I can find it.

As an old movie buff, I also love The Wolf Man. It's stilted at time, but oh-so-atmospheric and menacing at others. The 2010 update was equally flawed, but spot-on in some ways. I loved the family curse element of that story. Teen Wolf was a movie that I LOVED when I was younger, though I haven't seen it since and still haven't gotten around to watching the more recent TV series.

I loved Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was grossed out by the transformation portrayals in the first season of Hemlock Grove. Being Human (both versions) was fun, too, for the ways the bitten character tried to cope.

Got a favorite werewolf? Something I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

#28 of 31 Days of Halloween: Spooky Sounds

In so many spooky scenarios, it's the sounds that get you going, make you nervous and edgy. Footsteps echoing in empty spaces. Distant wolves howling. Tiny scritching sounds that might be rats trapped in the walls. Dripping liquid. Creaks and groans of old wood. Wind through dry leaves. Murmuring voices where you think no one is present.

Right up there with shadows, the right kinds of sounds can feed my imagination and let me build up a good case of the heebie jeebies. Combine spooky sounds with other atmospheric details like moonlight and fog and we've got ourselves a setting for a horror story.

One of the advantages movie and television have over print media is the ease with which they can convey sound. Literally, they can make you hear it. It's harder for writers, but when done well, sound can be a very effective way to build tension.

What kind of sounds make you nervous? Got a favorite horror moment when it was the sound that got you? I'd love to hear about in the comments.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

#27 of 31 Days of Halloween: Masks

What is it about masks? Whether they're sitting on tables, hanging on walls, or covering someone's face, they are so inherently creepy. Something about those frozen facsimiles of faces, whether they imitate life, or distort it.

At the Halloween store, I can creep myself out just by standing at the wall of masks for a while. My vision will trick me into thinking the expressions have changed. Sometimes especially on the rigid ones that totally can't change expression.

The Phantom of the Opera, Michael Myers, Darth Vader, Leatherface. So many scary characters have been made that much scarier by the omission of their faces.

Got a favorite scary mask character? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Friday, October 26, 2018

#26 of 31 Days of Halloween: Zombies

I didn't grow up on zombie movies like some folks did. My family didn't go in for Romero films and I was still only 14 when the first wave of Zombie films went by. If I had wanted to see them, my parents wouldn't have let me.

But when I re-met the man who would become my second husband, we went to see Dawn of the Dead, (2004) together.

I loved and hated it.

I remember in particular, being really creeped out by the idea of a zombie baby (a pregnant woman had been bitten and was in labor). I had my feet pulled up in the chair with me, I was so sure it was going to be terrifying. Then, the baby came, and it was a zombie. But it was still…cute. I was so relieved!

Since then, I've watched a lot of zombie movies and TV shows. They definitely can make a great catalyst for storytelling, putting characters in survival situations and given them the chance to reveal their true mettle. So many times the real monsters are still human.

Got a favorite zombie story? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

#25 of 31 Days of Halloween: Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson should be some kind of patron saint of Halloween. She wrote some of the horror stories that haunt me the most deeply. She's best known for her short story "The Lottery" which many a high school student read in their English classes, one of the few horror stories we were allowed in the curriculum alongside Edgar Allan Poe.

One of the scariest things about that story and many other of Jackson's works isn't the supernatural.  It's the people. The psychological torments we inflict on ourselves and on others. We Have Always Lived in the Castle has always been my favorite, but The Haunting of Hill House is a very close second.

It set the standard for Haunted House stories, with discord and distrust among the inhabitants, disagreement about what did and did not really happen, or what the probably causes might be. The atmosphere of long shadows, both of past events and of long windows shining with impossible light. No one knew that atmosphere like Shirley.

Who could forget that first paragraph (which is also the last):

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

The house itself is the main character of that novel, and that's true of the recent adaptation by Netflix as well, even though the story takes little else from the original text. It's like reading Hamlet or Macbeth, where you're not sure from one moment to the next if its madness or magic going on. There's room for both interpretations in every moment.

That ambiguity is the heart of gothic storytelling, and it beat in Shirley Jackson's chest full bore.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

#24 of 31 Days of Halloween: Classic Gothic Horror

I've been on a classic literature journey for the past four or five years, reading all those books I've always meant to read and hadn't gotten around to yet and participating in a First Monday Classics Book Club to meet up with other readers like me who enjoy a book with a bit of heft and gravitas.

Alongside works like War and Peace and The Grapes of Wrath, we've also read some classic works of speculative fiction. The Island of Dr. Moreau, Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Frankenstein. On my own, I've gone back for Dracula, The Turn of the Screw, The Castle of Otranto, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Haunting of Hill House.

Some of these stories I've known and loved for a long time even though I had never read them, because the stories are that ingrained in popular culture, television, and movies. Others I had read, but many years ago. Some are like embracing a long lost old friend.

I like the quiet, slower nature of some of these stories. how the horror takes a while to manifest and leaves the characters (and the reader) with room to doubt that supernatural elements are really at play. That self-doubt got more than one character into a tricky spot.

The new writing project that is tapping on my shoulder right now is a gothic romance. I think I'm set to pen a good one with all these classic tales bumping around in my imagination.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

#23 of 31 Days of Halloween: Daylight Ghost Stories

Traditionally, ghosts come out at night. Maybe they like the quiet, or they are just easier to see when the light is less glaring. But I like daylight ghosts, too. Visiting a lonely or abandoned place can feel just as haunted when the sun is shining as when the moonlight does.

That's the thought that struck me when I wrote my own daylight ghost story, "The Girl in the Pool." Why should ghosts only come out at night?

Today is release day and I'm happy to show off the collection here. I'm sharing the pages of this anthology with seven other authors:

If you're looking for a quick bit of scary to brighten your Halloween, I hope you're check out Off the Beaten Path 3. It's available in all the usual places :-)

Here's a teaser for you, (one of my favorite parts of my story, when Becky first appears):

There was a pool in the yard across the street, and I would sit on the swing that my step-dad had hung from the big tree in the yard for me, spinning around in a useless circle and watching the hot, Southern sun sparkling on the empty pool, wishing someone would invite me to go splash around in it.

The people who owned the pool were older, like someone’s grandparents. They kept the pool for their grandchildren, I guess, but the grandchildren weren’t there much. So, most of the time, that pretty blue water sparkled in the sun with no one to play in it.

Stephen wondered why they kept it uncovered when it was used so seldom. The old couple themselves never seemed to get in the water. But the old man was out there every morning, skimming the insects and leaves out of the water with a giant long-handled net that I found fascinating. That and the weird socks he wore. Mom said they were compression socks, meant to help with circulation. I thought they made his real legs look like fake ones. 
After two weeks or so, I had established a lonely pattern of cartoons until my mom kicked me out, then puttering around our yard until she called me in to eat. I was sitting out on the swing reading one of the fairy themed books I was so into that summer when someone called out to me. “Hey, kid!” I looked up. There was a little girl, maybe just a smidge older than me, leaning on the fence around the pool and looking at me. She smiled and waved when she saw me. “I’m Becky! Want to come swim with me?” 
Boy, did I! I ran and got my mom. She was unpacking yet more kitchen stuff. There was a lot to unpack, combining all of our stuff with all of Stephen’s stuff. It was taking a long time to figure out where to put it.

Still, Mom was happy to hear I’d had an invitation, and took a break to help me find the right things. A few minutes later, I was wearing my swimsuit and carrying a towel and we were crossing the street together. Mom knocked on the door. When a tall, slender woman with tall white hair answered, Mom explained that we were the new neighbors from across the street. “My daughter said that Becky invited her over,” Mom said. “Would it be okay if she came over and swam with her?” 
“Becky?” The woman’s voice sounded strangely full of emotion. “Definitely! Please! Come in!”

Monday, October 22, 2018

#22 of 31 Days of Halloween: Shadows

When you have a good imagination, shadows can be dangerous. Your mind can turn them into monsters, serial killers, demons, and any number of other lethal things. Even if its really just the ironing board you didn't put away or your own dog.

Creators of horror have noticed of course, and movies, television, and art make great use of the shadow, both for comedic and horrific effect.

One of my favorites is the shadow of Nosferatu from the movie of the same name. The guy is creepy enough when you're looking straight at him, but in shadow, it's somehow worse. He's larger. Exaggerated. And somehow fluid. None of this bodes well for the watcher.

I have a teeshirt that pokes fun at this image, with Nosferatu chasing the oblivious Shaggy and Scooby of Scooby Doo fame up the stairwell.

Batman knows the power of a looming shadow too. Hence the cape and cowl.

Or how about those stories where the shadow is separate of the person? (almost as scary as a reflection that moves independently).

Hmmmm…now I'm not sure if it's better or worse to sleep with a nightlight. After all, light makes shadows.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

#21 of 31 Days of Halloween: Jump Scares

Once my sister and I went to see a terrible monster movie together. It was SOOOOO predictable that it wasn't even scary. But you know what? I still jumped for every jump scare. It's why I'm not allowed to hold the popcorn anymore.

My favorite kind of jump scare? The fake out. The one where it turns out to be a cat and the character turns away, relieved only to then immediately face the actual scary bad thing!

It works on me every time, even though I know its coming. It's an adrenaline laced reaction that is immediately followed by laughter, either at the movie or at myself. A beautiful combination.

Here's a great supercut of some good cat-scares:

Saturday, October 20, 2018

#20 of 31 Days of Halloween: Urban Legends

I didn't know what urban legends were the first time I heard one. It was at a slumber party and I really thought my friend knew a guy who had picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to the be a ghost. Well, I was skeptical that he had told my friend the truth, but I believed there was a guy who had told her the story, at least. I was a gullible kid.

By the time I heard about the hook-handed maniac who stalked Lover's Lane, I knew that the claim of direct connection to the story was a lie, but it was too late. I was "hooked." (Ha! See what I did there?)

Now, I love urban legends the same way I love fairytales. I collect versions and notice variations with joy. Like the hitchhiker version where he lends the girl/ghost his jacket and finds it later draped over her grave? Hand over heart: I *love* that telling. Romantic AND creepy.

I like the nonprofessional telling, where someone claims to have heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend.  Even when you've heard it before, it's fun to shout the punchline/jump scare together: Humans can lick too! or The calls are coming from inside the house! 

Creepy Pasta has picked up the mantle of this kind of storytelling and lots of YouTube channels follow legends of Slender Man or other creatures that haunt our imaginations.

Do you have a favorite urban legend? I'd love to hear about in the comments.

Friday, October 19, 2018

#19 of 31 Days of Halloween: Moonlight

The moon is an essential part of Halloween imagery. Whether its just glowing brightly in an ebony sky, providing the backdrop for a silhouetted witch or bat, or glowing softly through a foggy cloud cover, the moon shines over the holiday and gives it the light we need to see the darkness by.

The diffuse, natural light is the heart of romance and also of horror, making hearts and ghosts glow alike. And Halloween is all about loving horror :-) We won't get a full moon for Halloween this year. The internet tells me that the next one won't be until 2020, but I know it will light my path to spooky joy in just a few more days all the same.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

#18 of 31 Days of Halloween: Vincent Price

Who knew that the young man who began in character roles like Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert, and the Duke of Clarence and played The Saint on the radio would someday be known as the "Master of Menace."

I admire his non-horror work (Laura is one of my favorite movies), but he was cemented as that spooky guy I love for me when I was a child. I used to watch his films with my mother every October: House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, The Fly and of course all the Poe adaptations. I remember explaining to my friends who that guy was who did the scary voice for Michael Jackson's Thriller and my own thrill when he reappeared in Edward Scissorhands.

He had just the right mix of gravitas and camp, truly capturing the spirit of this season for me.

Any other fans out there? Which of his films is your favorite?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#17 of 31 Days of Halloween: Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is an author I can enjoy all year round, but the rest of the world joins in with me at this time of year, and it's nice to have company. Even people who aren't otherwise particularly literary will quote the opening stanza of The Raven in their best Vincent Price voice:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Besides the Raven, there's also all the creep-tastic fiction. My personal favorite is The Cask of Amontillado, but The Tell-Tale Heart runs a close second. When I taught American literature or general literature courses, I'd always work in a little Poe at this time of year. The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum. So much macabre goodness. 

I also enjoy the lore of the man himself. The questionable circumstances of his death make for some great imagining, too.  In fact, his ghost is said to haunt more than one place. Apparently, it's not enough that he haunts us with his words years beyond his demise; he has to become an actual phantom as well. 

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the few authors that remains universally popular when assigned in the classroom. There's nothing like being TOLD to read something to take the joy out of it, but The Masque of the Red Death is chilling even when your teacher goes overboard on color symbolism. 

Got a favorite Poe story or poem? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#16 of 31 Days of Halloween: Baby Costumes

Babies don't get to choose their costumes, but some parents can't resist dressing them up. I *love* babies in costume. Our own daughters had their turns being pumpkins, teddy bears, and tiny fairy tale characters before they started to have their own opinions about what to dress as.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Little Pumpkins

I love all the varieties of tiny pumpkins. Easy, comfortable and cute as heck.

I also love the clever pairings: parent-child costumes: 

Cute, scary or funny? 

Monday, October 15, 2018

#15 of 31 Days of Halloween: A Nightmare Before Christmas

Most of the iconic faces of Halloween have been around a good long time. Pointed witches hats. Square jawed-noduled Frankenstein monsters. Caped vampires. It's a season that's truly about oldies that are goodies.

But there is one iconic figure of Halloween who's a little newer. Jack Skellington was created in 1993, when his film The Nightmare Before Christmas debuted.

Now you can buy decorations of him in any Halloween store alongside your ghosties and non-clothes-wearing skeletons.

He fits right in of course, being from Halloween town. He's our bone-thin hero, who is taken by a mad whimsy and has to remember who he really is.

The film is memorable for its quirky animation, mixture of creepy themes with sweet romance, and, of course, the songs. 

We've got a blow up of Jack's head for our front lawn this season, and a statue of Zero who hangs out on our sofa, freaking out our living dog. I think Jack would approve.