This was my first excursion into the work and world of Wednesday Lee Friday and I’m not going to lie: I’m impressed. Creepy, Stabby, and Mentally Odd is a collection of short stories, poetry, and other dark content that shows off Wednesday Lee Friday’s creative muscle to great advantage – she seamlessly soars from story to story, tense to tense, person to person, and terror to terror, trapping the reader in a delicious, dark (and sometimes funny) world that’s hard to walk away from. There’s a lot to love here and I couldn’t choose my favorite part of it if I had to.
In Growlers we get a macabre glimpse at the dark side of the fast food industry that takes unexpected turns that end up as terrifying as they are socially relevant. To Die Beautiful is so rhythmically and beautifully written that you’ll almost forget you’re seeing life through the eyes of a woman scorned in the worst way … almost. Trabajando Alegre proves that there are far worse things than being broke and unemployed, and Jetplane warns of the dangers of putting all your eggs into one basket. And that’s just the tip of the blood-covered icepick …
It isn’t often you come across a horror author whose work contains as much entertainment value as it does depth, and when you find one, they keep you coming back. You’ll come back to Creepy, Stabby, and Mentally Odd again and again. Not just for the stories but for the poetry and for Stig and the Puppetman (you’ll have to get the book to learn more about that, though – let’s just call it a pleasant surprise).
There’s some truly beautiful stuff here. You won’t just be entertained by this collection – you’ll learn from it. I did. A highly-recommended, very enthusiastic, full five stars.
Choosing my ten favorite paranormal novels is like walking through a candy store and trying to choose only a few favorite pieces. I discovered the paranormal and horror genres at a young age, and instantly fell in love, submerging myself in everything from Stephen King movies (Carrie was my favorite when I was a kid) and any ghost stories I could get my hands on. By the time I was ten, I was pretty well-versed in the ways of the weird, and while I appreciate just about anything with a paranormal bent, there are a few classic books that really stand up. Below are the top ten paranormal novels that shaped who I am as reader as well as a writer.
1. Violin by Anne Rice
I put this novel at number one on just about every top-ten list, and here’s why: This story changed me; it reached inside of me and rearranged deep things. This is more than a ghost story – it’s a human story and it’s as dark and doleful as it is healing and hopeful. Violin follows a ghost named Stefan who travels to modern-day New Orleans in search of release from his own torment, and while reading this stunningly well-written emotional roller-coaster, I fell in love with Anne Rice. I cringed, I cried. I laughed, I loved. But most of all, I just kept reading and reading and reading. This book gave me no other choice.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Long considered the daddy of all horror novels, Dracula has more than earned its place among my favorites. This novel, perhaps more than any other, is not only the reason I write what I write, but the reason I write at all. I tried reading this book when I was only eight years old, and though it was way over my head, those images of the Count climbing up the castle walls never left me. Nor did the very atmospheric carriage ride – the fog, the moors, the howling of the wolves – that Jonathan Harker took on his way to said castle. And when I returned to the book as an adult, I found it just as riveting, just as powerful.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Beautifully-written and well-told, The Picture of Dorian Gray has a way of creeping into the dark corners of your mind and lying dormant there for years. Then, when you least expect it, this dark little tale of vanity and self-obsession rears its beautiful but tragic head to remind you of its existence within you. I only wish this book could have gone on much longer than it did.
4. It by Stephen King
When people think of Stephen King’s It, they immediately think of creepy clowns … and while there is plenty of that to be had in this book, I can’t help feeling that most people are missing the point. It is a story about childhood and coming of age. It’s about bonds and those rare lifelong relationships we all crave. And perhaps above all else, it is – of course – about fear. But it’s not interested in your garden-variety creepy-crawlies – this book is about all fear, every fear … and most of all, it’s about your fear – and that’s what made it the kind of book I simply couldn’t put down … and I really wanted to. At over 1,000 pages, that sucker is heavy!
5. The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Welcome to the creepiest old brownstone in New York. When an emotionally troubled fashion model – she’s attempted suicide, a big no-no for Catholics – moves in, she is beset by nightmares and troubled by the elderly, blind Catholic priest who sits vigil in the window of the top floor. Her new neighbors are supremely weird, and when she asks the realtor about them, she’s shocked to be told that only she and the reclusive priest live there. As she and her boyfriend delve into the mystery, everything escalates – including encounters from the phantom neighbors. The Sentinel is one of the creepiest, most disturbing books I’ve ever read – there’s even a nod to it in my new novel, Sleep Savannah Sleep. The movie is dated yet still nearly as effective as the novel. Both will give you nightmares.
6. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
A contemporary Southern gothic, The House Next Door revolves around neighbors to a brand new home designed so well that it seems to grow organically from the earth. Everyone who moves in suffers misfortune or death – the house itself is a psychic vampire and more. It’s especially intriguing because the main character, neighbor Col Kennedy is a little too snobbish to be likable, yet draws you in as she begins to truly understand the horror that sits next door. Anne Rivers Siddons is not a horror author, but a writer of southern fiction. However, her grasp of the inherent evil makes her as terrifying as King, Saul, or Straub. Try Fox’s Earth if you want to meet a psychopath that is at least as horrific as anything Stephen King has ever created.
7. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Expectant mother Rosemary Woodhouse is thrilled about the upcoming birth of her child, but her neighbors are a little too interested in her pregnancy, insisting she use a certain doctor, take certain herbs, and drink foul-tasting concoctions. Who could argue with sweet little old lady, Minnie Castevet? As Rosemary’s suspicions and rebelliousness grow, her husband, Guy, becomes darker and stranger. The novel is one of creeping terror that builds and builds until all you can do is be glad the novel is short – there is no way you can put this one down until you’ve finished the very last page.
8. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Catholic or an atheist, The Exorcist will frighten you … unless you’re also a sociopath. In the book (and movie), the real world is bright and shiny. Movie star mom Chris MacNeil and beloved daughter, Regan, take a house in Georgetown while Chris is making a movie. Then Regan finds a Ouija board and things begin happening. At first, they think they have rats, but they have so much more. Atheist Chris is forced to look to Catholic priest Damien Karras for help when science fails her daughter. The Exorcist is possibly the single most frightening novel written in modern American history.
9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
While not exactly paranormal – at least not in the obvious in-your-face sense of the term – Rebecca remains one of my all-time favorites. It’s about the ghosts of the past, and one woman’s desperate quest to exist outside of the very tall shadow cast by Rebecca, the woman who came before her. Rebecca exudes the quiet, subtle kind of horror that raises the tiny hairs on the nape of your neck – just a little – and compels you to keep reading not only because of its smooth-as-warm-butter style, but because of what may or may not be waiting for you around the next corner and on the next page. And when it comes to payoff, Rebecca delivers. Boy, does she deliver …
10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“Whose hand was I holding?” is possibly the most frightening line in literary history. The Haunting of Hill House oozes and creeps and crawls with fear on every perfectly-written page. Hill House frightens without spilling a drop of blood. It’s psychological and supernatural terror at its best, partly because Eleanor Vance is an unreliable witness. Is she imagining things or isn’t she? Jackson’s finely drawn characters want to believe Eleanor is somehow responsible for the terror – it makes it more palatable to them – and that makes for interpersonal behavior that’s almost as frightening as the hand-holding, breathing doors, thunderous pounding sounds, and cold spots. Personally, I don’t think Eleanor is causing any of it beyond being there to help bring the house to life.
In honor of the June 13th release of The Black Wasp (book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series), here’s a review of book 1, The Crimson Corset, from FaerieFits:
“I honestly had no idea what to expect when I picked up The Crimson Corset. I don’t actually even know how I found it, but you know, it showed up on my Kindle and who wouldn’t be curious about a book with a cover of a woman wearing a bright red corset? Especially when the series is clearly about vampires? (Turns out that the corset’s ribbing is made out of bones of its owner’s own mother; how creepy is that?!)
So anyway, it took me about 5 pages to realize that I LOVE THIS BOOK!
Some context: I was reading this out loud to my daughter (don’t judge; a 7 week old isn’t going to understand what I’m reading to her, just that she’s hearing me). Ease of articulating was super important!
The Crimson Corset is punny. Oh, how I love puns! There’s nothing better than starting a book off with a few good puns. Characters that bring some puns to the table are just so much more enjoyable than characters who are boring. Obviously.
I mean, right off the bat we get to observe a conversation between Cade,=, one of the main characters and his fern named Fernando! (Get it? Yeah, totally took me two thirds of the book to catch the pun) Cade also later named his cat Sir Purrcival. I mean, the punny in The Crimson Corset was spectacular.
And it’s not just puns. Even through the worst of the goings-on (see next section), Cade and the other characters still kept a sense of humor. Dry humor. Some of which may have involved holy water water guns leaking in pants. (But no, seriously)
The Crimson Corset is filled with graphic, detailed, gory imagery The Crimson Corsettotally starts off light-hearted and fun. By the time I started to get a sense of the plot, I was definitely expecting it to be quick, fun read. But man, it gets dark! (YAY!) There’s sex (I mean, the title involves a corset; what did you expect?), violence, violent sex. Complete and utter brainwashing by way of vampiric venom. Psycho murderous blood-hungry cross-dressing children.
You know, the works.
(Yeah, maybe not the best choice of books to read aloud to my daughter.)
Plus, the descriptions were just plain … well, good. They were powerful, and even though I’m not one to really care about knowing exactly what a character looks like, I LOVED Cross’ descriptions. They conveyed so much more than just appearance. Personality came across, as did insanity, where appropriate. It really made the experiences feel almost relatable.
The Crimson Corset adds a unique flavor to a common theme Ok, this book is totally (at least partially) about vampires who kill humans against vampires who don’t kill humans. Totally cliche, right? But it felt unique and fun in a horrifying oh-dear-god-is-that-really-happening kind of way. There are enough fresh ideas to keep me from feeling bored.
And honestly, the “bad” vampires were so interesting (read: graphically horrifying and very consistently motivated) that I didn’t really care that this is a common/overused theme.
The Crimson Corset is easily the best vampire-dedicated book I’ve read. Ever. And that’s saying something. Since, you know, I went through that phase. And, you know, I totally still read an awful lot of vampire books.” This review was originally posted on FaerieFits(less)
Marian Rolfe desperately wants to spend the sunny season away from the city, and the summer rental she finds advertised is everything she’s looking for. Her husband, Ben, is initially against it, but she eventually talks him into it. After giving the place a look and meeting its very odd owners, Marian and Ben eventually agree to take it … and right away, it becomes obvious that things aren’t what they seem. When the house begins to regenerate itself – and the Rolfe family’s expense – the summer getaway quickly turns into a nightmare.
I heard that this book was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining, and having just read the final page, I can totally see it. Spooky, atmospheric, and at times, downright terrifying, Burnt Offerings had a little of everything I liked: interesting characters, ghostly visitations, and, of course, an old mysterious house – one that, in this case, seems to have the ability to influence its inhabitants.
Given the many books and movies this novel has inspired, it stands to reason that this story wasn’t as fresh now as it must have been when it came out in the 1970s. But when you take its age and the reach of its influence into account, Burnt Offerings stands up as one of the creepiest and most interesting haunted house tales out there. With all the gothic subtlety of its genre, this novel will crawl under your skin and nest there. Of nightmares, there will be plenty.
Crouching behind a Dumpster near the mouth of the street, Scythe watched one of the women. She was beautiful, Asian, with startling electric blue eyes, and even from here, he could smell her. The bouquet of perfume, female skin, and human blood nearly pushed him over the edge. Her looks didn’t hurt either. She was as tiny and appetizing as an hors d’oeuvre, with braids like a Swiss girl on a box of cocoa, and presently, she stood just under the lemon-pale light of a streetlamp, looking – probably deliberately – like anyone’s idea of the typical hooker.
Another prostitute appeared, this one male, and the two began chatting. Straining to hear, Scythe caught their conversation – they were talking about someone named Rachel who sounded to Scythe like some kind of she-pimp. He also caught both of their names. The male was called Danny and the female was Suzi.
Suzi. Suzi. It tasted like honey on Scythe’s tongue. Of course, by now he was starving in more ways than one and the very air of Scarlet Street seemed to throb with sex and drip with blood. He could smell everything the street had to offer now, down to the uneasiness of the prostitutes and the heady lust of their johns, to the sweat of the couples rutting in the darkened rooms of the buildings.
His fangs were loaded and his hunger sharp, but he couldn’t risk it. He was too smart to leave a trail of bodies for Gretchen to follow. He’d come too far to fuck up now. He started walking, this time heading away from Scarlet Street, away from the people. Human blood was too tempting now. He’d have to go back to the wilderness and find himself a big fat bunny, or maybe, if he was lucky, a coyote – but he had to keep off humans if he wanted to stay off Gretchen’s radar.
Then he needed to find a safe place to stay.
The Black Wasp, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, is coming June 13th. The first two books in the series are available now:
THE BLACK WASP, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, is coming June 13th!
Something is coming …
As he grieves the death of his girlfriend at the fangs of his own brother, Cade Colter attracts the attention of a group of fanatical vampire killers. His life is in turmoil and just when it seems things couldn’t get any worse, a new evil comes to town.
The Woman in Black is back …
Now, something else roams the streets of Crimson Cove – something far deadlier than any vampire. She comes with the fog, she comes with the night, and she’s spreading a lethal poison that slowly rots her victims from the inside out … and she’s looking for Cade.
Sooner or later, you’ll see her, too …
First comes the deadly low hum of a thousand black wasps … Then a feeling of dread so deep and cold that you dare not breathe…
A figure, a woman dressed in old-fashioned widow’s weeds, appears before you …
Don’t Scream …
She wants to know your terror. She wants to taste your pain.
Thorne & Cross sit down with longtime author, editor, and publisher, Margaret Lucke, to discuss writing and publishing in today’s climate.
In episode 1: Things to Avoid, Margaret discusses some of the pitfalls of writing and things she sees as an editor that will keep a manuscript from being accepted by a publisher. Listen in at Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre
One thing I’m frequently asked is whether I write an outline for my books, or just fly by the seat of my pants. The short answer is: both. The long answer is a little more complicated.
In my experience there are two types of writers: plot-driven writers and character-driven writers. Whereas the strength of plot-driven writers mainly lies in constructing plot, a character-driven writer is more focused on the development of the people populating the story. I’m the latter – and as a character-driven writer, it’s very difficult for me to make my characters do what I want them to do. They have a way of coming to life and taking over the story, which is wonderful … except when I have specific plans for my plot.
This is where creating outlines can become a problem for me. After all, why bother making plans when you know they’re just going to change anyway? And I’ve tried forcing my characters to stay within the confines of my outline … believe me, that doesn’t work, either. The story just … stops. The only thing I know to do is to let the characters tell the story as they see fit – so I’ve learned not to bother creating detailed, scene-by-scene, moment-to-moment outlines.
But I also don’t sit down and start writing with complete abandon and no direction. That doesn’t work, either. Without some kind of structure, I run the risk of writing myself into a corner. I know because it’s happened many, many times.
The solution? I do create an outline … but it’s a very simple one that allows plenty of room for movement. In short, I make sure I know the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story – and for the sake of making room for unexpected twists and turns at the hands of my very undisciplined characters, I like to have two and sometimes three possible endings. I make little notes along the way – things I want to make sure I don’t forget about … and once I have all that, then I can sit down and write, knowing that regardless of what my characters decide to do, I won’t end up in some corner I can’t write myself out of.
I’ve learned to trust my characters. We respect each other. I give them their freedom, and in return, they tell me some really great stories. I couldn’t plan the comedies, tragedies, dramas, and horrors that they live out on the page. Strange as it is to say, they’re much more creative than I am. I love that about them. Like good actors, they just need a little direction. A little direction.
That said, the writing process is different for every writer. It took me too long to find my own way of doing things; unfortunately, I took a lot of the wrong advice from other writers and lost a lot of time. So be careful whose advice you take – even mine. Do what works for you. This is just what works for me.
Check out our interview with Nathan Foss on Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre. Nathan is a voice and film actor, and book narrator of our thriller, The Witches of Ravencrest, available now at Audible.com
It’s official! The Black Wasp, book 3 of the Vampires of Crimson Cove series will be released on June 13th! The eBook version will hit first, followed by the paperback shortly afterward. Then will come the audiobook version – but not before the audio release of book 2, The Silver Dagger, which is on its way!
More about The Black Wasp:
Something is coming.
Cade Colter is dealing with a group of fanatical vampire killers even as he grieves the death of his girlfriend at the fangs of his own brother. His life is in turmoil and just when it seems things couldn’t get worse a new evil comes to town.
The Woman in Black is back.
Now, something else roams the streets of Crimson Cove – something far deadlier than any vampire. She comes with the fog, she comes with the night, and she’s spreading a lethal poison that slowly rots her victims from the inside out … and she’s looking for Cade.
Sooner or later, you’ll see her, too.
First comes the deadly low hum of a thousand black wasps …
Then a feeling of dread so deep and cold that you dare not breathe …
A figure, a woman dressed in old-fashioned widow’s weeds, appears before you …
She wants to know your terror. She wants to taste your pain.
While there are no definitive rules about how writers should present themselves, there are some things we’ve learned along the way about what works – and what doesn’t. My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I have seen and heard a lot of things in our combined 40 years of experience in the writing industry that have caused many a writer unnecessary and avoidable problems.
Given the vast amount of advice floating around out there, our first recommendation is to be careful whose advice you take. That said, here are our top 10 observations about proper writer’s etiquette.
“Be Now What You Wish to Become”
This was the motto we both lived by from the very beginning of our careers. Being newly-published – or not-yet published – makes no difference. If you want to be treated like a professional, if you want your work to be taken seriously, one of the most important things you can do is believe in yourself. If you treat your work like a hobby, so will everyone else.
Do Not Argue With Reviewers
Nothing screams, “I’m an amateur!” like getting online and arguing with readers and reviewers who dislike your work. As a writer, you’re going to receive bad reviews – it’s just part of the gig. Not everyone will enjoy your work, and not everyone has to. If you feel you must read your reviews at all, we think it’s imperative that you refrain from fighting with negative reviewers lest you be perceived as childish and petty.
Allow readers their opinions, even if you don’t like them. And never take one-star reviews seriously.
Never Pay for Reviews
We all raise a brow when a book we’ve never heard of has 12,700 five star reviews – we all know it’s bogus. In short, paying for reviews (or otherwise dishonestly earning them) shows. Professionals avoid these things.
Please Don’t Whine
Are you having marital problems? Can’t make your mortgage payment this month? Caught your husband in bed with the babysitter? Have hayfever? These things happen, but when an author spends too much time bemoaning various trials on Facebook and Twitter, the personal life tends to overshadow the work.
People forget you’re an author at all and begin tuning in for the sole purpose of seeing what new drama has befallen you. Authors are human, and they should be allowed to behave as such, but they should keep in mind that not all attention is good attention. Your reading audience does not need to know about your polyps.
Don’t Argue About Your Books
For good or ill, readers will read all sorts of things into your work that you didn’t intend. Some things will delight you, others will horrify you, and a few will make your eyes roll. Once you release your book, it belongs to the readers. Let them think whatever they want. It’s their right. Sure, you can explain your meanings in blogs or interviews, but again, don’t argue with a reader. It’s not professional.
Don’t Denigrate Your Work
False modesty or showing your insecurities by telling people you think your work wasn’t the best is no way to inspire readers to pick up your book. If you don’t think your novel is any good, why would anyone else want to read it? Conversely, don’t brag about your book too much. Say you’re happy with your work, say you enjoyed writing it. But don’t compare yourself to Stephen King. That’s just obnoxious.
Don’t Be Owned
If you haven’t yet picked up a crazed “fan,” don’t worry – you will. Crazed “fans” come in all shapes and sizes and degrees of crazy.
Keep writing, and Annie Wilkes-like readers will crop up … and while most of them won’t necessarily hobble you and force you to write your masterpiece under their watchful evil eye, they all have one thing in common: They think it’s the writer’s job to write for them. To please them.
These folks feel entitled to you. They expect special treatment – treatment you don’t have time for because you’re writing. Some of them think they’re entitled to your time. Others believe they have the right to be given free books or other fringe benefits. Entitlement comes in many, many forms, but it all comes down to ownership. And authors are not pets – they should never allow themselves to be owned.
Let No One Confuse You With Your Books
It can get very ugly. Loving your work is very different from loving you. Tamara once had a fan follow her home from a book signing and knock on her door. He thought they were meant-to-be because they lived in the same neighborhood. But that was stalking. And this leads to our next tip.
Don’t Reveal Too Much Personal Information on Social Media or to People You Don’t Know
Giving away too much personal information on social media has backfired on many a writer. You don’t need to tell people where you live, who your relatives are, and where you’ll be hanging out Saturday night. No one is entitled to any information you aren’t comfortable giving out. We recommend exercising a good amount of caution when doling out personal information online.
A book we live by and recommend to all, authors or not, is The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker. Buy it, study it, reread it now and then. It’s gospel and will help you understand why and how your intuition works. But also know that ninety-eight percent of your fans are awesome. They’re buying your books and spreading the word. Treat them right.
Write a Good Book
Make sure your book is the best it can be by producing a well-researched, well-edited, and well-written novel. Your real fans and readers deserve nothing less. Respect them by giving them your best. Anything less simply isn’t professional.
With the release of The Black Wasp, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove looming ever closer, I thought I’d write a little about the book that came before it, book 2, The Silver Dagger,which leads directly into The Black Wasp.
The Silver Dagger was, if nothing else, a testament that some books want to be written right now, regardless of the author’s plans. When I finished The Crimson Corset(book one in the series) I knew I’d eventually go back and continue the story of Cade Colter and his vampiric archenemy, Gretchen VanTreese – but I had one more unrelated book that I wanted to write before plunging back into that world. So, fool that I was, I merrily began my other project, setting aside all thoughts of Crimson Cove and its quirky, undead inhabitants. I had a plan, you see…
But some plans just aren’t meant to be, and if I were cannier, I would have realized sooner that the continuing tale of Cade and Gretchen was ready to be told – and now. The trouble was that I really, really wanted to finish this book first; I was very excited about the idea and was sure I was on the right track. It still didn’t occur to me that, as the author, I didn’t have complete say in the stories I told, and the order in which I told them – but for every page I painstakingly completed on my new project, I was besieged by the voices of the characters in the Crimson Cove books. I tried to silence them by jotting down what they told me, telling them I’d get to them soon enough.
This did nothing to keep them quiet.
Not only that but, exciting as my current story had promised to be, every time I sat down to write it, an interesting thing happened: Nothing. Or close to it, anyway. I just could not get the voices of these new characters down – and no matter how badly an author might want to tell a certain story, if the characters’ aren’t talking, that simply isn’t going to happen.
But still, I pressed on, continuing in this vein, all the while congratulating myself on my self-discipline and stick-to-it-ive-ness, purposefully ignoring the fact that weeks – and then months – were passing by and my progress was next to nothing. But I wasn’t going to let that get me down. I just kept gritting my teeth and forcing out every word of my new story – and pretending I didn’t hear the voices of those other characters in that other book.
It wasn’t until I hit the six-month mark that I took a good honest look at my progress. Usually, the first draft of a book can easily be written in that time, and yet I was less than a quarter into it. I realized that at this rate, this book would take years to write. Worse still, when I read back what I had written, it wasn’t very good. The characters were blurry, their motivations unrealistic, and the plot itself was going nowhere.
And yet, I realized, the book I’d pushed into the background, The Silver Dagger, had all but entirely worked itself out in my subconscious.
So, without further delay (and no regret) I tossed the new book aside and threw myself into The Silver Dagger. It came hard, fast, and easily – naturally – and that’s when I finally realized that I’d tapped the wrong vein, that I’d been in the wrong story all along. I didn’t even know that was possible, but I’m glad it happened because I learned from the experience.
I learned that, despite common-sense thinking, I’m not really in charge of the stories I tell – as bizarre as that may sound. Also, I learned that I can’t force a story that isn’t ready to be told any more than I can hold back one that is ready. Most of all, I learned that writing is much more mysterious than I thought, that there’s another power at work there – one that I don’t understand and, I suppose, I don’t need to understand – but it’s a power that knows better than I which stories are ready to be told.
Most important of all, I learned to trust this process – whatever it is – and that has made my life, and my writing, much, much easier.
The Black Wasp, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, is coming in mid-June
Vampires hiding in mobile homes. Sentient vehicles with attitude. Characters haunted by ghosts, real or imagined. People tormented by addictions, supernatural powers, even their own sense of right and wrong. Folks fighting inner and outer demons alike, facing corruption by greed or some other deadly sin. Even alien shit-weasels burrowing into the darkest recesses of the human, er … condition.
But always, characters shining through as they fight the odds to overcome adversity. These are the inhabitants of Stephen King’s landscape.
He shows us the very best and the very worst of human nature, and everything in between. He’s the master of character. This is because, first and foremost, King understands human nature. We’re compelled by his powerful characterizations; even in the smallest role, a King character shines with personality. We know who he or she is and will remember them a hundred pages later when they make another brief appearance. With a few deft words, King imprints his vision in our brains, and for that, we’re forever grateful. We’ve learned – and continue to learn – from him. King writes long and that’s because his characters come to life and take over. We relish each extra detail, each side story, because they’re all about people, about human nature. Whether we identify with a character or revile one, we know them and, in King’s capable hands, we understand even those most foreign to us.
When my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, was writing her novel, THE SORORITY, she found herself in the mind of a cheerleader – a good girl full of school spirit. Understanding the motivations of a serial killer was simple in comparison. She turned to King and reread THE STAND thinking his character, Frannie Goldsmith, might teach her something about the kind of female she never understood or cared for. Somehow, King eventually did make Frannie understandable – and even likable. It was a lesson well learned and did much to get Tamara into the mind of that most alien of creatures – the cheerleader.
I also frequently turn to King when I’m writing. When penning THE CRIMSON CORSET, I needed to put a new twist on the undead – not all of them, I was certain, live in castles or Gothic mansions in Transylvania. SALEM’S LOT, with its middle-America trailer-park vampires, shed fresh light on the genre and opened up intriguing new possibilities. Rereading that book gave me what I needed to break with tradition whenever and however he chose.
And, of course, as well as learning from the King, we read him for the fun – and the fear – of it. And oh, boy does King know how to scare. It’s rare that either of us reads anything that sets the gooseflesh racing over our skin, but there’s just something about the villains of Stephen King, about the horrific way he describes them, that gets right into our heads and nests there. King pulls no punches and he’s not afraid to tell it like it is.
For us, and so many other writers, Stephen King is a teacher as well as an entertainer, a … ahem, Shining beacon of inspiration by which all else is measured, a Joyland chock-full of Needful Things to be enjoyed and Carried with us during all Different Seasons. There is no Dark Half of Stephen King, no Dead Zone, and certainly no Misery. We hope you’ll excuse our Desperation to take a Stand about his work and what It means to us. The point is, it’s not a Long Walk to pleasure when it comes to the King.
He has the courage to experiment, to take risks in his writing. He refuses to be fettered by others’ expectations, but follows his instincts and examines that which fascinates him – and thus draws us into his world where we travel happily.
We love Stephen King unabashedly and without apology. Even his less-than-stellar books make for better reading than most, and we consider him to be one of the all-time greats, no matter the genre. We’ll take him over “literary” authors any old day of the week and twice on Sundays.
I got my second COVID-19 vaccine today … and I’m proud of it. I realize that getting vaccinated is basically as controversial as not getting vaccinated at this point, but I don’t care. I’ve long accepted that no matter what you choose to do, you’ll incite the ire of someone for one reason or another – and I don’t care.
I don’t care if anyone makes fun of me for “living in fear of COVID” or “giving in to the man,” or … whatever it is they think. Nor do I care if they presume to understand my views of the world or my political affiliations because of my choice to be vaccinated. That this virus (and now its treatment) was politicized in the first place is, in my opinion, not only the height of social irresponsibility but of human stupidity, and I don’t have any respect for those who subscribe to the conspiracy theories surrounding it.
I didn’t do it for them, anyway. I did it for those close to me with medical conditions who might not survive catching the virus (and I happen to be very close to some folks who most definitely would not survive.) I did it for those who would survive it but might suffer lingering or even permanent effects (and plenty of them exist, regardless of what your news stations of choice might be telling you.)
I did it because I believe it’s the right thing to do. I’ll take my one in one million chance of getting blood clots as a result, and given that we all know I’m far more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke at the hands of the fast food industry, I feel confident in my decision.
Eternity by Tamara Thorne is available in audiobook at Audible.com!
Eternity features Sheriff Zach Tully, who is now getting his very own series, so this is a great place to start.
Welcome To Eternity … A Little Bit Of Hell On Earth
Eternity, California, is the sort of charming spot tourists flock to every summer and leave every fall when the heavy snows render it an isolated ghost town. Tourists and New Agers all talk about the strange energy coming from Eternity’s greatest attraction: a mountain called Icehouse. But the locals talk about something else.
The seemingly quiet town has been haunted by strange deaths, grisly murders, unspeakable mutilations, all the work of a serial killer who some say is the same serial killer for over a century. Now as the first snow starts to fall, terror grips Eternity as an undying evil begins its hunt once again…
In honor a Mother’s Day – here’s a little about the Thorne & Cross thriller, Mother ... and writing thrillers in general …
Thrillers are a little different from mystery and a little different from horror. Though all these genres tend to blend and merge to varying degrees, writing them – and reading them – is a slightly difference experience.
Generally speaking, the mystery novel’s goal is to solve a crime while thrillers seek to prevent it, but never having been big on following rules and regulations, my collaborator Tamara Thorne and I fiendishly merged these standards together for our thriller, Mother. We eagerly thrust our protagonists, expectant couple Claire and Jason Holbrook, into the hotbed of an already deadly situation; by the time they arrive at the scene, many unsolved crimes have already commenced. Unbeknownst to them, of course, the greatest offense has yet to be committed, and it’s up to them (with the help of some eccentric neighbors and a couple of reluctant priests) to prevent it from happening.
As well as mystery and suspense, Mother also incorporates strong elements of horror and black comedy – but at its core, this is definitely a thriller. That being said, there are a few things we’ve learned along the way that we believe not only apply to the thriller genre, but all genres.
The most important thing, we believe, is to keep the readers reading. No one wants to trudge through page after page of information to get to the good stuff, nor should they have to, so the first thing we focus our attention on is the opening scene.
The opening scene is a tough one because it should have enough action to excite and enough information to intrigue while still retaining its mystery; it should make promises of more to come. This requires walking a thin line, indeed. In Mother, we began at the end of the original “crime” – which becomes the driving force that propels our protagonists.
The protagonists are very important … and therefore, often the most difficult to write. While side characters can often get away with being one-dimensional, the main characters need a few more layers. It’s important that they be likable, but not boring. They should have weaknesses and strengths, triumphs and failures, and plenty of psychological complexity. And though they might do what they believe is right, they must make mistakes. If every character made the right choice at every turn, there would be a major shortage of damn good stories out there.
And having a damn good story is everything in this business. There are only so many themes in literature which have been recycled over the centuries, and it’s important to know what yours is. Are you writing a story about death and rebirth? A quest for higher understanding? An attempt to restore order and normalcy? A crusade to make the world a better place, or – as it is in Mother – a slaying of the dragon to reassert independence? Whatever your theme, know it and know it well, and make sure your characters go through hell to deliver it to the reader.
No one likes a story about people who coast through life, and this is why it’s important to put your characters through hell. Bestow upon them unimaginable grief and unspeakable horrors, and just when you feel like any further affliction will surely shatter your beloved character into a thousand pieces, double up on the damage. We want to see them struggle. We want to see them writhe and scramble and strive. Of course, we want to see them triumph, too … but not until the end … and sometimes not even then. But above all, we want to see them change – and grow.
Creating characters that change and grow as a result of their trials and tribulations is imperative. Think of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge goes through a night of torture that brings him face-to-face with the demons of his past, the misery of his present, and the horror of his future. By morning, he’s a changed man … and we love it.
We love it because it teaches us something about being human … and teaching the readers is perhaps the trickiest thing of all; fiction readers generally want to be entertained, not taught. Yet, if a writer is smooth enough to educate without hindering the flow of the plot, the story resonates with readers on a deeper, more meaningful level. But good authors do not take advantage of their readers and use their attention as an opportunity to sermonize or push opinions. In Mother, our “lesson” was simple: The real monsters are not necessarily strangers – often, they’re the people you trust and love, the people you look at every day. Our goal was to get this point across through the story, not by wagging our finger at the reader and lecturing.
There are a million ways to tell a story and an endless list of do’s and dont’s, but no matter how you go about it, one thing is certain: Readers want to be thrilled. Whether by means of terror and dread or by the promise of justice, they want to be ensnared by a story that compels them to keep turning pages. And writing a thriller that really thrills is the best way to make that happen.
I’m saddened to hear about the passing of actress and 80s video vixen, Tawny Kitaen. I was always a huge fan of Witchboard, not to mention those awesome Whitesnake videos. Rest in peace. Read the article here.
“Kitaen was born Julie Kitaen in San Diego, California in 1961, the daughter of Linda Kitaen (née Taylor), a housewife and one-time beauty pageant participant, and Terry Kitaen, an employee of a neon sign company. She was Jewish. Kitaen began using the nickname “Tawny” at the age of 12 on her own initiative. At the age of 14, with backstage passes after a Peter Frampton concert at Balboa Stadium, Kitaen witnessed the VIP treatment afforded to Frampton’s girlfriend Penny and aspired to achieve it for herself.
“… On May 7, 2021, Kitaen died at her Newport Beach home at the age of 59.Her death was confirmed to The New York Times by her daughter Wynter Finley, who told the paper that the cause of death was not immediately known.”
Every writer has their problem area, some part of the plot that just gives them fits. It’s usually what’s infamously known as the “sagging middle,” but for me, it’s the beginning. Always. Not the entire first act, just the opening scenes – especially that first one.
I’ve accepted that when I’m beginning a new book, a few false starts is just part of my process. It takes me a minute to find my balance – to get the plot moving while revealing enough about the characters to get emotional buy-in from the reader. And this starts with treating your characters like real people. As a writer, I think it’s important to remember that your characters have lived their entire lives up to the point at which you begin their story. In other words, you can’t introduce them in a way that feels like they just now came into existence; the reader should feel like they’re hopping on a train that’s been going full-speed long before they opened the book. And this applies to stand-alones as well as when you’re writing a series, as I am now.
A few weeks ago, The Black Wasp went to the editors and I didn’t want to wait to get started on the next one. It picks up immediately where the last one leaves off, so I wanted to keep things moving while I was still in the zone. Simple enough, you’d think, but even so, I’m two false starts into it already and am just now finding my footing. For me, starting the next book always feels like some aggravating dream where I’m trying to find my room in a hotel with no room numbers on the doors. I head down the long, nondescript hallway and start trying my key until I find the lock it fits.
I’m finally at the right door now. I know because the characters are fully alive and the story is moving (not to mention that warm buzz of bone-deep deliciousness I believe every writer feels when they know they’ve just struck gold.)
So “TMR,” book 4 of The Vampires of Crimson Cove series, is officially in full-swing now. Because The Black Wasp hasn’t even been released yet, I obviously can’t say much about TMR … except that I’m very excited about it. I’ve been trying to move this series into a certain direction for a while now – one that will open things up and allow new possibilities that will keep things fresh and exciting – and it’s with this book that I’m finally setting my feet onto that fertile ground. This is the place I’ve been trying to get to and I can’t wait to find out where it goes from here.
That said, book 3, The Black Wasp, is in the final stages of revision, which means an official release date is imminent. I shall keep you apprised …
I’m a cat person. I just seem to have been born that way. Some of my first memories are of the family cat, a big gray tabby named Tiger. I wanted desperately to win his affection and can vividly remember inflicting upon him kisses, hugs, and vast quantities of unsolicited loves. As you might imagine, this did little to impress him. My sister, who was older than me – and therefore gentler – was Tiger’s favorite, but I loved him anyway. I just love cats. I always have.
When I first started writing at about the age of eight, I even put cats in my stories. Lots of them. In fact, my tales most often revolved around unmanageably large casts of talking cats, so it wasn’t too surprising that when I got published many years later, cats began showing up in my novels.
Enter Sir Purrcival, star (or so he likes to believe) of the Vampires of Crimson Cove series. He makes his first appearance in book one, The Crimson Corset,when Cade Colter and his older brother Brooks are out for a jog in the woods behind their cabin. I didn’t plan to put a cat in the book, he just kind of showed up, and I’m glad he did – later, Purrcy’s presence helps bring things together so that Cade and company can confront the bad guys.
I described Purrcy as a chubby tuxedo cat with golden-green eyes, and I had no idea that a couple years later, I would meet him in the real world. I was looking for a friend for Pawpurrazzi, the female tortie who showed up at my house a few months before and decided we belonged together. Pawpurrazzi is a very affectionate and friendly cat and I thought she might like some feline company – so I began checking out the local Humane Societies. I didn’t have to look far. I found him at the first place I stopped. He looked just like the Purrcy from The Crimson Corset and I knew right away that’s who I’d name him after (of course, I don’t tell him that. I tell him that the fictional Purrcy is named after him, not the other way around.)
I soon found out I’m not the only writer besotted by felines. Not only do the vast majority of my writer friends own cats, but apparently, cats and writers have a long history together. Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman are all said to be cat lovers. Not to mention Dickens, Twain, Burroughs, Hemingway, Chandler, Capote, Churchill, Plath, and Poe, all of whom famously claimed a deep appreciation of their feline familiars.
From Kerouac to King, cats seem to be a writer thing, and I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s not as if they help the writing process. Ask any author who owns cats and they’ll tell you how Muffin or Fluffy or Jezebel just loves to nap right on the keyboard.
Or maybe cats do help writers write in some mysterious way. Maybe there’s more to them than meets the eye. Maybe the ancient Egyptians were onto something, after all …
If nothing else, they provide excellent distraction. When Tamara and I are writing together on Skype, our kitties love nothing more than when we turn on our cameras so they can see and talk to each other. It gives us a nice excuse to spend a few minutes relaxing between chapters.
Gretchen VanTreese is back – and more furious than ever.
If you’ve read The Silver Dagger (book 2 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series) you know she went through some, er, hard times and lost a little of her mojo for a while there, but in The Black Wasp, she’s back to her old undead self again … and then some. As you can see in the image below (artwork by Stefan Ellis) she’s even rebuilding her little army of beautiful human blood (and sex) slaves.
But the inevitable wreckage of Gretchen’s rage is just one of many disasters that go down in The Black Wasp. Here there be murder, dark magick, mysterious women in black, and of course, flesh-eating, soul-corroding poisonous black wasps … but I can’t say any more about that for now. You’ll have to wait until the book drops, which happens in mid-June. The exact date is still pending but as soon as I have it, I’ll be spreading the word!
As of today, you can get Tamara Thorne’s cheerleader-centric horror/comedy, The Sorority in audiobook at Audible.com. The Sorority is read by the inimitable Caroline Kiley – who also narrated Tamara’s classic, Haunted. I asked Tamara to tell you guys a little more about The Sorority and here’s what she had to say about it:
“My mother planted the seeds of The Sorority with her tales of a drowned town. She’d lived in a mountain village as a girl and the residents moved north so that the original town could be flooded as part of a new reservoir. She watched the town drown with fascination.
Then, years later, on their honeymoon, my parents visited the lake and went swimming. My mom got spooked when she saw the tall pines beneath her and got out, but my father went deep and swam around the old church steeple.
I dragged this tale out of my mother over and over again through the years. And it gave birth to The Sorority’s Applehead Lake.
The Sorority is an odd book. It’s often silly, as any book featuring cheerleaders ought to be, but it also deals with nature elementals and ghosts, and harbors loads of thinly disguised Arthurian lore. The primary ghost is named Holly Gayle. There’s something about a stone in the hilt of a sword … There are football players named Arthur and Lance Lake. We learn about Sir Gwaine’s Green Knight (and greenjacks) via Professor Dan S. McCobb’s folklore class.
Eve, Merilynn, and Samantha, our three heroines, are joining the cheerleader-heavy Gamma Eta Pi Sorority. They should know better … but they have their reasons and because of that, they will experience frights and horrors, along with feminine hygiene spells and cult rituals that will make your short and curlies clutch their pearls and run screaming.
The sorority president, Malory Thomas, was once the bane of King Arthur’s existence, and she’s here to cause … (drumroll)… More Dread among the good guys. Featured on the cover, is her Veep and familiar, Brittany. (She’s not Sarah Michelle Gellar, even though she looks like her, and she has a thing for peanuts you wouldn’t believe.)
Reading the Audible version is the fabulous Caroline Kiley, who also voiced Haunted. When you hear her read flashbacks to our heroines’ childhood days at Applehead Cheerleading Camp, she’ll make you laugh. When you hear her voice Malory, you’ll get the creeping willies, and when when you hear her do her rendition of peanut-munching Brittany, you’ll crack up.
That’s all, except for Alistair’s favorite quote from The Sorority:”
Poetry has always been an emotional and creative outlet for me. It allows me to express all kinds of things about my life and the world I live in without actually giving away anything too terribly personal. As a rule, I don’t like explaining the meaning of my poems because I want the reader to be able to interpret in his or her own way. What I’ll say about this poem, though, is that it’s truly one of my favorites. Connemara Eyes was written about someone who meant – and still means – a lot to me. Most of it was written in a tiny little room in someone else’s house, and originally, it was very, very long (I probably cut about a dozen stanzas that either ended up in other poems or on the “cutting room floor.”)
Anyway, it really was October and every time I got stumped, I just looked out the window at the frost and the turning leaves for inspiration. The air has an entirely different quality in October, and it seemed to me that subject of this poem really was the embodiment of that season.
Here is an oral reading from Mike Davidson – an excellent poet you can learn more about below. Thank you, Mike, the for the great reading. You can find more of my poetry in the collection, The Book of Strange Persuasions.
About Mike Davidson
Mike Davidson is a writer and poet from Kansas City, MO. Starting in his youth he utilized language to overcome a speech impediment; wielding polysyllabic vocabulary to paint the concepts of love, loss, and awakening onto his canvass. His words are described as powerful, inspiring, and familiar to heart; able to move the soul through pen and paper. He believes that cradling both agony and passion allows others to view the extremes of life in an entirely new way; as a collective, not it’s individual parts. Mike has been featured in publications from Impspired, 300 South Media Group, and Open Skies. His debut self-publication The Arsonist’s Manifesto released in 2020.
A while back, my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I spent five nights documenting the phenomena inside – and outside – of an allegedly haunted cabin tucked deep in the woods in Gold Country. This being my first paranormal investigation, I was happy to be joining someone with Tamara’s experience, but I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect much. I’ve always tried to keep an open mind, and in truth, I’ve even experienced a few things I can’t exactly explain … but I wouldn’t say I was a firm believer in anything supernatural. That said, this trip to the haunted cabin definitely changed my mind about some things. Tamara and I came away with great new story ideas – and some new ideas about the paranormal.
Now, not only can you read about our experiences in Five Nights in a Haunted Cabin, but you can listen to the whole thing, night by night, at Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre – read by Jamison Walker and Caroline Kiley:
Naive and heart-stoppingly handsome, he calls himself Alejandro, and Madison O’Riley has no clue what to do with him. As they set out to recover his lost identity, Madison realizes the mysterious man who saved her life harbors deep, otherworldly secrets that will put her in grave danger.
The Devil is in the Details
Gremory Jones has something for everyone, and for a price, he’s willing to make a deal. Walking the streets in top hat and trench coat, he tempts the citizens with mysterious wares from his shiny black briefcase. But buyer beware: All sales are final – and fatal.
A Scorching New Terror Has Come to Town
The townspeople are changing in appalling ways and it’s up to Madison – with the help of a psychic, a local priest, and the new chief of police – to help Alejandro unlock his forgotten powers before an unspeakable evil tears apart the fabric of existence … and costs them their very souls …
Of all the books Tamara and I have written together, none have taken longer, been more complicated, or evolved over time as much as Spite House, the one we’re writing now.
We had a plot — we weren’t writing blind — but it kept shooting off in all sorts of directions and as much as we enjoyed this, we realized something was wrong. With the book nearly completed, we reread it yet again and made some final tweaks and thought we were golden until a couple of seemingly minor questions raised their warty little heads again. Like always.
Well, we scratched and talked and tried to figure out what was wrong. Everything was falling into place… But it wasn’t. Why not? We’ve never run into a problem like that before.
Then it came to us out of the blue: We realized one of the characters wasn’t able to perform as wanted. We given that person every opportunity to have a grand old time and run away with the story, but they wouldn’t do it… They couldn’t do it.
It was the wrong character! Once we realized that, we gave the role to someone else; a character psychologically capable of doing the things required to make the plot work. We’re now in what we feel is the final version of the book thanks to the new character.
We look forward to sharing more when Spite House is published later this year.
The Thorne and Cross thriller, The Witches of Ravencrest, is the latest to come to audiobook and to celebrate, we’re sharing our recipe for Gothic horror. But first … a little about the book …
Narrated by film and voice actor, Nathan Foss,The Witches of Ravencrest is book 2 of The Ravencrest Saga, preceded by The Ghosts of Ravencrest(also now available at Audible.com) and followed by book 3, Exorcism – which is on its way to audiobook as I write this.
But wait … there’s more …
As of today, Shadowland, book 4 in The Ravencrest Saga, is complete – as in, we literally finished it today! – and it, too, will be available in all formats, including audiobook, very soon.
On a more personal note, The Ravencrest Saga is the first thing Tamara and I began writing together. It was this series that proved to us that not only were we compatible collaborators, but that we complimented each other as writers. We love this series and foresee no end to it – probably because it has everything in it that we love … which leads us to our Gothic Recipe for Horror …
Thorne & Cross’ Gothic Recipe for Horror
3 cups mystery 2 cups ghosts 1 cup romance ½ cup miscellaneous monstrosities All the witches you want A whiff of zombies 3 bleeding nuns A half a cup of looming shadows 2 candelabra, with candles A pinch of hysteria A dollop of sex A few drops of blood
Sprinkle with a few demented harlequins, stir in an abundance of twisted family history, then mix all of it together in an old spooky mansion on a hill. Add an unsuspecting governess and a mysterious, handsome millionaire, and you’re on your way to creating a good solid gothic. That’s how we did it, anyway.
Gothic novels are all about atmosphere, and to achieve a perfect dish, you can’t just mix these things willy-nilly and expect them to come out gourmet-quality. A good chef – or writer – must use a deft hand to achieve the perfect flavor. First, you need strong characters, proper pacing, and a damned good story – then you stir in the eerie gothic atmosphere.
If you don’t mix your ingredients properly – or if you get creative and don’t carefully consider your extra additions, your cake – or book – may fall flat. Too much – or too little – of anything can ruin what you’re trying to create.
For example, if you add shadows to a sunny day, you must place them in the proper spot to achieve the eerie flavor you desire. Shadows under a tree in summer probably won’t work – unless the tree is situated correctly – perhaps in a lonely cemetery. What accents should you add? A freshly dug grave nearby? A mysterious mist hovering just inside the glass door of a nearby family mausoleum? Wilted flowers on a grave? Or are they fresh but sprinkled with blood? Or, did the flowers mysteriously appear when you turned your back? All these variations provide mystery. Who – or what – brought the flowers? Why is there mist hovering in a mausoleum on a warm sunny day? Is someone lurking? A human? A ghost? And what are their intentions? Your answers will affect just how atmospheric your story is.
Consider the definition of Gothic from dictionary.com: 7. noting or pertaining to a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay.
This very definition screams for an old and spooky residence. For us, it’s a sprawling manor house built centuries ago in England. Already steeped in dark history, Ravencrest Manor was imported stone by stone to the California coast in the early 1800s. It arrived with its sordid past intact, and since then, it has accrued many more mysteries, ghosts, and family secrets.
While Ravencrest Manor is beautifully kept up, it’s still full of long halls and longer shadows – and if you dare enter the door that locks away the forbidden east wing, things intensify. Why the wing was locked up in the first place is a major mystery. Within, flickering lights, dizzying corridors, and some nasty – and nice – spirits all add to the gothic ambience. We’ve already seen a trio of horrible, bloody nuns, the ghost of a little girl, and a headless woman lurking there, just to name a few. The honeycombed rooms contain more horrors than even we know about yet; we feel the presence of spirits and more frightening things as we write and this adds a sense of foreboding for us. And because we feel it, we think our readers will as well.
And those are the most important ingredients in our recipe for ambience and atmosphere in The Ravencrest Saga. Our goal from the beginning was to pay homage to the gothics we teethed on – gothics like Dark Shadows and Rebecca – and in our series’ second full-length novel, The Witches of Ravencrest, we had a particularly good time with atmosphere because not only did we explore more of the mansion itself, but we took some of the story into the town of Devilswood, an old coastal village that serves as the backdrop to the saga.
But whether writing in the gothic genre or not, we’re firm believers that atmosphere is one of the most critical elements to a story. Atmosphere is a reflection of the characters, the locale, and a major influence on the plot itself, so – we believe – there should be no shortage of it.
More about The Witches of Ravencrest
Dark and Unnatural Powers
In a remote part of California just above the coastal town of Devilswood, Ravencrest Manor, imported stone-by-stone from England more than two centuries ago, looms tall and terrifying, gathering its dark and unnatural powers, and drawing those it wants as its own.
Murder Lurks in the Shadows
Governess Belinda Moorland has settled into life at Ravencrest, and, as summer gives way to autumn, romance is in the air. She and multi-millionaire Eric Manning are falling in love…but powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart. And as the annual Harvest Ball is set to begin, evil abounds at Ravencrest. Murder lurks in the shadows, evil spirits freely roam the halls, a phantom baby cries, signaling a death in the mansion, and in the notoriously haunted east wing, three blood-soaked nuns, Sisters Faith, Hope, and Charity, tend to the demented needs of a maid gone mad.
Ravencrest has come to life. In the gardens below, granite statues dance by moonlight, and a scarecrow goes on a killing rampage, collecting a gruesome assortment of body parts from unwilling donors…. But Belinda’s greatest danger is the vengeful spirit of Rebecca Dane. Once the mistress of Ravencrest, Rebecca Dane has a centuries-old ax to grind with the powerful witch, Cordelia Heller – and Belinda becomes her weapon of choice.
Many of you die-hard horror fans out there will be familiar with Moonfall, Tamara Thorne’s Halloween-themed classic about witches, gargoyles, magick, and evil nuns – and now, for the first time ever, it’s available in audiobook at Audible.com, narrated by the inimitable Jamison Walker.
Moonfall is the first Tamara Thorne novel I ever read. This was back in the 90s when I was a teen who dreamed of one day being a writer myself – and Moonfall was one of the books that prompted me to put pen to paper. I was utterly taken by the atmosphere and so thoroughly immersed in the world she’d created that I wanted to one day have that same power. Tamara Thorne – anger book Moonfall in particular – is one of the main reasons I’m an author today. I never would have dreamed that so many years later, I’d be writing books with her.
Life … she’s a strange beast indeed. And speaking of strange beasts, here’s a little about Moonfall:
Moonfall, the picturesque town nestled in the mountains of southern California, is a quaint hamlet of antique stores, cider mills, and pie shops, and Apple Heaven, run by the dedicated nuns of St. Gertrude’s Home for Girls, is the most popular destination of all. As autumn fills the air, the townspeople prepare for the Halloween Haunt, Moonfall’s most popular tourist attraction. Even a series of unsolved deaths over the years hasn’t dimmed Moonfall’s enthusiasm for the holiday.
Now, orphan Sara Hawthorne returns to teach in the hallowed halls of St. Gertrude’s where, twelve years before, her best friend died a horrible death. In Sara’s old room, distant voices echo in the dark and the tormented cries of children shatter the moon-kissed night.
But that’s just the beginning. For Sara Hawthorne is about to uncover St. Gertrude’s hellish secret…a secret she may well carry with her to the grave.
“Tamara Thorne has become one of those must-read horror writers.” –Horror World
Sometimes, as much as you love your book cover, you have to admit that it just isn’t right – that even though it’s good, it could be better. That’s the conclusion I recently drew with my novel, Sleep Savannah Sleep. Don’t get me wrong: I love the original cover art for this book. From the spindly tree branches and fog to the owl perched on the gravestone and the rich, mouthwatering purple sky, it has all the makings of a respectable book cover of its genre … but it just isn’t focused enough. It doesn’t say what it needs to.
Sleep Savannah Sleep is a paranormal murder mystery that goes heavy on the horror. It’s chock-full of deadly small-town secrets, nasty slander, jealous husbands, crooked cops, murder and ghosts – or a ghost, anyway. There are some pretty serious scares here, something that I believe the cover art should more clearly express. The owl is cute and all but the fact is, it doesn’t scare me – and I want to be scared.
That’s why I decided it was time to revisit the artwork for this book. My cover artist, Mike – who is an absolute genius – allows me to watch as he does the design work, allowing me to make suggestions and give feedback as he goes along. The temptation here, of course, is to get a little too involved in the process and forget who the professional designer is (SPOILER ALERT: it isn’t me.) This is what happened with the first Savannah cover, and it almost happened with the new one, too.
But luckily, I don’t travel alone. I always, always take my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, as well as my publicist, Berlin, with me to my design meetings and the reason is simple: The more eyes, the better the result. But not only do these lovely ladies see things I don’t, they also keep me from getting too fixated on an idea. Such was the case during the making of the new Savannah cover today. I wanted a cemetery. And a ghost. And fog. And trees. And a moon. Needless to say, it was overcrowded. It wasn’t working and we all knew it – and that’s when Tamara suggested a new idea. She explained her basic vision and I was sold. Thirty minutes later I had a new cover for Sleep Savannah Sleep – and I love it.
I really think this one captures the mood and atmosphere of this story. Savannah is a macabre jaunt into the unknown, a walk in the darkness all by yourself … and now the artwork makes me feel it. Now I really believe it …
Thanks go to Mike for making it, Berlin for prying me off my ideals, and Tamara for her idea.
I’ve been writing all my life, but it wasn’t until ten years ago that I got serious about it. And I didn’t want to be a hobby-writer, either. I wanted to be a real-life, full-time professional who spends his time writing, editing, marketing, and well … doing it all – because that’s what writers do these days.
The road was long and winding, but in 2012, I finally got published. Since then, I’ve written several novels on my own as well as with bestselling author, Tamara Thorne.
And Tamara and I didn’t stop there. We also began the radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE!, and, more recently, Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre, where we interview authors, paranormal investigators, forensics experts, and anyone else who likes frolicking in the darkness with us. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some amazing people, and in the decade since I plunged myself into the strange world of creative enterprise, I’ve learned some things about writers, readers, the craft, and the business.
Some of these lessons were learned first hand and some of them through the wisdom of others, but all of them have proved profoundly valuable to me. The list that follows comes from my experience in the writing world, and I hope some of it may be useful to other writers … and interesting for readers.
1. Reading is the single most important thing to do if you want to improve your craft. Read everything … and read it with an active eye, taking in plot devices, pacing, theme, voice, dialogue, and character development. Reading trains the unconscious mind to find its own writing rhythm and gives you an “ear” for storytelling. So read. Not a little, but a lot. As Stephen King famously says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
2. There’s no such thing as ‘just a writer’ anymore. Gone are the days (if they ever existed) when publishers spent copious amounts of time and money getting the word out about your new book. You’re not just an author anymore. You’re also a marketer, a public relations specialist, a social media virtuoso, and a business manager, among other things. Make peace with that, keeping in mind that no one will work as hard for you as you will. They never have and they never will. So be accountable for your career.
3. The cream rises to the top. In an age of do-it-yourself digital delirium, everyone’s an author. It’s easy to look at the bottomless pit of other writers and wonder how the hell anyone is going to find your work. But look closer and you’ll see how many of those authors fall off the map, disenchanted when their dreams of instant fame and fortune are promptly torn to pieces. Not to mention the profusion of books out there that simply aren’t any good. Readers are smart people and they know the difference between a good story and a poor one. They don’t come back to authors who write bad books. Keep writing damned good books and, like the proverbial cream, you’ll rise to the top.
4. Have heroes. Learn from the best. Once you’ve established what kind of writer you want to be, keep a close eye on those authors who inspire you. Study their work, learn from them. Stalk them on Twitter. But don’t get too stalkery. No one likes a creepster.
5. Set goals. Whether it’s a page amount, a word amount, or a paragraph amount, set daily goals. Don’t settle for the “when I get around to it” approach to writing. No one ever “gets around to it.”
6. Know the difference between a hobby and a job. If you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it like a job or no one else will. That means you set hours. The phone is off. The door is shut. You’re not readily accessible. If you don’t spend your time wisely, other people will happily spend it for you, so unless writing is a mere pastime for you, don’t let other people spend your time.
7. Go big or go home. Don’t think you can only write for small markets, or that a high-powered literary agent won’t be interested, or that a big-name author is going to look down his or her nose at you. Know your worth and aim for the stars.
8. Walk through every door that opens. And if you keep at it, people will open doors for you. But getting through the door is the easy part. It’s up to you to earn your place in the room.
9. Never read your reviews. For better or worse, reviews are necessary, but they’re designed with other readers in mind – not the author. If you’re looking for a critique, get it from your agent, your editor, your publisher, another author, or an objective friend … anywhere but from the reviews section of the book retailer. Reading reviews – whether they be glowing or insulting – isn’t really doing you any favors.
10. Trust your characters. Some writers will say that you must keep your characters on a short leash and remain in full command of them at all times lest they sully your painstakingly-plotted story with their whimsical meanderings. But here’s the thing: Those seemingly frivolous departures from your plans are where the characters come to life. And when the characters come to life, that’s when the magic happens. I say let your characters go where they want, let them say what they want … let them tell you their story. Let yourself be as delighted and surprised by them as your readers will be.
Here’s a piece of artwork depicting the Black Wasp, the character from my upcoming novel of the same name. She’s a different kind of monster, and in many ways she’s my creepiest creation. But there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye – which you’ll learn all about in The Black Wasp, book three of the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, coming in June.
The artwork is done by Stefan Ellis, a reader, a supporter, a wonderful artist and friend. Thank you, Stefan, for this and all the other pieces you’ve done. You rock.
Good news for those awaiting The Black Wasp! I’ve just received word that it’s currently scheduled for a mid-June release, and while I don’t have an exact date yet ( know, I know) I will very soon. I promise to share that information here as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, (and, of course, the Thorne & Cross newsletter) as soon as I have it.
Now that I know its release is imminent, I feel safe sharing an excerpt – something I’m always a little reluctant to do (with my luck, I’ll pick something with major spoilers and ruin the whole book for everyone.) I don’t think I did that here…
The scene I’ve chosen for The Black Wasp’s first-ever excerpt is taken from chapter 20, which is titled, Hard-Blessed to Believe, and in it, Cade Colter is in desperate search of whatever anti-vampire paraphernalia he can get his hands on. The reason for this is that he needs to get (and keep) his undead night guard, Chynna (one of the good guys) out of his house in order to execute some rather pressing vampire-related plans that involve … things I can’t tell you about yet.
The point is, with Crimson Cove’s only Catholic supplies shop, The Immaculate Connection, being temporarily closed, Cade’s best bet is Father Vincent Scarlotti, the local priest who lives in the old rectory at St. Anthony’s. So, he decides to pay the Father a visit … but how do you explain to a man of God that vampires are a thing and that you need to safeguard your house against them? The answer, Cade wisely decides, is that you don’t …
He didn’t touch his tea, just stared down at his hands, wondering how to proceed. For long moments, the only sound was the hypnotic snick-snack that came from the grandfather clock in the corner, and when he finally spoke, Cade’s words had none of the finesse he’d planned. “Um, I have a ghost in my house.” Oh, the originality.
“Mm-hmm.” With no small effort, he met the priest’s eye.
Father Scarlotti blinked at him.
“But not just any ghost,” Cade added at a gallop. “An evil one. A demon, I think.”
Scarlotti’s brow furrowed. “We don’t really do exorcisms anymore, if that’s what you’re asking, Mr. Colter. I’m afraid I can’t-”
“I don’t mean an exorcism,” said Cade. “Just … I don’t know. Maybe you have some … stuff I could place around the house. You know … holy stuff.”
A pause while the clock’s pendulum patiently swung. “Holy stuff?”
“Yeah, like crosses or something,” said Cade. “A Bible, maybe. Saint medallions. Things like that.”
“I’m not sure-”
“Or holy water! Maybe you could bless my tap water and I could fill up some buckets and put them around the house or something.”
Snick-snack went the grandfather clock as Father Scarlotti regarded Cade with the kind of caution reserved for untamed animals, escaped convicts, and unstable mental patients.
“Look,” said Cade, “I know it sounds crazy, but … well, how is it any crazier than that?” He nodded at a painting of the haloed saint above the fireplace. “Or that?” At the open Bible on the cherrywood coffee table.
“I see your point, Cade, believe me, I do. I’m more open-minded than you’re giving me credit for … but … a ghost?”
“Yes. Or a demon, maybe. I don’t know. Something evil, for sure, though.”
“Evil? What makes you think it’s evil?”
Cade shifted uncomfortably. “Um, because I can feel it, you know?”
“I see.” The priest’s eyes narrowed. “And this … entity … have you … seen it?”
Cade shook his head. “No. But it’s doing stuff, you know?”
Cade thought fast – too fast. “Um, well, it’s moving my kitchen chairs around and making sounds from my television. Really scary sounds, like voices and stuff.” Hearing himself, he wished he’d thought this through a little more. If Scarlotti had ever seen Poltergeist, he’d know Cade was plagiarizing in the worst way. “And banging on the walls.” This, from The Haunting of Hill House, just to shake things up a little. “And my cat. It’s scaring my cat. He almost attacked me yesterday.” The Legend of Hell House. Cade stopped short of claiming to have mystery bite-marks around his nipples; no need to get too carried away.
Scarlotti’s skepticism was obvious. “Well … I suppose I could give the place a blessing.”
“A blessing? And that will keep the … damned away?”
“The damned?” The priest cocked his head. “That’s an interesting word choice.”
“I just meant the demon or whatever it is. You know, the evil. Will a house blessing keep it away?”
Scarlotti eyed him with a strange new interest. “Ideally, yes, it will ward off evil and-”
“Great. When can you do it?”
“I could come by tomorrow and-”
“But I need it today,” said Cade. “Well, tonight.” Not until sunset, until after I can get Chynna out of the house! “Yeah, definitely tonight.”
Another beat of that puzzled silence.
“After sunset,” Cade quickly added, “That’s when the ghost is most active.”
“I see.” Scarlotti’s tone was cautious. “Then I guess you can expect me tonight after sunset.”
“Great. Thanks.” Cade gave the man his address and hurried home, wondering how the hell he was going to get Chynna out of the house once the sun went down.
Think, think, think …
An idea came to him … but no. He couldn’t do that.
It would definitely get her out of the house, though …
But could I live with it? By the time he got back home, Cade had come up with nothing better and supposed that he’d have to live with it, though he couldn’t believe what he was about to do. He hoped he’d be forgiven for it one day.
In 2010, I completed my first novel and the rush it gave me was of greater magnitude than anything else I’d ever experienced. After years of trying, I had finally done it: I had written my very first book. I was elated, bubbling with pride, and eager to get it out into the world where everyone could appreciate all my hard work. Everything was going swimmingly. That is, until I started submitting it to agents and publishers. Suffice it to say, this part of the process did not go as I’d planned.
After two years and nearly 200 hundred rejections, I gave up. Not on writing or my dream of being published, but I gave up on my theory that my book was a misunderstood masterpiece. I might have blamed any number of sources for my failure – poor judgment on the parts of the agents and publishers, lack of industry funds, the changing marketplace, etc. – but I was never comfortable putting that much of my fate into someone else’s hands. I admitted to myself that the problem might be me. So I pulled my manuscript out of circulation and gave it a long, hard, honest look. Lo and behold, I found some issues. Issues that, deep down inside, in a place I don’t like looking at, I suspected were there all along.
The characters needed to be amped up and more clearly defined. There were some loose threads that never really went anywhere. The scenery wasn’t clear. Yes, there were issues, but also, there was enough potential that I couldn’t just scrap the novel – even though I tried.
Fast forward to 2015. My collaborator, Tamara Thorne, and I had just gotten our haunted hotel novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting, published – and it was time to start the next project. We were all set, but there was something I had to do first. I had to re-work the manuscript I’d completed in 2010. So, I put many things on hold, dug my heels in, and refused to go forward on anything else until I gave my solo novel one more hard, honest rewrite.
What ended up happening was, again, not what I had planned. Rather than reworking the existing novel, I rewrote it entirely, keeping only the plot’s most skeletal basics – a few characters, and about three scenes I felt were strong enough to make the cut. I switched the point-of-view from first to third person, rearranged some plot points, and added new layers of texture to the characters and their relationships with each other. What I ended up with was an entirely different story – a better one that had no trouble seeing publication.
Its title is The Crimson Corset, and it was released in early August of 2015. Finally. Five years is a long time, especially in writer-speak. But in that time, I kept writing and managed to get a few other works published. More importantly, I developed, becoming a stronger writer with a keener eye, a sharper focus, and a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of good storytelling. The Crimson Corset went on to become a bestseller, earning praise from vampire-lit veteran Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jay Bonansinga, New York Times author of The Walking Dead books …
But it came from humble beginnings and I won’t lie. It burns to realize your novel isn’t good enough. It’s disheartening, it’s aggravating, and because it’s your own hard work, it is personal, regardless of what they tell you. But there is a great mercy in the midst of this misfortune, and that is seeing how much you’ve improved with time. It wasn’t that my story wasn’t good enough – it’s that I simply wasn’t ready to tell it. I needed a little time, a little more experience, and only with those ingredients could I give full justice to the novel I was trying to write.
And I never resented having to rewrite this novel; I loved every minute of it – so much, in fact, that I’ve agreed to make it the first in a series: The Vampires of Crimson Cove (book 2, The Silver Dagger, is out now, and book 3, The Black Wasp, is coming this summer.)
I have never subscribed to the philosophy that creating art is a painful, grueling process. If I believed that, I don’t know that I would continue. If writing was as painful as some claim it is, I would simply do something else, something that didn’t hurt quite so much, something more suitable to my abilities. But the fact is, I love writing. Even rewriting. Sure it’s hard work, but when you write what you love, hard work is fun work. And the industry has nothing to do with it. A writer’s business is to write the kinds of books that readers want to read. Do that, and the rest will take care of itself.
One night, days after finishing my novel Dream Reaper, I was in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what to write next. I considered going back to the Crimson Cove series but I felt like there was a different story in me trying to get out. The trouble was, I didn’t know anything about it yet – I literally had no other ideas – so I started asking questions.
I’ve always believed it’s the writer’s obligation to push their main character as hard as they can – that just when the protagonist might crack under the pressures of their dilemma, it’s time to give them one more problem – so the question I asked myself that night as I sought my next idea was this: What’s the worst thing I could possibly do to my main character in this book?
It took some thinking, but a short time later, I finally had it: the absolute worst crisis possible (which I can’t say anything about without spoiling the book.) Suffice it to say that even now, I can’t imagine anything more awful than what Jason, my main character, goes through in this book. Anyway, once I had that, I worked backwards from there, something I’ve never done before.
I started outlining this book that night and I was so excited about it that I never went to bed – but by the time the sun came up, Savannah was plotted out in its entirety, from the opening scene to the last. While this isn’t how I usually do things, I will say that it makes for much quicker novel writing: Sleep Savannah Sleep was written in twenty-five days. The first draft, that is. Edits and revisions still took a few months – but I’ve never written a first draft that fast. It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and though I don’t plan to do again any time soon, I loved it.
Sleep Savannah Sleep was a slightly different animal for me. I knew almost right away that this was a murder mystery so my process was a little different this time around. Usually, I know about where I want to end up and I just start writing toward that, allowing the plot to go where it sees fit (within reason, of course). In a murder mystery though, you need to have a concrete end at the beginning. You need to know your ending well and work strictly toward it, all the while leaving subtle clues that become apparent to the reader only after they’ve finished the book. This requires lots of heavy plotting and lots of precision, and for those reasons, I’m especially proud of Savannah.
As any writer will attest, each book is special in its own way, and to me, the thing that really sets this oneapart from my others is not only its style but what it did for me, personally: It proved to me that I could expand. And for a writer who’s always looking for the next fresh angle, that’s important.
P.S. – Sleep Savannah Sleep (narrated by Isaiah Fowler) is available now in audiobook at Audible.com. You can also get it in paperback and ebook at Amazon.
I know, I know … as a self-proclaimed lover of horror, it’s pretty ridiculous that I haven’t seen some of these movies until now, but I have an excuse: I grew up in the days of movie rentals on VHS in a small conservative town in the midst of the “satanic panic.” In short, the horror selections at the local movie rental joint really, really sucked. I must have seen Carrie, Poltergeist, and Psychos 2, 3, and 4 a hundred times, but aside from that (and the occasional showings of the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies on HBO) I pretty much had to sustain myself with weekly episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales From the Crypt.
I loved horror and watched anything and everything available to me, but looking back, there are a lot of movies I missed out on. In the days of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, however, there are no excuses for this kind of behavior, so I’ve made it my mission to watch some of the classics that slipped past me in my youth. Here they are, in no particular order.
The House on Sorority Row(1982)
This tale of a college prank gone wrong embodies just about everything that was great about 80s horror: violence, bad acting, and scantily clad women. While probably not gory enough to satisfy the gore-fiends out there, this movie has plenty of suspense and even incorporates some murder mystery.
A really bad band with really bad hair that plays really bad music – but does it really, really well.
Pretty nice final showdown
A girl named Stevie
Pretty unimaginative death scenes
2. Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
Given that this came out before I was born, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I never saw it – but I am. Alice, Sweet Alice is a surprisingly twisted tale about a little girl suspected of her own sister’s savage murder during her First Communion … and that’s just the beginning. I couldn’t take my eyes off this one for a single moment.
Brooke Shields in her first role
Spooky little girl horror
That creepy mask!
The gross, fat neighbor. Ugh. I hated that guy
3. Trilogy of Terror(1975)
A three-part horror story starring Karen Black in the roles of four different women, Trilogy of Terror is one that I’d never even heard of (somehow) until my friend and collaborator, Tamara Thorne, suggested it to me. The subject came up when we were writing our gothic thriller, The Witches of Ravencrest. We were looking for inspiration for “crazy” … and hoo boy, no one does crazy like Karen Black in the final scene with those eyes, those teeth … that knife.
Lots of Karen Black
Best doll horror ever
4. The Fog (1980)
I know! How did I not see this until now!? As the little coastal town of Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial, an impenetrably thick mist rolls across the community causing unexplainable disappearances and begging the question: What’s in the fog!?
Jamie Lee Curtis and Janet Leigh together
It’s John Carpenter
Another girl named Stevie
I just wasn’t feeling the relationship between Jamie Lee and Tom Atkins. Awkward
5. Burnt Offerings (1976)
It’s said that this inspired Stephen King’s The Shining, and after watching it, I believe it. I also see shades of Pet Sematary and a few other things. It stars Karen Black (again) and Oliver Reed as married couple, along with their son and aunt Elizabeth (played by Bette Davis – and I’ll watch anything with her in it). When the family moves into a creepy old mansion they learn the place appears to have an eerie, supernatural influence over its residents.
The filming is really … “foggy.” I suspect they were going for atmosphere or something but the constant hazy pall gets distracting in some scenes
The little boy got on my nerves. It’s not his fault. Most children do.
6. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Written (to my pleasant surprise) by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, The Slumber Party Massacre is pretty much as good as it gets. It’s got guts, glory, girls, and gore – but watch closely and you’ll see a surprisingly smart tribute to female empowerment.
Palatable levels of symbolism
A killer with a drill
Women with agency at a time (and in a genre) when they were customarily victims
The line: “Hey, it’s not the size of your mouth; it’s what’s in it that counts.”
7. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
A young Jodie Foster stars in a bizarre thriller about a 12-year-old girl living alone who leads a life of secrets and danger. It doesn’t get much better than this. I actually read the book before I saw the movie – both are excellent.
Intrigue upon intrigue upon intrigue
Martin Sheen as a convincing and compelling villain
The nude scene with underaged Jodie Foster. And yes, I know it’s actually her older (legal) sister standing in, but it’s still too much for me. It really needs to go IMO.
Jodie Foster’s wig. It’s just so bad.
8. Looking for Mr. Goodbar(1977)
While not horror per se, this film makes my list because it is horrific. From the (fantastic) book of the same name, Looking for Mr. Goodbar is the true story about a schoolteacher (Diane Keaton) who begins frequenting bars in search of various lovers with whom she can engage in increasingly violent and dangerous sexual affairs. Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t end well.
A nice glimpse into the 1970 city nightlife
Excellent closing scene
A unique ending
Richard Gere in a jockstrap. 😦
9. When a Stranger Calls (1979)
The infamous tale of the psychopathic killer who terrorizes the babysitter. But there’s more to this story than “The call is coming from inside the house!” When a Stranger Calls is also a cat-and-mouse thriller between a detective and his prey, as well as a psychologically sound (and sometimes even sympathetic) glimpse into the mind of a madman.
One of the best openings in horror history
Mainly off-screen horror – which adds to the intrigue
I didn’t feel as much connection to Seven-Years-Later Jill as I did High-School-Babysitter Jill
10. When a Stranger Calls Back (1993)
A surprisingly strong follow-up, When a Stranger Calls Back sees the return of Jill (who is much more empowered these days) as well as the psychopath who stalked her and the detective on his trail. It adds a new character, a young woman named Julia, who ends up in a similarly dangerous (but pleasingly unique) babysitting crisis. Like its predecessor, the majority of horror here takes place off-screen – which always makes it extra spooky (I’m haunted by the faceless man who’s entering Julia’s house for the sole purpose of moving things around.) In many ways, When a Stranger Calls Back is stronger than the prequel.
The return of the original cast
An extremely spooky late night visitor
Jill’s personal growth and empowerment
Julia’s godawful early-90s female mullet. I seriously can’t even handle it.
On March 5th, I finished The Black Wasp, book 3 in the Vampires of Crimson Cove series, and I’m astounded by the direction these books have taken. This is in so small part due to the Black Wasp herself – a character who showed up in the middle of the previous book, The Silver Dagger.
I can still remember the moment she made her first appearance. I was in the midst of writing a scene that had nothing to do with strange, ancient women in old-fashioned mourning clothes, but there she was, all white-faced and creepy-eyed, waiting to be written. I put her off at first because I knew she’d do exactly what she did – which was forever alter the DNA of this series – but eventually, I could ignore her no longer. And I’m glad I didn’t.
Unlike the other supernatural creatures in Crimson Cove, she’s not a vampire – not in the usual sense, anyway – but something much darker, much deadlier. While she does feed on humans, it isn’t blood their that satiates her, but their fear and pain. In that respect, I suppose she’s a kind of “psychic vampire,” though I never refer to her as that in the book. She’s a different species altogether, her own kind of monster – a monster that’s opened new doors of possibility for the story arc and added deeper layers of intrigue (and terror) to my fictional world. Figuring her out has been one of the creative highlights of my writing life, and I still have a lot to learn about her.
I love it when characters feel this alive because early in my writing career, I was advised – by someone who didn’t know what the hell they were talking about – to never let the the characters guide the plot. Not knowing any better (and to my own detriment) I followed that advice, and my writing – when it came at all – suffered badly for it.
I nearly gave the up entirely more than once, but eventually, I heard someone say that writers should listen to their characters, and decided to give that a try … and that’s when my fictional world flourished and my plots gained real ambition.
It undoubtedly sounds crazy to non-writers (and probably to some writers as well, depending on their own processes) to say that the characters know what’s best, that it’s the author’s job is to transcribe more than actually invent the story, but – in my case, at least – it’s the absolute truth. Had I ignored the promptings of the Black Wasp character, the Crimson Cove series wouldn’t be taking the turns it is – and I love where it’s going.
The same thing happened in the first book, The Crimson Corset, with Gretchen VanTreese. It’s pretty hard to believe now that my central antagonist was originally intended to die in her first and only scene, but she was. Somehow, though, by that mysterious process of creation, things changed along the way, taking on an entirely new and unexpected shape. Without Gretchen, this series would be something entirely different. Assuming it existed at all, it certainly wouldn’t be the story I currently know and love.
And this is why I use every opportunity to tell new writers to a) trust their characters, and b) be very selective about what advice they follow. Every writer has their own process which needs to be discovered organically, and the only way to do that is to write. And write and write and write.
So keep writing …
And always, always listen to your characters.
P.S. The Black Wasp is currently with the editors and should be out sometime in early-to-mid summer.
Not too long ago, I took a late-night, spur-of-the-moment, why-the-hell-not trip to my old hometown and wow … does this bring back memories. And one of the best memories that came back to me was right here.
It was here, on this bridge ~ which is, ironically, right in front of the local morgue ~ where I first heard of Stephen King … and where I first dreamed of being a writer. This was in 1986 and I was 9 years old.
Earlier that day, through some mutual friends, I met a kid who would go on to be a very good friend for many years. He was the son of the local mortician … and he was the first REAL horror lover besides myself that I’d ever met. Even though he was a couple years older than me, we quickly bonded over scary movies and books. He told me all about Cujo, It, and Christine… and I was riveted. Up till then my experience with the horror genre was limited to the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.
We decided that very day to write our own book and created a small but fascinating cast of characters: a vampire named Countis Himeburger and his fortune telling wife, Eliza. Over the years we built on their strange and sordid story, but the book, of course, never got written. At that age, we just didn’t have the skills – or the stamina – to see it through.
But I never forgot those characters and, having always been especially fond of Eliza, I promised myself that one day, in one of my books, I would find a place for her …
And in 2019, I finally did. In The Silver Dagger, book two of my Vampires of Crimson Cove series, Eliza is the shopkeeper of Ancient Ways, a kitschy little occult store in the downtown district of Crimson Cove where Cade Colter comes across the very dagger for which the book is named ~ Eliza herself is the one who sells him the fated blade …
So … if you’re reading The Silver Dagger, when you come across Eliza, now you know that this is the bridge that she – and my dream of being a writer – was born on, 34 years ago …
Today is the day I began a new book. With The Black Wasp (book 3 of the Vampires of Crimson Cove series)in the editor’s hands, and not a lot going on besides some book marketing and the disposal of an old sofa, I figured I might as well do some writing. Since I’m dying to find out what happens next, I’ve decided to dive right into book 4 of the Crimson Cove series which, for now, I am referring to only as TMR.
TMR picks up where The Black Wasp leaves off, and given that it hasn’t even been released yet, I can’t say a whole lot more about it except that things have really changed for my protagonist, Cade Colter. The Black Wasp not only introduced new characters, but new motives as well – and those motives are what will drive TMR and leave poor Cade with some pretty big fish to fry. And by “pretty big” I actually mean huge.
To simplify it, he’s in way over his head, and when The Black Wasp comes out (this summer!) you’ll see why. Even as I was writing today, I realized just how much Cade is underestimating his situation and how little he actually understands. I’m currently feeling very bad for him, but I can’t help it – I’m a sucker for the drama. There’s nothing more fun than a character who’s bitten off way more than they can chew (insert evil laugh here.)
With so many endings on the horizon, I’m feeling especially excited about the new project (not onlywas The Black Wasp recently finished, but Tamara and I are creeping up on the climax of our next Thorne & Cross standalone, Spite House, as well as wrapping up the final scenes in Shadowlands, book 4 of The Ravencrest Saga), and no doubt adding to my excitement is the fact that this, the beginning, is my favorite part of the book. It might sound strange to say I prefer the beginnings and (and even the middles) to the endings, but I do – and not just in the books I’m writing, the ones I’m reading, too. Endings just kind of depress me, I guess, but the good news is, you can always start the next one – so, that’s what I did.
I wish I could tell you more about it, but for now, I need to keep its secrets close. When The Black Wasp comes out in the next month or two, maybe I’ll be able to say more …
Until then, happy reading, writing, or whatever it is that makes you shine, and just because, apropos of nothing, here’s me with my familiar, Pawpurrazzi, who oversees all my writing.