Suspending the Pen


I’ve been in the writing dungeon so long that the sunlight streaming from the windows has begun to burn my eyes and an evening trip to Wal-Mart – or some other dreadful place – is starting to feel like an outing, a night on the town, rather than the necessary evil it actually is.

With reviewers waiting for proof copies, editors expecting the next round, and readers anticipating the finished product, the work has been non-stop. For weeks, Tamara and I have stumbled from our beds, gone straight to our computers, and pecked the keys without pause until sunset. We’ve even been doing some moonlighting, too. Tonight, after hours, Tamara kept at it, finalizing the details of the uncorrected proof copies. After eating – and taking a much-needed shower – I got back to it as well, sorting out upcoming interviews, guest posts, and various writing-related events – all the little things that need to happen when a book is edging release.

But we’re in the final stages of edits: the touch-ups. This is when we tighten the narrative, cut the fat, and sprinkle a little glitter over the prose. Tomorrow our dark psychological thriller, Mother, will be ready for reviewers. Then, after another round of revisions and a final read-through, it will go to publication.

Mother has been one of the most intense and multi-layered stories we’ve ever told … but I also believe it’s our best. The hard work is really paying off, and I’m proud of the balancing act we’ve managed to maintain. Though first conceived in 2013, we weren’t able to begin Mother in earnest until last year, and considering the many projects we’ve undertaken throughout the writing of this book, I’d say we’ve done our jobs with balletic grace – and in record time, too.

But the energy depletion is extraordinary. We’re both ready to drop, and I’m getting that snippy-little-Chihuahua tone in my voice that says I’m overdue for a breather.

So, I’m taking a mini-vacation this weekend – I’m suspending the pen.

Thursday night after the radio show, I’m getting in the car and going … somewhere else.

Maybe Wyoming – I’m not sure yet.

Somewhere quiet.

Yeah, probably Wyoming.

I’ll rent a hotel room and just be for a few days. I’ll take long, hot baths, eat things I’ll regret, and do plenty of joy-reading. Then Sunday – or maybe Monday – I’ll come home.

Tuesday, I’ll dig back in with both hands, and make sure that Mother is as polished as a diamond, ready to be introduced to the world in April – as planned.

 

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The Truth About Dreams


The edits for The Crimson Corset are completed and this keeps us on schedule for the July 31st release as originally planned. Things change, so I’m always reluctant to give concrete dates, but give or take a few days, this book will be available by the end of the month.

It’s always a mixed bag, finishing a book, and this one – being my first solo novel – is especially so. This project has been a long time coming, so I’m elated it’s finished… but I’m a little bummed that it’s over, too. I’d probably be much more depressed if it was over over, but I plan to begin a sequel next year, and I think that’s kept me from experiencing that empty sense of loss I have in the past when a book is finally done.

I feel like a should be a little nervous too, but I’m not. I think the past several years of publishing as a co-author have padded me against a lot of the fear. Gone are the days of nail-biting self-consciousness and anxiety over how my work will be received – and good riddance, I say. I know not everyone will love this book, I accept that. But I’m also confident in it enough to know it’s a good book, and I’m very proud of it.

As I mentioned, this project has been a long time coming – ten years in fact. That isn’t to say this book took a decade to write – but it has been that long since I decided I wanted to be a professional writer… and this was the first plot I intended to pen. I gave up on it many times and re-started it just as many. In the meantime, of course, I wrote and published other works, but this one, The Crimson Corset, is the one that haunted me – the one I kept going back to and kept trying to get right.

Ten years. A decade. A lot of amazing things have happened since I made the decision to write. I’ve met the great authors of my generation and gotten to know many of them quite well. I’ve written with one of my long-time literary heroes, Tamara Thorne, and together we’ve forged our own brand – Thorne & Cross – and intend to write many, many books together. Over all, it’s worked out for me far better than I’d imagined. But these things don’t just happen. It really is a lot of work.

Even in the early days, when I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, I took writing very seriously. Back when I didn’t even know what to write, I sat down and wrote. I did this almost every day. I’ve learned that inspiration is a flake; it can’t be depended on. I’ve learned that marketing is everything and rejection means nothing. And I have been rejected – over and over and over. But most of all, I’ve learned that dreams come true.

This is the first time I will ever see my first solo novel published. That is my dream come true.

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Welcome to Crimson Cove

Sheltered by ancient redwoods, overlooking the California coast, the cozy village of Crimson Cove has it all: sophisticated retreats, fine dining, and a notorious nightclub, The Crimson Corset. It seems like a perfect place to relax and get close to nature. But not everything in Crimson Cove is natural.

When Cade Colter moves to town, he expects it to be peaceful to the point of boredom. But he quickly learns that after the sun sets and the fog rolls in, the little tourist town takes on a whole new kind of life – and death.

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Renowned for its wild parties and history of debauchery, The Crimson Corset looms on the edge of town, inviting patrons to sate their most depraved desires and slake their darkest thirsts. Proprietor Gretchen VanTreese has waited centuries to annihilate the Old World vampires on the other side of town and create a new race – a race that she alone will rule. When she realizes Cade Colter has the key that will unlock her plan, she begins laying an elaborate trap that will put everyone around him in mortal danger.

Blood Wars

The streets are running red with blood, and as violence and murder ravage the night, Cade must face the darkest forces inside himself, perhaps even abandon his own humanity, in order to protect what he loves.

Writing with T & A: Two Heads Are Better Than One


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We’re nearly finished with the first volume of The Ghosts of Ravencrest and are already planning the next. We love Ravencrest because it allows us to stay current or to hop into history. Every lord of Ravencrest and his family has a story that plays into the tale of its current master, Eric Manning. Finding out what those stories are, what made his ancestors tick – and how this history affects our modern-day governess, Belinda Moorland – has become a game of literary Hide-and-Seek for us.

We couldn’t write these stories without shifting points of view.

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Experiential differentiation is our thing. Imagine a red rose. To a young woman in love it reminds her of the bouquet she received last Valentine’s Day. It may bring a smile to a murderer’s lips because it reminds him of his last victim’s blood. If you’re writing an historical, an early Christian character may see the rose as a symbol of the wounds of Christ, or the blood of martyrs.

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To a man with allergies, the rose is a hated bringer of sneezing, watery eyes and stuffed sinuses. To a jilted woman, it inspires fury because it reminds her of the man who left her at the altar. Someone else might avoid the rose because they dread the painful thorns. For a widower, it reignites great sorrow over the loss of his beloved wife who used to tend their garden. It makes him weep, so he tears the roses out. Or shoots himself among them to join her. But to the professional gardener, a rose might symbolize prosperity because where there are roses, there’s work.

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And it doesn’t end with roses. To one little boy, a baseball bat might represent play and joy while inspiring dread and embarrassment in a less athletic child. To a grown man, it brings nostalgia, and to an abused housewife, abject terror. The rose may squirt water on an annoying mother-in-law, or a threatening bat might be foam rubber, turning tragedy to comedy.

In a mystery novel, knowing the differences in suspects’ feelings lends the detective more clues about the criminal. In a story of survival, individual knowledge about something most perceive as ordinary, may save a life.

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Considering that such innocuous objects as a rose or baseball bat can inspire so many emotions, we’re like kids in a candy store when it comes to exploring the loves and fears, the prejudices and motives, of our characters. We want to find out what the baseball bats and roses mean to each character. And this is why we prefer the third person point of view.

We enjoy taking on viewpoints that are new to us. One of the most difficult things to do is to come from a point of view you don’t yet understand and when you attempt this, you either fall on your face or grow. For Tamara, the Prophet Sinclair in Thunder Road was a true growth experience. She saw him as a sleazy evangelist using his good looks and persuasive voice to grab money and bed women. But Sinclair insisted on growing and did something so foreign to Tamara’s own nature that to this day, she’s blown away.

For Alistair, coming from the perspective of Gretchen VanTreese in his upcoming novel, The Crimson Corset, was a major stretch, too. He had to learn to view the world through the eyes of a woman who uses sex (much of it creepy), manipulation, and murder to attain her objectives.

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As confirmed character writers, we like rummaging around in different psyches, and as readers we prefer third person narratives for the same reason. That being said, a few of our favorite books have been written in the first person, leading us to believe that, when done well, this is a powerful and effective approach to storytelling… if that’s your preference.

It’s a matter of writing what you love, and we love multiple points of view. We’ve both written in the first person and found ourselves bored and switching to third.

In fact, when we began The Ghosts of Ravencrest, our initial intention was to stick to Belinda Moorland’s point of view, but immediately found ourselves itching to get into the heads of Mrs. Heller, Grant Phister, Eric Manning, and all the other characters we found so fascinating. If we’d maintained our original plan, we’d have grown tired of Ravencrest after one volume, but as it is, we have countless storylines to explore and we can’t wait to dig deeper into the myriad characters, both contemporary and historical, living and dead, who roam the halls of Ravencrest Manor.

And The Show Goes On …


After two weeks of reading, rewriting, and reading again, I’ve completed the first major edit of The Crimson Corset. The manuscript still has to go through the official editors, but after that (and a final read-through) The Crimson Corset will be a real book, ready for consumption. The expected eBook release is mid to late July and shortly thereafter, it will go to paper. It’s been a long ride and I have a few folks to whom I owe great thanks.

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First on that list is my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, who put our joint efforts on hold to read this entire novel aloud so I could hear how it sounded. Then there are the editors, who have already begun reading it and sending great feedback. Finally, there’s our wonderful publicist, who is already setting me up with interviews and reviews for the Crimson Corset’s release. Thank you all.

Tomorrow, I’ll be returning to collaborating full-time. First on the agenda is finishing the 8th (and final) installment of The Ghosts of Ravencrestthe Gothic serialized novel that Tamara Thorne and I began almost one year ago. Though the next installment will wrap up the current story arc, Ravencrest (in true soap opera fashion) is ongoing, so there’s plenty more ghosts, governesses, handsome millionaires, and diabolically delicious housekeepers to come. We’re not sure when Belinda’s misadventures at the mansion will come to end – but it won’t be any time soon. Especially if Mrs. Heller has anything to say about it. She has plans, you see …

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With the completion of Ravencrest’s 8th installment, Tamara and I will return to our next collaborative novel. When considering which project should come next, there are several possibilities. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s fantastic. It feels great to have so many ideas in the wings – to know that as one novel wraps up, several others are just waiting to begin. After discussing it this afternoon, I believe we’ve decided our next move, but I won’t say anything more about that for now, except that I’m stoked. This is one of those stories that’s been hovering in our minds for a long time – tapping our shoulders and whispering in our ears as we work on other things. I think it’s ready now. I’m eager to see what happens …

As I write this, I’m proud to say that the goals I set for 2015 are running right on time. The Cliffhouse Haunting was released in April. The Ghosts of Ravencrest’s first ‘volume’ is wrapping up, and my debut solo novel, The Crimson Corset, is going into production. On top of this, Tamara and I have not only maintained our hour-long, horror-themed, weekly internet/radio show Haunted Nights LIVE!, but we’ve procured interviews with such literary legends as Jay Bonansinga of The Walking Dead novels, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro of the Saint Germaine vampire series, New York Times bestellers, Christopher Rice and Christopher Moore, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series, and Charlaine Harris of the Sookie Stackhouse books and HBO’s True Blood. And there are plenty more. You can see the full guest list at my website.

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The point is that I’m proud of us. Tamara and I have worked diligently, every day. We’ve put in the extra hours, the extra work, and a whole lot of extra effort. We’ve sat in front of our computers, our backs sore, our faces growing pale from lack of sunlight, pounding out page after page as, in many ways, the real world has passed us by. Not that we mind. But we’ve done it. Day after day. Rain or shine. With or without the cooperation of our moods. With or without the luxury of feeling inspired. With or without the “time” to do it. We’ve come a long way, but the road ahead is even longer … and that’s why, tomorrow morning, I know that we’ll start cracking away at the next project. And the next … I’ve never been so tired. Or fulfilled.

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Writing with T & A: Psychic Vampires


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If you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve no doubt run into a psychic vampire or two. These passive-aggressive hangers-on will, if allowed, suck your life force away, all the while paying you compliments, asking for advice, and creating drama meant to suck you into their world and make you worry about their well-being.

The most famous psychic vampire in the horror genre – and most others – is Annie Wilkes, Stephen King’s nightmare of a number one fan. While she is extreme, you can take some tips from her that will help you recognize a vampire who wants you to be her very own Paul Sheldon.

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While most readers who ask a writer to personalize a book with “to your number one fan” are utterly innocent and would be horrified if they realized what alarm bells this phrase sets off, there are others who are anything but innocent. They are narcissistic and the goal of any narcissist is to be paid attention. Annie Wilkes is the perfect example. Annie wanted Paul Sheldon to write for her, to her specifications. It was all about her. He was there to amuse her, to serve her, and no one else — including Paul Sheldon – mattered.

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Take this down a few ruined ankles and glassfuls of urine and you’ll still have a milder version of this same dysfunctional personality. Once you accomplish anything notable, such as writing a book, they come out of the woodwork with unbelievable speed and frequency. They want your time, they want your attention, and they want you to apologize for having worked hard and found success.

Psychic vampires are passive-aggressives who suck the energy right out of you. Shoot, they can suck the energy out of a whole roomful of people. You’ve undoubtedly experienced it: you come away from a chat or function that should have been enjoyable absolutely exhausted. You feel like you’ve run a marathon, only worse because you probably have a headache, too. They are truly vampiric, but not in the good fictional way we enjoyed writing about in Tamara’s Candle Bay or Alistair’s The Crimson Corset. We’re talking about the nastiest kind – the real kind.

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(Tamara’s vampire novel, Candle Bay)

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(E-Poster for Alistair’s upcoming vampire novel, The Crimson Corset)

And the very worst of these psychic vampires are aspiring writers, ones who, for whatever reason, have not done as well as you. They seem to feel you owe them something and they are jealous, oh so jealous.  If they ask you to review their book and you decline, they think you’re a snob. If you don’t have time to answer their basic questions about writing, they think you’re a snob. And if you actually write back and suggest that they can find the answers they seek via many excellent websites, organizations, and critiquing groups available online, they are sure you’re a snob. Somehow, to their fragile egos, this is a personalized rejection; it never even occurs to them that you took time out of your workday to reply. They just end up pegging you, once again, as a snob, and will probably whine about it on Facebook. As much fun as we had with Constance Welling in The Cliffhouse Haunting, these kinds of writers are toxic in the real world.

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(Tamara and Alistair’s collaborative novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting)

At the beginning of her career, a well-known writer advised Tamara that when someone gives you something, your only obligation is to say thank you. This author was referring to fans sending gifts, but this also is applicable to a published writer – no matter how sketchily published – who takes you under his or her wing – or seems to – early on and answers a few questions. If they are of the vampiric persuasion, they will try to exact gratitude from you for the rest of their lives because damn it, they deserve it. They’ll also take full credit for your talent once you achieve success; that’s annoying but it’s nothing but the equivalent of a fly trying to land on you – it’s not worth your attention. They’ll never have your talent and they know it.

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Don’t get us wrong, there are some great mentors out there. If someone has truly helped you, they find pleasure in the very act of aiding and don’t expect you to sing their praises. These are the people who deserve to be in your acknowledgments or have a book dedicated to them. But never buckle under and do it for someone who demands thanks. That person is bottomless pit of need and you’ll never, ever hear the end of it. They will tell everyone, forever more, how much you owe them, how you would be nothing without them. This is the type of person who posts the same two or three fan letters on Facebook over and over for years.

If, in the course of your becoming a professional writer, someone offers you help, go ahead and accept it if you want it. And just say thank you. You owe them nothing more.

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How to spot a psychic vampire who isn’t as obvious as Annie Wilkes? Here are some things to watch out for:

Someone – a would-be writer, a collaborator, an interviewer – insisting that the only time they can meet with you is during a time you’ve reserved to (a) write or (b) be with your family or (c) are otherwise engaged. Decline, and a normal person will understand. A vampire, on the other hand, will simply become more insistent. Or sulky. Usually both. Here’s a tell to watch out for: If you inform a vampire that you take Sundays off – or Mondays or alternate Thursdays – they will tell you it’s the only day they can talk to you. It’s all about power and manipulation. They especially need to drag you away from family and friends to prove how important they are. They’re trying to own you: don’t let that happen.

Guilt trips. This is drama. It includes sulking, crying, and self-righteous indignation when you won’t do what they want, no matter if it’s giving up personal time, changing something in your writing (because they think everything you write is about them) or anything else. This kind of emotional behavior is nothing but manipulation of the most childish kind. There are only a couple of behaviors even more reprehensible and outrageous. What are they?

One is feigning illness, physical or mental. Sure, we all get sick, we all get tired. Most of us make a joke, get some rest, and move on. Not the vampire. Nope. The vampire who plays illness like a fiddle has a constant list of ailments, from headaches to explosive diarrhea to strange growths in places you don’t want to hear about — but trust us, you will hear about every last one.  No anal polyp is too embarrassing, no perimenopausal flash flood too personal. They throw it all out there. Because – yep – it’s all about them. They are shameless.  They will tell you they may be fatally ill, they’re always waiting for test results, and their meds are making them ill (this includes meds for mental problems – it’s no fun being normal, damn it!) They will offer to show you things you don’t want to see. Beware the sickly vampire.

And when all of that doesn’t work, they go straight to threatening suicide or bodily harm (to themselves, we hope). This is the ultimate manipulation, designed to coerce you into doing whatever it is they want. It’s bullshit. It’s an attempt to draw you into their drama. The only answer – if you give one at all  – is to tell her/him that if that’s what they choose to do, good luck with it. It’s not your problem. Those who want to commit suicide don’t talk about it because they don’t want to be stopped. Those who threaten it on a regular basis will only commit it by accident. (We’ll keep our politically incorrect commentary about that to ourselves.)

How do you operate among the psychic vampires, then?  It’s not easy to deal with them, true, but it is possible. First, learn to identify them. Your own instincts will inform you if you listen. Don’t let them flatter you, be cautious.  And read Gavin DeBecker’s excellent book, The Gift of Fear. It will teach you to listen to your instincts and not give every potential Annie Wilkes the benefit of the doubt.

When you have a vampire stalking you, how do you stop them?  You wear Teflon armor because the shit won’t stick.

We’ve both had numerous psychic vampires try to interfere in our lives and Teflon is the ultimate answer. The Vampire, being narcissistic, wants only one thing: to be center stage. They’re like toddlers – any attention, no matter how negative, is better than none. Don’t give them what they want. Delete their emails unread, return their snail mail unopened, change your phone number.  The worst of them will keep trying, perhaps for years, but hopefully they will get sick of being invisible and go find a fresh neck to suck on.

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The only good psychic vampire is a dead psychic vampire but since we can’t legally stake them, we must make them invisible. Attention is what they feed on. Attention is what they live for. Don’t give them either.  If they piss you off, write it out, but don’t mail it to them; instead call a real friend and vent until you’re both laughing, maybe even until you pee a little bit. You can also kill them horribly in your stories, but don’t make them even remotely identifiable because that would be giving them attention and that would make them happy. Give them no energy. Eventually you will find that they’re rarely on your mind, even if you’re on theirs.  Making them non-existent in your universe is your ultimate goal.

And watch your ass. Some of them are as batshit as Annie Wilkes.

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Two a.m.


March 12, 2015

It’s been a decade since I began concentrating my energy and aiming my efforts at a specific destination – and only in the past year or two have things started to make some sense. The journey from there to here has been a long hard practice in blind faith, and while the distance ahead is just as daunting, it’s hard not to look back from time to time and say, ‘Wow. What a ride.’

People have come; people have gone. Some of them knew me; some saw only their own ideals. But the few who really understood me and where I was trying to go – those who remain at my side today… they have my unending loyalty and love. They are my tribe, and I think that’s what it’s all about: Finding your tribe.

I have found my tribe. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time. I’m doing something that utilizes every detail of who I am. Through writing, I’ve become fulfilled – which is, I believe, as close to any kind of lasting happiness as one can possibly get.

It hasn’t come easy, but on an innate level, I always believed that if I plowed onward, despite adversity and doubt, that by one means or another, I’d acquire the things I’d need to get where I was going. I’m happy to report that, so far, this has proven true for me. Also, I believe in leaps of faith, and understand faith to be a verb and not an idle state of mind. I’m grateful for that understanding because it hasn’t allowed me to be taken in by illusions of fate, privilege, or chance; I knew I’d have to work hard for this, and I that there’s a lot more work ahead of me. But I’m grateful for where I am now. Truly. And there’s much to be grateful for.

As I write this, my co-author, Tamara Thorne, and I are on the brink of releasing our debut novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting. While we’ve had five installments of The Ghosts of Ravencrest published – with the sixth on its way –  Cliffhouse is special because it’s the first story line Tamara and I ever discussed together – it is the reason we’re still collaborating on so many projects, including Grandma’s Rack, which is in the final stages of production. Also, I am 60,000 words into my first solo novel, which has been a long time coming, and on top of all this, Tamara and I are happily hosting our own horror-themed internet radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE!, where, once a week, I get to meet some of the biggest names in the business. It’s all so surreal and I never would have predicted any of it. I don’t take these things for granted, and even if it ended now, I’d say that, yeah… persistence pays off. And then some.

~ A

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The Cliffhouse Haunting is Coming…


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The Cliffhouse Haunting is coming in March! This is the story that started it all when, in 2012, Tamara Thorne and I decided to try writing something together. We began with a modest concept – and hoped for the best, both knowing it could go either way. We quickly realized our union was creative, complementary, and productive. The synergy blazed like fireworks as The Cliffhouse Haunting grew into the book that it is now… and beyond. Together, we’ve generated so many ideas that we haven’t stopped collaborating since, and we have enough material to write until we retire.

As a fan of Tamara’s since the mid-nineties, it’s been an honor working with her, and I consider this novel, The Cliffhouse Haunting, to be one of greatest achievements of my life. There will be other collaborations between us, but this one will always be the first one. And I couldn’t be happier with it. I have no doubts about this book, and I can’t wait to give it to the world. Right now, the final edits are underway and a truly amazing artist is creating our cover. Until then, here is a little about The Cliffhouse Haunting:

When the Blue Lady Walks…

Since 1887, Cliffhouse Lodge has been famous for its luxurious accommodations, fine dining… and its ghosts. Overlooking Blue Lady Lake, nestled among tall pines, Cliffhouse has just been renovated by its owners, Teddy and Adam Bellamy, and their daughter, Sara.

Cliffhouse has not always been a place of rest and respite, though. Over the years it has served many vices, from rum-running to prostitution – and although the cat houses have been replaced by a miniature golf course and carousel, Cliffhouse retains its dark history; darkest during the Roaring Twenties, when a serial killer called the Bodice Ripper terrorized the town, and a phantom, the Blue Lady, was said to walk when murder was imminent.

Death Walks With Her…

Now, there’s a new killer on the loose, and the Blue Lady sightings have returned. The Bellamys are losing maids, and guests are being tormented by disembodied whispers, wet phantom footprints, and the blood-chilling shrieks of mad laughter that echo through the halls of Cliffhouse in the dead of night.

The little mountain town of Cliffside is the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer… and the Blue Lady. Police Chief Jackson Ballou has bodies piling up, and between the murders and the mysteries, he can hardly pursue his romance with Polly Owen. And Sara Bellamy may lose her true love before they even have their first kiss.