Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Women in Horror Month – The Writers

Last week I celebrated the Women in Horror month by looking at movie characters.  This week I wanted to take a look at my favorite female writers in the horror genre.

Tanith Lee

The author of over 90 novels and 300 short stories, Tanith Lee has written some of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read.  Her story ‘When the Clock Strikes’ was my first introduction to her work.  That particular tale is a version of ‘Cinderella’ you’ll never read to your kids unless you like to hear them screaming from nightmares.  The Secret Books of Paradys (I-IV) were mindblowing in their ability to take the reader into a world that was as soul-chilling as any I’ve ever read.  Her many awards include the August Derleth Award, World Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, and the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award.

Daphne du Maurier

Perhaps her two best known works were Rebecca and The Birds, which were made into classic films.  If you liked the movies, you will absolutely adore the writing.  The short story The Birds, which I first read in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, made my skin crawl.  Her National Book Award for her masterpiece Rebecca was well deserved.

 Mary Shelley

You can’t talk women in horror without the author of Frankenstein coming up.  And though this book is a result of Lord Byron challenging Mary Shelley to write a horror story, it reads more like science fiction.  With this being one of the most recognized tales in the  world (over 15 versions made in film and television), Shelley always merits being at the top of the list of women in horror.

Anne Rice

Edward Cullen, eat your heart out.  Despite being undead, Rice’s gorgeous vampire creation Lestat de Lioncourt breathed the last great breath into the vampire genre.  Her Vampire Chronicles have been must-reads.  The Mayfair Witches were a pretty good series too.  Anne Rice perfected the sexy monsters one would not mind dying in the arms of.

Shirley Jackson

My hands-down favorite female horror writer Shirley Jackson could play with the reader’s head like no one else.  The Lottery is wonderfully terrifying in its bucolic setting, which warns us that even the most innocent-seeming of places can host horrors beyond imagination.  We Have Always Lived in the Castle was another story that continues to mesmerize me.   The Haunting of Hill House stands in my mind as the greatest haunted house story of all time ... more because of the question of whether the house was actually haunted or if the story’s heroine was simply insane.  One of the most chilling lines I’ve ever read came from that book:  “...silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” 

And there they are, my five favorite Women of Horror in writing.  While I do not claim to compare in any way, shape, or form to these amazing wordsmiths, I’d like to shamelessly plug my own horror books at this time.  After all, it’s my month too!  You can pick up Lilith and Lilith’s Return for your Kindle, Nook, or other reading devices at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.


Happy reading!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – Lilith’s Return


 She paused only long enough to take a deep breath.  She braced herself for the coming storm.  Before she could let nervousness take hold, she knocked on the door.  After the space of a few seconds, Alex opened it and gaped at her.

“Lena!  What in the hell are you doing here?”

Pretending her heart wasn’t hammering a million miles a minute, Lena raised her eyebrows.  “Nice to see you too, Mom. Can I come in or do you want to yell at me in the hall?”

Alex was so mad that her face turned an appalling shade of deep red.  In the space of one second, she looked brutally sunburned.  Lena actually had a terrible moment when she thought her mother might have a stroke.  Then Alex stormed to the middle of the room, keeping her back to Lena.  Her fists clenched at her sides.

Lena stepped into the room.  Her father appeared out of nowhere to loom over her.  Colwyn looked every bit as pissed as his wife, and his voice shook with rage.  “You were supposed to stay home,” he growled through gritted teeth. 

Alex’s temper was one thing.  Seeing her father furious and being the object of his wrath made Lena’s knees wobble.  Such intense anger, rarely displayed, even backed her mother down when Colwyn gave vent to it. 

Lena quickly stowed her smart alecky attitude.  She was not about to provoke her father when he seethed like this.  Bowing her head, she told him, “I know you wanted me to stay in Miami.  I tried to, I really did, but I couldn’t shake the feeling I needed to be here.”

Alex spun around to face her.  “And do what?  Get our people killed?”  Spittle flew as she spoke.

Lena swallowed.  “I studied the rites on my flight over.  I went over protocols.  I’m ready to help.”

“You’re not doing shit, Lena.  You can turn your ass around and go the fuck back home.”

While not as quick to fire as Alex, Lena’s temper could be just as intense.  She struggled to keep it under control.  “I’m staying.   I’m not a child, and I have as much to lose as everyone else if Lilith wins.”

Alex shoved past Colwyn to get in Lena’s face.  Her voice sounded low and deadly.  “I will not allow you to put my people in jeopardy.  You turned your back on the Segreto years ago, and I don’t want you in it now.  You do not belong with us.”

Her words were like a knife twisting in Lena’s gut, bleeding out the simmering anger in an instant.  Tears welled in the young woman’s eyes.  “Mom—”

“Not another word!”  Alex’s scream made Lena take a step back.  Her mother wasn’t just angry, she was boiling.  “Go home, put on your makeup and designer dresses, call your friends for lunch, and play princess like you’ve always done.  Leave the work to those of us who aren’t afraid to get our hands dirty.”

With that, Alex stormed out of the suite.  The door slammed behind her so hard, Lena thought the frame might crack. 

Now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

February is Women in Horror Month

In celebration of Women in Horror Month, I’d like to share a few of my faves.  I’m not bothering with the damsels in distress, of which there are too many in the genre.  No, I’m talking the baddest of the bad girls, the chicks who serve up the screams.  Take a bow, ladies.  You are awesome.

Samara Morgan from ‘The Ring’


Played by Daveigh Elizabeth Chase (who also voiced ‘Lilo’ in the Disney classic Lilo and Stitch), Samara didn’t have to do much to freak me out.  Just the image of her sitting there with her hair in her face or crawling through the television screen was enough to give me the willies.  Eek.

 Carrie White from ‘Carrie’

I didn’t bother to watch the re-make.  Sissy Spacek could not have been improved upon as the lonely teenager with telekinetic powers.  She was equally sympathetic and awful.
‘The Bride of Frankenstein’

Unfortunately, more people think about the hair than the wonderful performance in the sequel to ‘Frankenstein’.  Can you even name the actress?  It was Elsa Lanchester, folks.  Show her the love and re-visit this classic as soon as possible.
Annie Wilkes from ‘Misery’

When I read Stephen King’s book, I was sure there was no way anyone could bring the crazy-fan menace to life nearly well enough on the big screen.  I love it when I’m proved wrong about such things.  Kathy Bates amazed everyone to the tune of an Academy Award for her portrayal.
Regan from ‘The Exorcist’

Just look at that picture.  Linda Blair’s performance and makeup gave me nightmares for weeks.  She was the freakiest of them all for me.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – Lilith

            Alex returned to the funeral home at the agreed time.  By then she felt drained.  Her legs were barely capable of holding her up.  She’d spent most of the afternoon parked by the waterfront, crying until she was exhausted. 
            When she arrived at the funeral home, the brothers were waiting for her in the parking lot.  Other than the Planters’ silver Mercedes, it was now empty.  She parked her truck next to it and got out.
            Jacob’s grim face grew more worried as he looked at her.  “Are you okay?”
            “What do you mean?”  Her eyes darted to Colwyn.  Had he told his brother what had transpired between them?  Had Marta told them anything?
            “You’re pale as a ghost.”  Jacob glanced at Colwyn.
            “Of course she is,” he replied, his tone even as he watched her.  “We’re about to come face to face with Lilith.  I’m sure Alex is scared out of her wits.  I know I am.”
            “Nobody here but us chickens,” she said, her voice wavering despite her effort to keep it light.
            “Have you got your magic nail?” Colwyn asked, smiling with encouragement.
            “Among other things.”  The words came out steady this time, and Alex straightened.  “I’m ready when you are.”
            To her relief, Colwyn made no mention of her abrupt departure earlier.  Instead, he opened the front passenger door for her as Jacob got in the back.  As she started to get in, Colwyn said in a low voice, “You’ve been crying.  Are you all right?”
            Alex looked up.  His face wore a gentle, concerned expression.  Concern for their mission or for her?  She dropped her gaze.  “I’ll be fine.  I have to be.”  She got in the car. 

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Late to Every Party

I’ll admit it ... I’m anti-trend.  When everyone else is going crazy over something new, be it a book, television show, or movie, I refuse to go along with the crowd.  I’m not sure why that is other than I have so little free time and refuse to waste it on an unknown clock-killer.  Yet I’m guessing 80 percent of the time, I end up seeing what all the fuss is about ... oh, two or three (or even more) years later.  Eventually the curiosity gets to me, and I spare some time to check out what everyone else has been raving about.
Harry Potter.  Game of Thrones.  Mad Men.  Twilight.  Breaking Bad.  And many, many more cultural storms that have swept the public’s interest, I got around to much later than everyone else.  Some things I loved.  The Harry Potter books and Game of Thrones television series have turned into subjects of near adulation.  I hope to start reading the Fire and Ice book series soon (on which Game of Thrones is based).  I’m re-reading the Potter books for the second time in six months.  I’m completely gone over these two things.
Breaking Bad was big for me as well.  Hubby and I Netflixed the series about three years after it started and lost our minds over it.  We tuned in breathlessly for the final episode like so many others.  We came late, but we got to dance at the actual party. 
Mad Men ... meh.  We watched the first two seasons on our pal Netflix.  In the end, I felt it was a waste of my time.  It’s not that it’s a bad show.  It’s incredibly well-written and the actors are phenomenal.  I just didn’t connect with it.  So I quit watching.  Showed up late, left early.
Twilight – no thanks to both the books and the movies.  A friend loaned me the first two books, which was all she could get through.  I soon found out why.  I’d never been bored by vampires before, but Twilight certainly accomplished that for me.  Ditto on the movie.  Those two books were ideal when I needed something to send me to sleep.  Seriously, what was the attraction for so many people?  The idea that a 200-year-old vampire could fall in love with an adolescent girl kind of upped the ick factor too.  Pedophilia and necrophilia, all in one shot.  Eek.
Being an erotica author, I of course was well aware of the Fifty Shades phenomenon.  However, contemporary settings don’t tend to do much for me, so I couldn’t be bothered for a long time.  (My own naughty books are set in paranormal and science fiction universes.)  Besides, have you seen what the publisher is charging for the e-book?  Hell, I bitch about spending that kind of money on Stephen King, and he’s one of my writing heroes. 
But I figured I needed to see what the hoopla was all about, considering Alt-Tam writes the naughty too.  Before I could handle plunking down my credit card though, I read the sample chapters available on Amazon.  Boy, am I ever glad I did.  If Twilight bored me out of my pants, the little bit I read of Fifty Shades bored them right back on.  I caught myself skipping entire passages because I simply couldn’t take the mundane feel of the book.  I wanted a pot of coffee afterward just to wake up.  I guess you could say I peeked into the window of that party, turned around, and went back home.  Definitely not for me.
Sometimes I see that going along with the crowd can be a good thing.  Sometimes I’m right on the crowd’s wavelength.  But about half the time, I find I’m better off ignoring what everyone else is going on about.  It looks like I’ll continue to be late to the party, but I’ll probably show up eventually.  Just call me fashionably late.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – Willow in the Desert

The basement of an old Episcopalian church served as Leo and Carli’s sweat lodge, the private place they went to invite visions.  Crowded in the corners were the dry remnants of hymnals, a platoon of folding chairs, a board painted with a fundraising effort, and a vacation bible school poster.  It was rather cool for a sweat lodge, despite the growing desert heat outside and the fire Leo had lit. 

They sat in the middle of the floor with a large metal burn bowl heaped with twigs and brush flaming cheerfully between them.  It made their shadows dance on the walls.

Leo’s gaze was filled with Carli.  His wife, as tiny and perfect as a doll, looked into the fire.  The flames reflected in her bright blue eyes.  She was, as ever, his heart and soul.  He’d loved her long before he’d ever set eyes on her.

Even when arguing with her, he did so without any heat.  “My visions are full of symbolism and hard to interpret most of the time.  Yours are much more literal.”

She continued to stare morosely at the crackling fire.  “We’ve gotten nowhere with my taking the lead these last few weeks.  Come on, Leo.  At least with you in control, we’ll get something.  Even a hint of what we’re getting ourselves into is better than nothing.”

He knew when to let an issue go.  Carli did have a point with her difficulty seeing beyond the here and now these days.  “All right.  Just don’t turn into a tree, okay?”

They shared a laugh about that.  Leo and Carli had first met through visions when they were hundreds of miles apart.  Leo had a tendency to see symbols that demanded interpretation.  His visions had made Carli into a weeping willow tree, denoting her ability to bend without breaking.  Those initial telepathic meetings had tested Leo's deciphering capabilities to his limits.  It had made their communications halting, at best.  It was also the reason Carli usually took the lead when it came to vision quests.  Her precognitive talent showed things exactly as they were. 

“Let’s get started.  Time’s a-wasting,” she chided him gently.

“Maybe if we get done fast, we can give ourselves a little bon voyage send off?”  He waggled his eyebrows at her.

“Why do you think I’m trying to get you moving, big man?”

Leo grinned at her heated gaze.  Now it would take real effort to settle down.  Closing his eyes so he wasn’t looking at his beloved and taking a few cleansing breaths helped.  When he opened his eyes again, he stared into the burn bowl.  “Concentrate on the flames.  Feel yourself going into the fire, emptying your mind of everything.  We’re going to our special place, the place where our souls walk, the place where past, present, and future come together as one.”

His deep voice flowed over the room, carefully modulated to help draw Carli into a quiet state of mind.  After a few moments the flames before him blurred.  The room around them was lost in the darkness.  Show us.  Show us.  Help us see, he thought. 

The fire burnt brighter even as it faded away.  Leo blinked, and squinted against the sudden onslaught of daylight.  Carli’s gasp reached his ears, and he saw her on her feet, turning around in surprise.  They stood in the middle of Freetown's stretch of Main Street, surrounded by boarded-up storefronts.

“Okay.  Well this is something at least,” she said, her brows pinched together.  "It's farther than we've gotten under my influence."

“Not Gander’s Gulch though.  I’m losing my touch.”  Leo scowled. 

Carli looked over his shoulder towards the west, and her eyes widened.  “I don’t think so.  Look at that.”

Leo turned and gaped.  A monstrous wall of whipping sand churned down the street, barreling towards them.  Its hiss was as if a million snakes had been set loose on the town.

“Trouble from the west,” he called to Carli as the hissing sound grew louder.  “Maybe it’s already on its way from Gander’s Gulch.”

They backed away from the coming storm, a purely instinctive reaction given there was no way they’d outrun the churning sand.  Leo had never been harmed by a vision before, but this one made him more than a little nervous.

 Available from Amazon, Barnes &Noble, and Smashwords. You can get it in paperback too.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Phases of Fitness

In a little over a year, I’ve managed to shed 50 pounds.  I’ve reached a level of fitness I’ve never experienced before.  It’s pretty awesome stuff.  The funny thing is, I’m only getting started.   

I hear a lot of “How did you do it?”  I think most people want to hear some miracle product was involved or that a special pizza-and-chocolate diet got me where I am now.  Sorry, all.  It was nutrition and hard work.  Nothing else could put me where I am now or get me where I’m going. 

For those who want the real skinny (pun intended), here’s how it happened. 

A Personal History

Metabolically speaking, I had a charmed childhood and adolescence.  I burned calories without bothering.  In fact, I was underweight, not reaching 100 pounds during high school.  I ate without care and gorged on junk food.  Exercise?  Not if I could avoid it. 

Had I looked closely at my parents and their pictures as children, I would have seen the same thing.  It was when they reached their late twenties that the weight came on.  The same happened to me.  By the time I married at the age of 29, I was 135 pounds.  Entrenched in bad diet habits, I kept eating and the weight kept coming. 

By the time I got pregnant 10 years later, I was up to 175 pounds.  I tipped the scale at 205 when my son was born.  I dropped the pregnancy weight plus a few pounds, dropping to 166.  Over the next 2 years, I rocketed back up to 196.  My blood pressure started to get ugly and I knew I was in trouble. 
Horrified by my weight, I allowed very few pictures of myself to be taken. 
You can get an idea of how bad it got by the size of my arms in this shot.
I am also wearing my wedding band on my pinkie because it no longer fit my ring finger.

I took up walking three miles every other day.  I also got into kettlebell workouts.  I kept an eye on my caloric intake.  I was thrilled to get down to 150 pounds and looked forward to weighing even less.  My author picture at the top of this blog was taken at that time, so you can see I looked halfway decent.   Here's another picture taken around this time period:

Then I had a really awful winter during which I fought back-to-back rounds of strep throat, ear infections, and bronchitis.  I came close to pneumonia.  I spent almost two months flat on my back.  Exercise fell by the wayside.  Once I got better, I did not go back to it.  In no time I was eating crap again and not working it off.  I went up to 185 pounds and became a size 12. 

The First Phase:  Couch to 5K

Just before ringing in 2013, my hubby said, “I need to take weight off.  I’m going to try this running program called Couch to 5K.  You in?”

Running?  Me?  I hadn’t run since the one-mile requirement in middle school.  Just chasing my son a few feet left me huffing and puffing.  Was he kidding? 

Yet I knew from experience that when one spouse is trying to lose weight, the actions of the other spouse can make all the difference.  I wanted to be supportive, but I had the distinct feeling I wasn’t going to last long at this running thing.  Still, I said I’d try.  We set off to achieve our goal of completing a 5K in 9 weeks. 

Good heavens.  I thought I’d fall over and die that first day.  The program starts with running 1 minute and then walking 90 seconds and alternating until 30 minutes are up.  It didn’t sound so bad until I was actually doing it.  I was in hell.  At the end of that first session I told Peter, “Let’s never do this again.” 

But we did.  There was much grouching and grumbling, especially from me.  Then one of my knees blew out with only two weeks left until the goal of running 30 minutes straight was achieved.  Peter kept running.  I settled for walking when I was able.  Two months later, I started running again.  This time I got within one week of running 30 minutes when the knee went again.  Another month of recuperating went by. 

By that time I loved running.  Yes, as hard as it is to believe I am writing this, I LOVED running.  I couldn’t wait for that bad joint to get to the point where I could do it again.  When I could, I cut my running from three times to twice a week, hoping to avoid another blowout.  It worked.  Late October, I ran five kilometers.  I continue to run twice a week, and I’m now working on cutting my time down. 

The Second Phase:  Fitbit

 Around April of last year after seeing good results from our 5K project, Hubby was pretty gung-ho about taking off weight.  He researched and found the Fitbit.com site.  It measures progress for those who join, aided by gadgets that count steps, calories burned, and miles covered.  We both opted for the Zip device to measure our daily numbers.  The site also issued challenges to walk 10,000 steps/5 miles a day.  It tracked what we ate.  It told us when we were over our calorie budgets for our weight-loss goals. 

On days I didn’t run, I made sure I walked those 5 miles.  Weight was peeling off me now at a safe, steady pace.  Fitbit also prompted us to count calories.  Peter was definitely not in the mood to fudge his numbers.  (Fudge!  Oh, nevermind.)  He bought a food scale and measured everything to the gram.  He took over all the cooking because he knows what a lazy ballparking creature I tend to be.  How’s that for a perk! 

The Third Phase:  Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle

By the end of the year, Peter had met his weight-loss goal.  I was about 8 pounds away from mine.  Things were looking rosy, but I was beginning to worry.  What came next?  I’d conquered the 5K, trimmed down to a size 6, and I was soon to hit that magic number of 130 on the scales.  I know me...once I made it to my goal, there was the danger of saying “I’m done!  Pass the wings.”  Then I’d be back where I’d started, or worse. 

I started looking around for motivation.  I knew I needed to get into some strength training to be really fit.  I don’t want to look like Ah-nold the Governator by any means, but I did want to tone up.  At the tender age of 46, I’ve got those old-lady droopy arms and a lower ab pooch from having a 9 lb, 6.6 oz child nearly 8 years ago.  I still have work to do. 

Searching around led me to the book Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle by Tom Venuto, a trainer and bodybuilding pro.  I found a lot more than just tips on bicep curls.  This was a whole fitness program that hits the four main areas of getting fit:  motivation, nutrition, cardio, and strength training.  It’s become my bible for fitness. 

I’m already seeing results, though I’ve got a way to go before I hit my new goals.  That underarm flab is disappearing, as is my baby belly.  My abs, arms, and legs are actually showing some definition after less than a month of being on this program.  I’m wearing size 4-6, depending on the designer, my waist is down to 29.5 inches, and I’m at 25% body fat, which isn’t that bad.  I’m excited to see what happens in the next few months. 
Bathing suit ready!

The Take Away

I’m glad Peter pushed me into getting started with that Couch to 5K, though I thought it was the most horrendous thing in the world for the first few weeks.  Doing just that one thing created a domino effect:  gains in that area led to trying another level of fitness, then another, and so on...and now I feel like I qualify as a fitness junkie.  Had I done everything all at once in the beginning, I think I might have given up a couple of months into training.  But adding one thing at a time did the trick.  I didn’t get overwhelmed and found myself actually motivated to push to the next level.  I’m even planning to ask for a gym membership for my birthday.  Who, me?  Hell yeah!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sunday’s Serving – The Willow and the Stone

            Geraldine lay full-length on the ground and peered into the tiny basement window.  Her fingers clutched at the weed-choked ground in spasms, leaving claw marks in the dirt.
            Leo sat there communing with Satan again.  Did he believe she didn't know what he was doing?  She knew what Leo Black Elk was.  But between the plumes of smoke, seeing the strong planes of his face gleam with sweat, the long, blue-black hair cascading down his broad back, her mouth felt dry.  It seemed wrong that Satan sent such a beautiful being to torment her and God gave her no strength to resist the hope Leo would come to her.
            She’d had no idea the temptations that would be set before her when she and Caleb and their followers had discovered the Rock.  Within the old limestone mine they had created a haven for God's Chosen.  But the gorgeous serpent named Black Elk slithered in to offer the weak the poisoned fruit of sin.  To her horror, she discovered she was one of the weak herself.  The sacrifices she’d made to get Leo to come to her, to love her! 
            It will all be worth it if I lead him to God.  All will be forgiven, because it’s for the greater good. 

 Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords