Voices: The Interviews: Stephanie (Part 1 of 2)

SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT * SPOILER ALERT

Before reading today’s post, I want to tell you about our little project. In the coming months one character from each story in my collection, Voices, will be interviewed by Lisa Lee with Bibliophilia Templum. 

No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.

Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing (you can pick up a copy here). If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers. 

One more thing before reading: if you have read Voices and would like to ask a question of today’s character, leave a comment at the end, and I will see about getting an answer from the character for you. Don’t be shy, ask your questions. You may get an interesting response.

SESSION 14 

Part 1

She is breathless and heartbroken. The little girl never had a chance in life. How she made it as long as she did before her death is nothing short of a miracle in Lisa’s eyes. But it hurt. Yes, it hurt Lisa to talk to this little girl the way she did. A part of Lisa—a part so deep down inside it made her soul ache—hated how she had to pull the answers from Jenny. Another part, the part of her that was not just deep down inside, but a part she keeps hidden from most people who know her, realizes Jenny was like her when she was a child: sweet and innocent until ….

Until it was taken from me.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.26.45 PMHer heart shatters and she leans forward in her chair. Her arms go around her stomach. Nausea swims in her belly and pushes upward toward her throat. Tears form again in her rimmed red eyes. She feels like she has been crying for more than a couple of hours. 

It’s been days, weeks, months and years … so many years. 

Remembering life as that little girl, first with the innocence of life and the future, then … then with the pain and the skewed view of self worth (or a lack there of) made her ache worse for this poor child. Without warning, Lisa suddenly hates the writer, the one who asked her to do these interviews, to talk to the ones whose voices controlled them until they either conquered or gave in. She rocks in her seat, not caring if any of these … these … ghosts see her. Though she knows they are not truly ghosts but people from the Land of Make Believe; that they came from the pages and will return when they are finished, she absolutely knows in her heart they are spirits, and each one of them experienced their own form of torture, their own Hell. She hates the writer for peeking into her heart and into the spaces where so few have gone and where her innocence died. She hates him as strongly right then as she ever hated anyone. 

That’s irrational, she thinks as she rocks in her creaking chair, as she clutches her stomach and prays no vomit will come. But is it? Is it irrational to hate someone who only wrote a book about people and the bad things they do or that happen to them? Is it rational to hate someone who asked a question that led to another one and another one? Is it irrational to hate someone who didn’t make her relive the painful events of her past, but yet somehow she did? Is it? Is it? Is it?!

She doesn’t believe so, even as the hate subsides a little, even as the pain in her heart that fills her very body and soul tells her it is okay to hate him. That has to be directed at someone or it will eat her up. 

It’s not his fault. She fully believes this. He didn’t do anything to her. He didn’t twist her arm. He didn’t do … what others had. 

The hate falters and she sags in her chair. She wants nothing more than to close her eyes and …

No! No! Nononono! I have to see this through. I have to. If not for me, then for her. 

Her? 

Yes, her. 

As if she had spoken her name, the young lady is there, sitting, not on her chair like the others, but on the floor. Her head is down and she wears a pair of gray jogging pants and a plain white T-shirt. It could have been her dad’s or a 

(best friend’s)

boyfriend’s. Lisa knows better. She wouldn’t wear a man’s shirt—not one that belonged to a man anyway. Not after …

Lisa takes a deep breath. She is going to do something she knows she will pay for dearly later. She scoots to the edge of her seat. The thought of kneeling onto the floor makes her joints hurt. The act of doing it is far worse. She eases herself down to the floor. It is cool on her bottom and she knows that might be the only time for the remainder of the day, and maybe even days to come, that she feels anything other than pain. Still, she sees the young lady and hopes it will be worth it.

No pain, no gain, she thinks. Her inner self shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Behind her Mr. Worrywort chuckles. She tunes him out the best she can and gets onto her hands and knees. The first crawling step forward sends slivers of pain into her left knee, thigh and hip. The next one does the same to her right leg. By the time she reaches the young lady sitting on the floor, her head still down, her hair dangling and covering her face, the lower part of Lisa’s body is on fire. Joints and muscles scream their indignities at her, and when she lets herself fall onto her bottom, she lets out the first of many long, agonized  breaths. 

It takes a couple of minutes for her to compose herself, but when she does, she looks to the young lady she now sits beside. She reaches a hand out, then stops. She drops it back down. 

“Stephanie,” she says in her best motherly voice. “Stephanie, are you in there?”

Of course she’s in there, Lisa. She just might not want to come out and socialize. 

She knows this to be true. She’s been where Stephanie is now—in her own head, replaying the events that led her to do what she did. She not only feels violated by what happened to her and by who was involved, she also feels guilty for what she did. Once upon a time, Lisa was in that head space, and sometimes, she believes she still is. But the strength to kill someone, to seek out and take full revenge on someone who had hurt her, Lisa doesn’t know completely. Sure, she played out multiple scenarios in her head, but she could never go through with the act. For that, she feels weak and maybe even unworthy to talk to Stephanie.

Lisa reaches her hand up again. This time she touches the young woman’s hair. It is in need of washing and it doesn’t sit on her fingers like it should. She pulls a few locks of hair away from Stephanie’s face and tucks it behind her ear. “Stephanie. My name is Lisa, and I’ve been where you are. I know what you are feeling.”

Stephanie doesn’t move at first. She only stairs down at her hands.

“Stephanie, I have a secret I want to tell you.”

Lisa swallows. She closes her eyes and lets the moment flow through her. She leans in, places her lips near Stephanie’s ears and whispers, “I was raped, too. Several times.”

Stephanie slowly looks from her hands to out in front of her. Then, she turns her head and stares directly at Lisa. Her green eyes aren’t dull like Lisa thought they would be. They glisten with tears in them. 

“Hello, Stephanie.”

“You were raped?” Her voice sounds weak, or maybe it had been asleep and had only woken seconds earlier. 

“Yes. Several times by men I trusted.”

 “I’m sorry.”

“Me too, but I can’t change what happened to me. I couldn’t do what you did. You’re very brave. I admire what … admire your … Um … I admire your strength.”

“I wasn’t strong.”

“Oh, but you were. You are.”

Stephanie shakes her head. The hair Lisa had tucked behind her ear falls away and drops to the side of her face. “I wasn’t brave.”

“But you …”

“The dead helped me.”

“The dead helped you?”

“Susannah. She told me I wasn’t dead, yet.”

“Susannah?”

“Yes.”

“The dead girl?”

“Yes.”

“So, Stephanie, um, how did you find Susannah’s grave?”

“I went to die,” Stephanie said. “I wanted to be over the pain and guilt and the feeling of being nothing but meat to someone.” She laughed a mournful laugh. “I guess I deserved it, you know. I brought this on myself and … and … I … I guess she found me there.”

“Susannah found you?”

“When I was walking through the cemetery. She … she called me.”

“Called you?”

“Called me.”

Lisa understands this. She lives in a house near a graveyard and often feels the need—not the want, but the actual need, as if the very threads of her sanity depends on it—to walk through it, touch some of the headstones, have conversations with those who no longer have family to visit them. She understands the calling Stephanie speaks of, and she is jealous of the young lady. Where was the dead when she needed them all those years ago? Where are the dead now?

Broken Heart.jpg“A lot of people are afraid of graveyards,” Lisa says. “They find them … spooky. Scary. You and I know they … they are not so scary. But you are not afraid of them. Of cemeteries. Why not?”

“The dead can’t hurt me,” Stephanie responds. “Only the living can.”

So true. So very true.

Lisa realizes right then that her notepad is laying on the floor by her seat. All the questions she meant to ask Stephanie were on a page with the young lady’s name at the top of it. The notepad is facedown and several of the pages are skewed. It’s the notepad that makes her change the subject to something she is curious about. She thinks of Dane, the girl with the fear of numbers. A male head doctor played a prominent role in her story. He had a yellow notepad similar to Lisa’s. Stephanie’s therapist …

“I can’t help but wonder: how did you get stuck with a male therapist? That had to be … to be …” She pauses for several seconds, then continues. “How did that happen?”

Stephanie shrugs. “They didn’t think a woman would understand what happened to me? Or maybe she couldn’t be, I don’t know, unbiased because she was a woman? Or maybe they thought I was dangerous? I don’t know.”

“Are you dangerous”

Stephanie says three words in a voice so firm and resolute that Lisa completely believes her: “Not to women.”

Lisa thinks back to after she had been attacked, assaulted … whatever people want to call it these days. To her, it was, and always will be, rape. It had been an unwelcome and unwanted violation of her body. And it didn’t happen just once. She had been like a magnet for bad men, starting at an age far earlier than most. She tries to block out the bad things done to her before she turned six. She doesn’t try to block out her friends, what a few of them had done to her one night when it was her and a bunch of the boys and the boys wanted what she had but didn’t offer to them. She doesn’t block out her ex-husband, a man she loved at one point and who she thought loved her. She feels every touch, every insult, every violation and the anger she felt years before (and even sometimes now when she thinks on it like she is right then), comes rushing back. 

“They should have never put you with a male therapist,” she growls.

Another shrug, but this time Stephanie doesn’t say anything.

“It was unfair to you. I bet he didn’t get it, did he?”

Stephanie looks at her with big doe eyes. It’s as if she sees something in Lisa she hadn’t just moments before. “He was a man.”

Lisa is shaking her head now, almost furiously. Her bottom lip is tucked under her top teeth. Her nostrils flair. “Did he ever get to where he understood?”

“No.” Stephanie is looking down at her hands, at the crescent moon scars her own nails left behind after so many times of digging them into her own palms.

“Of course not,” Lisa snaps, then stops. Stephanie’s eyes are wider now. Lisa’s voice is softer when she speaks next. “Sorry. I guess I knew the answer to that question already. And the truth is how could he? How could he  ever understand? Unless he was raped, he wouldn’t. No man would.”

She closes her eyes and tries to focus on Stephanie, to push her own sorrows and anger aside and asks the tough questions, questions she might already know the answers to.

“Stephanie, I don’t want to sound like an insensitive shrink, but please, if you can, tell me, how did you feel when you realized it was him? Carlton? Your friend! How did you feel when you knew you’d been betrayed by someone you trusted? How did you feel about that? That initial feeling when you knew, you knew …” Lisa realizes her questions came rushing out of her and with that same vehemence as the hate in her own heart. Behind her—no, all around her—she hears the gleeful laughter of Mr. Worrywort. He is no longer just some shadow on the wall or a figment of one man’s imagination. He is very real and very much in her head. He is getting to her and … and … she is not in the least bit concerned about getting him out of her head.

Deep breath, Lisa. Deep breath.

(Take all the deep breaths you want. It’s not going to help.)

Deep breath. Deep breath. Deep breath.

I’m sorry. Um, Stephanie, how did you feel initially? When you remembered your rapist was your friend?”

Stephanie’s head shakes, as does her hands. She clenches them into fists and Lisa knows if the young woman had fingernails they would be sunk down to the quick into her palms and the crescent moon scars would have been reopened. Her jaw clenches and her breaths are quick and shallow.

“Stephanie?”

“I broke,” she says and looks at Lisa. Her eyes are puffy from crying. Her face is stained with tears. “I broke. My heart. My soul. My … my entire world died. He wasn’t just my best friend, but I … I … loved him. I mean, I loved him.” She’s crying hard now. Snot trickles from her nose. Her face is pulled down and her eyes are almost completely closed.“I wanted to tell him, but I didn’t think he loved me. I thought we were just going to be friends, and I was okay if that was what he wanted. But … but … he wanted something else. He wanted it and he took it and … and … and …” 

The next words she speaks are illegible and she sniffs up the snot on the edge of her lip. She wipes her nose and mouth with the back of one hand and then rubs it on her jogging pants. She inhales, releases it, inhales again. She does this several times until she is composed enough to continue. 

“He beat me. He didn’t just rape me. He beat me. Me! His best friend. He beat me like he never had any feelings for me, like I was a stranger and he knew nothing about me, my dreams, what I wanted out of life. It was like he never knew how much I truly cared about him.”

She wipes her eyes with the balls of her palms. “I hate him, now. I hate him so much.”

Lisa nods. She understands this all too well. Though she had been raped several times, she only truly hated one of the men who did the deed: her stepfather. He was the one who first touched her when she was a child, long before she developed anything that remotely looked feminine, other than the area between her legs. It was that area he wanted, that area he took. 

It wasn’t until later, after the other rapes, after her ex-husband took what he wanted while she slept, that she sought one on one therapy. The women’s group she had attended did little for her except maybe make her feel less like a survivor and more like a victim, something she tried hard to not be, not to become. Yet, she had become that very thing. 

“It’s the victim mentality,” the therapist said. She was a mousy woman, slight of build with short gray hair and glasses that hung off the tip of her nose. She held a yellow pad in her lap as she sat behind a desk, not in a chair, cross-legged with hose coming up to her knees. “You are still with your husband because you have a victim’s mentality. Your only worth is in being a victim. You don’t want to escape your situation. Without it, you are, essentially, nothing in your mind. Until you change that, Lisa, you will always be a victim and never be a survivor.”

She wanted to change. She wanted to no longer be the victim, but …

“All of this stems from being raped as a little girl. If that doesn’t happen …” the shrink looked down at her, over her glasses like a professor about to give a troubled student a flunking grade. “… you probably never get raped by anyone. But what happened to you when you were a little girl defined you, who you were, who you are and who you will be.”

Her mind is racing now. Heat feels her body and that horrid nausea is back. After that visit to the therapist, she quit going. All the years leading up to that, she had treated the symptoms, but never got to the root cause of the problem. Now she knew where it had its roots and all she wanted to do was …

“When did you decide to end him?” Lisa asks. 

Stephanie gives Lisa a look of stunned amazement. It is clear she didn’t expect the question, but it was out there and Lisa hopes she will answer it. 

“The very moment I realized he raped me. I knew I would kill him.”

Lisa had known as well, but …

To be continued.

This is Erin MacCallum

Sometimes we meet people and become friends with them over the briefest of moments. Though that friend is not around often, you find that even after years pass it’s only like yesterday since you were in contact with that friend last. This the case in real life, but also in the writing world. Recently, I was fortunate to reconnect with a writer friend and we had us a nice sit down, albeit through FB Messenger. So, sit back, relax and This Is Erin MacCallum.

AJ: Erin, it has been a long time since we last chatted. I believe that was for Zombie Killer Bill.

EM: Thank you for the chance to be here again, Jeff! Last time we chatted would have been back in 2010. Wow, time flies when you’re having fun.

AJ: 2010 seems like yesterday. How have you been since then?

EM: I’ve been doing well! I’ve started working on a few projects and living life as well as anyone can.

AJ: Can you tell me about some of the projects?

EM: The usual writing projects and I’ve started two webpages. One is my Author’s Page and the other is a book blog called The Reader’s Hollow, where I feature and review everything from bestsellers to indies.

AJ: Two webpages? I have a hard time keeping up with one. Before we getting to the writing projects, tell me about The Reader’s Hollow.

EM: I started The Reader’s Hollow in 2012 because I felt detached from the writing community and what was coming out on the indie scene. This seemed like a great way to connect, and it went from a once a week hobby to almost every day. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

AJ: Detached from the writing community? How?

EM: I just didn’t know what was going on or really all that was out there and wanted to find ways of doing it online. I live out in the boonies so local gatherings like at the library weren’t always easy to do.

AJ: So this is a way for you to connect, not only with the writing community, but the reading community as well?

EM: Nail on the head, Jeff.

AJ: I’d like to come back to this later, but for now, let’s talk writing and publishing. You have a series of books out right now. Tell me about those.

The Demons Grave ImageEM: I do! It’s The Demon’s Grave trilogy which is a dark urban fantasy about a group of college kids who find themselves trespassing in an alternative universe and must face their secrets and fears in order to get home.

AJ: Interesting concept. Where did the idea for The Demon’s Grave come from?

EM: I wrote it originally when I was 13. To be honest, I cannot remember. At the time I was an organic writer. I had a chapter and just let it take me places. Then over the years I’ve added and subtracted until I just couldn’t anymore.

AJ: That’s interesting. Then your love for writing started at a very early age?

EM: Oh yes, around eight years old. I wrote a trilogy back then and bound it in duct tape to make it fit in the shelf. After that I became a bit obsessed with telling stories.

AJ: Ahhh, I think you just hit it on the head this time. Telling stories. Stephen King has said time and time again that it is always about the story. Nothing else matters but the story. It’s not about the writing. I think a lot of writers miss that. With that in mind, do you consider yourself a writer who tells stories or a story teller who writes?

EM: I think I’m trying to figure that out right now. I complicated a lot of my stories by overthinking, and you won’t believe how many unfinished manuscripts I’ve collected. Recently, I’ve been trying to adopt being a storyteller again. It hasn’t been easy but I find I do better if I get the story out and ask questions later.

AJ: The struggle is real!

EM: Haha, yes the struggle never ends.

AJ: I think the really good writers excel in storytelling. They don’t just write the action and the scenes, but they tell the entire story as the story tells them to write it.

EM: I like that point of view. I’m going to have to pocket that for those low moments of self-doubt.

AJ: We all have those moments, but I think once we gain our confidence, telling the stories becomes easier and easier.

EM: Thanks! That’s what I’m aiming for.

AJ: You said the series is a trilogy, right? Have they all come out already?EM:

EM: Yes! Book 2: Midnight Ruling & Book 3: The Haunting are both out and available. I was really lucky to have gotten a few amazing editors (Matthew Baugh, Jessica Meigs & Lori Titus) and graphic artist (Amygdala Designs) to help me get these all out so close together.

AJ: I don’t know Baugh or Meigs, but I know Lori and she is an awesome person.

EM: Yes, she is! I really liked working with her.

AJ: Tell me about your process for writing.

EM: The writing process, this last year, has been a rough outline and I write the scenes I’m excited about, then I start to pull it all together and try to follow the outline, but it doesn’t always go that way. I always try to keep Pixar in mind, haha. I’ve yet to predict one of those awesome cartoons. The writers are brilliant at misleading and scratching out the most obvious storylines.

AJ: That’s actually a really good way to look at things. Pixar really does tend to throw curve balls at the audience. That’s definitely something to think about.

How did you go from Zombies to demons?

EM: I don’t think I can stick with just one kind of monster. There’s so many good stories to spin and the more I’ve ignored an idea, the more it’s haunted me. Next it might be ghosts, or witches, or vampires. Do you find you can stick with just one genre when those voices come calling?

AJ: Honestly, I don’t have a genre anymore. I stopped writing for a genre about four or five years ago. For me, I didn’t like the restrictions of genre writing or even labeling myself as a horror writer.

EM: Smart

AJ: So, tell me, zombies, demons, ghosts, vampires maybe. What about the human monster? That is the monster I like to tackle. As you evolve as a writer, do you think you could lean toward writing about the very real horrors of humanity?

EM: Ha! Funny you should say that. My current WIP is a historical about a serial killer’s daughter. I got the idea from reading about H.H. Holmes and how he had a public execution, and then it’s revealed that he had wives and children. I couldn’t imagine the discrimination that would come with a last name that’s attached to a human monster, especially back then.

AJ: Now that’s my type of storyline.

EM: Hopefully it works out. Haha.

I bought Cory’s Way a while back but have yet to crack it. If that’s your type of storyline I should move that book further up the TBR list! I’m really digging dark thrillers lately.

AJ: Cory’s Way is kind of along the lines of The Body (or so I’ve been told). It has a few unique twists in it. I think anyone would love it. I think I just plugged my book during your interview.

EM: I was hoping you would. I hear it’s good. More people might want to check it out, you never know!

AJ: Thank you, Erin. I believe the story is good, and according to the readers I’ve heard from, so do they.

Let me throw something out to you. I have always been a big Stephen King fan and I find a lot of wisdom in his words. One of those nuggets of wisdom came from his book On Writing. In it he said that the writer is the story’s first reader. With that in mind, when I sit to write, I sit to learn about the story as well. I know a story is good when it takes unexpected turns and leaves me nodding, smiling, in tears or on the verge of cussing.

When you write, do you look at it anything like that?

EM: Oh yes, sometimes it can leave me frustrated, but in the end it benefits the overall story more often than not. And that’s a good book, On Writing, my husband got it for me for Christmas last year. It has a lot of those nuggets you mentioned. I’m not completely done as I find I have to stew over some of the points he makes but I’m leaning a lot!

AJ:  On Writing is the only book, well, on writing, which I have read. I found a lot of what King had to say about writing was practical and not a book of do’s and don’ts.

EM: Absolutely, I also find there’s no sure-fire way for everyone. That’s the awesome thing about writing, no two writers have the same journey.

AJ: Exactly, Erin. What works for me may not work for you and what works for you may not work for someone else. That is the beauty of it. There is only the story and how it is told.

Okay, Erin, let’s rewind for a minute and go back to The Reader’s Hollow. Do you do the book reviews for it, and if so, how would other writers be able to take advantage of this?

EM: Yes, we do reviews, interviews, guest posts and Spotlight posts for us and book tours. If any author wants to apply they can see our review policy.

AJ: Very nice.

With writing, what goals do you have for yourself?

EM: To never stop and to always get better and learn what I can. I stopped writing back when I was 18-25ish and as much as I needed an experience in the outside world, I was lost without this outlet.

AJ: Yes, this outlet can be a sanity saver.

Do you find it difficult to market, not just your books, but you?

EM: I did at first, but opportunity is everywhere to market a book. It was just a bit scary at first, and it’s a slow process, but it’s never ending and new ideas are out there every day. As for marketing myself, it was deciding to just be myself and if people like me, cool, if not, well that’s life.

AJ: Okay, here’s the scenario: we are, face to face at a convention. I am a reader and you are the writer. I come up to your booth. You want me to buy your book. Sell it to me.

EM: Hi! What brings you to the con today?

AJ: I just thought it would be a good way to spend my day. What are you selling?

EM: Books! This bunch would be my urban fantasy trilogy called The Demon’s Grave. It’s my latest pride and joy. Are you a reader? Writer?

AJ: I am a reader. I like dark books with good character development.

EM: This might be right up your alley. I’ve been working on these characters for over ten years. Ha! That doesn’t keep them very safe though. It’s in a demonic world and there are some dark scenes, but it’s all to build up the ending.

AJ: Demonic? I don’t know if I would be into that. (How do you react to someone saying that?)

EM: That’s alright! There’s also zombies, doppelgängers and nightmares. The demon is an overlord and it’s where he’s trapped. We each like different things though. Most of my favorite horror elements are in the trilogy, like some of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Are you a classic monster fan at all?

AJ: I do like the classics.

EM: I tried to keep it true with evil vampires and even have less supernatural moments like facing old bullies. As an adult I always thought that would be an experience.

AJ: I’m sold. I like the classic monsters, not the sparkly ones.

EM: Yea!

Usually here I’m also asking them about what books they really enjoyed and if I know any, I like to talk about them. If not its movies or I let them go if they’re still browsing. I always welcome people wandering back to visit, too. Cons can be so much stress and so much fun.

AJ: Selling yourself can be daunting, but it looks like you have a handle on that.

Before we go, is there anything you would like to add? Anything you would like to tell the readers?

EM: Just to keep supporting Indies. There are some gems out there and I want to thank you, Jeff, for taking the time to interview me and having one of the funnest methods for doing them!

AJ: It was truly my pleasure, Erin.

***

About The Demon’s Grave:

When strange shadows and messages plague Nora’s daily life she fears for her sanity. To escape questions from her family, Nora joins her friends on a weekend getaway. Despite not liking Aidan Birket, Nora finds his remote, Victorian house charming. Until they discover the marble doorway on the third floor and, against Nora’s better judgment, they open it.

Trespassing into an unfamiliar world called the Demon’s Grave, the group face a charismatic demon and six nightmarish Challenges as punishment. Those that make it to the end can go home, but those that don’t will be his forever. Friendships are tested, secrets revealed and sacrifices will be made.

Nora battles zombies, doppelgängers, eyeless bikers, and the demon—whose interests are more than just a game of cat and mouse. If it’s all in her head, then it should be easy. But, if not, it means the demon knows about her sticky past, and the death of her twin sister.

Excerpt from The Demon’s Grave:

“Aidan,” I insisted in a whisper.

A few car lengths north of the Chevy a stereo crackled to life. An echoing voice sang followed by a choir of voices that doo de doo’ed in the background. The slow song sounded like something from the 1950’s.

Read and I exchanged a curious glance as the echoing main voice mentioned a game. Read pulled his hand from mine and we both wiped our slick palms on our jeans.

“What is it?” I asked Aidan. “What should we be looking for?”

He didn’t answer, his eyes kept wandering to the cars then down the street and to the motorbikes.

Read’s shoulders sagged, exasperated. He looked ready to say something when the roar of an engine smothered the music as well as my yelp. It stopped Read cold.

Aidan jumped and grabbed my arm as if I were the one to save him.

Craning my neck to see if there was a single vehicle taking up the roadway, I saw none. It had been so loud I couldn’t pinpoint the direction it came from.

The music began to take over the street once more, a new song erupting from the crackling speakers.

Between shallow breaths, Aidan said, “come on.”

Before Read or I could question him, Aidan stood up and started in long, purposeful strides, the kind that was harder to stop.

Read nudged me to move, or rather shoved me. Panicked, we hurried to Aidan. Looking to him, our pace quickened to keep up. Aidan stared straight ahead. His lean figure was rigid, but he hadn’t slowed.

Keeping close to the buildings, we passed the occupied car playing music. I could see three teenage boys inside. The muffled vintage music carried through the window.

I felt the scream choke in my throat as we passed. The passengers didn’t have eyes.

Their shapeless pale faces lacked not only the eyes but also mouths. The skin where lips should be had stretched horizontally, sealing any opening. The only portion of their faces that was noticeable was the lump of their nose—without nostrils. Even their hair was all the same color, styled the same, with a part in the middle, and they wore the same collared shirt and slacks.

I thought to myself, It’s just a few of the faceless, nameless people of this city, like any other…right? Maybe the demon had a sense of sick, very sick, humor.

I could hear, the eerie chorus of voices within the car, making it all the more surreal.

The three boys in the car watched us pass, as is if they could see. They turned their heads as we hurried along and I found myself staring back for as long as I could.

 

An Interview with James Crawford

Good evening, Faithful Readers.  Today I would like to welcome James Crawford to Type AJ Negative.  Sit down, have a glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy our conversation.

AJ:  First, tell me a little about Manleigh Cheese.

JC:  Manleigh Cheese is the result of friends challenging me to write something other than horror.

AJ:  Where did the concept of Manleigh Cheese come from?

JC:  Since I live in the Washington, DC area, there’s a thriving food truck scene, and whispers of corruption every day. I thought they could be two tastes that taste great together.

I’m a foodie, and this great little cheese place, Cheesetique opened a few years ago, that was the inspiration for a cheese-based food truck.

AJ:  Nice.  What type of writer do you consider yourself to be?

JC:  Dialog-driven.

AJ:  Why dialog-driven as opposed to descriptive or action-based?

JC:  I’m a talker, so my characters tend to be. I’m in love with words and communication.

AJ:  I’m a talker, as well. Some tell me I never shut-up.  As a writer, what do you have to offer the readers?

JC:  Hopefully, well drawn characters who exhibit “real” emotions.

AJ:  As a writer, do you have a hard time focusing on one story at a time or do your thoughts tend to stay on point throughout a story?

JC:  For me, having more than one project running at a time is a pressure valve. I “go there” when I write horror, and a little comedy helps me balance out. A little sci-fi relaxes the humor…and so on.

AJ:  My mind tends to go in a thousand directions at one time. I never have just one project or story going on.  You are also a painter. What do you paint and is painting the same type of outlet as writing?

JC:  Since my living situation changed, I don’t have a workshop for my metal pursuits. Going back to fine art, where I started, is a way to keep that creativity sharp. Yes, it also helps to define a character by drawing him, her, or it.

AJ:  Okay, let’s shift gears, what’s your favorite food truck?

JC:  I’ve…this is a confession…never eaten at one.

AJ:  DOH! I’ve only eaten at three of them and I have loved all of them.

JC:  Yeah. I’m a poseur.

AJ:  Okay, Mr. Poseur, let’s switch gears again and discuss Permuted Press for a minute or three. How was your initial experience with them?

JC:  It was great. I was enthused, and so was Jacob. I felt like I’d succeeded.

AJ:  Truthfully, you had. Getting on with Permuted was something I wanted to do at some point, but never actually attempted.  Now, I’m glad I didn’t.

JC:  I got to watch the crazy up front.

AJ:  When you say watch the crazy up front, what do you mean?

JC:  The new ownership coming on, and their struggle to turn Permuted into (I’m thinking) some sort of cash cow.

AJ:  So, then Permuted switched hands and then things went nuts?

JC:  That’s how it seemed to me. Every six months, some new kerfuffle.

AJ:  How many books did you put out with Permuted?

JC:  My first trilogy is under Permuted, but nothing else will be.

AJ:  You left Permuted, but your trilogy is kind of stuck there, right?

JC:  I am stuck with them for that trilogy, and have to offer them first opportunity on anything else in that series.  Contractual obligation.

AJ:  That is crazy.  If you could do one thing over, what would it be?

JC:  Oooo. Ah. Argh.

AJ:  Yeah, I know.  Sometimes reflecting back is harder than moving forward.

JC:  Aside from voicing my displeasure in a louder voice, and more broadly…not submitting to them in the first place.

AJ:  Let’s move on. Manleigh Cheese came out recently, put out by Burning Willow Press. How did you hear about BWP and what has that experience been like?

JC:  I knew of Kindra and Sheron from Permuted, and I liked the idea of what they wanted to build. I submitted, and they accepted.

AJ:  What was the editorial process like?

JC:  Pretty simple. They handed the manuscript to their editor, she made some comments, I corrected a few things, and we were good to go.

AJ:  Nice.  So, do you prefer your cheese to be mature like in the Cheez-It commercials or immature?

JC:  Does it taste good? That’s my qualifier.

AJ:  Mature cheese it is!

Okay, time to get serious.  I’m a potential reader. Sell me on your book. Why should I buy it?

JC:  Do you like urban fantasy, but are tired of the old Sidhe in America thing? Do you like evil evil? None of the gray area stuff? How about characters you can like, and want to have a drink with?

That’s Manleigh Cheese.

AJ:  Good answer.  Now, sell me on you. If you had to pitch yourself to me (which I’ve had to do with a person face to face before she would buy my books), what would you say?

JC:  Honestly, I do my best to be a genuine person. I have a sense of humor, and really enjoy learning who my potential readers are. That’s the best thing about being a “small time” author.

AJ:  I like that.  I think the person who asked me the same question would like that response.

If you owned a food truck, what would you sell?

JC:  I’d try a zombie theme food truck. The burgers might be named for people. Amanda (avocado and other toppings); Bubba (extra bacon)…Guts on a bun. French fingers.

AJ Nice.  I like that.

JC:  There’s actually a menu for the Manleigh Cheese truck in the book.

AJ: Okay, we need to talk about the Menu a little.  That is a great idea

JC: The Bitch Set Me Up cupcake is based on what former DC Mayor Marion Berry said when they arrested him for cocaine.

AJ:  Hahaha!  That’s great.  What is your favorite item on the menu?

JC:  I’d be really fond of the Political Puffs.

AJ:  That’s the savory cheese puffs made with Manleigh’s own artisan cheddar.  It would be four bucks.  That’s great.

JC:  I had fun with it.

***

James Crawford’s Manleigh Cheese can be purchased on Amazon.  To whet your appetite, enjoy this excerpt:

“Pardon that interruption. My colleague took an interest in your intern.”

A quirk of his perfect lips sent a shiver down Lois Nasen-Hedges’ legs. She hated how gorgeous he was—tall, slim, long black hair, and those piercing emerald eyes—as much as she craved his attention.

“Certainly, Toll. Interruptions happen.” She tried to hide her feelings by smoothing her skirt—if it accidentally enhanced her shapely thighs, so much the better. “Where were we a moment ago?”

“Yes. We were discussing the return of the artifact to me, now that our bargain is completed.” He nodded, each movement carefully measured to increase Ms. Nasen-Hedges’ heartbeat.

“It will take me a few days to retrieve it,” Lois said, ducking her eyes, hoping he wouldn’t catch the lie she was trying to craft.

“A few days will be fine,” Toll crooned, “but I would remind you there are devastating consequences if you decide to break our bargain.”

He smiled at her from the other side of the desk, flashing pointed, pearlescent teeth. The threat was an old one, but effective: cross me, and everyone you hold dear dies, torn limb from limb. As an added bonus, Toll threw in something new (testing threats for effectiveness was his hobby and favorite way to pass the time).

The latest addition to the consequences was how failure to return the artifact would also bring about the destruction of the wall between the spirit world and the material world. Not a small threat—when added to the previously mentioned mayhem involving loved ones—and also a complete and utter lie.

“I don’t believe.” He whispered this time. “The nations you have built would survive the revelation that your reality is not the only one our world supports. We accept that humans exist, but we are myths and nightmares for you—never seen in daylight, or encountered on the street.”

She couldn’t bring herself to get defensive at him for reminding her of the consequences. He was right. Everything would go insane if Joe American had spirits to placate before cracking open a cold one… or if the military’s weapons were outclassed by spells and dark spirits.

It was also enough reason to keep the artifact in the possession of the United States of America. Leverage. Withholding the object of someone’s desire and keeping it beyond their reach was a tried and true method for securing good behavior. Lois Nasen-Hedges didn’t believe herself to be a fool.

Toll might be the sexiest creature in existence, but he was also cunning, manipulative, and powerful enough to break the tenuous balance of power in the normal world. Creatures like this, Lois believed, should to be kept in line through proper management and coercion. Especially when the entity in question was nearly immortal, and a bullet through the brain might not be fatal.

Fairies and supernatural creatures were not what she expected to be dealing with in the halls of government. Little green men were almost to be expected, but she never imagined anything supernatural might be real, or sitting on the other side of her desk.

“I’m pleased we see eye-to-eye on this issue, Toll.” Lois forced a smile, knowing full well she was going to play an incredibly dangerous game. “I would like to propose we meet again a week from today at this address.”

She slid the sheet of paper over the leather surface of her desk. He glanced at it, quirked his lips, and retrieved it with immaculately manicured fingers.

“An old quarry in Marriotsville, Maryland.” He leaned back in the chair, and smiled. “You make interesting choices, Ms. Nasen-Hedges.”

“It is easily secured, and no one will stumble across our transaction,” she paused, “at least, no one who would be missed.”

“As always, I am impressed by your practicality. Next Friday, at the time and location you’ve provided, is satisfactory.”

Toll stood up, bowed, and offered his hand. Lois stood, reached out and placed her hand in his. She gasped when his fingers locked around her palm like slim steel cables. He pulled her over her desk with no effort, leaving only the toes of her expensive loafers touching the floor.

“I want to remind you,” he said, as his honey and briars voice deepened into a growl, “crossing me would go poorly for you. I will skin you alive, and use your flesh to wipe my ass, before I feed you to things you do not wish to imagine.”

She couldn’t speak. His eyes held her attention like his hand held hers: without mercy.

Toll let her hand drop, deftly slitting her palm with the unnaturally sharp edge of his fingernail. Lois Nasen-Hedges gasped as she fell across her desk, eyes focused on the blood dripping from her outstretched hand onto the cream carpet below.

When she looked up, he was already gone, and she was left to wonder if the game she’d begun was worth playing.

The Pinch: Chantal Noordeloos

You guys and gals are in for a treat. Today I want to draw a little blood from a very talented young lady. If you’ve never read anything by her, then you are missing out. She writes in a smooth, easy way that even some of the more brutal scenes can make you squirm without you realizing you are doing so. Today I would like to invite Chantal Noordeloos to the Donor Center for a little Pinch. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt much.

Draw blood? *blinks* They didn’t tell you how squeamish I am? Be warned, I might faint. I know, I know… I write really gruesome things. But that works for me… see, I know I’m onto something when I feel like I may lose consciousness at any time.

Chantal, before we get to your new book, let’s talk about Coyote. Tell me about her and the series she is in.

I love talking about Coyote! *suppresses a little squee* She’s one of my own favourite characters. Well, she shares first place with my version of Lucifer (Even Hell Has Standards and Celestials) and Soulman (Deeply Twisted), but she’s definitely up there.

So, what would you like me to tell you about Coyote? That her partner and best friend, Caesar, is a former slave, who knows a little magic? Or that she’s a bounty hunter who has a special kind of target? She hunts creatures that are called Outlanders. They’re not exactly aliens, but they are definitely not from this world. Outlanders travel through the rips of reality, from one world to the next, often by accident. The worlds can be completely different realities, but sometimes they are just an alternate dimension from the earth.

It’s up to the hunters to track the wandering Outlanders down. Not all Outlanders are dangerous monsters, so Coyote and Caesar have to find out which of their bounties need to be killed, and which need to be protected.

The series is made out of separate stories that make up one whole main tale.

I use a little bit of everything in there, Steampunk, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Weird West, which gives me a lot of freedom to play around with the setting. I use a few historical facts, and even characters, but I play around with them too. Bending them to my will, if you like. *insert devious laughter here*

Unlike my horror work, I’ve kept Coyote accessible for different ages, though I wouldn’t say it’s Young Adult. The characters are too old for that, for one, but I like to think a younger audience will appreciate the novels as well.

The Coyote series definitely expresses my more ‘fun side’.

Are there more books to come in the Coyote series?

*hooks thumbs in the belt loops of her jeans, and balances on the heels of her feet* Yup, there sure are. *drops the cowboy act, because she’s just not very good at it*.

There are two books out so far. Coyote: The Outlander is the first novel, and it is the introduction to the setting and the characters. Coyote: The Clockwork Dragonfly is actually the first book that digs deeper into the main story line. It brings out some of the bigger antagonists, and I get to play around with a mysterious circus, what’s not fun about that? The next book in the series will be Coyote: The Rip Walker.

I have at least five books planned in this series to finish the story line that I started. It really depends on how well the series is received if there are going to be more than five.

Now, let’s talk Angel Manor. Tell the readers a little about this novel, if you don’t mind.

I guess I can’t just get away with posting the blurb, can I? *cheeky grin*. Ehm, okay, a little bit about Angel Manor… Well, for one, it’s the name of the house Freya inherits from her batty old aunt. The mansion gets its name from the stone angels that are placed in front of it. They are the only remains from the old cloister that once stood in its place, which burned down in the 19th century, killing all but two people.

Sounds like a pretty stereotypical set up for a haunted house novel, right? I can tell you, it’s not. I may have put a few extra layers in there.

Angel Manor should come with a warning label, there are some very graphic and explicit descriptions in the pages. I like to think it’s not a full on ‘Splatterpunk’ novel, though. I did put a lot more emphasis on the story than I did on the gore, but it’s definitely bloody.

Where did the idea for Angel Manor come from?

Well, this nun came to my house and… no, just kidding. I’m trying to remember if I ever actually met a real nun…

But, I digress. Ehm… where did I get my idea from?

It started that I really wanted to write a haunted house story. They’re one of my favorite tropes within the horror genre, and I just had to write my own. Personally I love using tropes, and I always hope that I am able to do something a little surprising with them.

The idea behind it actually came from another series I’m working on, called Celestials. I’ve written the first book already several times, but I’m still not satisfied with it, so this year I’m rewriting it again (for the last time I hope).

There are elements in that series that I could use for something else too, and I thought it would be perfect for Angel Manor.

Initially I was going to do more with the dead children in the book, that was my first concept. The idea of Angel Manor having been an orphanage really creeped me out, but as I was writing it, the nuns took over for me. They were stronger characters than the children were, and most of the scenes I wrote with the kids were cut out.

The nuns were a conscious choice, they were a perfect fit with the back story, be a good choice to run a 19th century orphanage, and be scary on top of that too. *throws confetti* I call that a win.

As for the stone angels. I knew I wanted to throw in a hint of a Celestial presence, and I was totally inspired by Dr. Who’s weeping Angels. Though, these angels are very different, the visual image of them still plays a part.

Angel Manor is book one of a series? How do you envision this series going forward?

Without giving away too many spoilers, there will be two more books. All of them center around the house, however, the next two books will also have parts set in different locations. There will be more focus on the secret that lies beneath the manor.

As I mentioned before, there are ties with the Celestials series. Both will be set in the same time period, and their stories are interlinked. That doesn’t mean you have to read both series to understand the stories. They are two separate entities, but I think it will be fun for the reader to see familiar things when they read them. I might cross over certain characters, and I shall definitely be using similar events.

Horrific Tales Publishing put out Angel Manor. How was your experience with them?

Publishing is always a bit of a roller coaster ride. It’s nice when a book is well received and the sales are good. Horrific Tales does a lot to promote its books.

One last question: Do you think you’d make a good nun?

I don’t know if the other nuns would appreciate my lack of faith. *grins*. I am not a good follower, so, no, I don’t think I would make a good nun. And the thought of living with nothing but women for the rest of my life terrifies me. When I was a teenager I lived in a boarding school for a year, where the housing situation was ‘all girls’. (We went to school with boys too, but we weren’t allowed in each other’s houses, not even the common rooms). That was all the ‘all girl’ experience I’m willing to have in one lifetime.

Okay, see painless, right?

I had a cat put her claws in my leg as I was answering these questions, does that count? *cheeky wink*

***

Excerpt from Coyote: The Clockwork Dragonfly

“You won’t be the first bounty hunter I’ve killed, little girl.” The Outlander guffawed, spittle flying from his lips. “And you won’t be the last.” He puffed up his impressive chest, and Coyote could not hide her smile. She liked to see overconfidence in an opponent.

“Are you sure about that, fat man?” She ran the palm of her hand across the butt of her gun, the way an owner would stroke a cat. There is something alluring and powerful about having a shooting iron on my hip. “Because you won’t be the first Outlander I kill.”

“You need to be a good shot to kill me with that.” The Outlander’s froggy eyes gleamed with pleasure, and his large lips rubbed against each other. With two hands, he lifted his stomach a few inches and let it drop again. “And trust me, no matter how good you are, you won’t be good enough. I never stay down long.” The creature leered at her as if he had a secret, and Coyote nodded—her smile never faded.

“They told me that about you.” She pulled her derby away from her eyes. “That’s a neat trick, being able to come back from the dead. Oh, I’m aware of that particular talent of yours.”

The Outlander blinked at her, his face betraying his surprise.

“I can see how you killed a lot of bounty hunters with that particular skill. They probably never saw it coming.” She winked at him. “It’s a little inconvenient, to say the least, to shoot an Outlander and have him get back up.” Coyote squinted her eyes and then shrugged. “It’s nothing I can’t work around.”

The Outlander let out a boisterous laugh—more spittle flew from his liver lips—and he revealed a set of grey broken teeth.

“You can work around my immortality?” He laughed again, and his whole body shook.

“You’re not immortal, fat man,” Coyote retorted with a warm smile. “People who can’t die are immortal. You can die; you’re just hard to kill.”

The Outlander slapped the thick flesh of his belly and rubbed it slowly, the smile still prominent on his pudgy face. “You think you can shoot me with that pea shooter of yours?” His voice took on a metallic quality, like nails dragged across iron.

“I know I can shoot you with my pea shooter. I am one heck of a shot.”

“And you think you can kill me with your iron bullets?”

“Iron bullets alone won’t do the trick, but I hear that Huzela juice in your blood will help those bullets kill you just fine.”

The rubbing motion stopped and the Outlander gawked at Coyote.

“Caesar?” Coyote’s tone was soft and smug, and the Outlander jumped a little when Caesar touched him. The big creature turned just in time to see the little man with coal black skin run from harm’s way. Caesar held a large, intricate copper syringe with a curved needle in his hand, and Coyote chuckled at the sight. The fat creature roared in outrage.

“What have you done to me, you bitch?” He charged toward Coyote, and she could see the color in his eyes turn from yellow to red.

Excerpt from Angel Manor

The bodies of fallen children lay scattered around the room, their blood coagulating in a pool covering over half the chapel floor. The whimpers coming from the survivors were little more than a pitiful hum.

Agatha had thought her mission noble when she’d first joined the order, but this suffering overwhelmed her with nausea and regret. There was a better way than this needless waste of young life, Agatha was sure of it.

“We could save thousands of lives by sacrificing but a few. Sister Anne and I have studied the texts, and we’re pretty confident we can do it… tonight even. We made all the preparations, just in case you changed your mind. The sacrifice required is relatively small compared…”

The Reverend Mother’s hand lashed out, connecting with Agatha’s cheek with a loud crack. Pain spread out in tiny pinpricks across her face. Shocked, she clutched her face and looked at the Mother Superior.

“Enough of this!” Spittle flew from the Reverend Mother’s lips. “Your rituals are pagan, we serve our Lord here as we were instructed. You had best mind what blasphemous words you utter here, Sister Agatha. The Lord does not look kindly upon heathens.” The older woman’s face relaxed slightly, and her expression turned from angry to stern. “We will never speak of this again. Now go and make the sacrifices required of us.” The old woman shoved her forward with a force that belied her frail appearance. Agatha slipped on a puddle of blood, her legs sprawling under her like an awkward doe’s. She fell to the ground, her wrists and elbow hitting the floor hard. Pain shot up through her arms, her naked body shivering on the cold stones. She looked up to see the Mother Superior walk away, leaving bloody footsteps in her wake. Agatha’s eyes followed her until she passed the body of little Margaret. The young girl lay with her neck twisted at an impossible angle, eyes staring lifelessly at the horror within the chapel.

I must find Anne. Sister Agatha scrambled to her feet, her hands and legs stained with cold sticky blood. She glanced at the carnage around her and then she ran, the soles of her feet slapping against stone, the impact rattling her teeth.

She ran from the chapel, through the narrow passages, and across the great cloister. The Sister felt the cold eyes of the twelve stone angels lining the walls of the large open area look down on her. Slowing her pace, she glanced up at the imposing statues. Even knowing stone couldn’t judge her, she found it difficult not to imagine God peering down through those blank eyes. A shudder ran through her spine, and she picked up her pace, not stopping until she reached the library.

“Anne…” Her voice reverberated off the high walls, echoing parts of her words back at her. “Sister Anne?”

A voice came from behind her. “Sister Agatha…”

***

Whew. Smooth, energetic writing. If you haven’t read Chantal, you need to. I hope you enjoyed the interview. I know I did and I look forward to more from Chantal.

You can find Chantal at any of the following places:

Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/pon4e66

Blog: http://chantalnoordeloos.blogspot.nl/

Website: http://www.chantalnoordeloos.info

Twitter: C_Noordeloos

Amazon page: http://tinyurl.com/puy2t87

Goodreads: http://tinyurl.com/kb3oswg

 

 

 

The Pinch: Kindra Sowder

Today, I get to pinch a fellow South Carolinian. With a new small press and a book coming out in January, I’d like you all to welcome Kindra Sowder to the Doner Center.

Kindra, your debut novel, Follow the Ashes, is coming out soon. Tell us about it.

Follow the Ashes is the first installment of a trilogy I began writing when I was fifteen, and there are possibly many more to come. I haven’t decided. It will be released January 11, 2015. The trilogy is about a woman named Robin (whose name was inspired by my beautiful mother) and she is the Executioner, a slayer of the evil and undead. Below is a brief description from the Burning Willow Press website.

What does it mean to be the Executioner? Is it the struggle between good and evil, and the fulfillment of a Gypsy legend?

For Robin, it’s simply another day in the park in downtown LA. It’s killing the undead as she attempts to juggle life and love the same as any other ordinary woman would. That is until she meets Gordon, a crazed demon with a conscience. Now she must battle an ancient evil far more powerful than she’s ever faced before, or risk losing the world to Lilith, the mother of all vampires.

Will she save mankind? Or will we all follow the ashes of destruction as we burn in Hell?

It will be followed by two sequels, Follow the Screams and Follow the Bloodshed.

Where will we, the readers, be able to find Follow the Ashes?

Follow the Ashes will be available in a number of places and formats. It will be available on Amazon as well as through e-book on Amazon and in print in stores and on shelves! Be on the lookout for it or you can request it if your local bookstore isn’t carrying it at the time. I’m really hoping I can get them on the shelves in Barnes & Noble to be honest as well as a lot of indie bookstores.

I see you are one busy lady right now. You have recently started a small press called Burning Willow Press. What made you decide to start your own small press?

Well, I decided to do this after the debacle with Permuted Press. When they changed their business model I was one of the many authors affected and I chose to dissolve my contract with them in search for something better. After that experience I wanted to be different so, while making the decision to self-publish my work, I made one very big leap. I decided to start my own small press, vowing to be an advocate for authors and their work instead of taking advantage of them like others do. Along with good friend and fellow author R.M. Willis and my husband Edd Sowder, we joined together to form Burning Willow Press to achieve that goal as well as to put out high quality work and to make an author’s vision for their work come to fruition.

For the writers out there, what types of work are you seeking?

At Burning Willow Press we are seeking science fiction, fantasy and horror. All submissions will go straight to our submissions and acquisitions team: Sheron Parris (fantasy submissions), Greg Crum (sci-fi submissions), and Steven Winfrey (horror submissions) to be brought to me by VP and acquisitions manager, R. M. Willis. We are very open to submissions that are a blend of these genres as well and we love unique work. One we just accepted is from former Permuted Press author, Michael Gardner. It is a pirate fantasy called The Blood of an Immortal. ARGGGHHH!

One last question, and I think I know the answer, but: Vampires or zombies and why?

Well, Jeff, while I do love zombies and am even a loyal Walking Dead fan, vampires have always been my favorite of the undead. They have been since I was a child and was captivated by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and even more as I continued to delve into the folklore. Then my favorite show, Supernatural, brought them out into the light, and well, who doesn’t love Buffy? If anyone wants to hook me, give me a really good and unique vampire story and you have my interest.

The following is an excerpt from Follow the Ashes:

My whole body burned. Every muscle fiber, every bone, every vessel. My chest felt broken but yet tightly held together like a huge hand was holding me. I couldn’t get a breath in, but could easily get a breath out. Lying there on my side I continued to try to choke in gasps, each one harder and more excruciating than the last. Blood was still seeping from the two puncture wounds on my neck. Some of that blood had even made its way into my hair and down my shirt. Great.

I could hear her footsteps coming closer to me. Or was that the heavy thud of my heart beating in my ears? With every step she took I knew I had to fight back. I could either fight for my life, or lose it by being a coward and giving into the pain. I was choosing life and I was going to fight for it with all the strength I had left. That’s if it was enough to even stand. If it wasn’t, fighting could be a different story altogether.

I rose to my knees and my body protested with nearly agonizing pain. I let the fire build up inside of me and it began to take me over like a tidal wave. This fire would save my life.

The woman’s steps stopped and I looked up at her, vowing vengeance and justice without even speaking a word. I didn’t see a flicker of fear in her eyes as she looked at me. I saw a gleam in her eyes that said she saw me as waste. Filth beneath her feet she could just walk all over and not even bat an eye. I was something not worth her time and something to be swiftly snuffed out. She had a plan, and she only needed to get rid of me to be able to fulfill it. I was going to be an easy kill to her, but I hadn’t yet revealed the rest of what I had in my arsenal. This fire inside of me wasn’t all I had. I had a will that no one could rival. Not even her.

My hand seemed to rise of its own volition, and the scream came out on instinct. The scream contained that familiar demonic edge that had distorted my voice the first time I let it overtake me. Fire blazed out of my hand and enveloped her in licking light and heat that was unforgiving. Her screams echoed through the night, and I let it pour out of me until every ounce of power had drained from my body, and I was nothing but a frail and hollow person. My vision began to fade, but I knew with everything I had that the demon was down on the ground. She was almost burnt to the point of being a charcoal briquette, but by some means still alive. I could still feel that strong buzz of her power throughout my entire body. No matter how much I wanted to extinguish that blaze inside of her, I determined I wouldn’t have the strength to do so.

I felt myself collapse and as my body made contact with the unforgiving ground every part of me cried with pain. I heard that same whimper come from between my parted lips. My vision was slowly fading, and as it faded completely to blackness I caught a glimpse of the man with an angel’s face coming to my rescue. I knew with certainty this would be when he would save me. Then everything went dark.

As I regained a moment’s consciousness I could feel myself being carried, and heard two distinct and panicked voices. I knew that I was definitely being carried by the man that I saw hovering over me as I blacked out. Thank you, powers of deduction. I could hear him right next to my head. Then I heard a door being opened with a squeak and somehow I knew it was the door to mine and Beth’s home. The familiar smell of the herbs she used in her spells hung in the air so I knew it was definitely our house. It was mostly the scent of burned sage that we used to banish the evil spirits of anything we had killed since we met. They had a tendency to stick around. Another clue was the slight creek in the maple floor board right in front of the door that had always been there.

The other voice was certainly Beth’s and I knew she was terrified for me, but she was scared by the man she had never met barging into our home. I could tell only that much. Every smell, sound, and sensation was muffled to the point I almost couldn’t tell if I was really sensing any of it at all. I even tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t. My eyelids felt like they had been sewn shut, and held down by heavy weight. It was like someone wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be opening them ever again. I wanted to be able to tear them open, and that same panic I heard in Beth’s voice started to rise in me as well. I was stuck in a darkness I couldn’t pull myself out of. As it overwhelmed me my body began to quiver and shake.

Then a new panic set in as another thought crossed my mind. How did this man know where I lived? What were his motives? But I realized I couldn’t worry about that at that moment. I had more important things to worry about. Like becoming completely conscious again and being able to communicate with Beth. I had to tell her about this mysterious creature that I had come across.

“I’m not sure what she was, but this woman has knocked her out cold. I’m not even sure how long she’ll be out for,” was all I could make out from the man carrying me into my home. I felt hair being moved away from the bite on my neck. It stuck sickly to my skin. “This will need to be purified. Now!” I could feel every ounce of pain in my body that I had felt before I drifted into darkness, and it was excruciating. I could feel the familiar buzz of terror from this man as he seemed to realize I could possibly die from this encounter. Wouldn’t that be a relief from what I was feeling at this moment, but no. I could possibly turn tonight. That woman wasn’t just anything, she was a vampire. A very old one at that.

I was swiftly taken through our home and my eyes were able to drift open long enough for me to see our kitchen doorway as I was laid on the kitchen island. I felt very large, warm hands on me that rolled me onto my side. One hand moved to my shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze as I heard rummaging through a cabinet. I knew what was coming. A holy water shower, followed by a silver nitrate shot. This was going to hurt.

I heard glass moving around and knew Beth had found the bottles of holy water. I was already shaking because I knew what was coming. I had experienced this pain before. We both had, but she wasn’t the one who had almost burned the house down because of it.

Fear gripped me and my eyes shot open and met his. Beth laid a glass syringe and an amber glass bottle on the corner of the island next to the three bottles of holy water it would take for the process. She glanced at me when her eyes met mine I saw pity and concern. She knew exactly what I was about to endure, and she felt sorry for me. I half expected her not to be able to do it herself, but as she picked up one bottle of holy water she removed the lid and gave me a reassuring look. I turned onto my stomach and gripped both side of the island, and braced myself for what was going to happen next.

Beth held the bottle over the wounds and hesitated. I could see her arm shaking as well. She didn’t want to do this, but she had to. If she didn’t, I was going to turn and they would be my first victims. I’d kill myself before I let that happen. I would not be one of the monsters.

I looked her directly in the eyes and nodded, giving her the okay. It had to be done. I gripped the counter even harder and squeezed my eyes shut, holding my breath. Every muscle in my body tensed up, and she hadn’t even poured anything yet. Then I felt the first sting as a few drops landed on my skin, and I gripped the edges of the counter even harder. Those few drops weren’t as bad as the barrage of acid that was about to be poured onto me.

A river of holy water touched my skin and sizzled. I felt like acid was being poured onto me and I was able to stifle a few screams. The river stopped, and then another started. I couldn’t stop it this time. Screams of agony ripped through the air and filled every corner of the house. There was no way to fight it. It stopped again. I opened my eyes and Beth was standing there, holding the bottle but not daring to pour anymore. I gave her another nod and closed my eyes. She then poured the whole bottle and then moved onto bottle number two, then three. I was sweating and soaking wet and could barely breathe by the time that was done. Now came the worst part. The syringe full of silver nitrate.

I slowly sat up, wincing, and put my arm out, rolling up my sleeve so she could get to the veins at the bend of my elbow. She touched the very tip of the glass syringe to my skin, looked me in the eyes, and pushed it into the vein right at the surface. I cringed, but held still. I knew once she pushed the plunger down I wouldn’t be as restrained. The man grabbed my shoulders from behind.

She pushed the plunger all the way down and at first everything was okay, then I felt a sensation was starting to build. My veins were on fire and as the burning grew, a glow began in the center of my chest and began to spread through those veins. The pain grew with it. I couldn’t hold it back. My head rolled back and I shrieked, a demonic scream being released with it.

The pain was unbearable and my body felt as if it were on fire and I went limp. My vision went black, but I was still aware of what was happening. The man picked me up and I could hear Beth directing him on where to go. As he laid me on what I could only assume was a bed I felt the coolness of the sheets, which was more than welcome as far as I was concerned. I wandered off into unconsciousness again, and everything was gone.

Thank you for joining us for this edition of The Pinch, and please check Kindra Sowder out at the following links:

Kindra Sowder on Facebook

Kindra Sowder on Twitter

Inside My Mind

Horror Geeks Magazine

Burning Willow Press Links:

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Website coming soon!

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The Pinch: Michelle Garren Flye

It will only hurt a little, just a pinch. That’s what the nurse says.

Remember that as we welcome a favorite of mine, Michelle Garren Flye. Michelle and I go back to the old +Horror Library+ days of the Zoetrope website. I’ve been fortunate enough to become a friend over the years, and worked with her on a couple of projects. I’ve been even more fortunate to have had the joy of reading her work when she wrote ~GASP~ horror.

It is an honor to welcome Michelle back to the Donor Center for The Pinch.

10 books. That is a lot of books to have written and released. Tell me, Michelle, is this what you imagined or is it better (or maybe even a little worse)?

Thank you for having me here, A.J. Let me answer your question with a little story. Once there was a little girl about seven years old who wrote cute little stories. Her mother said the little girl had a good imagination and could be an author one day. Of course, the little seven-year-old girl barely even knew what an author was, but that word—author—stuck in her head and germinated over the years until she was certain she wanted nothing more than to write and write and write her way into the stars.

Of course, real life intervened over the years and the girl grew into a young woman who let her dreams be mashed up into a way to make a living and became a journalist. When the young woman became a wife, she wanted better hours so she could spend more time with her husband, so she went to school and became a librarian. And then she started having children and took some time off work and started writing again, all the while dreaming of one day being able to call herself an author.

Well, with ten books out there being read by other people (even if it is just a few dozen), I know I can now call myself an author. But I also know I haven’t reached the limits of my dream. I still want my books to be read by a LOT of people. So I guess the answer is, the seed is still germinating and growing and becoming a vine that someday I hope will bear fruit.

Tell us about Island Magic—the tenth book.

Island Magic is the third in my Sleight of Hand series, a romance series featuring magicians as either the hero or heroine. In this case, the hero is Logan, a retired magician whose guilt over his wife’s death several years before has kept him from returning to the life of magic. When his wife’s best friend Rachel shows up at his Caribbean resort determined to party her way through her alimony, Logan wants to help her. In the process, he pulls off a pretty cool magic trick, falls in love with Rachel and finds out the secret of why she’s on such a self-destructive path. I like Island Magic because I feel like it has a lot more depth than the first two books in the series—although I’ll always love Andre, the magician hero of Close Up Magic.

I have to do this: You used to write horror, and you were magnificent at it. Why did you choose to go in the almost completely opposite direction with your writing in doing romance novels?

You are very kind to say I was magnificent at writing horror. I never deluded myself that far. I wrote some kind of neat ghost stories, but I was nowhere near as good as most of my contemporaries (including you). However, I’d probably still be writing those ghost stories if it weren’t for the fact that one day when my younger son was still a baby, I looked at his face and realized I wanted everything in the world to be beautiful for him. Love is the most beautiful thing in the world—the one power that can light up the darkest moment in our lives—so I decided I’d rather write about it. And that’s what got me started.

What are the differences between writing horror and writing romance?

Well, obviously, you’re aiming for a different demographic with romance. Romance readers are almost entirely women. But other than that… This is actually a very difficult question to answer. Every time I start to write something down about romance, I realize the same could be said for horror.

How are they the same?

Strangely enough, this is a much easier question to answer. Because yes. They are. Good horror is realistic. So is good romance. Good horror comes from the depth of your soul, and so does good romance. In both genres, you want to shock your audience (at least a little), keep them wondering, build suspense and finally come to an inevitable conclusion. Of course, horror never requires a happily ever after and romance does. 6. Is there a chance you may go back to horror one day? You know, for old time’s sake?

Always. I still get ideas for horror and I’ve never given up my fascination with a good ghost story. Whenever I travel, I find a bookstore and go straight to the local interest section to find the local histories and legends. And living on the coast of North Carolina, I’m determined I will one day write a book about a ghost pirate. Maybe it’ll even be a romance. Who knows?

The following is an excerpt from Island Magic, Michelle’s newest releas. Enjoy:

“Rachel!” The voice yanked her into semi-consciousness, or maybe it was the hands gripping her shoulders. God, had she fallen asleep in the waiting room? And why was everything so bright, and why did it all hurt so much? She wanted to tell him to leave her alone, let her rest for a few more minutes, but the anxiety in his voice when he called her name again made her push past the inertia.

“Jesus. What? Did I fall asleep?”

Logan stared at her for a second, then enfolded her in his arms. “Thank God. For a second I thought…” He stopped, pushing her away from him and she noticed for the first time the black marks on his face.

“God, what happened to you? Were you working on the plane or something?” She pulled away, brushing something gritty from her shoulders, feeling more in her hair. Why was she sandy? She looked around, taking in her surroundings with astonishment. “What?” She returned her gaze to him. “What am I doing on the beach?”

He frowned. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

“The waiting room at the airport. What happened? I hurt all over.” She struggled to stand, but he stopped her.

“Wait. Take it easy. You don’t remember getting on the plane? Maybe you hit your head harder than I thought.” He brushed her hair back from her face. “You’re not bleeding.” His frown deepened. “How do you feel?”

“What do you mean, how do I feel? I feel like a truck ran over me. I told you, I hurt all over.” Her voice came out sounding petulant and whiny and she stopped, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I just don’t understand. What happened?”

He hesitated, glanced around and finally said, “Let’s get out of the sun. It’s the middle of the afternoon and you don’t have any sunblock on.”

She let him help her to her feet, leaning on him as she turned toward the shadier area just off the beach. She stopped, first because she didn’t recognize the beach and second because of the smoking, blackened hulk a few hundred feet away. She gasped, her knees buckling beneath her. “Oh my God! Were we on…that?”

Before you click off the page, please check out Michelle’s links. Here’s the thing: she’s not just a great writer, but Michelle is a great person, who puts her heart and soul into her work. If you like romance, then you will love Michelle’s books> Check her out at the following links:

Michelle Garren Flye’s Website

Michelle Garren Flye on Twitter

Michelle Garren Flye on Facebook

Sleight of Hand Facebook Page

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends…