Thursday, September 29, 2011

How We Came up with The Laura Cardinal Series Covers by J. Carson Black

Please welcome author and guest blogger, J. Carson Black of the popular Laura Cardinal crime fiction series. For one week only, you can purchase The Laura Cardinal Novels at $4.97.

J. Carson Black is the critically-acclaimed author of the Laura Cardinal series: Darkness on the Edge of Town, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Devil’s Hour. Her phenomenally successful Kindle Edition of her crime thriller, The Shop, has sold more than 60,000 copies since its publication date in March 2011.

Born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, she was inspired by Stephen King’s The Shining, to write her own horror novel, a ghost story titled Darkscope, set in the historic mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. Darkscope was published by Kensington Publishing Corp. and she never looked back.

Now the award-winning author of eight novels published by NAL, Kensington Publishing Corp. and Dorchester Publishing–and in France, Germany, and Norway, Black has partnered with digital publisher Breakaway Media to publish her novels in the digital space. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. More information about her work can be found on her site.

How We Came up with The Laura Cardinal Series Covers 
by J. Carson Black

When my publisher (and husband) Glenn McCreedy at Breakaway Media and I decided to put up my three Laura Cardinal crime fiction thrillers, the first thing we thought about was cover art.

Readers of crime fiction and thrillers would be our primary audience. So we asked ourselves these questions.

What should a thriller look like?

Should the books be unified in some way?

Should they have the traditional look of a big publishing house? And if we chose to go that route, what kind of product did we envision?

We knew right away that we wanted to emulate the look of a big publishing house. But what kind of book? Hardcover? Trade paper? Or mass market paperback? We decided to go for the premiere option—hardcover. Hardcover is big, weighty, and looks important. We wanted to add that kind of “weight” to our books, to signal that my thrillers were worthy of such treatment, and so we studied the hardcovers that were nominated for Edgars last year. The Edgar Awards are for crime fiction, mystery, and thriller, so our books fit right in.

We noticed right away that the fonts were simple and big. The background art was good, but it was the backdrop for the title and the name of the author.

Looking at the Edgar Award covers and the covers of some of my favorite thriller/crime fiction writers: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Joe Finder, etc., we got a general idea of the subject matter, and learned that the cover art itself was secondary to the name and title. But the books had a certain “thriller look,” which I can’t really define except to say, after looking at hundreds of them, we know it when we see it.

We unified the book covers by using the same, simple print font, and made that font as big as we could.

Then we went looking for images. DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN starts with the discovery of a body in spooky band shell in Bisbee, Arizona. It’s a concrete inner-city park. I found an image that looked exactly like the entrance to that park. The building in the photo was built in the same era, just after the turn of the last century. And I loved the dramatic red color and the neon sign, which really seated the book in crime fiction. There was a car that looked like the car my bad guy drove. My husband was fooling around with the image and turned on the headlights of the car, and that bit of luck really made the cover. It’s the perfect focal point—to the right and slightly above the horizon, which is good composition. The last thing we did was ad bits and pieces of words the Internet predator used when communicating with the girl he killed.

DARK SIDE OF THE MOON: Part of the book takes place on the freeway through the Mojave Desert. We found a stunning photo of a road through the desert. We incorporated the same large, tall, simple font we used for DARKNESS. The colors were different enough that you wouldn’t mistake one book in the series for the other. We put the cover up, but as beautiful as it was, it lacked…something. Glenn wanted to put in a small nuclear symbol (which figures into the story). It looked like a stupid little kite-shaped sticker---awful! Then it occurred to us: Don’t go small – go big! A nuclear symbol is a scary thing. So we made it larger, and that symbol really made the cover.

THE DEVIL’S HOUR was the first cover we ever did. Three young girls are kidnapped years earlier and are believe to have been killed, but one returns home to her family nine years after the kidnapping. Where are the other two? At the heart of this story is Evil with a capital “E,” and we wanted to personify that malice with an evil man. I went through IStock Photo looking for “scary men,” and found a wonderful shot. His eyes are crazy mean. We cropped his face just above the mouth. We knew we’d have to have something for the lower part of the book, and it was difficult. We found a blue sky (a sunset) with black silhouetted trees, which looked like the sky and trees right outside my window in Tucson, Arizona. It worked. But we didn’t like the black line that divided the blue part of the cover from the top part. A mistake on Glenn’s part put a thin blue line above the black line we’d used---and it worked! A happy accident.

You won’t mistake one book for the other two because they are all different colors, but they are unified enough by the fonts to brand the books as J. Carson Black books---thrillers and crime fiction.

Recently, we decided to bundle all three Laura Cardinal mystery/thrillers into one book. Now what?
We came up with dozens of ideas, but at last hit on something simple. A Ouija Board plays a part in THE DEVIL’S HOUR. I went looking for a Ouija Board and found a beautiful one ---spooky and old, which gave the cover a feeling of ancient evil. We wanted the background to be simple, but planned to use strong contrasting colors for the cover and the lettering. The reddish brown of the Ouija Board was great. We fooled around but I knew in my heart that I wanted a lime-colored green for my name. Since we were selling THE LAURA CARDINAL NOVELS, we decided to go big with my name, J. CARSON BLACK.

It’s important to brand your books. Are they romance? If so, what kind? It’s important, too, to link them in some way, so people can think, “That’s a so-and-so book.” And it’s important to differentiate them so the reader won’t by the same book twice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Excerpt from Imaginology - A Short Story

This story has been an ongoing project for years, constantly evolving. I am finally happy with the finished product and getting ready to send it out for submissions again. This is the sixth version of Imaginology. This short has its origins in my childhood fascination with gory shark attack tales and pictures. Having been bullied myself as a child, I wanted to write about a  strong character who prevailed. The story took a darker turn than I intended, but I like it that way. This is the opening to Imaginology, a very normal day that quickly goes to hell.


by Nora B. Peevy

It was Saturday afternoon at the pool and Billy’s father toted a blue inner tube, flippers, and an orange beach bag crammed full of towels and sunscreen. Mike Chase, Billy’s classmate, stood poolside, tubby in his orange and brown swimsuit, his hair greasy and sweaty. Just looking at Mike made Billy want to scurry in the other direction, but George, Billy’s father, marched oblivious to any danger. His father’s comical bone-white knees jutted out from his too-short blue Hawaiian print shorts. Billy wished he could fade into one of the blue and white striped lounge chairs flanking both sides of the pool, as his father slathered sunscreen on his freckled shoulders. Billy’s red cowlick wavered like an alien antenna in the slight afternoon breeze.

"Go get 'em, tiger. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Billy shielded his eyes from the sun, watching Mike Chase. His stomach hurt with the reminder of the last time Mike beat him up at school this week; he’d taken a few blows to the stomach. Billy dipped his big toe in the water. The smell of chlorine burned his nostrils as he entered the shallow end, keeping one wary green eye on the bully. Mike stole a little boy's beach ball, flinging it into the deep end at a pretty girl in a pink bathing suit, gabbing with her friend.

The water wasn't too cold as Billy waded out to where he could barely stand and sank down like a crocodile, keeping only his eyes above the surface, hoping to remain unnoticed as Mike turned in his direction. He’d only come swimming at his parents’ urging. He’d rather be home in his room reading his comics.

Billy dove underwater and swam through a jungle of legs and feet, hoping Mike hadn’t spotted him. His lungs burned. He needed air soon. He kicked to the surface, sputtering to find Mike Chase looming in front of his face -- mean, ugly Mike Chase, water dripping from his flaring horse nostrils. 

"Hi Seal Boy! Wanna do a trick for me? It's called duck and dive!" Mike swung his fist, his face red with exertion from swimming to catch Billy.

Billy dove right under Mike’s fist and swam off towards the ladder in the deep end. Escaping into line for the high dive, he felt water dripping on his head. He looked up to see Mike towering over him.

"Bark, bark, bark! C’mon and bark, Seal Boy!" Mike jabbed Billy in the ribs with a fat finger before he hopped back in the pool to snap the strap of a girl’s bikini top.

The other kids in line laughed as Billy tried to ignore them, waiting his turn. Two kids stood in front of him and then he was next. He stared straight ahead. His ears burned red, wanting to shrivel up and fall off. He wouldn’t cry. He just wouldn’t because that would only make it worse. Billy continued to wait, shuffling his feet and staring at the wet cement. He climbed the twenty steps to the diving board with Mike Chase barking at all the way and plummeted into the pool, letting the water rush over his ears, drowning out the other kids’ laughter. For a moment, everything was blue and calm -- quiet and safe.

End of Excerpt

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bookin' It Reviews - #1

Master Houdini couldn't resist putting in his two whiskers worth of opinions for my latest book review. As you can see, he highly approves of my reading selections as a headrest for scholarly cats with creative leanings.

I also changed my book review post title. I got bored. It happens. *grins*

Here are three fantastic selections for all you bookworms out there.

1) A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli. The book is riveting. I read it so fast I couldn't believe it. This is a southern gothic novel -- very twisted. In the town of Kingdom Come, a backwards southern swampland with a habit towards floods of biblical proportions, live Thomas and his brothers, three conjoined triplets fond of deviant behavior with no qualms about hiding a dark family secret from Thomas. The cast of characters is as bizarre as the ones from the 90s hit T.V. drama, Twin Peaks. If you love weird, this one is for you. Superbly written and darkly damning, you can't miss it.

2) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness is the perfect way to celebrate the beginning of fall and the Halloween season. This novel is the first book in the All Souls Trilogy. The next is expected out in 2012. Deborah Harkness combines historical fact with fantastical fiction in this tale of a witch with an exceptional family lineage -- the Bishops of Salem witch trial fame. Diana Bishop is a scholar studying alchemy manuscripts at Oxford in England, when she meets a mysterious vampire, Matthew Clairmont. After researching an intriguing and long-lost alchemy manuscript with a spell attached to it, Diana alerts all the demons and vampires to its location. The manuscript supposedly holds the key to the origin of vampires and demons. Matthew Clairmont falls in love with the beautiful and bewitching Diana Bishop while protecting her from the supernatural forces hell-bent on getting the manuscript's location, but there is an ancient covenant the two have broken. Two different kinds of supernatural beings cannot be romantically involved. Now, fighting for their lives and the precious alchemical book, Diana and Matthew must face even greater supernatural forces than expected. This book is a delight and I cannot wait for the second. And never fear -- this is nothing like an Anne Rice novel. It's waaaay better.

3) Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner, returns Bordertown fans to the urban fantasy setting they love. Carrying on the Bordertown tradition, authors such as Neil Gaiman, Patricia McKillip, Charles de Lint, Jane Yolen, and Emma Bull give you a whole new set of tales set in the city bordering our world and the world of the Fae. This book will not disappoint. It is as lovely as the original Bordertown tales and a real treat for urban fantasy lovers. All of the stories are great. It is hard for me to pick a favorite to mention here, but let's just say that there are spell-boxed motorcycles, talented Celtic musicians, Green Men, and more in  this collection guaranteed to satisfy. I highly recommend it.

As always, happy writing and happy reading!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Excerpt from Into the White - A Short Story

I'm still searching for a home for this one. Inspiration struck when I researched mourning customs online one day and Victorian mourning jewelry. I discovered there's an entire profession dedicated to recording a loved one's likeness, as they are ill and crossing over into The Beyond (whatever that may be for you.) I wondered, "What would happen if I wrote story about this profession?" And Into the White came forth from the sea of my imagination.

Into the White
by Nora B. Peevy

“Death doesn’t scare me. Pain scares me. I wanted it to be quick -- a flash of lightning in the dark. I didn’t want to be a piece of fruit rotting on a vine.”

I nodded to Sean, quiet. My name’s Demetrius. I’m a memorial portraitist. It’s my job to record the likeness of the dying, to give them companionship and their families some closure. People often ask me where they go when they die, and my reply is always the same, “Where do you want to go? Because that’s where you’ll end up.”

 Truthfully, I don’t know what lies beyond death’s door, but I do know what lies before it, people who are suffering. What harm is there in easing their pain before they go? Most of them, like Sean, just want someone to listen. I squinted, erasing a line here, smoothing a line there, and shading in another shadow with my charcoal, the soft whisper of my pencil recording life passing on paper. Sean is dying of cancer, something I am trying not to focus on because of my own scare right now.

“I used to do what you do.” Sean’s lips, cracked with sores, bled. The nurses gave him some medicine, but it didn’t help much. Of course, that is not the way I drew him. He hired me, not his family. And he wanted his portrait done, minus the physical imperfections Death bestowed on him.


I sat up in my hospital chair; it’s one of those supposedly comfortable recliners, inevitably always broken and more uncomfortable than the nights I spent as a kid, camping on the hard ground in my backyard. It isn’t often I meet someone in my profession. It’s sad; a fellow artist lies before me, underneath a piece of generic hospital art with a plastic-lined pillow and a bland beige blanket tucked in around his shrinking frame. I wonder if I will have the same courage as Sean does when I go; I don’t know. I won’t sleep well on crunchy pillows, though.

I tried imagining Sean in his youth, picturing him as a grand character from The Great Gatsby with a quiet, regal aura about him. I find a sense of calm in his eyes, misty with cataracts, but once a bright blue. He’s suffering from dementia or so the nurses say. Frankly, I have no idea what they are talking about, but maybe, he’s having one of his good moments. Still, it is sobering to think it will be me lying in a similar bed one day. I shift in my chair, imagining the quiet tumor growing in my groin. I want to scream and run away and rip myself from my own skin.

Sean reached a shaking hand for the glass of water beside his bed and I noticed he wore a wedding band.

“What did your wife think of your profession?” I worked on perfecting his hands as he spoke.

“Oh, she didn’t mind it. She likened me to a spiritual counselor for the dying. She always loved my work -- said I had the eye of an eagle and the hand of a gentle shepherd. I drew her portrait for our first wedding anniversary.”

“That’s nice.”

“Do you see them leave?”

 “I’m sorry. I don’t understand -- see who leave?”

 “The people whose portraits you draw. Do you see them pass over?”

 “No. I’m usually not there when that happens.”

 “But you’re one of her helpers.”

 “One of whose helpers?”

 “Why, Death’s. You’re one of Death’s helpers, aren’t you?”

“I wasn’t aware that Death needed any helpers. I thought it was a one-person job.”

End of excerpt

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Carrollton Black Cemetery - Carrollton, Texas

With no competition, this is the creepiest graveyard I've ever visited. Restless last week, I ventured outdoors for some relaxation and writing research, touring a few cemeteries in the area.

This cemetery is a tiny cemetery, sometimes called "Carrollton Community Cemetery", but most popularly known as "Carrollton Black Cemetery". It's about a ten-minute drive from my neighborhood in far north Dallas, Texas, but my GPS managed to get me lost. I ended up in the church/school parking lot nearby and had to ask for directions, which made for some interesting looks from the parents picking up their children from school. Some of the people there didn't even know a small cemetery plot rested right next door.
It's not surprising, considering the cemetery was established in the late 1800s and the last burial took place in 1960. Since then, the Trinity River has wreaked havoc on the little cemetery. So much havoc, that most of the grave markers have been destroyed, which probably accounts for part of the creepy vibe and spirits at unrest. It's not even known how many people are actually buried here.


As I pulled up to the field adjacent to the cemetery, I noted the empty back church parking lot and the construction crew working nearby at another place. The men were so small in the distance; they looked like ants, but were quite entertained by the crazy woman with the camera entering the empty graveyard. They stopped working and all gathered around their truck as I approached the gates. If it had been closer to dusk, I probably wouldn't have felt safe by myself. Across the road from the cemetery on the left, lay the train tracks and on either side of the graveyard are new/old construction sites surrounded by vast, empty fields with no other people in sight.

But being the fearless writer and cemetery tourist I am, I entered the gates. I was immediately overcome with an intense wave of sadness and confusion. The feeling left me nauseous and I had to fight not to turn tail and run back to my car with my camera in hand. I have never felt uneasy while visiting a cemetery; I chalked up my feelings to the tumultuous time period when most of the individuals were buried and the damage Mother Nature has caused.

Those unknown souls are not resting easy for all eternity. My writer's imagination ran wild thinking about the many slaves buried there and their descendants and the pre-Civil Rights era in the south. What horrible injustices had these human beings suffered at the hands of men? What were their stories? Were they ever happy? We will never know.

On Juneteenth, June 19, 2010, a group of volunteers, including a descendant of Ned Welch, whose memorial is one of the last standing, gathered to remember the forgotten. They erected these simple white wooden crosses to mark the graves of the dead, but there are still many unknown buried in this cemetery.

This is Ned Welch's final resting place, one of only two markers left standing in the graveyard.

And this is the only other memorial left.

I dedicate this post to all the brave souls who suffered through one of our nation's darkest ordeals and hope they will rest in peace. May we not forget where we came from as a nation and may we look towards a brighter tomorrow.

Perhaps, I can help their memory live on by including this cemetery setting in a story or two of mine. It would be an honor.
As always, happy writing and happy reading to all!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Author Teresa Frohock Discusses Giving a Successful Book Reading

Please welcome guest blogger and author, Teresa Frohock.

Raised in a small town, Teresa Frohock learned to escape to other worlds through the fiction collection of her local library. She eventually moved away from Reidsville and lived in Virginia and South Carolina before returning to North Carolina, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.

Teresa has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying. Miserere: An Autumn Tale is her debut novel.

Teresa can be found most often at her blog and website Every now and then, she heads over to Tumblr and sends out Dark Thoughts, links to movies and reviews that catch her eye. You can also follow Teresa on Twitter and join her author page on Facebook

I’d like to thank Nora for asking me to share my experience with giving a book talk. It’s not something I gave a lot of thought to when I was writing my novel. That’s a good thing, because I am such an introvert, I probably would have hemorrhaged at the very idea of standing up in front of people and reading them scenes that I wrote at two o’clock in the morning with a box of Kleenex at hand.

I’ve done two book talks now; one went splendidly, the second one not-so-good.

The first talk I gave was at my release party. It went extremely well, lasted about forty to forty-five minutes, and I was very comfortable sharing why I had written the novel with family and friends. I even read a few pages for them. They were an appreciative audience and that helped immensely.

The second talk I did was at the library where I work. That was a lot scarier, not because I was speaking before complete strangers, but because these were co-workers and colleagues.  I knew I would be nervous; however, I had no idea that my brain would immediately cease to function the moment I got behind the podium. Since the first session had gone so beautifully impromptu, I thought I would be able to do it a second time with nothing more than a bulleted list of speaking points.

Not so.

I experienced some form of Vulcan mind-wipe, stuttered horribly, and suffered long pauses of silence. Frankly, I couldn’t possibly imagine anyone being as interested in this stuff as I am. I mumbled when I read passages from the book, because I was sure they would hate it and see it as trite. I only became comfortable toward the end of the talk when I was engaged with the audience. It was horrible—for me and I’m sure for my audience too.

Since I have an opportunity to redeem myself at an upcoming function, I decided to make a list of things that will enable me to do a better job. Other than the obvious pointer of practice, practice, practice, I thought I would share some things I intend to do differently in the future:

Ask the coordinator of the event how long they want you to talk. I try to keep the talk at forty minutes with plenty of time for questions and answers after the talk. This time-frame gives me twenty minutes to play with, so if I find a topic really engages the audience’s interest, I can expand on it.

Have everything written down. This is where I really blew it on my second talk. I should have had everything that I wanted to say written down. BUT! [you say] Doesn’t that kill the spontaneity of the talk? No. If you get up behind the podium and your mind suddenly goes blank, you’ve got actual words in front of you. This enables you to fake it until you feel yourself engage with the audience. You don’t have to use it, but it’s there if you need it.

Turn off the negative voices. You know which voices I’m talking about: the ones that say, “I’m not good enough” or “OMG, he’s yawning, I’ve bored him death” or my personal favorite “They don’t want to hear about my book, they want to hear about a REAL writer.”

Those voices. Turn them off. You ARE good enough, people took time out of their schedules to be with you and hear about YOUR book, not Neil Gaiman’s books or Stephen King’s books, but YOUR book. There are hoards of other book events going on all the time. If people have come to hear you talk, then it is your responsibility to talk about your book. Speak well of it.

Plant a friend in the audience. Sounds silly, but if you find you can’t turn those voices off, ask a friend to go with you. Have them sit in the back. If at any point during the talk, the voices start to yammer, look up and make eye contact with your friend. The friend’s job is to smile and nod encouragingly at you. After a while, it will feel like you’re talking to your friend and not a group of strangers.

Pay attention to the time and your audience. If people start to wiggle in their chairs, it means their butts are going to sleep; this often interferes with brain waves for some reason. If you see people getting squirmy, either call a break or try to wrap things up, depending on what you’ve worked out in advance with the coordinator of the event.

Have fun. This is not about impressing people with your vast literary knowledge. If people want to hear about Literature-with-a-capital-L, they will take a college course in Literature-with-a-capital-L. People want to hear your story too. They want to know that you’ve endured the same trials and tribulations toward publication that they have. They’re not expecting you to divulge some deep literary secret; they just want to hear about your book; what motivated you to tell this particular story and how you went about the process. If you’re having fun, they will have fun, and that is what it is all about.

A book talk is a lot like teaching; you need to know your subject, but it’s also a performance art. Both of my audiences were incredibly tolerant of my failure and my success, and they were pulling for me to do well, I could see it in their eyes. Admit to them that you’re nervous, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most importantly, be yourself. You and your novel are worth their attention. Your audience knows it or they wouldn’t have come to hear you talk.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale ( / July 1, 2011)

Exiled exorcist Lucian Negru deserted his lover in Hell in exchange for saving his sister Catarina's soul, but Catarina doesn't want salvation. She wants Lucian to help her fulfill her dark covenant with the Fallen Angels by using his power to open the Hell Gates. Catarina intends to lead the Fallen’s hordes out of Hell and into the parallel dimension of Woerld, Heaven’s frontline of defense between Earth and Hell.

When Lucian refuses to help his sister, she imprisons and cripples him, but Lucian learns that Rachael, the lover he betrayed and abandoned in Hell, is dying from a demonic possession. Determined to rescue Rachael from the demon he unleashed on her soul, Lucian flees his sister, but Catarina's wrath isn’t so easy to escape. In the end, she will force him once more to choose between losing Rachael or opening the Hell Gates so the Fallen's hordes may overrun Earth, their last obstacle before reaching Heaven's Gates.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Make Halloween Decorations from Recycled Books

It's that time of year again when the leaves are almost ready to turn, you can smell the woodsy scent of people using fireplaces, and pumpkins are popping up everywhere. I only wish it were cooler -- been away from Wisconsin now for five falls, yet I still haven't adjusted to being able to wear short sleeves around Thanksgiving. I'm still getting in the Halloween mood and have some free goodies to share with you.

When I'm not writing, reading, or sleeping, I'm probably creating art. Some of my favorite materials are recycled. The recycled book art craze is still hot this fall. Here are a few fun decorations to make from recycled books that won't kill your wallet. That way you have more money to buy important things like candy. Who doesn't love candy?

I've spent a few hours trolling the Internet for the best ones, so you don't have to do it yourself. All you have to do is deface a few old books you have lying around. Should be easy. If you don't have any, you can always pick some up at your local Goodwill store or a rummage sale.

Need a party favor gift box? Make your own using vintage books and encyclopedias with macabre medical illustrations. Add some cheap spiders and other creepies from your local dollar store and they're boo-tiful!

Looking for that perfect creepy card? Craft one yourself from recycled book pages. Use your imagination. You're not limited by what's shown here.

Every witch needs a black cat and an owl too. Create your own owl centerpiece for a spooktacular kids' party.

Don't have the money to buy a real pumpkin this year for a centerpiece? Make your own. Every ghoul loves a pumpkin and this doubles as a Thanksgiving centerpiece.

They're alive! Breathe new life into old books by giving them a new look. Use them as centerpieces, in a haunted house, or decorate everyday journals and sketchbooks. You can even give them away as party favors for teens and adults.

Don't want to pay designer prices for a Halloween wreath? Make your own from recycled book pages and Halloween theme scrapbook papers.

Want to save on part decorations for your next kid party? Decorate old books to create a centerpiece for your treat table and be a "proud mummy".

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Are You Reading Between the Covers? - #22

It's time for another book review. Since I've still been recovering from my leg injury, my library card's gotten a killer workout. I have four fab selections for you.

The first is A Walk on the Darkside: Visions of Horror.  This was a solid collection from editor and author John Pelan.  Three stories stole the show for me. Parting Jane by Mehitobel Wilson told the sad story of a young girl trapped in a hospital bed by her parents to harvest her body for her ailing sister. Tom Piccirilli wrote a disturbing tale called These Strange Lays about a man who encounters a crazed sex kitten while visiting his father's grave; he follows her back to the asylum and soon discovers just how depraved the insane really are. And Brian Hodge wrote An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Flesh, which while  first published in this collection in 2004, still deals with the relevant topic of school bullying and how some seek revenge. I recommend this for a little light horror reading before bedtime.

My second pick is The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. This YA novel is also for adults. I haven't had writer's envy in a bit, but this one stoked the green-eyed dragon with its wonderful heroic journey of young twelve-year old David. David mourns the death of his mother and soon discovers the fables and stories they loved are more than just stories. The books are alive at his stepmother's house. David hears his mother's voice calling to him one night and enters the mysterious abandoned sunken garden. He soon realizes he is not at home anymore and has stepped into the world of his stories. David completes a quest to return his mother to the land of the living and soon discovers all the dark secrets of The Crooked Man, a sinister, shady character who wants David to reign as King and give him his brother, Georgie, so he can live another lifetime. If you are a fan of Neil Gaiman or the movie, Labyrinth, this book is for you. Beautiful prose, a unique story, and great characters make this one shine.

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is my third pick. This YA debut novel from 2007 is a joy to read. I picked it up on someone's recommendation. If you like Terry Pratchett, Delia Sherman, Kelly Link, Midori Snyder, and Charles de Lint, you will enjoy this fast-paced story. Seth and Kendra are dumped off at their grandparents' for two weeks. Prepared for boredom and awkwardness with the family they don't know, they soon discover there's something magical about Fablehaven.  Fablehaven is a sanctuary for the fantastical world and Grandpa Sorenson is their caretaker. When Grandpa Sorenson and Grandma Sorenson disappear on Midsummer's Eve, the children soon discover the world of the Fae can be dangerous. Seth and Kendra race to save their family and the preserve they love from the clutches of an evil witch determined to release a demon from his prison, so he can rule Fablehaven once again. And there are more books out in the series to read after this one! Can't wait...

My last pick is Horns by Joe Hill. Joe Hill hits another home run with his second novel. Iggy Perrish used to have the perfect life -- family, friends, money, and a girl who loved him. Then one morning he wakes up to find he's grown horns. Iggy attempts to have the horns removed, but discovers this is not an easy task. His horns influence people to focus on their deepest, darkest desires and are not helping him get back to his old life. Iggy struggles with his new identity as the devil while still reeling from the loss of his girlfriend, Merrin, who was raped and brutally murdered. Worse yet, now that Iggy is the devil, he is privilege to what everyone truly thinks of him. And everyone thinks he killed Merrin, but he knows differently. Iggy discovers the truth about Merrin's murder with his super devil powers and takes matters into his own hands. Raw and darkly humorous, this story keeps your interest until the last page. Don't miss it.

As always, happy writing and happy reading!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dead Mann Talking: A History of Zombies

Please welcome guest blogger, Stefan Petrucha. Stefan's latest book is scheduled for release on October 4, 2011.

An Explanation From the Author: In my first draft of Dead Mann Walking, a group of peacefully protesting chakz, pushed too far by the living, go feral, fulfilling the zombie stereotype. As chak-detective Hessius Mann helplessly watches the mess, he broods on the fictional history of the walking dead. Upon reading this, Ace editor, Jessica Wade, felt it pulled the reader out of the story-world. I agreed, lopping it out quicker than Ash with a chainsaw-hand. However, to celebrate Dead Mann’s Oct 4 release, what could be more appropriate than restoring it to half-life? So here ‘tis, a quick, quirky look at Z’s from the POV of a PI who should know.

Dead Mann Talking: A History of Zombies
Crowded, surrounded, attacked, the chakz gave the people what they wanted, proof that they were dangerous. It was as though that group-mind the LBs worried about had actually kicked in. Maybe the ferals just never had the numbers before, or maybe you had to be far enough back to see the patterns. I saw them now.
Flashes of chak-bodies moved in elegant waves, like flocks of migrating birds. The livebloods, for all their higher functions, fled without grace. The big picture pulsed and throbbed. But the personal tragedies played out in tiny spaces, as if the two had nothing to do with one another. In the center of the swirls stood the fair-haired cop I’d seen from the window, bullets spitting from his AK-47. They tore some dead flesh. Mostly, he was hitting livebloods before the ferals took him down.
So was this Ezekiel and his dry-bones rising in the valley of death? Was it then, or later, now, or the future? The edges were arbitrary, the beginnings and endings likewise. But as I watched, this was the shit I remembered.
In 1929 W.B. Seabrook wrote about voodoo cults and resurrected slaves in a novel called The Magic Island. It made sense that Haiti, whose population had recently thrown off their shackles, would have plantation slaves for their monsters.
In 1932, Victor Halperin’s White Zombie took it to the white Europeans. The island lust of Murder Legendre, played by Bela Lugosi, put a white virgin’s virtue at risk.
But these were early, proto-forms. There was no blood yet, not like there was on the Fort Hammer plaza. My eyes singled out a male teen, all buff and dressed to shock with Mohawk, tattoos and piercings. He ran half-heartedly, grabbing at the side of his head where his ear had been once. Red liquid dripped between his fingers. Eventually, he slowed and then, simply stopped.
In 1943 Jacques Tournier’s I Walked With a Zombie gave us a dead-eyed scarecrow. It was more a symbol. No savagery, just foreboding. It was Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in 1954 that took it up a notch. The book was sort of about vampires, but they were so much like zombies that the 1964 Italian film version with Vincent Price, The Last Man on Earth, became the prime inspiration for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
1968, the zombie had arrived. Romero was the first, really, if you don’t count Ezekiel and all the others. What took so long? Well, in those days, the dead moved slowly.
On the plaza, groups formed and collapsed like cauldron bubbles. I watched two families band together. The mothers carried the little ones, forcing the older children ahead. Weirdly, the fathers carried doors, using them as shields. Two danglers and a gleet banged at them. They even tried the knob.
Romero made it biblical again. Cannibal corpses, old friends and lovers among them, children chewing on parents. The condition spreading like plague, and no one knew why or who to shoot. His sequel, Dawn of the Dead, used the same idea, but more directly as social critique, played out in comic-book colors so gaudy you had to get the joke.
I hoped the family made it. Something should survive, and it didn’t look good for anyone else. The elegant swarms had surrounded the LBs, and as they squeezed in, began to lose their pretty shape. Together now, ferals and livebloods pushed and pulled en mass, so many, so close together, they could barely move. Limbs tangled, the center of the blob tumbled, all together, all at once, like football teams in a joint tackle.
After Romero, what could you say? A horde of lesser efforts followed, Fulci’s Zombi 2 notable for an underwater battle between zombie and shark. Then decades passed. 28 Days Later brought some class back to the movies. That was more about plague than the dead, but close enough, and its monsters were fast. The Dawn of the Dead remake followed suit. The books and comics got better – Monster Island by David Wellington, The Walking Dead
by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and later Charlie Adlard (now on TV!). By then people played video games like Rebel Without A Pulse and Left4Dead, shooting and being shot, eating and being eaten. The great democracy of mass media.
The mob in the plaza had formed a single creature, like one of Colby Green’s orgies, many limbs, many mouths, some screaming, some chewing. Stray Livebloods and ferals tried to pull the bodies free, but for different reasons.
The cop with the flamethrower stood at the edge of the mass and stared, unsure what to do. He tried to help, used his free hand to grab a hand and yank, but when a feral came free, a chunk of dripping meat in its mouth, he’d had enough. He let loose with the thrower, turning it on the writhing pile. Before the cop could barbecue the lot, a liveblood clonked him with a crowbar, then dived into the smoldering mess, screaming that he had to find his girlfriend.
I’d like to say all the books and movies fade against the reality, but maybe it’s the reality that fades. After all, who could forget the surprise hit, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? This is the shit that gives us shape, that let’s us understand the world, even build it from scratch. Shakespeare told us. We are such stuff as nightmares are made on, and our little life is rounded with a scream.
The plaza had reached critical mass. The blob broke and scattered. Bodies, some moving, spilled across the street, then onto the long black hospital entrance ramp that had kept the scene arms distant. The tide was coming in.
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Born in the Bronx, Stefan Petrucha spent his formative years moving between the big city and the suburbs, both of which made him prefer escapism.
A fan of comic books, science fiction and horror since learning to read, in high school and college he added a love for all sorts of literary work, eventually learning that the very best fiction always brings you back to reality, so, really, there's no way out.
An obsessive compulsion to create his own stories began at age ten and has since taken many forms, including novels, comics and video productions. At times, the need to pay the bills made him a tech writer, an educational writer, a public relations writer and an editor for trade journals, but fiction, in all its forms, has always been his passion. Every year he's made a living at that, he counts a lucky one. Fortunately, there've been many.
You can visit Stefan Petrucha online at and follow him on Twitter @SPetrucha.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Old Town - Albuquerque, New Mexico III

Here is the final edition in my Old Town photography series. I hope this inspired you to write or creat some art of your own. For other creative blog posts, hop by The Weekend Creation Blog Hop.