Monday, November 28, 2011

A Bloody Good Book for the Holidays - Book List 2011

I've never been normal, so why start now? I'm sharing my dark and twisted holiday reads with you. Some I've read and some are new to me and sound fangtastic! Enjoy! I know there's something for everyone on this list. Tis the season for giving! And books make great gifts.

1) Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted 2011 - The perfect magazine for the perfect gift. Chockful of great authors from Shock Totem!

2) Christmas Trees and Monkeys: Collected Horror Stories, Volume 1 by Daniel G. Keohane - Just because I love the title. Have to read this one.   

3) The Twelve Frights of Christmas edited by Charles Waugh, Isaac Asimov, and Martin H. Greenberg - Have to get this one as well. Any Greenberg collection is worth the read. 

4) A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead - A Zombie Holiday Tale by good ole Charles Dickens and Rebecca Brock - I'm sure the zombies punch this classic up a bit!       

5) The Twelve Terrors of Christmas written by John Updike and illustrated by Edward Gorey - Who doesn't love a little Gorey for the holidays?

6) The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton - An instant holiday classic at my house.

7) Christmas is Dead...Again edited by Anthony Giangregorio - A collection of shorts from Living Dead Press. Sounds promising!

8) Christmas Ghosts: A Collection of Spooky Tales for a Winter's Eve edited by Bob Underdown - Includes shorts by Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, and more.

9) Burn, Christmas! Burn!! by Brian Gage - An illustrated satire for any office worker or disgruntled elf.

10) The Undead That Saved Christmas edited by Lyle Perez-Tinics - An illustrated selection of shorts -- ALL ZOMBIE!!!

11) A Vampire Christmas Carol by Sarah Gray - See, there are vampires too!

12) Wolfsbane and Mistletoe edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L .P. Kelner -  This one I've read. It's great!

As always, happy reading and happy writing to all!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Dallas World Aquarium - A Photo Essay

A few weeks ago, I went to the Dallas World Aquarium, scouting out more story settings for myself and you, my faithful reader. The place is amazing. It's like being inside a rainforest indoors. I had no idea and wish I had gone sooner! Enjoy the pics and get some writing done between now and the new year, folks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 Throws Short Story Contest Throughout Month of November

Raleigh, NC, (November 22, 2011) –, the leader in self-publishing, in support of popular annual writing event National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), is providing authors with a chance to upload a 600-word short story, have it distributed to popular retailers and devices like the iBookstore℠ and the Barnes and Noble NOOK, and can win some incredible prizes including a NOOK and $500 cash.

“NaNoWriMo is a great way to inspire authors to write a novel,” says Sarah Gilbert, a director at “According to the NaNoWriMo website, they drew an amazing 200,000 participants last year and received 30,000 submissions. For many authors, completing a 50,000 word work in just 30 days can be daunting though, and in the spirit of creativity, we didn’t want to leave those creators without an option. So we came up with the Lulu Short Story Contest to help.”

The Lulu Short Story Contest is designed to not only inspire authors to write, but also educate them on how easy it is to publish an eBook. To play, authors just need to plug their story into a template provided by Lulu, then upload it to the Lulu Word to EPUB Converter to create an eBook version of their story. Once published, authors just need to provide a link to their new eBook and Lulu will distribute their work to eBook retailers - absolutely free.

Winners will be selected and announced by an expert panel of judges in mid-December, with first place winning a NOOK, $500 cash, a feature on Lulu’s homepage, a professional review, and mentions in upcoming Lulu publicity. Second place will win a NOOK, and third place will win a $100 gift card to Barnes and Noble. All participants will receive a 20% off coupon for their next purchase on Lulu.    

“NaNoWriMo is a highly recognized event for authors,” adds Gilbert. “But we saw a great opportunity to inspire even more writers to create a remarkable work with our Short Story Contest because after all, creativity is about quality, not quantity.”

 To learn more or to submit a short story of your own visit:

About Lulu:, founded in 2002, is a company that specializes in self-publishing. The company has 1.1million creators and has 20,000 titles added to their collection each month. It is free to publish and creators keep up to 90 percent of the profit they set when their works sell. Lulu provides anyone with the ability to publish books, eBooks, mini-books, photo books, calendars, cookbooks, and travel books. To learn more, visit the website at

Monday, November 21, 2011

Between the Covers - Book Review #4

This week's book review is brought to you by this cute, cuddly cat from The Dallas World Aquarium. I've got three picks for you.

1) I discovered Valerie Laken at my local library's fundraiser book sale. When I read she teaches at the university where I started graduate school, my interest was piqued. Dream House, her debut novel, started out relatively slow. If you're willing to stick with the story, the plot does pick up after about four chapters. Its cover blurb is misleading. I thought I was purchasing a ghost story, but it wasn't much of one. It was a great study in character development, though. The writing is good, but honestly, after reading it and putting it aside, the story hasn't stayed with me the way good ones do. Dream House follows a young couple through their troubled marriage and renovation of a house once owned by a family with a dark history of domestic violence. After being released from prison, a mysterious man befriends Kate, the woman of the house, and offers to help her renovate, but he has a secret himself. He used to live there and he knows what happened the night that tore his family apart forever. I'd say this book is worth a vacation read, but don't expect any gothic grandness, paranormal experiences, or a seriously profound ending.

2) Teeth: Vampire Tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling was better than Dream House. This young adult collection of tales entertained me. A few stories stuck with me well past when I closed the cover. Genevieve Valentine's Things to Know About Being Dead was a lovely take on Asian vampires. I truly enjoyed the female character in Christopher Barzak's Gap Year, struggling with the coming of age debacle after high school. Delia Sherman delivered a unique perspective from a family of circus performers and lovely collection of cats, my very favorite story in the anthology. And Tanith Lee's Why Light? proved to be a great love story. I recommend this one for all ages and I've been introduced a new author, so thank you kindly, Ms. Datlow and Ms. Windling.

3) Then I read Patricia Cornwell's From Potter's Field, a Kay Scarpetta novel that did not disappoint. I love the Kay Scarpetta series because she's a strong female character who doesn't wimp out for love, sticks to her principles, and works well under pressure. Also, it helps that the other characters are interesting and the subplots aren't boring either. The murders never fail to entertain with their details too. This one deals with the case of a young woman found naked and frozen, propped up beside a fountain in a New York park during the holidays. Scarpetta is on the hunt for the sadistic Temple Gault, a character her readers are very familiar with by now, one that's eluded and traumatized her family, friends, and coworkers, leaving a trail of bodies behind him to shame Hannibal Lector. Will she catch him this time? Read and find out.

As always, happy reading and happy writing to all!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hauntings by Paranormal Author Pamela K. Kinney

Pamela K. Kinney is a published author of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and poetry, along with nonfiction ghost books published by Schiffer Publishing. Her first two ghost books were nominated for the Library of Virginia Award. Her third one, Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle, was just released July 2011.

Under the pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan, she writes erotic and sweet paranormal/fantasy/science fiction romance. One of these, Being Familiar With a Witch, is a Prism Awards 2010 winner and a EPIC Awards finalist 2010! The sequel, A Familiar Tangle With Hell, was released June 2011.

She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing. And yes, the house, husband, and even the cats sometimes suffer for it!
Find out more about her at: and at for Sapphire Phelan.


“O Death, rock me asleep, bring me to quiet rest, let pass my weary guiltless ghost out of my careful breast.”
Anne Boleyn 

In my current nonfiction ghost book, Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, And Other Haunted Locations, I report, “History has a way of causing hauntings.” But that’s only part of the reason for hauntings. Modern phantoms still hang around after death, too.

No matter why they still are here, or if they come back and forth, they are with us lingering in our homes and places, at lonely crossroads or crowded bars and restaurants. They are the stars of stories we tell around campfires or before a fire burning in a hearth, terrifying us or awing us in myths, legends, and folklore too.

Who hasn’t said, “Bloody Mary” while staring into the mirror in the hope that a ghost appear? There’s the tale of the hitchhiking woman dressed in an evening gown that’s picked up and climbs into the back seat, giving directions to an address to the driver. But once they arrive at the house, the driver discovers that she has mysteriously disappeared. When he goes to the door, he is told that his hitchhiker is the daughter of the owner of the house, who had been killed just after she left a party several years before, never making it home. Stories like the hitchhiking ghost existed for a long time. Before it was a car, it was someone driving a horse and buggy that picks up the hitchhiker.

What are spirits? In traditional belief, a ghost is the soul of a deceased person or animal that can appear, in visible form or other manifestations, to the living. Descriptions of the apparition of ghosts vary widely: The mode of manifestation in photos or seen by the living’s eyes can range from an invisible presence, shadow people, translucent or wispy shapes, and orbs, to realistic, life-like visions—solids. The deliberate attempt to contact the spirit of a deceased person is known as a séance. Paranormal investigators use equipment to find proof of paranormal activity and to make contact with phantoms.

Ghosts were often thought to be deceased people looking for vengeance, or imprisoned on earth for bad things they did during life. The appearance of a ghost has often been regarded as an omen or portent of death. Seeing one's own ghostly double or "fetch" is a related omen of death.

Ghosts are also termed spook, spirits, phantoms, fetch, haint (a common feature of southern oral and literary tradition), wraith, revenant, apparition, spectre, shade, and entity. Poltergeist, German for a “noisy spirit,” is for a spirit said to manifest itself by invisibly moving and influencing objects.

Besides the poltergeist phenomena, there are three other types of hauntings. First are residual hauntings. These are a recorded playback of what happened in the past. Maybe it could even be a time warp (one idea of mine, though I can’t prove this, but who knows, a feasible one like any other theory). There is no interaction with the living -- the ghost does not see or hear you because the ghost is not actually there. Only his/her energy remains, it is a remnant of his living form that you are seeing, just like when you watch a video. This cycle continues in the same place at usually the same time of day or year indefinitely until the energy is exhausted or diminishes to a low enough level that it is undetectable by human perception. One account of I know of this concerns the Civil War soldiers that march into Centre Hill Mansion in Petersburg, Virginia every year at certain time in January.

Traditional, or intelligent, hauntings are the second. Whether actual human spirits that had not crossed over into heaven and had some unfinished business with a living person, or a message they wanted to deliver before they could move on, or even those that just want to stay in a place they lived in life or be on our plane of existence (more and more, I suspect they can travel back and forth between here and the “other side.” These ghosts will unlock doors and open windows, run the faucets and even interact with you directly because they are an "intelligent" presence, the personality of a person who was once alive but has stayed behind rather than passing over.

The third type of haunting, and undoubtedly the most frightening, is a demonic, or inhuman, haunting. To me personally, I think when a human was evil in life, they too would be considered under demonic. There have been stories of where priests have gone in to exorcise a possessed person, and instead of a inhuman demon, this one claims to be the parent or someone alive once, tormenting the person.

The entity is similar to a traditional haunting because the spirit is intelligent and are existing in the present moment with you. These spirits are malevolent and hostile, suffering from psychological instability or distress stemming from an unresolved conflict with the people who are being subjected to the demonic activity. Demonic presences tend to be ‘unleashed' in order for them to manifest. This is one reason why the use of an Ouija Board is customarily discouraged among many ghost hunters. So if you find one in the game section of the store, don’t buy one. Not understanding and without protection, one can open up a portal, letting in things they can not handle and most times, demonic in nature.

I enjoy investigating haunted places for my books. Unlike my fiction, I learn things. I learn snippets of history I never knew and most of, interesting stories that seem too unbelievable to be true, but many times are.

Read a chapter from Virginia's Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Other Haunted Locations.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cash Prizes for the First Line of Your NaNoWriMo Novel!

Entrants for the 2011 National Novel Writing Month can win a prize for the first line of their novel! Entry into the competition is free and the cash prizes are $100 for 1st place, $50 for 2nd, $25 for 3rd, and a copy of the book "Your Writing Coach" for seven honorable mentions.

So if you are one of the estimated 200,000 people taking part in the worldwide National Novel Writing Month send us your opening line and get the chance to win a cash prize or a copy of the latest book from renowned writing coach, Jurgen Wolff, “Your Writing Coach.”

And remember, there's no entry fee, you just need a send your first line to Jurgen from the website,

Some of you may be wondering why we are running a first line contest? "Just to encourage writers to get started," says Jurgen. "We don't have any official link with NaNoWriMo but I like to think we have the same spirit of playfulness. And it's going to be fun to read them all."

Good luck from me, writers! *Nora waves*

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fun with Words by Author Harper Hull

Please welcome author Harper Hull.

Born and raised in the mystical wastelands of northern England amongst harpies and dragons, Harper now lives in the sultry, sweaty southern United States with his Dixie wife, fighting off the giant spiders and man-eating vultures. He has work published or about to be published in four continents and can't wait to hit that dark, mysterious fifth. He has fallen off a boat, been hit by two cars, literally been scared of his own shadow, and traveled in an elevator with Kirsten Dunst. Favourite things include the writings of JG Ballard, the music of (the) Pixies, Scapa Flow, tiramisu, winter coats, and microbrews. If you ever read anything he is responsible for he just hopes you enjoy it.

More info at:

Readers! Sometimes it can be refreshing to take a break from your usual reading material of choice and swim out into unknown waters, as you surely know. Too much of a good thing can warp your mind without you even noticing the change. As a young lad, I went through a heavy fantasy phase and was convinced there were strange creatures living under our shed and that one day I'd climb the neighbor's fence to retrieve a ball and fall into some strange, faraway land. After a long trawl through a selection of classic horror novels I will be positive that everyone on our street is up to no good in their basements with butchers tools or demonically enchanted wheelbarrows and that the back bedroom is haunted (it actually may be.) Switching it up with some complex political drama, modern western or a surrealist dark comedy can be just the tonic for an overindulged mind.

I think the same can be said of amateur writers. If you find yourself bogged down in the flotsam and jetsam of that 250K word sci-fi epic and are temporarily sick of creating new flora and fauna for your incredibly detailed new world where every character has a rich back story going back to their (probably traumatic) birth, push it aside for a wee while and let your imagination stretch a bit with something a little bit different...

You know what can be fun? Hearing someone else turn your short story into an audio story. Unless you regularly read your own work aloud, it can be quite the revelation.

One of my favourite places for both the quality of the stories and of the production is Tales of Old.

Every few days a new tale goes up, being either historical fiction or alternate history. In the last month alone, there have been adventures set in Ancient Rome, World War 1, Elizabethan England, post-revolutionary Russia, and conquistador era South America. Real swashbuckling stuff and a great listen.

How about not only having your story recorded but also performed? I give you Liar's League, a cool and contemporary group based in London whose motto is 'Writers write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everybody wins.' Every month they host a night of 'live fiction' where professional actors read stories to an eager crowd of lit fans. You don't have to be near London to take part, the League accepts stories from anywhere, and you can watch the video of the event online from the comfort of your armchair. I had a friend go along to an event last year to hear one of his stories done and he had a blast. Every month is a different theme, by the way, so check their website for details.

Looking for something more unique? There are some very unusual venues out there, as I discovered last year when I stumbled upon a place where they would print stories on large paper placemats and put them out on tables in Californian coffee shops. Alas, that venture seems to have disappeared, and I imagine a lot of these ideas can be fleeting in execution. However, they're always worth a look and will usually put a smile on your face or, even better, make you think really hard for a moment or two.

My current favourite is The Safety Pin Review where, if you can express yourself in 30 words to the host's delight, he will wear your super-flash-fiction on the back of his leather jacket and walk around in public as people's reactions are captured on film. The stuff that Simon Safety Pin chooses to wear is, quite honestly, brilliant prose and I am delighted every time a new issue appears. The current fashionable fiction is called 'High Five' by Brian Hurley and goes 'Everything below our wrists should explode in a bloody pulp, spattering our faces with a fine red mist as we writhe in astonishment and clutch our mutilated stumps. Ready?'

Talking of fashionable fiction, I have to mention Fix It Broken, an online literary magazine run by a fine fellow named Greg. Again, the quality of the work on display here is very high and you won't be disappointed; at least one of the half dozen or so short stories each issue will thrill you in some way. The twist here is that every issue the lead story is made into a t-shirt - some very talented artists create a design inspired by the prose and a super-cool lit-shirt is born. I was lucky enough to be the first ever t-shirt story at FIB and have the garment hanging proudly in my closet. One day I think I'll frame it like a sports shirt.

Probably the most aesthetically pleasing place your work could end up is at the English magazine Fuselit. They are another themed publication and accept flash fiction and poetry. The standard is high and the publication itself is a thing of beauty, an absolute marvel of design and creativity. The current issue 'Jack' is printed on pumpkin paper with a colorful foldout cover. It also includes a bonus mini mag 'Hijacks' and a CD. The previous issue was created with handmade paper from Bhutan and had a cutout game on the front cover. The one before that was hand-stitched with white thread and had individually painted covers with a tracing paper overlay. Fuselit is art in both content and appearance; I feel I'm not doing them justice with my very matter of hand descriptions. Please, check their site and see for yourself!

Finally, let me point you towards a brand new wordy thing called Fender Stitch.

They had their first issue go live on October 29th so I can't give you any ratings of the work (as the date as of writing this piece is October 27th) but I was excited enough by their blurb to include them in here.

I quote - 'Fender Stitch is an online review of short fiction that publishes the most entertaining short stories we can get our grubby little paws on. Two stories are published each month, and each story is Fender Stitched into a full multimedia experience. Because, as it turns out, we want to entertain you without exhausting or boring you. So sit back with a hot cup of Joe, a glass of wine, or whatever floats your boat; and enjoy what we have to offer.'

Sounds cool right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ghosts, A Haunted Hotel, and the Coffin Hop Win (with Photos)

Here I am mugging with my newest library edition, which author Kevin Lucia, graciously provided from the 2011 Coffin Hop tour. (The Coffin Hop Tour is a great way to blog hop for Halloween and meet other dark fiction authors, plus enter book giveaways like this one.)
I won this signed copy of Five Strokes to Midnight by sharing my best ghost story, which I'll share with you here (with pictures). But don't get too excited -- I didn't capture any ghosties on camera, just their cribs. *grins*

For anyone who wants to know more about the book, click this.

For anyone who wants to see some fun pictures, just keep reading.

So my ghost story won ... I told about my trip to Savannah last December, which I've been blogging about lately, since it's inspired my writing. I've shared pictures of Bonaventure Cemetery with you and historic downtown Savannah. Now I'm going to share my tale of the haunted Marshall House and my pictures, since we all know I am obsessed with the lens.

In December of 2010, I traveled to Georgia where my husband stayed for three months on business. We have family in Savannah, so on the weekend, we hopped in the car and to our booked haunted location. (Yes, I love my family of in-laws, but I couldn't pass up staying in a haunted hotel. Would you?)

The Marshall House was built in 1851 by Mary Marshall. It still boasts its quaint 19th century charm, with gorgeous wood floors, windows, and moldings. It's been used as a Civil War hospital (which accounts for some of the ghostly activity) and was the writing site of Joel Chandler Harris, the author of the compiled Uncle Remus stories. Click here to read more history.

My ghost story began the first night we stayed. My husband and I had read online about a Civil War nurse who is said to check people's pulses in the middle of the night. We weren't really expecting to have any ghostly encounters during our visit, but we joked about NOT wanting the room with the child ghost known for biting people in the shower. (We'd read about that online too.)

As soon as we stepped into our room, the charm of the hotel took over. I fell in love with the bathroom, though I was a little leery of ghost-biting children. Haha!

When we left our room to meet family for dinner at the haunted Moon River Brewery, our phone was resting comfortably in its cradle. When we came back, it was off the hook. This I chalked up to the maid being our room, though I wasn't sure.

We climbed into our comfy king-size bed and settled in for the night. It was quiet in the hotel. It always is before something interesting happens. And boy did something interesting happen! In the middle of the night, my husband awoke accusing me of touching him on the wrist and bothering him.

"I'm not touching you," I insisted.

Typical man, it took some convincing to get him to believe me. We realized then the Civil War nurse had paid us a visit. A few short moments after my husband went back to sleep, I experienced the same thing, though also typical -- the husband was asleep and I was left to contemplate my own experiences in the dark by myself.

The next night I had another experience in the dark. Again, by myself. Seems like husbands will sleep through anything -- including ghostly encounters from beyond the grave. I woke early in the morning and wasn't sure why. Then I realized I heard heavy boot steps outside our room's door. I chalked this up to another visitor pacing loudly and rudely and was going to call the front desk to complain when suddenly, they came closer and closer to my door. I huddled beneath the covers instinctively not wanting whatever was outside my door to come inside and see me.

The boot steps got louder and louder, until it seemed they really were going to walk right through my hotel room door. And then the dragging of something heavy above me and the distinct clanking of chains echoed overhead. At this point, I would have peed in my pants, if I hadn't gone to the bathroom before bed. I rationalized that someone was on the roof working, since we were on the top floor, but part of me knew it was really late for anyone to be up there. Perhaps, some guests broke onto the roof to party? Nope. The next day I asked at the front desk if there was any work being done on the roof late at night. The desk clerk just smiled, looked at the bellhop, and didn't say anything. And I had asked jokingly to stay in one of the "most haunted" rooms. Not sure I actually stayed in one registered, but the ghosts sure put on a show during my stay.

My husband and I wandered all over the hotel taking pictures of the Civil War artifacts found during reconstruction and the hotel itself. I also photographed our room. Here are my pictures:

We stayed here!

Our shower minus a bitey child ghost.
Charming nonworking fireplace in our room.

Nifty picture of a copy of an original picture of the hotel. LOL

The grand staircase in the lobby. Note the nice pineapple detail
on the railihng. Gorgeous wood!

Swanky lobby lighting.

View from the lobby.
Look! This one's a pineapple. How cute.

Another lobby tree.
Checkers anyone?

The hotel bar.

The secretariat I couldn't fit in my suitcase.
These are pictures taken in the hallways and on the stairs:

And these are all the collections displayed throughout the hotel:

For more information about the hauntings of The Marshall House, check here:

Ghostly Talk

Dark Destinations

Do I believe in ghosts? YES.

Is The Marshall House haunted in my opinion? YES.

Should you book a stay there? HELL, YEAH! It's fun.

As always, happy writing and happy reading, folks.