With all the high-level gore, terror, and slasher components that seem prevalent in today’s horror movies, it kind of makes me wish for a gentler time. A time when Saturday afternoon black and white creature features still seemed to scare us, although admittedly now we might scratch our heads and wonder why. But I do have soft place in my heart for those old movies, so here are some of my favorites.
The original version in addition to having a fairly formidable slow-moving jello-like creature also had a young Steve McQueen grace the screen. This movie is great fun although my teenage sons do comment, “All you have to do is walk briskly to outrun the thing.”
The Island of Terror
A less well-known monster flick with a creature that has the body of a turtle and the long head of a snake which clamps onto the people and sucks the bones out of their bodies. What’s really creepy about it though is that it splits in half to reproduce into a nasty spaghetti mess. Of course the highlight of the film is Peter Cushing running around the place exclaiming, “Another boneless body!”
The Creature of the Black Lagoon
I heard recently they are working on a remake of this — not sure how that’s going to work. For anyone out there who doesn’t know, the premise is a lizard like man creature who lives in a lagoon. And of course he has to kidnap the girl, whoever she is because there were a whole bunch of sequels, and always the girl just can’t seem to run without tripping and falling so he can catch her.
Truly worth it for the long silences in the film and Bela Lugosi’s hypnotic gaze that the camera seems intent on zooming in on.
And of course if you’re in the mood for something of a longer duration look up the original Dark Shadows episodes. They’re great even if you’re just laughing at all the faux pas resulting from it being a live show.
Well that’s my two cents, and yes looking back at these old films in these high-tech days of ours they may only inspire a chuckle rather than any genuine fright. But even that can be worthwhile.
I’ve just begun writing a sequel to one of my books, Treading on Borrowed Time. It’s my first time out of the box doing a series of novels although I’ve always enjoyed reading them. When I was a kid I read all The Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan of the Apes novels until I felt as though he was retelling the same story over again, which for such a talented writer like him took quite awhile. I think that is why I’ve stuck with stand alone novels to this point. I didn’t want to continue with the characters unless there was really more story for them and had characters that had the potential to truly evolve over many installments. Bottom line I didn’t want to be writing the same book over again.
When I wrote Treading on Borrowed Time it was a fluid piece. It wasn’t until I was deeply into the novel when I actually understood how it would conclude. But the conclusion itself did lead to questions. Without giving away the ending it left my heroine, Julia Moreau, transformed in a way that led to the tantalizing thread — what happens next. Of course that character of Nicholas Burke as well, a time traveler, modern alchemist had the potential of evolving at least through one more novel, maybe more. I was something that I kept in the back of my mind until recently. So onward with the sequel. I’m ready now I think to turn the next page. 🙂
For Julia Moreau life seems complicated. Emerging from a failed marriage and managing a lifetime of diabetes, she lives alone in her childhood home where she communicates with the spirit of her Great Aunt Lilia. But Julia doesn’t have a clue what complicated is until she is thrust into being the key chess piece in a match between two powerful men of extraordinary abilities on the wild hunt for a mystical creature hidden in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Will Julia lose her soul to the karma of a devastating past life or her heart to the love of a man driven by dark forces? What is clear is that whichever way she turns she is Treading on Borrowed Time.
The Halloween season once again is upon us and I will be offering several collections of spooky stories as well as my new novel The Witches’ Own for 99¢ at different times during the month. For me Halloween has always represented the supernatural, mystery, and a whole lot of fun. So in this week’s blog I decided to talk a bit about some of my favorite spooky stories that I’ll be putting on sale this month.
In The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural the first story “Wolves” is one that I’ve always considered great fun. It has all the tantalizing elements for a suspenseful ride — an enigmatic werewolf, a bit of sorcery, and a back story of revenge. And layered on top of that is the moral dilemma of right and wrong that seems to weigh heavily and exact its toll even on supernatural creatures. “Wolves” is a story that takes an unexpected twist — one that I didn’t even foresee as I was writing it. In some respects I’ve always felt this one wrote itself. Another favorite of mine from The Left Palm collection is called “The Soul Shredder.” It’s the story of a woman who after eye surgery sees the world a bit “too clearly” actually seeing inter-dimensional creatures that most of us are blissfully unaware of. Her appointment with a psychiatrist unravels some unexpected horrors for both of them. For me its an interesting tale about karma and the unforeseen consequences of our actions.
In the other collection of short stories that I’ll be putting on sale this October, Dragonflies: Journeys into the Paranormal, there are several stories that I consider favorites. The first, “The Wizard”, is a suspenseful yarn about a young apprentice witch who is sent on a risky mission to end the life of a renegade wizard. The action unfolds on a stormy, treacherous night, in a nearly abandoned inn in the Ozark mountains. This story is filled with unusual turns and more than a bit of romance. The other stand-out for me in Dragonflies is a sentimental favorite of mine called “The Tear.” While not on as much of a grandiose scale “The Tear” is a more intimate story of a woman suffering from a terminal illness and her unexpected friendship with a mysterious Frenchman that completely rewrites her perception of the world. Again its packed with some surprises and brings a happy resolution to a place where it initially seems impossible.
Of course these are just a few highlights from the two collections but I hope you have the time to check them all out. And do take a little time to enjoy the season 🙂
P.S. I wanted to send out a sincere thanks for all of those out there who have helped and supported me along the way. You are deeply appreciated.
The Left Palm and Other Halloween Tales of the Supernatural 99¢ at Kindle 10/3-10/7
Dragonflies: Journeys into the Paranormal 99¢ at Kindle 10/10-10/14
The Witches’ Own 99¢ at Kindle 10/17-10/21
Pretty much outside of journals and poetry the short story was the writing form I began with way back in the days of old. I was exposed early on to its many chameleon like forms — the stories of O.Henry, Henry James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the very haunting “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Actually the more I read of the short story the more I noticed how flexible and adaptable the animal was. For some it was a mini novel, more concise; for others it was a haunting vignette, a brief yet relevant slice out of someone’s life; and finally for still others it was the twist — as in O.Henry’s case and Shirley Jackson’s, the unforeseeable turn at the end that catches the reader unaware. Literally it seemed that the short story could be anything you wanted it to be.
When I began writing and later publishing my short story collections I pretty much experimented with all parameters of the writing form. In Breaking Through the Pale, my first collection, the stories were more of the vignette type with the exception of “Contact” which leans itself to the shortened novel form. The other stories took a heightened slice out of the character’s lives. In Dragonflies the stories became more intricate, weaving a more complex turn of events. “The Wizard” and “The Tear” actually cover a significant time span where events escalate dramatically. In The Left Palm I took a page out of Shirley Jackson’s writing and played with the dramatic and often horrifying twist in the end of all of the stories. White Harbor Road actually became a mix of styles. The initial story “White Harbor Road” is close to being a novella in length and unfolds as a definitive paranormal romance. “What is Circumspect by Sophie Wilde” takes the O.Henry route resulting in an unusual twist at the end, and the other stories while romantic lean toward the vignette approach taking a snapshot of a significant but hugely relevant short period in the character’s evolution.
In truth I’ve found that the short story can be as confining or as freeing as the writer wishes it to be. It can be anything and so that puts it into an arena all its own.
How key is setting when unraveling a fictional narrative?
If you’ve ever read one of my books, you’ve probably picked up on how fond I am of my characters thrashing around the streets of New Orleans. But in truth it goes a bit deeper than that. For instance, in Sanctuary of Echoes the Metairie Cemetery becomes as key in the the storyline as any of the characters. The cemetery itself and its intricate statuary are revealed as a mystical epicenter where the character’s lives are literally integrally altered. In Treading on Borrowed Time the characters spend a lot of time hoofing it through the French Quarter and the Faubourg Marigny past and present. Just mulling around that section of the city imbues the story with a texture and feel that another setting would fail to convey.
But recently I did step away from the New Orleans’ backdrop in the novel The Witches’ Own. The town of Kilmarnock, Virginia, the setting, is pretty much a complete antithesis to New Orleans. It’s a small, closely knit picturesque sort of place with strong ties to a Puritan like past. These aspects alone are key particularly in how my main character Peter McQuade, a horror novelist, responds to it. He feels a bit like an alien species, so dramatically and uncomfortably “a fish out of water.” The setting itself and its aggravating relationship with the protagonist sets the uneasy mood which the story can unfold within.
So for me setting is not only important but more often is essential. In some respects I do consider it an additional character within the narrative, a silent one but still with remarkable impact.
I am on the verge of releasing a very special collection of short stories called White Harbor Road and Other Tales of Paranormal Romance. White Harbor Road is an actual place along the Gulf Coast that I passed one day during a long meandering drive along Highway 90 which snugly curves along the beachfront of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Actually I first began writing the initial stories of White Harbor Road after I completed Ghost Soldier, the second installment of the Ghost Files series. Ghost Soldier was an intense and somewhat draining experience given the subject matter and I was looking for a complete change of pace.
“White Harbor Road,” the first story itself, is in some ways the antithesis of Ghost Soldier and The Witches’ Own. For me it is like the antidote for the dark places the other novels had taken me. Although laden with paranormal inferences, it is a collection of stories about romance and about healing. Just like that long meandering drive down Highway 90 its somewhat life-battered heroines are heading toward a place of self-discovery, wonderment, and peace where life begins again in the most extraordinary circumstances.
It’s always a weighty and relevant choice when an author chooses which point of view to use for his writing. Traditionally I’ve leaned heavy on third person limited. In A Ghost of a Chance, I was able to use it to inject the book with plenty of Jack Brennan’s sarcasm without sacrificing the ability to give a coherent view of what was unfolding in the novel. It also seemed easier to use that POV in shifting between his viewpoint and Hallie Barkley’s, the quirky heroine. In Sanctuary of Echoes, third person was also extremely useful in that the POV was not only shifting between multiple characters but also multiple time frames.
My first real dalliance with first person came with the novella Ghost Soldier. Ghost College, the first book in the series, was written entirely in first person POV through the eyes of Monty Drew. This presented me with a bit of a dilemma as some of the action in my book, Ghost Soldier, would involve Ellen Drew, Monty’s psychic wife with him absent. It was an interesting choice I made in shifting from Monty’s first person POV at times to Ellen’s third person limited POV. I suppose I broke some rule in some far distant realm, but it actually suited the story. Monty had such a strong, pragmatic, sarcastic personality where most of the humor was generated from, and in contrast Ellen was more sensitive and cognizant of everything around her. Using the different POVs actually helped to illuminate their personalities as well as further the action of the piece.
Following in that vein I decided to incorporate two different POVs in my latest novel The Witches’ Own for slightly different reasons. If you remember Henry James’ famous novella The Turn of the screw his lead narrator was a governess written in first person. In that book, as was his intent, the fallibility of the narrator came into question. Was she really seeing ghosts and did she act justly? Or the more disturbing choice was she herself crazy and the whole thing in her mind? The lead character in The Witches’ Own is a writer of horror stories who has relocated to a remote coastal town of Virginia for several months. Doing research for a book he discovers the history of a young woman who was hanged for witchcraft in the 1600s. And then he begins to see her. The question that’s always out there because of the first person POV is whether this is indeed in his mind as he himself wonders or if not. . . Within the book when I am writing about other characters I use the third person limited POV to give a more stable narration.
It’s always an interesting and significant choice for a writer, which POV to choose and how it will ultimately impact the project.
Earlier this year I was presented with an interesting and challenging prospect, crafting a novella for an ebook series that had already been created called The Ghost Files. The Ghost Files, created by Scott Nicholson and J.R. Rain, followed the adventures of a husband and wife paranormal investigating team and had been originated in a novella called Ghost College. The challenge for me was first meshing into a series that already existed and second creating a unique tension between horror and humor which seemed inherent in the first book.
The paranormal aspects of the book were no problem. Ever since A Ghost of A Chance I’ve been weaving paranormal plotlines also laced with plenty of humor. But the balance I was looking for in Ghost Soldier needed to be a bit thicker and edgier than I had crafted before. I remembered an old movie, which actually came out when I was in college, called “An American Werewolf in London.” In some ways I think it qualifies as a cult classic because it pretty much broke the mold of horror movies. One minute you were more than sure you were knee deep in a comedy and next you were plunged into quite unexpected and somewhat gruesome horror.
It was that element I decided to incorporate into Ghost Soldier, a sort of jagged balance where one minute Ellen and Monty Drew were quipping back and forth in light banter and the very next there is a ghost blowing his brains out literally. I strove for an uneven and jagged and hopefully jarring balance in the book to give the reader as many unexpected bumps along the way as I could.
I am presently knee deep in the second draft of my latest novel The Witches’ Own. This book I would definitely call a departure from my usual style. All of my books tend to have a paranormal frame, but this one in particular definitely has more of a horror edge. The genesis of this book was actually a very scary dream I had over twenty years ago. One that oddly enough stuck with me and now has evolved into something quite different. The book takes place in several different time frames, one being New England in the 1600s so I’ve found it necessary to look up some of the old Cotton Mather sermons on witchcraft to get a feel for the Puritanical speech. Just reading over those accounts of demonic possessions and accusations of witchcraft really leaves you with an eerie and disturbed feeling. What a truly claustrophobic and treacherous time that must have been to live in. Freedoms, fairness, and legal recourse we take for granted just didn’t exist. In any case I’m looking at an early September release date for this book. I’ll keep you updated.