Darkness Becomes Me

I’ve always loved the night. The dark isn’t silent, not by any means, but the noise is a different kind entirely from the hustle and bustle that happens during daylight hours. It’s a soothing sort of sound, the noises of night – much like being out in the wilderness far away from any sort of civilization.

Yes, it can be spooky. And even dangerous at times too, depending on the degree of darkness in any particular place. I’ve been scared in the dark, of course, but it’s very rare for me to be scared *of* the dark. Darkness is my friend, toning down all the visual and mental stimulation that threatens to overwhelm during the day.

Darkness, of course, is rarely complete, especially outside with the stars and moon and whatever other lights happen to be shining in one’s particular environment. Sometimes when there’s a thick blanket of snow on the ground and a thicker layer of clouds overhead, it’s just as bright out after midnight as it was earlier than afternoon. And often I can see the stars and constellations right from my backyard, even living in the city as I do. Our neighborhood is lucky in that respect.

My eyes rebel against too much contrast, but even so, there’s not much prettier than the lights of carnival rides on a warm summer night, brightly twinkling against a sky that looks that much more inky for the bling held up against it.

When I was young and more reckless than I am now, I used to hang out in parks with friends into the wee hours of the morning, talking, philosophizing, swinging on swings. I’d lean against my latest crush’s classic white VW bug and trying to stay downwind of the weed he and another friend were smoking (I was always too scared to try it myself, control freak that I am, but I’ll admit to a contact buzz every now and again…). Or I’d climb with other friends through the sandstone caves on what we fondly refer to as The Rims, tall cliffs above our city that practically beg for parties and exploration expeditions well into the night, when running into rattlesnakes is less of a concern and falling several stories down through a boulder laden-landscape is more of a possibility than any teen will admit to.

Bonfires, confessionals, serious conversations and wild rides of the adults-only kind all need the night like humans need air – the darkness offers both protection for conversations that can’t be held any other way, and security for those who need the courage to broach difficult subjects. The night keeps many secrets, but it convinces us to part with them just as easily.

Are you afraid of the dark? Why or why not?

If there are monsters under your bed or in your closet…have you tried talking to them?


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Serial Story: When She Cries, Part 51

This serial story is posted weekly on Fridays in draft (unedited) format. Each installment is available for one week. If you’ve missed an installment, email me and I’ll send you what you’ve missed.


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When She Cries
Part 51

The trek to the cabin had taken longer than she anticipated, and when Nicole woke up the next day, it was just past noon. She got up slowly, her whole body protesting. She wasn’t sure which hurt worse, the aches in her joints and muscles or the burning and stinging of the lashes from the whip. It made her head foggy, and she had to sit still for a few moments with her eyes closed to control it enough to walk.

She stoked the fire first, and then made up a meal from the store Patrick kept. Rifling through the cupboards near the door turned up a first aid kit, and she gratefully popped some painkillers before spending the next hour carefully stitching up the wider cuts and treating all the wounds she could reach with antibiotic ointment. She’d have to hope for the best with the others until she could get back to civilization.

A light blinked steadily on Patrick’s tablet, and she turned on the screen. There was a notification from a chat program of a message from “Joe”, and she tapped it open.

Hey Patrick – where is everyone? I can’t get a hold of Sean, Davin or Evan. Anyway, I’ve got a girl you should meet. Hit me back – date/time.

There had been five the day Evan had brought her to the mountain. Patrick had killed Evan and one other guy – that must have been Sean. She’d killed Davin at Patrick’s insistence.

That left one. And he didn’t know the others were dead.

He wanted to do another hunt.

She stared at the words for a long time, anger and bitterness seething under her skin. They’d taken everything from her. She wasn’t the same person she’d been that day. Couldn’t imagine going back to her nice, normal life, and living the way she had before. Everything was different now, and one of the men responsible for that was still alive.

She glanced up at the camera, and then held the tablet up, listening to the lens zoom in on the screen.

“Do you want to see one more hunt?” she asked, her voice sounding unnaturally loud as it pierced the quiet.

Lowering the tablet, she watched the number count start spinning up again under the live stream.

“I guess that’s a yes.”

Hitting reply, she typed.

Tomorrow night – five. Come alone. We’ll be waiting. Things to discuss.

It wasn’t long before Joe replied.

I’ll be there.

She held the tablet up so the viewers could see, and then set it on the table. There was a tiny, niggling voice in the back of her head telling her to contact the police. Tell her story. Have Joe arrested so he could stand trial. Go back to her life and her friends and family. That was what she’d been fighting for all along, wasn’t it? Her freedom? Her life?

Ignoring the voice, she dressed in some of Patrick’s spare clothes, rolling up the hem of his jeans and the cuffs of a plaid flannel shirt to fit. The rest of the day, she’d look for the computers Patrick would need to manage such an extensive network of cameras, plus continuous streaming video. With any luck, she’d find it by tomorrow and shut down Patrick’s sick reality show for good.

Then she’d deal with Joe.

* * * * *

Want to read the rest without waiting for the weekly installments? When She Cries is now available at all major retailers for just $2.99! Links below…


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Things That Go Bump in Your Head

If you’ve read my stories, you know I tend to focus more on the mental side of horror than the physical. Yes, I can get gory at times, but you won’t find slasher-style bloodbaths in most of my work. Mainly because I, personally, am more concerned with/fascinated by horrors of the mind than physical.

 

I find the mind a far more scary place to poke around in than any physical environment could ever be – partly because it’s the mind that makes an environment scary or mundane, but mostly because what happens in the mind determines how we act, react and move through life in general. That is a crazy powerful thing, if you think about it (pun sort of stumbled over).

 

I have all sorts of my own fears, many of them involving those I love getting hurt or killed, and not being able to do anything about it. As a control freak, one of my biggest fears is not being able to maintain control, and protect those I love. And of course just being out of control in general – general anesthesia is another of my biggest fears.

 

Despite those issues, I’m really not much of a worry-wart. You’d think I would be, but if I know for certain I can’t control something, then I can generally push it aside and focus on something else. Weird, isn’t it?

 

One fear that I explore in my books though is crossed lines. What it would take to turn a normal, generally happy human into a killer of some sort? What kind of mental shift do you have to make in order to leave the customs and mores that society has generally agreed on and become a killer?

 

I explore that pretty heavily in my books, though I’m not really any closer to solving the mystery. Still, that’s one of the reasons I write what I do – to explore my own mind, and how it works in great detail. I suspect it’ll take awhile to come to any conclusions. A long while, perhaps.

 

Tell me, if you dare – what goes bump in your head? What’s the thing you’re most afraid of – something that’s all “in your head”, so to speak?


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Of Dogs & Prey & Humane Violence

It’s cold here today. Single digits fahrenheit-type cold. But I my dogs are of the larger variety – a German shepherd mix (Lucy) and an Anatolian shepherd mix (Mica), which means they still have to occasionally venture out into the yard for personal matters.

But that’s not all they go out for. Mica has very natural guarding instincts, and he’s compulsive about keeping an eye out for interlopers at all times, while needing to know exactly where his pack members are as well. He’s always listening, watching, and looking for signs of trouble, even when he seems to be relaxed.

Lucy, is a predator, through and through. Her prey drive is equal to none, and if it’s small, has fur and runs, she’ll chase it. And catch it, and kill it if possible. She doesn’t normally eat her kills (thank goodness, what with the risk of poisoning, etc), but one afternoon, I did watch her snatch a bird right out of the air and swallow all but one wing.

I’ve seen her catch a cat, and while it did make it out of the fence, I have my doubts that it lasted long after, unfortunately. She’s killed several young rabbits, the last of which she was disappointed about when I wouldn’t let her bring her new “toy” into the house, and she’s a better mouser than a lot of cats I’ve known.

I’m home from work today, and the last time I let the dogs out, I actually had to save one mouse from Mica (I’m not sure if he’d eat one yet or not – I’m actually surprised he was playing with it, as he normally doesn’t), and dispose of a mouse carcass after Lucy had gotten it. I’m pretty sure the mouse I “saved” isn’t long for this world either though – it was moving very slow, and either Lucy had already gotten to it and just hadn’t finished it off, or it was freezing to death.

I actually have a hard time with physical violence (which is a little odd, considering what I write), so with no non-violent way to finish off the second mouse, I let him wander off to die on his own. I’m actually not really sure how to kill a mouse in a non-violent, yet quick way. Seems like the most humane thing would be to break it’s little neck, I suppose, but how?! There has to be a “best, most efficient” method, right?

I always hope that when Lucy catches a rabbit, she kills it before I get there. Because I’m not really sure how to kill a rabbit either, aside from breaking it’s neck. And it’s not so much the actual killing that I shy away from, because I’d honestly rather put an animal out of it’s misery than let it suffer a slower, painful death. What I’m most afraid of is botching the job, and causing more pain to something already scared and suffering. I want to help, not hurt, though that seems counterintuitive when you’re talking about taking a life.

Those sorts of moments are the ones where you sort of wish you’d taken your dad and grandparents up on their offer to teach you to hunt, just so you’d know what to do in situations like that. Or that you’d grown up more rural, where making sure animals were taken care of, including put down quickly when needed, was just a part of life that you learned young. It’s not fun to think about, and it’s not something one would need often, but I do think it would be a helpful “skill” to have, in those rare cases it’s warranted.

Which leaves us with another difficult question to ponder this week: if you happen upon a small animal who’s been hurt beyond repair, would you leave it to die on it’s own, or euthanize it, assuming you have a way to do so?


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The Human Hunt

*Warning – this post contains spoilers for The Blacklist episode 6, air date October 27, 2014. If you haven’t caught up yet, you’ll probably want to skip this.

There are a ton of great shows on this season (in my opinion), and since hubby and I can’t watch three shows at once (or even two – I know, it’s so unfair…), we generally end the week with a list of six shows to catch up on over the weekend before the next week’s line-up starts. The Blacklist is one of those shows, and we watched last week’s episode this past Saturday.

*Spoilers start here for both The Blacklist & When She Cries, so don’t whine at me that you weren’t warned…twice!*

I found the taxidermy element in last week’s show to be both gruesome and fascinating (yes, we know I tend toward the macabre – have you read my books?), but naturally I was very interested in their take on the human hunt – that is, hunting humans for sport, like animals. The ear-tag idea was an intriguing twist I hadn’t seen before, and I couldn’t help wondering whether that actually worked, or whether some of those “taken down” previously had been accidental. Given that the “hunter” was a pretty odd duck – apparently quite capable of fairly high-level reasoning, but still not quite right in the head, I’m betting it might have taken awhile for that lesson to sink in.

I also found it interesting that they did, indeed handicap the hunter, mentally speaking. And while his family, trending more toward the “normal” end of the mental spectrum loved him enough to enable his nasty hobby, capturing “live prey” to release for him in a pseudo-secure hunting environment, they never actually participated in the hunts themselves. It left me to wonder whether the writers were implying that while mentally stable (?) people might *think* about hunting other humans, only the mentally unstable would actually do it?

Or perhaps it’s a case of the lesser of two evils. You know your loved one is going to kill – it’s in his/her nature. So giving them a “controlled” outlet for that particular propensity seems like the best way to keep your loved one out of jail/the insane asylum. Which makes a certain amount of sense, if you can get past the whole “killing other people is more wrong than a lot of other potentially damaging hobbies” thing.

Wanna watch? Catch The Blacklist on the NBC site.

In When She Cries, Patrick hunts humans not because he’s mentally ill, but rather because he’s extremely intelligent and enjoys the particular challenge of hunting his own kind. It’s a mental game for him more than a physical one, and he’s figured out how to make a living doing it, which is pretty ingenious, if distasteful. Certainly it could be argued that this is a mental defect – a problem in his DNA or the way he was raised, maybe both, that causes a lack of respect for human life. I think though, that if you bring together evolution and atheism, it’s not unreasonable to view all humans – yourself included – as just another species of animal. And animals routinely kill others of their kind. Most often it happens in power struggles, but some kill apparently just for the fun of it, and some even for no apparent reason at all. Deviant behavior, certainly, but not as uncommon as we’d probably prefer.

I certainly don’t expect you to answer on this blog, but a question to ponder for the week: If you had no choice but to be thrust into a human hunt scenario, what would it take to turn you into the hunter, rather than the hunted?


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New Release: When She Cries

Happy Halloween!

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When She Cries is officially available for sale!
$2.99 at your favorite online retailers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | Smashwords

Of course you can also download it for free right here until midnight tonight…and feel free to leave a review somewhere online if you do. ;-)

Nicole Strickly is excited to get out of the city and spend a weekend in the mountains, even if her date is a little sketchy. They aren’t far down the road before she realizes her mistake, but there’s no turning back, and what awaits her when they arrive at camp is far worse than she could ever have imagined.

Forced to run or die, Nicole finds herself embroiled in a gruesome game where the only reward for winning is three more rounds with the huntmaster himself, and an experience that will change the fiber of her very being…for as long as she can survive.

Wanna taste before you buy? Come back in a couple of hours (around 2pm MST), and the next serial installment will be up!

Freaky reading to you, and enjoy the holiday!

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New & Free for Halloween!

Are you in the mood yet? Anything I can do to help? Free books, perhaps?

I’m pleased to announce that Angel Eyes and all the Death by Veggies stories are available free exclusively at Amazon from now until Saturday, November 1st. Download your dose of creepy here:

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What’s that? You want the new one too? Well, the official release date is Halloween, and it’s already popping up on most of the popular online retail sites for $2.99…

WSC_400But for blog readers, you can download the PDF copy right here for free through Halloween just by clicking here! My gift to you. Enjoy!

Have a spectacularly creepy Halloween…

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Into the Wild…

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In an eleventh-hour decision this past Saturday morning, I suggested to my husband that we do a Creepy Campout for the theme of our Halloween yard haunt this year. Yes, normally we have these planned far, far in advance, but this year’s plan sort of fell through, and we were at loose ends while getting ready to put up the fence that gives our graveyard a nice, old cemetery feel while keeping the kiddos away from trip hazards like electrical cords and various prop…uh…stuff. He agreed, and we spent a good chunk of the weekend putting up a graveyard in one half of the yard, and building a makeshift tent and fire pit on the other side.

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We’ll flesh out these “bones” (puns totally intended) a little bit next weekend, and then a lot more during the day on Friday before all the kiddies start showing up for candy. It’ll be fun – our displays always get a lot of compliments, and this year with Halloween being on a Friday night, we’ll have a good hundred kids or so.

 

The camping idea popped into my head after a blog post I wrote for my main blog last week. I was reminiscing about the hiking and camping we used to do when I was a kid, here in the wilds of Montana. It’s a big state with a lot of wide open spaces and beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes – perfect for getting out of the city and back to nature, as it were (something I haven’t personally done in far too long).

 

I’ve used mountain settings for quite a bit of my writings, and while generally bad things happen to the people in my books who venture out of the city, I’m actually not scared of the wilderness at all. Quite the opposite. I’m respectful of the native inhabitants, of course, but I’m perfectly comfortable out in the woods. I love walking among the trees, listening to the wind rattle through the leaves and water rushing from a nearby stream or river. I like that earthy smell of the forest floor mingling with fallen pine needles and bits of moss here and there. A vast meadow filled with tall grasses and wildflowers, big boulders sitting in the sun just begging for someone to lay out and warm up on them (you may have to work out a time-share schedule with the local rattlesnake population), that unexpected waterfall just around the next steep curve in a natural deer trail…

 

It’s a beautiful place, rough & tumble though it can be at times. There’s plenty of danger lurking as well – predators big and small, unseen cliffs just over that next rise, plants that make you itch for weeks or kill you with their fruit, and plenty of creepy-crawly things…including the human kind. It’s a great place to get lost in, to play in, to bury bodies where no one will find them – ever (not that I’d know from personal experience, of course). Not to mention the caves, bear dens and old mine shafts for hiding and losing people in. Although any deep, narrow coulee would work just as well.

 

You see how my brain works a little there? Occupational writer hazard – I’m always thinking about how something – anything – could go south, kill people, and how to dispose of the bodies. At least I’m thorough, and clean up my hypothetical messes…

 

When was the last time you were in the wild somewhere – either physically, or reading/watching something? How did it make you feel? Are you a city-slicker, a nature-child, or somewhere in between?


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WSC is Finished! Now About Nicole…

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I spent a good chunk of the holiday weekend writing, working on finishing up the draft of When She Cries. Which is why my first Tuesday non-fiction post is late. The serial draft will run several more weeks yet, but the whole thing is now in the hands of my editor, who I’m relieved to say really liked the ending.

I wasn’t sure she would. And I’m not sure you will either, but I do think it’s exactly what it needs to be.

I’ll be careful about how much I say here to avoid spoilers, but  as usual, I didn’t start out with a very strong sense of who Nicole was. I never have that with any of my characters – when I start writing, I generally just pluck a couple people out of thin air, give them names and I don’t even know exactly what kind of crap I’ll throw at them at that point. I’ll just start watching them as they interact with the situation I’ve put them in, listen to them talk, see how they look and what they’re wearing, and let that guide who they become.

Yes, technically it’s my subconscious doing the work, not the actual characters, so it’s still “me”, but it feels more like I’m watching a movie or play, letting the characters lead me instead of the other way around.

The Nicole we start out getting to know in this story isn’t anything like the Nicole she becomes…and that’s a good thing. I think she’s probably the most dynamic character I’ve written yet, though I’ve tried several times before. Her situation made it an absolute necessity for her to change though, in ways neither of us could ever have predicted. She’s fascinating to me, which probably sounds like hubris on my part, but truly, I don’t feel like she’s my “creation” or like I had anything to do with her personality arc. That’s not really the way it works.

I named her Nicole for a specific reason that has nothing to do with any sort of actual meaning of the name, and more to do with the people I’ve known, seen, or otherwise met even for a very brief time with that name. We all form certain stereotypes of people based at least partially on names, and I had a certain specific sort of person (though no one in particular) in mind when I named her that.

In some ways, she embodied that stereotype I hold, and in others, not so much. She developed into her own person in the first half of the story, and then someone entirely different, shaped by the circumstances she’s forced to endure.

As we all are.

A lot of the people I write about are…not good people. They’re scary in the worst way possible (IMO), which is psychologically.  What I’m most interested in is how they got that way. What went wrong to set them on the path that they’re now traveling? And how do they live with those choices day in and day out?

Fascinating, I think.


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New Cover, New Release Dates, New Blog Schedule

First off, allow me to present the cover art for When She Cries, releasing this October 31st. Creepy, isn’t it? But so very Nicole…

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Yes, I know that last year I hosted this big Halloween bash here on the blog, with bunches of authors and giveaways and such, but when it came time to start planning this year, I had a choice. I could spend a lot of time scheduling blog posts and monitoring comments/giveaways, or I could focus on getting a bunch of drafts done this month. You know which option I picked, obviously. Blog parties are a lot of fun, but also a lot of work, and I really, really wanted to get this book out to you by Halloween. And so I shall. I’m working hard to finish the draft this week (even though the serial will run longer), and get it to my editor because…

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I also want to write one more Death by Veggies story this month. This one was actually inspired by a flash fiction story (250 words) that I wrote this summer for the Tasteful Murders anthology (which is available now on Amazon, by the way – click the cover & go grab a copy…lots of great stories in there, and perfect for this month!). The story I wrote is called Kale Chipped, and…well, it’s only 250 words, and I’m just not quite done with those characters yet. So once I get WSC finished up, I’ll be writing Cooking with Kale, and it’s scheduled to be released this November 28th (yes, just in time for Thanksgiving).

If you’re a newsletter subscriber, you may get the skinny on how to get a free, early copy when I finally start up the monthly newsletter again in November.

And finally, the entire Death by Veggies collection will be released as a whole on December 5th in both digital and print formats. Which is perfect timing for…say…Christmas gifts. What could be better than a stocking full of freaky little  horror stories?

So…lots of cool stuff coming up, and there’s more fun news for next year as well. But I won’t spoil that just yet.

Starting today, I’ll be posting a non-fiction post weekly on Tuesdays. I thought it might be fun to discuss some things related to not only my books, but suspense and horror in general. Books (by other people), movies, TV shows, creepy things and people and animals…stuff like that. It’ll be fun, and it will help me with some research and psycho-analysis that will be used in future books. Cool how that works, right?

Thanks for reading, and I hope in addition to the weekly serial installments, you’ll drop by for the non-fiction posts as well.


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