Welcome To Yonkers, NY. Kill or be killed.

Review – “Tortures of the Damned” by Hunter Shea

What was once an easy walk or drive across town has turned into a nightmare for the Padilla family and their forward thinking neighbors, Buck and Elizabeth Clarke. Yonkers has a problem, a big, big problem. New York City as a whole is in trouble. The entire state, it seems, may have fallen under the same fate. So, too, America. Maybe the whole world! Thanks to Buck they have all survived, but after two weeks in his underground bunker, they are all getting antsy. With tempers starting to run high and supplies running low, they want out. All communications and electrical devices are down. They have no way of knowing what’s out there, but it’s better to die free than locked up in what is looking to become one very large mausoleum.

Welcome to the Apocalypse as envisioned by author Hunter Shea. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a real page turner. I started reading this 400+ page novel on Monday. I finished the following Saturday afternoon. I haven’t read a book that fast in years.

From the moment we emerge from the protection of the bomb shelter until the very end, Shea bombards us with one danger, one decomposed body, one feral, crazed animal and the occasional psycho human at a time or en masse, after another. It quickly becomes clear there is no law. The police and military are blatantly missing. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves. Kill or be killed is the new order of the day.

After reading Shea’s “Island of the Forbidden”, I knew I’d found an amazing story teller. And for as much as I enjoyed my time ghost hunting on Ormsby Island, the time I spent in Yonkers avoiding being killed while reading “Tortures of the Damned” was even more intense and satisfying. He has definitely improved on his craft from one book to the next. He offers just enough description to give you a feel for what’s going on while also allowing your own imagination to fill in the more gory details. That isn’t to say Shea doesn’t provide a healthy dose of the graphic. He does.

At the end I was left with some lingering questions. I’m hoping this all means there will be a follow up to “Tortures of the Damned”, because I really, really want to know more. If, however, there is no more, then I am woefully disappointed on a few key points.

I look forward to reading other Hunter Shea novels. Check out this title and all his other works HERE!

The BerenstEin-BerenstAin Bears

Although this has apparently been going around for a few years now, I’ve only just learned about the whole BerenstEin – BerenstAin kerfuffle and am pretty much stunned. It’s been tumbling around in my head for the past few days. I add my voice to that shared by the “Universe E” people. And now, I hope, it’s time for you to learn about it, too! Enjoy.

The Berenstein Bears – We Are Living In Our Own Parallel Universe.

Mind blown.

The Horror of Women

I was ten or eleven the first time I read “Dracula”. Before that I was reading things like Nancy Drew. I may have delved into Stephen King at that young age, too. I’d certainly read “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson before I reached my teen years. The point is, mysteries and thrillers have been on my bookshelf and in my blood from a very early age. Up until quite recently I’ve never paid much attention to who did the writing. As long as the story was good and scared me, I was all for it. Didn’t matter if it was written by a man or a woman.

Quite recently Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name by Catherine Nichols came to my attention. As I read it, my dander became more and more riled. As I am a woman struggling to make her mark in the publishing world, you can probably figure out why. It took me two years to find a suitable publisher for my erotica titles, but when I gave that all up to follow my real love of writing horror, things have not gone so well. You’d think having five novels already out there would give you a little bit of credit regardless of genre. Apparently not.

Since 2011 I’ve completed three paranormal thriller manuscripts and am working on a forth. One was published in 2012. Unfortunately the publisher went out of business shortly after my book was released and I have been forced to start my quest over from square one. It’s been anything but fun. It’s been anger and frustration. It’s been hopelessness. It’s been tearful. What makes it worse is that I have been told by people who have read my books that I write a whole lot better than some of the other well-known authors they’ve read. Yeah, I know my writing is far from perfect. I make mistakes, especially in blog form.  It’s all free form-first draft style here, kids, but, I sure as hell write better than I did when that first erotica was unleashed on the world. On top of that, I’ve read some pretty lame horror myself over the past five years or so. I am normally very humble about my work, but sometimes you just know you’re just as good as this other person who sells by the millions, if not better, and yet what do you have to show for it? Anger. Frustration. Hopelessness. Tears.

The article by Catherine Nichols got the gears going. I began to question even further how to make my way in this industry that seems to favor the man, or who they perceive to be a man. And then I thought about my chosen genres, horror, murder-mysteries, thrillers and the paranormal. I began to consider some of my favorites in that genre. It dawned on me that the majority of them are men. Heck, even the Nancy Drew books were written by a man under the guise of a female name.

There are a variety of lists out there about the top ten or top twenty horror writers of all time. Men dominate that list. Why? I’ve seen it argued that maybe men just have a better sense of blood, violence, and gore. Maybe. I don’t need those things to make something horrific. I can watch the news if I want to see that sort of thing.

Truthfully, I don’t care for slasher books and films at all. I want nuance. I want depth. I want to see normal, everyday life turned inside out. I want the slow, psychological build up that keeps me awake at night not because I’m afraid a stranger is going to come into my bedroom and attack me with a butcher’s knife, but because I am wondering if that sweet, gentle man beside me in bed is somehow going to go nutso for no apparent reason. Or I’m going to wake up and discover one of my children is missing. That’s scary!! Woo me gently into that darkness with a trusting hand and a tender voice until I have no choice but to go deeper. Don’t shove me in at knife point. It all appears so normal, but it’s not.

That’s what I want to read. That’s what I strive to write. And, modesty aside, I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of it in the books I’ve written. That’s when I start getting angry again. That’s why Catherine’s article hit me so hard. Seeing those lists of great horror writers and so few women on those lists gave me another level of dismay. A writer’s mind is a very delicate thing. We are moody and we are fragile in some ways about what we’ve written. We’re full of doubts. We suffer a lot of rejection and for most of us, not writing isn’t an option. We are compelled at in inexplicable level to write.

As a female writer I now feel I have added two more battles in my war to win in the publishing world. It’s hard enough as it is. I read somewhere that of all the manuscripts submitted, only two percent are published. There’s battle one. Battle two, beating the odds because I’m a woman in what really appears to be a male-dominated business. Battle three, writing horror, a genre that has a far, far more masculine presence in the world than does the feminine. I must truly be insane because I keep on writing it despite all these rows of cannons aimed at me.

But, there is good news. We’re out here, honestly! And some of us are pretty damn good! I found a couple great lists of female horror writers: Top 25 Women Horror Writers You Probably Haven’t Heard Of and Horror and Women Who Write It to get you started.

I have no intentions of giving up on this, nor will I change my name to try and beat the odds. I am who I am. I write what I love to write. I am a woman and I love to write horror. Hopefully, one miraculous day, I’ll beat the odds stacked against me and win these battles.

Hope In A Bowl Of Chicken Alfredo

We had company last night, my boyfriend’s Uncle Lloyd and his uncle’s wife, Betty. It was a very casual affair with a simple, homemade meal. Up for discussion were mainly travel adventures and life in the gated senior community they now call home in South Carolina. They were both dismayed that neither of them were able to make the senior citizen’s baseball team. Their attempts to do so were quite comical though.

Of course, considering the crowd, the topic of writing came up. Jim mentioned he’d just finished reading one of my books. I’m very modest about my writing efforts because I guess I just don’t feel my ‘successes’ are worth mentioning. They don’t live up to my expectations of where I’d hoped to be at this point in my life. I’m published, but pfft, I don’t even bring in $200 a year on what I have out there.

The banter turned to things like, “Some people who write never get ANYTHING published,” and “Sometimes luck plays just as big a role as talent.” Betty commented that sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the RIGHT reader, the person who loves your work and knows who’s who and what’s what in the business. I haven’t found that person. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will. When Jim and I last saw his cousin nearly a year ago, he said he wasn’t the best writer in the writing classes he took. To paraphrase part of the conversation, “There were a lot of people in those classes who were far better writers than I am. I, however, was the most persistent [in getting published].”

Persistence, as the saying goes, paid off for Jim’s cousin. I am doing my best to be persistent. I try to have queries out there at all times, always hoping that eventually one will come back with something other than the generic, “We’re sorry, but this isn’t what we’re looking for right now,” rejection form letter. If Queries are the Job Applications of the writing world then I am not finding any gainful employment here. If you’ve ever been desperately looking for a job and either never hear back or go to one interview after another only to be told, “Sorry, you’re not quite what we’re looking for,” you know the feeling well. It sucks, doesn’t it?

You can’t give up though, can you? No, not if you really care about getting a job. You’re driven to keep on filling out the forms, submitting the letters, and tweaking this or that to adjust the resume to fit the job you are applying for. What does it take to land that job? The right person to see it and realize, “Hey, this person’s got some potential. Let’s give him a shot and see.” That’s really all I’m asking for, a chance beyond the erotica.

To add insult to injury, over the past few years I’ve read a number of novels by quite famous female writers and I just shake my head wondering. They were alright, but as modest as I am, I write just as well, if not better, than they do. The plot to one was over the top predictable. Another told me the story instead of showing me. That was even more annoying. A third contained some of the most two-dimensional characters I’ve ever encountered. Yet, there they are, out there, known, loved, embraced, accepted and appreciated for their skills.

A few weeks back I finished writing my ninth novel. I have at least three more in me patiently waiting for their stories to be told. Where will these go? I’m not sure I want to know. If I knew they’d never be shared with anyone but a handful of family and friends, would I make the effort to write them? If I knew they’d bring me millions, would I put more effort into getting them done? Will that elusive Right Reader that Betty mentioned EVER enter my life? Is it any wonder so many writers are slightly insane? How do I up the odds of making it? What about my queries is not getting through to the right person?

The doubts creep in and tear me apart all too often. All the encouraging words sometimes don’t do much to lift the spirits of the jobless man standing in the soup line. He needs the job. He wants the job. He KNOWS he can do that job. His wife, family and friends are encouraging and supportive. They tell him to keep trying. In his mind, he remains an unrecognized and unwanted failure.

That’s the place I am standing now, bowl in hand. I’ve not given up. I’ll persist a while longer. I’ll write. I’ll edit, rewrite and submit again and again. I’ll try and look at Lloyd and Betty’s visit as another nudge in the right direction – that little glimmer of hope offered to me over a honking big serving bowl of Chicken Alfredo with broccoli and sweet red peppers on a hot and humid Tuesday night in July.

You’ve Got Fan Mail

I got some fan mail the other day in the form of a handwritten note that was sent to my mom, who, in turn, forwarded it to me. It’s from a woman who works as a library assistant at the public library in the small town where I grew up. She was also one of my babysitter’s some 40+ years ago.

11 June 2015

Dear J—— & B—,

I just finished reading Pamela’s book, “Blood of the Scarecrow”. It was great and a lot of other library patrons agree. Since we put it on the shelf, it has gone out a lot and got rave reviews. Please tell her how very proud of her I am. And tell her to keep up the good work.

Peace,

Lena S.

Yeah, it chokes me up a little bit. It’s the third piece of “fan mail” I’ve gotten. The first was from my godfather after I’d had a few article published for our local county paper, saying how much he enjoyed the articles and how well written they were. The second was from a distant cousin in regards to the same articles.

These are humbling.

First and foremost, I write because I have to, because I can’t not do it. Second, I write in the deepest hopes that others will read my words and be happily entertained, creepily frightened, and maybe even inspired a little bit. Sharing what I write has not come easy to me. For years I was too self-conscious and deprecating to let others see my stories or poems. If someone found a mistake or typo I took it as deeply personal, instead of them simply pointing out a way to make what I’d done better. Thank God I’ve since gotten over THAT! bit of editing nonsense. Last, I guess I write for the notion of “fame and fortune”. The odds are deeply against me, but I keep playing Submission Lottery and hoping that one of these days another publisher will find me worthy to bear their stamp of approval. Even then, it’s more to make the stories available to all the people who have asked me when the next book is coming out or who have wondered about my current project than the money.

Many people have paid me compliments in the form of Amazon reviews, Facebook posts, emails, or on a more personal level, spoken to me in person to say how much they enjoyed “Blood of the Scarecrow”. I let the compliments pump me up for the next big thing. I need that little charge to realize that what I am doing does matter to others besides myself. It inspires me to plug on with the dream. It makes me realize that I really am blessed as a writer, even if just a tiny bit. Some are never able to finish their novels. Some never get published at all.

I’m always working on it. Even if it looks like I’m staring off into space, chances are my brain is somewhere in the next novel plotting the next scene. Thank you to everyone who has ever complimented or encouraged me with my writing. Thanks to those who have pointed out mistakes to help me improve on my craft. Thank you for being more patient while I try and knock sense into one publisher after another to get that next book out to you. Thank you for being ‘my fans’. You all really mean more to me than words can ever say.

On The Recent Passing of Author Tanith Lee

“Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need no words at all.” Tanith Lee, 19 Sept. 1947-24 May 2015

Tanith Lee died the other day at the age of 67. Most people I know have never even heard of her, let alone read any of her books or short stories. From what I’ve heard, she was struggling with getting any of her new work published. Hers was an unusual genre and style. Sometimes it was very difficult to read and understand where she was going or where exactly she’d just taken you, but at the same time it was always fun and thought-provoking.

My first exposure to Tanith Lee was a series of short stories called, “Red As Blood, Or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer” back in 1983. It contained some amazing twisted fairy tales that I immediately fell madly in love with. From there I went on to read “Sometimes, After Sunset”, before moving on to “Night’s Sorceries” which was the fifth and final book in her Flat Earth series. Only last year I read the Paradyse series for the first time. With 90 novels and over 300 short stories to her name, I am woefully behind. I fully intend to get to work on correcting that situation.

Her writing has a sort of ‘Modern Art in Literature’ feel to it. You have to stand there and look at it for a while. In just the right light it makes all the sense in the world, but when the sun shifts just a little, you may find yourself lost in another realm, twisted around backwards walking through an upside down haunted forest only to step a few more paces to find your place again and wondering what the hell just happened. It felt weird, but in a good way. I loved that about her. I loved the uniqueness. I loved her voice and her style even if I didn’t always quite get it. Most of the time I was right there with her, wrapped in the images and sounds. She was one of the few who could actually make me see the things in my head she was describing no matter how obtuse.

No one else ever made me ‘see’ science fiction the way Tanith Lee did. It’s no secret that Sci-Fi is NOT my genre of choice for that reason. Visualizing future technology has never come easy to me. Tanith could do it though and she seemed to do it so easily. I’m not sure why, but it worked for me. Perhaps it was just something in the female psyche we shared.

In that regard, she inspired me to write in such a way as to have my readers do more than just see the people and places of my own works. Many have complimented me on that ability and told me, “It was like I was right there while I was reading!” I have Tanith to thank for that, for making me so much more aware of including not just what is visually in a space, but what is there in the other senses. What does the air smell and taste like? What sounds are steady or just passing through? How does that glass of milk feel in the characters hand?

Something that very, very few people know is that Tanith also inspired me on a more spiritual basis. Not so much the actual beliefs, as I have NO idea what sort of spirituality she practiced, but with her name. Tanith. Tanith is likely derived from the goddess Tanit who was worshipped in what is now known as Tunisia. She was the equivalent of the Goddess Astarte, and later worshipped in Roman Carthage in her Romanized form as Juno Caelestis.

I was really getting interested in Paganism around the same time I discovered Tanith Lee’s work. One of the first things many people do is to adopt what is called a “Craft name”. It’s the name you are known by during ceremonies, a name of your choosing, a name you use to keep your mundane identity a secret. The name Tanith fascinated me. It was unique and magical sounding all on its own. But at the same time I didn’t want to copy it completely so I combined it with my Totem animal, the Raven. Using the first three letters of Tanith and the last three letters of Raven reversed, my Craft name became Tannev. Before now, I don’t think more than a handful of people have ever known how that name was created.

Even though I no longer consider myself a pagan, I still hold that name Sacred, as part of who I was, the things I learned during those ten or so years and how those teachings lead me to where and who I am today.

Tanith inspired me to write my own twisted fairy tales. She inspired me to write with all my senses. She inspired me to believe and be part of the magical realm. She made it okay to write weird things that maybe only I would ever really understand. My heart goes out to her family and friends during this sad time.

R.I.P. Tanith, you were a wonderful and will ever be an inspiration to me.