Clowns That Don’t Go Bump in the Night…

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What could be better for my forthcoming birthday (September 20) than a whole book of horror stories featuring clowns?

The fact that my story’s among them!

So, “send in the clowns,” and don’t forget to bring balloons and plenty of gifts! Or, you can make my wish (and those of the other authors) come true, and buy the book, here: Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown.

Still here? Yes, you. You in the corner, clowning around. Well, I can’t get you an invite to clown school on that audition, but if you want more information about the book, check out Editor Dave Higgins’ blog post: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/abstruse-press/fears-of-a-clown/bloodyrednose/.

Still can’t get enough clowns? Do you take your horror with a splash of humour? Well, Dave Higgins has released not one, but two, clown-featured books. Perhaps this one will help rekindle your childhood dream of becoming a clown. (Or not? I’ll have to read it, myself, to find out.) If you read Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown, please no spoilers. That’s worse than a clown without a smile!

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Sadly, I never did run away to join the circus. Which was probably a wise choice, as I imagine it would have been rather difficult to liberate elephants, giraffes, and lions as a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, I do have a little bit of circus cred by association with my hometown, where I was raised, which was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Circus. (Until they moved to Venice, Florida.) Which, these days, I suspect that the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty much all one swath of strip malls and gated communities with some six-million-dollar condos thrown into the heart of Floridian downtowns, just to give the residents a chance to kvetch about the slightest noise after 9 p.m. Or support noise meter companies. I forget which.

But don’t worry, even though more and more of Florida’s wetlands, wild areas, and farmlands are being parceled up and sold to developers by local politicians to become an on-every-street-corner Walgreens, or a toxic-turfed six-bedroom McMansion, you can still find sparkling sequins of circus history in Sarasota.

Check out the circus museum that’s part of the Ringling Museum historio-industrial complex: https://www.ringling.org/circus-museum. (Beware the museum’s staff, though; they can be more terrifying than any nightmare we writers can dream up. And enter into the gift shop at your own risk.*)

If you’d like a more genial experience, visit Bob Horne at his restaurant, Bob’s Train. His knowledge of circus from his own experiences, and his vibrant recitation of circus history, will add life to the museum visit. In fact, his own restaurant is filled with photos and memorabilia from the circus, and is the perfect setting to read certain clown anthologies (Can I drop any more hints?).

If you need any more convincing, yes, the restaurant is in an actual Pullman railroad car. Oh, and on the very same track is JoMar. Yes, that JoMar (look it up!). Which Bob Horne is restoring.

Here’s the link to Bob’s Train: https://www.bobstrain.com/location. (But I can’t promise there will be clowns.)

 

*I was born in Bradenton, and grew up in Sarasota. For those not from the area, that pretty much means I have carte blanche to be as snarky as I want to about my hometown(s). And it’s a gold mine for snarky humorists, let me tell ya.

 

Dancing Through Time and Space with Michael S. Fedison’s The Eye Dancers

Review: The Eye Dancers by Micheal S. Fedison

(possible spoilers, though I tried not to reveal too much)

I won’t be presumptuous enough to claim that I understand what it’s like to be a kid today, but I can speculate that some things never change.

And I haven’t forgotten, even after all these years, what it was like for me to be a kid.

What it felt like being bullied. The fear. The dread of having to go to school every day. The loneliness. Being left out of things by the popular or cool kids. The alienation coming at me from all sides. Always the misfit, and the last to be picked for the team.

How the classrooms felt airless: like you were drowning or suffocating. A tomb. A punishment that matched the cruel one that waited for me in the halls.

How the tiniest sounds and faintest smells seemed magnified in the forced silence and seemed to claw into your brain until you wanted to scream. Or to run and run and not come back. Or at least run as far as the school bathroom where you could get a breather from the stress of being cooped up. How you never felt like yourself until the last bell rang.

For me, it felt like hell on earth.

And the worst part of it all? What it felt like when no-one listened to you, or took you seriously?

Matter of fact, as a grown woman, I still face that sort of patronizing attitude. And it makes me just as angry as it did when I was a kid.

But, as an adult, as a teacher, I get it. Well, sort of, since I’m not a parent. But I imagine that it’s so hard to walk the line between giving kids a chance to be kids, but wanting to keep them safe.

The world–my world–was a confusing, ugly, terrifying place back when I was a kid–one I wouldn’t want any kid to have to live in.

And in the middle-grade/young adult book The Eye-Dancers, things haven’t changed much, in that aspect, in either of the book’s two worlds.

But the kids in Michael S. Fedison’s book? They don’t wait for grown-ups to listen. They act when they are suddenly thrust in a scary situation. They not only cope, but they keep fighting, although the odds are against them. They do this by joining forces, by combining their strengths, and forging bonds with those they wouldn’t ordinarily be friends with, as a way to navigate the challenges they face. Challenges that could be very real for many children today, but one that Fedison handles with appropriate discretion for the kids he’s writing for.

Could it be a Goonies-like book for young people of this generation? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I’m reading into the book’s premise too much with my grown-up mind, but I would love to have kids reading something that shows young people they can have agency, that they can make things better, that they can change worlds with their actions. That they can still be heroes even if they’re scared and confused and unsure of themselves, and their place in the world. That within all of this coming-of-age madness, there can be moments of hope that will carry them through the darkness of life’s changes. And that, as I think Fedison’s character Mitchell Brant realizes, are the things that can make reality as wonderful and sustaining as our youthful dreams (referenced from pages 317-320).

My hope is that books like this are enough to carry them into finding their dreams as they move into adulthood. And I hope that adulthood doesn’t come too calling too soon for them–that they still have a chance to be kids no matter how the world changes around them.

(I’m considering donating this book to one of the local school libraries. After I read the follow-up Singularity Wheel, of course! Or I’ll just hoard it with all the rest of my books, most likely.)

 

The Once and Future Greece

 

Ah, Greece.

Classical architecture, timeless culture, glistening seas, golden beaches, and…the latest in cutting-edge AI technology.

This opens Nicholas Rossis’ suspenseful romance, A Heaven for Toasters

     Sadly, I have never been to Greece, but that made it even easier to immerse myself into this futuristic romance. Although I don’t have a toaster of my own to fall in love with, the ones I dream over in the Victorian Trading Company catalog are a very alluring alternative.

     As you probably already guessed, the toasters in Rossis’ book aren’t actual toasters; they are androids. Apparently, the human race doesn’t get any more PC in the future, European charm notwithstanding, and they slap this disparaging term onto their own creations. Never mind that the main character, herself, relies on augmentations to her own body–like hololenses and an biologically implanted link to her police station’s AI system.

This dynamic comes into play when the book’s protagonist, Detective Mika Pensive, is assigned to work with a toaster. She grudgingly accepts working with her new by-the-rules partner on her latest case. It’s a perplexing case that takes them through the artistic fringe society of Hydra and deeper into Clonesville–Clonesville being the village-like refuge for the clones created after scientists were no longer permitted to clone sentient humans. The duo’s budding relationship is fostered by their determination to uncover the secret evil lurking underneath the paradisal atmosphere of these Greek islands.

I’ll try not to give too much away about the book, but I especially loved the Detective Pensive’s visits to the artist colony. The only fault I could find in the book is that, having never been to Greece, but equally in love with most of Europe/overseas culture, I wanted more “flavour of Greece” in the book. Having said that, setting it in Greece definitely made this speculative-fiction read all the more distinctive. 

Take a journey to futuristic Greece yourself by acquiring Nicholas Rossis’ book here: https://www.amazon.com/Heaven-Toasters-Sci-Fi-Romance-Islands/dp/1724773410/.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a Greek restaurant for a “make-do” Greek flavour experience–that is, if there is such a thing in this frontier state. Here’s hoping that the author returns to Mika’s and Leo’s world sometime in the near future!

 

In addition to the blog link I posted above, you can also visit Nicholas Rossis at this website: http://nicholasrossis.me/.

 

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WordPress Woes

It seems that perhaps I need to hire someone to design my website.

I have spent all morning trying to get the WordPress features to work right, during my attempt to redesign my blog.

And I discovered that my plan no longer allows me to have Happiness Engineer assistance on the weekends, though that is how it was when I first purchased my plan.

Anyone else unhappy with WordPress as of late?

Advice?

Torrent Rising…

 

Torrent Rising

The bass of the speakers

makes my heart change rhythm

and I am old, and uncomfortable

with crowded people

hurting me with their rudeness

and sharp elbows.

So I find a quiet spot

where I can hear the music

de-obnoxious-fied.

I wonder why I’m even here

and I’m answered when

the band starts playing

blued, and blue notes

but it’s only for one song

as crisp lightning shatters the sky.

And then, it’s just you and me

and a handful of young girls

who all want your attention,

and I don’t want to be them,

but I don’t want to leave,

for I, too, still have dreams.

And so I dance up into the sky

with the memory of a song

not played

and the storm makes me beautiful enough

for me.

–Willow Croft

The Storm Within

 

 

The Journey Back to Earth

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Whew, finally getting around to reviewing some books for #writingwednesday!

First up, Versions of the Self (poetry) by Christy Birmingham.

Linky links:

Amazon

Goodreads

Christy Birmingham’s When Women Inspire blog: https://whenwomeninspire.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/christybis

Review:

I’ve followed Christy Birmingham’s blog for years, and, likewise, she’s been a strong supporter of mine. I think she was one of, if not the first, who purchased my book of poetry when I self-published (Oh, Createspace, how I miss thee!). But this is the space for honest reviews, and, being an honest, ethical, straight-arrow type, with a healthy dose of blunt forthrightness, here goes my honest review. (Please, stick with me to the end of the review.)
I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book, the first time I read through it. I felt somewhat removed from the poems within, and I couldn’t understand why. As a woman, going through what seems a similar journey of self-transformation, why was I feeling unsettled? Why didn’t it grab me straight from the beginning?
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realised what was giving me this sense of disquiet. I spend a lot of time in other realms. The theme of my own poetry book is all about journeys to other worlds. Alternate dimensions, astral travel, tandem dreaming, visits to fairyland–however you want to classify it, it has very little to do with the “real” world. And my short stories reflect more of the same–fantastical, surreal, spooky, and a little escapist (or so I hope!). I spend so much time up here in my head, or a million miles from it, that I’m not very present. I constantly receive gentle instructions to become more grounded, to visualise coming down into my feet. But it’s not a place where I’m most comfortable. I want the deep vastness of space; of the ocean. Of anywhere but here on Earth.
Christy’s poems reflect exactly that sort of grounded earthiness I’m constantly trying to avoid. Being present, being in the moment. Being real, no matter how much it hurts. Or how confusing it is. From my way-out-there, interdimensional traveller perspective, I see her as a very present poet. And I’m also not used to reading that in poetry.
And it’s a necessary, and lovely, stability in the rareness of the feeling her poetry inspires. With each poem brings another block to lay on the foundation under my feet. As a woman, as a denizen of this planet no matter how much I dream myself otherwise, she connects me back to the Earth under my feet; to my own “Version of Self” that connects with lines of her poems.
“Gliding under Water” reminds me of the simplicity of being a young girl in a pool; a time where my sensory experiences were more immediate. Though her work is titled “Versions of the Self,” I see it more as a stripping away of those versions to achieve a strong core, bringing us along with her as she goes back to basics. To having strong roots. And water, ironically, also helps root the reader in a very real, relatable experience of loss and change, in her poem “Within a Few Feet”. We have no choice to be present right along with the poet, because her pain is ours. It’s a pain that, sadly, lies in most women, and maybe the human race in general.
Lastly, she reminds me that it’s okay to be down here, in the muck and mire that is Earth, to “start at the bottom” (from “Bottom of the Waterway”). Because it’s only from there that we will learn to fly.

Collaborating with the Little Fears Creator!

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It was a fantastic experience to work with the designer (and storyteller) of the delightfully deranged Little Fears.

Of his many Little Fears characters, I selected Durthi, the plant shaman…

(Available here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/657781326/durthi-portrait-a4-minimal-art-print?ref=shop_home_active_10&frs=1)

Check out the story, illustration, and video here: https://littlefears.co.uk/2019/05/05/the-shot-not-heard/.

It actually gave me chills when I listened to it, and I wrote the dang thing!

Read his  books if you want to meet the rest of the creepy, yet charming, Little Fears!

Green Stars Review: Milagro Herbs

Company: Milagro Herbs: Organic Herbs & Skin Care

Address: 1500 5th St. #6
Santa Fe, NM 87505

Contact: 505-820-6321

Open from 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday

Website: https://www.milagroherbs.com/

3/5 Green Stars based on:
* They use some organic ingredients, and some wild-harvested.
* However, they weren’t very forthcoming with information (either online or in person) about habitats that they harvest from. 
* This struck me as odd, since part of the goal of Milagro Herbs is supposed to be education. 
* Wild-harvested could be positive or negative, depending on the harvesting locations and methods. 

* Containers are a mix of plastic or glass.

* Would be nice if they accepted containers back to be refilled. 

For more information on Green Stars ratings see this post.

About the Company, and My Experience: I visited the store location on a couple of earlier occasions. The front part of the store is stocked with a wide variety of lotions, shampoos, and even soaps and other bath and body products. There’s a wall dedicated to local honeys in different flavours. If that weren’t enough, they have a huge selection of herbal/nutritional supplements, tinctures, flower essences, and, of course, their new CBD line of products. They have herbs and teas in bulk in a rear room. The storefront is also the location of the Milagro School of Herbal Medicine, through which they host individual classes, as well as a comprehensive program that concludes with a “Certificate in the Foundations of Herbalism”, according to their website: https://www.milagroherbs.com/school.html.

With the exception of their bulk herbs and teas, the products’ packaging seems to be evenly split between plastic and glass. In Santa Fe County, all plastic (regardless of number) and all glass, can be recycled at collection stations. Still, I’ve attempted to return the rinsed bottles from the products I have purchased from Milagro Herbs, and they will not accept them for refill.

The staffer that assisted me generally deferred to Dr. Enos in regards to the products, but she did help me pick out a suitable skin lotion for use in this painfully dry climate.

Despite the company’s business title stating that they carry organic herbs and skin care, their products are a mix of “organic and wild harvested plants collected by Dr. Enos and his staff” as quoted directly from the About statement on the company’s website.

During my most recent visit, I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Tomas Enos in person about his products and his collection/harvesting practices. 

It was difficult to get information from Dr. Tomas Enos regarding the sustainability of his company’s collection practices and the herbs he imports from other countries, and from places like “rainforests and marine ecosystems” that the website refers to, and which does not identify a specific location within the source countries mentioned. He, unfortunately, was not very forthcoming during our conversation. Which was my loss when it came time to write this blog post, as his website bio states that he has “25 years in the herb business” in addition to his PhD.

I did learn from Dr. Enos, at least, that the main ingredient in my shampoo, conditioner (white plastic bottles), and the “Abundant Hair Oil” (brown glass bottle with a plastic top) grows everywhere in New Mexico.

Dr. Enos informed me that the New Mexican globemallow in the products (which have become my hair product staple in surviving this dry desert climate) was collected directly from his land.

I do not have any other information on how sustainable and environmentally/ecosystem friendly the company’s collection practices are.

I was also unable to get information on the labor practices he uses to collect the plants he uses for his products. His website mentions that the plants are collected by him and his staff, so I can only assume it involves fair pay to his staff, especially since it’s the law that Santa Fe pays its workers a living wage. No mention on whether he relies on local labour in these international locations.

Seeking Inspiration from Spirits: Guest Blog Post by Author J.H. Moncrieff

I hear dead people.

Not all the time, of course—that would be enough to drive one mad. But whenever I have encountered a ghost, it’s always been heard rather than seen.

When I was a teenager, I borrowed a Ouija board from a friend. At first, I carefully followed all the rules: I never used it alone; I made sure to move the planchette to Goodbye before taking my hands off it, etc. But the darn thing never worked.

One night I fell asleep with the Ouija at the end of my bed. I was in a deep sleep when a loud knocking sound woke me up. Groggily, I realized the sound was coming from the Ouija, but I was too out of it to process what that meant. Instead, I grabbed the board and threw it in a dresser drawer.

Before I could get back to sleep, loud knocking sounds started coming from inside the dresser. At this point, I was really annoyed, and yelled a few choice words at it. The knocking stopped, and I fell asleep.

In the morning, once it dawned on me what had happened, I returned the Ouija board to my friend.

 

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Who is this haunting lady in red? (Photo: 2019 Copyright of J.H. Moncrieff)

Growing up, I had a very close friend. Let’s call her Morgan. We definitely had our run-ins, as we were both willful, opinionated girls, but we also had a special connection. She was one of my dearest friends from the age of seven, when we met, to the age of seventeen, when she died in a horrible car accident.

I don’t think you’re ever prepared to lose your best friend, and certainly not at that age. To say I was devastated would be a massive understatement.

Soon after her death, there were plenty of signs that my friend’s spirit was still around, but they could all be dismissed as a coincidence or accident. Her portrait fell over during her funeral, right on her casket. The area around her grave was mysteriously warm, even in the dead of winter, with a wind howling and no shelter in the entire cemetery. Sometimes I’d be walking down the hall at school and hear someone call my name, but when I turned, no one was there. And that’s when I’d recognize the voice.

Mysterious Woman in the Mist

When I moved away, Morgan really made her presence known. It was my first year away from home. I was living hundreds of miles away from my family and friends in a shitty little apartment in yet another isolated northern community. For some reason, even though Morgan had never been to this place, I felt her around me all the time.
One day I found a mix tape that she’d started making but had never gotten the chance to finish. I was alone in the apartment, cleaning up the kitchen, so I put the tape into my boyfriend’s stereo.

The tape played just fine until it got to my friend’s favorite song. When it got to the end of the song–which was in the middle of the tape–the stereo suddenly auto-reversed, and played a song on the opposite side. It then auto-reversed again.

It was at the beginning of her favorite song once more.
I froze.

I said her name, very tentatively, my heart beating a million miles a minute. “Morgan?”
My kitchen cupboards went nuts. It sounded like someone was knocking on each one very hard with a fist. The knocks went down the row of cupboards and then started coming toward me again.
I ran to my bedroom, threw myself face down on the bed, and yelled something along the lines of:

“No, Morgan, go away! I’m not ready for this!”

The knocking stopped.

I’ve never felt my friend’s presence again.

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J.H. Moncrieff’s visit to Poveglia (Photo: 2019 Copyright of J.H. Moncrieff)

When visiting Poveglia, the world’s most haunted island, I was standing in the abandoned asylum with only a few minutes left when I felt brave enough to speak.

“Hello?” I said, stupidly, before remembering I was addressing Italian-speaking phantoms.

As soon as I repeated the greeting in Italian, there was a noise from the next room. Was it something falling or shifting? The building settling?

Or was the soft-yet-deliberate thud someone’s attempt to communicate?

I’m not sure, but I do know I convinced myself that spending the last ten minutes outside on the shore was a fantastic idea.

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The natural decay of an old building, or someone trying communicate? (Poveglia Photo: 2019 Copyright of J.H. Moncrieff)

When I moved into my hundred-year-old house, I put a collar with a bell on my anxiety-ridden cat to ensure I could find her if she went into hiding. The collar didn’t last long, and soon I found it on the floor upstairs. Exhausted from unpacking, I left it there. One evening, while I was downstairs watching TV with the kitties, that bell rang, clear as day. We all heard it. And that’s not the only strange noise that occurs in this house, either. For years, every night right after I went to bed, the front door would make a strange clunking noise—the best way I could describe it is as if the cylinders of an ancient lock were sliding into place, but I have a modern door. People have waited up to hear the noise and see if they can find the cause of it, but none has ever been found.

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Is there ever a final resting place? (Poveglia Photo: 2019 Copyright of J.H. Moncrieff)

There are many more stories, but suffice it to say—for a writer of supernatural suspense, inspiration is everywhere.

Can you relate to any of these stories? 

–J.H. Moncrieff

 
J.H. Moncrieff’s new release, Forest of Ghosts, was inspired by her real-life experiences in Romania, including Hoia Baciu, the world’s most haunted forest.

J.H. loves to hear from readers. To get free ebooks and a new spooky story every week, check out her Hidden Library.

Connect with J.H.: Website | Twitter | Facebook

Read on for a spooky sample of Forest of Ghosts:

Jackson Stone is sick of ghosts. With his love life in shambles, he heads to Romania for a horror writers’ retreat, hoping it will be a break from the supernatural and breathing space from his relationship with medium Kate Carlsson.

But as his fellow writers begin disappearing or losing their minds, he realizes he needs Kate’s help. 

When Jackson loses his own memory, Kate’s love is the only thing that can bring him back. But she’s falling for the man responsible for the evil in Romania. A man who claims to be her soul mate. Will this master of wraiths forever break Kate’s bond with Jackson?

 

Intrigued yet? Purchase your copy today to uncover more about Kate and Jackson’s fate!

Mysterious Galaxy

Barnes and Noble

Chapters

Amazon