Wednesday’s Book Looks: The Four S’s: Supernatural, Sisters, Scotland, and Synchronicity!

*possible book spoilers ahead* (None of these are affiliate links, and weren’t requests for reviews.)

It’s probably something to do with the recent time change here in the United States, but I have been feeling especially discombobulated and spacey this past week or so. I’ve been slogging through my social media at a snail’s pace, and my work and writing schedules are all out of whack. (Plus, I REALLY don’t like eating while it’s still light out!)

So, off into the darkness we descend!

The First S: Supernatural!

Okay, so back A LONG TIME AGO in the 1990s, vampires were all the rage. As much as we goths pretended to be too dark and spooky for the more…romantic?…stylized?…view of vampires, we loved Anne Rice. (But, you know, vampires are MONSTERS.) I didn’t even mind Tom Cruise as Lestat in the movie version, but probably because I only knew him as Jack from the movie Legend previously.

Vampirism, though, had shifted from monstrous (and damned) creatures of the night that we related to as like misfits into something more mystical and otherworldly. The “damned” had evolved into alluring creatures that were admired, not despised, and I reckon maybe we wanted to feel like that for a while.

For a very little while. Because TV cameras and news crews descended onto the clubs, to capture the “depraved” shenanigans of this sub-subculture Vampire movement.

So, it was a real treat to read a collection of vampire stories that didn’t involve sparkly vampires as written for the next generation(s). And it’s a collection of bloody tales that could have been complete moldy vampire cheese, but, luckily for me, wasn’t.

Anyhoo, The Vampire Connoisseur took me right back to those days where I both felt shunned by mainstream society (Oh wait, I still feel like that!), and felt a longing to be immortal and therefore immune to pangs of emotion and the nibblings of a conscience and the ravening bites of aging. (Full title: Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseurs)

Here, most of the vampires within are unequivocally monsters, either via their own awareness, or through the awareness of the characters that observe them. And sometimes the death at the hands of the monsters is welcomed, as illuminated by the arc of the stories.

And sometimes the vampiric monsters are creatively reimagined, as in Priscilla Bettis’s tale “The Sun Sets Nonetheless” which had the double spook factor of being set in the state where I live. [Earthquakes, tornadoes, and now mysterious blue-skinned “creatures”?!?!?! Maybe Priscilla Bettis will let me camp out in her (completely imaginary and fictional) back yard in Virginia, where they only seem to get the occasional rogue hurricane! *wry laugh*]

Pick up a copy of Todd Sullivan Presents: The Vampire Connoisseur on Amazon https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090 or on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/todd-sullivan-presents-the-vampire-connoisseur/9781649050090.

And, if there’s something I love as much as REALLY GOOD vampire stories, it’s GHOST STORIES! Here in Kansas, we had storms and grey skies and fierce winds wailing outside the window and the only thing lacking to read Ghost Stories for Starless Nights by is a crackling fire! And toasted marshmallows, of course! (But a little ghostie told me that you can find virtual haunted campfires over at Haunt Jaunts. But that may just be a pesky poltergeist starting rumours! https://www.hauntjaunts.net/virtual-haunted-campfires-2021-line-up-and-schedule/#Virtual_Haunted_Campfires_2021_Cost)

Sadly, the starless nights here are not due to the storms or anything else natural or supernatural but to the obscene levels of light pollution here in Wichita, but at least I can escape into the atmospheric and haunting world(s) of Ghost Stories for Starless Nights. Join me around the fire, won’t you? https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Stories-Starless-Nights-Publishing/dp/B088N4WKL5

The Second S: Sisters!

Speaking of romantic notions, I, when I was real young, wanted a sister so badly. Especially a twin sister. I had a pretty lonely and isolating childhood, and I thought that having a twin sister would have given me a ready-made friend. (I blame Trixie Belden, Little Women, and even Anne of Green Gables with all that “kindred spirit” blather.) Once, I dreamed of a girl that lived in the attic and I swore that she was real. So did a psychic who did a reading for a family member once. I at least had an imaginary sister. For a little while, anyway.

However, the sisters in Tochi Onyebuchi’s War Girls are sisters in the most complex, complicated, powerful, and real ways. And the world they navigate–a 2172 Earth ravaged by climate change and military conflicts–provides an equally harrowing setting for the two young women.

War Girls not only captures the bond of sisters but also the heartbreak of that powerful bond.

And it made me want a sister even more, despite all the complications and pain that seems to be involved.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/War-Girls-Tochi-Onyebuchi/dp/0451481674 and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/war-girls/9780451481672

The Third and Forth S’s: Scotland and Synchronicity!

I have wanted to live in Scotland ever since the 90s, when I visited. Finances and cats and a lack of more shrewd and focused life planning have complicated the issue, but at least I got to take a tour of the Glasgow School of Art before the terrible fire. (<—loves Mackintosh)

So, when I read The Cracked Spine (Scottish Bookshop Mystery #1) by Paige Shelton I just about died! Essentially a woman who works in a museum in WICHITA, KANSAS gets the job offer of a lifetime to work in a rare BOOKSHOP in EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND and, well, I think there’s a mystery involved somehow. But all I could think about was THAT’S ME!!!!! Well, a me in another life, anyway. And I was torn between loving every word of my alternate universe and being supremely envious of my own alternate self! Mock jealousy aside, it was such a lovely, hopeful, escapist read! In my next life, I’ll be sure to have more clear vision of who I am, and how to build a life and make choices to nurture and preserve that innate self.

The Cracked Spine on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Cracked-Spine-Scottish-Bookshop-Mystery/dp/1250057485/ and on Bookshop https://bookshop.org/books/the-cracked-spine/9781250118226

On the heels of reading that book, I had a dream where I was hanging out with a soulmate-type person and they liked me exactly how I was. It was a very pleasant dream.

So, to sum up, supernaturally spooky adventures, “kindred spirit” sisters, Scotland and synchronicity, and hope for a “maybe someday” that’s all my own.

Writing Your Way into the Deep End . . . of Inspiration!

As writers, we all chase after the glittery, sparkly, alluring muse known as Inspiration.

But, with the COVID restrictions, maybe some of you have found your inspiration wellspring drying up.

Myself, I go for long walks in one of Wichita’s local cemeteries and look at the names on the tombstones, and watch geese and a pair of soon-to-be nesting hawks.

I hate to admit to you all that even with stay-at-home COVID, I rarely am at a loss for ideas. I sit down and scribble a bunch of random phrases all over a piece of paper that ends up looking like a drunk spider trying to make a web. And then I have a story. After I’ve written it, I give it some space, and then I edit. And edit. And edit. Then I tell myself to stop procrastinating and I send it off. *cue Titanic film score music* And I wait. Wait for acceptances. Wait for editorial suggestions from the editor(s). Wait for a bird to fly past the window so that I can take my mind off all the waiting.

So, while inspiration isn’t a problem for my short stories, I’m still haunted by an entirely different spectre (Hello, ADHD!) that chases after more tangible sparkly things; my mischievous cat, for one, or the birds outside the window, or wondering if my neighbour(s) are building entire rocket ships from scrap metal in their livespaces, and wishing that I could join in the fun, if so.

Where I struggle is outlining. Outlining, plotting, and hitting the word count needed for a full-length manuscript.

(Yes, probably even editing, too, but I believe every writer needs an editor.)

I’m working on two projects right now. One’s a spooky horror manuscript; the other is a…motivational book?…for lack of a better term. They’re both off to a fairly decent start as long as I don’t suggest that the road to personal bliss and growth involves a detailed process of dismemberment for one’s enemies.

But when I do have trouble focusing, I change the background music (film/tv/video games scores or classical), I meditate (aka take a nap!), or I’ll even pull tarot cards for inspiration.

(I shared a sample tarot card reading over at The Horror Tree for February. https://horrortree.com/wihm-using-tarot-cards-for-writing-inspiration/ Stay tuned over there for the March reading, coming up soon!)

Sometimes, though, you need something a little meatier for a full-length manuscript. And so I selected a book for my holiday-Amazon-gift-card spending spree called Write Horror Good Enough to Wake the Dead by Christina Escamilla (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7828668.Christina_Escamilla) to help me overcome my issues with “Pacing”, “Structure”, and “Scene” (<—actual subchapter headers in Escamilla’s book, just FYI) but with a definite horror slant.

This spookily delicious little book comes with a multitude of writing exercises to help you perfect your rage-fueled dismemberments writing craft and, as the back cover of Escamilla’s book states: “introduces two new writing methodologies: The Basement Method and the Horror Pinch Theory”. (Where you can dig up the book: https://bookshop.org/books/write-horror-good-enough-to-wake-the-dead/9781092372473.)

I’m loving the exercises Escamilla provides but time will tell (if I ever get the bloody thing done) if my horror book will be “Good Enough to Wake the Dead”.

I have my beta readers already selected from the inhabitants at the local Wichita cemetery, but no word if any of them are willing to double as sensitivity readers, yet! They’re proving to be quite the silent type, I’m afraid. And so I wait.

Willow’s Wednesday Book Look: Phantastical Phantoms!

Okay, yes, that was probably a little cheesy. But I love the cheese!

But you’ll find very little cheese in the pages of “The Phantom Games: Dimensions Unknown 2020“*.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a story in this anthology.)

The book is separated into six parts, and each part has a theme.

When I read Phantom Games just recently, my first thought was how well my story nestled in among the other stories around it. I kinda forgot I was reading my own story.

And how there seemed to be a similar, otherworldly essence that ran through the rest of the stories. I could continue with a whole series of superlatives like “fantastically magical” and “hauntingly poignant” but then if you read the book, and it’s something else to you entirely, you might resent my purple-y descriptors. Reading the collection felt very serendipitous/synchronous.

And, like when I talked about Catton’s Voice of the Sword: Book One (https://willowcroft.blog/2021/01/13/wednesday-in-blue-minor/), everything is just confusing and out-of-sync and I both want a world of magic, and I know that it’s a seemingly impossible want. And yet a little voice of the child I once was still tells me magic has to be real.

That there’s more than all this mess out there.

This read was all wrapped up in crows and birds and feathers and the winter wind suddenly picking up outside the window and, I don’t know, a presence that was both familiar and strange at the same time.

And I was reminded why I love books, in addition to maybe-someday (soon!) magical worlds. They make me feel safe, like I belong–in a world where I’ve never had much of either.

[Speaking of synchronous, I literally just read Paul Genesse’s interview (as well as the other authors’ interviews) on the Exalibur Books’ page, where he mentions that the interview reminded him how much he loves books. It was a coincidence, I swear!]

I can reimagine a world where I was able to get to know Ernie Scribner better (the inspiration for my story). A world where dreams can come true, whether they’re Olympic-sized or the size of a small garden plot.

(*Note: This anthology is a collection of both fictional works and compelling, insightful non-fictional ones.) 

Magical otherworldly links below!

Phantom Games

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Games-Dimensions-2020/dp/B08KQP53X2/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Excalibur Books Home Page:

http://johnpaulcatton.com/

Six Things Saturday: Mini-Interview with Author/Musician Ben Fitts

I switched things up a bit this week! Enjoy the awesome “Six Things Saturday” interview with author and musician Ben Fitts!

Willow Croft: Bizarro as a literary genre is still somewhat new to me (but I’m working on remedying that!). What appeal does the Bizarro genre hold for you as a writer, and, if you were looking back on it years from now, would you classify it as a literary/artistic movement, a subculture movement, or both?

Ben Fitts: Bizarro first appealed to me as a reader because I’ve always loved offbeat art and entertainment, especially when it came to comedy, so bizarro essentially felt like a more extreme version of something that I already knew I liked. It was kind of the same way I felt when I first heard Black Flag as a teenager after years of already listening to the Ramones. But the thing about bizarro that really appeals to me as a writer is the sense of absolute freedom I have when writing. Not only do I feel no pressure to make sure that everything feels believable as I do when writing more realistic fiction, but I’m free to revel and find humor in intentional lapses of logic, paradoxes, and general unbelievability. When all of that is on the table, then I’m really free to make just about anything I want happen in the story. Regarding the last part of that question, I’d call it a literary movement more than a bonafide subculture, because it’s not really linked to other artistic practices or self-identity the way full-fledged subcultures are. You can read punk authors like Kathy Acker and John Cooper Clarke, listen to punk bands, dress in punk fashion, call yourself a punk and more, but you can only really do one of those things with bizarro, at least as of now.

Willow Croft: How would you see the punk rock movement and DIY mentality persisting into the year 2021 and in the current/next generations?

Ben Fitts:  I think music and art in general is starting to become more genre-fluid, and punk is no exception. With the internet and streaming services, it’s way easier to come across new music nowadays, especially the more underground stuff. Because of this, young musicians are coming across and are influenced by a far wider range of different musical styles than many musicians from past generations have. A lot of those really niche genre labels you hear floating around nowadays, like blackgaze or hypnagogic pop, come from people having to come up with ways to market their music after the fact. So I do see punk rock musical and cultural influences persisting in DIY music scenes, but I also see it continuing to blend further with outside influences and with more and more microgenre labels popping up, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Willow Croft: What’s the most “Bizarro” i.e. surreal, humorous, and strange situation you have found yourself in, in real life?

Ben Fitts: I went to a rural college where we had lots of parties deep in the woods. These woods parties were a ton of fun, but it was often difficult to find your way out of the woods late at night, and I often got lost when I decided it was time to head home. When leaving these parties, I on two separate occasions accidentally stumbled upon a bonfire around which a bunch of furries were having an orgy while fully in their animal costumes. I’m guessing these furries were probably students who did this sort of thing in secret, but since everyone had their masks on, I guess I’ll never know for sure. 

Willow Croft: How do your music projects (your bands Capra Coven and War Honey) tie into your writing ventures? Are they complementary of each other, or separate?

Ben Fitts: They are pretty compartmentalized for me. Music is what I went to school for and how I pay my bills as an adult, while my writing started out as a casual hobby that ended growing more serious than I would have anticipated at first. So my musical endeavors end up taking up more of my energy and add to my stress levels, while my writing is more like a playground for me to have fun and be creative without really worrying about marketability too much. 

Willow Croft: One of the little bits of me that I still feel is a little bit “alternative” is that I despise the standardization of the educational system, which strips kids of any sort of individuality in some insane quest to be perfect—perfectly conformist—and deprives them of any opportunity to explore all the selves they might want to be. Personally, I see you as a great role model for kids in regards to living a creative, exploratory life, so what would you say to kids and young people as they begin to take over the fucked-up world we’ve left for them?

Ben Fitts: First off, thanks for saying that! I hope I’m a good role model to the kids and teenagers to whom I give guitar lessons, but it’s obviously something I worry about sometimes, as I think everyone who works with kids does. My main advice to kids is to question everything you’re told and to keep your critical thinking skills sharp. Between school, parents, belief systems, and other institutions, we have a lot of information and opinions dumped on us as we grow up. Some of it is helpful and some of it is bullshit. Part of becoming a capable and happy adult who contributes positively to the world around you is sorting out all of the bullshit you absorbed as an adolescent, and then adjusting your worldview appropriately. 

Willow Croft: To end things on a lighter note, I’ve included my usual food-based question! I noticed that your Goodreads profile mentions “you put too much hot sauce on everything”. So, please share, what’s your favourite form of liquid torture (aka hot sauce)?

Ben Fitts: I do like hot sauce! There’s a great brand from Pennsylvania called 22 Peppers that I love. 

Keen to know more? Visit Ben Fitts at his links below:

Swimming Away From the Current…

I had planned to use this shutdown time to write article pitches and submit them to magazines. Good intentions, right?

I began to realize that I wasn’t current enough on what’s trending write articles for some of the places that I’d hoped to draft pitches for. That, in fact, I’d never really been that up-to-date in terms of pop culture and current trends and the like, barring a brief period as an uber-cool (*cough* pretentious little snot) goth in the early 90s. So I was stuck trying to get ahead of a different non-pandemic-related curve.

But I realized was fine with not being trendy. I mean, sure, I spent way too many years trying to be the cool kid in the room, instead of the quiet nerd in the corner who had closet dreams of playing D&D and collecting comic books. And, as an adult, I spent too many years trying to conform so I could just “get a job.”

Not that getting a job isn’t important. I couldn’t write without my day job, even though I still struggle to support myself on that income. But I’ve conformed and worked hard and been outstandingly tenacious in my quest for a decent-paying job, and I still have nothing to show for it.

And, at risk of downplaying the importance of an author platform, or, even more importantly, the amazing and loyal followers that support the author, I realized that I don’t have to be current. There are plenty of talented writers out there that have their finger on the pulse of society, are on top of trends in movies and pop culture and even in writing, and they write it well.

In light of that it’s my responsibility as a writer to find my niche. (Which writing-tips articles galore also cover, of course!) But more than finding a niche is finding yourself. After all, what is writing for but a way to explore all the parts of yourself that aren’t seen in your day-to-day interactions with people.

For a few years after I overcame past conditioning and allowed myself to write (and even now, on some days) I wanted so badly to make up for all the time I lost in the thirty-some years that I didn’t write. And that’s where I could have sank and not swam.

Oddly enough, most of the development I’ve undergone in the past few years has been through a cyclical process of elimination–a whirlpool that gets tighter and cleaner as I get closer to the core. (I wrote a poem about this process, which was also inspired by a recent experience at a local convention. I’m not even sure if the poem is still posted on my blog or not.)

And that it’s perfectly acceptable to like classical music and comedies and outline by hand and write the first draft out by hand and have refillable pens and pencils or even a quill pen and (recycled) paper and get lost in the past and prefer tiny, cozy kitchens in old homes over culinary expanses with gleaming stainless steel appliances.

So, I’m exploring more old-school ideas and approaches to networking and mailings and establishing an author platform which may not even be trending at best, or at worst, be an utter failure, but that’s okay too.

We don’t all have to be trending.

We just have to be successful at ourselves.

And, for me, right now, that’s writing horror.

What’s your “you” right now, during this time of potential reflection and reassessment? Share if you wish to, in the comments.