Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author S. Alessandro Martinez

Flying in on bat wings is this week’s Five Things Friday interviewee, horror and fantasy author S. Alessandro Martinez.

Willow Croft: If you could be any species of bat, which one would you choose, and why?

S. Alessandro Martinez: I love bats! My favorite animal. If I were going to be a bat, I’d either choose a vampire bat, for obvious reasons. Or a Livingstone’s fruit bat, which are adorable, fluffy, and have awesome-looking eyes.

Willow Croft: What with the pandemic, I definitely missed playing board games at the local comic book shop. (I’m still irked with myself for not being able to make it to your Helminth escape room challenge event!) So, what’s your favourite board game, and do board games and/or video games ever inspire your writing?

S. Alessandro Martinez: Our Helminth live online escape room was a ton of fun to put on, but also a ton of work. I’m still glad we did it, though. My favorite board game of all time would be Arkham Horror (2nd Edition). Most people who know me know I’m a huge Lovecraft fan. I have many Lovecraftian board games, but Arkham Horror will always be number one. As for whether they inspire my writing? Definitely. A novel I’m working on at the moment was inspired by a tabletop role-playing game campaign I wrote a few years ago. I enjoyed the story I came up with, and decided to turn it into a novel.

Willow Croft: Helminth got pretty gruesome at times (not that I minded, of course!), so, in real life, what’s the most gruesome thing you’ve ever eaten (or strangest recipe you prepared)?

S. Alessandro Martinez: I don’t know about “gruesome”, but I’ve eaten plenty of things that would be considered weird to Americans like me. For example, I’ve had blood pudding and blood sausage, both good. Sea urchin, which I would not recommend ever. Whale, it was okay. Horse is one of the most delicious meats I’ve ever had. In Iceland I had hákarl, which is Greenland shark that has been fermented and hung to dry for about five months. I probably wouldn’t eat that again, but I would recommend experiencing it.

Willow Croft: As a horror and fantasy writer, your imagination must take you to some spooky, and wonderful, fictional places. In real life, though, what’s the most fantastical/frightening thing that’s happened to you?

S. Alessandro Martinez: When my wife and I visited Canada, we decided to go on a caving tour. During the tour, I somehow ended up in front of everyone as we were crawling through these narrow passageways. From the rear of the group, the guide sent up instructions to go down a certain passage. So I attached myself onto the safety line and went down that way. Well, what we found out later was that the guide had said “DON’T go down that way.” But the message had altered on its way down to me. Turns out the safety line I had attached to wasn’t connected to anything on the other end and there was a pretty significant drop right below where I had gotten to. Thankfully, only my wife and I had gone down before the guide realized what happened. We had to wait for the guide to come and lead us out a safer way.

As for fantastical, when the wife and I were in New Zealand, we got to see many Lord of the Rings filming locations, climb to the top of Edoras, and have a hobbit feast at the Green Dragon. We also went caving (again) to see the glowworms. That was amazing sight! And when we were in Iceland, my wife and I got to swim in a stream that had been recently created through volcanic activity and was being naturally heated. This was a practically a private spot in the middle of nowhere that a guide had taken us to. A truly amazing experience.

Willow Croft: And, lastly, if you could travel to any (presumably) cursed or haunted location in the world for an overnight stay, where would you choose?

S. Alessandro Martinez: It’s a dream of mine to visit Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) one day. Who wouldn’t, right? I’ve also been wanting to visit the Waverley Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky. That seems like a super creepy place I’d love to explore. I would happily spend a night at either of these locations. Or maybe several nights when it comes to Bran Castle.

Take a dark draught with S. Alessandro Martinez over at his blog: https://salessandromartinez.com/.

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Suzanne Craig-Whytock

This week’s interview is with spooky-tale-teller (and pretty “dang” funny!) author Suzanne Craig-Whytock!

Willow Croft: Writers tend to have pretty active and wild imaginations, and I think your blog captures how free ranging our minds are. So, I was curious, what kinds of inventions have you filed imaginary patents for in your head? (Inspired by your post about the underground network of nefarious kayak thieves: https://educationalmentorship.com/2021/09/12/rendezvous-with-destiny/.)

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I don’t think I’ve ever really imagined an actual invention—I’m more of a “MacGyver”, which is to say that I use other people’s inventions to solve problems of my own. I get that from my dad, who was a trained toolmaker, and he could make any tool you could think of with an Allen key and some contact cement. Me, I’m good with SOS pads, pushpins, and paperclips, which you can do just about anything with. Zipper pull on your boot broken? Paper clip. Screen on your hair dryer clogged? Paper clip. Feel like poking a hole in something? Paper clip. Bored at work? Paper clip. I could fashion a chain to keep my kayaks safe from those nefarious kayak thieves with paperclips twisted together, and it would make them crazy trying to undo it. Enough said.

Willow Croft: At risk of upstaging your “theatrical metal chair” *drops voice to a stage whisper*, who would you want to portray you in a stage play of your life?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Yes, I have to keep this on the downlow because I have several melodramatic or obnoxious pieces of furniture in close proximity to my computer. But to be honest, if someone was going to make a stage play about my life, it would be an absurdist play along the lines of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, and I would want Tina Fey to portray me. I think she understands how to take weird and sometimes awful things and find the humour in them. Also, in any play about my life, I have forklift arms and everyone calls me by my superhero name, Heavy Metal.

Willow Croft: As a teacher/substitute teacher, I know that the classroom environment can be pretty surreal at times. So, what’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened while you were teaching (that you can share)?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I taught for almost twenty-five years and loved every minute but yes, there were certainly some strange things that happened during that time. Two things come immediately to mind:

I had been studying the Greek play Lysistrata with my senior IB students. I always had my kids perform whatever they were studying, and this group insisted that they stay true to the original when it came to costumes, which of course meant togas and masks, as well as large fake breasts for the female characters (played by the boys) and exaggerated ‘manparts’ for the male characters (played by the girls). I had no problem with this and gleefully helped them use balloons, soccer balls and whatnot to get that ‘authentic’ feel. We were right in the middle of a particular scene where one of the boys was jumping up and down, accompanied by the bouncing of his chest balloons, and the girls were swinging their own balloons around quite proudly, when suddenly my principal came to the door. We looked at each other, me slightly aghast, but she didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll come back later,” she said, and we carried on.

I was also the supervisor of a summer school site for several years, and I’ve had numerous encounters with students under the influence of a variety of things, which I’ve written about on my blog (Weeks 89 and 90, when I was still calling things ‘Weeks’). Some of those encounters are incredibly humorous.

Willow Croft: In all your antiquing/Big Junk Day adventures, have you ever acquired an item that was haunted?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ooh, what I wouldn’t give to have found something haunted at the side of the road! I did have an issue with a baby monitor once when my daughter was little—I actually used that situation as inspiration for a chapter in my latest novel The Seventh Devil. And I had a Wizard of Oz music box that would randomly start playing, to the point where I buried it in the garden. There was definitely a ghost in my last house, although the current one, despite it having a doctor’s office in it at one time, is remarkably ghost-free, more’s the pity. I guess no one ever died from malpractice here. We did have a few days after my husband and daughter demo’d the front porch of our 1906 house where there were some shenanigans in a back room (doors randomly opening, chandelier flickering), but I told whatever it was to cut it out, very sternly, and we’ve had no problems since. The noises in our attic are all caused by critters. Obviously.

Willow Croft: And, last, but definitely not least, if you were magically transported into one of your Paris paintings, what would you order at your favourite Parisian café? Alternatively, or in addition, what would you be reading?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ah, Paris! I’ve never been there, but I dream of the day, and I live vicariously through my gorgeous, drippy, impressionistic paintings. I imagine myself sitting there along one of those streets—it’s raining lightly but I’m under an awning, sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t know if I’d be reading anything–most likely I’ll be writing–but if I was reading, it would be my favourite poet, T.S. Eliot. And my husband Ken is there too, enjoying a glass of Merlot and taking photographs of the scenery. Maybe one day…

~~~

Haunted by this interview and want to investigate Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s spooky books? Check out this link, here, if you dare! https://canadianauthors.org/national/mbm-book-author/suzanne-craig-whytock/.

Also, explore another dimension of Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s “weirdly wonderful aspects” (her words) at her funny-as-all-get-out blog, “My Dang Blog”: https://educationalmentorship.com/.

Now, go find some haunted antiques. Or just drink wine and pretend you’re in Paris. (I know that’s what I’ll be doing!)

Wednesday’s Book Look: Haunts, “Hard Times”, and…animals, of course!

So, it’s going to be Steampunk Weekend at the Old Cowtown Museum here in Wichita!

The Old Cowtown is a living museum with both historic and recreated buildings that represent the history of Wichita.

And, according to the book I just finished–Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper–there’s plenty of ghosts and paranormal activity at the Cowtown Museum site. Here’s hoping they’ll be in attendance at the steampunk-themed event–better ghosts than a pack of hyped-up-on-sugar feral children running around! I’m gonna bring my copy of Wichita Haunts, and maybe I’ll get a ghostly autograph!

Seems like it will be a good pick-me-up for my case of the Springtime blues, either way! (Mild spoilers ahead. And, links for stuff in the post included at the end.)

Although, from the perspective of Les Egderton’s main character, Amelia Laxault, in his book Hard Times, I ain’t got no business having any kind of blues, seasonal or otherwise.

Amelia Laxault is a girl in rural, 1930s, East Texas.

Need I say any more? I mean, come on, the book’s title, Hard Times, should be a dead-drunk giveaway in itself. (Unless you didn’t have to read Grapes of Wrath in school, that is!)

Okay, okay: yes, it’s going to be just as dark, gritty, and gut-wrenching as you might expect. Put aside the box of tissues and just grab a dang bottle of whisky, already. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Also, there are dogs. You’ve been doubly warned.

As a PBR* chaser to Hard Times, there’s also dogs and cats (and a hamster!) in my short story “The Lights Went On In Georgia” which appears in the latest volume of the EconoClash Review (“Lucky Number Seven”, as editor J.D. Graves says in the introduction).

Poor animals. Even in fiction, their fates always seem to be at the terrible whims of humans. But you know, I was watching two PBS DVDs I got from the local library–A Squirrel’s Guide to Success and Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures–and I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic amidst how sad I always feel about animals and nature, stuck on this planet with us.

I started to think how (we) humans have become disconnected from nature by all this technology (speaking of the industrial nature of the 19th century as reflected by Steampunk), and I wondered whether we’d actually dead-ended ourselves into an evolutionary stasis because of the artificially constructed environments we now move through almost primarily. Are we in a vacuum, binge-watching Netflix while nature and plants and animals are busy figuring out biochemical ways to evolve and adapt under our environmental onslaught?

Spec fic writers, get your pencils and paper out!

*PBR = Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you hadn’t figured it out.

Oh, and here’s the links I mentioned earlier. Unless you’re already dead-drunk on that there whisky, and haven’t made it this far in the post.

Steampunk Weekend at Cowtown: https://www.visitwichita.com/event/steampunk-weekend-at-cowtown/33057/ and https://www.oldcowtown.org/

Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738582870

Les Edgerton’s Hard Times: https://bronzevillebooks.com/portfolio-item/hard-times/

EconoClash Review #7: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/graves-econoclash-review-7/

The Squirrel’s Guide to Success: https://shop.pbs.org/XC8032DV.html

Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures: https://shop.pbs.org/WB7702.html

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!

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