I love penpals and writing letters and such, so I’d love it if you become my penpal!
If you send me your email, I’ll put you on my mailing list for my (18+ only) newsletter full of delicious nightmares and looming storms…
I also have a limited number of horror-themed snail mail postcards, if that’s not too creepy for you in this day and age…
And, if you send me a photo of your copy of an anthology and/or journal/magazine my short story is in (Click here for list and links, or find me on Goodreads or Amazon), next to your pet(s) or favourite plant/tree, I’ll send you a bonus nightmarish surprise! (I love nature and animals, so I’d thought I’d ask for a twist on the traditional selfie!) You can also share your photo/email with me via Twitter: @WillowCroft16 #NationalPenPalDay.
The Not-So-Fine-Print: If I get my middle-grade manuscript accepted during #PitMad this 4th of June, I’ll eventually have a website that’s kid-friendly. Keep watching for updates on my book for kid (and their supervising parents/guardians) who love horror/suspense! So, let me state again that this particular mailing list is just for grown-ups–18+ grown-ups–and might have content that falls more on the adult side. Please don’t sign up for this newsletter unless you are 18+ years old.]
I don’t know how I did this before the shutdown: juggle writing and the day job and all the other life stuff. Right now, even without the day job, it feels like I have too many balls up in the air. But I’m submitting to lots of great writing opportunities, like this call for “Whodunit” mystery stories, hosted by Jersey Pines Ink: https://www.jerseypinesink.com. (Click the Submissions tab or just scroll down.)
Annnd, it looks like I might have my manuscript polished and ready for #PitMad. I don’t want to rush it, though, because I’d rather have a finished manuscript over submitting something that’s not as best as I can (re)write it.
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.
I haven’t been on Weebly yet long enough to uncover all its glitches and problems, but I’m sure they’ll crop up sooner or later. Right now, I LOVE it! It’s so simple and easy and hassle-free that I’m rolling in clover (I had to sneak in a little nod to St. Patty’s day, since the shutdown prevented any green-beer celebrating on that day.)
So, fellow WordPress bloggers, I’ll be on reading, still, and posting blogs/reviews (I hope!) for Katzenworld and Madness Heart Press; and hopefully commenting a lot more on your blogs now that I’m not mired in WordPress glitchy glitches. I’ll have to rebuild my follower list over there, and I haven’t tested yet if my website pops up as high-ranked (?)/immediately on browser searches as it did with WordPress.
But, oh, WordPress, how I’ll miss when you tell me I’m not following a blog when I am. You especially love to target bloggers that I’ve followed/have been following me for a while (waves at Pacific Paratrooper/GP Cox–yes, I still remember that!), and then suddenly, inextricably, mysteriously (I could go on forever, but I won’t.) unfollow them. Without rhyme or reason.
Or when I was just on the Blessings By Me blog yesterday (check out the hand sanitizer holders in her shop: https://www.shop.blessingsbyme.com/product/hand-sanitizer-holder/ )and the “Accept Cookies” bar was drifting up and down the screen, no matter how many times I accepted it. I guess WordPress didn’t want me to have any cookies with my dairy-free milk, or, better yet, make some awesome things on a budget while the nation closes down.
Another favorite thing I loved about was to tell me I wasn’t logged in when I was, while the nation closes down.which made it especially fun when I was trying to like a fellow blogger’s post. I loved having to reboot the page several times before it accepted that I was logged in, which WordPress told me I was logged in only when I went back to my profile page, or even when I went to post a blog post of my own.
Again, I could go on, but I won’t. I’m sure you’d rather be offline reading a book or paying attention to your long-neglected Netflix queue or doing puzzles (https://mutts.com/search-results/?fwp_global_search=puzzles) or working from home or taking your dog (but not your cat!) for a nice long walk through some welcoming nature spot.
In any case, stay safe and healthy and weather the isolation with aplomb or indulgently wonderful mopey misery, whichever you prefer, and I’ll start posting more on my new website soon!
And, if you’re feeling lonely, you can’t get Coronavirus from a cat or a dog or another cute animal waiting in a shelter for a forever home! You can browse adoptable animals in your region on Petfinder.com. Remember, adopt, don’t shop! And you can get all your pet supplies online at Chewy.com.
(None of these links are…what is it? affiliate links?…just stuff I like or happened to come across the past few days–Willow)
Deadman Humour: 13 Fears of a Clown is another clown anthology published by Dave Higgins that is bursting with, what else, clowns.
(Spoilers ahead—Willow Croft)
It’s easier for me to break down the review by focusing on each of the individual stories, rather than review the collection as a whole. (Which I loved just as much as the companion short story collection Dave Higgins has published—Bloody Red Nose: 15 Fears of a Clown.)
This collection was aimed at tickling the reader’s funny bone with more stories that made clowns not the objects of fear, but the victims of things more comically terrifying than they are.
R.M. Mizia’s “The Living Dark” sets the stage with a birthday party celebration that sounds like one I should like to attend, but which doesn’t bode well for the clowns hired to entertain at the event.
“The Clown” by Henry Snider captures the simultaneously alluring yet seedy feel of the fairway in his story, which serves up a haunting twist at the end that stays with the reader.
Like the companion anthology, Deadman Humour offers an immersive darkness that gives me a chance to escape the darkness in my own life. And it works because it’s darkness with heart and longing and emotion. Such is the case of Steven Pirie’s “To Pull a Child From a Woman” definitely has both darkness and heart, and has an ending for Hobo the clown that I almost envy. (Oh, the poor emus, though…).
The poignant telling of the funeral services of King Giggles the clown in Donna J.W. Munro’s “Funeral for King Giggles” is both touching and fitting reminder that when, despite the evolution one would expect from the 21st century society, it remains a world where many still have to wear masks. I loved the acceptance and the passage of self at the end of the story.
“Auguste in Spring” by Christopher Stanley for me, alludes to the clown version of the #MeToo movement, where a young clown starlet turns the tables on a sleazy director who is expecting sexual favours in return for his making her a star. On the night of her eighteenth birthday, she begins to transform into something much less alluring (by clown performer standards, apparently) yet invariably more powerful, and it’s then that the young starlet comes into her own.
“Giggles for Bimbo” by N.D. Coley is horror that uses a man who is impressed into clownship to create a story that examines the actual nature of children, raised by a society that emphasizes power, control, conformity, and intolerance. It’s a heartbreaking commentary of what we do to children who are sensitive in a world of cruel callousness and demanding expectations that are nearly impossible to live up to—a world that does not encourage gentleness of spirit and richness of soul and feeling in children of any age. This is a horror story that, again, stays with the reader after it’s over.
Having grown up in a theatrical environment, the next two tales sit very close to home with their depictions of horror on the page. Both Roger Jackson’s “Being Funny Is a Serious Business” and Christopher Degni’s “A Mime Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” are evocative in the reminders that there is no price too high, and no sacrifice too great, in the practice of one’s craft.
Lee Greenwright’s “You Don’t Choose the Circus Life, the Circus Life Chooses You” takes this dedication to craft to a whole other horrific level. The story lures you in with what many of us may want: finding the place where we belong, the chance to be part of a family, to find our “home” as the author puts it via his main character Varley. Greenwright, though, reminds us to be careful what we wish for. (I’m still going to wish for my own place that I belong; my home, despite the cautionary tale Greenwright has offered, here in this collection.)
Samantha Bryant’s delightfully crafted tale, “The Gleewoman of Preservation,” had a lot more to offer than a barrel of chuckles. I loved that she wrote the story around an older couple, I loved her inclusion of more real-life based bits of what life for a retired couple was life (the bit about her husband’s snoring was truly mirth-inducing), and I loved even more how she turned the male-dominated “Gentlemen’s Club” into the 21st century, with a truly speculative twist. I can’t wait to read more from Samantha Bryant. (My grandfather was a Shriner, incidentally.)
The dark giggles take on a whole other hue in Charles Bernard’s “auguste” tale. It’s a story that doesn’t paint over the secret life of clowns with any sort of romantic gloss. (I’ve learned, now, that “Auguste” clowns are “red clowns” in contrast to the clowns wearing white facepaint and white costumes.) And the final, violent end to one clown’s loneliness—well, that just makes the bitter, blood-drenched end of the story that much more powerful.
I also loved the dark humour in Joshua R. Smith’s “Bag of Tricks,” aka “The Inner Life of People Who Are Forced to Work With Kids.” Lots of giggles to be had at this author’s too-close-to-home depiction of kids—and their parents! It’s stories like this that I love, because I am granted permission to laugh at realistic depictions of children in ways that I don’t have the freedom to at the day job.
Then, the anthology fittingly wraps up with G.K. Lomax’s story titled “Alas, Poor Yorick.” Again, I practically grew up in a theatre, so I couldn’t avoid knowing the gist of Hamlet’s tale via osmosis even if I wanted to avoid it. This tale is a skilled expansion of the clown(s) behind the scenes of Shakespeare’s notable dramatic play. Even though I’m not a trained thespian or a Shakespeare scholar, I thought this tale was really well done, and provided a delightful finish to the anthology. Like the rest of the authors I’ve been introduced to by way of this anthology, I’m looking forward to reading more tales of his in the future.
Explore the inner trials and tribulations of clowns for yourself with your own copy:
As opposed to David Higgins’ experience in his intro for this anthology, I don’t think I ever had clowns for any birthday parties. None that I can remember, anyway. Mostly we just saw the clowns in parades, or at the circus. I grew up in Sarasota, Florida—the winter headquarters for a certain notable circus. But I don’t remember any real fear of them, or any real love of them, either. I liked the animal acts and I can still remember the smell of the elephants as mixed with the smells of the Big Top. These fond memories sit uneasily with my later (and continued) dedication to animal rights causes.
But I love stories about clowns. And of course I read Stephen King’s It when I was in middle school, and remembered feeling a little disappointed in the movie, despite Tim Curry’s appearance in the film.
So I was so excited when David Higgins put out this anthology (I haven’t read the other clown anthology he put out, so please no spoilers! I’m just as keen to read that one, as budget allows.)
And for more than just that my own story appeared in it. Having the clowns be, as the back cover blurb puts it “the victims or heroes of the story” made the collection even more appealing.
I’ll just do a quick summation of each tale, and leave you to discover the chills and spooks for yourself. (Although, there might be some slight spoilage going on, so maybe just go out and buy the book before you read on!)
Eleanor Cawood Jones writes the kind of tale I love to read; plus I (half-shamefully) giggled through the capers of Kipper the clown almost to the very end of the story.
Ben Fitts (Rock N’ Roll Horror Zine) kept up the laughs with “Naughty,” though at times I was probably more closer to crying, given that I work in the school system on a daily basis. The naughty children Poodles faced were wonderfully real in their description. Hence the half laughter/half crying sensation I felt while reading his delightfully dark tale.
It’s perfect that Fitts’ “Naughty,” is followed up by Casey Douglass’ “Life of the Party” where the tables are horrifically turned once again, against some not-so-naughty partygoers.
Simon Peterson’s “The Killer Clown Massacre” really hit the horror spot for me, as the violence in the story mirrored the typical violence that unfolds in the state of Florida.
“Freckles” by Kathleen Palm, “Beneath Black Balloons” by Jeremy Megargee, “Fear the Clown” by Ray Kolb, and “Corn Stalker” by Dan Allen help descend the book into that sort of darkness I love…like sipping a rich horror scotch.
The poignant tales “I, Clown” (Robert Morgan Fisher), “Replevin” (Misha Burnett), and “The Distinguished Gentleman” (M. Kelly Peach), and “Clowns on the Run” (Daniel Scott White) made my heart break as well as speed up. One of them was even kinda romantic (I’ll not tell you which one, though…).
Gord Sellar’s “Alone with Gandhari”—goodness gracious, I don’t think I’ve ever read a tale quite like that (in a good way). I definitely have to check out the Korean speculative fiction he and Jihyun Park have co-translated, and, as a fan of Korean cinema, especially horror, I really want to see The Music of Jo Hyeja (he wrote the screenplay for it).
Trying to pick a favourite from any sort of written story is nearly impossible for me, but the one that really got to me was “Bingo” by Andreas Hort. Bingo the misfit who finally found his place in the world and held onto that dream no matter what the consequences.
David Higgins has done a great job in not only selecting the tales for this anthology, but also placed them in just the right order, which made it a fantastic read!
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 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!
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.
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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!