The Shadow of a World

 

I’ve been querying agents the past week.

I feel pretty good that I measured up to their guidelines and specifications. I worked hard to do so. Now it’s the waiting game to see if my manuscript measures up as well.

So, I’m back to writing short stories. One month to go, and the day job begins.

The biggest obstacle I face as a writer isn’t writer’s block. Or distractions like social media. Or even insecurity and fear. It’s the feeling of indulgence.

Just sitting around writing while the world burns. Or melts. And toxifies. Beautiful, lovely, diverse species are going extinct by the minute, and I’m here printing out reams of paper in the same minute.

I try to write stories with a message; horror in which the natural world has agency; can fight back against people.  Such as Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris bring up in their “Rogue Characters” blog post from yesterday.

But they’re just stories. Do they change anything?

I try to tell myself that I’m doing everything I can to minimize the space I take up on the planet, like recycling (Well, recycling properly now, anyway, thanks to this tweet.)

I’ve been vegetarian since 1992. I’m trying (or, continuing to fail at) becoming vegan. But I have plenty of replacement options, courtesy of PETA’s vegan kit, as well as blog posts like this.

But it still haunts me. So many animals and plants and everything else giving way to humans on this planet. And, while I’m staring at my blank piece of paper that a tree gave up its life for so that I can write another story, my mind wanders into some dark places.

How is that we humans have practically zero restrictions on reproduction? People out there even having twenty or more kids in one family unit. But the alternative is just as terrible and unconscionable, as history has shown us: extermination,  concentration camps, forced sterilization, tracts on/beliefs in eugenics. But, still, over seven billion people on the planet? When is enough going to be enough? And there’s people out there debating a women’s right to choose? Seriously? I chose. I chose not to bring children into the world. Chose not to add to the human population. But every day; at work, running errands, I get asked “Do you have kids?” and it’s like the end of the world, the end of my existence and worth when I say no. Which is completely illogical, because the world is, maybe not ending, but is certainly being destroyed at a speed-of-light pace.

I was thinking how strange it was that humans have free will to reproduce as much as they want, but, in addition to the number of species going extinct (I found it interesting, and appropriately chilling, how Joseph Nebus incorporated the subject into his blog post, today.), animals we consider as our live-in companions–pets, essentially–face euthanasia in shelters because of overpopulation. And that’s the humane alternative because people can’t be bothered to spay or neuter their pets, or want some mythical perfect breed pet created in a puppy mill instead of adopting a shelter animal awaiting its forever home. And let’s not talk about that when they get sick of having that trendy animal around and dump it either on the street or to that same shelter environment. It beats being neglected, abandoned, starved to death, abused and a million other ways humans treat our domesticated animal companions.

I know what goes on in shelters. I’ve worked in them for years, and as an animal rescue volunteer. I’ve been on cases involving hoarders. Seen a dog kept on a tiny apartment porch crammed with trash and nothing but a plastic tub filled with slimy green water to drink. Gone into the shelter to take the animals to the adoption site while your heart breaks when nobody wants the sweetest dog, cat, rabbit, etc. times six million that ever lived. But that’s nothing to how it feels when you go into the shelter and that animal you’ve tried so hard to get adopted lost its last chance at a forever home just the day before.

And I’m not criticizing the animal shelters out there, by any means. They are just trying to make the best of a no-win situation brought about by the large numbers of irresponsible and thoughtless pet owners.

A fellow horror writer I follow on Twitter had this to say: https://twitter.com/DoomGoat666/status/1145082969712996352.

I’m gutted. It’s personal for me. I’ve been there, on the animal rescue front. But, sometimes it doesn’t always end badly. Like the day I was walking into the shelter and saw someone dump a cardboard box at the end of the sidewalk. I tend to be curious, so I went over to the box. It was all taped up. And then a tiny cat paw stuck out of one of the holes I now noticed were punched into the side of the box. Florida, in July, and those kittens wouldn’t have lasted very long out there in the hot sun. But they survived because I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Which is why I’m so, so glad there’s still people out there like Ben Fitts that are trying to make a difference. Working for organizations like the ASPCA.

It makes the real world a little less horrific.

 

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!

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

 

Nature’s Army

(Inspired by my own writing prompt I posted on Twitter, et al, today)

This past decade has been quite the journey for me as an unemployed worker  graduate student historian admin assistant temp gas station attendant substitute teacher and eternal job seeker.

It was only in the past year that I really set aside time to dedicate to writing.

What surprised me was how quiet the process was. I’m used to living in a state of chaos. Neither one thing or another. Always fiercely banging against things, trying to prove I could fit in. “Notice me!” my efforts would scream. “I’m a hard worker.” Trying to conform to hold down jobs I hated.

I was a real-life Don Quixote, tilting at society’s windmills.

I wouldn’t say I was clueless about who I was–I just had to ignore it. Hide it away. Because it wasn’t relevant, hireable, marketable, socially acceptable, important, and, therefore, had zero worth to the world. Or so I had been taught to believe, from a very young age.

Like I said, the process of writing is quiet. The development of a writer, or any artist/creative soul, cannot be forced. It has to grow on its own. It was hard to let go. To relax. But then I had expended years of energy and had nothing to show for it.

I had to push my way up from the morass to figure out what kind of writer I wanted to be. I shed growth when it no longer fit. Dropping leaves that had been grafted onto me. (The drive for money being one of them–proof positive I wasn’t a failure.) It was scary to let go. It still is.

I suddenly realized, though, that if I was going to do it, I couldn’t do it inauthentically. Writing is demanding; it won’t let you be what you’re not. You can’t grow against the grain. At the same time, you have to write to write. Write where the topic (and submission guidelines!) takes you.

I stopped trying to be all things. One of the lessons passed down in workshops, articles, blogs was “find your niche.”

This was probably the hardest. I’d never been allowed; subsequently, never allowed myself, to have a niche based on my actual self.

“Who am I,” I asked myself.

The winds started howling from deep within. I shivered a deep bone chill when I realized I had no idea. I had had my existence wiped. I had been reprogrammed.

So, I had to dig deep. Dig through a frightening past, risk getting lost in nebulous dimensions, all to excavate a handful of fractured remembrances.

It’s still going on. Slowly. Quietly. And my self is still fractured. But I’m rebuilding. Even if people still want to classify me by their negative terms.

But here’s some discoveries.

Writer.

Artist.

A sensitive soul.

A creative mind.

Someone who played the violin.

Who likes classical music. Atmospheric music, without words.

Drawn to what’s now classified as speculative: horror, fantasy, science fiction.

I write these things.

The spooky.

The unreal.

The mystic.

A world of make-believe.

The impossibly possible.

So, if you made it this far, what does that have to do with the title of the blog, “Nature’s Army”?

Because I also love nature. Trees. Plants. Insects.

And that’s the stuff of nightmares dreams.

Working its tangled way into my stories.

Building a fictive world where nature has agency.

Where nature wins.

[See my 66-word story (and others!) in Speculative 66’s Issue 20, on April 6th. https://speculative66.weebly.com/ ]

 

Now it’s your turn to “tilt at windmills”. How has writing/creative ventures helped you develop your sense of self?

 

New LinkedIn Group for Women Horror Writers

 

As I struggle with time management, especially with ADHD and a day job on top of the writing and business duties, I’ve been diligently working on a social media plan and schedule. It’s led to me to try some new things and to try to figure out which social media platforms I like the best (Twitter, for example, mystifies me more than infomercials).

Among my new ventures:

  • I just started a group on LinkedIn, for women horror writers: Fear-minists: Women Horror Writers Around the Globe. Join up if you are a horror writer that identifies with being a woman (safe and welcoming space) or even if you just love a good horror story.
  • I think I will try to focus more on Pinterest. I don’t care what the detractors say; it’s fun. Especially for the visceral, visual type of writing I plan to do more of in the future. I started setting up a writer’s inspiration board.
  • I’m also going to try to be more active on Goodreads.
  • My blog will still carry on as my main author website, of course!

 

I’ll still be on Twitter somewhat, but since I never really got the hang of it, there probably won’t be much of a difference there. Until I can hire someone to manage social media. And, Facebook, well, aside from the well-publicized news headlines it’s been racking up, I only use it to keep in touch with IRL connections. Or to get notifications about local events. And, yes, I use it to play the game formerly known as YoVille. I can justify wasting time on there because it’s actually a great ADHD focus tool for when I have to do computer work, without which I also wouldn’t have survived grad school. Thanks for keeping me on track, YoWorld!

 

 

Spooky Schools and Spookier Scientists

And what’s more spooky than Moms? Especially the one in my story, “Birthday Roses,” that was selected to be in a MasterClass Anthology (second edition).

I also sold my story “Quietly Goes the Mix Tape” to the Mad Scientist Journal. Keep watch for it if you need an 1980s fix!

And, my story “School Daze” has been picked up for inclusion in another anthology, “New Mexico’s Emerging Writers” that’s being released by Z Publishing. 

Last, but not least, I had the opportunity to take one very spooky writing class over at MasterClass. From none other than author R.L. Stine!

Which pretty much sealed my fate. I think I’m going to give kid writing a go. (The class was great, so if you’re interested in writing middle-grade fiction or YA, check it out!)

Even my goofy cat Moon Pie is going to grab a bit of the spotlight. She’ll be on an upcoming #TRT post (Tummy Rub Tuesday) on the Katzenworld cat blog.

(Thanks to Mad Scientist Journal, Z Publishing, and Molly Esmiol/MasterClass Team for providing opportunities to authors for publication and to find their writing voice.)

Now I just have to wait for my favourite holiday for more spooky inspiration: Halloween!

Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt: Puppy Love

 Gone

 

                                                              Puppy Love

They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of shit.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.

********

Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.

********

He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.
“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.
He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.
Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink? He shook the bottle. Almost empty.
He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.
“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.
“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.

*********

“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Then home?”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.

 

–Willow Croft

Writing Prompt Link: https://blackcatastrophy.com/2017/12/03/black-catastrophy-writing-prompt-16-gone/.