Edward Owen – Author

The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should): Part Two (Kristen Lamb and Kevin Lucia)

Once again I am stealing borrowing Kevin’s post on Kristen’s blog. My reading list has gone ballistic… enjoy

Posted by Author Kristen Lamb in Writing Tips on December 17, 2013

As writers around the world scream a collective, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"

As writers around the world scream a collective, “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”

Kidding aside, it might seem strange that I have our WANA International Instructor, Kevin Lucia here talking about the horror genre. Yet, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and cross-pollinate our creativity. I can tell writers who do too much reading in the same genre. What can really add that certain je ne sais quoi is when an author adds in elements from unexpected areas.

This is what makes the writing unique. Writing is similar to music, and the legends we remember in music are transcendent simply because they possess a gift of surprising listeners. They might add elements of opera to heavy metal or jazz to rap. This is where tropes can transform into something magical. Writers can do the same.

Kevin’s here to offer some suggestions to help diversify your creative palette.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

Some horror writers, for whatever reason, never end up writing nearly as much as others. And this is unfortunate. They never quite earn the popularity they deserve simply because they don’t churn out one cookie-cutter, mediocre story after another. Maybe it’s because of their sense of craftsmanship; because they consider(ed) themselves artists, because they want(ed) to live and breathe their own work, rather than spewing it out like a vending machine. Maybe they left us too early or, like Harper Lee, felt they’d said all they’d needed to say.

In my reading through different anthologies and collections, I’ve been amazed at how many of these writers I’ve encountered who only ever wrote a handful of stories. And because of this, sadly, they got pushed aside by legions of “pop” writers who latched onto the current craze, rode the wave, and then got overrun by the next legion of “pop” writers. Here’s a handful of horror writers I wish had written more, or I wish WOULD write more.

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In thirty years, Alan Peter Ryan wrote forty short stories, three novels and one novella. And I wish he’d written more. A stylist who knew how to use place better than anyone, his novels Cast A Cold Eye, his novella Amazonas and his novelette collection The Back of Beyond are among the finest things I’d ever read. He wrote with a literary sensibility, and also had two reoccurring characters – cowboys in weird westerns the likes of which Larry McMurty or Louis L’Amour might’ve written – that I enjoyed, and wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, just as he was returning from a fourteen year hiatus from horror fiction, Mr. Ryan passed away due to pancreatic cancer. His other novels: The Kill and Dead White, and his collection, The Bones Wizard.

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T. E. D. Klein wrote only one novel: The Ceremonies. Literary, finely crafted, built on tension and dread and atmosphere, about old myths and religions, it stands as one of the best things I’ve ever read. And that’s it. Only one novel, and no more appear to be coming any time soon. His short fiction is also astounding…and he only wrote fifteen of those, collected in Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales. He also served as the editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine, which became known during its four year run as one of the premier horror/dark fantasy magazines on the market.

Thomas Tessier is another fine author who hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some – only ten novels from 1978 – 2007 – but the results stand above the rest. Phantom is one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve ever read, and Fog Heart is deeply emotional, moving, disturbing, and finely written. Two collections of his short fiction exist, Ghost Music and Other Tales, and Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty.

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A contemporary author who hasn’t written nearly as much as I’d like him to is Robert Dunbar. The Pines and The Shore are wonderfully lush, vivid, poetic novels offering intriguing spins on The Jersey Devil myths. They’re also about hurting people trying to find their way in the world without hurting those they love most. His collection Martyrs & Monsters offered wonderful genre/literary blends, and his small press Uninvited Books has committed itself to publishing literate, well-written dark fiction.

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Another writer, Robert Ford (and no, not the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto), also hasn’t written enough, of which we all dutifully remind him often, and kindly (sorta). Bob writes immensely enjoyable, entertaining horror…but his sense of style and craft is finely tuned, raising his work above the rest. Samson and Denial is a wonderful mix of crime noir and horror and I bought his short story “Georgie” for Shroud Magazine’s Halloween Issue because – as a father myself – it tore my guts out, in all the best ways. I haven’t yet read his zombie novel The Compound, but I know this: it will be about far more than zombies, simply because it was written by Robert Ford.

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Tomorrow, I’ll look at some authors whose writing simply can’t be contained by the term “horror,” or whose work sprawls outside all the lines.

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Horror Author Kevin Lucia

Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror ChannelHis podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.

I love hearing from you!

Ray Bradbury Challenge #24- A Question of Loyalty

A Question of Loyalty

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 My name is Barandein. Me and my kind are the only thing standing between your people and extinction. Yes, we will give our life in defense of yours if necessary. It is truly what we live for. As it has been for ten thousand years, our loyalty to humans is unshakeable.

I have been on patrol for two hours and it is time to check in with my human.

“Alpha-seven to Foxtrot-three, do you copy?”

My communication is translated by the computer chip in my brain and broadcast directly on the radio. My vocal cords will not allow me to emulate human speech. I was modified and enhanced for duty but I was not genetically altered like the new breeds. I am one of the last, purebred Canis familiaris in the Corps.

Foxtrot-three, go Alpha-seven.”

“Sector J secure at twenty-two thirty hours. I am RTB by route four-oh-four.”

Copy, Foxtrot-three clear.”

If I had to, I could get to the base in fifteen minutes. I can run nearly twice as fast as a human, even with a full pack. I settle into a steady trot that will conserve my energy for more important uses. Even though there has been no sign of the enemy in this area, I keep my guard up and sniff the air for their scent.

On my way back to the base I pass a building whose walls are stained with blood. The smell of death and the enemy still lingers there. Less than a year ago it was used for the instruction of human children. Sensing their weakness, our enemy slaughtered the young and defenseless with a ferocity unmatched in human history. Command estimates that nearly ninety percent of those too young to fight were killed in the first days of the war. Out of seven hundred humans at our base, there are only four who have yet to reach breeding age. One adult female is ready to give birth, but the odds of her offspring surviving its first year are very slim. The virus that created our enemy often infects new born humans. They are killed out of mercy. It is a shame that humans have only one or two young in a litter. If they had more, they would stand a better chance of survival. Things do not look good for their breed.

Before I enter the base, I climb to the lookout stand and trade sniffs with Donagaen. He is first generation canis de manu hominis, genetically engineered for increased intelligence and human speech. Despite his advantages, he lowers his head in respect. It is my instinct for the hunt and survival, passed on to his breed that makes us superior warriors and keeps us alive.

His human and mine share the same sire. Humans call them ‘half-brothers’ but we Canines do not understand the difference. Litter mates may not have the same bloodline, but that doesn’t make them any less blood-bound.

“And what scent has the air, First Mage?” I ask. My use of his title repays his respect.

“The wind breathes clean and clear, Alpha sir. A still night with no sound to cause alarm.”

His human speech rings in my ears with a strange, hollow tone. My vocalizer is no doubt less than pleasant to him but he shows no sign of discomfort. He complains not, nor does he question orders. He is a warrior.

“Very well. Keep a wary ear and a sharp nose, Donagaen. They are quick and clever.”

The wag of his tail is his only response, the human equivalent of a salute.

The attack is quick and vicious. I am already on the ramp and suffer only superficial wounds. Donagaen is not so lucky. He fights with teeth and blades, sending scores of the vermin to their death. Their sheer numbers overwhelm him. Before I can assist, his body disappears under a wave of sharp claws and fangs. His howls will be added to those I already hear in my dreams.

“Alpha-seven to base, we are code red at checkpoint seventeen, repeat, code red. Enemy is breaching, send first and second squads. Engage with extreme prejudice.”

I can outrun them for a short distance, maybe long enough to reach the gate. The scraping of their claws on the gravel goads me into pushing my body. My pack injects stimulants into my blood, keeping me ahead of my pursuers. I am only a few meters from the gate when it opens and the squads rush toward me, howling in the primal language of our ancestors. We are outnumbered ten to one, but they tear through the enemy ranks, blood and fur splatters the ground in the darkness. These Canines have been engineered for the single purpose of killing our enemy. Humans have fitted them with protective armor and advanced weapons. Despite this, we lose a third of them before the battle is over. That is our foe’s greatest weapon; overwhelming numbers. Their females go into heat nearly as often as humans and they are able to breed within a few months after birth.

Humans created the virus to increase their immunity to diseases. They had no idea that it would produce monsters. In their own kind, mutations usually die within a few weeks. It is a horrible, painful way to die. Canines were spared, our wolf ancestry gave us immunity.

It is estimated that at the time the disease was released, there were over one hundred million members of the species Felis silvestris catus kept as pets in America alone. Feral members accounted for another fifty million. Now, their numbers are almost half a billion. Cats not only survived the disease, they thrived. Most of them are double the size of their predecessors with fangs, claws and a taste for blood to match. They make no distinction between human and Canine. And they are the enemy.

The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should)…(From Kristen Lamb and Kevin Lucia)

Once again, Kristen Lamb has turned over the reins of her blog to Kevin Lucia and saved me the trouble of coming up with an interesting post. This is a five part series, so we will be well into the new year before I have to be original. Thanks, K & K for a great series of blogs.

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Okay, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yeah, a series on horror? Well, if you spent five minutes with some of MY family members, a chainsaw might sound like a great idea. Truth be told, horror is one of my FAVORITE sub-genres and our WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia? He’s an AMAZING teacher. Also, horror is one of those genres that goes for the guts (no pun intended). It truly probes the human condition, and whether or not we are fans, we can learn A LOT from what horror authors do best.

All great stories probe what we FEAR. This is the essence of good storytelling. Whether it is the fear of not finding love or losing love or not achieving a goal? FEAR is the heart of conflict. No conflict? No story. This is why I’ve recruited one of the best authors I know to talk about a genre that many might not believe is salient….yet it is a masterful lesson how to make ALL fiction fabulous.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

I’ve learned much about the craft since I made my first foray into horror fiction seven years ago, but the most important lesson I learned in two parts. The first came during an evening spent with genre luminaries Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff.

You can get the full story here, but in brief: I spent the evening hanging with these giants as they regaled each other with tales of their experiences. One of the biggest takeaways was this humbling realization: I knew very little of the genre’s history.

The second installment of this lesson came the following fall during Brian Keene’s keynote address at AnthoCon: ROOTS, in which he detailed the different “waves” that made up the horror genre’s history. I was once again humbled to realize that my reading diet was quite shallow. I’d read almost every Stephen King and Dean Koontz novel, a few Peter Straub novels…

And that was it.

I quickly realized I wasn’t drawing upon a rich, developed palette to write my fiction. And while I’d read mostly novels and very few short stories, there I was, trying to “make my bones” writing short stories. This dissonance led me to radically alter my reading diet, committing myself to exploring the horror genre.

And in this blog series, I’d like to share those writers with you. In each installment I’ll present the giants of the genre and also some newcomers that maybe aren’t landing splashy big deals because they don’t write about zombies or vampires or sparkling vampire zombies, but write horror fiction that actually means something. Also, one good thing about the “greats” is that their work has either been re-released as eBooks, or used copies can be found cheap (almost criminally so) on Amazon.

But keep in mind: this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just the folks I’ve read myself.

Quiet Horror: The following three writers helped create a subgenre of horror called quiet horror. These tales boast rich, taut atmospheres; finely crafted prose and stories that comment deeply on the human experience. They didn’t rely on shock value. If you’re looking for something very far away from slasher films, this is it.

Charles Grant is probably considered the father of “quiet horror,” the epitome of everything the subgenre aspired to. He built tension better than anyone I’ve ever read and his prose flows gently, softly, quietly. His greatest achievement may be the creation of Oxrun Station, a fictional, haunted town in Connecticut with a loosely-connected continuity. He was also one of the finest editors in the business, his SHADOWS anthologies setting the standard for many years.  His backlist.

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Ramsey Campbell is called “Britain’s greatest living horror writer” by the Oxford English Dictionary. He also excels in quiet, tense horror that relies on emotion and psychological fears rather than shock and gore. He’s also adept at creating slippery, surreal narratives that leave his characters – and us – questioning what we call reality. Quite simply, Ramsey is one of the best in the business. His backlist and current list.

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T. M. Wright has been called a “one-man definition of quiet horror” by Ramsey Campbell himself. He’s a modern master of “the ghost story” and for me, he completely changed the way I thought about ghosts.  Like the previous two, his prose is rich, finely crafted, and he relies on stories of substance rather than superficial genre motifs.  His backlist.

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New Voice You Should Read:

Norman Prentiss is the first name that comes to mind when I think of a contemporary writer of “quiet horror.” His novella Invisible Fences is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and he’s re-invented Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station-mythos in the exploits of the sinister (maybe?) Dr. Sibley, a college English professor you don’t want to cross. Keep an eye on Norman; he’s going places. Current publications.

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So what are your thoughts? I am not a fan of slasher movies but I LOVE a great scary story. I love anything that makes me look more deeply at myself (um, I, Robot?).

I love hearing from you!

Ray BradBury Challenge #23- Maybe There’ll be Snow

Maybe There’ll be Snow

I see the tracks and check the safety on my rifle. The weather’s getting colder and that drives them down out of the hills in search of food.

She appears out of a line of trees and the cross hairs on my scope are lined up squarely between her eyes. Less than three pounds of pressure would depress the trigger and send the two hundred grain bullet screaming into her brain and put this to an end for both of us. I’ve been here before and I never pull the trigger. I can’t. I know it’s not really her any more but those blue eyes hold just a spark of her soul in my mind.snow trees

This time of year is always the most difficult for me. My Angela loved the change of seasons but she especially loved Christmas. I’ve still got half a dozen crates full of decorations up in the attic. They’re covered with dust now but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them. I can’t even look at them. No, they’ll stay up there til I’m gone and the house rots into the ground.

She and the others move on down the valley. They can’t see or smell me in the tree blind. I know my luck will run out one day and one or both of us will be dead.

Sun’s getting low so I climb down from my hiding place and head back to the house. I’ve been walking these woods since I was a kid. Of course, the world was a different place back then. We humans still thought we were the top of the food chain. Hell, we even thought we were the only life in the universe, some of us. When the first ship showed up, it rocked our world. When it was followed by a couple hundred more, our reign as the dominant species on Earth came to an abrupt and bitter end. I have to hand it to the world leaders; they tried to be diplomatic. They were the first victims of the alien scientists.

So far no one has been able to explain their actions. All we know for sure is humans go into their ships but the things that come out, well, they’d give Stephen King nightmares. We’ve killed a lot of them. I guess some of our scientists tested the DNA and figured out that the monsters used to be human. They even knew who some of them were.

I didn’t need no fancy test to know what happened to Angela. First time I saw those blue eyes and that blonde hair I knew it was her. If I’d been any kinda husband, I’d have put a bullet through her head and ended her suffering right then. I couldn’t do it. Not the first time and not today.

The aliens been teaching these abominations to hunt. They’ve been making them real smart, too. They got monsters that can smell a human through a concrete wall. Some are just out to kill us. Claws, fangs and venom that can kill you just by touching your skin. That’s if you’re lucky. The ones they send out to round us up for their experiments – My stomach gets all knotted just thinking about them. They slither around on a bunch of tentacles like some dry land squid, grabbing up folks left and right. I saw one last year. It still gives me nightmares. They don’t want everyone so that thing has this hole – I guess you’d call it a mouth – and some of the people go in there, alive and screaming. From the sounds I heard, they don’t die right away. Spewed my lunch all over the ground after I saw that. Yeah, humans have done some horrible things to each other, but we can’t hold a candle to these assholes.

The cold wind kicks up and I pull my hat down over my ears. As it whips through the trees it sounds like crying. Maybe ole’ Mother Nature is sad to see us go. We haven’t exactly treated her with respect but we’re still her children. Guess you still love your kids even if they trash the house and wreck the car. Won’t be too many more years now and we’ll all be gone and there won’t be anyone to pollute the air –- or put up Christmas decorations. I guess I could do it one more time, for Angela.

I sniff the air. Maybe there’ll be snow. Be nice if my last Christmas was a white one.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #22- Witch Hunt

Yes, the title was inspired by American Horror Story: Coven. The story itself came from someplace with the deep, scary places in my mind. This is another idea that has a good chance of becoming a novel. Post apocalypse division of humanity along some very interesting lines. Maybe my next WIP if I can finish the current one. *sigh* Never enough hours in the day.

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Witch Hunt

I can hear my pursuers’ thoughts as I clear the weed choked lot and scurry over the wall.

“Target acquired … “

Control wants her taken alive … “

“Alive? She’s not old enough to breed … “

“She carries the bloodline of the Regents …”

Past the wall an ancient ruin looms above me, a silent, lifeless monolith bathed in moonlight. The door opens at my bidding. I enter and seal it behind me with a fire rune. The flames will block my body heat from their envy-gees. What they would see as a strength is a weakness I use to my advantage. The arrogance of men and their machines.

By the time they have gotten through the fire and have my trail I am more than a hundred meters ahead of them. My body is thin and flexible. I squeeze through openings too small for the lumbering hunters to pass. They are forced to choose another way around.

Even though I have yet to have my cycle, my bloodline warrants their persistence. They would capture and keep me to produce offspring. Males would be trained as hunters and soldiers, females likely harvested for the General’s table.

The narrow passage ahead has been obscured by one of their devices spouting a think, rank smoke that is surely poisonous. It is the most direct route; to turn back now will put me dangerously close to the hunting party. I could summon the wind but there are no portals and I cannot see the sky. I search my memory for a spell or rune that will help me. They have broken through a doorway and my lead has become dangerously short. Instead of thoughts, I can hear voices. I must do something now.

In desperation I draw the sign of the Moon Goddess and the purification rune. This is normally used to cleanse those on the cusp of conceiving their first child but fear of capture and the rancid odor have clouded my mind. The hunters are close and I am out of time. I pull my dagger from my belt and press the cold blade against my throat. I will spill my blood at their feet and release my spirit before I allow myself to further their horrid bloodlines.

They say the goddesses protect the young and the foolhardy; the smoke sinks to the floor and swirls around my ankles. I sheath my blade and press forward, mindful of the traps that no doubt await me. I find wires and seeing lenses that will release snares and nets if disturbed. The wires are easily avoided by leaping clear; the lenses obscured with a night-black rune. Not even the men’s envy-gee sight can pierce the darkness spreading out behind me. At the end of the passage I listen as one of the clumsy oafs trips his own snare and cries out to the others. They do not stop for him. I am of far greater importance than he.

At the end of the passage I scribe a series of runes and glyphs on the floor. The men will see my trail heading off in two false directions. The argument alone should give me the time I need. Across a cavernous hall I come to a pair of immense wooden doors. It would take ten of our warrior clan to push them open with brute force. I must work quickly. I make a small cut across my palm with my dagger and let the blood trickle through my fingers and onto the floor. The drops spread across the stone and form an intricate and powerful pattern. I close my eyes as the words come to me from my heart. I push the thought of the men from my mind and focus. It is an asking spell, one I have never used on something so large. I am offering a piece of my spirit in return for the help of the Goddess of the Wood. I am lost in the chant.

Energy surges through me and I push against the doors. They remain closed for a moment then slowly give way. I squeeze through the narrow opening and race down the steps to the broken street below. The men have closed the gap and burst through the door behind me. They are bigger and stronger. I cannot outrun them in the open. I make a sudden turn down an alley littered with debris. If I stop to cast a rune they will be on me before I finish. The alley comes to an abrupt end with no doors or passages out. A brick wall blocks my path.

I turn and face the men. They have their weapons trained on me but I know they will not kill me. My bloodline is far too valuable.

“Witch, you are hereby ordered to submit, by authority of General Diego. You will …”

The first arrow hits this man in the throat, cutting off his words. His mouth opens and blood streams out. Two more arrows hit his partner in the chest. They crumple to the ground as the brick wall behind me dissolves. Two of our warriors escort Tara’lon, our Mage. I drop to one knee in respect.

“May the Goddess smile on you and your house, Mother Tara’lon,” I say.

“And on yours, Moon Darling. Your performance was excellent, Myla,” says Tara’lon. Her use of my given name is a blessing on my bloodline. “Your spirit is strong and you honor the Goddesses. These hunters will provide meat for our Winter feast.”

A compliment from the Mage is no small feat. I smile and look forward to my next hunt.

 

The Million Dollar Mentor

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No human being on this planet was ever born knowing how to do anything except cry. As babies, our survival depends on our ability to get food, shelter and our diaper changed. An argument could be made that crying is an instinctual behavior and not the result of conscious thought. That would mean that we are actually born knowing nothing and all of our behaviors are indeed learned. For the sake of argument (and getting to the point of this post) we’ll go with that premise.

At some point, someone taught you to read (a safe assumption given the nature of our current communication). Unless you were a prodigy, they didn’t just hand you a copy of ‘War and Peace’ and let you go to it. Or even ‘Fun with Dick and Jane’. Nope, most likely they read stories to you first. In my opinion, this is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. The fact that my mother read to me when I was little is the biggest single reason I’m a writer today. I was reading on my own before I started kindergarten. The point is, someone with a skill (reading) showed me how to do it. And I later showed my boys. Once we end up in school, our teachers normally take over this role.

Mentoring has many similarities to teaching. One person is passing along knowledge to another. However, whereas in teaching the student often has little or no ability at all, I would argue that a mentor is one who helps us improve skills we already possess. Let me explain.

If you are unable to write because you do not know how to spell words in the English language, you need to go to school and learn this basic skill. A mentor cannot help you improve a skill you do not have. To be a better writer, you have to be able first to write. Most of us can string words together into a sentence that can be read and understood by others. That’s writing as basic communication. Email messages fall into this category. (Although I have received a number of emails that were so poorly composed that I had to read them several times to figure out what the sender’s message was – and don’t even get me started on text messages.) Writing well implies that there are those who read your words by choice because they elicit some type of emotion from said reader.

If it is your desire to write in this way, I suggest you seek out one or more mentors to assist you in your most worthwhile of journeys. There are a number of ways you can do this. Critique groups are a type of mentor. If they are done correctly, you get the benefit of a wide variety of experiences and opinions. Whether they are online or in person, make sure the critiques are done in a positive and helpful manner. Honesty is crucial but harsh or cruel remarks are uncalled for. If you find yourself in such a group, talk to the leader/moderator. If their response supports this kind of behavior in any way, leave the group immediately and find a new one. (If you are in Los Angeles, CA; Portland, OR or Missoula, MT, look us up: Coffee House Writers Group)

Writing partners can be great mentors if they have some experience. At the very least you can bounce ideas off of them and they can keep you going through the stalls and bouts of writer’s block (I don’,t really believe in writer’s block. More on that in another blog.) Depending on their experience and skill level, they may even be able to help you improve a great deal.

We live in the age of communication. The internet is ubiquitous (nope, you have to look it up ha ha!) and a vast resource. One of my online mentors is Kristen Lamb. If you want to be a better writer, subscribe to her blog here. I have dozens of writer friends all over the world and they are always ready to help. Reciprocate. Offer your opinion and volunteer to be a beta reader. Not only will you be giving the author valuable feedback, you will be learning as well.

One person who has helped a great deal is Arial Burnz, a good friend and the editor for my short story collection, Nightmares and Body Parts Vol. 1 The Karma Collection. Yes, you can buy it. (Shameless self promo, see links on the side, I hope). Arial has not only helped with my writing but my website and the design of my book cover. Yes, it is awesome to have talented friends. In return I helped her and her husband repair part of their house. (Writing and Drywall, that will be the title of my autobiography.) Read Arial’s blog here. (She has a thing for hot Scottish vampires and writes about them.)

Mentors don’t have to have all the answers, just enough to get you over the hump and on to the next level. Pay attention to what they say. Stretch out of your comfort zone. Then pay it forward. My niece is in high school and she is a writer. I help her as often as she asks me to. Maybe she’ll mention me in her Pulitzer acceptance speech. Until next week, Dear Reader, dream of awesome mentors.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #21- Full Moon Fever (Fiona’s Adventures in West Hollyweird)

Today we get to meet someone from Fiona’s past

and another who may well be a big part of her future.hunk 01

 

Full Moon Fever

Fiona leaped over the bar, fangs bared and eyes black as onyx.

“Listen up, Sheamus ’cause I’m only going to say this once. You and the rest of the mutts wanna come in here you either play nice or I’m going to neuter the whole lot of you.”

The shaggy beast rose to its full height towering nearly two feet above her head.

“Oh, come on Fee, is that any way to treat a friend?” The combination of Irish brogue and werewolf growl was so comical it was all she could do to keep a straight face.

“Don’t play that ‘friend’ crap with me. I’m serious as a silver bullet. I know a guy who’ll give me two-fifty each for ‘wolf nads …” Fiona grabbed Sheamus’s crotch and extended her nails. “And I won’t use a knife either!”

The werewolf howled. Fiona released her grip and he crossed his legs.

“Damn lass, who pissed in your O-neg this morning? Fine and dandy, we’ll be on our best but cut us some slack …”

“Oh, no, don’t you even think about blaming this on the full moon. You can’t handle it then report to lock-up. I got customers waiting. We good?” Fiona bounced back across the bar without waiting for an answer. It was like this every month. Damn lychans … their cycles were worse than human females. The three hulking ‘wolves slunk to the back of the room with their tails between their legs.

“Brandon, can you clean up the mess out here, please?”

“S’up, Fee-dog?” said a grotesque figure at the end of the bar. The skin of the face was drawn tight over the skull which sported a skateboarder’s skully. The figure wore a sagging pair of jeans. Fiona rolled her eyes.

“Really? Doncha think two hundred is a little old to dress like a teenager?” she said.

“Aw man, don’t be dissen my cred, Fee. My peeps think I’m da bomb.” Brandon adjusted his hat.

“Yeah? Just how much cred does an unemployed zombie have these days?” Fiona snatched Brandon’s beanie and stuffed it in her pocket. “Dress code violation” she said over his protests. “You’ll get it back after your shift. Get busy.”

The bar was packed with customers all clamoring for drinks. Fiona was a blur, mixing, pouring and serving all manner of refreshments. A few even had small creatures immersed in foul smelling liquids. It was a fair bet that most would kill a human. By the time Brandon had cleaned up the shattered table and chairs she was caught up with all the orders.

“FEEEEOOOOOOOHHHNAAAAA!”

The cry reverberated across the club and caused Fiona’s fangs to extend to their maximum length. She looked through the crowd as a flamboyant woman in a flowing purple robe approached the bar. Several waif-like men and women following in her wake.

“Dahling, the place is a smashing success. It seems you’ve found your calling,” she said pushing several customers aside.

“What do you want, Claire?” Fiona made no effort to hide her fangs.

“Now, now, dearie, is that any way to greet your friends?”

“Lately my ‘friends’ have become pains in my ass,” said Fiona. “Good news for me since you and I aren’t friends by any definition of the word and I can be blunt. What the fuck are you doing in my bar?”

Claire’s smile vanished and her fangs slid into view.

“That attitude is exactly what landed you in this cesspool in the first place, Faeleneus.

Fiona bristled at the use of her family name.

Sensing her adversary’s ire, Claire smiled around her fangs.

“I’m guessing nothing short of a stake through the heart will change that.”

“You’re right, Claire. A stake through your heart would make me downright giddy.”

“In your dreams,” said Claire with a wave of her hand as if dismissing the matter. “I’m here because the Council wanted you to know that you’re no longer on your own.”

Fiona paused in mid pour and studied Claire’s face trying to get a read on her. It was a sure bet that any news she had to share would not be good. At least, not for Fiona.

“And what does that mean, exactly?” she said as she finished pouring the drink.

“It means that another clan member has been relocated to West Hollywood.”

“No fucking way! There aren’t enough humans here for one of us.” Fiona’s eyes turned black with rage. “And when you say ‘relocated, what you really mean is banished. I hope she’s ready to starve to death …”

Claire cut her off in mid rant. “Oh Fiona, you always were such a drama queen. She is a he and his name is Ricardo.” Claire motioned to someone across the room. A shadow pushed through the throng and materialized at Claire’s side. Dark eyes, sallow skin and a mane of raven hair adorned the most gorgeous man Fiona had ever seen, undead or otherwise. She clutched the front of the stainless sink with such force that her fingers dimpled the metal.

“Ricardo, this is Fiona. She’s a dear friend of mine.”

The man extended his hand. Fiona did the same and felt her knees buckle when he touched her. Sexual energy rolled off of him like a string of tsunamis. If she had had any strength at all she would have jumped over the bar and torn his clothes off.

“Ricardo, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Pleasure was an understatement.

“Good to meet you,” he said. “Wow, Claire didn’t tell me you were like so totally hot.”

Fiona’s heart fell. “How long have you been turned?”

Ricardo laughed. “Dude, it’s been like two months. What a freakin’ rush, right?”

Claire’s Cheshire cat grin ignited Fiona and she crumpled the edge of the sink.

“Well, you kids have fun. I have places to go and people to see.”

Claire turned with a flourish and left Fiona alone with Ricardo.

“So, you wanna hook up later?” he said.

… to be continued

Ray Bradbury Challenge #20- The Price of Freedom

There is a good chance that this story will end up as a longer work. The idea actually started while listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”- “We are yours, Overlord…”  That started the wheels turning. Comments, as always, are welcomed and appreciated.

sword warrior

The Price of Freedom

Jamry was bleeding and his body hurt. That was the good news. It meant he was alive. The bad news was, unless he found someplace to hide and soon, he wouldn’t stay that way much longer. His options were not particularly good. The carrier had hit a mine and lay on its side belching black smoke into the morning sky. That was sure to attract one of the Overlords’ patrol ships. He was surprised they weren’t here already.

Sidmar had not been so lucky. The blast had driven the controls up into her skull. She was dead before the vehicle stopped moving. Jamry didn’t have the luxury of mourning her death. She had chosen the life of a soldier. An early, violent death was almost a certainty in their line of work.

Traveling the open road was the most direct route but it left him exposed and vulnerable. He would have to travel through the jungle. It would be slow but would allow him to remain hidden. The shadows between the trees held a danger all their own. Jamry smiled at the thought. Most of his youth had been spent cavorting through the eternal twilight beneath the deep green canopy. It was his second home. He made sure to leave a trail that the hunters could find with some effort, but not so obvious that it would cause them suspicion.

After he had put a respectable distance between himself and the wreck he stopped to tend his wounds. He had left enough blood that his pursuers would assume his injuries to be worse than they actually were. Leaves and roots with amazing medicinal properties grew in abundance. Within a short time his body was dotted with blue and green poultices. By tomorrow they would cover only minor scars.

Jamry retraced his steps and climbed the trunk of a towering tree, taking care not to disturb the bark or the branches on the way up. His uniform adjusted to blend with his surroundings and he focused so his skin did the same. He would be invisible from above or below. Now he would wait.

The hunting party moved like smoke through the labyrinth of growth that choked the jungle floor. Jamry did not hear them as much as sense their presence. The jungle was a living thing and the change in its voice told him he was not alone. The first hunter was hardly more than a shadow as its blurred form passed beneath him. Jamry counted four figures as they clustered at the end of his trail. It was hardly fair; the battle would be swift and decisive.

He slithered like a creature born in the canopy, keeping the trunk of the tree between his body and the hunters. The tempo of the sounds around him remained steady as his feet touched the carpet of leaves covering the ground. He peered around the tree. One of the hunters was within arm’s reach. Jamry could see only a vague outline, but it was enough. His short blade pierced the thin armor, found its mark and the hunter slumped to the ground. Jamry dragged the body behind the tree as it wavered for a moment before coming into view. He had seen hunters up close before. Bred by the Overlords for the single-minded purpose of finding and killing his people, they were an abomination. He felt no more remorse at killing them than he would one of the flying pests that inhabited the jungle.

The remaining hunters noticed their missing comrade and moved toward Jamry. He pulled his long blade from its scabbard and waited until the first hunter passed him. His blow severed the enemy’s head from its body. It rolled across the ground, still encased in its helmet. The other two brought their weapons up and fired but the energy beams missed and burned through the foliage behind him. With only two adversaries left, Jamry took his time.

His blade again bit into enemy flesh, this time cutting off the arm holding the weapon. Blackish-blue fluid sprayed from the limb and the hunter fell to its knees clutching the stump with its remaining hand. Jamry pivoted toward the last hunter but his strike was late. The hunter dodged the blade and slammed the butt of his weapon into Jamry’s ribs knocking him to the ground. Jamry rolled out of reach of the hunter and in a single motion pulled his short blade from its sheath and threw it, burying the point in the hunter’s throat. His enemy fell forward and lay still in the leaves. Jamry ran his long blade through the soldier’s back, flipped the body over and retrieved his weapon. He dispatched the last remaining hunter in similar fashion, cleaned their blood from his knives and slipped unseen into the depths of the jungle.

The Overlords had invaded his planet and the war had raged for a millennium. Jamry was the fourth generation of soldier in his family. Today the losses were heavy for his enemy, but his side had paid a high price for them. Neither the transport nor a soldier of Sidmar’s skill were easily replaced. The Overlord’s would produce more hunters but would pay dearly in terms of energy and materials. Some of them would surely kill many of Jamry’s people before they died. It was unlikely that Jamry would live long enough to find a mate and his family line would die with him. That was regrettable but it did not slow him from his mission. Freedom from their enemy would not be purchased in his lifetime but he was willing to pay his share of the cost.

Blessings by Design

My apologies for the lack of posts. The web series project has pushed itself to the forefront of my schedule, demanding my attention. I have managed to keep up with the Ray Bradbury Challenge. You can read yesterday’s offering here.

by design

Given that yesterday was Thanksgiving it seems only right that I show thanks for the blessings in my life. There are two types according to me (yep, because this is my blog). Blessings that come from the Supreme Being (as you believe), the Universe, Nature or the random kindness of strangers. IMNSHO, there isn’t a lot we can do about this type of blessing other than enjoy and appreciate them. The second category are what I call Blessings by Design. Let me explain.

One of the greatest blessings is my family. I had nothing to do with choosing my parents or brothers (some would argue otherwise but we aren’t going there today). Random blessings from on high. I also had no control over the fact that my wife showed up in the nightclub in which I was working as a DJ. Another happy accident. I did have the good sense to take her to breakfast after my shift was over. And a year or so later ask her to marry me. Blessing by design. (That she took leave of her senses and said yes is another happy accident.) It is sort of a corollary to the saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

It’s not always easy to see the opportunities to bring about blessings. What appears to be a stroke of luck one day can become a reversal of fortune the next. However, don’t dismiss your trials, tribulations and challenges too quickly. The term ‘blessing in disguise’ often applies to these situations. Keep your head up, your eyes peeled and your mind open. What we perceive as mistakes are more often than not a simple course correction by the Universe to get us back on track and/or teach a lesson necessary to the journey we are taking.

I am a firm believer in the philosophy that what you put out into the universe comes back to you. Helping others is a sure way to have the Fates smile upon your life. It isn’t something you can orchestrate with any amount of precision and it isn’t guaranteed, but it can set the wheels in motion. It also fosters an “attitude of gratitude” that is both motivating and contagious. For more on that subject please read Kristen Lamb’s blog on being thankful.

As a former engineering student and contractor I know that very few projects are completed successfully without some type of plan. You cannot build a house without blueprints (and building permits – and a huge roll of red tape to tie them all together. Sorry, had a flashback.) Life is by far our biggest project, yet most of us don’t plan much more than where we are going to have dinner and go on vacation, myself included. (I blame my ADD but that’s only part of – Hey! A cat video!) Okay, I’m back. Look for opportunities to bring blessings on you and the important people in your life. The Force is saying “Help me help you” (obviously a Jerry McGuire fan, and yes, my inner geek is showing.) It’s that time of year to appreciate what we have and help those who have less. Have a blessed week, whether by accident or design.

Until next week Dear Reader, dream of all your blessings and be thankful.

Ray Bradbury Challenge #19- Blood Hunt

I’m not one to write about vampires too often. I think in some ways the genre has been over exposed and diluted to anemia (pun intended). However, one must write as the muse dictates, even if she is a drunken wench with a face full of donut crumbs.

Today’s post is a departure from my previous RBC short stories. First of all, it exceeds a thousand words (1314 to be exact). It just didn’t respond well to being edited. Second, I am introducing you all to Fiona, a female vampire who has been banished to West Hollywood, CA. There is a good chance you will be reading more about her in the coming months. As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated.

#19 Blood Hunt

Fiona

Fiona, fangs with an attitude

Fiona slid her tongue over her lips and savored the last few drops of blood. It had been a long time since her last meal. So long in fact that her appetite was was still pushing her to feed. That was going to be a problem. There was a dire shortage of potential victims in West Hollywood as gay men were immune to her pheromones. She had seduced a few lesbians out of sheer desperation but even the most butch among them didn’t have as much testosterone as fourteen year old boy. The blood gave her energy but the male hormone kept her eternally young. Without it the wrinkles would start and that was positively unacceptable.

After removing his head, Fiona dumped the body of the UPS driver into the trash chute. The last thing she needed was some fresh-fanged apprentice following her around like a lost puppy. A quick shower eliminated any remaining evidence. She hadn’t hit the gym circuit in a while so spandex was the order of the day. A vigorous workout would stimulate her pheromone production. Coupled with the tight, revealing outfit she was wearing she would draw any straight man to her within minutes.

‘Body Beautiful’ was one of the premier twenty four hour fitness centers in the Hollywood area. At well over a hundred and fifty years old, it was a safe bet Fiona was by far the oldest member in the club’s history.

And I don’t look a day over twenty-five.

The thought roused her appetite and she had to make a conscious effort to keep her fangs retracted. With any luck she would be putting them to work well before sunrise. She clenched her jaw at the idea of crawling into her crypt on an empty stomach. Hunting would be that much harder with crow’s feet.

The late crowd was beginning to fill the place up as Fiona walked in the door. She climbed onto one of the treadmills near the window. It was the best place to watch members entering the club. It also afforded any interested men a great view of her ass. She set the machine for a medium level workout and focused her mind on the energy in the room. So far all the readings were weak. There were several minds focused on her but the auras were decidedly female.

I hope it doesn’t come to that. I need a MAN!

Fiona was feeling that itch that only hot, rambunctious sex could scratch. Her need to feed had been so great that she had barely gotten her last meal undressed. No, tonight she would most certainly be playing with her food.

She had been pounding out steps on the treadmill for nearly an hour with no male prospects anywhere in sight. Not that she was getting tired, she could keep going for days. Only the sunrise would stop her. Her hunger was putting her on edge and she didn’t want to rush. She was ready to call it quits when he walked in. The sexual energy rolled off him so thick she had to close her mouth to hide her fangs. He couldn’t have been any more than twenty and hadn’t gotten laid in quite some time, if ever.

A virgin? Oh, wouldn’t that be a treat!

He was awkward and a bit clumsy, bumping into several members and tripping once on his way to the treadmills. He climbed onto the one next to Fiona’s and gave her a lopsided smile. She smiled back and his face went flush to his hairline. All that blood amped her up another couple of notches.

If I don’t get him out of here soon it’s going to get ugly.

Fiona stopped her treadmill and turned to the young man.

“I’m heading out. Would you mind walking me to my car?”

He turned to be sure she was talking to him.

“Um, yeah, sure.”

“I’m Fiona.” She held out her hand.

He took it as if he expected it to turn into a rattlesnake.

“Oh, I’m Steven.” and after a pause he added, “Nice to meet you.”

Fiona turned and headed for the door. His aura was strong and very male. She was sure his attention was focused on her rear end. Out of habit she had parked in the alley behind the gym. When she got to her car she turned and Steven nearly ran into her.

“Thank you for walking me out. A girl can’t be too careful these days.”

Fiona traced her fingers up his arm and slipped them behind his neck. As she pulled him forward he  stiffened, pushing her away.

“Something wrong?” It didn’t make sense. She could almost taste his arousal.

Steven pulled her arm away from his neck.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this,” he said as he stared at the ground.

“Let me guess, you have a boyfriend?”

His gaze snapped up to meet hers. “What? Oh, no, I’m not gay. I love women.”

She ran both hands over his chest and slid her fingers between the buttons to touch his skin.

“Glad to hear it.” He was tall enough that she had to stand on her toes to reach his mouth. It was wet and delicious. His tongue responded to hers with a fierceness that took her by surprise. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her so hard she was glad she didn’t have to breathe to stay alive. She ran her free hand up his thigh to the bulge in his crotch. Even through his jeans it filled her hand.

Oh my God! I might have to turn this one!

Fiona pushed back and reached up to undo his shirt. The material pulled tight and the buttons popped off in her hand. His chest began to rise and expand; his arms grew thick and muscular. His carotid pulsed just under the skin and her appetite bested her desire. Her fangs thrust from her gums and she sank them all the way into his neck. The warm liquid flowed into her mouth but the taste caused her to jerk away coughing and choking.

“What the hell?!” Fiona turned back to Steven and found herself staring at a broad, scale covered chest. His arms turned to massive wings, his head elongated with a mouth full long teeth and a powerful tail swished out behind him.

“A dragon? The only straight guy I’ve seen all day and you’re a fucking dragon?”

A deep, booming voice resonated from the beast’s throat.

“I did warn you, demon. Now, you will die.”

Flames erupted from the dragon’s mouth and engulfed Fiona’s car. If she hadn’t possessed the speed of the undead, she would have ended up as so much barbeque. She hadn’t made it to a hundred and sixty three years by fighting battles she couldn’t win so she kept running. For all its size and power, the dragon was slow on the up take. By the time it was airborne, she was in her condo on the other side of town.

“Son of a whore!” Fiona raged at the expense of several figurines and a vase, all of which ended their existence against the living room wall. “Not bad enough that I’m banished to the land of fruits and nuts, and can’t find a decent meal, have slayers on my ass every other day and have to work some menial job to keep a roof over my head. Now there’s a dragon here, too? Shit! They’re like fucking roaches – where there’s one there’s a damned dozen.”

Her hunger returned full force goading her to move. She dumped the spandex and slithered into a slinky red dress that covered just enough to keep her out of jail. It was only three-thirty a.m., still plenty of time to find a man and redefine the term ‘happy meal’.

… to be continued