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Anthology Anxiety: Practical Advice

Published November 3, 2017 by admin

I had a conversation recently with some writing friends about different types of story calls and submissions, and we ended up chatting about anthologies. I’ve been in a few, I love the challenge of writing for them, but I’ve also learned a few things along the way. So pull up a chair, because it’s time for practical advice!

Follow the Guidelines

Seriously, if you take away one thing from this post, let it be this. Don’t try to be too cute, don’t give people what they’re not asking for, don’t expect people to bend anything for you.

Let’s just get it out of the way that yes, I’ve broken this one. John Hartness is never going to let me live down The Big Bad anthology call as long as I draw breath. I was working on a giant costume build at the time for the dayjob, and I ended up missing the deadline and going over word count. However – I also knew him a bit and had emailed him asking if I should still submit and stated that there was a word count issue. He told me to send things as is, so technically I’m not the only one to blame for that monstrosity of a story.

The thing is, I got super duper lucky. Incredibly lucky. NEVER do what I did if you’re going in blind and don’t have a relationship with the editor. Hell, try never to do that if you do, because that tends to tick people off. Get your word count right. Get the theme right. Get your formatting right. Pay super close attention to how they word the call. Which brings me to…

Pay attention to the unwritten rules

There’s a thing in calls that goes a little something like “while we’re mostly taking A, we won’t /not/ take B, but it’s not what we’re absolutely looking for.

Don’t presume you’re going to walk into a slot with a story about B. Unless your idea is so unusual and phenomenal and hits every other part of the theme/call well and is incredibly clean editing-wise, find an idea that goes with A. What this really means is that they’re hedging their bet that they might get a super-phenomenal story that has to do with B (or they may be talking to someone about a story about B behind the scenes. Yes, this totally happens. Get used to it.), so they can’t say they’re not taking it. Still, you’re best served sticking to the call – especially if you’re a new/unknown author. If they want contemporary, don’t go historical. If they want superhero, don’t go sword and sorcery, if they want horror, don’t go paranormal romance with a dark twist, even if there’s some loose room for genre interpretation. Same for other stuff – if they want dynamic characters, don’t rely on narration. If they want world building, don’t neglect that. Give the people what they want and use your own personal genius to fill in the blanks.

There’s a great throwaway line at the end of David Bowie’s Blue Jean video when the plot gets out of control about how he’s being too clever clever, and that term has stuck with me ever since. Seriously, don’t be too clever clever. You may think you’re being awesome and gaming the system, but you may find yourself writing your way out of a potential spot and payday.

Don’t neglect resources

If the editor/publisher mentions that they really like the work of a certain author in this anthology genre/theme and you can read something by them, by all means, do it. I’ve beta’d for people who didn’t get into certain books and it became obvious pretty fast that they were so intent on being clever that they were neglecting what the editor flat out said they liked about the genre, or neglecting other important elements (like characterization, or items of the plot that the editor really wanted to see). What I see and hear a lot of from editor friends and from my own personal experience is that there’s personal interpretation, and there’s flat out not knowing a theme/genre (or ignoring the call/resources). If the call is part of a series and you can get previous volumes, suck it up and do it. I’m not always the best at this, myself, but I can tell you it’s infinitely easier to read the sort of thing an editor likes than try to mind-meld and get that information telepathically.

I’ve also gone around googling genre terms and asking people what they mean to them, because one of the other things I’ve seen is authors misinterpreting or getting stuck on minutae or the parts of the genre that they prefer, that may not necessarily line up with the actual call. Do your homework and your life will be easier.

Plan your story for the word count

The thing that I really had to learn when writing for anthology calls was that word count was king, and there were just some things that I couldn’t do in the context of an anthology story. For Big Bad 2 I had originally wanted to pick up where the story in the first book left off – I /really/ wanted that. But it became obvious pretty quickly that my idea was much too big for an anthology story. So, I had to get creative. I stuck to the world, but went way back in the timeline, and it really served to expand my thoughts on the characters and produce some fun, vintage-inspired horror.

Change things up to work for you

When I wrote The Ruins of St. Louis for Thunder on the Battlefield, I had already done some research on sword and sorcery and had some vague ideas on how to make it my own. The structure was what really was tripping me up, though, until I remembered my high school addiction to watching Xena. While not the same genre-wise, I found that if I structured scenes like I was writing around commercial breaks, I was able to get in under the word count and still have a driving narrative with some interesting characters.

Pretty much, when I’m writing to theme, I write different than if I’m just taking off from an idea that’s popped into my head. It’s a different type of writing for me that takes more structuring. I had to really go through scene by scene with my Sherlock Holmes story, for curious incidents because there were so many stipulations to that call, it wasn’t necessarily in my comfort zone, and I’m a horrific overachiever sometimes. At the end of the day, it took me streamlining my scenes and really focusing on how to reduce the details and still show characterization. You may think 8-10k is a lot (or however many words your given), but when you get going, it’s hard to stop. I have to get really nuts and bolts in my anthology story planning, or else I’d drive myself bonkers (and still sometimes do, anyway).

Give yourself time

You want at least enough time to edit your first draft. Don’t send the first draft in, please. i’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’m always mortified when I get the edits back on those stories if I get accepted. Edit your story. Edit it again. Really go through, not just for line edits, but for content. Does your story hit the right notes and fit well within the theme? Are your characters conveyed well? Do all your details line up? I have a horrible habit of changing the amount of kids my characters have midway through stories, so I always have a list of details I’m double checking. Make sure all your names stay the same, places are what you want them to be, etc. Reduce your stress and plan so you can take the time you need. Instead of spending time in advance worrying about a call, talking about it, daydreaming about it, whatever, use that time to research (but don’t fall down a research hole), pound out your first draft, then finesse the hell out of it. That way you can also double and triple check your formatting and get your cover letter and bio all nice and neat without a panic attack.

Don’t get too upset if you don’t get in

While I’ve taken part in a decent amount of anthologies, I also get turned down a lot. Them’s the breaks. However, it means that I have that many more stories in my arsenal for other things. It’s also why I tend to not write for every anthology call that I come across, and really pick and choose what I want to submit to. These sorts of calls can stress me out for some reason, so I want to make sure it’s with people I want to work with or there’s going to be some good benefits going forward. Like anything, you live and learn, but I’ve also learned to not beat myself up over something that has a limited amount of spots, anyway. It’s all a marathon, not a sprint. Like dating, sometimes you just don’t mesh with a call or a publisher, so you can’t take that to heart. Take your story, dust it off, and see where else it might fit.

So how bout you guys? Do you like writing for anthology calls? Are there certain genres or themes that you look for or prefer?

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday Teaser: Curious Incidents

Published August 8, 2017 by admin

So I haven’t been completely nonexistent during this past stretch of self-reflection. I’m way late on this, but hey, promo is promo, amiright? So one of the projects I had the challenge of working on is a paranormal Sherlock Holmes anthology called Curious Incidents: More Improbable Adventures.

 This was not the easiest story for me to write – I hadn’t read Sherlock since Jr. High, when I’d binged as much as possible during free time during homeroom, a trait that obviously made me insanely popular and all the cute dudes in my class fall at my feet. Obviously, I had to be careful, because the pure power in that knowledge is obviously very potent, so I kept it locked away for a long time.

And if you’re new to this blog, welcome to the sarcastic portion of the evening.

Anywho, I’ve seen the show, but was warned against doing anything too close to that. Besides, these were alternate universe adventures – put Sherlock and Watson in another time period, place, get them out of the comfort zone, anything but Victorian England, please!

And because I am an editor’s nightmare, I put Sherlock on a futuristic space station after the end of planet earth, and just to be a brat I added in a lot of Victorian England via holodecks.

Also, Sherlock is an AI. Kinda. And there’s a new medic character named Jane that has her own mystery to solve. And a monster shows up murdering people in the holodeck nightclubs because it’s me, so of course it does.

So it’s out and there are a lot of fantastic authors in this one. It’s gotten some great reviews, and I’m admittedly pretty proud of my contribution, which is titled Reborn.  And because I love you all and don’t feel like thinking up original content, here’s an excerpt:

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The halls of the space station Reborn were pristine and bright, a maze of metal and plastic sterility. They were in sharp contrast to the illusion gardens in the various sectors, of which Clapham was one. Though it was late, enough people were still enjoying the night’s entertainment. The theme was Old England, so couples enjoyed quaint hologram theater shows and others, like Lucy Scaleton and Alsop Addison, soaked up the unusual experience of walking nighttime streets.

“Let’s move away from the urchins. I know they make things realistic, but they’re creepy,” Lucy murmured. “We need to find the exit before things shut down and the security mechs scan for the night.”

Alsop nodded and they increased their pace. “I’m almost glad we don’t have to deal with streets. The hall layouts are much simpler.” She hissed when her foot brushed through the long skirt, sending ripples through the false image that revealed her jumpsuit underneath. “Clothes today are easier, too.”

“It’s all so realistic, though. Especially with all the scents and sounds piped in, never mind the temp changes. Holo-tech has come such a long way.” Lucy took hold of her friend’s arm with a sheepish expression. “I know we’re safe, but…”

“Let’s get home before they turn everything off for the night and ruin the fun!” Alsop tugged her down an alley. “I think this shortcuts to the exit.” She trailed frowned when they hit a dead end.

“Al—”

“I could’ve sworn this was an exit.”

“’Scuse me, miss, but spare a quid on a cold night?”

The pair jumped, then shared an exasperated look. Alsop turned to address the fellow behind them, tossing her blonde curls. “Stupid programming,” she grumbled before addressing the image. “It’s late and we need to get home.” The looming form didn’t budge or disappear. “Hey, I mean it. Bugger off or we’ll just go through you!” The shadowed gentleman’s shoulders bobbed in a silent laugh.

“This isn’t Jack the Ripper night, is it?” Lucy whispered, hand clenched tight on her friend’s arm.

“Don’t be silly. It can’t hurt you. It’s just another damn hologram!” Alsop snapped and strode right into the moving shadow.

Silver flashed and rippled. The blonde jerked with the impact, her holo-costume fading away to reveal her slashed jumpsuit. She stared at the ripped fabric, dumbfounded. “What on earth?” The concept of actual danger was so foreign. Instinctively, still expecting the shadowed mass to dissolve into static and code, she struck at it and felt her stomach drop when it touched real fabric and something warm underneath.

The looming figure that was now too real, too threatening, too substantial pounced again. The shadowed figure grabbed the blonde and silver lashed out, sending crimson spraying right through the false images of the ancient London alleyway, spattering the metal projection walls underneath. The holograms couldn’t fully form with the intrusion, making the length of the alley a flickering, macabre trap. Alsop’s painful scream tore through the nighttime sounds and distant music.

Her friend screamed with her, the sound shrill and useless against the assailant. “No, no! Let her go, this isn’t supposed to happen! Security!” Lucy panicked as she struggled with her the other girl’s falling body, frantically looking for the cameras and police units. Unhindered, the thing shoved Alsop away. The gasping blonde fell back into her friend, sending them both to the floor, revealing metal underneath the cobblestones. Cold laughter prompted them to look up and when they did, the alley was nothing but screams and blue fire.

***

Want to find out more? How about stories where Sherlock and Watson deal with vampires or find themselves in other time periods? You can find all of that in Curious Incidents, available here on kindle or here in print!

Southern Haunts 3: An interview with Alexander S. Brown

Published May 8, 2016 by admin

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It’s blog tour time! Today I have an interview with not only a fantastic editor and author, but one of my favorite people and podcasting co-host. But first, ze book.

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Genres/Subgenres: Horror, Short Story, Paranormal, Occult, Folklore/Southern Regional

Deep within the South, read about the magickal folk who haunt the woods, the cemeteries, and the cities. Within this grim anthology, eighteen authors will spellbind you with tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and witchcraft.

From this cauldron mix, readers will explore the many dangers lurking upon the Natchez Trace and in the Mississippi Delta. They will encounter a bewitched doll named Robert from the Florida Keys, and a cursed trunk that is better left closed. In the backstreets of New Orleans, they will become acquainted with scorned persons who will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

These hair raising tales and more await you in Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight. Read if you dare.

Authors:

Alexander S. Brown

Angela Lucius

  1. H. David Blalock

C G Bush

Della West

Diane Ward

Elizabeth Allen

Greg McWhorter

John Hesselberg

Jonnie Sorrow

Kalila Smith

Linda DeLeon

Louise Myers

Melissa Robinson

Melodie Romeo

J L Mulvihill

Robert McGough

Tom Lucas

***

SJ: Tell us about SH3.  What makes it unique compared to 1&2?

ASB: Actually, each vol. of Southern Haunts is unique, as the subjects vary with each book.  Vol 1. Spirits that Walk Among Us, focused on ghosts.  Vol 2. Devils in the Darkness, featured on demonic entities.  Vol 3. Magick Beneath the Moonlight, regards witchcraft and cursed objects.

SJ: Why witches?  What attracts you to the theme?

ASB: I have always been attracted to the occult.  I find the whole subject fascinating and since Spirits that Walk Among Us was published, it was only a matter of time before we released an anthology about magickal persons.  But for this to happen, I had to wait.

For vol. 3 to be about witches, there is a great significance to the vol. number and the subject matter.  In the occult, there is the belief that what one puts out into the world comes back to them in triple abundance.  Also, in paganism, the maiden, the mother and the crone are recognized and honored as a trinity. These reasons are specifically why this vol. could be none other than occult related.

SJ: What makes for a good southern horror story?

ASB: Multiple elements can make a good southern horror story, such as elaborating about the habitat, cultural development, history, verbiage, and so forth.  But personally for me, what makes a southern horror story great, is the way that it is told.

Many times during childhood, I had found myself at family gatherings and I would overhear elderly relatives speak of infamous legends from the region.  The richness of their slang and phrases, made their ghost stories all the more horrifying, because it seemed more personal.  It seemed like the story tellers weren’t utilizing proper words and phrases to identify something infamous, they were using an age old southern dialect that seemed even more tangible.

SJ: Why do you think readers gravitate to themed horror like this, especially in short form?

ASB: I think the majority of readers are under attack from having a short attention span.  Because of life being so hectic, short stories can allow readers to enjoy complete stories in minimal time.  With the subjects being themed, it lets the reader know immediately what they are in store for.  This can result in a quicker purchase.  For example: Southern Haunts 3 is about witches, the title and cover image are self-explanatory.  If the reader loves witches, they are more likely to purchase.  If that reader is not a fan of magickal themed stories, then perhaps Southern Haunts vol. 1 or 2 is more their preference.

SJ: What are the benefits of anthologies?  Any downside?

The biggest benefit for an anthology is that it presents readers with a diversity of authors who they may not have read before.  This works well for the author because it can help them gain new fans.

The downside to anthologies is that no one really makes money, as book royalties are normally split between 15 to 20 creators.

SJ: Was it different wearing the editor hat compared to being an author?

ASB: It was quite different.  After finishing Southern Haunts vol. 1, I had a new respect for editors.  To me, writing is simple and relaxing, editing is time consuming and feels like work.  Although I prefer writing more than editing, editing the Southern Haunts series has improved my writing skills.

SJ:What is the best thing about putting a book like this together?  The most difficult?

ASB: The best thing about constructing an anthology is seeing likeminded authors come together and submit their creativity.  It is a good feeling to know that other names in the profession want to work with you and contribute stories that might have been stuck in their head for quite some time.

The downside is when I have to reject stories.  I can understand how an author might think that it’s so easy for an editor to dismiss a story, and this isn’t the case.  For me, sending a rejection email, hurts me just as much as it does the author.

SJ: Any advice to authors who are interested in submitting to anthologies?

ASB: First, research the publisher before you submit.

SJ: Second, follow the guidelines.  Sometimes guidelines are overly specific with their requirements, even down to spacing, font, and letter size.  Obey all of these rules.  A lot of times, editors will use these demands as ways to see if the author payed attention, or cares about their work.

SJ: What’s next for Southern Haunts? For you as an author?

ASB: For Southern Haunts vol. 4, we are anticipating creature stories.  We haven’t decided on a title yet, but it will follow the theme of its predecessors, but with monsters.

I have a few books that are in the works.  One of which is in the final edit stage, and is being published by Pro Se Press, this will be a collection of Halloween stories called The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out.  I have one story left to write before Traumatized pt 2 is complete, and The Looking Glass Creatures is currently undergoing a massive edit.

AlexanderSBrown

Alexander S. Brown is a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized. Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press. Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press. His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.

He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthologies Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.

Visit Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com to download his monthly short stories known as Single Shots. These are represented by Pro Se Press and they are known as stories that will be featured in the upcoming book The Night the Jack O’Lantern Went Out.

 

Season’s Readings: Holly and Ivy

Published December 13, 2015 by admin

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And of course, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without a magical Christmas/fantasy mashup with a hint of sweet romance. Not that I’m biased or anything, ahem…

This title is a little atypical for me, but it combines a lot of elements that I love about the holidays: natural settings, family, friendships, the folklore elements of the stories I love. However, it also adds in a real-world element. Not all holidays are going to turn out perfect or even completely happy. I’ve been there, and I wanted to reflect that in this story. The romance aspect is mostly alluded to, but you do get some cute scenes that you’d probably never believe I could write. Plus you get to find out what happens when you inadvertently get a dryad with your Christmas tree…

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After losing her job and her boyfriend, Holly returns to her parents’ farm. Embarrassed and hopeless, she doesn’t expect to bump into a forgotten childhood friend that wasn’t supposed to exist. Ivy is not only a dryad, but she lives in the pine trees Holly’s family grows to sell at Christmas. As the old friends reconnect, Ivy not only shares her strong oninions, but gives Holly a charm that will change both their lives. As days melt into weeks and the seasons change, Holly’s life magically turns around. Christmas not only brings surprises, but a choice for the human woman. What’s more important: stability, success, and love, or keepinga promise to an old friend?

***

She paused and took a long breath, much longer than I or any other human could possibly inhale. Before my eyes her skin became greener, infused by the crisp clean air. “You need to be in the trees, Holly. Mortals refuse to understand that they must live where things grow. Now that you’re home, let’s play!” She leapt over my head and landed effortlessly beside her home tree, staring at me expectantly.

Maybe it was being back home or maybe it was just being back in the good fresh air, but her suggestion made me giddy. It suddenly sounded like the exact prescription I needed, the one thing I’d been missing through all those frustrating years. My fragile mind and heart demanded an escape. They couldn’t take any more disappointment, any more expectations or responsibility, and they especially couldn’t take any more reality. I nodded and tucked the strange clover deep in my pocket. The breeze had dried my tears and the heavenly scent of grass and pine put the sudden urge to run in my feet. Suddenly the heavy air and the blazing sun didn’t matter so much and my anxieties were willing to take a momentary backseat to the chance to goof off for an afternoon.  “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” I hesitated, hand still at my pocket.

Ivy flashed a bold grin and stretched up on her toes; her fingers wiggled over her head, making her resemble an odd, scrawny plant. “With you here? Of course! Just remember to come look after my tree when the murderers come around the winter harvest time. You can even help me choose which tree will be my final home so you’ll know where I’ll be.” The words were no sooner out of her mouth when she tore off, dodging branches and bark as quick and swift as a deer. I groaned as I pulled myself to my feet and tumbled after her, muscles screaming at the sudden exercise. Still, I found myself laughing the entire time.

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Theme is the Hairy Spider Hiding Inside Your Pumpkin by Adrian Cross

Published November 10, 2015 by admin

I’m pleased as punch to be bringing to you a book with a great theme and a great collection of stories today. You might even say they’re improbably good… (okay, yeah, I know, I’ll shut up and get to it…)

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When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable characters in Western literature.  Conan Doyle’s inimitable detective has been the subject of literally thousands of books, movies, television shows, plays and even songs.  With the rise of the BBC series and the release of most copyrights, the beloved character has found a new life among modern audiences.   In An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 14 authors of horror and mystery have come together to create a unique anthology that sets Holmes on some of his most terrifying adventures.  A pair of sisters willing to sacrifice young girls to an ancient demon for a taste of success, a sinister device that can manipulate time itself, and a madman that can raise corpses from the dead are just a few among the grisly tales that can be found within these pages.  Curl up with a warm cuppa and leave all the lights on.  This is not your grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes.

***

Joining us today is contributor Adrian Cross with a guest post and an excerpt from his story, Time’s Running Out, Watson

***

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Theme is the hairy spider hiding inside your pumpkin.

By Adrian Cross

It’s almost Halloween. I’m allowed to stretch a metaphor, right? But remember that spider and pumpkin. I’ll explain later.

So who am I and what am I talking about? I’m a new author, with my first published story, Time’s Running Out, Watson, coming out in An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (woo hoo!). In the last month, I’ve also earned an honorable mention in the very competitive Writers of the Future contest, and I spend a lot of time on the OWW (online writing workshop) boards, critiquing other people’s work and getting my own work beaten up. So I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on writing short stories and what makes them gel–not that any story is easy to execute well. But if there is one weakness that I think plagues a lot of short stories, including my own early efforts, it is a lack of cohesiveness and professionalism, even if the idea is a decent one.

One way to get better at this (although not the only one) is to consider theme. Theme is the big picture stuff, the moral question, interesting concept, or emotional flavor you’re trying to leave the reader with, whether you realize it or not. And I know that as an early writer, I cringed at the very mention of it. Ooops. J

At first glance, Time’s Running Out, Watson (the story mentioned above), which pits Watson and Holmes against a deadly inventress with a time-twisting device, may not appear the strongest example of a theme-driven piece, partly because I’m stepping into a well-worn world and characters, with its own appeal. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any theme, or that finding it didn’t add value. I’m convinced it did.

The big picture idea in that story was time, not surprisingly. And I also realized that I could deepen that theme by working in some small details. So I added a puddle of water that faded from sight, leaving no sign behind. I gave Holmes a closing line that played on the word ‘time’. And I changed a sheathed dagger on the table, which played no real role in the story, into a desk clock with a pendulum, realizing as I did that I could incorporate that into the plot itself.

The more tangential elements that you can tie into the themes of your short story, the more powerful and professional its impact. It’s the little details that impress, even if the impact is almost too subtle to notice. It’s not the candle-lit pumpkin on the window that scares the jaded trick-or-treater.

It’s the hairy spider crawling up their leg.

See, I got there eventually. 😉

All the best in your Halloween treats, and writing efforts. If you’d like to peruse more of my writing musings, feel free to visit at www.adriancross.ca.

Happy Halloween!

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When Adrian Croft was a teenager, his mother told him in a hushed voice that she’d talked to her hair dresser and learned an unfortunate fact: that reading fantasy and science fiction wasn’t a phase that you grew out of. All those assassins and dragons decorating his bookshelf might be… permanent. Adrian didn’t see it as unfortunate at all and has since then enjoyed many more speculative stories. More recently, he’s expanded into writing and illustrating fantasy as well. ‘Time is Running Out, Watson’ is his first published piece, but hopefully not his last. You can find him at http://www.adriancross.ca

From “Time’s Running Out, Watson” by Adrian Cross

A woman took form from the shadows beside the hearth. I realized that Holmes, through coincidence or design, had faced her the entire time. Thick-bodied, with hard fingers and eyes and a smock that still glistened with rain, she held a small device in her hand. It was twin to the one that Holmes had shown me, except that no bullet hole marred it.

“Lower your pistol,” she ordered, her voice deep and commanding.

I tightened my grip. “I surely will not. Drop the device and step away.”

She chuckled.

A hot flash of pain slashed my wrist and the pistol fell from it, but skittering away before it ever touched the rug, as if kicked by an invisible foot. All I’d seen was a dark afterimage, as if my eyes had registered a movement too quick to be seen.

The woman hadn’t appeared to have moved. She smiled.

“You are not in control here, sir.”

My wrist ached. I rubbed it. “Who are you?”

Holmes answered. “Mrs. Angela White. Is that not correct?”

She looked surprised. “How did you know that?”

“It was hardly difficult. Reynold White obviously didn’t design the object in your hand. No, the handwriting of the plans was feminine, bold and patient, with no quaver of age. He had no sister, and a grandmother would be too old, although that may not have been absolutely out of question, given the circumstances. But the papers also mentioned that Mr. White’s father was an engineer of wide renown, who in turn credited his greatest achievements to his wife, Angela White. So Reynold’s mother. Not much of a gamble in the end.”

“Caged mice,” she snarled. She took a step closer and a fire burned in her eyes, a banked rage that made the hair on the back of my neck rise in response. “None of the other measly intellects in the government’s offices could hold a candle to me, but still they refused to see my value. Mr. Holmes, you may be a great detective, but your deductions will not save you tonight. You should never have tangled with my family. You are as guilty of my son’s death as if you’d pulled the trigger yourself. You will both suffer greatly for that.”

WeWriWa: Drink Up!

Published November 1, 2015 by admin

Since it’s the day after Halloween, I thought I’d stay with my creepy theme a little longer and give you some horror! Since I love vampires and I love historical fiction, here’s a bit of Mooner to help you recover from your Halloween! And remember – for a look at more authors, be sure to check out weekend writing warriors!

***

“What can I do for you for a drink, boy? I’ve got a terrible thirst.” His teeth glistened wetly and he waited in the middle of the room as if he had all the time in the world.

The entire saloon had gone silent and Bill looked at his feet, uneasy. He could handle himself in a fight well enough if he had to, but he hated to have to. “You’ve got two drinks right there waitin’ for you,” he mumbled.

“Aye, but I’ve got a terrible, terrible thirst,” Tom repeated. “Isn’t there anything you’d like to see me do? I’d do anything, anything for a drink. Anything at all.”

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Like many young men at the end of the 1800s, Bill signed on to work in a logging camp. The work is brutal, but it promised a fast paycheck with which he can start his life. Unfortunately, his role model is Big John. Not only is he the camp’s hero, but he’s known for spending his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and lives of so many men their age. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows. It watches and badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door, or does someone else have their own plans for his future?

SJ Reads: Bradbury is My Horror Hero #amreading

Published October 30, 2015 by admin

So one of my big author influences is Ray Bradbury. For me, his books are emotional, elegant, unique in plot, and true in characterizations. He’s also a master at literary horror, so I wanted to highlight a few of my favorites of his today. Granted, a lot of his work is short stories, so I’m looking at the books/collections instead that are primarily horror. Those who like the psychological and literary will probably like Bradbury because he generally doesn’t do gore. Granted, he can get disturbing and visceral emotionally, but man, he’s always so elegant about it!

Something Wicked This Way Comes – A classic and probably one of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with creepy carnivals. I love the concept of the two neighbor boys born on each side of Halloween, though the dark/light dichotomy is fairly subtle until the ending climax. From the appearance of the lightning rod salesman to the carnival itself, from strange Mr.Dark and Mr. Electrico to the Dust Witch and the magical carousel, this book is hypnotic. The movie really doesn’t do it justice and almost subverts the lessons by slapping on a happy ending for everyone. There are a few sequences here that made me hold my breath the first time I read it in college – it was one of the few books I took the time to read for fun at the time, and I fell in love with it.

From the Dust Returned – This is actually a collection of shorts masterfully formed into a narrative arc. I love this technique and Bradbury truly made it his own. While you can find a lot of the stories in other collections, this really lets each piece shine, and you’ll generally find that these versions are a little different than how you’ll see them in other formats. From Cecy the slumberer to Uncle Einar with wings, from vampire parents and killed cousins who have to share a host to a mummy grandmother, right down to Timothy, the one mortal boy who calls this strange family his own and the odd house his home…this book is odd, unnerving, and emotional. ‘Homecoming’ always gets me, ‘The April Witch’ has made me feel a thousand things as I’ve read it through the years, and the ending just…yeah. Think of it like a very literary Addams’ family, and you will have a blast. As always, Bradbury’s beautiful prose and attention to small town detail make this book.

The October Country – a collection of unconnected shorts, this book really has some chilling components. It has its own version of ‘Homecoming,’ but the stories here generally opt to the creepy side, like they do in ‘The Jar,’ ‘The Wind,’ and other tales. ‘The Next in Line’ is one that always has gotten me, because he just masters the claustrophobic feeling of the catacombs and the slow, building distrust and anxiety of the wife. Particularly in this volume, he’s very good at giving you just enough ending to make you fumble, then jolt once everything connects.

The Halloween Tree – I try to at least get through most of this every year, or at least watch the cartoon version. Truly, the book is the best, though I like that the cartoon adds in a female character who can hold her own (also, Bradbury narrates it and Leonard Nimoy plays Moundshroud!). To be fair, it doesn’t take away from the book to be an all-boy cast for me, because of the general time period it’s set, and it feels so true to life as a group of kids. This is one of those stories that deals with uncomfortable concepts but immerses you so much that you don’t care. When a group of friends has to time travel to save the soul of their dying friend Pipkin under the tutelage of mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, they end up learning the entire history of Halloween. While okay, there is a little historical discrepancy in the Samhain chapter and I wish some things were as fleshed out as others, honestly it’s done so well and the tension is built so tightly that I don’t care.Through it all, the friendship shines through, and this really drives home why humans cling to Halloween. The one place where this really, really excels over the cartoon is the ending – it subtly hints to Mr. Moundshround’s nature in a bittersweet, autumnal epilogue where Tom Skelton thinks over the events of the evening.