Bad Seed

Barbara Custer's horror fiction included City of Brotherly DeathI heard the fireworks blast through the air, punctuated by the crowd’s whistles and shouts. Their laughter drowned out the sound of my hushed sobbing. While the New Year’s celebration exploded into rainbow colors, lighting the midnight sky, the frosty air chilled me to the bone. Though a sea of humanity swirled around me, no one looked my way. I was facing this new year alone.

Slowly, I turned away from the celebration, shuddering at the night that felt as cold and empty as my life. How I envied the crowd and their joyous smiles. More to the point, I envied those with relatives and friends who cared about them.

The crowd’s gaiety had become more than I could bear. No matter how hard I’d tried to make friends, my thoughts remained my sole companions. The dark alley I wandered into provided a welcome silence. The gloom closed over me like a coffin lid.

I tried not to think about my poverty of friends. Sometimes I succeeded by keeping busy at my job as supervisor at Fairview Hospital’s respiratory therapy department. During work hours, the loneliness whispered so softly I hardly knew it was there. At home, it gnawed a hole in my heart, especially during holidays. Watching people hug each other speared the memories through my consciousness, reminding me of the tragedy which had ruined my life.

During my last talk with my father, his tiny, hard eyes glittered like tarnished silver under the faint light in his living room. The faces on the football trophies lining his cabinet gave off more warmth than his shadowed features. He was delivering a harsh lecture. Telling me to leave home. Disowning me because of a car accident that had caused my fiancé, David Wood, to die.

He called me a bad seed because I inherited my mother’s fondness for liquor. David died, he said, because I had too many beers before getting behind the wheel. Never mind that the car I broadsided had raced a red light. Never mind that David had refused to wear his seatbelt. Never mind that each day I relived the accident, watching David’s head plow through the windshield, hearing the tinkling glass. I made a mistake; I remembered telling my father. Couldn’t I have another chance?

My father’s face turned crimson, and dark lines creased his granite chin. Meeting my gaze with his cold eyes, he pulled an envelope from his blazer pocket. It made soft wisps as he shoved it across his coffee table. The words on its contents blurred in the salty tears that flooded my eyes. A massive ache, warm and smothering, swelled up inside my chest.

The envelope contained a letter from the Woods’ lawyer. They were suing my family for damages. According to David’s father, I’d shown up at their home drunk the day of the accident, but David had borne the consequences. Head injuries had rendered him comatose, dependent on a respirator, while I’d gotten off with minor lacerations.

While I read the letter, my last visit with David came to mind. His eyes, fixed and dilated, focused at the ceiling. He did not respond to my voice. I recalled listening with helpless horror as the doctor pronounced him brain-dead. I watched, eyes filled with tears, while the Woods had David disconnected from the respirator. Moments later, his heartbeat flickered to a stop.

David’s father had called that night, threatening a lawsuit, Dad said. When my dad pointed out that David should have recognized my condition and taken over the wheel, his father wouldn’t listen. Instead, he said two words before hanging up the phone: bad seed.

The sub-zero temperatures impinged on my consciousness, nudging me back to the present. The alley’s stone wall frosted my cheek, whispering a rumor of the chill lodging in my heart. I imagined a jagged ice splinter wedging through my chest, draining the love I felt, leaving only a dead feeling. Sometimes I drank to ease the pain. It never worked. My loneliness became worse.

David’s death had motivated my present calling, but mastering patient care skills wouldn’t do. I had to atone for my crimes. That meant taking assignments in Fairview Hospital’s long-term ventilator unit, where victims of car accidents languished for months. Not a muscle moved when I stuck these patients for blood. I never complained about working with these people. Instead, I thought about David, dead, his last breaths pumped by a machine.

Around my workers, I manufactured a brittle smile, and the stories I invented about my romantic escapades were limited only by my imagination. No one saw past my false front. No one cared to look, especially during my chart reviews. When I found errors, my harsh voice grated like fingernails on a blackboard. Sometimes my shouts drowned out the sound of my sorrow.

I gave one therapist, Gary, a written warning after I observed his Singer sewing machine method of drawing blood. He’d attempted the procedure without wearing gloves or swabbing the site with alcohol. The other therapists used to joke about Gary’s incompetence, but I shadowed him during rounds, watching and waiting for him to screw up. After reading my memo, Gary called me a witch. I threatened to get him suspended for insubordination. He challenged me to go ahead. Gary ended up getting fired, and my father’s voice whispered the words “bad seed” inside my head.

Brilliant red rouge covered up the memories. My grandfather clock ticked away like a time bomb while I stood before my mirror, sculpturing my face into that of a stranger’s. Layers of hairspray froze my chestnut curls into place. I manicured and polished each fingernail. My hair clips and jewelry glittered like shields of armor. Though I created a flawless appearance, I still heard my father’s voice calling me a bad seed. The memory faded.

Before I realized their intent, I felt my hands pulling at my leather gloves. The frosty air chilled my fingers as I yanked off my sapphire ring. David had given it to me as a pre-engagement gift. The gem glowed in the gloomy light afforded by the street lamps. At one time, that ring had meant everything to me. Now it had become nothing more than a hard stone, a symbol of everything that had gone wrong in my life. I tossed it into the snow-covered street. It made a faint plopping sound.

I turned away, ready to leave when out of the depths of gloom floated a man’s gravelly voice. “Susan,” he called. “Susan, where are you?”

Whirling around, I searched the alley for the source of that voice. My eyes squinted, trying to see, but they only saw icy patches glinting in the half-light. My breath curled up before my eyes. I stepped into the shadows, heart thudding inside my chest.

Something cold and knobby brushed my leg, and I started. I covered my mouth, trying to stifle the screams building inside my chest. Looking down, I saw a man sprawled at my feet. He wore tattered hospital scrubs. No coat. White scabs and dirt-crusted his bruised skin. Soon, he’d freeze to death.

I took off my overcoat and draped it over his inert form. My fingers felt ridges of bone beneath his scrubs. At first, I thought that he had already died and that I’d imagined the voice. Instead, the man sat up, wrapping the coat around him. His arms and legs appeared bruised and blistered.

A profound sadness rolled through me, bringing tears to my eyes. His cracked skin stretched over his pointed chin and stick-like limbs. Bare bone protruded through the tears in his skin. His hair hung to his shoulders, clumped together with frozen mud. His swollen lips twisted into a smile that didn’t touch his sunken eyes. For some reason, he looked familiar.

“Wait here,” I told him. “I’ll call an ambulance.”

“No ambulance, Susan.” His voice sounded like tearing parchment. “It’s too late.”

“Do I know you?”

Lame question, but I couldn’t think of anything better. How did he know my name? Something moved under his eyelids, but I couldn’t tell what.

He nodded. “We have unfinished business.”

“You’re hurting badly,” I said. “I can’t leave you here.”

“My pain and suffering have ended. Now I’m alone.” He paused. “Like you.”

His anguished voice pulled at my heart, tugging also at the corners of my mind. Something shiny flashed before my eyes. When I looked down, he was fingering my ring. He stared at the ring as its sapphire flickered in the dim light. A wistful look crossed his face, and then he pitched the ring back into the street. His lips tightened as if he’d tasted something sour.

“Alone,” he said again.

No treatment could save this man, but I still felt the need to help him. Perhaps this need had something to do with David’s death. Maybe I identified with another lonely soul. Whatever my reasons, I longed to do something for him.

To my surprise, the man rose to his feet without wobbling or moaning. I held him against my chest. Cold cobwebs of bone poked through the coat; he couldn’t have weighed more than eighty pounds. The chill from his body seeped through my clothes, turning my skin to goose-flesh. I shivered.

My heart hammered away, each beat quivering through my muscles like pinpricks of electricity. He stiffened in my arms. His body had a rancid odor. The stench of advanced disease, perhaps forthcoming death.

“Alone,” he repeated.

“I’m taking you home with me,” I whispered into his scabbed ear. “I’ll do my best to make you comfortable. If you like, I’ll call someone from the clergy.”

My companion looked up at me intently. His black pupils had swollen, covering most of his eyes. Like David’s. He pressed closer to me, his elbow like a knife in my stomach. Alarms went off in my head.

“A lonely woman with a good heart,” he said quietly.

“You think so?” Before I could stop myself, I burst into tears. My mascara ran, stinging my eyes. My sobs reeked with bitterness, tears I should’ve shed over David, but didn’t. “Maybe you’re right. The question is, do I have a soul?”

My companion laid his skeletal hand on my shoulders and stared into my eyes. His haunted face spoke of festering nightmares and the tragedies that had created them.

“You and I came from the same place,” he said.

Without answering, I ushered him out of the alley and to a dimly lit lot, where I’d parked my Honda. The celebrants’ shouting faded behind us.

At my townhouse, I led him to my kitchen, where I kept my first aid supplies. I draped an old blanket over his shoulders. After drawing up a pan of hot water, I set it on the linoleum floor. Gently, I lifted his fragile feet into the basin.

I soaked a rag with water. As I knelt before him, I expected to feel his sour breath against my hair, but the air remained still as death. This sent chills up my spine.

The shivers settled around my neck when I proceeded to wash his legs. Tufts of skin and fascia fell away from his calves, leaving behind naked bones. Within minutes, the water turned deep red. When I looked up, he was removing his scrub shirt. I screamed when the glow from the overhead light fell on his sunken chest. For a moment, my surroundings blurred. I squeezed my eyes shut, waiting for the dizziness to pass, but the image burned into my mind. I opened my eyes again.

The skin on his chest had withered and blistered, with ribs poking between the open sores. A gaping hole near his sternum revealed splintered bone and flesh crusted with dried blood. Streaks of blue and red laced his skin around his upper torso. I probed under his bony chin, knowing that I wouldn’t find a pulse. The skin broke, oozing greenish pus.

“No, no,” I wept, drawing back my fingers. I stood up and backed toward the sink. My mind whirled, trying to decide if I was going crazy. Maybe I was asleep, having the granddaddy of nightmares. “You can’t be real.”

“You brought me here,” my companion said in a reasonable voice. “How can you deny my existence?”

“Dead people can’t—they aren’t supposed to come back to life.” My voice rose and fell, hitching with sobs. “Who are you? What are you?”

“I think you already know, Susan,” he said. “I’m not dead yet. I’m dying by inches.”

He reached toward me, with his shirt in hand. Flakes of skin fell from his mottled arms like grisly rain. I looked at his shirt. A faded tag under its collar said, “Property of Fairview Hospital.” I turned it over, imagining what the shirt looked like new, and …

The memory came back to me like a vision. The shirt had belonged to Gary, the therapist whom I’d gotten fired, the one who’d called me a witch. His savings had run out, and he ended up on the street, shot and beaten to death.

“No, Gary,” I stammered. “Who did this to you?”

His eyes narrowed, and a tremble flickered over his lips. “I pulled the trigger because I saw how hopeless my life had become. Like you, I’ve lost someone dear to me. Like you, I’ve had to pay for my mistakes.” His head tilted sideways. “Mistakes caused by liquor.”

Sudden fire burned in my chest, melting my frozen heart. The terror I’d felt fled, and utter longing took its place. Love. Whatever his body had become, I saw the pain of unrequited love on his face. For the moment, I forgot that my visitor was a dead man. I forgot everything except the love blooming afresh in my bitter soul.

“What?” I gasped. “How did you know …?”

“You’d be surprised at what a person learns after death. I never knew, until my passing, that loneliness wears many disguises. For example, your anger toward people. Do you remember the day?”

The love I felt burned into my very heart, melting my thoughts and feelings. Images rose from the smoke, memories of the days I’d worked with Gary. Worked on Gary. His eyes held a blank look, like someone who’d wandered into a black hole. Did Gary drink because I’d broken his spirit? “I came down hard on you,” I said at last, “because your work had gotten sloppy. What did liquor have to do with that?”

“I’d gotten wasted the night before, and a nurse complained that she smelled whiskey on my breath. I failed a breathalyzer test. Human Resources offered counseling, and I refused because I didn’t want people at work knowing my business. So they fired me, and no other hospital would hire me.” Gary affected a deep sigh. “My wife told me to get lost. My mother refused to help because I reminded her of my father, who’d lost jobs because of his drinking. She called me a bad seed.”

From deep within the darkness of my closed eyes, I felt Gary’s hand on my shoulder. I wept noiseless sobs, tears for Gary and myself. When I opened my eyes again, I gazed at his drawn face. I recognized his heartache, having seen it in my mirror enough times.

“After my marriage went sour, it was like I went to a dark place, where no one could get to me.”

“I’ve lived in that place,” I said quietly.

“I know you have,” he said. “I want to thank you for your honesty. Harsh as you were, you told me the truth when no one else would. I owe you for that.”

Gary rose to his feet. “I must go now and rest.”

“Don’t leave,” I begged tearfully. “We’ve left so much unsaid.”

“No, we haven’t,” he said. “I couldn’t rest until I made my peace with you. You’ve made every aching step worth it.”

I had nothing more to say. Silence could describe my feelings; words could not. He turned and crossed the kitchen. After opening the door, he melted into the shadows on my porch. A heartbeat later, he was gone. His clacking footsteps became a memory.

I tried to picture Gary. I wanted his face to be etched forever in my mind. His papery skin and ragged hair. The bottomless pupils on a withered face. The self-inflicted wound on his chest, where the bullet had left an open hole as if he’d sliced something from his body. I tried to imagine angel wings where only rotting flesh remained.

After some time, I got up and headed to the window, hoping to see Gary one last time. Outside, a full moon cast silver shadows on the snow-covered streets. Scattered stars surrounded the moon, glittering like jagged diamonds. Or like my shattered heart of ice. Somewhere the shouts of celebration drifted from the streets. The end of the old year. The start of the new.

Only this year, I loved.

****

To give you a flavor of my brand of horror, I took “Bad Seed” from my City of Brotherly Death Collection. Hope you enjoyed it. 🙂

Commenters are eligible to win a copy of When Blood Reigns.

Interview with Eppie Award Finalist Chris Bauer

Scars on the Face of God is an intrguing dark fantasy by Chris BauerToday, I am pleased to be interviewing Chris Bauer. His debut novel, Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible has drawn attention from the National Writers Association and other media since its publication in November, 2009. He wrote this one with passion, addressing the mysteries of faith and fear, creating a plot that sizzles with suspense and tension. His work has earned 5-star reviews on Amazon asking for more, and he has made finalist for a 2009 Eppie award. So let’s hear what Chris has to say about the marketing process and future work.

BARBARA: I heard Scars on the Face of God: The Devil’s Bible made you a finalist for the 2010 EPIC award. Could you tell the readers a little about SCARS and how the publishing process went for you?

CHRIS: Yes, Scars is a finalist for the aforementioned award (awards were formerly known as “Eppies”) as best eBook horror novel of 2009. Winners will be announced in March 2010 at the EPICon Convention in New Orleans.

The elevator speech: Church caretaker Wump Hozer, 65, survived a knockabout childhood as an orphan and a stint in prison (nickname is from the sound a crowbar makes when it hits a man’s head) with the help of his beloved wife Viola. He’s lost his faith and has given up on one front, the Catholic Church, the Church having ignored the local monsignor’s salacious behavior. On a second front he’s taking matters into his own hands, looking for satisfaction against a tannery that is dumping waste into the local water supply, something Wump is sure has caused his son’s leukemia. What he doesn’t count on is resurrecting a nineteenthcentury hysteria that leads to confronting what may or may not be the anti-Christ. It’s old-school horror, suspense and mystery set in 1964 in the fictitious town of Three Bridges, PA, just outside Philadelphia.

The novel took three years to complete – think “day job,” then over a year to interest a publisher in it. Publisher Drollerie Press is an engine-that-could small press that delivers stories steeped in legend and fairy tale. Inspired by The Devil’s Bible, a thirteenth century religious artifact that according to legend was written in one night with the help of the Devil, the novel was a natural fit for the publisher. Available first as an eBook, Scars was also released as a trade paperback on 12/1/2009.

BARBARA: I read your excerpt and was intrigued, enough to want a print copy when I next visit Doylestown. What motivated the title?

CHRIS: Religious instruction during my formative years included talk of God’s perfect face. Hell, that sounds so sanitized. The grade school nuns and their discipline around having us learn our catechism drilled this and other teachings into our fertile young minds. But common sectarian sense (such a thing?) might say that if the anti-Christ expects to confront the Almighty, it’s only natural he’d want to scar his face up a bit, know what I’m saying? But I honestly can’t remember exactly how/when the title popped into my head. Best guess is it came from one early-morning Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-fueled epiphany or another.

BARBARA: I suspect Scars required a fair amount of research. How did you go about it? 

CHRIS: The novel took shape in three areas. First, I began questioning what I recalled to be an abnormal cluster of impaired children I knew during my northeast Philadelphia childhood. Couple that with having just read Jonathan Harr’s non-fiction A Civil Action which chronicled the alleged effects of dumping carcinogens into the environment by corporations with leather tannery operations in the small town of Woburn, MA. Subsequent research taught me that there was a proliferation of leather tanneries around the Philadelphia region in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. (Be advised here that the tannery waste dumping issues and the impact they have on the novel’s Philadelphia setting is strictly fictitious.) When I learned through a writer friend of mine that tanning leather was hastened by the introduction of dog feces into the process, I endowed my protagonist’s childhood with a neighborhood doggie-dung-for-dollars (actually pennies) business.

Second, my social worker wife Terry told me that in the mid to late nineteenth century there weren’t enough U. S. laws to protect children from abuse by their parents. [Alert! Graphic image coming!] Child protection groups cite anecdotally that orphanages were built in some urban environments simply because the local sewer systems couldn’t handle the volume of infant bodies being discarded into them by poor families with too many mouths to feed. Plus, since there weren’t enough laws to stop such barbarism, it wasn’t uncommon for some of the citizenry to resort to invoking local animal rights/abuse statutes and penalties in attempts to stem this and other child mistreatment when it was discovered.

Third, the movie The Devil’s Advocate (Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves) produced an “aha” moment when Pacino’s Satan talks of rewriting history. It made me ask if religious history had ever been recorded from Satan’s viewpoint. A quick internet search produced The Devil’s Bible (aka Codex Gigas aka The Giant Book) mentioned earlier. This legendary tome became a plot anchor.

BARBARA: How did your signings go at Doylestown and Claymont? What are the advantages of working with an independent bookstore?

CHRIS: Had a great time at both. My post-signings Facebook entry: “Sign this, eat that, smile here, no, smile here, is there a real Devil’s Bible, can my eight-year-old read this (no), it cost what?!!, can I get the recipe for the cookies, you look mean in your picture, you’re shorter than I thought, nice poster.” Thanks to all who were able to stop by. I ENJOYED EVERY BIT OF IT.

Working with the independents is a more personal experience for both the author and the customer. Independent owners are in it more for their love of the literature itself, much as authors are. They’re readers and writers and community organizers and charity-givers and neighbors. And authors love the independents for the same reason actors like to do stage work: it’s more of an up-close and personal venue for serious, dedicated readers to interact with the authors they follow.

BARBARA: What suggestion would you give authors trying to market their first novel?

CHRIS: They need to realize that it won’t sell itself. That there’s a reason why agents and publishers are so damn picky: NOBODY KNOWS YOU. That even those of you with major publishing deals will still end up doing most of the work. That there’s a direct relationship between face time (internet based or other) and reader interest. The standards: you need a website; you need to blog, which I do woefully little of; you need to join Facebook, MySpace, Goodreads, Librarything, Shelfari, any place where readers and writers will friend each other because they, ah, read and/or write. If your book lends itself to identification with a group or a community organization or hometown, exploit the connection. Case in point: writer friend of mine author Marie Lamba (What I Meant…, an excellent YA title from Random House with a bi-ethnic teenage protagonist) does talks for Girl Scout troops. This has produced mucho publicity for her. I’m still looking for this type of plank for my platform. My novel has too much explicit language, violence and fright material for me to consider a marketing venue like the Scouts, however. Even knowing there are some less impressionable Scouts out there who no doubt already read graphic comics, pulp fiction and the like with their Scout-issue penlights at night, I of course can’t market directly to them. But you get the idea; these types of venues are of interest. I am accepting suggestions.

BARBARA: Like me, you’ve had the benefit of The Writers’ Coffeehouse meetings and forum. Have you taken any of Jonathan Maberry’s nine-month writing courses? How has Jonathan and other well-published authors influenced your writing?

CHRIS: My Jonathan Maberry exposure has been limited to the wonderfully interactive Writers’ Coffeehouse meetings plus one very nice gesture Jonathan made to me. A few years back he went out of his way to deliver on the spoils of winning a horror contest, this after the group hosting the contest had closed its doors due to financial issues. FYI my winning entry for this contest was the first chapter of Scars.

One other horror author I’m enamored with is Dean Koontz, this because of his Odd Thomas series and the terrific voice he’s given this twenty-something I-see-dead-people fry-cook protagonist. Great storytelling on Odd’s part. And this character’s first person POV delivery forced Mr. Koontz into more of a minimalistic approach with his prose, keeping the storylines on task and less literary, something I found refreshing.

BARBARA: Where may someone get information on the Devil’s Bible, other than the Library at Sweden?

CHRIS: Plenty of info on the internet. Pictures, background, real and legendary history. When Googling the topic you’ll also find it returned to the country of its origin, the Czech Republic, in early 2008 to be displayed for a short time. And the National Geographic Channel did a documentary on it which they occasionally repeat. I’ve never seen the show since my cable company doesn’t carry the channel and Blockbuster didn’t have it on disk the last time I checked, but I’m on the lookout for it.

BARBARA: Do you have any sequels in the works? 

CHRIS: Pardon the pun, but it’s a long story. The short answer is maybe. I loved doing Wump Hozer’s voice so much that I feel I need to bring him back. My first novel The Rabbit, Stilled, unpublished as so many first novels are, actually begins where Scars left off (yes, this potential sequel in large measure had been written before the original) but with no Wump. And it’s a mainstream novel, not horror. Acknowledging that these are two formidable challenges to overcome in making The Rabbit, Stilled a sequel to Scars, I can only say “We’ll see.”

BARBARA: I notice you have a WIP: Hop Skip Jump. How is that work going for you?

CHRIS: I love the story but the writing’s not moving along as fast as I’d like. It’s a paranormal mystery about reincarnation and what might happen if a person returns to a place and time where she’s needed the most. I’m about midway through the first draft. Haven’t really tried to market it on spec. I’d much rather it be finished so I can deliver on any interest it might generate.

BARBARA: What do you think the future holds for horror / dark fantasy / SF and other genre fiction sales?

CHRIS: The future’s plenty bright for the dark arts for sure. Just look at the popularity of zombies and vampires and wizards. I do have a short story I’m just starting to shop called Zombie Chimps from Mars. Yep, we’re covering a few bases with this one: the walking dead; monkeys (they like to throw their own, ahem, excrement; how cool is that?); and a hint of fantasy/sci-fi. And while these topics are all worked into this 2000-word piece, I feel the story is about something else entirely.

Barbara, in closing, I want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to talk shop with you. Folks can check out my website or reach me at cntbauer1@msn.com. Continued success with all your writing endeavors, and wishing good things for all of us in 2010.

Chris Bauer
Scars on the face of god: The Devil’s Bible, a novel by C. G. Bauer
http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780979808173
http://drolleriepress.com/books/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=8&products_id=37
http://cgbauer.net/

Interview with Stoker Award Winner Marge Simon

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Marge Simon has mastered many talents – poetry, art, editing, short stories, and…cooking. She edits the journal Star*Line. Her collaboration on Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet with Charlee Jacob won a Bram Stoker Award in 2008. She has received the Rhysling Award for her poetry, and the James award for her illustrations. When she’s not writing or painting, she enjoys catering to the monsters we know and love and will be happy to share her recipe for Zombie’s Delight. So tonight, I will chat with Marge about her writing and other talents.

BARBARA: That meal you’ve got going is a zombie’s delight. So yes, you’ve got me curious about the recipe.

MARGE: All right, Barbara, Zombie’s Delight is a secret family recipe which I’ve been given permission to reveal only once:

Purchase hand fresh from your local Hand Stand. Make sure it is tender by pinching the skin. A male hand, bone in, is best; some female hands, if adequate, will suffice.

Prep hand with garlic salt. Boil five minutes on medium heat. Drain juice, put aside.

Place in large kettle. Combine 2 cups chopped celery, 1/2 cup diced liverwurst, 6 used bandages (preferably gauze), 1/3 cup toenail clippings, 1 egg, slightly beaten, 5 cups watery plasma, 2 tbsp. Saki, 1 cup wallpaper paste. Pour over hand. Cover. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. You’ll know when it has the right consistency. Remove from heat. Chill one hour. Pour or scrape into baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 3-5 hours, or until the aroma becomes overwhelming.

Serve warm with the au jus you set aside and probably forgot about.

BARBARA: Moving onto writing – I noticed you used your own illustrations for Vectors as you did with Artist of Antithesis. Many publishers prefer to assign their own cover art to their books. How did you approach the publisher about using your own?

MARGE: In both cases you mention, the editor/publisher knew I was/am an artist. In fact, I’ve never had a problem with providing cover art for my collections. As fate may bring luck, I’ve also illustrated five Bram Stoker winners. But I don’t for a minute think that it was on the strength of my art that the publication won.

BARBARA: How did collaborating work out for you and Charlee Jacob during your work on Vectors? What are the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration?

MARGE: Here’s how it happened. Charlee had written a series of poems about an apocalyptic virus that went global, infecting every mortal on this planet. In May of 2007, she invited me to join her as a kindred voice in this collection, as I have written numerous poems along the same lines.

Problems with collaborations? Charlee and I had no problems between us. If you want me to make this more exciting, Charlee and I had crazed fits and vowed to never to speak to each other again. I refused to change a single word, and so did she. But that isn’t so.

BARBARA: From what I’ve seen in Night to Dawn, you wear several hats: illustrator, poet, and fiction writer. Which one do you like best?

MARGE: I like them all. I also wear an editor’s hat (for Star*Line, digest for the SF Poetry Association). Then there is my TV talk show: DEADLY SURVIVORS and my Food Channel show: DYING TO EAT.

Oh, as for the other hats–I love multitasking. I’m happiest having something going in all departments.

BARBARA: I notice that you’ve collaborated with other artists for the Night to Dawn illustrations. How does collaborating work for illustrations, especially if you and the other artist live miles apart?

MARGE: Cathy Buburuz (Saskatchewan, Canada) and I “met” thanks to ETOU magazine, about 1989. I was so intrigued by a cover she did, I had to get acquainted. We started collaborating long distance snail mail in the 90’s. I thought her excellent designs would work well with my (then) stylized pen/ink line and vice versa. She agreed, and for about a decade, we continued to work on art–mostly dark fantasy. She would send me about five or more unfinished compositions or vice versa. Cathy marketed our collaborations both in the USA and abroad. It was a wonderful experience, which continues with our work that she still has available.

Today, you don’t need to wait weeks to do collaborations, thanks to the Internet. I can’t think of anyone else that I’ve collaborated with in a long time, and I don’t do digital art, though I now use Photoshop for enhancing my paintings/illustrations.

BARBARA: What has been the most challenging part of the writing/illustration process?

MARGE: Leaping off very small buildings (outhouses) to get attention on U-Tube. Singing shocking songs in London Square. Pointing at my own paintings/book display, saying, “OMG!!”

Seriously, “challenging” is a personal word for me. I challenge myself. I know what I think I can do. Sometimes it’s a nice surprise. Other times, I see I’ve gone over the top and need to scrap it.

Writing a novel would be a real challenge for me. But I’ve always tended to write flash fiction–that’s a fun challenge. A book would be too much like work, and besides, I’ve a short attention span. (That is my excuse, anyway!)

BARBARA: When did you first get into writing? Where did you get your first credit?

MARGE: If you mean professionally, that’s hard to say. I’d guess somewhere in the mid-80’s. Which makes me old enough to be a witch. My first big (to me) credit was Bradley Strahan’s Visions, Black Buzzard Press. It was an all SF theme, and I’d never written a SF poem until that time –never even heard of one. Wrote one anyway. He took it. After that, I got into Amazing Stories with poetry. Around the same time, I started doing pen/ink stylized art –mostly dark which was well-accepted. My style and media are constantly evolving; I prefer watercolor with oil or watercolor pencils nowadays.

BARBARA: Which contemporary authors would you recommend to readers who love dark fantasy?

MARGE: Peter Beagle, Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Ted Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Bruce Boston, Gene O’Neill, Stephen King, Elizabeth Massie, Cormac McCarthy, to name a few writers of dark sf and fantasy. I know this may be contradictory, considering my recipe and lifestyle, but horror per se doesn’t appeal to me.

BARBARA: What do you believe the future holds for dark fantasy and supernatural thrillers? Will ebooks replace paperbacks, do you think?

MARGE: Don’t know. But as for what I hope–NO. A book is to be held and cradled, if you will. A book can be laid down on a surface where you know what it is by the cover and then you pick it up and start reading it again. You can have a personal relationship while reading it. A book has its own smell. It gives you secrets.

BARBARA: What advice would you give to aspiring authors and illustrators?

MARGE: Never marry a musician.

 

 

Interview with Author Sharon Maria Bidwell, Writer of Dark and Light Fiction

NightsinPinkSatin

Tonight, I am honored to talk with prolific author Sharon Maria Bidwell, who hails from Britain. Her latest, Nights in Pink Satin, has just been released as of June 19. She writes in slipstream, romance, horror, gothic, cross-genre, and other genres. Though she is best known for her longer works, her short stories have appeared in many magazines, including Sam’s Dot Publishing, Night to Dawn, Roadworks, Epiphany Magazine, and others. Her secret to success? She takes the bull by the horns and writes away…

BARBARA: Congratulations on your new release, Nights in Pink Satin. Tell me a little about your book.

SHARON: NIPS (as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Vincent, a vampire, who is as old as the hills and essentially bored. He fills his time with little diverting pleasures such as the annual ball for which he’s seeking a new coffin. When he assumes a female vampire has placed an order for a pink coffin lining he mistakenly breaks into the home of a young gay vampire called Martin. Martin is so painfully lonely that at first you think he’ll be a pushover for any attention that Vincent bestows on him but like most of us there’s a moment when we’ll speak up for ourselves. Vincent’s in for a few surprises. Vincent is also lonely but he’s not aware of it in quite the same way as Martin is and yet the meeting changes his awareness. The result makes for an interesting, humourous, and quirky love story.

If anyone is interested, I have to thank fellow British author, Fiona Glass, for drawing my attention to a news story of an abandoned coffin. As you can see from the news article, the lining looked rather “pink”. It was the spark for my idea. You’ll also notice it’s quite an old piece of news. I just didn’t have time to finish it until this year: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/norfolk/6590769.stm

BARBARA: How do your readers react to your writing in diverse genres?

SHARON: I’d have to say I receive mixed reactions. There are readers who will focus on one aspect of my work and there are some who want to hear about all the things I do, even if they don’t always read it. They may try a story out of their “comfort zone” and so far (fingers crossed), I’ve always received a favourable response when they do. I don’t expect every reader to like or even show an interest in everything I do. I don’t expect a reader of my gay romances to read a heterosexual romance (or menage) or vice versa, and I don’t expect them to seek out my darker stories.

I can’t and won’t say I’ve been “sidetracked” by the romance genre (although I also write various sub-genres within that category) because that makes it sound as if I perceive it to be something I’m doing until something better comes along. I’m saying that because I think early on a couple of mistaken individuals made that assumption. I’m as surprised as anyone to be writing what I’m writing but I’m delightfully surprised, and while I’ve many GLBT titles to date, I do hope to write more het titles too (I have another due later this year). I also hope to get back to writing some of my darker stories (although I believe some of my romances can be darker and deeper than some readers expect).

If I could write exactly the way I wanted to write, I’d do exactly what I’m doing now…I’d just be able to clone myself and have about three avenues of writing open to me on a regular basis. The problem is finding time for them all and there are moments when life itself interferes.

BARBARA: What motivated you to begin writing?

SHARON: Love of books. Life. I didn’t have an easy childhood. It can’t be easy when one parent suffers ill-heath and my mother had many personal and physical problems, yet one of my earliest memories is of her reading to me. I still have many of those books. She even taught me to read where my school failed but that’s a longer story. Books were always my friends. They never let me down. Books enabled me to live through so many adventures, several lifetimes in one. I think to be a full-time writer would be the best job in the world, even though like any job you have your good and bad days. Anyone who doesn’t think writing is work has it wrong.

BARBARA: What do you find most challenging about the writing process?

SHARON: What springs to mind is time. Just finding the time. The truth is most writers have at least a part-time if not full-time job and even if you don’t there’s everyday life, family and friends to consider. Maybe that’s not the dream everyone wants to hear of but it’s the truth. Writing is a solitary pursuit and sometimes it’s difficult to be solitary, especially if it doesn’t come naturally to you.

What’s difficult about the process itself? I’d have to say waiting for or seeking out that one thing that makes a story special. I’m not even going to pretend that I manage to do that every time. You can take any plot and break it down into basics, but there’s got to be “something” that clicks into place, that changes a story that has been written a million times before and turns it into someting that will stick in a reader’s mind, make it memorable, even haunting. Not all stories can or even need to do this but they are the ones readers will keep for a lifetime.

BARBARA: What books would you recommend to aspiring writers?

SHARON: Ah…now you’re asking me to give away all my secrets. LOL. Hmm…oh god, you really are! I wouldn’t buy most of the ‘how to write’ books out there…or, to put it another way, do be selective. They can be entertaining and most have “something” to offer but you’ll read an awful lot of books to glean very little information from each. I’m not saying they’re worthless but there comes a point when you have to accept that’s time you can spend writing.

I’d tell every aspiring author that they may think they understand punctuation and grammar but check they really do know what they’re talking about. I’d recommend “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” by Lynne Truss. You’ve probably heard all about this book but really, everyone should read this because if nothing else, it highlights the woefully poor attitude to the subject. If you think a publisher never turned down a story owing to terrible punctuation and grammar, think again! A few errors can be overlooked — it’s what editors, line editors, and proofers are there for — but if a writer displays a lack of care and disinterest in how they present their work, many publishers notice. Penguin produce a good punctuation guide and another good book I’ve recently come across is “My Grammar and I (or should that be me)” by Caroline Taggart and J.A.Wines. If you really can’t stomach the convoluted methods of learning grammar that applied in my grandmother’s day (and really who can?) then this is a lighthearted educational way to look at an old approach that works. Even so, I’m not going to pretend to be a punctuation or grammar expert. The one thing I excelled in at school was spelling but I’m not going to pretend I never put a comma in the wrong place. The damn things just love to slip in when you’re not looking.

For plotting, if you can find a copy (which was difficult last time I searched) check out “Plot & Structure” by James Scott Bell. The fact is stories do follow patterns, and even if you want to break the patterns up, recreate the universe as we know it, like any rule you wish to break, it’s best to know exactly what the rule is in order to know how best to break it. I haven’t read many books on personal success stories. However, I did find “Sometimes the Magic Works” by Terry Brooks very entertaining, and to contradict something I said above, if you wish to specialise in a particular subject, be it for example, poetry, children’s books, or crime, I would look for a “how-to” book focusing on that specific genre. Learn your market. Learn how to research.

BARBARA: I know a few writers who are also illustrators, and on your website, you mentioned an interest in drawing. Have you explored that interest?

SHARON: Only as a way to relax, and alas, I get little time for it these days and I am woefully out of practice. I have been playing around a little with illustrating in case I ever decide to self-publish something, but that’s mostly with digital programmes. We moved last year and I’ve been knocking down a dilapidated garage. Don’t laugh. Yes, I’ve actually been wielding a sledgehammer! The plan is to have a summerhouse put up in its place very soon and as well as a place to enjoy the garden, read, write, and entertain, I want to use it as space for drawing. My father died a couple of years ago and left an entire art course. I want to follow that coursework. With drawing even more than writing, I can forget what day it is, and even how much time is passing. Nothing else exists apart from the project in front of you. You forget all your worries. I’m thinking that maybe I don’t manage that so often with writing because there’s a certain amount of “worry” involved in that kind of creation. The drawing is really just for me. The writing is for sharing.

BARBARA: How would you define slipstream writing?

SHARON: Difficult to define. LOL. It’s writing that slips around the edges of and takes from a variety of genres, containing elements of more than one or even many.

BARBARA: How did you make the transition from short story to novel writing?

SHARON: It was actually sort of the other way around. I always wanted to write novels and plunged straight into them but none ever pleased me. I’ve since realised I needed to learn the craft of writing first in order to support my storytelling ability. I seldom wrote short stories. I think I felt as my father did that no sooner had he got into them than they were finished. Then I decided to take a creative writing course. Because of the nature of the course, I had to submit shorter work and my emphasis changed to short stories. I would recommend every writer to write short stories. The process teaches you how to be concise with your writing, how to characterise swiftly, how to make a story more vibrant. You stretch this process out somewhat when writing a novel but you learn so much from writing short stories and even grow to appreciate them more. A good short story can haunt you as much as any novel can. I don’t think I would have ever written a publishable novel if it hadn’t been for writing short stories.

BARBARA: What advice would you give aspiring writers about time management?

SHARON: I am NOT the person to ask. I wish someone could teach me. The internet is a blessing and curse as it can be terribly distracting. I try to write before I check email etc but then I can’t write because I’m wondering if I have email. Then I’ll see to that only to think “I’ll just pop into that forum…or drop a good friend a line…or maybe I ought to do a bit of promo…or I could see what books I could add to my towering to-be-read pile.” I struggle with time and my worst trait is procrastination, although once I get caught up in a story I can type for hours, forget to eat or drink, and come away from the keyboard feeling physically and mentally shattered.

BARBARA: Where may someone purchase print or ebook copies of your works?

SHARON: My longer works are in ebook formats from my publishers and I’d prefer readers to purchase from the official sites:

http://www.loose-id.com/authors/q-t/sharon-maria-bidwell.html

http://changelingpress.com/author.php?uid=129

http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=144

These publishers also use subsidiary outlets such as Fictionwise, All Romance eBooks, and Lightning Source. A couple of my titles are available on Amazon’s Kindle. If you see any listed elsewhere they’ve probably been pirated. Please don’t purchase from pirates or take part in file sharing. It’s illegal and the writer receives nothing. My short stories are mostly in small press magazines available from individual outlets.

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