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. 🙂

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Interview with Author & Essayist Minnie E. Miller

Seduction of Mr. Bradley features dark fantasy by Minnie E. MillerTonight, I’d like to talk with Minnie E. Miller, author of The Seduction of Mr. Bradley, Forever My Love, and Catharsis. Having worked for San Francisco’s Mayor, Atlanta’s City Council, and Chicago’s WMAQ TV’s newsroom, Minnie has acquired a strong interest in politics which blends in with the fiction / fantasy on her printed page. Mr. Bradley has earned several 4 and 5-star reviews. I’ve had the pleasure of reading her books and found them entertaining and at the same time thought-provoking. Minnie will be discussing her books and marketing strategies, so let’s hear what she has to say.

BARBARA: What motivated your writing of The Seduction of Mr. Bradley? Can you give a brief summary?

MINNIE: I had a conversation with a gay man about alternative lifestyles (because I’m nosy) and in thinking back, discovered I knew a man who was bisexual and put what I understood in the novel. I did not interview the man. Bisexuals will not publicly admit their lifestyle.

Bill Bradley is adopted and mentored by Ted Grassley from high school to manhood. Ted is a CEO with deep pockets. Although married for forty years, he is bisexual. Bill, caught in the throws of Ted’s lifestyle, complicates matters when he meets Jina Cook, a straight, attractive young lady. The two feel an instant attraction toward each other, but both try to pretend it is not happening. Finally, Jina makes the first move, and Bill knows he can’t live without the woman. Unfortunately, Bill has a big secret; he is bisexual and finds himself torn between Jina and Ted – his male lover and father figure. This spontaneous and deeply gratifying tryst throws him off balance. When Mr. Bradley reveals his bisexuality to the only woman he’s ever loved, an emotional war erupts.

BARBARA: You’ve done so well with your characterization in Mr. Bradley and Catharsis. Where did you get your ideas for some of these characters?

MINNIE: I answered where my my idea for Mr. Bradley came from in question 1, above. Also I started writing Mr. Bradley from a female POV, but when his voice became stronger, I switched the protagonist to Bill. I also researched bisexuality and visited many Bi sites. The novel does not bash alternative lifestyles; it’s about love and humankind.

Catharsis, three short stories, was my first book ever. Looking back, I think it came about because I was angry about slavery and with corporate America – corporations are one group listed under vampires! The last short story in Catharsis, “Connecting,” was taken from another MS I was working on and came from my heart.

BARBARA: Could you talk a little about your forthcoming releases?

MINNIE: Whispers From The Mirror is a paranormal novel. Protagonist Brianna Deville is a feminist/activist. Mother Belle raises her to be a strong, independent woman. In deference to her mother, she lives most of her life hiding behind the mask of a feminist until she learns mother abandoned her for a career she tethers Brianna to. She hears her biological clock ticking and knows she is at a crossroad in her life. Mirror-lady, an apparition, counsels Brianna and tells her the truth about her role as a feminist and how it has inhibited  her. The ghost is a strong sub-character who nearly steals the story. She has quite a sense of humor.

I’m rewriting “Forever My Love” into a novel. It’s an Amazon Short and still available online. Vampire Lucien is lonely and searches the world, looking for his soul mate. He finds Christina in an opera house in California and mentally seduces her. During their many visits together, she is unaware that he is a vampire and falls in love with him. Unbeknown to her, he stalks her, enters her bedroom in the night and telepathically plants his lovemaking into her mind. Christina has no idea what awaits her. Lucien vows to have her at any cost.

I would like to release both novels in mid-2010.

ForeverMyLove features more dark fantasyBARBARA: You’ve talked about editing on your blog and website. What tips can you give on how an author should approach an editor?

MINNIE: Areas of expertise, price, and schedule are all-important in choosing an editor.  Learn how the editor charges and compare it with your budget. I think it important that you discuss your plot. Some editors will not work on certain stories. Also, ask about their clients – most will put their client list on their website. Ask friends for references. IMO, an editor is very important to your work and I won’t slack on the cost, but I demand the best results for my work.

BARBARA: The economy has had a big effect on publishing houses – staff cutbacks and the like. Do you think that more and more authors will opt for self-publishing?

MINNIE: I’ve seen this happening. I’m even looking at e-Publishing, but haven’t found the connection yet. However I publish, I’ll use three avenues: paperbacks, eBooks and reading machines like Kindle. When publishing houses come out of their tortoise shell – understand that publishing is a business that requires a profit – like the turtle, they will be slow in taking on new authors. They more than likely will work from their “A and B list” and new authors are rarely on these lists.

BARBARA: Have you given any thoughts to e-Book publishing? As the economy changes, will e-Books become the wave of the future?

MINNIE: No doubt e-Books are now. The future is now. I’m going to look into it.

BARBARA: What advice would you give an author hoping to market their books?

MINNIE: Get a website; a blog would also help. Work within social net sites. I would save enough money to hire a public relations person unless you’re good with marketing. You will need a book distributor; they are expensive but necessary. Get on online talk shows; there are hundreds out there! I don’t do too many book signings unless they are in my city. Rarely will a book signing cover the cost of table, transportation and hotel room. You could spend as much as $1,200 and sell maybe five books. That said, try to make at least one book fair a year so that people get to know the face connected with the book. Make your book information and website a permanent part of your e-mail, a tag line.

BARBARA: What would you consider to be the most challenging part of your writing?

MINNIE: Personal editing and rewriting after a professional edit. Understand that you cannot see your errors, but you can try to clean up the MS before sending it to a professional editor. I use two editors: developmental and proofreader. It would work well if you could find an editor who will copy edit and proofread. Your next challenge is marketing – it’s your job regardless as to how your book is published. Publishers WILL NOT market your book for you. Yeah, they’ll put you on their list of authors but beyond that, it’s your job to push your novel.

BARBARA: Do you have any signings or radio interviews coming up?  When?

MINNIE: A friend has asked me to have a book signing of Mr. Bradley at her boutique this September. Her boutique is seven blocks from my apartment. Ha! I also plan to have two online radio interviews when my new books drop in 2010.

BARBARA: Where may people get copies of your books?

MINNIE: As of this year, The Seduction of Mr. Bradley is no longer available on www.amazon.com, and Catharsis is not carried on B&N any longer. I have copies of both books in my apartment. Contact me by email at minnie247@sbcglobal.net or http://www.millerscribs.com. I accept PayPal payments or money orders.

Interview with Award-winning Author Denyse Bridger

Tonight, I will be chatting with Author Denyse Bridger, whose tales and characters have enchanted many readers. A prolifice writer, she has penned close to 400+ short stories and novellas. Her dark fantasy works have earned her Eppie finalist in 2006; finalist for 2008 Prix Aurora Award, Book Lovers Cover Best Book Award (2009) and others.  So let’s hear what Denyse has to say about her creative genus and methods to her success.

BARBARA: I understand you’ve partnered with Branscombe Richmond to write motorcycle adventures (modern-day Westerns). How is that going, and how does it feel writing in a different genre?

DENYSE: This isn’t really a different genre for me, I’ve been in love with traditional Westerns for most of my life, so it’s relatively smooth to take the adventure and mindset, and project it forward to the 21st century. As Branscombe said when he proposed this, just replace horses with motorcycles and go from there. It’s working beautifully!

BARBARA: I see you’re working on a tale set in Italy. I’ve been there myself and find it a perfect atmosphere for romance. Have you gone there for your research/ How do you research other settings?

DENYSE: I have not been to Italy, but again we’re talking about something that has been an on-going love affair for me virtually my entire life. There is something so perfect about this country, the culture, and the amazing spirit of the people of Italia. They embody romance on all levels, with their passion for art, and love, and ‘la dolce vita! I hope one day to visit this dream place, so hopefully one day I can sit on a balcony in Sorrento, look out at the Bay of Naples, and write the magic. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than that. For the moment, I use pictures, read many books, rent DVDs, and drive my Italian friends crazy with questions that they graciously answer for me.

BARBARA: What do you see in the future for e-books versus paperbacks?

DENYSE: I think the e-market is slowly expanding and becoming more legitimate in the world of books, but there will always be a special kind of attachment to books that you can hold in your hands and touch. For me, I’ve been reading my whole life, and there is nothing quite like the feel of paper and texture in your hands as you settle in to escape to a different world. My first major release was absolute magic to me, to touch it and see it stacked on the table at the launch, walk into stores and see it on the shelf. It’s a feeling that can’t be captured with eBooks, honestly.

It is a general consensus that eBooks are the future of our industry, and it makes sense. Environmentally it’s logical, and from the traveler’s standpoint, it’s amazing. You can take your eReader and carry a hundred books in your hand, and you don’t have to worry about the weight limit from the airline!!

BARBARA: I’ve heard that “horror” has become a taboo label, and people are now calling it dark fantasy or supernatural thriller. What are your feelings on that?

DENYSE: Horror conjures up such negative images, maybe it’s not such a bad thing that the label has become somewhat taboo. Not all dark fantasy is about blood and gore, and that tends to be what people think of when they see the word horror, something that will terrify and sicken in some ways. There’s a brutality to the genre’s subconscious in many people’s minds, and that may be why many authors want a different classification. I think if you are writing supernatural beings, etc., that there is in most cases a redeeming humanity to those characters, and for that reason alone many authors don’t want it called horror. Because it’s not meant to inspire fear but emotional empathy. Horror brings to mind the cinematic kind of mindless violence that makes many stomachs turn, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Chainsaw, things of that nature. I’d rather be thought of as a dark fantasy author than a horror writer, and perhaps many others feel the same way.

BARBARA: What would you recommend for an aspiring author to hone their writing?

DENYSE: Write. Ultimately, that’s the best training there is. Persevere, and keep learning with each piece you write. Don’t listen to your friends and family, listen to what other authors have to say, and what editors have to say. Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect book, just the best book you can produce at the time that you write it. Once it’s done, leave it, take what you’ve learned from it, and make the next one better for what you’ve taken from the experience. If you constantly revisit old books and tweak and work them, you’ll never discover the new adventures that are waiting to be told. None of us are so good that we can’t benefit from honest and constructive opinion. You have to learn to take what works for you, and benefits you, and leave the rest behind. Bad reviews are a way of life, because there is no such thing as a book that is universally brilliant to every person who reads it. Accept that early and you’ll be a much happier author!

BARBARA: What is the once piece of advice you would give to authors trying to market their books?

DENYSE: Take your time and find the right publisher for your book. There is always a niche for what you create, and sometimes a smaller specialized publisher is a better fit than a big publisher, especially early in the writer’s career. So, take advantage of the internet resources and libraries, see where you think your book would find the best editorial acceptance, and fit with the catalog and reputation of the press. It wouldn’t make sense to submit a fantasy tale to a romance publisher, or a thriller to a children’s press, so make sure you’ve chosen well and appropriately.

Once you’ve found the right publisher, you have to then be prepared to be your own biggest cheerleader. The promotion and saleability of your book is in your hands, really. It’s a major job and requires dedication and a lot of time and work, so you have to be prepared to put in a lot more hours than you may realize. It’s a competitive market, and authors abound, so you will be one of many people vying for a reader’s hard-earned dollars and interest/time. Make it worth their time, and they will be loyal and supportive of all you do. Give them a shoddy product and it doesn’t matter if your second effort is worthy of a Pulitzer, you’ve already lost the audience. Treat your readers with respect, and they will never desert you.

BARBARA: I found your “coming soon” attractions intriguing. In particular The House of Secrets. When will this book become available?

DENYSE: With a little luck this book will be available next Spring. There is one more story to finish from the group of contributing authors, then I have to write my part of the tale. Ideally, it will all flow into one smooth, connected story. The Italian title is ‘La Casa di Segreti. And the idea is one that has been in my mind for a couple of years. When I made the decision to propose it to a group of authors, and turn it into an anthology of different voices, they were amazing, and very detailed in their research and dedicated to making the whole thing dovetail nicely. I’m very proud of what they’ve done, and I think readers are going to enjoy a really wonderful book!

BARBARA: Here in the USA, the economy has had a big impact on the way publishing is done. People seem to favor e-books because they are cheaper. Are you noticing this in Canada also?

DENYSE: I really don’t know if there’s been as much impact on the Canadian market, because the stats here show that people are buying more print books than ever, so whether that also means more eBooks, I really couldn’t say with any reasonable certainty.

BARBARA: You’ve been very prolific with your tales. How many hours a day do you spend at the keyboard, and where do you get your energy to keep going?

DENYSE: I tend to spend approx. 12-14 hours a day at work, interrupted by breaks of course. And real-life, which tends some days to make the days turn into 16 hours!!  Seriously, I do spend a lot of time dedicated to either writing, or doing all the things that have become part of the process and are now routine. The promotional posts, blogs, guests, coordinating it all takes time and energy. If you maintain a MySpace, or FaceBook page, those things also eat into the time. It’s all become part of the day to day routine, though, and at the end of it, if I get a few hours of actually writing time in, and see some progress made on a story, then I consider the day a success!

BARBARA: Which book won the Best Book Award, your latest?

DENYSE: Yes, the latest release, Whom Gods Have Favored. It won Best Book Cover in the month of May, and the cover is rather stunning and eye-catching. It was also nominated for The Covey Award in June, so that cover alone is getting lots of attention! I’ve been fortunate, really. This isn’t the first time a book of mine has been in the running for an award. My fantasy novel was a finalist on the ballot for the very prestigious Aurora Award here in Canada. Another erotic contemporary was a finalist for an Eppie; I have won Fan Quality Awards for my early fan fiction, and an international poetry award. My first professional contract was won in a competition, and I haven’t looked back since. Just as my first original fantasy tale was voted Best in Issue in the Reader’s Choice poll for the magazine it was featured in. I’ve been very lucky to have my work recognized and appreciated in this way. Just as I’ve been extremely blessed by the excellent reviews for virtually everything I’ve written.

One of the thing I was most proud of was being asked to be the feature in Sable Grey Magazine, which debuted in February. It was an honor to be part of something so widely read by so many readers. Sable is a wonderful and talented lady, and her friendship is an added bonus to a great professional introduction.

Thanks very much, Barbara, for having me as your guest. I’ll look forward to chatting with your readers, and answering any questions they may have. I hope they’ll drop by my website too. There are lots of fun things on the Freebies page and the Extras! Plus, I co-own a magazine of my own, designed for Readers of Romance. That’s on the links page, Sensual Treats Magazine. All in all, I keep pretty busy!!

Denyse Bridger
Website: http://www.denysebridger.com
My Blog: http://fantasy-pages.blogspot.com
My Passion: http://amoresenzaconfini.blogspot.com
Sensual Treats Magazine: http://www.sensualtreats.webs.com

WhomGodsFavored

 

Interview with Vampire Aficionado Rod Marsden

RodMarsden

Tonight, I would like to chat with author Rod Marsden about his recent release Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand. Rod and I first met years ago when I used to write for his magazines Prohibited Matter and Masque Noir. His magazines have since retired, and now Rod is devoting his writing time to vampires and the nightmares they create.

BARBARA: Did your writing begin with your magazines Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter? What made you interested in writing?

ROD: My interest in writing began with my family trips up north to a fishing village called Iluka. These yearly trips in May, the beginning of the Australian Autumn, were a joyous time. They were a time of exploration. There was bushwalking and swimming. There was fishing and there was reading. I bought my first comic book while on one of these trips and the same is true about the first paperback I read for enjoyment. My dad made an effort to keep us away from television during this time so that we could experience nature and become more of a family. He worked long hours and it was these trips up north that gave us all a chance to reconnect. My parents when they retired moved to Iluka.

I began writing in college for the magazines and newspapers there. Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter were an outlet for the itch. They came around when I had two of the three degrees I would end up with and fewer ways of seeing my writing through to publication. There were other horror titles around I managed to get a piece or two in back in those days. Everyone was struggling.
 
Writing came naturally. The rewriting did not. High School was not a place to show any real interest in that sort of thing. Even today the way well known novels are gone over in the classroom seems wrong. Just how many people have been turned off reading for enjoyment by high school? Now I think maybe we can count the I-pods and mobile phones in use on the train, every train for a clue.
 
Anyway, my early heroes were guys like Stan Lee and Gene Colan. Then came Asimov and Silverberg. I was determined either to become a writer or an artist. I toyed for a short period with becoming an actor.
 
All up, I was a Star Trek fan. When the show and its spin-offs weren’t around I’d gobble up the novels. I would enjoy them on trips up north to see my parents. In my late twenties and early thirties I would head up north with enough Star Trek stuff to choke a horse and whatever else to do with either science fiction or horror I could lay my hands on. Then after consuming other people’s fiction I would sit down and write my own stories. I was also keen on superhero tales and continue to be.
The Buffy series came along and inspired me in a number of ways. I could enjoy the television series with my nieces and nephew. I could give them a Buffy comic book or novel every once in a while as a treat. Buffy took the vampire out of the 19th – early 20th Century mold. This was healthy for the horror genre. I found myself writing vampire stories because of this. All of a sudden vampires became cool again. Twilight might do the same for the present generation of teenagers and uncles. I hope so.
 
If you are not a writer, it is hard to say what makes one want to write. If you are a writer, no explanation is required. There’s a muse at times. Where she comes from and where she goes I cannot say. All that is clear is that she’s around when I do my best work. God’s influence? Who can say for sure? Being in contact with other writers can stimulate you to write.
 
BARBARA: Masque Noir and Prohibited Matter enjoyed good reviews during their run. Any thoughts of revisiting magazine publishing?
 
ROD: No thoughts at all of revisiting the world of magazine publishing. I learnt a lot through my involvement in those magazines and made a lot of friends but I have moved on. Mind you I have kept the friendships. Don Boyd worked with me on the magazines. If he had lived longer we might be reading Don Boyd novels or watching Don Boyd scripted science fiction or horror films.
 
BARBARA: A lot of your tales revolve around sailing. Does your fishing and other interests provide grist for tales?

ROD: I am keen on travel. I would love to visit the USA again and see more of it. I would love to visit England and the rest of Europe for the first time. Right now I use my mind and my pen to travel. What does this have to do with fishing? Well, when you are fishing you spend a lot of time either at sea or looking out to sea. You can’t help wondering what is over the horizon for you and, of course, the horizon after that. Marco Polo grew up where he could look out to sea and I am betting it was true for Chrisopher Columbus. I sometimes travel up and down the mighty Clarence River in northern New South Wales but in a small boat. The boat is too small to challenge the sea which is beyond the mouth of the river. I am not a sailor. If you are looking for an old salt then Diane Carey who writes the occasional Star Trek novel is your person. I write the very occasional tale of adventure at sea but I am not in her league. Right now I have a niece in London and hope to get some great e-mails from her about her adventures there. It will help me to imagine what it would be like to be in modern London. Someday I hope to be there for real.

BARBARA: A lot of writers take the leap from short story writer to novelist. What prompted your interest in vampires?

ROD: Yes, a lot of writers do start off with the short story and work their way to the novel. The short story is a great place to start and also to go back to. It is where you learn your discipline. My interest in vampires began with both the old Universal monster movies and the British Hammer series of horror flicks. Then horror seemed to lose its grip on the public. American authors like Stephen King, who first made a name for himself in a British short story horror series, came to the fore. The zombie movies made out of Hollywood in the late ’60s to the mid-’70s also helped. Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead did a lot to perk up interest.

I have always had an interest in vampires but after a while I really didn’t want to deal with the sort that dresses for the opera and would stand out like a sore thumb just about anywhere in modern society.
Romero was one director who broke with this trend. Steven King with Salem’s Lot also made a break.
 
Then along came the Buffy television series. In this show vampires could come from all walks of life and the same could be said for demons. It opened my eyes to the possibilities as it did other writers.
All up, vampires are very human monsters and I would say that is what really makes them scary. If the writer is good, we see our reflections in their glistening fangs. What we see we may not always like. Writing about very human monsters is a way I can comment about the society I grew up in and the society I am living in now. I do this in my book of short vampire stories and in my novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand.
 
BARBARA: What are the most challenging parts of the creative process?

ROD: The most challenging part of the writing process is the blank page or, for you writers who are wed to your computers, the blank screen. You have plenty to say but where to begin? The best answer is to make a start. If this start doesn’t look to you like a good beginning it might become chapter two or it might end up in the trash. Either way you have to start and keep going until you find your feet. Having a plot in mind or on paper helps. Don’t expect the ending to be the one you originally came up with. As your characters develop so will the plot and so will the ending.

The second most challenging part of the writing process is the character that won’t do what you need him or her to do in order for the plot to work. You have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind telling you that this character is out of place or you want them to do something they are never, ever likely to do and if you don’t come up with a good reason for them doing it then you better find some other character to say the words or do the deed. Oh, and it is a good sign when you do have one of your fictional characters so strong in character they will kick up a stink if you treat them bad.
The third most challenging part of the writing process is often finding the time for both the writing and the re-writing. There are teachers who only tackle the novel once they have retired from teaching.
The next most challenging part of the wrting process is finding a good editor. Writers always need good editors.
The last most challenging part of the writing process is finding someone interested in you as a writer and interested in your latest effort. They have to be interested enough to put your stuff out there. They will be taking a chance, sure, even if you look good, even if you are good, even if you are great.
 
BARBARA: How do you feel about Stephen King and other horror authors?

ROD: Stephen King is good in a number of areas of fiction but he has specialized in horror over the years. Like Hitchcock and Stan Lee he does occasionally appear in movies based on his writing. King’s books on the art of writing are well worth reading.

Lyn McConchie, a New Zealand writer, has been an inspiration. She writes mostly in the pulp style though her Farm Daze series of humorous books on farm life are wonderful. By pulp style I mean like the writers who wrote for the pulp magazines when they were popular. Also like the Star Trek authors. Over the years she has turned her hand to every genre including horror. She is even in the process of putting out a Western novel. She is someone to be admired. And, yes, I do see myself as someone also writing in the pulp tradition.
 
I grew up on Robert E. Howard whose prose is much more colorful than my own. He is best known for creating Conan the Barbarian and also Red Sonja. He wrote some horror short stories and he did come out of the pulps.
 
Tom and Ginger Johnson mostly write adventure stories but delve into horror. They keep the ideas and the ideals of pulp alive in the USA.
Terry Pratchett is not strictly speaking a horror writer. He does, however, use the elements of horror in his Disc World novels. There are Igors, Golems, Vampires, Werewolves,and two versions of the Grim Reaper romping around. I enjoy the way he uses the tried and true elements of horror to poke fun at modern society.
 
BARBARA: How do you feel the economy will affect the book industry?

ROD: The book industry was crippled by the goods and services tax when it was introduced in Australia some time ago. Now we have a severe downturn in the economy which is worldwide. I believe there will always be books around. Whether or not they will be books worth the time and trouble of reading is another matter. Whether or not there will always be chances out there for new authors is also another matter.

BARBARA: Tell me about some of your writers’ forums.

ROD: I have been involved with writers on Facebook, YouTube and Myspace. I have had fun on Twitter. I have been involved with World Fiction Writers which can boast of having quite a few talented writers under their belt.

BARBARA: If there was one piece of advice you could give an aspiring novelist, what would that be?

ROD: Work with the short story for a while. You are more likely to have a short story published than a novel and it is a good exercise in story construction and brevity. Get to know other writers in your area and overseas. Some writers I have been corresponding with for 30 years.

BARBARA: Where may people order copies of your books?

ROD: My books may be purchased through www.amazon.com and www.bloodredshadows.com. The novel Disco Evil: Dead Man’s Stand is available as an ebook as well as a paperback.

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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