Guest Post: Stacey Graham, Author of Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles

Yesterday, I reviewed Stacey Graham’s latest book, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles Today, I’m pleased to welcome her to the blog for a guest post about how she gains inspiration to write about the ghoulish and ghastly!  First, a little about Stacey:

I’m a multi-tasking mother of five whose early jobs included faking a British accent for tourists at a historical mansion, and speaking with Italian men over the phone for far too long while working at a travel agency in Portland, Oregon.

I have degrees in history and archaeology/anthropology from Oregon State University and may or may not have seen Bigfoot at an off-campus deli. It was Oregon, it’s hard to tell. I enjoy writing terrible zombie poetry and baking delicious granola that my husband refuses to eat. I currently live on the tippy top of a mountain outside of Washington, D.C. where helicopters hover overhead when the President gets his groove on to visit Homeland Security’s secret bunker.

Inspiration is a fickle wench

I love horror. I love to roll around in it until my fingers get all pruney from the gore and I feel the need to look under my bed before I turn off the light at night. But as a horror writer, sometimes the urge to do terrible things to people doesn’t come easily. How can you jumpstart creativity when it would rather sit on the couch and binge-watch Sleepy Hollow?

• Read: And not just your usual genre — read histories of great kings, children’s books, news articles of what’s going on behind closed doors in the scientific community, and your grandmother’s cookbooks. There’s a story idea in unexpected places and your job is to find it, exploit it, and make your readers angry that you didn’t add another chapter.

• Social media: What the heck is your neighbor whining about this week on their wall? Find the nefarious in the normal, and make them pay for not returning your weed trimmer.

• Exercise: I am not an athlete – not even close. But every morning I hike with my husband up Suck Mountain and back again with the reward of creamy clouds in my coffee – and a new twist to a story. To take my mind off of the pain in my butt, I work on plot holes and marketing ideas. Sometimes they’re awesome, and other times I get distracted by swallowing a bug, but by the time I drag myself back into the kitchen, I usually have a plan for the day.

• Sheesh, Stace, get it together: Organize! When planning my blog or guest posts, I whip out my Google calendar at the beginning of the month and start filling in ideas. I brainstorm first on a yellow legal pad (who doesn’t) and try to have a good mix of business, goofiness, and promotional posts. Then I’ll transfer them to my online calendar in color-coded goodness. When on deadline for a book, my methods are similar but there’s a whole lot more legal pads, mind maps, and Excel spreadsheets – but that’s a blog post for another time.

• Use your smart phone as a mobile idea machine: To save space in my purse, I use a note app and the voice recorder to get ideas down instead of a notebook. Have an idea while waiting for the train? Do a quick Google and get the bones down in your notes app before you throw some elbows for a seat. There are tons of apps available to use for notes, one of the most popular being Evernote, so try a few that work best with your habits and get crackin’.

I find that inspiration hits hardest right as I’m finishing a book. I have loads of ideas – and little time to work on them due to edits for the contracted book. No problem: write them down, make a Pinterest board, email ideas to yourself, paper a wall with Post-Its, sharpie it on the back of your toddler – whatever you have to do to get it down. Don’t let it slip away.

“Write or don’t write,” to shamelessly misquote Yoda. It’s your time — go ahead and call yourself a Timelord if that’s what you’re into — and what you choose to spend it on is what makes you awesome. If you need another level of Candy Crush, go crazy, I’ll be outside sucking up bugs.

Thank you, Stacey! Please be sure to visit Stacey on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her website

Guest Post: D.J. MacHale (Guys Read: Other Worlds)

Today I am pleased to welcome D.J. MacHale, one of the contributing authors to Guys Read: Other Worlds for a guest post today. This title, along with the other Guys Read titles, are excellent novels for reluctant readers (especially boys)!  My own son has enjoyed each and every one of them. Stay tuned for his review of Guys Read: Other Worlds, due to post tomorrow!

djmachaleD.J. MacHale is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pendragon series and the Morpheus Road series. He has written, directed and produced many television series and movies for young people that have been seen on Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, HBO, Showtime, PBS, Discovery Kids, and the broadcast networks. D.J. lives with his family in Southern California. You can visit him online at http://djmachalebooks.com.

The trigger.  That’s what I’m always looking for.  It’s that magical moment when something happens that sparks the idea for a story.  One of the hardest things to do is start from scratch and say:  “I think I’ll write a story.”  There are far too many possibilities.  My daughter is always asking me to tell her ghost stories.  For somebody who has written dozens of ghost stories, and hundreds of every other kind of story, you’d think it would be a snap.  It isn’t.  I need a trigger.  So I got smart and said to her:  “Okay, give me a title.”  Once she started coming up with things like:  “The Whispering Trees” or “The Mutant Bunny” it was off to the races.

When I was asked to write a short story for Jon Scieszka’s awesome Guys Read series, my first thought was “Sure!”  My second thought was:  “Uh oh, now what?”  I had no ideas.  That was until I heard the title for the collection.  Other Worlds.  Bingo.  Trigger.  Shake, stir…“The Scout”.

Many (okay, all) of my stories deal with some form of fantastical conflict.  Whether you call them science fiction or fantasy adventures, my characters have to deal with larger-than-life challenges that you don’t come across in your average day.  At least I hope you don’t.  However, as wild and improbable as the worlds they operate in may be, at the heart of all these stories are very real, relatable characters who are learning about themselves as much as they are learning about the boogie man.  That’s what makes a science fiction story interesting to me.  Sure, it’s exciting to have all the explosions and narrow escapes and unique settings, but none of that fun stuff matters if you don’t care about your characters and what’s going through their heads as they face the unknown.

I’m often asked why I write for guys.  The truth is, I don’t.  I write about things that I like and since I’m a guy, I like guy-things.  I sort of wish sometimes that I could write a girl-centric story.  I’d probably sell a billion more books.  But I can’t do that.  I have to be true to what comes out, and what comes out appeals to guys.  (To be honest, my stories appeal to plenty of girls too, but mostly to the kind of girls I like hanging around with….girls who like guy-things)

The ScoutWith “The Scout”, I did something I had never attempted before.  There’s only one character.  Kit.  That was a real challenge because with one character, there’s nobody to talk to.  No dialog.  No clever exchanges between characters to help bring out their personalities.  By doing this, I got right to the heart of what I always try to do, which is to get into the head of a real person and have the reader experience the adventure right along with them.

It’s Kit vs. “Other Worlds”.  Nice trigger.  I hope you like it.

Thank you, D.J. for stopping by! Guys Read: Other Worlds is out today. What are you waiting for!?

Guest Post & Giveaway: Ania Szado, Author of Studio Saint-Ex

Yesterday I had the pleasure of reviewing Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado, an eloquent historical fiction set in 1940s New York City.  Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Ania for a guest post in which she writes about inspiring coincidences behind the writing of her novel. 

Photo credit: Joyce Ravid

Photo credit: Joyce Ravid

Writing a novel can be exhilarating but also excruciating. It can seem, at times, as though forces beyond our conscious control are taking the reins or holding us back. No wonder we grasp for any indication that we’re on the right road. All the better if the signs are so odd and unexpected that they can’t be rationalized away.

I experience eerie and helpful coincidences as I worked on Studio Saint-Ex, a novel in which Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is writing The Little Prince in WWII Manhattan while navigating the devotion and ambitions of his fiery estranged wife and a beautiful young designer, Mignonne.

One delightful head-shaker relates to setting. I invented an elegant social club for WWII Manhattan’s French expats, including Saint-Exupéry. I put my “Alliance Française” where the Cartier store stands, across from the East 52nd Street studio where Saint-Ex worked on The Little Prince. Only later did a source check the real Alliance Française’s archives—and found that the membership had indeed borrowed space to gather in that exact location at that very time.

One stroke of luck had to do with character development. I struggled to get a handle on Mignonne’s vision and attitude as she grapples to become a star of New York’s fledgling fashion design scene. Then, midway through my least-organized research trip ever, I stumbled across a show at the Museum of the City of New York: the first exhibition to trace the forgotten legend of Valentina, a celebrity designer who brought sensuality and boldness to the fashion attitudes of WWII New York. Suddenly, I understood Mignonne’s ambitions for her career and her creativity. I spent the afternoon in the exhibit hall with tears of gratitude rising to my lashes.

The final incident makes me ponder the mystery of how characters speak to writers. Saint-Exupéry disappeared in flight in 1944. For half a century, no one knew what had become of his body or his plane. Then a fisherman in the Mediterranean caught the author’s identity bracelet in his nets. It was as though Saint-Exupéry had decided that the time had come to be found. It gave me hope that he would approve of my shining a light on his work through my own.

That seems to be the message of coincidences. They prod us to keep going. They promise that—out of the blue, if we do our part—the path and inspiration will appear.

 

Life’s little coincidences are quite moving, aren’t they?

Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of Studio Saint-Ex for giveaway. This contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. To enter, please fill out the form below. The winner will be notified on Friday, June 28th.

Mx3 Guest Post: Stacey Graham, author of Girls’ Ghost Hunting Guide

MtHebronhead

Yesterday, I reviewed Stacey Graham’s witty & informative book, The Girl’s Ghost Hunting Guide. Today, I’m pleased to host a guest post from Stacey about ghost tours and how to tell if they are legit! Perfect timing!

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Ghost Tours

I love a good ghost tour. I can’t get enough of women in period costume leading a tour by gaslight and speaking in tones so hushed I have to elbow the teenager next to me to stop texting so I can hear. Thus, when I travel, I try to hit the local tours and help the ghostly economy by shelling out a few bucks and line up outside a dodgy-looking tavern with a dozen of fellow ghost story enthusiasts. Years ago I ran a ghost tour for a museum and picked up tips on how to tell if your ghost guide has the clues for the best boos:

  • Ambience – Does your ghost host live up to the part? Costuming and questionable lighting aside, your guide’s ability to weave you into the fabric of the story and make you a part of its history contributes a lot to your enjoyment of the tour. When buying your tickets, check to see if the guide is actively involved by chatting with the group before they leave or if they’re killing time on mobile Facebook.
  • Route – Where the heck are they taking you? Scout the route first to see if they’re hitting the same spots the other tours have traveled and, more importantly, if other tour groups will be stopping there at the same time. You don’t want to witness a ghost tour turf war – there’s a lot of dancing and snapping involved a la West Side Story and can result in unfortunate solos. If you have members in your group that require flat surfaces, check with the tour coordinator first for its walkability factor: nothing says love like dragging Grandma up a hill.
  • Timing – As the tour gets underway, do the stories get shorter the closer you are to a bar?
  • Tales – The real meat of the tour, see if the website has a selection of where you’ll be going. While hearing a horrid tale of how someone’s spatula went missing from the kitchen only to appear in the basement is chilling, it’s not worth the spine-tingle. There should be a good selection of stories central to the town’s history with a sprinkle of modern ghost stories included for tour goers to check out later if in a public area. Check their website to see if where you’ll be stopping has stories you’d like to know more about or if another tour group has spookier offerings instead.

Remember to dress for the weather, take photos if allowed, and tip your guide if they’ve made you look over your shoulder more than once to see what that dark fellow is up to back there.

Stacey Graham is the author of the Girls’ Ghost Hunting Guide, the Zombie Tarot and multiple short stories. She is currently writing a book about true haunted objects; if you have a story you’d like to share and possibly be in the book, please contact her at stacey.i.graham[at]gmail.com. Please visit her website at stacey.i.graham.com, on twitter at @staceyigraham and on Facebook at facebook.com/authorstaceygraham.

 

 

Mx3 Guest Post: Tamara Thorne Discusses Fear of the Unknown

tamara_thorne

Tamara Thorne has collected ghost stories, true and fictional, since she saw her first Twilight Zone as a tot, and continues to this day. In addition to writing novels and stories of the paranormal, she also writes non-fiction and is an active ghost hunter.

Kenginston recently reissued her novels HAUNTED, CANDLE BAY and MOONFALL in new paperback editions and brought out her novels THE FORGOTTEN, THUNDER ROAD and BAD THINGS as e-books. Her novel CANDLE BAY is also available in an e-book edition.

She makes her home in southern California with her husband and their feline family, and when she’s not writing, can be found haunting ghost towns, phantom-filled hotel rooms, and other spooky places.

Anticipating the Unknown

Anticipation. That’s what it’s all about.

When I was a kid, Halloween was the official best day of the year, though for me, there was a little bit of Halloween in every day.  Walking home from elementary school, or to a friend’s house, there was always a house that I deemed haunted.  I’d slow down and study it carefully for phantom faces in the second floor windows and tell myself stories, raising the goose bumps, wondering what I’d do if the front door opened by itself while I stood there, staring.

What was behind the door?  Was it a who or a what?  Maybe it was just a mean old man who didn’t like me looking at his house, but could it be more? A ghostly woman with black holes for eyes?  An invisible something lurking, waiting, in impenetrable darkness? The possibilities were endless.

Then, as now, my real fear was of the unknown.  If I’d encountered a mean old man or a ghost, I would have run. But it was, and is, anticipation, that kept me interested.  If a grumpy geezer had opened the door and yelled at me to stay off his lawn, damn it, I’d have lost all interest in the house. Anticipation evaporated. But if a ghost greeted me, I would have remained interested — and wonderfully scared — forever, or at least until I’d proven it to be a trick.

Fear of the unknown and anticipation of that fear are universal; they’re part of our caveman brain and always with us.  As adults, we are able to ignore those noises in the walls at night, knowing we’ve got squirrels, noisy plumbing, or just an old creaky house, but as children, these are invisible monsters, indefinable and relentless. There are monsters in our closets and under our beds.  We know, to paraphrase Carlos Castenada, that there are things living in the dark that aren’t there in the light.

As adults, we know better, yet basic fears are never far from the surface, and those of us who create or simply enjoy the horror genre, regularly do everything we can to bring those fears front and center.  I doubt most of us are entertained by thoughts of real-life horrors, but when you go in knowing it’s for entertainment, whether by book, movie, campfire tale or a Halloween house of horror, it becomes fun and thrilling.  In my mind’s eye, I see our ancestors sitting around a fire telling tales to scare one another just as easily as I see myself doing the same with friends.  Fear gives us a delicious thrill, makes us jump, makes us shriek and maybe giggle. It’s an outlet and a way to cope with real horror.  It’s relief. Ghostly footsteps outside your door at night is not the same thing as a live prowler in your house, but the fear a ghost stirs up helps take the edge off the stories of break-ins and serial killers on the evening news.

Fear of the unknown is the ultimate fear and there are many examples. For me, the supreme moment of terror comes in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House when Eleanor, in darkness, tells Theo she’s squeezing her hand too hard and Theo says she’s not holding her hand. Another comes in the same scene — the knocking on the bedroom door, the turning knob, the slithery sounds as something examines the door frame.  What’s out there? What wants in?  It’s a terror so perfect that it made its way into Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

Hill House is the ultimate in unknown terror. I read it when I was barely eleven, and knew I’d truly found the thing I loved most.  But before that, when I was eight, I read David H. Keller’s The Thing in the Cellar. That was my first real taste of unrelenting horror of the entertaining kind and it still holds up today.  It’s about a little boy who fears the cellar that’s behind a heavy door in his family’s kitchen.  He’s so terrified that unless the door is shut and firmly locked, he can’t even stay in the room.

We don’t know what’s below, waiting in darkness so thick that the stairs are swallowed up only a few steps down.  It’s a blackness alive with the unknown.  The little boy can’t tell us what’s down there, even if he knows. He’s simply afraid. His fear is our fear.  At one time or another — probably many times — we’ve all felt that same terror.

For me, keeping the monster hidden as long as possible, sometimes forever, is what makes a story great because no matter how horrific a monster is, the not knowing is worse.  Whatever your personal bogeys are, they are always scarier in the dark.  Just ask that little boy who’s staring at the cellar door, so afraid that he can’t even bring himself to check and make sure it’s locked.

 

 

Author Guest Post: Mary Sharratt, Author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard Von Bingen

Yesterday, I reviewed Mary Sharratt’s enlightening historical fiction, Illuminations. Today, I’m pleased to welcome her for a guest post…about the first known description of the female orgasm, written by Hildegard von Bingen herself:

Hildegard von Bingen: Reconciling Faith and Science

The Western world’s first known description of the female orgasm was written by the 12th century abbess and Doctor of the Church, Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179):

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings forth with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract and all parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.

Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae

How could a celibate nun write such a convincing description? Unlike some people in our own age, Hildegard saw no contradiction between science and religion, between being a religious woman and addressing every aspect of human experience, including sexuality.

Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard was a true polymath, a Renaissance woman long before the Renaissance. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and composed an entire corpus of sacred music. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. She was indeed a visionary in every sense of the word.

Hildegard wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as cosmology, botany, linguistics, and medical science, as well as theology. Even though she believed consecrated celibacy to be the highest calling, her medical text, Causae et Curae, discusses female (and male) sexuality frankly and without moral judgment. There is not a trace of prudishness or anti-intellectualism in her work.

In general, medieval thinkers, including monastics, were far more plain-spoken in addressing sexual matters than many of us might expect. But Hildegard’s writing on sexuality was unique in its inclusion of female experience, unlike that of her male confreres, such as Constantine the African, the 11th century monk whose book De Coitu manages to discuss every conceivable carnal pleasure without once mentioning women.

As the woman who coined the word Viriditas, or “sacred greening power and vitality,” Hildegard felt a profound connection to the natural world, which she regarded as the visible face of the invisible Creator who permeates every living thing. Her book Physica was devoted to natural science and is an encyclopedic study of plants, trees, mammals, reptiles, birds, marine life, stones, metals, and elements, describing their physical and medicinal properties. She lists in extraordinary detail the 37 varieties of fish to be found in the Nahe, Glan, and Rhine Rivers.

Her vision of the cosmos changed to reflect the science of her age. In Scivias, her first work of visionary theology, the universe appeared as a mandorla—shaped like an egg or almond. But by the time she wrote De Operationae Dei, the third and final book in her visionary trilogy, her visions reflected the cosmos as a sphere.

873 years after her death, Hildegard was finally canonized in May, 2012. On October 7, 2012, she was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact. Presently there are only thirty-four Doctors of the Church, and only three besides Hildegard are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. Visit Mary’s website: www.marysharratt.com

Mx3 Guest Post: Author Alma Katsu Recommends Dark Historicals

I’m pleased to welcome Alma Katsu to the blog today. Alma is the author of The Reckoning and The Taker, the first two books in a series. Fan of historical fiction, looking for the perfect dark historical to add to your October reading list? Below Alma presents some of her favorite dark historicals:


After my first novel, The Taker, was released, I received a number of queries from readers looking for similar books. The question is trickier than it seems, because both The Reckoning and The Taker combine a mix of elements—history, fantasy, the supernatural, love story—that is hard to find that same mix in other books. But I’ll go out on a limb and assume that what most readers enjoyed about my novels is the combination of history and darkness, a combination that, I think, suits the Halloween time of year. If you enjoy novels that look at the grim realities of life in another era, I recommend the following:

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. (2000) The title refers to the main character, a prostitute who is outfitted by her pimp in a fancy gown in order to attract a higher-level (and better paying) clientele. She’s also the mother of a child with an abnormal heart, and is desperate to retain the service of a surgeon to save him, unawares that the doctor is beset by his own demons for past misdeeds. It’s a marvelous story of sin and redemption, told in a singular voice. And there’s grave robbing and plenty of grisly doings to put you in a spooky mood.

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue. (2001) The NY Times said of Slammerkin, “Whatever it says about our level of enlightenment (and it’s probably not good), little seems to tickle us more than the tale of an unscrupulous woman who will stop at nothing to secure the glittery trappings of a better life, only to meet a harsh comeuppance.” Donoghue (author of last year’s smash Room) wrote this tale of a young woman who, in the mid-1700s, becomes a prostitute to get away from her desperate life. Like most of Donoghue’s work, it’s a great piece of writing.

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann. (2001) I recently finished this book, though I’d been meaning to for years. I’m going to borrow another reviewer’s description: “a darkly erotic tale of passion and obsession, As Meat Loves Salt is a gripping portrait of Cromwellian England beset by war. It’s also a moving portrait of a man on the brink of madness.” An interesting character study, and you’d be hard pressed to find another novel quite like it.

The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber. (2002) Faber’s sweeping epic tale of Victorian England caused a huge stir when it came out. He combines the aspirations of Sugar, a young prostitute, to pull herself out of the gutter with the downfall of William, an egotistical perfume magnate, and William’s brother Henry, a pious man who belongs to a Rescue society, trying to save the fallen like Sugar. Obviously, these three characters are meant to collide. This fat book is stuffed full of period details and deliciously constructed minor characters, and Faber juggles the multiple POVs expertly.

The Nature of Monsters by Clare Clark (2007) This novel starts off with some wonderfully sensual writing as Mary, a young girl admits that she has been erotically attracted to a man that she just realized she doesn’t love. From there it becomes a dark Gothic tale of suspense as Mary, pregnant and luckless, is forced to take a hastily-arranged position with an apothecary, a mysterious and evil man who is interested in her pregnancy for unknown means. Eventually, Mary uncovers the true nature of her master’s obsession and acts to save her unborn child and a half-wit maid also in the apothecary’s employ. What this novel is really about is class struggle, darkly told.

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. (2010) Three stories are entwined in this novel about ambition, madness, and redemption set in 1840 England. John Clare is the subject of one thread, an unschooled man who becomes a poet of some renown only to be sent to High Beach Asylum, suffering from delusions and alcoholism. The second thread belongs to the doctor who runs the asylum, suffering from his own failed aspirations and poised on the brink of ruin. The third thread follows poet Alfred Tennyson, who becomes ensnared in the doctor’s wild schemes. The writing is breathtaking and makes this novel a standout.

Alma Katsu is the author of The Reckoning and The Taker (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the first two books in a centuries-spanning trilogy of love, loss and redemption. The novels have been described as a mix of supernatural-powered fantasy, historical and dark romance, and frequently compared to the early works of Anne Rice and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. The Taker was selected by Booklist as a top ten debut novel of 2011. You can learn more about the books at http//www.almakatsu.com  

 

#Mx3 Guest Post: Why Horror by Graham Masterton

Today I’m excited to present you all with a guest post from one of my favorite horror authors, Graham Masterton. Following is a bio taken from his web site:

Graham Masterton’s debut as a horror author began with The Manitou in 1976, a chilling tale of a Native American medicine man reborn in the present day to exact his revenge on the white man. It became an instant bestseller and was filmed with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith, Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens and Ann Sothern.

Since then Graham has published more than 35 horror novels, including Charnel House, which was awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America; Mirror, which was awarded a Silver Medal by West Coast Review of Books; and Family Portrait, an update of Oscar Wildeis tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was the only non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger in France.

Three of Graham’s stories were filmed for TV in Tony Scottis horror series The Hunger, and ‘The Secret Shih-Tan’, starring Jason Scott Lee, was shortlisted for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writers Association. Another short story, ‘Underbed’, about a boy finding a mysterious world underneath his blankets, was voted best short story by Horror Critics Guild.

Graham’s latest horror novels to be published in the United States are Spirit (Leisure,December, 2001); Trauma, (Signet, January, 2002) and The Chosen Child (Tor, January, 2002). Motion picture rights in Trauma have been optioned by Jonathan Mostow, who directed U-571. The Chosen Child, set in the sewers of Warsaw, was named Best Horror Novel of the Year by Science Fiction Chronicle and highly praised in Publisheris Weekly.

Altogether Graham has written more than a hundred novels ranging from thrillers (The Sweetman Curve, Ikon) to disaster novels (Plague, Famine) to historical sagas (Rich and Maiden Voyage – both appeared in the New York Times bestseller list). He has published four collections of short stories, Fortnight of Fear, Flights of Fear, Faces of Fear and Feelings of Fear.

He has also written horror novels for children (House of Bones, Hair-Raiser) and has just finished the fifth volume in a very popular series for young adults, Rook, based on the adventures of an idiosyncratic remedial English teacher in a Los Angeles community college who has the facility to see ghosts.

Graham’s guest post today discusses why he decided to write horror. Without further ado..

WHY HORROR?

Believe it or not, I have never thought of myself as a horror writer. Horror to me is just a category which book retailers put your books into because they happen to have violent or supernatural content, or both. I have never made any distinction between horror fiction and any other kind of fiction. Fiction should always challenge what you believe in, and make you think hard about what it is to be a human being.

I started writing fiction at a very early age, inspired by Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe in particular. I would write three or four page stories and read them out to my friends during lunchbreak at school. Some of them were horror stories, but I also wrote science fiction, and war stories — even some humorous stories with a character like a modern-day Mr. Pickwick.

Some of the horror stories, though, made a lasting impression on my friends. Twenty-five years later, a schoolfriend told me that even though he was now a city manager, he still had nightmares about a man with no head who used to walk about the house singing Tiptoe Through The Tulips.

What almost all of my stories shared, though, even at that age, was my feeling that fiction should take readers right to the very edge of human experience. Reality is strange, and exhilarating, and tragic. Sometimes reality is well beyond our understanding. But I always believed that fiction should take us even further, right to the very boundaries of our humanity.

When I was 13, I wrote a 400-page horror novel in which the sole purpose of a mysterious sect of vampires was self-destruction. At 15, I discovered the Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs who were taking both the style and the content of their writing to an extreme. William Burroughs wrote a novel called The Naked Lunch which caused an uproar when it was published in 1962 because of its political and homosexual content and its open discussion of drugs.

William was living in Tangier at the time but I wrote to him and we kept up a regular correspondence until he came to live in London in 1965. By then I was deputy editor of a new men’s magazine called Mayfair. William wrote for Mayfair regularly and we spent many evenings in his apartment on Duke Street discussing revolutionary writing techniques. With William’s encouragement and involvement I wrote a novel myself, Rules of Duel, the manuscript of which I recently discovered after forty years and which was published last year by my good friend David Howe from Telos Books.

The writing that William and I did together was difficult, often obscure, and pushed convention and accepted taste right to the very limit, and beyond. You probably won’t be able to grasp much of what Rules of Duel is all about. But William had some very good lessons, not just for a horror writer but for any kind of writer who wants to take writing to the very edge.

The writer should not appear in his own work. He should be El Hombre Invisible, the invisible man. Learn how to construct sentences so balanced and rhythmical that your readers are scarcely aware they are reading at all. This takes painstaking practice, especially with dialog, and a complete understanding of the mechanics of grammar. You need to be able to take your work apart and put it together again like a motor mechanic.
When you’re writing, don’t look at the page in front of you (or the screen, these days.) Be there. Feel the wind on your back and hear the noises all around you. Take your characters by the hand so that you can physically feel them.

And never be scared to say anything. Ever.

Several times, I have purposely taken my work beyond the boundaries of accepted taste. I suppose it started with my novel Ritual, which was a jolly story about gourmet cannibals.
The Celestines were a religious sect who believed that they would eventually get to see God by devouring their own bodies. They kidnap the son of our hero, who rather appropriately happens to be a restaurant critic, and in his attempt to rescue the boy, the critic joins the sect. To be accepted by them, though, he has to show that he is prepared to consume part of himself. He cuts off his own finger, fries it and eats it.

Other stories that have gone right to the edge and over include the notorious Eric the Pie, which was the cover story for the first issue of Frighteners magazine, and was considered to be so disgusting by WH Smith that they banned it from their retail outlets, leading to the magazine’s very sad demise after only two issues. You can read Eric in the fiction section of my website www.grahammasterton.co.uk and make up your own mind.
Eric recently reappeared in a chapbook called Tales Too Extreme For Cemetery Dance. Cemetery Dance also published a chapbook called Sepsis which I deliberately wrote to go right to the limit of what readers could swallow. A story called Epiphany was sadly but understandably dropped by my publisher from my recent collection of short stories Festival of Fear (Severn House) because of its sexual content.

A favourite device of mine is to make ancient and mythical threats re-appear in the modern-day world so that ordinary people like you and me have to find a way to deal with them. The reason why legendary beings can be so frightening is because they were devised in days when people had no understanding of disease, or natural disasters, and so they attributed them to demons and ghosts and vengeful gods. Why did your cattle die? Because creatures came in the night and sucked the blood out of them. What caused cot death? Witches who crept into your house when you were asleep and stole your baby’s soul.

But again, I don’t consider this to be “horror” fiction. It’s just stories as stories have always been told. Stories to make you think who you are. Stories to help you to come to terms with your mortality. All of us who are alive at the moment are like a city, with its millions of lights sparkling in the night. One by one, though, the lights are extinguished, and then there is nothing but darkness. There lies the horror.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow I will review on of my favorite Masterton novels, The House That Jack Built.

 

Guest Post: Roberta Rich, Author of The Midwife of Venice

Yesterday, I reviewed Roberta Rich’s The Midwife of Venice, a truly suspenseful piece of historical fiction. Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post with Roberta on how she came up with the topic for her book.

Venice is a jewel box of magnificent buildings, exquisite squares, and beautiful paintings. Or so I thought. Then my husband and I took a walking tour of the Venice which ended in the Jewish ghetto, founded in 1516 on one of the few islands in Venice that does not have a church.

The square of the Ghetto Nuevo is as large and as plain as a pizza without sauce. It is hemmed in by ancient tenements which struggle to reach the sky like light starved plants. Standing there, gazing around, I tried to imagine how women might have lived in those days 500 years ago¾how they fed and clothed their families in these crowded, badly constructed, unsanitary dwellings.

As I wondered how they would have given birth, the idea for The Midwife of Venice was born. My heroine would of course have to be the best midwife in all of Venice. And what I mused, would give her an advantage over all the other midwives? In the ghetto museum was a display of silver spoons. One pair was positioned in the showcase in a way that gave me an idea.

Suppose, I daydreamed, my heroine, let’s call her Hannah, was ladling out beet soup one Shabbat, soup so hot and steaming it made her hair spring into tiny curls. She plunged the silver soup ladle deep into the tureen but she dropped the handle when it grew too hot and it slid into the bowl, coming to rest against the curve of the bottom.

She took an identical spoon down from the cupboard. With her hands still stained red from the beets, she crossed one spoon over the other to form the letter X.  An idea took shape in her mind of an instrument that could bring a child’s head farther down the birth passage and hasten deliveries.

She made a rough sketch and took it to the silversmith, directing him to fashion a device, sculpting the bowl of the ‘birthing spoons’ more deeply than an ordinary spoon, and making the handles longer. A hinge held the two spoons together in the middle, so that they could be opened and closed like a pair of scissors.

At first, Hannah practiced in private by extracting onions from the cavities of raw chickens. When her dexterity improved, she used them at confinements, draping a bed sheet over the mother’s bent knees so she could not see and shooing all of the other women from the room. Midwives were burned as witches for less cause than this, so Hannah knew she must be circumspect.

And so from this seed of an idea―a pair of silver spoons in the ghetto museum ―my story grew into a novel about a conservative, sheltered woman who chooses to defy the law to deliver a Christian baby so that she may rescue her beloved husband who is a slave on the island of Malta.

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Thank you, Roberta! Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Midwife of Venice  to give away. To enter, please fill out the form below. The winner will be contacted via email on Friday, February 24. Due to publisher restrictions, this giveaway is open to US citizens only.

Author Guest Post: Eva Stachniak, Author of THE WINTER PALACE

Yesterday, I reviewed The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak.  Today I’m thrilled to present a guest post by Eva about the research she did in writing this book:

When I decided to write about Catherine the Great I knew I had to go to St Petersburg and see the city where Catherine spent so many years of her life. I chose to go there during the white nights, because I live in Ontario, Canada, and I can imagine winter far easier than I can imagine constant daylight of the far north.

I knew it would be a unforgettable journey.

My husband knows how relentless I’m when I travel on a mission. I stop only when I’m too tired to make another step. Luckily for him, Russian food was on my research list, so we made frequent stops in Russian restaurants to sample bliny, smoked fish, borsch, and try some flavored vodkas.

What I searched for was imprints of Catherine’s presence. The Winter Palace itself offers some, but I knew the palace Catherine would’ve remembered burnt down almost completely in 1837 and has been extensively remodeled and rebuilt since. But some things didn’t change. The view from the windows on the Neva is still there, and so are the paintings Catherine collected, her jewels, her china, her carriage, her dresses. The Hermitage Museum also keeps a few rooms to illustrate how the palace looked under Peter the Great, and I could walk into these small, unassuming rooms, see tables covered by carpets rather than tablecloths, see his tools for he was an avid craftsman who loved to work with his hands.

The interiors least changed from Catherine’s times are located outside St Petersburg, in two magnificent palaces: Tsarskoye Selo (which in travel guides is called by its newer name Pushkin) and Peterhof. This is where I saw rooms commissioned by Catherine herself. I saw her study, her bedroom with a life-size porcelain figure of  Zemira, one of her favorite greyhounds, her gardens, as well as paintings, sculptures and wall coverings she had commissioned at various points of her life.

This is where I fully realized how clever Catherine was in what we would now call self-promotion. A sculpture of her? Yes, but it has to show her victorious, a ruler over nations which are bending at her feet, all under a spiritual patronage of Peter the Great. A portrait? Yes, but it must reflect one of her key goals. Establish her legitimacy, for instance, or make her victories well-known. Viewed from this perspective it is easy to appreciate the wisdom of commissioning a giant sculpture of Peter the Great in St Petersburg with its laconic inscription “To Peter I from Catherine II.” Or to have so many various representations of Russian military victories: on snuffboxes, on cutlery, on plates. I can almost hear Catherine’s thoughts: when they finish their borsch let them discover a victorious scene emerging at the bottom of the plate. Let them remember that I vanquished Turkey!

What an empress! What a woman!

Thank you, Eva! Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of The Winter Palace to give away.  To enter, please fill out the form below.  Open to US citizens only.  The winner will be contacted via email on Monday, January 23.