Posted in Books, Horror, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Works-in-Progress

WIP: The Devil Makes Three

Just to prove I am still writing things – a snippet from the work-in-progress, a Southern gothic horror novel. Who likes a haunted house? The “he” is Jacob McGuinness, a rich and famous Irish horror writer. The place is an abandoned plantation house that’s been abandoned since a mass murder took place there in the 1840s. Jacob, poor soul, is thinking that he might buy it.

‡‡‡‡‡‡

Half a mile in, the drive curved sharply to the left and broke free of the taller trees. He stopped the car and took his first long look at Rosewood.

The house stood at the top of a hill with what must once have been a magnificent sloping lawn laid out before it. Now it was covered with the same kind of scrub pine and underbrush as lined the driveway, but the effect was still quite striking, like something out of a movie. The house itself seemed remarkably intact. From his vantage point at the foot of the hill, he could almost believe it was still habitable. The white paint was worn gray, but the lines of the structure seemed solid.

It was much bigger than he had expected, a Greek revival rival for the massive country estates rich Englishmen had been building in Ireland at about the same time Rosewood was built, the early Victorian age. With its massive columns and round east wing, it looked more like a public building than a family home, some great parliament or temple more than a farmhouse. Looking up at it, he had to remind himself to breathe, and his heart was pounding. Imagine the labor that went into that, he thought. Slave labor, like the pyramids, no doubt. But he didn’t feel righteously indignant; he felt sad, almost angry. How dare anyone abandon such a beauty, whatever might have happened there? How could they have left her to die and disintegrate alone?

The drive forked at the top of the hill. The branch leading to the back of the house was completely overgrown, and a rusted farm gate hung on newer, shiny chains across it. The other branch looked fresher, as if the brush might have been cleared from it once or twice in the past decade. Jacob drove slowly around to the front of the house, the V8 engine in his rented beast rumbling like a dragon’s snore. He parked in front of the steps and got out.

The dry grass was as tall as his hips and brittle with autumn frost where it was shaded by the shadow of the house. Up close, Rosewood was no less grand but much more obviously deserted. There was no path worn through the grass, no footprints in the thick, mossy mud caked on the steps. He could have been the first human to approach the house in centuries—the first living thing, for that matter. The high grass and scrub should have been a haven for mice, rabbits, even quail, but he didn’t hear a sound or see a single stir of movement. The whole place was as dead still as an empty tomb.

So why was the front door standing open?

He stood at the foot of the steps, leaning forward to peer through the shadows. The clouds had thickened; it was as dim as twilight on the porch. “Hello?” he called. No answer. He was half an hour early for his appointment with the real estate agent, and there were no other cars parked out front. Anyone inside would have had to either fight the gate and brush to pull around back yet leave no sign of their passing or else hike in from the road on foot.

He walked up two steps, his own work boots leaving clearly discernible footprints in the mud. “Is someone here?” Between fluted Corinthian columns, the open doorway yawned at him in silence.

He crossed the porch with purpose, boots clomping. The thick wooden door was massive, at least eight feet tall. It seemed to be intact, and the lock was unbroken. No one had forced it open. He touched it lightly, and it swung back further, hinges squealing like a cheesy sound effect.

He stepped into the vast empty cavern of the front hall. Directly in front of him was a grand, curving staircase, and more columns were set in perfectly straight lines leading up to it. Floor to ceiling windows lined the front wall. They were shuttered from the outside, but gray light filtered in between the slats. Turning to look at them, he didn’t see a single pane of glass that was broken or even cracked; every window was perfectly intact. Each was hung with great velvet drapes, sagging and blackened with age and dirt, but also still intact and still tied open as if to let in the sun. The floor was bare wood and strewn with dead, crumbled leaves over a thick coating of dust—again, no footprints.

Double doors stood open to his left as he turned back to the staircase. In the shadows beyond, he could make out a long dining table still covered with a cloth. Moving closer, he saw a massive sideboard still set with an elaborate silver service, black with tarnish but otherwise untouched. Who would just abandon such a thing? Looking at it, he realized his mood had turned. A feeling of dark oppression seemed to have gathered around him like the clouds outside, pressing down on his psyche like a moldering pillow might be pressed over his face.

He had felt this way before. On their honeymoon, he and Gloria had gone to Spain. Touring the dungeon of a castle where heretics had been walled up to die, he had lost himself completely, sobbing uncontrollably and fighting off anyone who tried to touch him. Poor Gloria had been covered in scratches and bruises by the time she’d managed to drag him back outside into the light.

What could have possessed him to come here now?

He had decided to go back outside and wait for the real estate agent when he noticed the footprints on the stairs. Someone had tracked some dark liquid on the pale wood, something dark brown, almost black, like paint . . . like blood. Moving closer, he kicked away a thicker scattering of rotten leaf matter and saw the prints led away from a larger, darker stain on the floor of the hall just at the foot of the steps . . . blood soaked deep into the wood.

“Bollocks,” he muttered aloud, but the hair on the back of his neck prickled, and his flesh turned cold. Surely it was a fake, a prank, something staged for a camera or to frighten some dupe in the recent past. No real bloodstain could have lasted so long. But then if the story he had read of Rosewood’s abandonment was true, who would have been left to clean it up?

Without stopping to think any further, he followed the prints up the staircase, trying not to notice how perfectly his boots matched them as he walked. As he climbed, the prints faded out from full shoe shapes to smears to mere smudges at the top that led a few steps down the hall to the right. The man with bloody feet had climbed the stairs for a reason.

His heart was aching in his chest, and tears stung his eyes. Wallpaper hung in tattered ribbons on the walls, and the floor was scarred in two straight lines down the middle where a carpet runner had been ripped up. The smell of dust and rot was closing in on him and making him feel sick. He imagined he could smell the blood; surely he must be imagining it.

He followed the smudges to the right then around the corner; he seemed to know exactly where he was going. He turned a glass doorknob at the end of the hall and went into a small room at the front of the house. The drapes in here were silk, some pastel color gone gray, and the shutters were open. Going to the window, he looked out over the second floor gallery and down on his own rental car parked below. It looked so solidly vulgar, so real, it made him smile. Gloria had been right. He’d been crazy to come here, mad to think of buying such a place. When the real estate agent showed up, he’d tell her he had changed his mind. Just as he was deciding, he heard the sound of motors coming closer, two cars coming up the drive. It was fate.

He was just about to turn away from the window and head back downstairs when he smelled something else. When he smelled her. Over the damp, ancient rot of the dim, cold house, he smelled the cleanest white cotton being warmed by the summer sun. He smelled soap and the lightest hint of lavender, and clean, sweet skin underneath. He felt the warmth of a woman’s presence, soft hands touching his back. He braced his hands on the window frame, holding himself up. His knees had gone weak. The feeling of oppression dissolved like a mist in morning sunlight, and wild joy seized his heart. There was life in Rosewood, not just death. He wasn’t mad to come here. He belonged here. She had called him to come.

End of snippet

Posted in Books, Horror, Lucy Blue Short Story, Paranormal romance, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff

Cowboys & Krampus – A Christmas Romance

cowboys-and-krampusSo in honor of the season, I’ve written a sequel to my insane zombie western, Dead-sperado, called Cowboys & Krampus. It’s available here right now from Amazon, and it starts off something like this:

Two days before Christmas, we had been on the run from a bank job for a week and a half. I had expected us to head south toward old Mexico, but Cade had led us straight north. The rest of the gang seemed to know what he was doing and trust him, and I had only been riding with them since Halloween, so I kept my mouth shut. But looking up at the sky, I was pretty sure we were headed straight into a blizzard.

Just as it started to snow, we rode up to a two-story hotel in the literal middle of nowhere. The hotel and its stable were the only buildings in sight in the middle of a flat, open plain surrounded by mountains.

The little round innkeeper came out from behind his desk as soon as we walked in the door. “Mr. Cade,” he said as we huffed and stomped and peeled out of the frozen layers of our coats. “Danke Gott! When we received your telegram, I was afraid you’d be lost on the road.”

“Telegram?” I said, raising an eyebrow. As far as I knew, we’d been riding for our lives. When had he stopped and sent a telegram?

“Of course. We couldn’t just show up without a reservation, Daisy.” The smile on his face made him look like a man I’d never met. Elbert Cade was not a smiler. “That would be rude.”

“But who is this?” the innkeeper said as I unbuttoned my duster. “Daisy? You have brought your young lady?”

“Mr. Bhaer, meet Mrs. Cade,” he said. “Daisy, honey, meet our host, Mr. Bhaer.”

To my credit, I didn’t faint from shock. “Pleased to meet you,” I said, giving Cade a slant-eyed look that should have shaved off one of his sideburns. Rule number one of the gang was never dispute our fearless leader in front of decent folks, so I wouldn’t. But I wasn’t no more Mrs. Cade than I was the queen of Sweden.

Mein Gott!” Bhaer said. “Mother, come quickly! Cade has taken a wife!”

“Uh-oh,” Thomas, Cade’s second-in-command, said with a grin. “Now you’ve done it.”

The swinging doors behind the front desk opened, and people came pouring out, a stout little woman with blonde braids wrapped around her head and half a dozen little tow-headed kids. “You don’t mean it!” the woman exclaimed in the same thick German accent as her husband. “Congratulations!” She kissed Cade on both cheeks, leaving flour in his whiskers. “Papa, look!” She took my hands and beamed at me. “Ain’t she lovely?”

“Daisy,” Bhaer said. “Her name is Daisy.”

“Mr. Cade, are you crazy?” one of the kids asked, a freckle-faced little bruiser with mischief dancing off of him like sparks off an anvil. “Whatcha want to get some stupid girl for?”

“Klaus!” his mother cried, scandalized.

“Well, Klaus, to tell you the truth, I didn’t have much of a choice,” Cade said with a bit of mischief in his own eyes. “I fed her one time, and she followed me home.”

“Klaus, you are a very naughty boy,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Krampus carried you away tomorrow night.” She smacked Cade on the arm. “And you, too.”

“I don’t think Krampus will be traveling tomorrow night,” Mr. Bhaer said. “Not in this storm.”

“But Papa, what about Saint Nicholas?” one of the other kids said, this one a girl barely as tall as her papa’s boots. “Ain’t he coming either?”

“Not to worry, poppy seed,” Thomas said, swinging the little girl up in his arms. “Saint Nick can always make it through.”

“Something surely smells good in the kitchen, Mrs. Bhaer,” said Luis, Cade’s other lieutenant. He’d been all but hopping on one foot since we came in.

“I am baking gingerbread, Mr. Gonzales,” she said. “Or did you mean Clara?” Her husband and all the other men but Luis laughed at her joke. Me, I thought I must have fallen off my horse and hit my head at some point without noticing. This had to be a crazy dream. “She’s been waiting for you all day,” Mrs. Bhaer went on. “You’d better come see her. Papa, get everyone else settled into their rooms. I’m sure Mrs. Cade is exhausted.”

“So how long have you two been married?” Bhaer asked.

“Not long at all,” Cade said.

“No kidding,” I muttered.

“We’re still on our honeymoon,” Cade said, stepping on my foot. I bit back a shriek of pain.

Wunderbar,” Mrs. Bhaer said. “The bridal suite it is. Come, children, help me fetch Mrs. Cade a hot bath.”

“Aw, nuts,” Klaus grumbled, making me laugh. That child was a caution and cute as he could be.

“That’s quite enough from you, young Klaus,” his father said. “Go now and help your mother.”

When we got to the top of the stairs, Cade went so far as to carry me over the threshold. But as soon as Bhaer left us alone, he set me down, and the honeymoon was over.

“What in hell has gotten into you?” I said.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer are good Christian folks,” he said. “They’d be mightily offended if they thought I’d brought some…” He let his thought trail off.

“Some what, Elbert Cade?” I said. “And remember, I have a gun.”

“They ain’t like us, Daisy, he said. “They’re good and kind and peaceful, and they don’t understand that the rest of the world ain’t like that.”

The rest of the world like him and me. “Which makes me wonder how they know you,” I said.

“I got shot up real bad a couple of years ago about twenty miles from here,” he said. “The rest of the gang thought I was going to die, and most of them skinned out and left me. But Thomas and Luis loaded me up on a half-busted wagon and tried to get me to help. Just when they figured it was hopeless, they found this hotel.”

“And these folks took you in?” I said. I was shaking just thinking about him getting hurt so bad, but I’d have sooner died than let him know it. “A wanted outlaw?”

“Thomas told them we were scouts,” he said. “He said we’d been set upon by bandits when we were leading a wagon train west, and that I had fought off half a dozen men single-handed to save the rest of the party.”

“Lord God Almighty.”

“Hey, I had—they just happened to have been a lawful posse.” If I hadn’t been so mad, I might have thought his little grin was charming. “Anyhow,” he said, seeing my frown. “The Bhaers got me a doctor, and when I woke up, I was a hero. And we’ve been coming back here every Christmas since. Luis and the cook even have an understanding to wed.”

“And they don’t know you’re outlaws?” I said.

He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. “Like I said, they’re good people.”

“Stupid people, maybe.” When I had taken up with him, I had known I was giving up any hope of eve being respectable, that I wasn’t ever going to be the nice married lady I had always dreamed I’d be. But I had wanted him so much, I had told myself it didn’t matter, that there were things more important than being respectable. But now here we were, and he expected me to pretend.

“Now don’t be like that,” he said. “I didn’t tell you we were coming here because I wanted it to be a surprise. I thought you’d like it.” He took my hand and tugged me closer, and I let him. “Just think, darling. A clean bed.” He kissed me on the forehead, sweet and soft. “A hot bath.” I couldn’t help but smile, slumping against him. “When was the last time you had a hot bath?”

“It has been a while.” The last time had been in Carson City, and a fine time it had been.

“We can stay here and ride the storm out safe and sound, eating Clara and Mrs. Bhaer’s fine cooking.” I twined an arm around his neck, and he kissed my mouth. “Sleeping as late as we like.”

“That does sound nice.” Getting up before the sun was the thing I hated most about being an outlaw.

“No posse breathing down our necks.” He nibbled the back of my neck. “No Thomas or Luis snoring one bedroll away.” He kissed behind my ear. “No biting my shoulder to the bone, trying to keep quiet.” I giggled, and he kissed me on the mouth. I melted against him, and he walked me backward toward the bed. “And I was thinking,” he said, nuzzling my throat.

“Thinking what?” I untied the bandana at his throat.

“When the storm does break and we do ride out…” He kissed me again, cuddling my head in his hand the way he knew I liked. “…you could stay on here a while.”

I broke the kiss. “Beg pardon?”

“Just for a little while.” He put up his hands like I might have been a sheriff with a shotgun. “Just until the weather warms up and things calm down a bit.”

“You want to just dump me?” I said.

“Of course not.”

“Have I ever once whined or told you I was tired?” I demanded. “Did I ever cry when I got shot at or fail to shoot when I had to?”

“No, honey. I just thought–”

“I ride as good as Thomas and better than Luis.” I had never been so mad at anybody in my life. “If you’re sick of me, Cade, all you’ve got to do is say so. If you’re ready for another piece of–”

“Stop right there!” He didn’t holler at me often, but when he did, it was impressive. “I don’t want no other women, damn it! That’s the gawddamn point! I want you to be safe!”

“Then you ought not to have let me come with you in the first place!”

“You think I don’t know that?”

I caught my breath like he had hit me. Truth be told, I wished he had.

Somebody knocked on the door. “Mrs. Cade?” It was Mrs. Bhaer. “We have your bath.”

Cade reached out a hand to me. “Daisy…”

“Get out.” I couldn’t stand for him to see me cry. “Just get out.” I opened the door. “Thank you kindly, Mrs. Bhaer,” I said, putting on a smile. “Elbert was just leaving.”

Check out Cowboys & Krampus and the rest of our holiday stuff at our website, http://lucybluecastle.wixsite.com/littleredhenromance. Merry Christmas! 

 

Posted in Books, Other People's Awesome, Publishing, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Works-in-Progress, Writing process

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Comma

chasing the dragon coverAs a lot of people know, my sister, Alexandra Christian, and I are pretty much the entire standing staff of Little Red Hen Romance. We both write stories and novels for the press, and we edit one another. There are many advantages to having your beloved sister as your editor. But there are times, particularly for Lexie, when it’s a real pain in the ass.

Lex has just finished a truly amazing Sherlock Holmes novella that should be coming out in the next few weeks, and I’ve been working on the copy edit. Lex is one of the most amazing, original, intelligent writers I know, and her grammar and punctuation are almost perfect. But that girl will party hearty with a comma; she gets it drunk and lets it sprawl naked in the most ungodly places or forgets it entirely and leaves it dead in a ditch. As a former composition instructor, I tend to lose my mind about this on a regular basis. And since this is apparently becoming a hot topic issue (see here: Daniel McMahon for Business Insider 5-2-16), we thought it might instructive or at least entertaining to see our latest exchange on the subject:

THE SAME STUPID COMMA MISTAKE THREE TIMES, ALL FROM THE SAME PARAGRAPH!!!!!!!

Okay, you’re gonna learn how to do this if it kills us both.

Example Number One:

As written by the brilliant Lexie Christian:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

This sentence is two independent clauses joined by the conjunction “and.” As are all of these examples. And it’s the EASIEST FREAKIN THING IN THE WORLD TO IDENTIFY!!!!

So, what are our two clauses? How do I know we have two? We start with the verbs. What are the verbs?

1) offered

2) managed

Okay, so who or what offered? The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat – so there we have the spine of clause number one, “coat and hat offered.” Everything that tells us information about the coat and hat (whose it was [the doorman] and what he was like [unfortunate]) and what they offered and how [an easy disguise]) are part and parcel of that clause. So Clause Number One is:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise.

So our next verb is managed. Who or what managed? He, Sherlock, our intrepid hero. Everything about him and what he managed is Clause Number Two:

This time [when he managed] he managed [there’s that spine] to pass through the doors [what he managed to do] without incident [how he did it].

Because neither of these clauses begins with an adverb like when or as or because or anything else that would turn it into a dependent clause/super-adverb supporting the other that can’t stand alone, these are two independent clauses joined with nothing more than the most common and beloved of all conjunctions, and. So you put a FUCKING COMMA IN FRONT OF THE AND!!! And thus after edits it becomes:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, and this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

SIDE NOTE ON DEPENDENT CLAUSES WHICH YOU ALMOST NEVER USE AND USUALLY GET RIGHT WHEN YOU DO: To make these the joining of a dependent clause to an independent clause, one of these clauses has to become a super-adverb. If it comes at the beginning, you need a comma:

Because the unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise, this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

But if it comes at the end, you don’t:

The unfortunate doorman’s coat and hat offered an easy disguise when this time he managed to pass through the doors without incident.

Your way, the two independent clauses is MUCH BETTER; it’s stronger and gives the reader chunks of easily visualized information. It was Mark Twain’s favorite sentence construction. AND HE ALWAYS PUT THE DAMNED COMMA IN IT!!!

So on to Example Number Two. As written, thus:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What are the verbs:

1)had been set up

2)had been moved (accommodate is also a verb, but by adding the “to” to it, you’re using it as part of an adverb modifying had been moved; it tells why the moving was done. Lesser minds would be confused by this; I know you can see it.)

What had been set up? Stage

What had been moved? Chaises

So our two clauses are:

1) A small stage had been set up along the back wall.

2) The cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

What is joining them? There’s our lil buddy and again.

So our edited sentence becomes:

A small stage had been set up along the back wall, and the cozy chaises by the fire had been moved aside to accommodate more tables.

And finally, coming to you live from the exact same descriptive paragraph, I bring you Example Number Three:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Verbs?

1) was swathed

2) hung

What was swathed? Room

What hung? Musk

Two clauses then?

1) The entire room was swathed in red and gold.

2) The heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

Add our friend and and the comma it should have rode in on:

The entire room was swathed in red and gold, and the heavy musk of opium hung in the air.

If you could ever just absorb that this is WHY this comma needs to be there, I promise, you’ll just put it there naturally without having to go through this half-assed diagraming of the sentence. But just saying, “Fuck it, I can’t do commas; sue me,” looks like a consistent, habitual amateur mistake, the kind of thing that can make less imaginative editors who don’t love you and your writing like I do dismiss you as a lightweight. And that just is not acceptable. Every one of these sentences is brilliant; you’ve compacted massive amounts of vibrant information into just a few words and created a whole scene. So just get the commas right!

Posted in Books, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff

An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Coming October 27!

SHA_finalHey kittens, guess what? I have a story in this anthology coming out October 27, 2015 from Mocha Memoirs Press. Doesn’t it look awesome?

“When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable characters in Western literature.  Conan Doyle’s inimitable detective has been the subject of literally thousands of books, movies, television shows, plays and even songs.  With the rise of the BBC series and the release of all copyrights, the beloved character has found a new life among modern audiences.

In An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 14 authors of horror and mystery have come together to create a unique anthology that sets Holmes on some of his most terrifying adventures.  A pair of sisters willing to sacrifice young girls to an ancient demon for a taste of success, a sinister device that can manipulate time itself, and a madman that can raise corpses from the dead are just a few among the grisly tales that can be found within these pages.

Curl up with a warm cuppa and leave all the lights on.  This is not your grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes.

Wanna sneak peek? Here’s an excerpt from my own story (and first ever mystery tale), “The Fairy Pool:”

Watson packed his case with grim determination, preparing for an outing to the countryside as if for a bivouac through the wilds of Afghanistan. But the most perilous frontier to be crossed was the front parlor of his own London lodging where his accustomed adversary lay in wait.

“Watson, where are you going?” The ambush came as he’d expected from the dim recesses of Holmes’ library, a shout through the open door.

“I told you.” He placed his case by the door and went calmly to the cupboard for his overcoat and hat. “Mary and I are going to visit an old school chum of hers in the country.”

Sherlock popped out of the library like a jack from a box. “It’s a lie.”

“It is not.” Watson smiled the mild smile of the righteous man. “Why should I lie?”

“Well done, John.” His friend’s color was high and dramatic. Either he had already imbibed some chemical stimulant at nine in the morning or the mere fact of John’s leaving had sent him into the first stages of frenzy on its own. “For once, you’ve hit upon the crux of the question without prompting. Why indeed?” John removed the train tickets from his pocket, and Sherlock snatched them from his hand. “Ravenglass,” he read.

“In the Lake District,” John said, taking them back. “Mary’s friend Seraphima grew up there. It’s meant to be quite lovely.”

“In summer perhaps.” The great detective was obviously unconvinced. “In October it will be a miserable bog. And really, John, Seraphima? Is that the limit of your invention? Seraphima is the name of an Italian carnival dancer, not the school chum of one’s respectable fiancée.”

John was inclined to agree. “Nevertheless, that is her name. Her aunts are the novelists Nora and Mirabel May. Perhaps one of them chose her name.”

Sherlock frowned. “That does seem plausible.” He took the tickets again and sniffed them. “As spinsters and the most prominent and financially successful members of the family, they would no doubt exert a certain influence over the naming of offspring, particularly those from poorer branches of the clan.”

“Seraphima was orphaned at an early age and brought up by the aunts,” John said. “So I’m sure you must be right.”

“One hardly follows the other, but yes, I must be.” He sniffed the tickets again. “When did you purchase these?”

John took them back. “Yesterday afternoon.” He put them back in his pocket. “I had just returned from the station when I told you about our trip.”

Sherlock’s smile was positively demonic. “That is a lie.”

“Holmes, really—“

“Those tickets rested for no small time in close proximity to the bare skin of your fiancée—next to her bosom, unless I miss my guess.”

John’s eyes popped. “I do beg your pardon!”

“They reek of her perfume—an ordinarily subtle scent intensified precipitously by abundance, heat, moisture, or some combination of the three. Since Mary is an extremely hygienic young woman not given to bathing herself in perfume or acts of great physical exertion, I deduce that she carried the tickets next to her skin while in a state of anxiety which resulted in greater than usual perspiration.”

“Have you been sniffing my fiancée?!?”

“Don’t be absurd.”

“No, but really!” Ordinarily Holmes’ deductions were a source of wonder and no small delight to his friend, but this seemed not only improper but highly perilous. “Who are you to recognize her scent?”

“I recognize the presence of Mrs. Hudson’s favorite hack driver by the lingering aroma of horse shit on my hall rug,” Holmes said. “This in no way represents a symbolic romantic attraction.” Now that he had the upper hand, his smile was almost warm. “Tell me the truth, John. Why are you going to the Lake District? What has Mary so frightened?”

“She isn’t frightened, Holmes; don’t be so dramatic.” He handed over the newspaper clipping Seraphima had enclosed with her frantic letter. “Merely concerned.”

“Search continues for missing child,” Holmes read the headline. “Hope fast slipping away—good lord, who writes this drivel?”

“The missing girl apparently has some connection to Seraphima and her family,” John explained. “She’s only seven years old, and Seraphima feels responsible for her in some way. She wrote Mary to ask if I might come and offer my assistance to the police.”

“You?” He handed back the clipping. “She asked for you?”

‘Why not?” John said, trying to remain unruffled. “She has read my accounts of your exploits, so she is aware of my expertise in such matters.”

“Your accounts, my exploits.” Holmes was heading for his bedroom. “Expertise indeed—do they want a nicely typed story for the newspapers, or do they want the girl found?”

“Perhaps they don’t want their lives turned upside down by a raving madman whose methods of investigation require the emotional ruin of everyone even remotely involved.” John followed and found him throwing a seemingly random collection of personal belongings into a case of his own. “Holmes, you are specifically not invited.”

“Nevertheless, I shall go.” He latched the case and handed it to John. “Come, come, Watson; Mary will be waiting. We mustn’t be late.”

“No.” There was no use arguing, and if put to torture, John might have admitted to feeling a wee bit relieved. “All right. Let’s go.”

End of excerpt – sounds pretty good, right? And here’s a list of the rest of the stories and authors involved – they all look fantastic to me:

 

Sherlock Holmes and the Hungry Ghost by Katie Magnusson

The Diamond Carter Ghost by Matthew Wilson

The Haunted Branch Line by Tally Johnson

The Arendall Horror by Thomas Olbert

Worlds Collide by S. H. Roddey

Time is Running Out, Watson by Adrian Cross

A Voice in the Blood by Dan Shaurette

The Hunt of the Red Boar by Thomas Fortenberry

The Canaries of Clee Hills Mine by Robert Perret

The Chase by Melissa McArthur

The Adventure of the Missing Trophy by Mark W. Coulter

The Case of the Rising Dead by Trenton Mabey

The Adventure of the Slow Death by Harding McFadden

Posted in Books, Current events, Free Reads, Lucy Blue Short Story, Other People's Awesome, Paranormal romance, Publishing, Short Story, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Writing process

Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/

Posted in Books, Christabel's Tale, Medieval Romance, Paranormal romance, Sneak peeks at the new stuff, Uncategorized, Works-in-Progress, Writing process

In defense of “Write What You Know”

librarianIn a recent writers roundtable over at comic and fiction writer Sean H. Taylor’s blog (Bad Girls, Good Guys and Two-Fisted Action, and if you’re not reading it, you’re missing out), we talked about the best and worst advice we’ve ever received as writers. More than half of us piled on the hate for that cursed pearl so loved by high school creative writing teachers everywhere: Write What You Know. What a load of crap, we agreed. How boring would fiction be if writers only ever wrote what they knew? There’d be no science fiction, no fantasy, no horror that didn’t make you cry and throw up, and very little romance of the slightest interest to anybody but the parties involved. I was part of the lynch mob, I freely admit. I think this idea of writing what you know has produced more soggy, self-indulgent crap calling itself story than any concept ever devised with the possible exception of “why do vampires have to be so mean?” Most of us in the roundtable write speculative fiction of one kind or another, and we rejected this nonsense out of hand. “Write what you know,” indeed.  But now that I think more about it, I’m not so sure we were right.

After all, the advice isn’t, “Write ONLY what you know.” Very few of us have autobiographies that the average reader would find enthralling, no matter how artfully we might present them. There are exceptions, of course, and different readers will always be interested in and inspired by different things. But anybody who has a friend or cousin who posts every breath they take, every move they make, every leaf they rake to Facebook knows what I’m talking about. That being said, we all of us have our moments, and for writers those moments “recollected in tranquillity” (to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth just this once and never again, I promise) are what bring our stories to life and make them uniquely ours. Isaac Asimov presumably was not a robot, nor did he own one. But after reading the Foundation trilogy, I’m pretty sure he spent a fair amount of time is some situation which caused him to consider the need for and dangers inherent in altruism and the search for identity in plain, old, ordinary humans. Closer to home, I’ve never experienced a romance with a vampire, angel, or immortal faery prince. But I’ve loved and lusted people whose power felt out of proportion to my own, physically or otherwise, stayed in relationships that I weren’t sure were good for me because I cared for the other person so much, fallen hard for the bad boy. Because I know how that stuff feels and because I can write what I know, I can, hopefully, make a relationship between a human woman and a supernatural being live for a reader. And the same holds true for smaller, more specific details. I met my husband in person after knowing him online for two years. So when my heroine in Christabel’s Tale is nervous about meeting her internet beloved, I can describe just how she feels, even though my husband is not supernatural in any way but the way he manages to love me first thing in the morning. What I know combined with what I can only imagine is what makes my anything-but-hard-reality fiction come to life.

And there’s more than one way to know stuff.  The advice isn’t, “Write ONLY what you know FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.” Research isn’t always necessary when you’re writing fiction. Too much research can be deadly if you try to shoehorn in too many “true facts” than your story can support. (Paging Diana Gabaldon; Phillipa Gregory wants you on the phone.)  But if you’re writing about a time or place that actually exists or existed, you’d do well to read up on it first, even if you mean to deconstruct it down to rusty rails and put a steampunk topper on it. Nothing takes a reader out of a story faster than crashing into a detail that doesn’t belong. In the very first chapter of my very first Lucy Blue book, My Demon’s Kiss, my heroine walks through the cellar of her medieval castle past a basket of potatoes. Not magical potatoes, not vampire potatoes, just potatoes, set dressing, no big deal. Except nobody in medieval England had ever tasted, seen or even heard tell of potatoes. And oh my kittens, did I hear about it, and rightly so. That one mistake on page one destroyed the fragile experience of that story for the very sort of reader it most needed, a reader interested in living in a fantasy of the real medieval world. They could accept the existence of vampires because I focused all my gifts as a writer on making vampires plausible within that world. But those stupid potatoes I threw in a corner of a cellar and forgot just didn’t belong, and it was my job to know it and get them out of there. So don’t do that. Get your facts straight. Write what you know.

Right now as I write this, I’ve just started work on a horror novel set in the here and now in a small town in South Carolina very much like the one I’ve lived in all my life. I’ve written a short story or two set here in the Beautiful South, but never a novel, and rarely anything that explores the gothic version of this world as I see it.  I’m writing what I know, and it’s liberating and very, very scary. The story is very much supernatural horror, and I wouldn’t wish what happens to these poor people on anybody, bless their poor sweet hearts. But ghosts and demons notwithstanding, they live in a world I know very well, and so far, I have to say I like it.

Posted in Books, Contests, Sneak peeks at the new stuff

ALAS, ‘TIS DONE: Psssst . . . . hey kittens . . . . over here . . . 8 Free E-Books, 8 hours to grab’em

alpharomeo_originalWanna score a free e-book?

My latest and greatest, Alpha Romeo, a contemporary Hollywood romance in the tradition of Danielle Steele and TMZ, comes out tomorrow, Wednesday, August 20, from Purple Sword Publications.  I know, right?  I’m so psyched, I can’t stand myself.  The only thing that would make me happier would be to know people are reading it.  People who already know me well enough and/or dig something I’ve written enough to actually be reading this.  People who will hopefully love it and might even be moved to review it at Purple Sword’s own website or Barnes & Noble or AllRomance.com or even our good old crazy uncle Amazon.  My publisher will send it out to dedicated review sites, and that’s awesome.  But I know when I’m choosing a pleasure read, I’m more likely to trust the reader reviews there on the site where I’m shopping.  So that’s what I’m looking for here.  You aren’t required to like it; you aren’t even required to review it.  But I would take it as a deeply kind personal favor if you did.

So here, as they say, is the deal.  Starting at 4 pm today, Tuesday, August 19, until midnight tonight, the first 8 people who send me an email at lucybluecastle@gmail.com will get a their very own PDF copy of the whole book.  Not an excerpt or a tease but the whole book.  I will cut off the giveaway after the first 8 (by my own personal count, and you’ll just have to trust me to play fair) or at midnight, whichever comes first, and only people who are officially following the blog here or my Facebook page will be eligible.  Don’t try to sneak in early; if your time signature on your email reads earlier than 4 pm EST, it’s ineligible.  And the only format will be PDF; if your device doesn’t support PDF and you don’t know how to convert it, don’t enter because I won’t be able to help you.  Don’t post “pick me! pick me!” in the comments and fail to send me an email because as much as I’ll adore you for asking, I won’t.

1 – Make sure you’re following the blog or “like” the Facebook page;

2 – Drop me an email at lucybluecastle@gmail.com (which includes your email address so I can send you the file);

3 – Be one of the first 8;

4 – Save yourself some cash on what I think is a damned fine trashy novel.

And just to entice you a little more, here’s the official blurb:

Scarlett Cross is the classic Hollywood princess.  Daddy is a movie star; Mama was a supermodel murdered when Scarlett was only four years old.  Now she’s eighteen pretending to be younger for the sake of her father’s image and starting her own career as the muse of a famous European auteur.  But bad boy actor Romeo Kidd is everything she’s ever wanted.  He makes her feel safe and loved and wanted for the first time in her life, and she’ll do anything to keep from letting him go.

UPDATE:  Thanks so much to everybody who played – your PDFs are on the way!  xoxo