From Mayra's Desk...
"Bonefires or Bonefires? The Origins of Halloween," by Mayra Calvani
Author Jonathan Maberry
Short Story Writer Heather Ingemar
Author James Richard Larson
The Right Thing, by James Richard Larson (horror)
"A Slip of Wormwood," by Heather Ingemar (paranormal short story)
From Mayra's Desk...
First of all I would like to thank everyone who voted for my story, THE DOLL VIOLINIST, at the ABC's Children's Picture Book Competition! Your support meant A LOT to me and I'm hoping to win. The winner will be announced on the 8th of October, so I won't know until then. As for the winners of my drawing, please check my blog, Mayra's Secret Bookcase, for the announcement. Many people voted every single day and I really wish I could have gifts for everyone who so faithfuly suppported me. I have to say these past two weeks were incredibly stressful with me networking constantly to garner votes, so in that sense, I'm GLAD the voting period is finally over.
This month I will be just as busy going on my first virtual book tour. When will I have time to sit and do some writing? It seems all I do lately is spent most of my time promoting in one way or another. I'll have to do something about this! :-)
I hope you enjoy this Halloween Special of the Fountain Pen. I tried to fill it with all kinds of 'creepy' stuff. October is one of my favorite months--the red, browns and yellows, the fallen leaves all over, the cool crisp air, the spicy aroma of cinammon from a warm kitchen. I enjoy decorating the house, carving pumpkins and making pumpkin pies. Plus, it means that Christmas is just around the corner.
Take care and have a safe and fun Halloween!
*I just started another blog (yep, I'm getting addicted to blogging) exclusively for my paranormal fiction. You may visit it at Eerie, Dark and Creepy...
*For information about my October book tour, and a schedule of all my stops, please go to my website or my new blog. I'll be giving away one print copy of my book, DARK LULLABY, on Halloween from all the people who write comments at the end of my posts on the various blogs.
"Bonfires or Bonefires? The Origins of Halloween," by Mayra Calvani
Halloween is not only a colourful night of fun, frights, sweets and costumes. It is a full-blown industry, with more than $14 billion spent each year on costumes, decorations, party supplies, candy and other paraphernalia.
How did it all get started?
The origins of Halloween are quite dark, and go all the way back to 2,000 years ago, to the Celtic Celebration of the Dead, or Samhain (Sah-ween), in what is now Ireland, the UK, and Northern France. The Celtic Festival took place each year on the eve of November first, which marked the end of summer and harvest season, and the beginning of their New Year and winter, a time associated with cold and death. Samhain festivities lasted for a couple of days, until about November 2nd.
The Celts believed that on October 31st, the last day of summer and New Year’s Eve, the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred and thin, and spirits, both good and evil, roamed about on the streets and countryside and did as they wished. The Celts were especially frightened by the prospect of these evil souls harming the crops.
On this night, Celtic priests called Druids dressed in animal masks and skins and performed sacrifices to placate the gods and “ward off” spirits. Bonfires represented the sun, the power to fight dark forces. The Druids lit huge bonfires and burned animals, crops, and sometimes even humans. In fact, the word “bonfire” comes from “bonefire,” literally! (It’s interesting to note that the practice of burning humans continued as late as the 1600s).
Besides the Druids, people also performed their little “rituals.” To ward off spirits, they carved turnips and lit them with embers. To “fool” them, they wore animal masks or scary disguises. To placate them, they left fruits and nuts at their doorstep as a gift or offering, thus preventing future bad crops. This is the origin of “Trick or Treat.”
Around the 7th Century the Celebration of the Dead spread to Europe, but it became known as “All Hollows Eve,” or “Night of the Dead.” In parts of Britain and Ireland it also became known as “Mischief Night.”
Around the 800s the Christians moved to the Celtic lands and tried to eradicate all pagan beliefs and celebrations. In an attempt to placate the Celts, Pope Boniface IV designated November first as All Saints Day as an attempt to replace the pagan “All Hollows Eve.” Thus he “transformed” the Celebration of the Dead into a Christian holy day.
It is believed that later the Irish brought the tradition of carving turnips to America. However, they soon found out that there weren’t as many turnips there, and that pumpkins were a lot bigger and better to carve scary faces on.
Eventually “All Hollows Eve” came to be known as Halloween.
The traditional Halloween symbols we know today, like witches, black cats, ghosts, pumpkins and candles appeared in the US around the 1800s. Entrepreneur minds no doubt realized the marketing potential. The whole concept of Halloween gradually became commercialized.
Today, in spite of its dark origins and although some religious people consider it an “evil” festival, Halloween is mostly regarded as a spooky yet harmless, fun, family celebration.
©2005, 2007. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This column may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.
Interview with Author Jonathan Maberry, Bram Stocker Award Winner
Interview by Mayra Calvani
QUESTION: What was your inspiration for your first novel, Ghost Road Blues? What’s it about?
ANSWER: It got started in a couple of different ways. My grandmother (who died in 1978 at 101) told me as a boy about the myths and legends –or as she called them ‘beliefs’ of the supernatural. I grew up knowing a fair bit about the folklore of supernatural and occult beliefs, and while writing several nonfiction books on the subject I got the idea for a novel in which the characters encounter the supernatural as it appears in folklore, which is substantially different from the way it is most often portrayed in popular fiction and film.
Ghost Road Blues deals with a small Pennsylvania town whose industry & tourism is built on its long-standing haunted history. They have Hayrides and a huge Halloween Festival...but they discover that the town is far more haunted than they think, and that turns out not to be a good thing for the residents or tourists.
It’s the first book of a trilogy, informally known as the Pine Deep Trilogy. The series continues with Dead Man’s Song and will conclude with Bad Moon Rising in June of 2008.
QUESTION: For most writers, having their first book published by a big NY publisher is a dream come true. How did this come about? Did you initially find an agent?
ANSWER: Ghost Road Blues is my first novel, but not my first book. I’ve been a nonfiction author for thirty years. I’ve written over a thousand magazine articles, plays, short stories...the works. I served as my own agent for selling the nonfiction books --and this is not something I recommend. My first books were textbooks I wrote for a number of college courses at Temple University (Judo, Self-Defense for Women, Introduction to Asian Martial Arts, etc.). Then I did some martial arts books for a small press. When I decided to try my hand at fiction –which was totally new territory for me—I decided to look for an agent.
I made a wish-list of the agents who worked with the authors I most admired, particularly those writing in the same genre where I wanted Ghost Road Blues placed. I wrote a heck of a query letter and approached the top agents I could find. When I got go-aheads to submit my book, I gave each some time to read the material and then I invited them out to lunch, one at a time. I like face-to-face book pitching, and over lunch we talked about my book, other books I wanted to write, and about the book world.
From those encounters I was able to choose from a couple of agents who offered to represent me. I believe I made the best choice for me. My agent, Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency (formerly of Trident Media Group) has sold eleven books for me since April 2005. Six novels and five nonfics. She sold Ghost Road Blues to the second editor who read it and Pinnacle Books has done a marvelous job with the series.
QUESTION: Ghost Road Blues just garnered the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel of the Year. How does this make you feel as a writer?
ANSWER: On top of the world. It’s a somewhat surreal experience to try something totally new --book length fiction—and then have it become a celebrated book. I would have been happy just to see it in print; but the Stoker win was terrific. It’s supercharged me, too.
QUESTION: Tell us a bit about your other books. What was your inspiration for these books? Which themes obsess you?
ANSWER: Since I come from a background of magazine feature writing I have the writers’ knack of becoming obsessed with a topic –for a while. Aside from the martial arts books I’ve written, I’ve also written articles about dating, mixology, jazz, blues, film, gastropod farming (no, that’s not a typo), business, parenting, writing, technology, folklore and dozens of other topics. When I’m in research mode I want to know everything I can about a subject, and then I find that one element –the hook—that will give me something unique that I can pitch.
For books, I feel that I’ve kind of ‘been there, done that’ with martial arts. I’ve been an active jujutsu practitioner for 46 years now and I’ve written extensively about it. In 2002 I ‘moved on’ from that topic and became more fully enmeshed in folklore, which has always been a passion of mine. I suppose it’s the closest thing to an abiding ‘obsession’ with me. There’s so much to say on the subject, even within my area of specialty, which is the folklore of the occult and paranormal.
My first book on that subject was The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead, which is the only book I ever did under a pen name (that of Shane MacDougall). It started me in that direction, and after I landed my agent I gave her a proposal for a new book on vampire folklore, Vampire Universe, which she very quickly sold to Citadel Press. Before I’d finished writing that book the deal got tweaked and expanded so that I was now under contract to write three more books in the same, ah...’vein’. The second in that series, The Cryptopedia (co-authored with David F. Kramer) just debuted on September 1. That one is an occult/paranormal dictionary covering thirteen different subject areas (from divination to UFOs). The final two in that series are tentatively titled They Bite! (which discussed supernatural predators) and Vampire Hunters and Other Enemies of Evil, scheduled for release in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
In 2008 I’m diverting from folklore for a pop culture monster book: Zombie CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead, also for Citadel, in which I ask real-world experts in forensics, law enforcement, medicine, and science how they might react and respond to zombies (of the Night of the Living Dead variety). All lots of fun.
QUESTION: What are your writing habits? Do you work on an outline before starting the actual novel?
ANSWER: I’m a very disciplined writer, but I allow for a lot of flexibility. I write an outline first and character profiles. Then I sit down and draft out a very rough ‘preliminary synopsis’ of what the finished book might be like. I like complicated storylines and deep-reaching character development, and that has to be planned to some degree. However I have never finished a project that bears much resemblance to the original outline. Books are organic and they’ll change in the telling. The outline allows me to remember the underlying logic of the story, but I often let the characters drive the car.
Also, as you develop a scene there is an internal logic that often necessitates story changes you did not initially predict. This is cause and effect as applied to writing, and that allows the story to take on a pattern closer to reality.
I write every day, and I did that long before writing became my 9-5 job. I’m a believer in that saying: “If you write every day you get better every day.”
I roll out of bed around 7:30 and by 8-ish I’m at my desk. I set goals for myself –usually 4000 words per day. If I write more, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean I can write less tomorrow. On weekends I scale it back to about 1000 words.
QUESTION: Which element of fiction writing comes more naturally for you—plot, characterization, description, and dialogue? Which one gives you the hardest time?
ANSWER: Character development and dialogue are easiest, though all of it takes work. Complex plot is the hardest because you have to both entertain the reader and keep him guessing. You can’t make the puzzle too hard for them to grasp but at the same time you have to be aware that readers are smart, savvy and experienced, which means that they’ll be thinking two or three steps ahead. Balancing plot development and its twists and turns requires a lot of thought, and most of that occurs when you’re not at the keyboard. For some bizarre reason I get my best plot twist ideas while I’m in the shower. Who knows, maybe by shampooing my hair I’m stimulating brain cells; and it’s a much happier result than when I sing in the shower –which I do badly and at great volume.
QUESTION: What goes on inside the mind of the horror writer?
ANSWER: It’s not cobwebs, bats and spiders. Writers, particularly horror and thriller writers, spend a lot of time in their own heads. We poke into old closets and dusty attics, places where we’ve stored our fears and the memories of hurt and trauma. Horror writers generally start out by taking what scares them and writing about it so that they can watch it from a distance, gain some perspective over it, and then resolve it. It’s great therapy; but more importantly it allows others (readers) who have had similar experiences, to see that these are things that happen to a lot of people. We write about loss, heartbreak, abuse, neglect...and we build horrific elements around them to make the tales less overtly individual (to ourselves) and therefore more widely accessible. It’s a fascinating process.
We also listen to the voices in our heads. For most people this a red flag and medication & restraints might be involved. But for writers –and not just horror writers—our characters are, to some degree, alive in our heads. We allow them to talk to one another. Very often the best scenes and dialogue come from the characters inside the writers head being given license to talk and act. Then we go write it down. I believe it was Bradbury who said that writing is 99% thinking about things, and then the rest is typing.
QUESTION: Why do you think so many people enjoy horror fiction while at the same time loathing death and violence in real life?
ANSWER: Because horror fiction provides us with safe chills. We love the adrenaline rush on a rollercoaster, especially when it feels like it’s about to go off the rails, but we really, really need to believe that it won’t. Horror fiction is a rush. It satisfies the need to experience the whole range of human emotions. That’s why horror often has romance, humor, and other emotional qualities in it.
And for many it’s a way to reinforce the belief that monsters can be overthrown. In real life there are real monsters: abusive parents, violent criminals, rapists, hostile governments, terrorists...and for most people this is all way beyond their control. They feel disempowered by these threats. In horror fiction we can feel the same intensity of fear but in the end (usually) the good guys win and the monster dies. Never underestimate the power of closure, even if it’s escapist closure.
QUESTION: Are you still expected to do a lot of marketing and promotion on your own, or does your publicist/publisher take care of all the planning?
ANSWER: Unless you’re king of the bestseller list, if you’re an author you’re expected to do a lot of promotional work yourself. Until just recently (when I hired a publicity manager) I had to set up my own signings, create my own swag (those cool giveaway items authors sometimes have), and so on. My publisher, like many in the business, will do a little but not a lot. It’s an economic thing; plus they know that writers who want their books to succeed will hustle a lot of this themselves. It’s not fair, but there it is.
The trick is get into the mindset where you enjoy the process. And I do; though I did hire the publicist because of time constraints. I have to write 2 ½ books per year, so my time is getting limited.
After Bad Moon Rising comes out next year I’ll be writing fiction for another publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and they’ve offered to provide me with a publicist. That’ll be just dandy.
QUESTION: Would you like to share with our readers some of your current or future projects?
ANSWER: Aside from the books I already mentioned, I have a short story coming out in the anthology History is Dead, edited by Kim Paffenroth. It’s an antho of zombie stories set prior to the 20th century. My story, “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World” is a comedy about two moonshiners who run afoul of gangsters and zombies in the days leading up to the Chicago Fire. I’m collaborating with playwright Keith Strunk on a movie script based on the story.
I’m also shifting gears a little bit in fiction and am writing a bio-terrorism thriller, Patient Zero, for St. Martins Press. It’s the first of a series of novels about a police detective, Joe Ledger, who gets recruited by a secret military organization to help stop a group of terrorists who are planning to launch a weaponized disease that turns people into zombies. It’s not a horror novel, however, and I even have a decent medical explanation for how the zombies function. This book is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2009.
And I’m working on developing a couple of horror-related projects with collaborators, including a script for a graphic novel.
I’m also launching an online horror ezine, Cryptopedia Magazine (www.cryptopediamagazine.com). That’s going to be great, with lots of top writers and artists involved.
QUESTION: Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works?
ANSWER: My main author website is http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/; but I’m also co-founder of a writers education center, The Writers Corner USA (http://www.writerscornerusa.com/), and we’re just about to launch a number of online classes for writers. On MySpace I can be found at www.myspace.com/jonathan_maberry and www.myspace.com/cryptopedia.
I haven’t really started much of a blog, though I dearly want to. It’s a time thing. I’ll get one rolling when I’m sure I’ll have the time to provide interesting things for my blog readers to share.
QUESTION: What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are trying to break into the horror genre?
ANSWER: First off, one sad reality about the business is that ‘horror’ per se is not a thriving genre. Top writers like Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, Dan Simmons, Anne Rice...they never labeled themselves as horror writers. Most often their works are published as ‘fiction’, ‘thrillers’ or ‘suspense’.
To break into the business of writing horror I suggest pitching your book as a ‘supernatural thriller’. You still need to approach agents and publishers who work with horror, but the labeling matters, especially in the book pitch process.
Also, writers should learn as much as they can about the business of writing. Craft will take you only so far; but after you’re done typing --like it or not—your book becomes a commodity. Everything from that point on is business. Those authors who understand this thrive; those who don’t...don’t. There is a conceit within the creative community that writers make lousy businessmen; and that’s total crap. Writers are best at research --so go and research what it takes to make a good book and a good deal.
And, when pitching a book, make sure your pitch letter doesn’t get bogged down by trying to tell every last blessed plot point. That’s the wrong time to make those points. Be brief, be interesting, and always include information about why this book will satisfy the needs of readers who love this genre. To you it may be about the book, to the readers it may be about the book; but to agents, editors, booksellers, etc. it’s about how much money that book will make. When a writer learns the business he gets to participate more actively in the discussion phases, which means he’s more likely to make the kind of money that will give him the time to write and write and write.
Interview with short story writer Heather Ingemar
Interview by Mayra Calvani
What was your inspiration for your latest ghost story, A Slip of Wormwood?
Well actually, it started during a game my husband and I play, where the first person comes up with a sentence, and the other has to come up with a "story" around that sentence. My husband gave me a rather innocuous sentence about Frog skipping happily along, and I started to tell what I thought was an innocent children's story, but quickly spiralled into a tale of dark sibling rivalry and greed. My husband laughingly asked if he wanted to hear more, and I quickly came up with a sentence for him. The characters didn't leave, though. I finally had to write it down, and I did so in about four hours.
Tell us a bit about your other published stories. What was your inspiration for these stories? Which themes obsess you?
Well, to date I've only got four, two -- "What's Really There" and "Memories" with the ezine The Gothic Revue -- and two with Echelon Press, "Darkness Cornered" and "A Slip of Wormwood." Given that small sampling of my work, I'd have to say the supernatural, the abnormal was definitely a strong theme and inspiration for all of these works. I've always wondered about the things hiding in shadows, closets, and under beds. What kind of monsters hide in our world, and are they really "monsters" at all? I guess it's natural that would make a strong appearance in my work, since it's a concept that's always fascinated me.
What are your writing habits? Do you work on an outline before starting the actual story?
It really depends on the work. A lot of my short stories just come to me in the cliche "flash of inspiration," and so they generally don't need any outlining. With my longer works, my novellas, I like to keep a rough outline just so I can keep track of where I am in the story. I also do some outlining if I'm having trouble seeing what a character does, or why. But as for doing all that before writing, I'd have to say no. I start writing, and usually by the end of the first scene, I'll know if I need a roadmap or not.
Which element of fiction writing comes more naturally for you—plot, characterization, description, dialogue? Which one gives you the hardest time?
Oh boy, that's a tough question. I think I'd have to say that description is the easiest for me. I naturally tend to be attuned to how things look, how the light from the window plays on the furniture, the overall sense of things. Then, it'd have to be characterization, plot, and dialogue. But then again, this differs with the story too. Some stories I have to work exceptionally hard at my characterization, when the plot fell into place easy as pie. Others, I've got great dialogue, but my beta readers aren't feeling enough of a sense of place. It just depends.
Your style has a rich Victorian flare, very reminiscent of 19th Century horror writers. What authors have influenced your work?
Oh, definitely Poe. I love Poe. I remember reading "The Tell-Tale Heart" in seventh grade and just being astounded at the sheer dexterity of craft. I went to the library the next day and checked out an entire volume of his works just to skim through because I was so fascinated with his portrayal of the inner demons, the dark places in the psyche. When I read "The Fall of the House of Usher" in high school, I just loved how he was so able to connect his characters into the landscape. Just amazing. As for other authors, there are so many who have influenced my work, that I have a hard time remembering them all. (laughs) I studied a lot when I got my BA in English, and there were a TON of authors I just read one piece by, and it affected me. Many of them I can't even remember titles or names, but the work stuck with me. I'm thinking of a piece now that I read and got that chilling little frisson from; it was about a man who paints demons so lifelike, that it's practically impossible. And then the artist's friend finds out that the guy really IS painting demons, live demons, and oh, it was just great! But I can't remember for the life of me any specifics about the author himself. I hope I'll run across that one again some day, it was a real humdinger!
What goes on inside the mind of the horror writer?
I find it incredibly funny that people call me a horror writer. Most of my work I don't even see as scary -- they may have scary or chilling parts, but I wouldn't classify the entire work that way.... I don't know. Maybe I just view the world differently? "Wormwood" was actually the first piece I wrote that I truly considered 'horror.' The rest I consider more unusual, paranormal. Not Horror. Ah well!
Why do you think so many people enjoy a good fright while reading a book?
I think because it's a safe medium. Those nasty things aren't going to pursue you off the page. And, because, especially with the really good fiction, the reader can imagine the evil creatures or setting how they find it most scary.
How do you set to the task of promoting your short stories?
This has been a challenge. When I decided to skip the literary magazines -- I'm too much of a genre writer -- I looked into the ebook medium. Partly as a way into the publishing field, and partly because the truth is most of our society at this point is online for recreation. When it came to promoting, I took this into account and decided to focus most of my efforts online. I set up a website. I started pursuing networking mediums for added publicity. I wrote articles, posted on message boards, I did everything I could think of, even offering downloadable goodies from my site, to draw attention and interest. So far, the challenge to be creative with marketing has been fun, and I'm learning along the way. Marketing face-to-face, is very different, however. Luckily for me, I write short fiction. In my experience, people are more willing to read a short story online or on the computer than a longer work. That's not to say longer works aren't popular -- they are, for the tried-and-true ebook fans. In my area, most of the people haven't ever heard of an ebook, and they're very wary of it. But, they'll be brave and try a short story -- it doesn't take up a lot of their time. I find I have to work extra hard at making it sound like something they're interested in to get a bite. Bookmarks, promo flyers... it helps. If you can entice them to look, pique their curiosity, you've got a chance.
Would you like to share with our readers some of your current or future projects?
Well, I've got a set of three urban fantasy novellas I've been working on, the first one is out to publishers and I am working on the edits for the second. The third is in the drafting stage. I just finished two short stories, one literary, one more genre, and they are also out to publishers. I'm working on another short story featuring a zombie -- I've always wanted to write a zombie story -- and for now, that's it. (laughs) Between editing, drafting, writing, and monitoring submissions, I keep myself pretty busy.
Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your works? Where are your stories available?
Yes, my website is located at http://catharsys.wordpress.com/ It's got everything on it. Bio, upcoming events, news about my work, copies of reviews and interviews. At the beginning of September I added a bi-weekly podcast. My stories are available through Echelon Press at http://www.echelonpress.com/ and also through most major ebook retailers such as Fictionwise, http://www.fictionwise.com/ .
What advice would you give to aspiring short story writers who are trying to break into the horror genre?
Advice for aspiring short story writers. Well, I'd say practice, because in a short story, the prose is so critical. You have to draw your readers in with your first sentence, you've got to be able to balance character, setting and plot in just the right amounts so your reader isn't slogged with information. Plus, it's got to be relatively short. As my creative writing professor said, "Only the essential story." So definitely, practice. And don't be shy about submitting. As Stephen King once wrote, "The short story is... not a lost art, but I would argue it is a good deal closer than poetry to the lip of the drop into extinction's pit. (Everything's Eventual, 2002)" We need more stories out there. We need people to help keep the craft alive.
What was your inspiration for your horror novel, The Right Thing? What's it about?
The historical fiction novels required the base outline of history, so the story had to be chronologically accurate. Also, the first book spanned three generations, so in the research I had to list births and deaths, events, etc. The second book chronology is only one generation, so it wasn't as difficult as the first. Although I didn't outline the plot, it had to correspond with history. Once I become committed to a project, I have a daily ritual whereby I write a minimum of 500 words. No less. I keep tally of the word count on an Excel spreadsheet. It might go as high as 1000 to 1500 words a day, and on rare occasions 2000. At 500 words a day, you're looking at a 100k novel in 200 days. My first two novels were well over 220k words (200k words after editing) - - or around 500 pages on a 9 by 6 inch trade paperback. The Right Thing and The Mirror each topped out at 100k words after editing.
Well, I've only written one novel in the horror genre, so I'm new to this scene. I wanted to create trepidation, anxiety, and that feeling in the pit of the stomach that something bad is going to happen. I wanted to create a character that was pure evil, and have him interact with everyday people, with the reader knowing that something really bad was going to happen, over and over.
My current work, titled A Biker's Story, is a tale of an outlaw motorcycle club whose members discover that one of their trusted club brothers is in fact a Federal Agent.
The Right Thing
By James Richard Larson
Trade Paperback, 284 pages, $17.95
Have you ever been rejected by literary agents? Have you ever fantasized about making them pay? If yes, this is the book for you! In this his latest novel, talented author James Richard Larson shows a chilling, terrifying portrait of a rejected, aspiring writer who brings her dreams of revenge to reality.
Deeply depressed by her struggling life as an aspiring author, Elsbeth Malone takes her own life, but not without making a pact with an ancient evil being first. Her husband and the protagonist of this story, Johnny Malone, is left heartbroken and stunned at the realization that Elsbeth had been practicing magic before her death. Soon horrible incidents begin to happen to various literary agents, agents that, as Johnny eventually finds out, are in Elsbeth’s ominous list of agents who rejected her manuscript, A Circle of Light.
One after another the agents begin to die under grisly circumstances after meeting a mysterious British man named Mr. William Bagnold, a man clad in black who claims to represent Two Ravens Publishing. There’s only one problem—Two Ravens Publishing stopped existing in 1944. Then one day Johnny receives a message from a Ms. Lane, one of the agents whom Elsbeth had sent her manuscript to. Due to changes in publishing trends, Ms. Lane believes that Circle of Light, which she had previously rejected, now has great marketing possibilities, and so she offers to represent her. Johnny informs her Elsbeth is dead, but agrees to meet her because nothing would make him happier than seeing the manuscript published. A sort of romantic relationship begins to develop between them, but hell breaks loose when Johnny realizes she is one of the agents on Elsbeth’s doomed list. Will he be able to break the ‘curse’ and save her from a terrible death?
I found the story riveting from the very beginning. The premise is good, and Larson has great skill in developing detailed, absorbing, well-drawn characters. The unsympathetic agents are realistic without being cartoonish, and the secondary characters are as well developed as the main ones. Around the middle of the novel the focus seems to go off Johnny and settle on some of the secondary characters, but these subplots are so interesting, realistically written, and engrossing that they didn’t prove distracting, even though I had to ask myself ‘Where is Johnny?’ a couple of times. I’m not sure whether Larson meant this on purpose, but I think if Johnny would have been more involved in the middle of the story, the novel would probably have been even better.
The ending is ingenious and shocking and took me completely by surprise. I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I had understood it correctly. The Right Thing is definitely a great read this Halloween for everyone who enjoys a chilling, atmospheric modern horror. If you’re a struggling author, you will get an extra kick out of it as well.
"A Slip of Wormwood"
By Heather S. Ingemar
(An Echelon Download)
Short story, 21 pages, $1.50
With “Slip of Wormwood” I have the pleasure of reviewing yet another short story from talented author Heather S. Ingemar. Ingemar has the gift of writing with a vivid, atmospheric, elegant style reminiscent of 19th Century paranormal authors.
This particular story revolves around an eccentric and not particularly well-liked pharmacist nicknamed Mr. Frog who has just inherited his brother’s estate—a large, three-story manor house on twelve acres.
Consider the following description, which happens to be the opening of the story:
“When Mr. Frog, as he liked to refer to himself (it was
a nickname gone well past the limits of childhood), strode
down the main walk of town with a wide grin on his face,
people wondered. He was a pharmacist, and a dour,
dismal sort of one, who pranced about in a dark pinstripe
suit, with a narrow, saturnine face to match. Today,
however, his creased and crinkled features were turned up
in his version of a chipper attitude (but was really a slimy,
creeping kind of smile).”
Through Mr. Frog’s memories, we learn of his constant childhood rivalry with his brother, the good, well-liked ‘Toad’, as he used to refer to him. Toad was always the parents’ favorite, and Frog grew up in bitter and well-concealed hate as a shadow of his brother. Now, filled with self conceit, Frog prepares to close the small village pharmacy in order to move to the manor, which is off on the Westbury countryside. However, once there, strange, horrific things begin to happen. Are they real, hallucinations, or a product of Frog’s guilty conscience?
This is classical, ghost story writing at its best. The writing is, in one word, exquisite. Ingemar manages to create an excellent picture of Mr. Frog, his manners, feelings and motivations. The words and sentences flow lyrically and effortlessly. The setting is strongly atmospheric, making this the perfect little story to cuddle up with on a grey, rainy day. Ingemar is definitely an author to keep an eye on.