(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Time, as they say, waits for no one. A third of the year has already gone. However, the best thing about this time of year is that I actually see my house in daylight during the week. Technically, it’s spring. But I think someone forgot to tell the weather that, as the temperature in the UK has been more winter-like the past few days. Some places even have snow. Anyway, enough about the weather. On with the news.
OUT NOW/COMING SOON
Seven years ago this month, my first novel was published – SUFFER THE CHILDREN was released in e-book format by Lyrical Press. It marked a major turning point in my life, fulfilling a dream that I had chased for thirty years. And now the book is available again, from a different publisher. If you haven’t yet read the book that started it all for me, you can buy it here from MuseItUp Publishing.
Coming up to the present day, I have been in touch with my editor and the edits for SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, the new Shara Summers novel, will be underway shortly. I’m still optimistic for a 2017 release.
I’ve been a bit quiet on the publicity front of late. It’s now been nearly a year since anything new came out, and I always feel it’s difficult to plug a new book when it’s not really new at all.
I did run another Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH, however, that finished on 15 April. The winners were: Rachel Sanders in Sutherland, and Adam Bradbury in Surrey. Their prizes were posted last week, and indeed should be in their hands by now. The plan is to run some more Goodreads giveaways between now and October, so if you’re still interested in winning a copy of this book, keep an eye on the Goodreads page.
I’m a bit light on the convention side of things this year as well. However, that’s largely because I’m going to Bouchercon in Toronto in October, and not only is that a con that requires an international trip, it also clashes with most of the other cons I generally go to (FantasyCon and Bristol Horror Con, to name two). But I’ve been wanting to do Bouchercon for years, and with it being in Toronto it gives me a good reason to go visit family and friends in Canada at the same time.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The new horror novel, OUTPOST H311, is going well. I’ve agreed a deadline with my publisher at KGHH on this one, and it’s full steam ahead.
That’s it for now. I’ve got to get on with the writing!
Today I am pleased to have as my guest once more Stan Hampton, Sr. Welcome back, Stan!
SJT: You’ve visited my blog many times, and each time you do, you’ve got a new adventure in your life to tell us about. The most recent one has you gadding about France. What’s that all about?
SH: Well, I need a foreign language for my Bachelors (double major of Art with Sculpture Emphasis and English with Creative Writing Emphasis). The last time I took a foreign language, French, some 16 years ago, it was not pretty. Perfect time for “ugly crying.” This time, courtesy of International Programs at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the Universities Study Abroad Consortium, University of Nevada-Reno, I figured I’d study French in France. Immersion, so to speak. Aaand, yeah, the exams were on 7 April, I don’t know the results yet, but it’s probably time for some “ugly crying.”
SJT: What have been the highlights of your trip?
SH: Fulfilling nearly life-long dreams. Visiting the French Foreign Legion Museum in Aubagne; visiting the Roman aqueduct Pont-du-Gard, and touching the very stones that real people handled some 2,000 years ago; visiting the Camargue, which is a setting I’ve planned on using in one of my novels; staying in wonderful bed and breakfasts in the old cities of Arles and Carcassone, as well as one in the village of Vers-Pont-du-Gard; seeing the Mediterranean Sea, and visiting the tragic ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane.
SJT: You’ve led a very eventful life. What would you say your life philosophy is?
SH: I’ve always believed in “Live and let live,” sort of, but I was also very judgmental. During a bitter divorce I learned what it was like to be judged, and it’s not a good feeling. In recent years, especially this past spring, there’s also a guiding sense of gratitude. If I remember correctly, in the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, “There are far more sunrises behind me than ahead of me.” I served with Soldiers who were killed in the Iraq War and others have died after we returned home, including suicide. I learned very recently of a fellow art student, a young woman, who passed away. How much time do we really have in this world? It has been on my mind since I arrived in France, how many people my age are full time university students studying in a foreign country? I’d guess not many. So, every day I feel gratitude for an opportunity like this, and for meeting the Americans and French that I have met here.
SJT: Your fiction is as varied as your life, and you are not constrained by genre. I understand the new novel is described as horror-SF. Can you tell us about it?
SH: Wellll, it takes place in the future. Imagine escaping from a world being destroyed by a global pandemic, only to discover that your escape is more akin to the legend of the Flying Dutchman.
SJT: When will it be available?
SH: MONOLOGUE will be available on 25 April 2017 from Melange Books LLC.
SJT: Where did the idea for this story come from?
SH: To tell the truth, I don’t remember. But in a sense, my guiding light when writing something like this has always been Rod Sirling and The Twilight Zone. I was hooked on that show the first time I saw it, and I still watch it, especially during the New Year’s Eve marathons.
SJT: Your busy life doesn’t get in the way of your writing, and you seem to be quite prolific. What are you working on now, writing-wise?
SH: Well, I’m editing/revising an erotic romance story, Three Little Words. Beyond that, I’m not sure. There are other stories I need to take another look at and probably doing a little rewriting, such as another erotic romance, horror, and science fiction. I might even have another go at Native American steampunk.
You can run, but what if you find yourself aboard a space faring Flying Dutchman?
Luther Raynor is a son of one of the world’s wealthiest and politically influential families. When the Etava Virus appeared and spread across the world, mankind’s very survival was in question. Luther used his family’s wealth to construct a sleeper spacecraft to take the family into space, to orbit in safety around Jupiter for a thousand years while in suspended animation. At the last minute he changes the plan after calculating that upon awakening, survival supplies for one would last far longer than for two dozen or more people. He flees into space alone except for the Mobile Artificial Intelligence Image—May, responsible for operation of the spacecraft. But, Luther had no idea of what awaited him out there.
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 grandchildren, and a published author, photographer and photojournalist. He retired in 2013 from the Nevada Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army, and the Army Individual Ready Reserve (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War). He enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle and Iraqi Freedom, with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
He has had two solo photographic exhibitions and curated a multi-media exhibit. His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran.
In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. He has been studying at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas with in a double major in Art and English. He recently returned from spending a cold, rainy Spring 2017 semester studying at a university in southwestern France in the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains.
After 16 years of desert in the American Southwest, and Southwest Asia, he still misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.
Hampton can be found at:
Dark Opus Press: https://www.createspace.com/3685965
Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing: http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/dansemacabre/dansemacabre.html
Melange Books: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/sshampton/index.html
Amazon.com Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ
Amazon.co.UK Author Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/SS-Hampton-Sr/e/B00BJ9EVKQ
Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6888342.S_S_Hampton_Sr_
Today’s guest on the blog is fellow KGHH author Christopher Long. Welcome, Chris!
But Once a Year
By Christopher Long
We spend a lot of time talking about time. It’s a very human thing to do. For a start, we’ve made up a lot of sayings about it and we’ve set them down in stone. We’ve decided it waits for no man. It flies whilst we’re having fun. A wise man even once said it flies like an arrow, while fruit flies like a banana. For me, recently, time hasn’t tormented me by refusing to wait, flying or comparing itself to the aerodynamic properties of fruit. Instead, it has become a backseat driver. It’s been leaning over the driver’s seat and whispering in my ear. It keeps mentioning something about the date.
You see, we’re only a few days away from my birthday and, up until now, I’ve always liked my birthday. There are presents, cake, some attention. What’s not to like there? Only, this year, I turn 37. Which has led to me realising that 37 is pretty damn close to 40.
Not that 40 matters, right? Age ain’t nothing but a number. Except, of course, the numbers do run out. For us, anyway. There is a high score I’m playing towards and I’m not allowed to know what the final tally will be. No one ever tells you which particular level or boss will use up the last of my credits. Which is probably for the best. I dread to think what it would be like to live with me if I knew the exact date when I reached my own, personal GAME OVER.
I know, I know. It’s shocking, isn’t it? The guy who writes ghost stories has an issue when it comes to death. Well, clichés become what they are for a reason. I’ve been morbid since I was small. Although, don’t get me wrong; I didn’t turn 7 and start worrying about The Big 1 0. I’ve just always had a moderately unhealthy awareness of my own impending death. I can handle it most days by, spiritually speaking, sticking my fingers in my ears and shouting very loudly. It works to a certain extent.
The impending threat of 40 is more to do with the stories locked in my head. When I started writing, I was driven by a dream of being really successful by 18. That slipped to 20 and 25 quite easily, as I began to understand the work that’s really involved in most people’s formative writing years. Then, the target went to 30 and I was fine with at as well. 35 raised an eyebrow, but 40…oh man, 40.
I’m starting to look around at the older members of my family and do the maths. It’s not fun maths either. 40 means I might be approaching a halfway point. If I’m lucky. The point of positively no return and I’ve got so many stories left to tell. I’ve got some stories in my head that I’ve not even got around to tackling yet. Big stories that I’ve been gestating for decades. Stories that feel like they require my full attention and possibly a paid advance so I can really settle down and put them on paper. Stories that have grown with me, become important little parts of myself that I want to share with the world one day, when I’m ready.
Please don’t think this means I’ve got problems with the stories I’ve had published. I love the stories I’ve had published. I really do. They’ve made people laugh or feel worried about what might be just outside their window. That’s brilliant. That’s what they’re for. It’s just that they’ve not been evolving in my head for 30 odd years.
There’s that whispering from the back seat again.
So, where do I go from here? Well, I keep writing for start. I blow out as many candles as I can out of the ones that get put in front of me. Also, I guess never stop dreaming. As tacky as it sounds, it’s the key here. As much as we talk about time, we pray for our hopes. Writing is just like any another creative or artistic endeavour. You hope for success, for notice. You want people to see it. You want people to enjoy it. Ideally, you want to become known for it. Sure, that is a sentiment dripping with ego, but it’s also true. That hope of success is ours to keep safe. It’s the one candle we never want to blow out. We never want to let anyone else blow it out either. We light it ourselves at some important moment in our life and then we watch it. We tend to it. It might flicker or dwindle, if we take our eye off it. It might occasionally look a little low, but it’s our light. Our flame. Our hope. We hold it close and safe.
Some of us lit that candle back when we were kids. Some only realised we had it waiting in us later on. Some people didn’t find it until they passed 40 and moved further on around the board. Which really makes me sound like I’m a whinging idiot.
All of which really says one thing. I’m having a little panic. Nothing more. We all have them. This is just my first birthday related one, that’s all. I’ll get past it. The presents will be unwrapped, enjoyed and put up on a shelf. The months will move on and I’ll keep writing.
Here’s one thing I’ve decided I’m going to do. A little present to myself. At some point, after the party and the presents, I’m going to cut myself a slice of cake and slip away. I’ll find a quiet corner somewhere, get a blank sheet and paper and start to write one of those stories I’ve never dared try yet. I probably won’t write it all. I’ll get just a few pages down and then I’ll keep them safe. At least then I’ll know I’ve started something, ready for the future.
Christopher Long is somewhere in his mid-thirties and he’s not coming out of them until he’s good and ready. He has been writing stories ever since he found out such practices weren’t frowned on in polite society. He has tried his hand at children’s stories, science fiction, fantasy and occasional poetry. Most recently, Chris has been writing ghost stories. Originally, he self-published them onto the Kindle; until he was signed by Kensington Gore Publishing. With them, he has released six novellas, three collections and one novel. He has also had stories featured on the “Shadows at the Door” website and in their first anthology.
Chris currently lives in Rugby with his wife, Sam. They are very happy together, although Sam has warned him about setting any more of his horrific and terrifying tales close to or in any part of their home. As of yet, she hasn’t noticed one of them is set primarily in their back garden.
Learn more about Chris and his writing from his website.
Thomas Singer wrote many horror stories in his time. Not all of them were popular, but some of them made waves. Some of them gained notoriety where it counted. Some of them terrified just enough people to gain Singer a cult status.
For his many prolific years of work and his near ceaseless devotion to storytelling, there have always been rumours about stories he was holding back from his devoted followers. Stories he didn’t want unleashing into the world until he, himself, had left it far behind. Stories too strange or twisted for general consumption. Stories that may well hold a secret or two in their crooked grasp.
Now, after Thomas Singer’s rather unusual and untimely death, Kensington Gore Publishing is proud to release his final five stories. Compiled and edited by Christopher Long, who briefly knew the author, these final stories of Thomas Singer each come with introduction and also an afterword from Singer himself.
Are you ready to see just what Thomas Singer wanted you to read only after he was dead and buried?
Today I am pleased to welcome fellow horror writer K.T. McQueen to the blog, with some thoughts on the crazy habits of writers. Over to you, K.T.!
Over the past few years I must have driven friends, family, and neighbours mad, with my songs on repeat, conversations out loud, and ludicrously vague scene ideas. It’s fair to say I’m not always at my computer bashing out the next 2000 words. Sometimes I’m walking around the kitchen, coffee in hand, having a made-up conversation with an imaginary character. Other times I’m blasting a song on repeat that I’ve already played 20 times, just to find the feel of the scene. And I’ve learnt that those weird little habits are important parts of the writing journey.
Be the character you’re writing and read the conversations out loud. Pretend it’s the movie version and you’re playing the lead – do people really talk like that? This isn’t about finding the mistakes in your work, this is about making the character’s sound real.
Music can be the inspiration, the lock, and the quickest way to get back into the same scene. A song can spark an idea, the beat, the feel, the words. It can lock you into the scene you’re writing until you’ve got it done. And it can bring you back to the scene when you’ve had a break from writing – even if only to grab a few hours’ kip.
Sometimes asking the dumb questions gets you clarity on an idea. For example, I once asked what people thought would happen if the earth began orbiting the sun at a greater distance. It sparked quite a long and interesting conversation and provided loads of ideas for the book I was writing.
Nurture those crazy habits, they’re part of your creative process – whatever it is you do.
Blurb from THE SOUL GAME
Would you ever play a game that risked your life? What about your very soul? If you play you pay. The Soul Game at its core is a love story – a messy, twisted love story.
When the one true Prince of Hell loses the love of his life he must risk his soul to win her back. “This game will teach you things about yourself you could never imagine, it’ll show you darkness, desire, fear, pain and you’ll embrace it all for the love of the game.”
The Soul Game is K.T. McQueen’s third novel published by KGHH Publishing. Like its predecessors, Whispers on The Hill and Skin Side Out, it will leave you breathless.
Coffee loving, cowboy boot wearing, cactus owning, author of horror. K.T McQueen writes horror novels with one goal – to remind you that no one is coming to save you. Learn more about K.T. from her blog, or follow her on Twitter.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I realise I missed February’s round-up, which is a bit remiss of me. I lost quite a lot of March to a lingering virus that turned into a sinus infection. Happily, after over two weeks of feeling terrible, I am feeling good agian.
OUT NOW/COMING SOON
No further news on the third Shara Summers book, SPOTLIGHT ON DEATH, which is meant to be out this year. However, if you have not yet met Shara Summers, you can pick up the first book, DEATH SCENE (in all e-book formats) directly from MuseItUp Publishing’s online store.
I’m running another Goodreads giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH. If you are in the UK and like horror, you can enter now to win a free copy of the paperback. Contest closes on 15 April.
This weekend I’m heading off to the SF Weekender in Wales for a few days of sci fi geekery. And I’m doing a couple of panels for the writers’ track as well.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The virus left my brain feeling too mushy to write and I lost a couple of weeks of writing time. However, I’m back on track now and work on the new horror novel continues apace.
That’s all to report for now. Catch you next time!
Today I am pleased to have romance writer Maxine Douglas as my guest. Welcome, Maxine!
SJT: When did you first know you were destined to be a writer?
MD: I think in high school when I took creative writing and had several poems published.
MD: I’ve always loved Heather Graham, but I would have to say it was Jessica Barkley who really got me to start writing. She is the sister of a good friend of mine.
SJT: What advice would you pass on to beginner writers that you wish someone had told you when you were first starting out?
MD: Finish the book! Don’t stop. Keep writing. Join your local writing group and attend as many workshops, classes, meetings, conferences as you can. Learn your craft and grow a thick skin.
SJT: Have you ever been inspired to put people you know in real life in your books?
MD: Hmmmm….I plead the 5th! LOL
SJT: When it comes to your writing projects, would you describe yourself as a meticulous planner, or a ‘seat-of-the-pantser’?
MD: I think I’m a bit of both really. I get a good sketch of my characters and then let them develop the story. Sometimes, not always mind you, I come to know the ending before I even get to the dreaded middle. It gives me something to shoot for.
SJT: Tell us about your latest release.
MD: Roseanne “Rose” Duncan, witnesses her employer push his sickly wife down the staircase. Fearing she’ll have to testify against a prominent man in town, she’s given ad for a mail order bride in Dodge City. Believing this is a way for her to escape the possible danger of her employer, she travels to Dodge City and marries under the name of Abigail Johnson.
Logan Granger, is a Pinkerton Detective assigned to Dodge City area as an undercover bartender. When his mail order bride, “Aggie,” steps off the train she doesn’t fit the description of a matronly woman who has agreed to his marriage contract of no emotional attachments. There’s no time to reconsider the preacher is waiting to marry them.
Rose hadn’t expected the handsome man waiting for her to be an undercover bartender with a six shooter on his hip and a badge on his chest. Logan hadn’t expected his soon to be wife to be young, beautiful, and a runaway murder witness.
The Reluctant Bride is available both domestic and internationally through Amazon, Google Books/Play, Kobo, B&N, most German outlets. As well as in the four book boxset Wanted: One Bride with Callie Hutton, Peggy McKenzie, and Heidi Vanlandingham.
The Reluctant Bride is the first in a three book series, Brides Along the Chisholm Trail in honour of the 150the Anniversary of The Chisholm Trail. The idea was presented to me last fall by Mark Rathe who is the President of the Chickasha Chamber of Commerce. I wasn’t sure how I’d like writing in the western genre, but once I found I rather enjoyed it The Marshal’s Bride (due to come out this Spring) and The Cattlemen’s Bride (late summer) were born. As were two others outside the series.
SJT: Your website bio says you’ve rekindled your love for Western heroes. What’s the story behind that?
MD: My good friend, and mentor, Callie Hutton invited me to join the Wanted: One Bride boxset and I jumped at it. Problem was I was just finishing up a cozy mystery and would have about 2-3 months to write the project. It made me delve back into the Western genre by watching the old black and white movies I grew up with.
SJT: Any new projects in the works?
MD: Several, as it happens:
The Marshal’s Bride
Heroine, Abigale “Abby” Johnson, comes to Dodge City to see her friend remarry Logan Granger, the man who Abby was originally supposed to marry. Abby hadn’t expected that a lawman of the Wild West would ignite something in her she’d thought died along with her husband. Abby never thought she’d leave the life of a servant until she met Gabe Hawkins. Now he wants to marry her and take her into the Indian Territory.
Hero, Gabe Hawkins, deputy marshal in Dodge City, never expected to fall in love until he laid his eyes on Abigale Johnson. There’s a fire deep inside the matronly woman and Gabe aims to find what lies further beneath Abby’s facade. When an opportunity for a piece of land in Oklahoma presents itself, Gabe grabs it and Abby to start a new life away from law enforcement.
The Cattlemen’s Bride
Hero, Cyrus Kennedy drove his herd into Dodge City, dirt and trail dust coating him from head to toe. He needed a bath, shave, and a good meal after he visited the Pinkerton agent assigned to his case.
Heroine, Montana Sue grew feverish watching the cattle bawling and stomping their way through the middle of Dodge. It wasn’t the longhorns making her insides on fire, it was the cowboy covered in dried mud and layers of dust sitting tall in the saddle.
Red River Crossing
The Midwife’s Husband
And I sold that cozy mystery, Simply to Die For, in February which is the first of a 3-4 book series called Black Horse Canyon. The series is contemporary romance and I have the books in that series to write next year.
I keep a spreadsheet of ideas that is a few pages long, so I won’t be running out of stories for a while. 🙂
SJT: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
MD: Clear my head usually by just vegging. I watch tv, read, babysit by youngest grand-daughter sometimes, and of course spend time with my husband. We have horses, but our schedules are so crazy that they are enjoying being pasture ornaments at the moment. I hope to get out there and ride sometime before the heat of summer hits Oklahoma.
An avid horse lover and reader, Maxine Douglas loves spending time in the saddle, curled up with a good book, catching up with her oldest grand-daughter, or chasing her youngest grand-daughter around the house. Wisconsin natives and high school friends, Maxine and her husband now reside in Oklahoma, where she has rekindled her love for western heroesLearn more about Maxine and her books at Goodreads, her Author Blog, on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for her Newsletter and Mailing List.
For the month of February, I was running a giveaway on Goodreads – two paperback copies of THE WHISPERING DEATH, open to UK entrants only due to the costs of postage.
The giveaway has now closed, and signed and personalised copies of THE WHISPERING DEATH are winging their way, courtesy of Royal Mail, to the two winners: Isobel King in Derry, Northern Ireland, and Matthew Cobb in Hampshire, England.
If you fancy a free copy of the book then don’t fret – there is still a chance to win! Another Goodreads giveaway will open shortly, giving away another two copies of THE WHISPERING DEATH. If you have a Goodreads account, add THE WHISPERING DEATH to your ‘to read’ shelf and you will be notified when the next giveaway opens.
Congratulations to Isobel and Matthew, and thanks to all who entered.
Today I’m pleased to have Margaret Mendel as my guest on the blog. Welcome, Margaret!
by Margaret Mendel
How cool! Today, I’m a guest blogger on Sara Jayne Townsend’s Monday Blog. I love the subtitle of her website, ‘Imaginary Friends’. My first response is, well, of course, writers have imaginary friends. Ah, but how far back do imaginary friends go? I do not believe they are the creation of adult minds. In fact, I think they have their origins in the imaginary play when authors were children.
When I was a kid, I didn’t think I was living with imaginary friends, I was just playing. Though looking at my childhood with a backstory angle, that’s exactly what I was doing, living in an imaginary world whenever I could. I grew up in the country. Schoolmates did not live close. My father worked all the time; mom didn’t drive, so that left my sisters and I to fill our world with the bits and pieces that tumbled out of our young minds.
The concept of imaginary relationships has frequently surfaced in my writing. It’s not the actual imagined people from my childhood that I remember, but the experience of living in another world, for an afternoon, for a few minutes, for long enough to have the situation resonate even many years later. Children take for granted their imaginary worlds. Make-believe is their play. Here is an excerpt from one of my short stories, “If I Die Before I Wake.” This story gives a brief look into where fantasy and reality mixed together in my childhood.
In the farthest corner of our backyard, on the border between our land and a quiet neighbor, a Maple tree thicket grew with long branches that jutted out like feather fans from a cluster of rotting stumps. The branches parted at one edge of the thicket, leaving an opening just big enough for my sister and I to squeeze through. Inside the thicket, the ground, soft and sunken like a huge bird nest, made a space sufficiently large enough for us to sit. Everything was exactly the right size. My sister and I would sit in this thicket, a magical hideout of leaves, branches, and secrets.
From this hiding place, we spied on Mom as she hung the wash or picked the dead leaves from her dahlias. A thin woman, Mom always looked as though she carried a load equal to her own weight in her arms, either the laundry, one of our two younger sisters, or the bushels of vegetables she dragged in from the garden for canning. She worked like an ant, always dragging, lifting or pushing something.
The dahlias were a different matter. To tend them she would actually tiptoe into her garden. My sister thought she did this to be quiet, but Mom said she did it to keep from packing down the soil. Once I saw Mom lift a blossom slowly, cupping the giant flower in both hands, as though she was looking into a face. She smiled. I thought she intended to kiss the bloom. A couple of times I saw her talking to her flowers. My sister didn’t see this, and said that Mom wouldn’t talk to flowers. My sister may have been right Mom did not have time to spend talking to flowers. She hardly had time to talk to us girls.
My sister and I never fought when we were in our hideout. We took turns cooking the twigs and leaves, serving these dinners in the palms of our grubby little hands. Usually, outside of this magical place, I wanted to tell my sister, who was fourteen months younger than I, what to do. In our hideout, I felt different; I felt softer and I could be taken care of, instead of having to be the boss. I could be the baby, my sister could be my mother, or we could both be lost children, huddled together, trying to outwit the wicked pretend witch in the gingerbread house.
The air inside our retreat smelled sweet with the juicy bark of twigs, dusty leaves, dead bugs, and rotting stumps. It was a perfume that made us feel welcomed. It was our air.
When I grew older — or maybe it began to happen when I grew taller and kept bumping my head on the low branches of the thicket — I began to feel as though I had become an intruder. About this same time my sister and I became bored with our make believe world. So I abandoned the hideout, my sister came with me, and our younger sisters took command of the retreat. We saw them poke their heads out through the branches, watching us as we walked down the road to run errands for Mom.
By the time I left the thicket, the musty odor of our make-believe world still in my hair, with my long skinny legs and low-slung, gangly arms, I looked more like a spider creature from the woods than a girl. My sister and I walked away from our childhood and headed towards our father’s world. It was a dark scary place. He listened to the news on the radio every night, informing us of every detail. The world was in a cold war, he said. No one was actually shooting at each other. “That,” he told us, “is just a matter of time.”
When I left the thicket, I began to seek other means of solitude. There was an apple tree on our property, a gnarly old thing that produced misshapen, but deliciously juicy fruit. It had a low-slung limb, perfectly situated to help hoist me up into the cradle of branches. I sat in that old tree many afternoons daydreaming. Those days of youthful solitude, of playing pretend worlds with my sister in the Maple tree thicket and sitting in an apple tree was probably the beginning of my writing life.
I have a sense of longing when I look back on those days. Nostalgia reinterprets the past and those alone times away from parents and siblings now seems magical.
As I write my novels and short stories I often wonder where the characters I create come from. My latest novel, PUSHING WATER, about an American woman in Vietnam in the late 1930s, came to me as I was reading about the history of Vietnam. But I wonder was there a seed of my protagonist, Sarah, growing many years ago in that Maple thicket where my sister and I lived in a magical world of our own? Some times I greet the characters that join me in my quiet moments at the computer as though we were old friends. There is something familiar about many of the characters that find their way into my writing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s as though we were old friends. I wonder could the characters that now step into my short stories and novels be the characters that kept me company when I sat in that old apple tree? I like to think so. Are some of your characters really old friends from a childhood’s imagination?
Margaret Mendel lives and writes in New York City. She is an award-winning author with short stories and articles appearing online and in print publications. Her debut novel, “Fish Kicker” was published in 2014. Margaret’s latest novel “Pushing Water” was published in February 2017. She is a staff writer and photographer with the online magazine Kings River Life. Many of her photos have appeared in websites, online travel journals and book covers. Several of her photos have been exhibited in Soho Photography Gallery in New York City. Check out her photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/margaretmendel/ You can read more about Margaret and her writing at: Pushingtime.com.
Her latest novel, PUSHING WATER, is now available from MuseItUp Publishing.
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
I’m a bit late with this round-up since it’s now 1 February. So how have I been doing in the first month of this year? Let’s see…
Nothing new out, but I’ll take this opportunity to pimp the existing works.
Crime (Contemporary Amateur Sleuth)
Short Story Collection
No guest blog posts to report. However, I am running a Goodreads Giveaway for THE WHISPERING DEATH for February, with two free paperback copies of the book to giveaway. You can enter here. Please note this is for UK entrants only, due to postage costs. Please promote the giveaway if you are able to – I am hoping to raise awareness of the book and perhaps get a few more reviews. There will be more giveaways over the next few months so watch this space.
WORK IN PROGRESS
Work has started on a new horror novel. Since this one is to be delivered to KGHH this year I am pressing on with it, and I have achieved nearly 10,000 words in the first month of the year. It is set in the Arctic, and it has the title OUTPOST H311.
Meanwhile the fourth Shara Summers novel is also a work in progress.
Plenty to keep me busy, then. See you at the end of February!
(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)
Sometimes people ask me how I deal with the commute to work. I spend a good three hours a day – often four – travelling by public transport, into London and back again along with hundreds of other commuters.
The singular thing that keeps me sane on my commute is that I use the time for reading. Losing myself in a book allows me to find some pleasure in this daily ordeal.
For the last few years, I’ve participated in the Goodreads challenge by setting a goal for myself on how many books to read in the year. For the first time in some years, I did not complete my challenge in 2016 – I set myself a goal to read 70 books and only read 68.
Generally this time of year I list the best of the previous year’s reading, which is guided by which books I gave five-star ratings to. And in 216 there were four, as follows:
Defending Jacob – William Landay
Witches Abroad (Discworld #12) – Terry Pratchett
13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough
Try Not To Breathe – Holly Seddon
There’s one comic fantasy, one crime thriller and two psychological thrillers. Further details, as well as a link to the Goodreads page for each book, are listed below.
I had to read this one for my book group, and it left me utterly gripped. The story is told from the point of view of Andy Barber, district attorney, whose life is rocked when his fourteen-year-old son is accused of the brutal murder of a classmate.It throws up an interesting moral dilemma: what is a father to do when he suspects his own child might be a murderers?
I’m still working through my re-reading of the Discworld books, and I have to admit that the books featuring the witches – Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick – are my favourites. In this book the witches have to venture to much-suspect ‘foreign parts’ to stop the happy ending of a well known fairy tale. Because there’s so much more to the story than the one that we’ve heard. I love the witches and their very different but forceful personalities.
I tend to run into Sarah Pinborough at most of the conventions I attend these days, and know her well enough to say hello to. Not only is she a lovely person, but she’s a phenomenal writer, and one of those people that occupies a spot on the writing career ladder that’s much higher up than me, and I can only look up and hope that one day I can get to the same spot.
Sarah Pinborough writes in many different genres. This novel is pegged as YA, but I really hate that label because when I see it I assume it’s referring to a kids’ book. The main character of this novel happens to be a teenage girl, but the genre is most definitely psychological thriller. The main character is rescued from a freezing river and revived after being technically dead for 13 minutes, and this is where the title comes from. How she got there is the main plot of the story, and it soon becomes evident that all the main characters are hiding secrets. As well as being a gripping story, this also serves as a reminder as to just how bitchy teenage girls can be. I’m so glad I don’t have to go through all that again.
Try Not To Breathe
Another psychological thriller, I had to review this for Shots and I found it utterly compelling. It involves the story of Amy, who was attacked and left in a coma when she was 15. Fifteen years have passed and she is still in the coma, but the story of how she got there is gradually revealed through three viewpoint characters, one of which – disturbingly – is Amy herself, who still has active brain function within her coma although she is tragically unaware of how much time has passed.
For this year, I have set myself a target of reading 68 books – the same number I managed to read last year. However, due to the fact that there are a lot of problems on London transport at the moment and I am spending four hours a day on trains, buses and underground trains I have been getting a lot of reading time in and I am already two books ahead of schedule.
If you’re on Goodreads and want to compare books with me, or even check out some of mine, connect with my profile here.