Beer, Two New Indie Books You Should Read, and a Really, Really Big Sloth

I’m a bad little blogger and haven’t been around much. I have no excuse other than, well, life. It happens and sometimes gets in the way.

And sometimes, it’s good. I spent March traveling and may or may not have consumed six months worth of beer in three weeks. But it was pretty. Here’s a picture taken outside the Adam and Eve, reputed to be the oldest pub in Norwich, England.

The Adnams Southwold Bitter is lovely.

All the traveling gave me lots of time to read. What else do you do when trapped on an airplane? Amongst others, I read two recent indie releases. One was released shortly before I left, the other shortly before my return. Sometimes, the universe is kind. I love me some Gothic Horror and highly recommend both books.

Read on the flight to Norwich:

High Lonesome Sound is a new direction for author Jaye Wells (The Prospero’s War series), and one I hope she continues to explore.

“In the sleepy mountain town of Moon Hollow, Virginia, there is a church with a crooked steeple. No one will say for sure how it got that way, but it’s the reason the whole town gathers every Decoration Day to honor the dead.

This year, there are two fresh graves up on Cemetery Hill, a stranger’s come to town, and the mountain’s song is filled with dark warnings.

The good people of Moon Hollow are about to learn that some secrets are too painful to bear, and some spirits are too restless to stay buried.”—from the Amazon description

This is a story that will leave you shivering in the dead of summer.—Cherie Priest, author of The Family Plot

Find it here: AmazonB&N | Kobo | iBooks | GooglePlay  | Indiebound 

Read on the flight home:

From Scott A. Johnson (the Stanley Cooper Chronicles) comes Shy Grove: A Ghost Story. Texas Gothic, and right up my alley!

“When Gary’s crazy aunt Ester dies, he inherits her house in the forgotten town of Shy Grove. Along with his wife and son, he moves into the house to catalogue her belongings, as well as try to work on their relationships. But from the first night, strange things happen in the house. Whispers in empty rooms, shadows in corridors, and changes in Gary’s personality hint that there is something wrong.

And not just with the house…

Shy Grove: A Ghost Story is southern gothic horror that builds a sense of creeping dread.”—from the Amazon description

Scott A. Johnson doesn’t just see the world differently… He sees an entirely different world.— Gary Braunbeck, author of In Silent Graves

Borrow for free with Kindle Unlimited or purchase it at Amazon

Neither of the above are affiliate links and I get nothing (other than the enjoyment of reading and a severe case of envy because I really want to write a gothic ghost story myself) out of them. I just think you should read the books. However, in the self-interest category, the Kindle edition of my novel The Ceiling Man happens to currently be on sale for 99¢ in the US and Canada. And, as always, it’s free to borrow on Kindle Unlimited.

A supernatural creature arrives in the small, fictional town of Port Massasauga and sets his sights on Abby, a girl with psychic powers similar to his own, in Lillie’s gripping debut…Lillie sidesteps horror clichés and presents characters who don’t make eye-rolling decisions…horror fans should expect an entertaining novel that’s tough to put down.—Publishers Weekly/Booklife

Get it at Amazon

Seems like I’m forgetting something…oh, yeah! I promised you a giant sloth. Here you go. a photo of a Megatherium americanum taken at the Natural History Museum, London. I left that big boy behind, but I did come home with Darwin socks.


Why Do You Write That Stuff?

Scary Stuff, That Is.

Cover, 1st edition. 1959.

I grew up in a haunted house on the corner of—I kid you not—Erie and Elm Streets. This was well before Freddy entered our collective consciousness (and our dreams.) We weren’t afraid of our ghosts. They were eerie but just there, part of the house and part the family, even if we didn’t know who they were. Years after my parents sold the house, my sister met the then current owners. They had a few questions for her. All of the things that went on during our time? Still happening. The new residents didn’t take it for granted. They were terrified. Although my sister tried to reassure them, “Oh, yeah. That’s normal in that house,” for some reason they found the confirmation the haunting wasn’t just in their imagination even more frightening. I’m not sure how much longer they stayed. Go figure.

When I was about ten years old, my cousin spent the night. We were allowed to camp downstairs in front of the only television set. (Yes. It was a long time ago.) The midnight movie was the 1963 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It scared the crap out of both of us, and the worst part was that we never saw the monster or ghost or whatever it was. In my memory, we are two little girls huddled together on the living room floor, unable to look away. Even at that age, I knew that if they would just show us the Big Bad, the fear would lessen. I loved it. My cousin still refuses to watch or read horror and sleeps with a baseball bat under the bed. Sometimes I remind her of all the things that bat won’t protect her from. Someday, she’ll have it with her and hit me with it.

My parents were really strict about bedtimes (probably just to get a break from us.) Made for television movies were big while I was growing up, and Tuesday night was one network’s Scary Movie Night. It was also the night my mother was out at a class, and my father let me stay up to watch the movie with him. Mom got home just after eleven. I was always safely, if barely, upstairs in bed, and she was none the wiser. The night Crowhaven Farm aired, Dad and I were so engrossed in the final scene that we never heard her pull in the driveway—early. The backdoor opened, the credits rolled, and he looked at me and said, “Run.” The backdoor closed and I took off. I still don’t know if we got busted—Mom never said anything to me, and Dad and I never spoke of it—but the night Scary Movie met Fear of Mom left a mark on me.

My seventh grade English teacher kept her own paperback lending library on the classroom windowsill, a sneaky ploy to trick snotty adolescents into picking up books they might otherwise never read. On that windowsill I found The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Before reading Shirley Jackson’s work, I had a crush on the creepy. Jackson—and Mrs. Peake—turned that crush into a full-blown love affair.

Then I heard an adult talking about how William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist was awful and dangerous and should be banned. Of course I read it immediately, followed by Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Harvest Home, and Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby and—

Really. Parents. Teachers. Haunted houses. Shirley Jackson. Wonderful books. Of course I write that stuff. What choice do I have?

Context is Everything—Or Is It?

I’ve been missing in action for some time. I spent the summer living in England and traveling in Europe. Although I fully intended to blog about my travels, it didn’t happen. (But, other writing did happen. Lots of writing. It was a good summer in all respects.) At the moment, big changes are taking place in Real Life. I’m trying to find the time to write about Norwich, Delft, Amsterdam, London, Nottingham, Prague, and Florence—but time is elusive and other writing comes first.


In honor of Stephen King receiving the National Medal of Arts, I’m pulling out a piece written in 2013, about revisiting The Scariest Book I’d Ever Read.

Re-reading The Shining

Cover of the 1978 paperback edition.

People remember where and when they were at iconic moments in their lives, events of both public impact—assassinations of presidents, terrorist attacks, etc.— and personal importance—meeting your future spouse, the moment you received good (or bad) news, etc.

I can tell you the date, place, and circumstances of my first reading of Stephen King’s The Shining.

I was nineteen years old and a small-town girl in my second year at Parsons School of Design. My first year and a half in New York, I lived in an NYU dorm. (Parsons didn’t have their own dorms until a few years later.) The Brittany, an old residence hotel converted to a dorm, was a fortress.

At the beginning of my second year, the dorms were overbooked. NYU solved the problem by putting six people into what had been four person suites, and for the first time, mixing NYU and Parsons students in the same suites. It quickly became apparent that academic students and art students have different work and sleep schedules. And priorities. Things got ugly fast. The over-crowding problem was solved in the second semester by a mass exodus as students moved into apartments. My best friend and I were among the runners.

We couldn’t move into our new place until after the first of January, and we had to have our stuff out of the dorm by the end of the second week of the month. We packed our belongings before going home for Christmas. Because my roommate couldn’t get back to the city until the weekend, I returned a few days early and moved us out of the dorm and into the new apartment.

After a day of traveling and moving, I was worn out. Rather than going out that night, I decided to stay in and read. I hit the bookstore and bought The Shining, newly released in paperback.

January 12, 1978 was my first night completely on my own in NYC. The new apartment was on the second floor. It had huge windows—the reason we took the place—with fire escapes on the outside. We had no furniture other than our drafting tables. I’d ordered my bed, but it hadn’t been delivered. I curled up in a blanket roll on the floor, and by the light of the Luxo lamp attached to my drafting table, began reading The Shining.

Did I mention the new apartment had steam heat? Not the old fashioned radiators, which are special things themselves. The heat pipes, covered by a “modern” radiator, ran along the base of the outside wall, underneath the huge windows—the ones that looked out on the metal fire escape, barely above street level. Do you know what steam heat sounds like? There’s a sort of hissing and hiccupping, punctuated by this:

And this: 

And sometimes this: 

At some point, I decided I needed sleep. Did. Not. Happen. As soon as I turned off the light and put my head down I was terrified, and not only by my surroundings. I had to know what was happening at the Overlook. I turned the light on and finished the book.

For thirty-five years, The Shining remained The Book That Most Scared the Crap Out of Me. I avoided re-reading it. The book and the context in which I’d read it combined to make the perfect horror novel experience. I didn’t want to mess with that memory.

Then, I went to grad school and had to re-read it for a class.

The second time around, I read it wrapped up in a blanket, sitting on a comfy couch in a well-lit living room. More important, I read it with the knowledge I would have to write about it. That tends to separate me from a book; I find myself viewing the writing and narrative from a distance, rather than losing myself in the story.

In this new context, my first reaction: STILL SCARY.

What surprised me—and considering everything I just wrote about the book’s original effect on me, probably shouldn’t have—is how much influence The Shining has had on my own work, including the novel I’m writing for my thesis project.

The themes I see (now) in The Shining are the same ones I find myself exploring over and over again: Disintegration of Family. Loss of Self Control and Loss of Self. Innocence at the Vortex of Evil. Helplessness. Denial. Not to mention, The Kid With Something Extra Going On. Which leads me to the chicken or the egg question: Did The Shining scare me so much the first time because, even at nineteen, those themes (as well as the events at the Overlook) struck a chord in me? Or, do the themes haunt me because of the book?

I don’t know and right now, I’m not willing to indulge in enough self-examination to try to figure it out. After resisting a second reading of The Shining for decades, I may have to read it a third time—going into it with my new knowledge— to find my answer. It’ll be cheaper than therapy.

For now, I’ll leave you with The Shining in 30 Seconds, re-enacted by Bunnies:

Redrum. Redrum. Redrum.