Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!!

Happy Halloween to all you ghouls and goblins! Halloween is a very popular holiday in our house. I must admit that I love it almost as much as my kids do. I still dress up. I went to the local costume shop--Spooky Town--to get our costumes this year. I ended up with a pirate costume and it took me a few tries to find one that covered my butt. Has anyone else noticed the trend in women's costumes? It's a slutty version of everything. Sheesh. At any rate, I ended up with a Pirate Wench...not the slutty wench.

In the past, I've made most of the boys' costumes but now that they're older they only want the store bought ones. For the past several years, William has been a Ninja of some kind. (The picture above was last years' Ninja) This year....Ninja again.
When I was a kid my Mom made all of our costumes--and they were really good! I always felt bad for the kids in my neighborhood that had the plastic masks. My Mom whipped up everything from Gypsies, to Jeannies (my little sister and I were both the real Jeannie--the pink one--neither of us would be her evil twin who wore blue), Wonder Woman, Punk Rockers and many, many more.
We also had to wear about 15 sweaters under our costumes....the Jeannie costume probably looked more the the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man with all the layers...but I loved it anyway.

I think my favorite costume as a kid (despite the layers of wool) was the "I Dream of Jeannie" year. Definitely a fave. My favorite costume for the boys was the Parrot, The Train or The Spider (that's Jack pictured above in the Spider costume). I think I had as much fun making them as the boys did wearing them.

How about you? What was your favorite Halloween costume?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

For all that I’m horror-phobic, Halloween is my favorite holiday. This is saying something, because after all, Easter has to do with a lot of chocolate and black jelly beans (both!), Thanksgiving is family and feast extraodinaire, and Christmas… Have you ever gotten your kid a horse for Christmas? It’s one of those perfect moments in parenting that can’t be adequately described.

But Halloween had kid-appeal like no other holiday, for all kinds of reasons:

1) It’s one night when it’s safe and even encouraged to run around the neighborhood after dark, ringing doorbells and yelling.

2) You are rewarded for the foregoing behaviors with sugar and lots of it.

3) The longer you stay out running around with your siblings or buds, the greater your reward.

4) There is nothing quite like comparing your loot with everybody else’s afterward, and trading your Snickers for their Milky Way Dark. Win-win economics made easy.

5) This is when dressing up doesn’t mean wearing what your mom wants you to wear (and not getting it dirty).

6) You get to put on make up the way a kid should be allowed to put on make-up, complete with fake blood and bite marks.

7) There’s a comforting feeling about having a whole grocery bag of chocolate under your bed—until your mom finds it and confiscates it or your brother raids your stash.

8) It’s fun when nobody recognizes you because your costume is so cool.

9) If your brother doesn’t steal your idea, you can be anything you want to be, for just a few hours.

10) No matter how sick you get from overindulging in your own loot, when next year comes around, it’s all going to be fun again.

What’s your favorite Halloween memory?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Paranormal fright is where you find it

By Mary Margret Daughtridge

It's almost Halloween, the time of year when we celebrate the frightful.

You know what scares me? Warning signs—the kind you don’t know exactly what to do with. Like Warning: Do Not Remove This Tag Under Penalty Of Law.

I’ve been thinking recently about the sort of advice/warning that I never know what I’m supposed to do with. Which makes me feel stupid. And alarmed in a misty, amorphous way.

The issue came up this weekend as I traveled to North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway. The leaves are spectacular this year. But I didn’t see all that much of them. I had forgotten that on the Parkway, you’re on a road that’s hugging the nearly vertical side of a mountain.

Now see, right there, I’ve got a problem. I spent my formative years on the coastal plain of North Carolina where the land is F.L.A.T-flat, and the only time it’s not, is when it’s lower than flat. In which case it’s filled with water so the visual impression is still flatness.

My deepest intuition tells me that the earth is located under my feet, and the sky is above my head, and air surrounds me. You can fall off a bridge, off a roof, or out of a tree. If you got real unlucky, those things could fall on you. But you can’t fall off the earth, and the earth can’t fall on you.

In the mountains I’m expected to deal with earth that tilts? That rises up beside me higher than my head, blocking my view of the sky? That’s just wrong, friends. The kind of wrong that’s very bit as scary as encountering a werewolf, or touching the undead skin of a vampire. The kind of wrong that makes the hair stand up on your neck.

So, I’m driving in the mountains, and my paranormal detector is already red-zoned. I’ve got a white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel because the only safe, understandable space is the width of the road.

Then I see a sign, sticking horizontally out of the side of the mountain.

Did I mention that I have an issue with directions? As in sense of direction which is non-existent, forcing me to rely totally on following directions. I see and read every road sign. (I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I learned some people don’t—but that’s another blog.) To the best of my ability, I do what the road sign tells me to do.

But this sign says, “Watch for falling rocks.”

How, I ask you, am I supposed to do that?

If the sign said “fallen rocks” okay, I could look out for them. In fact, I’m not sure I need to be told that anything larger than gravel would pose a hazard.

But don’t the sign makers know this car has a roof? I can’t see up. But if I could see above me, and there was a boulder in the air, could I hope to avoid it? Stopping would be the wrong thing to do, and hyperbole aside, I could stomp the accelerator, but the car wouldn't leap forward—not without a perceptible lag during which the rock would hit me.

But anyway, would trying to look up, instead of forward, really be a good idea? I could drive into or off of the mountain.

"Either one shouldn’t even be possible," the paranormal detector shrieks.

But really, it's all about following directions. If someone else is driving, I'm fine.

What feels paranormal to you--whether it's the classic definition or not? Got any signs that freak you out?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Question Day!

By Deb Werksman, Editorial Manager, Sourcebooks Casablanca

What do YOU want to know? You can ask me about:
*the book marketplace
*the publishing or editorial process
*your specific project (yes! I'm taking pitches today too!)
*anything else you want to know!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are You Superstitious?

 By Tamara Hogan

Happy Halloween!
Do you avoid walking on sidewalk cracks? Walk around ladders rather than under them?  Throw salt over your shoulder when someone sneezes? Think a broken mirror brings seven years of bad luck? Dislike or get nervous around black cats?

As you might be able to tell from the picture of my own black cat, Weasel,  I'm not at all superstitious.

The one "suspicion-y" behavior I might be able to claim is sports-oriented - and decidedly back in the past. I was a competitive gymnast in high school and college, and I had one pre-competition ritual I had to complete without fail: I had to mentally run at least one clean, no-fall balance beam routine before acknowledging the judge and starting my routine.
Is this superstition? Visualization? Whatever you want to call it, I know it worked. ;-) defines "superstition" as follows:

su·per·sti·tion  (n.)  

1.  a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.
2.  a system or collection of such beliefs.
3.  a custom or act based on such a belief. 
4.  irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, esp. in connection with religion.
5.  any blindly accepted belief or notion.

Super Supper? But I want ice cream! 

The meaning of the word 'superstition' has evolved, as definitions do, over time. In Medieval Europe, scholars used the word to describe spiritual beliefs and observances that opposed the dominant religion, Christianity, thrusting many pagans - and black cats - into jeopardy.  Today, the word is used to describe beliefs or behaviors perceived to have no foundation in science or logic. 

Despite how advanced we think our civilization might be, October remains a risky time to be a black cat - so much so that some humane societies and animal rescue organizations refuse to place black cats in new homes until Halloween is over, lest they be abused.

So, no matter how much Weasel wants to go outside and play with the fallen leaves, I keep him, and his brother Slinky, safely indoors, where their only worry is whether tonight they'll be fed Super Supper or Fisherman's Catch for dinner.     

Are you superstitious? If so, about what? And why?   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy HOWL-o-ween!

My kids are all teens or in college now, so the days of dressing up the little ones to go trick-or-treating have passed me by. However, I’ve found there’s a wealth of Halloween activities planned in my area for pet owners. HOWL-o-ween festivals abound, with dogs and cats dolled up in the cutest costumes. And of course, we pet lovers get to hang out and party!

We also discuss pet safety during the holidays… I would like to take this opportunity to share some of those tips with you:

*Keep candy out of reach of your pets. Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, can be toxic.
*Foil wrappers, plastic wrappers and lollipop sticks can get lodged in an animal’s digestive tract.
*Be careful that pet costumes are comfy and not constricting the neck. Also be careful that they do not cover eyes and ears. Check for small part that can be choking hazards. If your pet seems stressed by the gear, ditch the costume, no matter how cute you might think it is. It’s still hot in Florida this time of year, so my dogs prefer a simple Halloween scarf.

*Keep wires and decorative lights out of pet’s reach so they don’t become entangled or chew through cords.
*Keep in mind that pets can knock over a Jack-o-lantern, a potential hazard for burning the pet or starting a fire.
*If you have a cat, be extra vigilant about keeping it indoors this time of year. Sadly, there are horrible people out there who would harm them – some shelters will not even adopt out black cats in October.

*Keep pets contained while trick-or-treaters are coming to the door. Either keep the pet in another room or place a pet gate in front of the door. It’s safer for your pet and for the trick-or-treaters.
*Always have an ID tag on your pet! (Too many pets show up at shelters with no ID, even animals that have clearly been cared for and loved.) Have a happy and safe Howl-o-ween!

What’s your favorite Halloween costume memory from your childhood?


Look for my Sourcebooks debut – COVER ME - to land on shelves in July 2011. Meanwhile, I hope you will check out my November Silhouette Desire, THE MAVERICK PRINCE. FMI on all my upcoming releases check out my website or visit with me on Facebook.

Monday, October 25, 2010

by: Anita Clenney

We’ve all heard the saying that truth is stranger than fiction, and if you look at the news you’ll see it can be true. I see things on the news that can’t possibly be real, but Yep…they are. Some of our best material can come from real life. But what about the world of paranormal? The paranormal genre is more popular in fiction now than ever before; vampires, demons, werewolves, shape shifters, and fairies, and of course, the old standby…ghosts. Gotta love a good ghost story. The world of the paranormal has left its mark on every genre, wiggling its way into romance and suspense, cozy mysteries, and YA. But while there may be more paranormal stories than ever before, we have to wonder if it’s really new.

If you look back through history, you’ll find myths and legends of otherworldly creatures woven into every culture, passed down from generation to generation. From harmless, whimsical beings that like to play jokes on unsuspecting humans to creatures that make otherwise rational people arm their homes with crosses and garlic and do horrendous things to the dead bodies of loved ones, to insure that they stay dead. From Europe to Asia, Africa and beyond, all civilizations have these stories. Some are downright bizarre.

For my Modern Day Highlander series, to be released by Sourcebooks Casablanca next year, I chose angels and demons, the battle between light and darkness, and the humans caught between. My secret warriors rely on their strength and secrecy to protect the humans from demons who are hiding among them, perhaps disguised as their neighbors, friends, bankers, babysitters. Maybe their mother-in-law. These demons want to destroy the world, and the warriors are the only ones powerful enough to stop them. Yeah, my warriors are really cool and can do some X-Men-like things, but they’re flawed too. Sometimes all those muscles, good looks, and swords just aren’t enough. The warrior needs a quirky historian who can kick butt and keep him on his toes.

As the story unfolded in my head, I realized that I wanted Michael the Archangel working behind the scenes, ordering my warriors on their missions. Michael has always fascinated me. One of the most revered of the angels, a mighty warrior himself, capable of casting Lucifer and one third of the angels—those who’d rebelled--out of Heaven. I have two children that I have a hard time herding into the bathroom to brush their teeth. Can you imagine having to herd thousands of fallen angels out of heaven? So they can go to hell? Come on. Would you leave?

While I tried to handle the topic of Michael with respect, at times, I shuddered, hoping that what I was doing wasn’t blasphemous, because Michael is real and sacred, whereas vampires--I have them too--in my estimation are not; although I saw a program recently on TV about people who would beg to differ. But that’s another story for another day. So while paranormal seems to be a new buzzword in the world of entertainment and even in real life, paranormal really isn’t new. It’s been around for as long as humans have, and as long as we exist, we’ll be telling our stories, stretching our imaginations to carry us into the future.

Do you have a favorite paranormal story or series, a favorite character? Edward, Jacob, Asheron, Dracula, Wolverine? Let’s hear it. Bring those bad boys (and girls) on.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are Regency Romances Paranormal by Definition?

What does paranormal mean as a genre, really? I’ve been thinking about that lately vis-à-vis Regency romances. No, not ones with vampires or werewolves or sea monsters, but how the romances themselves conform to a paranormal paradigm. They’re all basically human stories played out against a background with unspoken rules and tropes. With vampires, the tropes include sucking blood, no reflection in mirrors, and intolerance of daylight; with werewolves, it’s changing form to a wolf, the full moon, and the transformative bite. Regency romances often have nothing at all to do with the reality of the historical Regency period, but they have their tropes as well – the obligatory mention of Almacks, Gunter’s ices, Vauxhall pleasure gardens, the scandalous waltz, the oh-so-tight top coat and the shiny Hessian boots. And, of course, there’s the issue that apparently there must be dozens of handsome, unmarried dukes (all rakes, but underneath completely honorable and noble) standing around on every streetcorner!

My most recent release, Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, didn’t follow the some of the Regency romance rules. I decided to show a few darker details of Regency life, though it’s still in truth a whitewashed version and definitely a happily every after story. I left out most of the tropes and replaced them with genteel poverty, the limited future for unmarried women, and a few images of how Regency men tended to view women. All pretty minor, to tell the truth, but I’ve been hearing about them from shocked readers.

In one of my earlier books, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World, Elizabeth Bennet ends up married to Mr. Darcy when she still believes him to be ill-tempered, proud, and selfish. At one point during a quarrel, Elizabeth flinches away from an angry Darcy because she’s afraid he’s about to hit her. Oh, my, the indignation that provoked from readers! How could I possibly have Elizabeth think such a thing about Darcy? Perhaps because any Regency woman, let alone one as clever as Elizabeth, would expect their husband to hit them if provoked! It was legal, it was seen as appropriate chastisement, and more often than not, the woman would take the blame. Now, we all know that Mr. Darcy would never strike a woman, but Elizabeth has no way of knowing that. But once again, I’d broken the rules for Regency romance.

In a way, the traditional Regency romance really is a paranormal – it’s set in a mutually agreed upon fantasy world that bears a slight resemblence to an actual period in English history, but one in which men are enlightened and sensitive creatures and women far more outrageous than they would ever have dared to be in reality.

What are some of the repeated motifs and rules you’ve seen in Regency romances? What other genres are also para-paranormal?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Definition of Paranormal in the Romance Industry.

I started out writing short stories in the SF/F genre (always with a romantic element) and I soon learned that the correct term for the ‘umbrella’ of the genre is ‘speculative fiction’. This encompasses fantasy (sword & sorcery, mythical & magical creatures, alternate worlds); science fiction, which can be ‘hard’ (as in spaceships, futuristic & advance technology), or ‘soft’ (like space opera); a blend of both (as in my upcoming novel BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS), and finally horror, (which can encompass contemporary suspense or all of the above genres). Paranormal itself essentially wasn’t a genre--it just meant ghosts.

I need to add that BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS was my very first manuscript, and was released in hardcover by Thomson-Gale, a small press who sold primarily to libraries. I mention ‘upcoming’ because Sourcebooks is re-releasing it this December in mass market paperback. And because I love, love, love the new cover I’ve included it in my post.

Imagine my confusion when I joined RWA, and learned that the romance industry calls anything within the fantasy genre ‘paranormal’. BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS didn’t have a single ghost in it. A magical world, yes, where people could ingest a root called ‘zabba’ and develop incredible powers (err, there’s the touch of the SF element as well. The world is another planet that humans have colonized, and adapted to fit to the environment). It abounded with fantastical creatures and magical abilities, and yes, a bit of swordplay…but no ghosts.

I don’t know how the term ‘paranormal’ developed in the romance industry, but since it basically means anything beyond what is natural or normal, it does make sense. At the time I published MOONS there wasn’t a plethora of paranormal romance books on the shelves, and I have a suspicion that it was Christine Feehan who introduced this new genre of shapeshifter, vampires, and other fantastical creatures to the romance world (there may be others, feel free to add a mention).

But since I started in the speculative fiction community, you’ll have to forgive me if I’m a bit of a purist. Although my books are often labeled ‘paranormal’, they are fantasies.

A reader once made the cutest comment about one of my books, she said “I’m used to normal paranormal”, and I think by that she meant the books set in the real world with hidden societies of shapeshifters, vampires, etc. (Fortunately, she did enjoy my book, even if though it wasn’t what she was expecting.)

I develop alternate worlds (primarily historical) and imbue them with magic and sword fighting and fantastical creatures based on the world I’ve created. And I do recall that one book in my RELICS OF MERLIN series had ghosts in it. In my new THE ELVEN LORDS series, the fantastical beings are elven lords with magical powers enhanced by seven sacred scepters they stole from Elfhame when they opened the rift between our world and theirs. Any other fantastic creatures are created by the elven lords, or their half-breeds, humans who inherited some of their powers. And in MOONS, there’s a bit of the science fiction element that formed the basis of that world. I would put all of my books under the umbrella of ‘speculative romance fiction’, but gracious, I think that would be even more confusing to romance readers, so ‘fantasy romance’ is what I use in describing my books.

But truly, above and beyond all else, all of my books are primarily romances. And a sensual romance is exactly what I deliver.

I just hope not too many readers are surprised when they read one of my books and find it’s not a ‘normal’ paranormal. And with more books being released similar to mine with fantasy world building, I think ‘fantasy romance’ will become a more common term. And Sourcebooks has done a truly fabulous job in marketing my books for what they truly are.

And there’s that old saying, “A rose by any other name…”

Would you be surprised if you purchased a ‘paranormal romance’ and found it wasn’t similar to books you have read in that genre? Or do you not particularly care about categories, only the story blurb on the back of the book? I’d love to hear your opinion!

My Magical Best,

PS. Be sure to check out my contest to celebrate the upcoming release of BENEATH THE THIRTEEN MOONS, with over $240 in prizes:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Paranormal, anyone?

By Mary Margret Daughtridge

The other day, in reference to a promo blog I had written about SEALed Forever (coming in 2011) I received this from my editor:

I changed "her house is haunted" to "a house could be haunted" b/c I don't want your readers to think there's a ghost--you can't go paranormal now.

She's absolutely right. I don't write "paranormals," and I wouldn't want to give the impression that I do...but. SEALed Forever has plenty of "things that go bump in the night." It got me thinking, what’s “paranormal” anyway?

The word was coined in 1920 as a neutral term intended to separate the legitimate study of psychic phenomena from spiritualism, the supernatural, and superstition. It was meant to give psychic phenomena a platform which made it susceptible to scientific investigation.

It didn’t work. Thirty or forty years later, study of psychical occurrences had completely bogged down between extraordinarily boring research on the one side and accusations of gullibility or outright chicanery on the other. The whole subject wound up right back where it started. “Paranormal” became synonymous with spiritualism and the supernatural. And the reputation of anyone who took it seriously was trashed.

When I looked up the word paranormal to write this blog, I learned that UFO’s had fallen under its umbrella. Huh? It turns out the same reversion of definition had happened to “UFO.”

In the late 1950’s “flying saucer” had become equivalent with alien spacecraft—and anyone who claimed to see one was nuts. Back in those days, everyone knew there were no life-sustaining planets other than Earth, and even if there were, space travel was impossible.

Believing the sightings were worth studying, and looking for a neutral term which said nothing about the origin of the aerial oddities, J. Allen Hynek, PhD, a respected astronomer, coined the term, Unidentified Flying Object.

It didn’t work. Interest in a very real phenomenon (i.e. photographable objects in the sky that witnesses can tell are not ordinary craft) became proof of credulousness at best. If you admitted to seeing one, you were a little thin on brain cells or at worst a hoaxer. And UFO's became synonymous with "space aliens," and the next thing you know, they were paranormal too.

But the word paranormal wasn't done with gathering the strange under it's wing.

In the publishing world, in addition to ghosts and witches, suddenly even the staples of horror fiction--vampires, werewolves, devils and demons—moved into the romance genre and morphed from villains to good guys. Put them in a romance and instead of getting a stake through the heart, they find true love. When the story ends, in the case of vampires, they live--no, that's not right. They remain undead happily ever...and ever...and ever after.**

In context, obviously that’s the definition of paranormal my editor meant.

My novels are reality-based, and the hero and heroine plenty smart thank-you-very-much, yet in all my books there is an encounter with the unknown, the inexplicable, the other-worldly.

That kind of thing is incidental to the external plot, which is probably what makes my books not-paranormals. At no point must the reader suspend disbelief--if they are unbelievers.

The thing is, for me, encounters with the paranormal (definitions 1 and 2) aren’t fantasy. They’re just some of the things that happen to people. How a character reacts when they happen is enormously revealing. The events are in fact within the normal range of human experience. (A Wikipedia article cites two polls. One showed 76% believe in at least one manifestation of the paranormal. Another poll revealed that 70% have had at least one paranormal experience.

So, despite the fact that a haunted house is the sine qua non of the paranormal, and I don't write paranormals, in SEALed Forever, there's a haunted house. Well, maybe.

Shall we conduct a totally unscientific poll? Where are you on the paranormal spectrum of belief? True believer or total skeptic? Or something in-between? Which manifestations of the paranormal are acceptable to you? Which are way too far out? Is there anything you believe in and find scary? Is there anything paranormal you believe in and find not scary at all--not even very weird?

**Oh! Oh! [clutches temples] I'm getting a precognitive flash! Kathryne Kennedy will be here tomorrow, and she will actually enlighten us about the Paranormal Romance subgenre.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is anything scarier than a teenager?

Thanks so much for having me today! A quick intro for those who may not know me yet: I worked at Dorchester Publishing editing romances and Westerns for 10 years before having the wonderful opportunity to join Sourcebooks last month. I adore romance and I’m really looking forward to meeting you all and further growing the Casa list.

I’ll also be acquiring for our young adult imprint, Sourcebooks Fire. And I’ve been having so much fun taking a whole new look at the genre. Raging hormones, crazy friends, a new driver’s license, college pressure…being a teenager can be a really scary time. And being a parent of a teen—whoa boy! That doesn’t even take into account turning into a werewolf, rescuing your family in a dystopian world, getting pregnant, a wish-granting crystal ball, dealing with death, a demon attack, or any of the number of other things we see in today’s YA market.

Deb has drilled in her romance criteria so that I think many regular readers here can probably recite them in their sleep. ;-) But what are the rules for YA? Do teens have any rules at all? Why, yes—yes, they do. And I’m not talking about a midnight curfew.

The young adult fiction I’m looking for should have the following:

· 60,000-90,000 words

· Protagonists who are 15-19 and allow for potential adult cross-over appeal

· Characters readers care about and can relate to in some way

· An authentic voice for the audience

· Powerful, credible world-building (which applies to non-paranormal/fantasy/dystopian too! )

· A fresh premise with a marketing hook that can be conveyed in 2-3 sentences

· An age-appropriate romantic element/boy-girl relationship, even if it’s not the main focus of the story

Submissions for YA or romance can be sent directly to me at leah.hultenschmidt[at] I prefer to have the manuscript and a full synopsis (actually, you know what’s really scary? a synopsis that doesn’t give me the end!) as Word attachments, with the “cover” letter in the body of the email.

Can't wait to hear from you!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

DON'T Haunt Me. Please...

Call me a wuss if you like, but creepy things creep me out. I have never read a Stephen King novel, though I have seen one movie, Secret Window. Johnny Depp was the obvious draw for that one, otherwise I'd never have watched it.

Towards the end when people were being murdered, I kept waiting for the last minute rescue by the police or the Mounties or the National Guard. It never happened. Then I remembered what I was watching. Needless to say, the perpetrator got away with his crime.

I don't like that idea, nor do I particularly like crime shows in general. I don't like to be reminded of the horrible things people are capable of doing to one another. You will never catch me watching a slasher movie or any other kind of horror flick. It still amazes me that I actually sat through Alien (on the front row of the theater, no less), though it was, technically, science fiction. I don't like gore, and I don't like evil zombie vampire stuff, either.

That being said, I do, however, read the Harry Potter books over and over, and enjoy the occasional ghost story, especially those that are comedies.

I got a big kick out of Ghostbusters and one of my all-time favorite movies is the Ghost and Mrs. Muir--the 1947 original with Gene Tierney and (be still my heart!) Rex Harrison. The ghostly aspect of it might have been what made it unique, but the basic appeal was the romance.

Romance is, and always will be, my genre of choice. Romantic comedies are best; even Ghostbusters contained an element of romance. I find it difficult to read, let alone watch or write, horror for horror's sake. Being scared to death doesn't do a thing for me. I'd much rather be swept off my feet by my hero, as opposed to having him slay vampires to save me from certain death.

Yeah, I know. This is coming from a paranormal author. But if you look closely at my body of work, you'll see that magic and the supernatural usually don't enter into it. My aliens are what they are: they don't shapeshift. Even Tisana, the witch in Warrior, came by her abilities as a result of her alien ancestry. Those "powers" were normal for her and the others of that race.

In real life, I have never met a ghost, though I know others who have. My mother had several stories she liked to tell--particularly the one about the ghosts in the old house that was once the Louisville School of Art, where she taught metalsmithing. There were reportedly two ghosts there, and if you'd ever seen the building, which, last time I saw it had been absorbed into the U of L campus, you'd understand the reasons for the stories. The house was a dark, two storied structure with ivy covered brick walls and a creaky stairway at each end. Late at night, if you happened to be there alone, you might hear footsteps coming down one staircase. When you went to investigate, the footsteps would then be heard coming down the other.

Never having been there alone late at night, I never had this experience, nor have I seen ghosts anywhere else. Apparently I'm another of those who, like Joanne, must be so based in the real world that I scare the ghosts away, which is fine with me.

Unless it's the ghost of Rex Harrison.

He can haunt me anytime.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Introduction to the Paranormal

I was always a big reader. I remember stuffing books in my backpack—except I was too cool for a backpack and walked around with books stacked in my arms; why was that cooler?—from elementary school on.

In high school, I discovered Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I enjoyed Interview with the Vampire but when I read The Vampire Lestat, I was hooked. How could I not be? Here’s the opening:

I am the vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire—these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.

Oh, how delicious! Lestat was delicious. I almost wished I would run into him on some dark night. My friends and I read the book and the others that followed. We wanted to be vampires. We’d go to the mall on Friday night, dressed all in black with red bite marks painted on our necks.

We received some strange looks, especially when we told people we were vampires. You see, all of this was way before Twilight or any of the other books, movies, or TV shows that have made vampires so much part of our national culture. People didn’t think about vampires except at Halloween, and then they only thought about Dracula.

How the world has changed. I don’t even think paranormal was a genre in the early nineties. Now everyone reads it, and it’s huge. Not just vampires or witches, but werewolves, fairies, demons, angels, even dragons.

What started your love affair with the paranormal? Was it a book or an author or something else?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Haunt Me

I want to be haunted.

Nothing too scary. I don't want the walls to bleed or anything; I just want a good story to tell. Maybe a being from another world could send mysterious lights bobbing down the hallway. Or maybe there could be a little fiendish laughter emanating from the attic once in a while. I'd like that.

But no. I am apparently the antighost. I've lived in many houses that should be haunted, but the minute I move in, everything gets all normal. Bummer.

For instance, my grandparents' farm in Maine was built in the 1800s. The attic was my favorite place to play, because it was full of old stuff and I was sure there had to be a ghost up there. There were framed sepia photographs of people in fancy clothes, and all of them had somber expressions and weird dead eyes. I later learned this was because they had to sit still and stare at the camera for ten minutes to get their pictures taken, but at the time I was convinced that all my ancestors were zombies.

There was an old melodeon up there too, and after my piano teacher taught me to play minor chords I could make the whole place resound with creepy organ music that made you think Vincent Price was going to pop out of a steamer trunk at any moment.

But nothing. Ever. Happened.

Later I moved to the Pennsylvania countryside and rented a farmhouse that was built in 1757. I used to imagine what it was like sitting by the enormous fireplace knowing that the Lenni Lenape were out there in the woods stewing about the Walking Purchase and vowing vengeance. The house had been built over a spring that bubbled up in the basement so you wouldn't have to go outside for water if you were under attack. Surely someone, sometime had died in that house. And surely at least one of those people had unresolved issues.

But the only scary thing in the house was the gigantic salamanders and frogs that hung out by the spring in the basement. The Orkin Man doesn't do amphibians, so we just had to live with them because I sure as heck wasn't going to pick a fight with a frog the size of a Yorkie.

Recently I stayed in a haunted hotel: The Occidental in Buffalo, Wyoming. Scrape and I poked around in the north wing where all the ghosts were supposed to hang out. One of them is a little girl ghost and the other one is a former prostitute, so they get bonus points for having high childish laughter and slutty clothes, both of which add a little extra creepiness.

That night, Scrape was awakened by the sound of a high-pitched scream. Me? I slept through it. Never heard a sound. And he didn't wake me up because he was afraid I'd be scared. He told me about it in the morning, acting all superior and stuff because he had experienced the Occidental ghost.

But I missed it. Of course.

For a while I lived in an old house here in Cheyenne, Wyoming that had been built by a funeral director. It had woodwork that was carved by coffin makers. Spooky, right? Better yet, there were three huge, ancient pine trees outside the house that were home to a flock vultures. Big, black turkey vultures, with ugly bald heads, mean little eyes, and an appetite for roadkill. They would hunch in the trees all morning, staring down at the house, and then fly up and circle it all afternoon looking for dead stuff.

The guy who owned the house lived in the basement. I was convinced he'd killed his wife and hidden her in the yard somewhere and that's what the vultures were looking for. But my theory was destroyed when she turned up one day alive and well. Turned out she'd been living in California.

Now I live in a house that was built in 1936. That's not the eighteenth century or anything, but it's still plenty of time for the people who lived there to develop unresolved issues and die, which is apparently what leads to effective ghost-hood.

Before I lived there, Scrape and his son heard ghostly footsteps at night. Doors opened and closed mysteriously. And once, Scrape swears that something grabbed his leg in the hallway. Whatever it was didn't bite him or anything (which is a shame, because ghostly toothmarks would have been ultra-cool), but it hung on for a minute with its cold, cold hands.

Ooh, I wish that would have happened to me!

But no. I moved in, and the ghosts moved out. I have an office in the attic, which is sort of spooky--but there's no weird cacking laughter, no sudden gusts of cold air, no fireballs or strands of ectoplasm floating around.

Maybe I should sell my skills for settling the restless dead. If you have a haunted house, I could come stay there and everything would get boring and normal again. Because ghosts don't scare me, even though I'd like them to.

Evidently, I scare them.

Have you ever lived in a haunted house or been visited by a ghost? Tell me your ghost story. Go ahead, make me jealous!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Come to the light side!

The paranormal genre doesn’t have to be dark. If you think about it, there are many myths that can be utilized to add comic relief or create downright laugh-out-loud humorous reads. My best piece of advice for lightening the mood in a paranormal story? Don’t overlook the obvious!

Let’s take a moment to embrace the clichés. Think about Vampires. What does everyone “know” about vampires? A) They have fangs and drink blood, usually by puncturing the victim’s carotid artery. B) They’re nocturnal and sunlight burns them.

How about Shapeshifters? A) If they shift while fully dressed, their clothes won’t fit their new shape. B) When they shift back, they’ll be naked.

Ghosts are disembodied. They can see the physical world and comment on it like a fly on the wall, but unless they’ve learned telekinesis or some kind of communication with a psychic, clairvoyant or clairaudient, they're invisible.

How about witches? A) They cast spells and can manipulate circumstances with magic. B) Some think they can fly on broomsticks.

Don’t be afraid to embarrass your characters! We find it hilarious because it’s not happening to us. We’re a little warped that way.

Are you seeing the possibilities here?

In my series, Strange Neighbors, I have shapeshifters, vampires and witches—oh my! And a snarky ghost who has an opinion on everything.
During the series I have my vampire, break his fang on a rapper’s neck bling. Now where does a vampire find a dentist and how funny would a lisp be if he couldn’t retract his fangs until the infection from the silver heals?

My shapeshifting falcon is only half shifter so he doesn’t have the greatest control and accidentally shifts under stress. Naturally, he gets stuck in his sweater and can’t shift back before being discovered.

When my werewolf shifts, he has to hide his clothes for his shift back. But what if someone takes those clothes and he has to walk around naked…in the city?

The witches? Well, they’re mainly human, but what happens if one of them words a spell badly? How can we make it backfire? If she’s southern and has a butt-load of colorful expression, the possibilities are endless—and hilarious!

Have any of you read a romantic paranormal comedy? What do you think?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Fruits of His Labor

Some of you know about my online writing group, The Writing Wombats. For those who don't, these are a group of people I connected with during the First Chapters contest. We went through the trenches of that contest and came out on the other end with over 400 comment threads that have been unbroken for over 3 years. Over those years, we've come up with some fun events - a virtual masquerade ball where we all came with Alter Identities, a whodunit, several Dan Brown contests and our sort-of annual Phantasmagoria contest. Here's one of my entries in that contest:

The Fruits of His Labor

John uncorked the bottle and poured the wine, the merlot glistening like blood in the candlelight.

He contemplated the thin neck of the pink wineglass. Pink. Christ. As if he were some fucking fruit. He shook his head, setting the glass back on the pristine tablecloth. The shit he put up with for that woman.

He folded the gray cotton napkin. Tonight he’d make the swan he’d been practicing with the tin foil. Maybe a rose petal for the beak.

More shit for her.

The timer sounded in the kitchen on her state-of-the-art range she’d “had to have.” It’d cost him an extra week in New York, but “everyone had it.” So he’d lined up more clients, worked more than a lawyer with a newly-passed bar exam, and logged twenty hour days, seven straight.

She’d been so appreciative.

John finished the curve of the swan’s neck. He’d have to go to her rose garden out back for the petal. Another thing she’d “had to have.” The gardener cost him more than the range and he couldn’t help wonder if he was paying in more than just cash with all the visits listed on this month’s bill.

He went into the gourmet kitchen. Why she had to have all the granite and tile and stainless appliances, he had no idea. They’d been in the house a month and she hadn’t gone anywhere near it. He wondered how much a chef would cost.

He turned the burner off and looked for the potholders. Couldn’t find a damn useful thing is this mausoleum. Hell, it’d taken him a good ten minutes to find the pot. He slammed the drawers—well, as much as they could be slammed since she’d ordered the self-closing kind. Damn it. A man couldn’t even take out his frustration on a fucking drawer.

Fuck it. He reset the timer. He still had to get that petal.

He pulled on his Wellies by the mudroom door. Two more of her “must haves:” special boots for walking in the yard, and the mandate to leave them by the mudroom door. When he’d been growing up, his mother had bitched about the muddy footprints, but she’d smiled the whole time, dancing with the mop she’d kept propped against the wall for just that reason. With seven kids, five of them boys, Mom had constantly been cleaning up after them. Careworn and haggard, scraping by on welfare and the kindness of strangers, Mom had somehow managed to keep a smile and she hadn’t had one thousandth of what he now did.

He saw that now. At the time, all he’d seen was the poverty, the laughs and looks from the other kids.

He’d shown them. He’d looked them up after the first million. No one in his graduating class could touch him for the pedigree of his wife, nor financial security. And, Mom, thank God, had had it easy in her final years. He’d assured it.

The rain had fizzled out, but the Wellies squelched in the mulch bed of the rose garden. White, yellow, orange, red, pink. More pink. Another row of pink. How many fucking shades of pink were there? No way was he going to be able to match that glass stem.

The low rumble of thunder in the distance reminded him the timer was ticking. He grabbed a petal from the closest flower, then another just in case he couldn’t get it right.

The door on the mudroom stuck when he returned. He shoved, hearing the weather-stripping screech as it swung inward. Time to call the handyman she’d found for those odds and ends the builder hadn’t gotten quite right.

More cash. Why the fuck had they bought this monstrosity?

Oh, that’s right. She’d wanted it. He’d been happy with the place in Palm Springs and the one on the golf course he’d built before she’d come along. But this place was bigger, had a better address, she’d said.

He started to take off the Wellies after he hung up his coat then decided the hell with it. He’d paid for the house and he could damn well walk around in muddy boots if he wanted.

He made it as far as the door to the kitchen when the guilt got to him. He took off the damn boots and stepped into the slippers that were his normal indoor footwear.

The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed. Damn. He was late.

He bypassed the pot and ran down the long marble corridor back to the dining room, taking the one petal from his pocket. The pointed end slid beneath the fold just as he’d imagined, covering the “beak” perfectly. Gray and pink; the colors of their wedding party. She’d insisted, of course.

He checked the placement of the silverware, the bread plate, the coffee cup and saucer. She’d left the etiquette book on her bedside table for so long he’d had no trouble setting the perfect table for their anniversary dinner.

And she said he never did anything thoughtful for her.

John took one last look at the table then went back to the kitchen. He pulled out the silver serving tray her aunt had sent all the way from England. She’d even told people about it in an English accent, as if it were from the Queen herself. John shrugged. It’s what she’d want.

He walked over to the range and lifted the lid. Their one-year celebration would be perfect.

He carried the laden serving tray back to the dining room, setting everything in its proper place at the table: her left hand he placed on the forks, her right on the spoon. Her spine, sewn together before he’d boiled off the flesh, rested against the chair cushion. Her head he propped on the plant stake he’d lashed to the chair back.

From across the table, he raised his tumbler, ice swirling his Southern Comfort, glowing amber in the candlelight. It was his favorite drink and he no longer cared if she thought it too common. A man was entitled to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

“Happy Anniversary, darling.” He toasted her. “To us. Til death us do part.”

(c) Judi Fennell

I'll be at the PA RenFaire today and hope to check in during the day, but if not, I'll try to check in during the Phillies game tonight. Go Phils!