I've always been one of those kinds of people that has a really difficult time sitting still. I love to move around, to experience new people and new places, and I often find inspiration in these adventures which find their ways into my stories in ways that range from the largest ideas to the tiniest details. I'll be spending quite a bit of time traveling this year, so I thought I would share some of these lovely visits with you, in case they inspire you as well.
Of all my favorite places in this great big beautiful world, perhaps the one that holds the biggest piece of my heart is the open ocean and the beaches of the Caribbean. I shamelessly try to visit as often as possible, often repeating the same trip exactly and every time enjoying it as if it were a brand new experience. It was on these waters and in these sands that I wrote The Isle of Gold, both in terms of the inspiration for the story and a significant amount of the research that went into writing the details down as accurately as possible. I dreamed of Winters one night on the stretch of nautical miles between Port Canaveral, Florida and the Bahamas. I sat on the outer deck of a ship late at night and sipped on rum and brandy like Dunn while staring out at the open waters of the nighttime sea. I wandered museums and roamed the streets of Nassau and thought about quayside villages of the past. It was a wonderful experience to spend so much time writing a historical fantasy while entrenched in the places that the story might have lived and to feel the same salty air and see the same dazzling blue seas as 17th-century sailors would have sailed upon.
Here are some of my favorite snaps collected over the years when visiting the Bahamas. Spring or summer, sunny or overcast, this tropical paradise is - in this writer's ever-humble opinion - easily one of those most spectacular places on Earth.
Mary Shelley was a leading lady of horror before she ever penned Frankenstein. The daughter of a pioneer of feminist thought, Shelley was raised under the influence of both her father’s radical political ideas and her mother’s feminist thinking. When challenged by Lord Byron to write a “ghost story”—a task deemed inconceivable for women at the time—Shelley wrote Frankensteinand basically girl bossed the f*** out of the lot of them (though she would be forced to initially publish her work anonymously before paving the way for women in literature in the centuries to follow).
Last year marked the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Long considered a cornerstone in gothic literature and women’s horror fiction, Frankenstein is not only a personal favorite but also a potent feminist text—and one that pulls no punches as it explores the power relationship between men and women, both literally and figuratively. While on the surface a dark story of a mad scientist, Frankenstein is in fact a much deeper story, as through male narration Shelley depicts how her female characters—from Elizabeth, the soft-spoken love interest of Victor, to the strong-willed Safie, to the near creation of the Monster’s female companion—are thought of and treated by the male characters. While her feminism is plain to see (read), Shelley’s critique is not limited to the power relationship between men and women, but a larger allegory to the imbalance between the toxic masculinity of mankind and the feminine spirit of nature. Thus, the real story inside Frankenstein isn’t the dear doctor and his monster. Instead, another battle rages between the lines that was just as relevant two centuries ago as it is today—that between science and its relentless goal to subjugate nature.
The battle begins in the first paragraphs. After being rescued by the charitable hands of a northern-bound sea vessel, Victor Frankenstein, mad scientist, declares, “I pursued nature to her hiding places,” where he was richly (and rather vainly) rewarded “…from the midst of [this] darkness, a sudden light broke in upon me – a light so brilliant and wondrous, yet so simple, that while I became dizzy with the immensity of the prospect which it illustrated, I was surprised that among so many men of genius…that I alone should be reserved to discover so astonishing a secret.” It is clear that Victor, an ambitious and excelled student of science, considers himself to have been deserved of such an “awesome power.” Upon learning nature’s secret, Frankenstein toils endlessly to demonstrate his newfound power in spite of the natural progression of life and death, proclaiming, “my eyes were insensible to the charms of nature.”
In the creation scene of Frankenstein, the intricacies of the creature’s birth are carefully avoided, conceding only that Victor himself “infuse[d] a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at [my] feet.” His scientific tools collected, Victor wields the power known only to him through the study of science (and careful dominance of nature) and brings to life the being he had formed: a man in his own image. But, though he had carefully selected each portion of his creature’s form, Frankenstein is displeased, even repulsed, by his own work upon seeing it alive. “Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”, confesses Victor after the birth of his Monster, after which he rushes from his laboratory, leaving his creature to survive and fend for itself, not unlike a snake, who abandons its young to the unknowns of the wild. In his single act of betrayal, Victor humanizes the creature in a creation story as vapid and callous as that of Genesis itself.
In the film adaptations of Frankenstein, extensive creative liberties are taken to illustrate the scene of Victor Frankenstein’s triumphant childbirth. In the 1931 classic, on the stormy eve that is to be the birth night of the Monster, Victor—along with his incompetent and creepy assistant Fritz—usher visitors into the laboratory, which doubles as a very untraditional delivery room, to witness the birth of his creation. Lightning flashes as Victor (recast as Henry), his white lab coat billowing in the tumultuous wind, harnesses the power of the storm (an angry outburst of a vengeful nature) and funnels the power of raw electricity into the corpse of the creature, endowing it with life. The delivery room audience watches in unbridled horror and amazement as Victor shrieks to no one and everyone: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Similarly, in Kenneth Branaugh’s 1994 adaptation, a sweaty and heavy-breathing Victor pants his way through the assemblage of the scientific devices hooked to the creature’s metal placenta and watches in an open-mouthed, eyes glazed over daze as electric eels swim through the creature’s tubes of umbilical cord. Then, tearing the newborn creature from his metal womb, Victor attempts to wrestle the giant babe to standing in a sloppy, wet, clicking slime grossly reminiscent of embryonic fluid. The monster a failure, Victor looks on helplessly as the culmination of all his efforts hangs dangling from chains above the dirtied delivery room floor in a morbid demonstration of failed childbirth. “What have I done”, Victor whines.
The argument presented as to Frankenstein’s battle of science versus nature (and masculinity versus femininity) is beautifully surmised in critiques such as Anne K. Mellor’s Possessing Nature: The Female in Frankenstein. “When Victor Frankenstein identifies nature as female,” Mellor writes, “he participates in a gendered construction of the universe whose ramifications are everywhere apparent in Frankenstein.” Mellor goes beyond the symbolism of the creation scene of the novel and discusses the various female characters in the book and their sexist functions: “Inside the home, women are either kept as a kind of pet, or they work as housewives, child care providers, or nurses, or servants.” In a thoughtful analogy, Mellor examines the consequences of the division from feminism and the role of women in science as depicted by Shelley, and correlates this emotional vacancy in Victor as the reason he is unable to love or care for his creation and is such an unfit ‘father.’ In her conclusion, Mellor surmises: “At every level, Victor Frankenstein is engaged upon a rape of nature, a violent penetration and usurpation of the female’s “hiding places”, of the womb.”
Another thought-provoking critique is Mary Poovey’s My Hideous Progeny: The Lady and the Monster: “The monster is the victim of both the symbolic and the literal. And, as such, it is doubly like a woman in patriarchal society – forced to be a symbol of (and vehicle for) someone else’s desire, yet exposed (and exiled) as the deadly essence of passion itself”, writes Poovey. Later, Poovey further concludes that upon discovering the truths of his origin, from that time on the “monster’s attempts to deny its nature are as futile as they are desperate.”
The ongoing battle of male versus female rages covertly within the lines of Shelley’s watchful prose. Victor’s intense abhorrence of his disastrous creation, and the creature’s bittersweet revenge against his own maker, acutely portray the consequences of usurping the circular progression of nature, serving as a timeless reminder of the careful balance of ethics and responsibility inherent in discovery. Perhaps most horrifying in Shelley’s classic isn’t the monster itself, but the horror and despair wrought by the hands of a naïve and careless “man of genius” which acts as a beacon to remind humanity of our place in the natural world. Through the sadness and misery gleaned from the book’s unfortunate characters we are reminded that a step forward is not always progress and that nature will always exact her revenge. It’s a great lesson, beget at a great price—and it’s one we should be thinking about in today’s contentious climate where we continue to use science and technology to force the beautiful, natural world and its beings—particularly women—into subservience.
Last November, I achieved one thing that all (or at least most) early-career and aspiring writers dream of: I signed with a literary agency. I was lucky enough to achieve something of a double whammy when I signed with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Agency, earning representation on the literary side with publishing industry veteran Renee Fountain, and on the film/entertainment side with the ever-impressive Italia Gandolfo.
Now, everyone's publishing path is a bit different, and everyone's journey takes its own unique (and often very winding) road. Mine was the same. I've been writing for as long as I can remember. I've self-published under pseudonyms and I've published non-fiction with major traditional houses, but all the while my ultimate dream has been to be a novelist, replete with representation and a publicist and, hopefully, an advance nice enough that it kind of makes up for the hundreds of hours I spend in front of my laptop.
When I wrote my first book, The Isle of Gold, I didn't go the traditional route. I was lucky enough to land a publishing offer with an up-and-coming small press. The book itself--still a baby as it just released last October--has done well, but more importantly, it earned some really wonderful reviews from very well-respected outlets. It also introduced me to my publicist, Sarah Miniaci at Smith Publicity, who has coaxed me gently (read: pulled me kicking and screaming) into the barest bit of limelight with things like media interviews and blog tours (the horror). These experiences allowed me to parlay my very meager publishing success and footprint into my query for my next book. (I'm such a strategist...not really.)
When I finished my next project, I queried a few agents I'd had my eyes on. The process was sort of similar to sending in college applications; the list was comprised of the usual suspects, some pretty solid leads, and, of course, the reaches. I received some nice no-thank-yous, some non-responses, and a handful of requests for partials and fulls. But, along my journey, I also started talking to friends and peers in the writing community, particularly those who had endured good-bad-ugly experiences with their agents (or former agents). I spoke with friends, who talked about their agent experiences, I got active in Twitter’s booming #writersxommunity, I started writing columns and networking in the Women’s Fiction Association. Now, I know some people say publishing is more about who you know that what you've written, and I'm sure this is true in some cases, but it truly wasn't in mine even though I got “to know people.” Online friends became life support, colleagues became mentors, and slowly but surely I found a home amongst the bookish.
I found the agent I wanted to work with in Italia, who started out as a woman I was terrified of (in a good way!), became an ally, and a mentor, I polished up my package and sent it over.
About a week later, after Renee had finished reading the manuscript, Italia and Company made the very courageous and somewhat questionable decision (I kid, I kid) to sign me. I received other interest from my query attempts, but signing with Gandolfo Helin & Fountain had already begun to feel like home and putting my name on her contract was a no-brainer. So far, my manuscript has been sent to some pretty impressive houses, and while we're still working the process, I can't speak highly enough of these women who have brought me into their tribe. They're phenomenal, exercising the sort of patience and encouragement that a young writer needs in their corner. Between the two of them, they've answered probably hundreds of questions, listened to great and not-so-great ideas on my next projects, and talked me off a ledge or two. Most of all, they've shown me in just two months how empowering and inspiring having people who believe in you and your work is, and they've encouraged me to work even harder going forward.
For what it's worth, my best advice to writers seeking an agent is this: find your home. Find an agent who not only knows the business but who champions your project, and you. Find an agent you can be friends with because you will laugh, cry, and vent together, and probably both get on each other's nerves a LOT. And I know this sounds very trite, particularly when you're just seeking an agent, but at the end of the day I believe firmly that it's not just about the house or the agency or the royalty paycheck, it's about the shared passion for books, and finding an agent as passionate as you.
One of my favorite annual goal-setting moments is what I call my "literary challenge," which encompasses my writing and reading goals for the next year.
Lots of folks have very ambitious reading goals every year--I've seen readers add hundreds of books to their TBR lists--and while I wish I could commit to such lofty numbers, I have to balance my reading for pleasure with reading for research and also writing, so I set my sights a wee bit lower.
In 2019, I'm committing to reading 24 books (two a month) and listening to 24 books (again, two a month). I'm also challenging myself to focus more on new books or upcoming 2019 releases, and try to avoid reading backlist titles. This is important for me as an author, so I can keep a pulse on the market. It also stops me from re-reading Frankenstein and every Wally Lamb book for the 500th time. That said, there's still a few amazing 2018 releases sitting on my bedside table, so they deserve some love, too. If you're looking for inspiration on what to add to your TBR list for 2019, here's a fun list on Goodreads to get you thinking, as well as this list of anticipated 2019 titles from Esquire.
What's on my list? Well, I'm still working on that, but I can tell you I will definitely be reading some of the up-comers from my friends over at Black Spot Books, including the next installation in Sam Hooker's Terribly Serious Darkness, Soul Remains, and the next Amanda Grey novel from Alcy Leyva, And Then There Were Dragons.
If you're looking for titles to add to your wish-list to keep you busy in 2019, there are lots of really fun reading challenges out there, with all kinds of quirky tactics to get you to read outside your comfort zone, like this one from PopSugar. Regardless, what's more important that bookish bingo is just making sure you're getting out there and reading! I hope you enjoy every book you read in 2019, whether it's old or new, and weather it's five books or five hundred.
I'd also love if you'd read along with me! By my "friend" on Goodreads here. Happy reading!
I can’t believe the end of the year is upon us. Friday brings the Winter Solstice, and we officially say goodbye to the Holly King as the Oak King again takes the throne until midsummer.
Whether you see it as more practical or spiritual, the solstice marks a pivotal moment in the year (specifically, at 5:23pm EST on 12/21). In my home, it is the inciting event that kicks off our twelve-day midwinter celebration of Yuletide. We will spend the evening over a roaring campfire, singing carols and roasting marshmallows as we prepare for the arrival of our holiday guests. My boys will have their annual mock Holly versus Oak King battle, we’ll drink homemade mead, and then we’ll wake up the next morning and welcome our Yule Log into our home with song and merriment.
More than a season of celebration, the winter solstice (and the entire midwinter holiday) provides a perfect time to reflect on the past year: to celebrate successes, to plan for the new year, and—most important—to take time away from the hustle and bustle of every day and spend it instead with friends and loved ones, making merry and enjoying the warm company of the people who matter most in our lives.
As my holiday gift to you, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite tunes of the season from Damh the Bard, a modern-day Bard whose spirituality and love of folk tradition is expressed through his music, storytelling and poetry.
For me, these two weeks give me time to catch up on reading and dwell on the ideas that have been swirling inside my head as I plot out my projects for the new year. The past year has brought so many wonderful things into my life—a debut novel and a new agent among so many other blessings—and I am so grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey with me. There are so many new things coming in 2019 that I am eager to announce, including a new project for the Havenwood Falls collective, a super secret authors project at Black Spot Books, and so much more! For now, I’ll be tucked away by the fire, reading and dreaming, and hope that you will be, too.
Happy holidays, and be merry!
If you’re looking for a new young adult sci-fi adventure to fall in love with this Valentine’s Day, might I suggest Apocalypse Five--the first in the Archive of the Fives series, upcoming from author Stacey Rourke, which is set to be published by Black Spot Books on February 12th 2019.
Like a swift punch to the gut, Apocalypse Five starts off with the sudden burst of energy of a rocket ship—literally—as readers are plunged headfirst into the jarring and unpredictable reality of Earth’s future (spoiler alert: don’t get too attached to anyone you meet in the first chapter).
Stationed aboard the AT-1-NS space station, the A-5—highly trained and deadly—are little more than children forced into a militarised combat life. Per 17-year old team-leader Detroit, nameless cadets begin their training as soon as they’re old enough to “stand without wobbling,” foregoing (unwittingly) a life of human emotion and connection. Instead, they are forced into virtual simulations to practice saving Earth—which is now populated with humanoid things while what’s left of humanity’s chosen people live a glamorous, synthetic existence in space. Only the best soldiers are chosen to become part of the mock-celebrity elite A-5 team, but it’s not all pomp and circumstance here; it’s a high-stakes game where a game over on the grid is a brutal death sentence with all the gore and pain you’d expect in a proper sci-fi combat scenario.
When team-leader Detroit—a kickass, sharp-tongued, and totally self-aware lady of color—is sent on a solo mission that’s a little too real to be a simulation, she finds all she has come to believe—or, rather, has been brainwashed into believing—might not be true after all. Of course, as these things go, when she and the rest of her team—including love-interest Houston, ginger twins Juneau and Reno, and probably the most teenage-angsty, dread/mohawked dude ever, Augusta—take their concerns to the political and military leader of their universe, Chancellor Washington, he does what a classic sci-fi villain always does: prove them correct. The A-5 find themselves in a run-or-die situation as they head back to Earth—only this time it’s not the simulated one that they’ve been training to “protect”, but the real one, and they’re not there to protect Earth, they’re there to save it…from them. With their feet firmly on the scorched and battle-drained dirt of the real world, the A-5 quickly discover the depth of the lies programmed into their psyche and the consequences of what their specialised “training” has done to the very actually-human people of Earth, who are now little more than resource mills—from foodstuffs to children—for the AT-1-NS regime. It’s impossible to tell the rest of the plot without spoilers, so you’re going to have to check this one out for yourself. (There are androids, and really cool bracelet weapons, and some rather chuckle-worthy nods to current pop culture, too.)
There are some tropey genre-mainstays in this new series that fit it firmly within the ranks of a typical YA SFF—a good bit of eye-batting between Detroit and Houston, fashionable spacesuits and an obsession with fancy outfits, laser guns with dubious technology, and a head-honcho bad guy(s)—but Apocalypse Five also includes unexpected and refreshing elements that make it a breath of fresh air in genre saturated with cheesy love triangles and fickle white girls trying to play badass (yeah, I said it, fight me).
This isn’t just a story about kids who fight back against a power-hungry regime, but one that embeds a critical social message at its heart. While Detroit and her team are busy fighting Washington and the fury released from the Fortress at their insurgency while trying to save the people of earth—including a newborn baby who is, like all cadets, intended to be fed to the ranks of the soldiers-to-come aboard the AT-1-NS—what Rourke is really writing is so much more than just another dystopian book. With a cast of strong, empowered women—from Olympia (the ill-fated original leader of the A5), Detroit and Juneau; to the leaders of the Air Walkers and the Floaters (two of the three tribes of Earth introduced in the first book); to new mother Remi and enduring baby Adalyn, this story is a call for women to stand up against oppression, to find our own power, and for everyone to take up arms and fight to save what’s left of our humanity in a world that would sooner see us turn on each other rather than unite as one.
Apocalypse Five is a fresh breath into a genre thick with same-as-always stories with a tale ripe with classic dystopian elements and soft science fiction, as well as a healthy dose of female empowerment, diversity, and the social critique that we’ve been waiting for.
Coming from Black Spot Books 2.12.19 (learn more).
With Thanksgiving (finally) behind us, it's time to settle into the end of the year and get cozy with a good book (or six). I usually take December off from writing to catch up on some reading, and while others are enjoying heart-warming holiday romances I am - as usual - erring on a bit more of the darker side. Be it a Yuletide fantasy, a dark romp with Krampus, a little holiday irreverence, or some holiday screams, here is what I am reading (and in some cases rereading) this December.
The Winter Riddle by Sam Hooker
I've been looking forward to this one all year. An antisocial winter witch teams up with a less than jolly Santa? Yes, please. It also helps that it's written by my friend and fellow author, the always brilliant and ceaselessly hilarious Sam Hooker, responsible for the Terribly Serious Darkness books. Review to come. Get your copy.
Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
I love the myth of Krampus, and what I heard of this book last year when my husband read snippets of it aloud (between his fits of laughter), so decided to give it a go myself this year. If you're looking to pitch Santa back up to the North Pole, or otherwise want to terrify your kids, consider Krampus. Review to come. Get your copy.
Hark! The Herald Angels Scream by Christopher Golden
I'm a big fan of short story anthologies, and bought this when it released in October. As noted by the anthology's editor, there is darkness at the heart of the season, and we've long been telling ghost stories about it. I cannot wait to dig into this. Review to come. Get your copy.
A Christmas Blizzard by Garrison Keillor
What's better than a slow-burning holiday tragedy penned by a curmudgeonly author? Nothing. This is one of those stories I read every year - a wonderful farce delivered only as a storyteller as masterful as Garrison Keillor could spin. (#protip: Listen to a few back episodes of A Prairie Home Companion so you can get your narration voice straight before cracking this one open). Get your copy.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Another annual read, this story speaks to my inner Luther Krank--someone who is over the holiday insanity and just wants to go relax on a beach somewhere. The book that inspired the film Christmas with the Kranks, if you've ever just gotten sick of holiday madness, this one will make you giggle and still manage to give your Grinchy heart a little boost, too. Get your copy.
Old Christmas by Washington Irving
Stay in your lane, Charles Dickens, and leave Olde English Christmas to Washington Irving, the author who brought us The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. If you've not read this true Christmas classic, it's time to leave Scrooge to count his coins and read this oft-forgotten classic instead. (#protip: Get the illustrated version.) Get your copy.
My lifelong love affair with Anne Rice and her Vampire Chronicles is rather well-documented.
After two books of alternating points of view--Prince Lestat (2014) and Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis (2016)-- Rice, and Lestat, are back in the newly released Blood Communion. In a first person narrative flouting more dialogue than previous books in the series, the eleventh installment in Rice’s Vampire Chronicles sees the charmingly insufferable vampire continuing more or less the same path he’s been on for the past few centuries: seeking a beautiful respite and fame for his unquenchable ego, and comforting himself with insincere self-flagellation every step of the way. Indeed, told completely from the perspective of The Brat Prince himself, Blood Communion is exactly the sort of epicurean tale you might expect from the vampire who simultaneously laments each of his numerous mistakes while continually ignoring any wisdom that might prevent him from making his next.
It is Lestat de Lioncourt in all his pompous, velvet-cloaked, self-indulgent glory, and we love him—and Rice—for it.
For those of us loyal People of the Page who have tired of worrying how, if, or (for-the-freaking-love-of-Akasha) when Amel’s consciousness might be extracted from Lestat or about the motives of the replimoids (in fact, there is mercifully little mentioned about Kapetria or Amel until the final few pages), this is the story we have been waiting for. Once again, the ever self-absorbed and easily besmitten vampire romances himself through his own panderings, all the way from a superficial infatuation with newcomer Dmitri Fontayne (or Mitka, as he prefers), a former lover of none other than Pandora, who beguiles Lestat with his fragile hands, impressive wardrobe, and well-furnished home (sound familiar?), to the quickly dispatched Baudwin. This latter is ultimately ended by his maker, a newly introduced ancient Gundesanth (Santh), who, as it turns out was a member of the Queen’s blood priesthood and companion of Nebamun (known now as Gregory). Alas, it wouldn’t be fitting for a new addition in the Vampire Chronicles if it didn’t introduce and subsequently forget new characters at lightning speed.
"[blood communion] is Lestat de Lioncourt in all his pompous, velvet-cloaked, self-indulgent glory, and we love him—and Rice—for it."
In an installment that is most reminiscent of The Vampire Lestat (1985), Rice’s latest, lushly-written addition to the Chronicles acts as a sort of bookend to the series Louis kicked off, returning us back to the mortal days of Lestat. It is, also, perhaps the most unabashed love letter from Rice in all her glorious descriptions of Lestat. We revisit some of the most impactful, character-shaping moments of his personal history—Claudia's death, the conversion of Gabrielle, the tryst with Memnoch, et cetera—and see the culmination of these moments arrived as Lestat finally achieves the proper nobility he has desired since his mortal days in his family’s crumbling castle in France.
Though the novel lags in the beginning and feels somewhat rushed toward the end, there are moments of intense action and violence in Blood Communion, the likes of which haven’t been seen since Queen of the Damned. Two such scenes of note involve the ill-fated Rhoshamandes (yes, finally) and his beloved Benedict. It is Lestat himself who cheaply head butts and then rips the former’s head from his ancient body, subsequently ingesting and then vomiting back Rhosh’s eyes. The second gruesome death of note (although it happens prior to Rhosh’s) is when poor Benedict terminates his own immortality (shortly after delivering Lestat an actual throne) in a gory exit that makes the stage scene of the young French woman in the Théâtre des Vampires look positively G-rated.
Of course, Rhosh’s eventual demise has been long awaited, and Lestat honors though does not participate in Benedict’s. However, if you’ve ever expected The Brat Prince to actually face consequences—from condemning poor Claudia to short-lived immortality, to destroying the Théâtre des Vampires (something over which Armand is still deliciously bitter), to teaming up (albeit-temporarily) with the blood queen Akasha, to continually and incessantly ignoring the insight and caution of Louis, Armand, Marius or any of the other blood drinkers Lestat clams to love yet never actually shows any affection—or to perhaps grow into the maturity of a centuries-old vampire, it isn’t happening here. Not even and perhaps especially not know that he enjoys the role of crowned Prince, a position he ceaselessly wrings his hands over (and which is constantly reinforced by vampires who, after Akasha, might know better!). Instead, any maturity we might find in Lestat is tempered by his own grandiose musings as he comforts himself with his progress in establishing the court, hosts decadent balls and ceremonies, restores his ancestral home—Chateau de Lioncourt—and the surrounding village, considers and then bestows the Dark Gift to his lead architect, and still manages to come out of yet another challenge to his dominance not only the winner, but somehow improved. He is, for better or worse, the same bratty blond vampire he has always been—just maybe a little less repentant about it.
But then so are the rest of the vampires. The always-dramatic Armand. The ever-inconsolable Louis. The incessantly-brooding Marius. Gabrielle, who remains as elusive and temporal as Pandora. But perhaps therein is Rice’s subtle nod to a simple truth—the suggestion that despite all its flaws and all its imperfections, that no matter how long removed from the realm of the living, no matter how well preserved in velvet and beautiful immortality, the human condition persists within us all.
Blood Communion is the necessary next step of the Court as we have come to know and love them, and it is Lestat de Lioncourt as we simply can’t live without him.
All hail Prince Lestat!
In what could rightfully be deemed a revival of the horror genre, two things have happened of late. The first has evidenced itself cinematically, with new spine-tingling features coming to screens in the veritable gush of Stephen King stories-turned-films on streaming platforms and Hollywood both (Gerald’s Game though, sigh) alongside a swarm of other new horrifying literary adaptations, like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (originally published in 1959), revivals of nostalgic, spooktastic series like Goosebumps (I previously wrote on the same here), new installments in the Halloween franchise (the film that quite literally cut its teeth biting off what’s since been known as the slasher genre), and a general enchantment with watching all things existing on the spectrum of terror—from true-story haunting series like Netflix’s Haunted to cooking shows (and not the scary Gordon Ramsey kind, unfortunately). Even Halloween, which didn’t reach 2017’s record high in spending last month, did achieve an impressive $9b, a significant amount being spent on costumes—and pet costumes. (I feel the need to remark Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’s Gomez and Morticia Addams costumes, which, if you have not yet seen them on the Internet, are spectacular).
Of course, we don’t only like to watch horror or dress up like it, but we like to read it as well. The last year has seen the publication of several spectacular horror titles, among them Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls and The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager. Thus, the second shift in the revival of the horror genre has been a call, not to the directorial or theatrically inclined, but to the writers—particularly to the women of horror fiction, a historically underrepresented group in the genre (I’m speaking of adult horror, sparkly vampires don’t count). From boutique indie publishing houses with open calls looking for stories by (or about) ladies of shivery goodness, like Stangehouse Books, to new bookish review and author fan groups like the Ladies of Horror Fiction who tweet, podcast, review, and otherwise champion the women’s horror writing market, the invitation to join the club of horror writers has grown wide, inclusive, and unabashedly interested in producing work that has the ability to scare the hell out of all of us.
So, to keep us in a steady supply of creepy new stuff to make our blood run cold, while King is offering rights to his short stories for $1 to film students via the Dollar Babies program, the publishing community is serving up its own set of opportunities. And if there’s one thing that those of us saddled with the sometimes-competitive-and-often-masochistic author gene simply can’t resist it’s a chance to show our stuff in a battle of writing wits, namely, a contest—maybe even one that could put us in the running for the coveted Bram Stoker award (I’m just saying).
This year, Inkshares, the publisher of speculative fiction which has produced two standouts—in 2017, Scott Thomas’ Kill Creek, a debut literary horror that was selected by the American Library Association’s advisory committee as the horror book of the year, shortlisted for the Bram Stoker, termed “the horror debut of 2017” by Barnes & Noble, and is in development for television at Showtime, and this year Christopher Huang’s A Gentleman’s Murder, which, in addition to receiving a coveted starred review from Publishers Weekly, is in development at Endeavor Content with the former heads of HBO and Showtime—has just opened a call for submissions for its second-annual Horror Novel Contest.
I’ll go ahead and mention that both Inkshares authors of the aforementioned titles have had their books licensed by major houses in foreign territories and gotten their cold, skeletal fingers on significant five-figure advances. Not accomplishments to snub a nose at for sure.
It’s also worth pointing out, just for the record, that both authors are men. So, ladies of horror, let’s make this year’s contest one for the books (pun!). Seasoned or aspiring writers alike, whip out your pens, pencils, or whatever writing device you use, and start (or finish) that horror book that’s been whispering dark thoughts in your ears. Whether you’re a Morticia, a Lily, or an Elvira herself, ready your best horror manuscript and get your submission on. The horror genre is back—just check out this article by my literary agent Italia Gandolfo—and this time it’s ours.
Submissions are open now through December 14th (I’ll say it again for the folks in the back--submissions are open until December 14th) and are open to anyone with a partial or finished horror manuscript. Inkshares will be accepting at least three novelists for publication and rights management. Full submission details and other nuances of eligibility here.
Originally published 11.6.18 on The Nerd Daily
Before Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games), before Stephanie Meyer (Twilight), even before J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter, incase you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty years), there was R. L. STINE.
Few things say “horror” to 90s kids like recalling memories of curling up in front of the TV on Saturday night to catch an episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark?, the Canadian horror fantasy-themed anthology Nickelodeon series that made spooky campfire stories a weekly event, and reading Goosebumps books, usually harvested from those most magical of school day events: the Scholastic Book Fair. At a time when girls in my peer group were busy reading series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High, rare would have been the occurrence to find eight-year old me without my nose stuffed deep in the pages of a Goosebumps book (the very first installment, Welcome to Dead House, residing squarely beside the quintessential Stine classic, Night of the Living Dummy, as my personal favorites). Nothing horrified my mother more than finding me still reading in bed past midnight, armed with a flashlight and shivering with eager dread under a blanket as I sped through the pages of a Goosebumps novel. “You’ll give yourself nightmares,” she’d often warn, and I did—I’m still a little uneasy around ventriloquist, er, dolls—but I also kept reading.
I wasn’t alone in my fascination with these books, with their neon covers and catchy harrowing titles like A Scarecrow Walks at Midnight and The Werewolf of Fever Swamp. The Goosebumps series—along with myriad spinoff series written by Stine, including Goosebumps Series 2000 (1998 to 2000), Goosebumps Gold (never released), Give Yourself Goosebumps (1995 to 2000), Goosebumps HorrorLand (2008 to 2012) and Goosebumps Most Wanted (2012 to 2016)—have sold more than 400 million copies since 1992. During a particular prosperous time in their mid-90s heyday, Goosebumps were flying off the shelf at a rate of 4 million copies per month, a speed unmatched until we met Harry Potter in 1997.
When the first Goosebumps movie hit theaters in October 2015, I found myself curious, excited, and frankly a little nervous. While the recent remake-revival of everything 80s and 90s was fun at first, I will concede it started getting a little hard to watch when Lisa Frank merchandise reappeared at Hot Topic and a remake of The Magic School Bus showed up streaming on Netflix. I watched the trailer for Goosebumps (2015) and thought to myself, please Hollywood, you’ve taken my sticker collections, trapper keepers, and Ms. Frizzle, please don’t destroy my childhood books, too. (Much of my anxiety was relieved when I saw that Jack Black had signed on to portray Stine himself. I don’t know why, but I think it had something to do with every Jack Black movie ever made.)
Of course, I went and saw it, dragging my then-nine-year-old son along with me. He was, admittedly, disinterested, going along with it only because it “might be cool.” In hopes of converting my son into a Goosebumps-kid, I picked him up a tattered old copy of one of the newer installments--Zombie School, I believe—at a secondhand bookstore, and although it had never left the bookshelf since it arrived at our house, I was still hopeful. We saw Goosebumps, and it was everything my childhood self could have ever dreamed it would be. All the classics came out to play, led as you might expect, by Slappy himself. There were twists, emotionally resonant characters, and just the right amount of absurdity and nail biting. I loved it.
And then came the sequel.
I was terrified. Not in the Goosebumps kind of way, but in the holy crap they’re going to remake the remake and they’re going to ruin it kind of way. My son, now 11, however, saw the preview and demanded we see it at once. I balked. Read some early notes. Checked to see if Black was still involved with the project. Whined a little about how sequels destroy dreams. Then, one day as I was organizing my son’s bookshelves I came across that secondhand copy of Zombie School. Its pages were falling out. The cover had detached itself and was now hanging off the book’s spine like the decaying flesh of one of the title characters. There were dog ears and highlighted passages, the kind that only appear after you’ve read a story a whole bunch of times and fallen completely in love with it.
At long last, my son, who has morphed into a sternly devout reader of series limited to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Spy School, was becoming a Goosebumps kid. We went to the bookstore, and in the kid’s section—one I rarely visit—I was amazed to discover a massive stand of all-things Stine. Standing at that blissful kiosk I almost forgot that I am a fully-grown woman who reads Stephen King anthologies for breakfast. I had to stop myself from going home with a few old favorites, even though I really wanted to read Ghost Beach again. I started to feel hopeful about the remake-sequel of Goosebumps. The next week, the book fair came to school, and my son came home with a copy of the novelization of the new film.
I quit fussing and bought the damn tickets.
If the first Goosebumps film was the thing all of us 90s kids’ had been waiting for, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween was the thing we all worried about. The overly silly storyline was busy desperately trying to be original while still borrowing as many iconic Goosebumps characters as it could. If managing that messy kludge of doom wasn’t already bad enough, all of this was forcefully shoved against a Halloween backdrop like an unwitting kid in a school portrait, ignoring any potentially better suited plot that might have been leveraged from the 150+ actual Goosebumps stories. One particular standout scene—which usurped a ridiculous amount of screen time—involved a small army of demonic gummy bears that congealed themselves into one fanged gummy beast. It remains a mystery whether this goofball scene got so much real state because someone ran out of ideas to fill the hour and a half film, or because some writer had a particular fascination with the idea of a herd of little squishy candies blobbing together into one very large, very toothy gummy blob. In fact, that may be the single best way to sum up the movie itself: a lot of gummy fang instead of any real bite.
Silliness aside, there were some pretty decent scenes in the film—like when Slappy calls upon various Halloween decorations, from rubber rats to zombie masks, languishing on a discount department store shelf to come to life—and some pretty decent spooks for a family film—like (again) Slappy creeping into the bedroom of a sleeping girl, his shadow towering over hers with questionable intent. The most enjoyable aspect of the film isn’t found in the plotline itself, but perhaps in its character cast—though Black himself was only allotted a measly and completely unnecessary ten minutes to revive his role as Stine, sigh. From a single-mom, to an unassuming and vaguely nerdy main character, an entrepreneurial best friend who is equal parts comedic relief and the friend we all wish we had, a stereotypical bicycle-gang of preteen bullies, and a teenage sister navigating everything from bad boyfriends to college applications, this group might have been lifted directly out of any real world neighborhood and put into a twisted, over the top scenario that is too silly to be scary but still manages to give you—dare I say—goose bumps—assuming you’re eleven years old.
Realization hit me walking out of the theater. While I was busy rattling off reasons the film failed cinematically, why it didn’t live up to the expectations set in the first, why it just didn’t remind me of my childhood love affair with R. L. Stine, my son turned to me and asked the question I had been waiting to hear ever since I caught him reading in bed with a flashlight: “What’s your favorite Goosebumps book?” he asked. “Maybe I’ll read it next.” Sweet, shivery bliss filled my heart, and a sinister smirk even Slappy might have approved of crossed my face. I looped my arm around my son’s shoulders and steered him back toward that Goosebumps book kiosk waiting for us in the children’s section of the bookstore.
Suddenly, I found myself really, really happy with this nonsensical, Jello-for-storyline movie because while it didn’t do right by us old school readers, it did something I think might be even better. It’s reinvigorated a new generation of kids to pick up a Goosebumps novel, hide under bed sheets with a flashlight, and enjoy a case of the shivers. After all, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween wasn’t made for us 90s kids to relive our Goosebumps glory days. It was made for the kids of those 90s kids. To let them worry just a little bit about stuff that goes bump in the night. To scare the ever-living hell out of them every time they look at a ventriloquist doll. To give a new generation of readers goose bumps.