Book Review – Tales From The Hearse by David Allen Voyles

Imagine you’re riding through a cemetery in the back of a hearse on a quest to find some ghosts. No, you’re not one of the ghosts, you’re just looking for ghosts. Notoriously difficult critters to find. Fortunately your guide, in addition to driving a hearse like a real American, knows the lore of the land and isn’t afraid to share it with you while guiding you to your doom. Because, honestly, what else are you going to drive through a cemetery in, a Honda Civic? No way, that’s not how things are done.

It’s the little things that count when you’re trying to creep out your audience. Hearses. Cemeteries. Good stories with dastardly endings. Those are the things that turn good horror stories into excellent horror stories. Details. Nitty gritty stuff. It’s not enough to just say, “And then it turned out he had a hook for a hand!” There must be a build.

Too many horror authors get themselves wrapped up in the gore and the shock and don’t realize that jumping straight to the knife in the chest or the mouthful of alien juice doesn’t work. It’s not a shock or a terror if you can’t juxtapose it with the normal.

Voyles doesn’t fall into that trap. He doesn’t rely on jumping straight to the scare like a teenager in the back seat. Voyles romances us, sets us up, and then pulls the floor out from under us.

He also doesn’t skimp on details. For such short stories, they’re richly detailed without being overbearing. Voyles gives us a world that lives and breathes, something alive and normal, and characters that aren’t trite caricatures. That reality makes the horror elements feel more real and that’s when things get scary.

So, if you’re into gore, this isn’t the collection for you. If, however, you can feel the rumble of Hell’s V-8, hear the voice of the frighteningly knowledgeable driver, and see the silver moonlight casting shadows over rows of tombstones, then this is the collection for you.

“Virgil Nightshade is an expert storyteller, mixing the local supernatural lore and a bit of theatrics with a stage magician’s flare to create a sophisticated carnival ride. All while riding in a hearse.” – TripAdvisor Review

In Tales from the Hearse, David Allen Voyles evokes his past role as Virgil Nightshade, the storyteller and ghost tour host, with this collection of thirteen stories of the macabre. One can easily imagine riding in the back of his 1972 Cadillac hearse through a spooky graveyard listening to him tell his tales of horror just as his customers did in Asheville, NC. If you love ghost stories, haunted houses, and walks through the graveyard, climb in the hearse and take a dark ride with David Allen Voyles. Just make sure your doors are locked.

Get your copy on Amazon

Follow David on Twitter

Check out David’s website

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

It ain’t easy finding good news these days. We’ve still got a pandemic going on, one that scientists are finding is much uglier than previously thought. The riots are slowly dying down, but the underlying turmoil that drove them is still there. And American leadership is at an all-time low. On the plus side, the murder hornet subplot seems to have been ditched, so we’ve got that going for us.

All in all, 2020 has been something of a dumpster fire. That’s why next weekend, I’ll be tossing some candy into the streets, eating some turkey, passing out some presents, and calling the year done.

In the milieu of the year, it’s easy to forget there are some good things going on. I nearly wrote up this post on how Dolly Parton and Nina West are starting up a charity for LGBQT+ and children’s literacy because, hey, Dolly Parton. You can’t go wrong with Dolly Parton. I was also tempted by the very important story of how a topless woman saved a drowning family because topless woman.

In the end something a little more timely won out. Namely the fact that NASA renamed its DC HQ after Mary W. Jackson, the first black female engineer at NASA. Women have had a tough road to hoe in the sciences – even Hedy Lamarr who co-invented frequency hopping spread spectrum had to step back from her invention and let a man take the credit – but black women have had an even tougher road. Mary Jackson worked her ass off for NASA publishing twelve technical papers, working on high-profile projects like Mercury, and worked on helping women and minorities figure out how best to advance their careers by offering her insight on classes and career paths. In other words, someone worth looking up to.

So, while the world is changing, hopefully we’ll be able to see more stories like this. They won’t erase the past but maybe they’ll help us reinvent the future.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath, Susan Scott, Shilpa Garg, Damyanti Biswas, and Belinda Witzenhausen.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

Petrichor, Potvalor, Sapid. #vss365

I play some of the Twitter writing prompts every day. There are dozens of them out there. Some are good, some not so good, and some go through bouts of greatness followed by pits of despair. One of the biggest and longest running prompts is #vss365, short for very short stories 365 days a year. It’s big enough that there’s no chance in hell you’re going to read them all on a given day. Well, unless you have significantly more free time than I do.

The way these prompts work is someone posts a word and you can either dig through your existing works or write something new that uses the word. The idea is to use the word in some creative fashion. With some words, like machine which was the theme word for both #scififri and #satsplat today, it’s relatively easy. Machine can mean a lot of things from a physical machine to a metaphorical machine to Sharky’s Machine. There’s a lot of room to play with the theme word.

Then there are some of the words that have popped up on #vss365 lately: Potvalor, petrichor, and sapid. Among other things. Personally, I think it’s telling that Brave’s spell check is telling me all those words are spelled wrong, but because they’re so rare almost no one ever uses them. It’s like fustian or polyglot; outside of certain realms of communication those words simply don’t exist.

So, for those of you scratching your heads and wondering just what the hell potvalor, petrichor, and sapid mean:

  • Potvalor: Courage or bravery from resulting from drunkenness
  • Petrichor: That pleasant smell after a good rainstorm
  • Sapid: Having a strong, pleasant taste

There, now you can use your potvalor and describe your sapid drink and the petrichor next time you’re trying to seduce some hot little number at a party. You’re welcome.

Aside from the sensuous art of verbal seduction, what’s the good of trying to shoehorn potvalor, petrichor, and sapid into writing? Especially when you consider most writing should fall into about the sixth grade reading level. Well, here are two things to keep in mind: If you want to get good at something, do it a lot and if you want to get better at something, push yourself.

As with anything else, writing is a skill and skills can and should be developed and nurtured. You don’t hear about pro athletes saying they’re just naturally so good they don’t bother to train. Want to get better at punching? Punch something. Want to get better at cycling, get a bike and go ride. And each time you do that thing, pay attention and focus on getting better. If you want to get better at writing, write. And just like the athlete that pushes his or her boundaries, break out of your skill set. Write a different genre of story or a different style. If you’re an action writer, try your hand at writing a romance and vice versa. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but the act itself will illuminate things you’d never thought of before. For instance if you’re gonna try your hand at erotica, you’ll be amazed at how many euphemisms there are. Also, writing the word “cock” over and over gets boring. Dig deeper. Tease out those other words. Penetrate your own style. Trust me, the explosion at the end will be worth it.

Now, of course, none of this is to say I didn’t take a few cheap potshots at the #vss365 theme words here and there.

But ultimately, I like to think I rose to the challenge. Words like petrichor, sapid, and potvalor aren’t easy to incorporate, especially if you want them to be interesting and feel natural.

It’s all too easy to grouse at the challenges, but those challenges are what make you better. So, next time someone says, “Work fustian into a sentence without sounding like a pompous ass” you can do it. After you look it up, of course.

In fact, go do that and drop a line in the comments.

Guest Post – Guillaume Sauvé

How to Become a Storyteller Without Writing a Single Word

Did you know that 90% of people want to write a book? It’s true. Unfortunately, most people never even write the first word. Of those brave enough to begin, less than half actually finish. Then comes the scariest part: Submitting the manuscript to agents and publishers. Not only is it a painful process that makes you feel like a total and utter fraud, but your odds of landing a contract are about as good as you winning the lottery. And, if by some miracle you actually get your book published, you’re unlikely to sell more than a handful of copies.

No wonder most people never take the plunge.

Luckily, the days where the above-described scenario was the only option have come and gone. The rise of self-publishing has revolutionized the publishing industry. While better than the mahogany desk approach of old, self-publishing still has many pitfalls. Not only must you pay for all the expenses—editing, proofreading, cover design, etc.—out of your own pocket, but you must master the skills necessary for a successful career as an author. That means learning how to create a website, how to run a newsletter, and how to promote your books because the days where you could just throw a book up on Amazon and watch the sales roll in have long since past. All in all, self-publishing requires hundreds of hours of training and thousands of dollars in expenses.

By now, you’re probably thinking, “Why the hell would anyone choose to be a writer?”

I feel you. Unfortunately, writing isn’t something you choose to do. It’s a calling. I’ve always known I wanted to be an author, but I denied it for many years. It wasn’t until I had a near-death experience that I decided to go for it. Since then, I’ve spent thousands of hours honing my craft and invested over $15,000 into my passion. While I don’t regret it, I know it’s not something most people are willing to do. But I also know how incredibly gratifying it is to hit the “Publish” button on your very first book, so I started brainstorming ways to help aspiring writers fulfill their lifelong dream of becoming a published author. It took a while, but I finally came up with the perfect solution.

Storytellers Unite!

The concept came to me when I stopped thinking as an author and started thinking as a reader. I remembered how popular Choose Your Own Adventure books were back in the ‘80s and ‘90s and realized I could do the same thing. Only, instead of writing a book with predefined paths for readers to follow, I would let them vote on what happened next as I wrote it. Not only would it allow aspiring authors to contribute to the creation of a novel, but it would make my job easier—and way more fun.

I won’t bore you with the details, so here is a quick overview of how it works:

Each week, I write one new chapter and provide three possible options for what could happen next. All you must do is vote for your favourite and watch as the story comes to life.

Intrigued? Good. Here’s a short description for our current collaborative project:

The Memory Thief

There’s a thief on the loose. A memory thief. No one is safe, not even the thief. The main character awakes to a blank mind. He doesn’t know who he is, but the note in his pocket claims he’s the only one who knows the thief’s true identity. At least, he did until his memories were stolen. Now, he must find the clues he left behind and reclaim his stolen memories in time to unravel the mystery and stop the thief once and for all. Will he succeed? Help me find out.

Want to know more? Great! Here’s Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

The world slowly came into focus. Blurry mountains gave way to rundown houses. Fuzzy shapes turned into pedestrians hurrying along dirt roads. Glowing spots of pure light became streetlamps, lighting up the city. Piece by piece, my surroundings emerged from the endless void that was my life.

An aura of hardship infused the landscape, like a scene from an old steampunk novel. The pedestrians walked around with slumped shoulders and grim faces. The buildings—if you can call them that—were pieced together in giant patchworks of metal and wood. Trash littered the streets. Mangy mutts scurried about amid the rat-infested landscape, looking for their next meal.

Where am I? I wondered, scanning my immediate surroundings. To my left stood a sharp drop to a lower level of the rundown city. A makeshift park lay to my right, empty but for a few filthy children playing in the mud. Directly in front stood a statue of a young man. His jaw was square and his gaze piercing. Worn by time and abuse, the sculpture was missing an arm, and a middle finger had been carved into its metallic surface. Whoever this man was, he was despised.

Continuing my study, I focused on the house that lay behind me. Mediocre in both design and craftsmanship, it seemed on the verge of collapse. I’m surprised the pressure of my body pressed against it didn’t finish the job time had begun long ago.

The patch of hard-packed earth upon which I sat was bare but for a few discarded objects. The occasional blur of movement told me I wasn’t alone, but whatever vermin was hiding in the shadows chose not to antagonize me.

The final detail I took into account was the starless sky that hovered high above. Vast and devoid of colour, the expanse hung over the city, like a giant raincloud heavy with impending doom.

Now that my first question had been answered, I moved on to the next obvious one.

“Who am I?” I asked, this time aloud. The rumble of my voice sounded foreign, just like everything else in this strange world.

Ignoring my rising sense of panic, I scanned my body for clues. My clothes were torn and stained to the point where determining the exact colour of the fabric was impossible. My feet were bare and calloused from years of navigating this strange landscape. My hands were covered in scars. My stomach was flat, though I couldn’t tell if it was the result of malnutrition or frequent exercise. My facial features remained shrouded in mystery, but a few quick touches revealed my jaw was square, and a subtle scruff had begun to invade the lower half of my face. The jaggedness of my nose seemed to indicate it had been broken—on more than one occasion—and three of my teeth were missing. The final detail I noticed was the triangle that had been carved into my left forearm. Fresh, the wound was red and swollen.

“Who am I?” I repeated, worry once more rising within me. I scoured my memories in search of a hint, but all I found was emptiness. As impossible as it seemed, I had no recollection of my life before now.

Now more terrified than worried, I leapt to my feet and once more scanned my surroundings. I studied every detail, hoping to jog my memory, but the desolate scene that stretched all around remained unhelpful. As were the worn faces of the pedestrians. It wasn’t until I patted my body for hidden objects that I finally found my first hint.

A balled-up wad of paper had been stuffed into one of my pockets. Crisp and white, the note seemed out of place among the surrounding filth. Hands trembling, I smoothed out the square sheet and read the words written upon it.

Find the clues and solve the mystery. The fate of the entire city rests on your shoulders.

I re-read the note twice more before returning it to my pocket. Though far from helpful, the enigmatic message filled me with hope. Whoever wrote it knew what happened to me. Finding them would mean unravelling the mystery that was my life. Unfortunately, I had no clue where to begin. Fortunately, the burden of choice was taken from me when a dark shape emerged from my right.

I turned to find…

Option 1: …a massive, snarling beast.

Option 2: …an odd-looking robot.

Option 3: …a little girl with tear-stained cheeks and a headless doll clutched in her hands.

I hope you enjoyed the start of The Memory Thief. Click Here to keep reading and become a Storyteller.

—G. Sauvé

NOTE: You DON’T have to join my newsletter to read The Memory Thief, but only subscribers can vote, and you get a FREE book for joining.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

The country is slowly reopening. It’s like coming out of a short-term, fucked-up relationship followed by a nasty breakup. Walking around in one of Albuquerque’s many indoor flea markets – albeit with masks and social distancing – felt almost like being alive again. Sights! Sounds! Things that weren’t my house or the odd trip to my abandoned cubicle at work. Stuff other than food. I found an original copy of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Welcome To The Pleasuredome on vinyl and it brought back all those wondrous moments of misbegotten youth when I didn’t have to worry about pandemics or riots or a renegade president threatening to change the rules because Twitter applied the rules to him.

Normally, these posts are supposed to be about a recent news article that was uplifting. Dog finds its way home. A tiny bit of justice happens somewhere. Stuff like that. It’s kinda hard right now to find positive news articles that don’t include cops getting arrested for murder or Twitter slapping warning labels on tweets. Those are good things, don’t get me wrong, but they’re band-aids over wounds that have been hemorrhaging and festering for years. A step in the right direction, but nothing more. So, I’m not going to link to any positive news articles. Let the WATWB police come after me.

So, to quote Moshav, the whole world’s on fire.

It’s times like these that you have to look for the small things. The last broken Oreo in the package, that single shot of bourbon you forgot you had, the half-smoked cigarette when you wake up in the middle of night and can’t get the dream out of your head. Follow the smoke up into the æther and find some peace.

Or it could just be that old record (in mint condition! Frankie says Relax!) or the free concert from Le Chat Lunatique that those amazing Albuquerque mainstays put on tonight over the web or even just eating frozen custard at a roadside shop and enjoying the weather.

There have been more people eating in parks than I’ve ever seen. People in my neighborhood have little get-togethers on their front lawns. The little roadside trail I ride is filled with people. It’s like America suddenly discovered there’s more than just reality TV and trying to get laid in bars. That there’s a life outside of the life we thought we had.

To quote Colonel Kilgore, “Someday this war’s gonna end.” So, here’s your uplifting bit of news. Yes, the Cronizzle is still out there. No, it probably won’t go away any time soon. But everything comes to an end. And what’ll be important isn’t what happened. It’s what you carry with you out the other side. The riots will end, the incompetent oaf running the country into the ground will end. Or, as Charlie Chaplin said in The Great Dictator:

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish. …..”

Lines like that keep me warm at night.

Keep what you’ve learned. Hold it tight. Never let it go.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Susan Scott, Lizbeth Hertz, Shilpa Garg, Mary Giese, and Damyanti Biswas

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now your moment of Zen.

Book Review – The Dark Land by D.M. Shepard

Alaska is the land the U.S. seems to have forgotten. Other than a brief flirtation with the state back when Sarah Palin claimed to be able to see the back of Vladimir Putin’s head from her porch, it seems like Alaska doesn’t really exist in popular culture. There’s plenty going on about the rest of the country from sweet tale of overcoming cancer in New Mexico that was “Breaking Bad” to the lovely travel documentary of Georgia in “Deliverance”. But aside from that terrible Steven Segal movie back in the day, Alaska seems to have fallen off the face of the planet. Which is a pity because there’s a lot of cool stuff in Alaska beyond the annual winter-time vampire feeding fest and HAARP.

So that’s why DM Shepard’s The Dark Land makes for such a great story. Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than just Alaska, the story is good and well-written, too. But setting something in Alaska and having it written by someone who actually lives in the state brings a great deal of detail to the story. In fact, if you’re so inclined, go read Shepard’s guest-post about the myths and legends she tapped to spin her yarn of terror, adventure, and romance.

Details are all fine and good in a story, but it is possible to get bogged down in them. They’re like tequila – fine in small doses but too much can leave on the floor questioning your sanity. Fortunately, Shepard understands that and uses the real-world details to add spice and depth to the story without overpowering it. In other words, she makes the frozen hell-hole that is Alaska live and breathe. She populates the world with characters you feel like you can almost touch and monsters that are just as alien as anything you can imagine. And throughout the whole thing makes a Southwestern guy like me wonder what the hell people are doing trudging through the snow when its, like, four degrees below absolute zero out there.

As I said earlier, this is blend of action, horror, and romance. Which would seem to make for strange bedfellows, but Shepard pulls it off brilliantly and lets each style emerge on its own terms. It would be easy to have a romantic interlude in the woods that leads to getting eaten by monsters. It’s far harder to put two characters together and not have them go steamrollering straight to the sack. She lets the story develop in its own time. So, you can go from some pretty intense action to a calming sequence to some pretty intense action of another type, if you get my drift. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a good story, well-told, with enough mystery and detail added to make it feel real, even when the tale points the car toward mythology town and steps on the gas. Truly a treasure. This is the kind of story they make movies out of.

A dark tale of legendary creatures stalking the isolated trails of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the deep cold of winter.

Lured by her high peaks and vast forests, adventurers swarm to the siren call of Alaska’s backcountry. Her harsh bite scars many. Some never return.

Please find my son’s remains…

Haunted by the last request of her foster mother, experienced outdoorswoman, Rose Long, skis into the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness to search for clues surrounding the missing man. Concerned about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the older woman’s death, her childhood friend, Ulrik, joins the quest to protect the woman he secretly loves.
Ancient evil seethes in the ice-locked boreal forest, watching their every move during the long northern nights. The legend of the Headless Ravine is steeped in blood. The Dark Land’s hunger for flesh never sleeps, even in the deepest cold of winter—and it has marked Rose as its next victim.

Get your copy on Amazon

Follow Daniella on Twitter

Check out her website

Guest Post – Athabascan Languages and Legends by Daniella Shepard

“The Headless Ravine? You mean up Chitistone Gorge? That’s just a legend.”

“Yeah, the Athabascans didn’t name it that for nothing, kid.”

Myths and Legends of all cultures have fascinated me since I was a little girl. One of my favorites is that of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe of the Mojave Desert (near Death Valley). They tell of early times, when the Coyote Spirit carried the First People into the Living Valley (what the Europeans would later name Death Valley) in a basket. He fell asleep, and the people crept out and populated the world. This took place at the Wosa, now known as Ubehebe Crater, a large extinct crater shaped like a basket in the National Park. I always liked to picture the coyote sleeping under the multitude of desert stars, while the curious people wandered away.

As I grew older, my brother, cousin and I would sit around and tell darker stories. Those of the of the Yucca Man and Skin Walkers. The southwest like every region of the world has its own tales of creatures that stalk the empty, uninhabited spaces of the land.

Native Legends

Navajo Legends

Yucca Man

Athabascan Language Groups

When I moved to Alaska in 2007, I became fascinated with the differences and similarities between the legends I grew up with and the ones I encountered in my new home. Something that I didn’t know, and others may be surprised to learn, is that Alaska Natives First Peoples of the interior of Alaska, called the Northern Athabascans, are actually related to the Apache-Navajo tribes of the American Southwest. The Apache Navajo are considered to be Southern Athabascan (also spelled Athapascan). The language structure, verb usage and words are similar, though the two groups live more than 3000 miles apart and have had no contact for many millennia. Some words have become obsolete over time and distance as the languages have evolved, but they have found that if they bring members from the different groups together, they are able to understand each other with some difficulty. I have included some links below that talk in more detail about the Athabascan Languages, relationships, dialects and origins.

Athabaskan Peoples Languages

http://qenaga.org/relationships.html

http://athabascanvoice.blogspot.com/2013/05/athabaskan-languages.html

Of the 31 dialects of Athabascan in Alaska, my particular story, The Dark Land is derived from legend of tailed creatures in the interior of Alaska in the region of the Ahtna (referring to the Upper Ahtna). The Dene, Han, Upper Tanana and other tribes have similar stories and legends revolving around evil creatures in the Alaska-Yukon wilderness, the most complete version resides in the book, Tatl’ahwt’aenn Nenn’ or The Headwater’s People’s Country, transcribed and edited by James Kari.

Cet’aenn Nal’aen’de (When the Tailed Ones Were Seen), is a chilling account of the Upper Ahtna’s encounter with the Cet’aenn (pronounced: Ket-ANN) detailed in the aforementioned book. It described evil, monkey-like creatures* that would come out of the ground at night and watch from the hills. The story describes how the Ahtna vanquished the creatures in the particular area known as Roasted Salmon Place (Batzulnetas), but the implication is that they didn’t eliminate them entirely.

*English translation-no word for monkey in Dena’ina/Ahtna.

Talking with some of my other friends who are more closely related to the Tanacross/Tanana tribes, this oral story/legend is not familiar to them. But they are very familiar with what is known as the Bush Men (Ts’el’eni or Kol’eni) or “Wild Men of the Tundra.” According to legend these men are known for kidnapping women and children and waging war against the First Peoples. There is also fervent belief in “The Hairy Man,” or the Wood Man (Nuhu’anh) what we would call Big Foot or Sasquatch.

http://www.native-languages.org/ahtna-legends.htm

No matter where you go, the theme of something sinister lurking in the woods beyond the shadows of the campfire prevails. No matter what our differences, tales of things waiting to devour those that stay too far from the path permeate every culture. Blending these tales into my own brand of fiction was a fun adventure, at the same time I wanted to share the inspiration. I also wanted to share the reason why I will definitely think twice before investigating the strange noise outside my cabin in the darkness.

Thanks for reading. If you want to read about legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the frozen trails of Alaska, you can find The Dark Land on Amazon.

You can also check out more of my blog posts about my Alaska adventures on my website:

http://dmshepard.com/blog/

Daniella’s book, The Dark Land, a wonderful mix of romance, terror, and action will be released May 4th. Yes, I’ve read it. Yes, it’s a lot of fun. Check back on May 4, 2020 for a full review.

You can also find Daniella on Twitter.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Time has no meaning anymore. It’s just a filmy haze of going from room to room in my house, pretending different rooms are different places for different jobs. Living room is writing. Front room is for working.

Like a lot of people, we’ve been working from home full time while a virus runs roughshod over the country. It’s been an experience. I even bought a Bluetooth headset for phone calls. I’ve discovered that Bluetooth headset + lots of phone meetings = plenty of time to develop nunchuck skills.

But, of course, the biggest difference is not driving as much. Although you wouldn’t know it driving around Albuquerque, vehicle traffic worldwide has taken a nosedive. Which, you know, is kind of a pity since gas is so cheap right now. I feel like I should drive around, speeding through school zone and doing a lot of sudden stops and starts just to take advantage of low gas prices. And also to piss off that jackass in the 4×4 with a lift kit who likes to tailgate everyone.

Just like countless songs have crooned over the decades, every cloud has a silver lining. And right now that lining is a precipitous drop in airborne pollutants. People all over the world, stuck in their homes and drinking themselves into a stupor, have suddenly discovered that there’s thing called a “sky” and that “sky” has stuff like clouds and stars in it. Hell, even in Albuquerque, we can now see distant mountain ranges that are normally hidden by smog.

In some cases, and in some particularly filthy cities – I’m looking at you, Wuhan, airborne pollutants are down by as much as 60%. So, that weird feeling you get when take a deep breath outside? That’s air. Without all the crap driving adds to it.

So, while it won’t last forever, take a moment to appreciate the air quality. It’s one of the few good things to come out of this little pandemic. Well, that and I finally get to practice nunchuck twirling in meetings.

Check out the original article here

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And now your moment of Zen.

Reprint – Writing the Villain

This was originally posted on Originality By Design as a guest post by yours truly back in October 2019. I figure it’s probably safe to repost it here now.

I grew up in a trailer park on the outskirts of Farmington, NM. I’m
not gonna lie and say it was the greatest place on Earth. It was home and that was good enough.

We had a real rouge’s gallery of people that lived out there. For some, I suspect, it was an opportunity to get out of the hustle and bustle of Farmington, a town with a population of a little over 30k at the time. For others, it was probably the fact that trailers were cheap, and rent was cheap, and living out on the hill in a trailer they owned was better than renting any of the run-down apartments in town.

On one side of us, we had a guy who had the occasional party. Nothing too big, just some friends drinking beer and hooting it up. What made the parties interesting in a terrible kind of way was the fact that, no kidding, he’d go out and steal someone’s sheep for dinner.

Across the street was a guy that woke me up at 3 a.m. one morning screaming about how terrible the world was. Apparently, he’d gotten drunk as a skunk and managed to bounce his girlfriend’s head off the cement. She was out cold, probably massive head trauma. The cops and ambulance showed up and we never saw those people again.

But the sheep smuggler and skull smasher aside, the real bull-moose loony were our other neighbors.

Brett and Joyce used to have epic fights. The kind of fights that rattled not only the windows in their trailer, but the windows in ours. They were experts at escalating, too. They’d feed off each other’s rage and amplify it in a massive feedback loop until the screaming was so loud it became pure white-hot noise.

On the nights when it got really bad, we’d see the back door of their trailer fly open and Joyce would fling one of Brett’s beloved beer steins out. Some bounced when they hit the back yard, others shattered. A few minutes later, the back door of the trailer would fly open again and Joyce would go sailing out. She’d hit the same rocky ground, get up, brush herself off, and go right back in again.

Then another beer stein would fly out the door. Then Joyce would fly out the door. Lather, rinse, repeat until they were both so exhausted they couldn’t keep the rage going anymore. In the morning, my mom and would I gather up the unbroken beer steins and put them on the rickety wood steps to Brett and Joyce’s trailer and life would otherwise go on as normal.

This wasn’t an every night affair, by any means. You’d have to be superhuman to do that level of fighting every night. But it happened. The SWAT team would show up, using our trailer as a wall, tactical gear and full-auto weapons trained on Brett and Joyce’s trailer and we’d just move to the other end of the trailer and keep our heads down until it was all over.

Eventually Brett and Joyce split up, which was probably a good thing for everyone involved. She left, hooked up with some other guy and everything was quiet for a while. But the thing is, both of those two had learned to hate each other and they never let that go. Things finally came to a head when Joyce – after moving out and finding someone else – hired a hit-man to take Brett down. Brett survived because he happened to bend down to pick something up just as the shot was fired.

Joyce wound up in prison. Brett moved out. Things quieted down. It was just us and sheep smuggler and a whole bunch of people we didn’t know. Everyone kept to themselves and, other than the trailer down the block from us catching fire, things were quiet on our end of the park.

From the outside, that place was like a war zone. SWAT teams, sheep smugglers, hit-men, guys bouncing their girlfriend’s heads off driveways. Most people would see that as madness. I just saw it as something that happened and went about my business of riding BMX bikes and getting into the occasional fight. That, as far as I was concerned, was just what life was.

Now, here’s the really interesting thing. For all their screaming and violence, Brett and Joyce were fundamentally good people. She made the best tortillas in the world. He collected rare beer steins. They took care of me when I was sick, and my mom couldn’t stay home from work. Literally, anything you needed, they’d help out with. Our back doorsteps got rickety over time and we came home one day to find the sheep smuggler out there fixing them. My mom got sick and Joyce made her dinner and brought it over.

We, as a species, have a tendency to focus on the negative. Those people are fighting all the time? Must be bad people. He steals sheep for dinner? Bad person. Stay away. But people are just people. Unpredictable, dangerous sometimes, but ultimately they’re just people. And, no matter what anyone says, no one sets out deciding to be the bad guy that day. Even in the heat of the fight, when beer steins and wives are flying, no one thinks they’re the bad guy. As a species, we also have a wonderful ability to justify our actions to ourselves, flimsy though that may sometimes be.

It was that kind of early exposure to what most people would write off as the “criminal element” or “bad people” that shaped me. There’s that realization that people can be complete train wrecks one minute and ready to give you the shirt off their back the next. Or they try to tear each other apart one second and be the most gentle, reliable people you’ve ever met the next. People are just people. They do stuff and that stuff ain’t always pretty.

So, flash forward a few decades and I’m revising Brett and Joyce, a couple I haven’t even thought about in years, and wondering if they didn’t provide some kind of template for characters in my books. I don’t write about nice things. You can call it urban fantasy, you can call it crime noir… call it whatever you want, but I tend to have less-than-stellar good guys and I always strive for sympathetic bad guys. Because, just like Brett and Joyce, those bad guys are just people doing what they do. Be it revenge, power, freedom, whatever, the difference between good and bad has nothing to do with the want; it has everything to do with how they try to fulfill that want.

And that right there is the key to villainy. No one is evil all the time. From their point of view, they know what they’re doing, they’re doing the right thing. Be it protecting your beloved beer stein collection or destroying beer steins because he loves them more than he loves you, there’s always a good reason. Seen from the outside, especially when things and people are flying out the door, it may look despicable, but to make a truly believable bad guy you have to look a little deeper and have some sympathy. Maybe not sympathy for the action, but sympathy for the reasons behind the action.

Book Review – An Audience of Corpses by John Maygrove

It’s not often you get to read a first novel and think, “Ah, this author’s gonna go somewhere”. First novels are oftentimes clunky, kludgy affairs. A labor of love, to be sure. And for that reason alone there’s usually something good lurking in the text. But to come across first novel well-written enough and complicated enough to feel like it came from someone seasoned is a rare thing.

Which is exactly how I felt about John Maygrove’s An Audience of Corpses. It’s a brilliantly conceived story arc that manages to incorporate serial killers, a murder where the victim is caught on tape wandering around an hour after his death, and an apprentice private eye unsure of his own skills, and not only wrap it up nicely, but put a black silk bow with skulls on the package.

I have a particular love affair with crime noir. You know, the stories where the criminals didn’t do something pedestrian like knock off a jewelry store or file their taxes late. Stories with some meaty sections. Human trafficking, cavorting with evil, selling tainted drugs because reasons, stuff like that is what gets me hooked and keeps me interested. Because, let’s face it, a string of convenience store robberies was probably perpetrated by some poor schmuck who just wanted to feed his family. But the guy who figured out how to weaponize religion and use it to gain wealth and power probably has some interesting psychological ticks.

The hard-boiled private eye story has been done. It’s a classic thing and there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing it again, so long as there aren’t any black birds driving the plot forward. What separates Maygrove’s work from the classics of the genre is not what it does, it’s where it starts. Classic private eyes tell their tales from a place of long experience. They get to draw on experiences and reference histories. Maygrove’s P.I. has just buried his teacher and is starting on his own on his very first day. Some experience, sure, but it all came from working with a mentor. Now, in the midst of losing a friend he’s dropped into the middle of a case with nothing to draw on but the musings of a dead man.

That adds something special to the genre. It’s an origin story. And, one would hope, won’t be the last mystery Jack Hornby has to unravel.

Apprentice P.I. Jack Hornby had only just buried his friend and mentor, stricken with grief and contemplating his future. Sitting alone in the office they once shared, he is accosted by an eccentric woman in desperate need of help. Reluctantly, he agrees. But a case of suspected infidelity turns out to be so much more when his target winds up dead in the middle of a grisly scene.

Jack finds himself pitted against his old nemesis- now a highly decorated police investigator- in a bid to uncover the truth behind what really happened in that seedy hotel room, and just how the victim was sighted walking down the street shortly after his death. In a case where nothing makes sense and no one is what the seem, Jack’s only ally is his old mentor’s peculiar yet alluring niece, the former secretary from the now-defunct detective agency.

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