IWSG: Behold the Insidious Anti-Muse

How to banish the insidious anti-muse.

Insecurities, I’ve had a few.

My foray into full-time fiction writing hasn’t even started yet (it begins this month!) and I’m already terrified.

I’m preparing for the launch of two major novels on May 16th, and the stakes seem so incredibly high. Suddenly I have a publicity team. A cover artist. A formatter. And everyone needs input from me in order to do their part.

Ever have one of those moments where you try to knock just one thing off your to-do list, only to discover ten more things you hadn’t thought of? That’s how the last few weeks have been for me. The learning curve is incredibly steep, and it’s more than a little daunting.

And, all along the way, the Insidious Anti-Muse whispers in my ear.

“What if no one reads your books?”
What if this is as good as it gets? What if you fail?”

What if, what if, what if.

And those are some mighty big ifs.

It’s odd that my most crushing insecurities arise when one of my books gets published, but the same thing happened with my Bear. I don’t know if it’s the tendency to constantly check my Amazon rankings or what, but the release of Monsters in Our Wake has inspired moments of pure terror, and not because it’s a scary book. The Insidious Anti-Muse became more vocal, more insistent, more difficult to ignore.

As writers, we’re advised not to write to get published. Not to care what others think. To write for ourselves and only ourselves, simply because we love it. In that case, I’d keep my manuscripts in a box under my bed. I send my books out on submission because I love writing fiction enough to want it to be my day job. Connecting with readers and knowing that I’ve written a book that means something to people is important to me.

So I try to focus on the readers, the small handful of people who’ve taken the time to let me know my writing has meant something to them. I’m still so full of gratitude and awe that anyone is willing to trade their time and money for one of my tales.

It’s a scary world out there, and this has got to be one of the most insecurity-inducing industries. It’s not easy to focus on the small steps we’ve made up the mountain when the peak is so high above us it’s obscured by clouds.

I wish I had some great words of wisdom to pass on, some sure-fire cure for the times that Insidious Anti-Muse is screaming in your ear.

All I’ve got is this: as terrifying as the possibility of failing is, it’s still far more frightening to never try at all.

What do you do to banish the Insidious Anti-Muse? I’d love to hear how you push on despite your insecurities.

If you’re on Pinterest, would you take a minute to share my pin for Monsters? It would mean a lot to me.

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.

Why I believe in Nessie, the Loch Ness “Monster”

I believe in Nessie, Scotland's Loch Ness Monster.

I’m guessing a lot of you have bucket lists. It won’t surprise many of you to learn mine has a separate section just for travel.

One of the longest standing places on that list is Scotland, and it’s not just because I have an affinity for haggis, men in plaid, and Scotland the Brave when played by a piper. It’s all about Nessie, the so-called Loch Ness “Monster.” It’s my dream to sit on the banks of the great lake for hours, waiting for the fabled creature to make an appearance.

Nessie is only a “monster” because of our own xenophobia. She’s simply a creature who hasn’t been officially discovered, catalogued, and researched yet. (Or she’s one we believed to be extinct who has somehow miraculously survived.)

Ever since I began this blog, people have asked me if I really “believe” in this stuff. Honestly? I like to keep an open mind. A lot of the things we now accept as part of our daily lives (powerful computers that fit in our pockets, cars that run on electricity instead of gasoline, prayer being scientifically proven to have health benefits for the ailing) were thought improbable or even impossible not so many years ago.

So, while keeping an open mind is important to me, an even more accurate answer would be…I want to believe.

When I was a child, I was one of the last people in my class to stop sending my wish lists to Santa Claus. One day my best friend came to me with inarguable proof that the great elf was not what he seemed–her parents had told her the “truth.” I was stunned. Shocked. Heartbroken. I confronted my own mother, asked if it was true. Her answer was something I’ve never forgotten:

“Santa Claus will exist as long as you believe in him.”

What a beautiful sentiment. For me, it’s the same with Nessie. She exists if we believe she does, and I don’t know about you, but I personally want to believe. I need to believe, in my heart of hearts, that there’s still magic in the world. There’s still things out there waiting to be discovered, questions we don’t have the answers to. Intellectually, I know that if the original Nessie still called the Loch home, she’d be very, very old. But why not? Parrots and elephants and tortoises can live for an extremely long time. Why not Nessie? As far as I’m concerned, the world is a better place with her in it.

Monsters in Our Wake by J.H. MoncrieffWhen Severed Press asked me for a “sea monster” novel, I had Nessie in mind, which is probably why the creatures in my resulting book aren’t monsters per se, but highly intelligent beings with the right to live in peace. Monsters in Our Wake is unusual for other reasons too–protagonists in this kind of story are usually macho men with more fire power than brains, while mine is a female scientist suffering from anxiety. Needless to say, I wasn’t sure what the folks at Severed would think of a sentient sea creature telling his story, never mind my underdog heroine, so it was a big relief when they said the words writers all live to hear:

“We’d love to publish this.”

Guess there is some magic left in the world after all.

Monsters in Our Wake has been unleashed on the universe in ebook form to start (trade paperback to follow shortly), and it could use some love in the way of reviews and blurbs. Even a sentence or two and a star rating would help tremendously. If you’d like a free copy in exchange for a review, please let me know in the comments. Need a good creature feature on your blog? I’m up for any and all guest posts.

And I’d love to know what you believe in. Have any of you visited Loch Ness? Caught a glimpse of the old girl herself? Please share your experience in the comments. What’s on your bucket list?

“I want to believe” image credit: JBaz

In the idyllic waters of the South Pacific lurks a dangerous and insatiable predator; a monster whose bloodlust and greed threatens the very survival of our planet.

Thousands of miles from the nearest human settlement, deep on the ocean floor, the creatures have lived peacefully for millennia. But when an oil drill bursts through their lair, Nøkken attacks, damaging the drilling ship’s engine and trapping the desperate crew.

The longer the humans remain in Nøkken’s territory, struggling to repair their ailing ship, the more confrontations occur between the two species. When the death toll rises, the crew turns on each other, and marine geologist Flora Duchovney realizes the scariest monsters aren’t below the surface.

The Real Shawshank Redemption

Frank Freshwaters: first and last mugshots.

Frank Freshwaters: first and last mugshots.

 

One of my favourite works of fiction has long been Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which was turned into an equally brilliant movie.

But is it fiction?

The “real” Andy Dufresne was a man named Frank Freshwaters. In 1957, Frank pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received a suspended sentence. However, unlike Andy, Frank wasn’t too bright–or maybe he was just reckless–and he violated his probation. In 1959, he was sentenced up to 20 years at the Ohio State Reformatory–the very same prison where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed.

Frank managed to form relationships with his captors, and convinced them he could be trusted…much like Andy did. As a result, he was transferred to what is known as an “honour farm”–basically, a farm that was owned by the prison.

He escaped during the same year, but his freedom was interrupted in 1975, when he was arrested in Charleston, West Virginia. When the governor refused to send him back to Ohio, he was freed and disappeared again.

"Freedom!"

“Freedom!”

And just like Andy, Frank enjoyed his freedom for a long, long time, until a deputy marshal decided to investigate this cold case. He found Frank in Florida, where the felon was living under the name William Harold Cox.

Frank had retired from life as a truck driver and was living on social-security benefits before he was again brought to justice…58 years later.

The “real” Andy Dufresne is now 79 years old and confined to a wheelchair. Do you think he should spend the rest of his life in jail? Are you glad he was captured?

Scary True Stories: The Pendle Witches

The True Story of the Pendle Witches

Meet author Catherine Cavendish. While I’m hanging out with the pharaohs, Catherine has kindly agreed to entertain you with the scary true story of the Pendle Witches. I’ll respond to your comments and return blog visits when I get back.

Take it away, Catherine!

My novel – The Pendle Curse – has some of its roots in a true story. One as chilling now as it surely must have been then.

In August 1612, ten men and women were convicted, in Lancaster, England, of crimes related to witchcraft and subsequently hanged on Gallows Hill. They became known to history as the Pendle Witches. The trial was faithfully and uniquely (for the time) recorded by Thomas Potts, a clerk of the court, and then published in his book, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster.

One factor of the case has resonated down the years for reasons which could not have been foreseen at the time. Eighty years later – in 1692 – in a town thousands of miles from the wild, rugged Lancashire countryside, another trial took place in Salem, Massachusetts.

Here, between June and September, nineteen men and women were carted off to be hanged at a location also known as Gallows Hill, but the name of their place of execution wasn’t the only thing the two sets of trials had in common.

In both trials, the testimony of a child was crucial to the success of the prosecution. The Lancashire Witch trials broke new ground in allowing and conducting testimony from an underage minor. In Salem, they used Mr. Potts’s handbook on how to do it.

The true story of the Pendle Witches

It is not certain how old Jennet Device was when she testified against her mother, brother, and sister, as well as their friends and their bitter rivals. She is variously recorded as having been nine, eleven or thirteen but, by all accounts, she was under the age of fourteen. Until then, this had been seen as the youngest permissible age at which reliable testimony could be allowed in court.

So, who was she and why did she do it?

Jennet Device was the youngest (most likely illegitimate) child of widowed Elizabeth Device and lived with her older brother and sister, James and Alizon, younger brother William, and grandmother (Elizabeth Southerns, known locally as ‘Demdike,’ or demon woman.)

The women in her family were the local ‘wise women’ of the area. Their knowledge of herbs and ability to fashion ‘cures’ for ailments of both animals and humans, made them a meagre income, which they supplemented with begging, but their bitter rivals were another family – Anne Whittle (known as Chattox, for her chattering teeth) and her daughter Anne Redferne. Each family had their own set of clients and woe betide anyone if one was stolen. Whether these families had special powers or not, they certainly seem to have believed they did. Under the witch-hating King James I, they laid themselves wide open to accusations of witchcraft, but none could have suspected their chief accuser would come from within their own ranks.

Women hung for witchcraft in England

When questioned by the judge as to Jennet’s age, ambitious local magistrate Roger Nowell responded that she was “old enough.”

At the trial, Jennet could not be heard over the rowdy audience. Nor could she be seen, as she was so small. A table was brought in and she stood on it before pointing her finger, as directed by the chief prosecutor, Roger Nowell. When prompted, Jennet said, “My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do and she answered that she would have him help her to kill.”

Pendle Witches on Trial

She then went on to give evidence of a witches’ sabbat, allegedly held on Good Friday of 1612. “At 12 noon about 20 people came to our house. My mother told me they were all witches.”

Her mother screamed out that the child didn’t know what she was saying and then rounded on Jennet herself. The child demanded her mother be removed from the court. Then Jennet continued with her testimony and condemned all her remaining family – with the exception of little William – to the gallows.

Why would she do such a thing? We will never know for sure of course. She may have been the only illegitimate child in the family (although she did have a younger brother) and something of an outcast. Maybe she was exacting revenge. We cannot discount the influence of Roger Nowell, who may have persuaded her that this was the only way to save herself from a similar fate to that of her family.

Whatever her motivation, Jennet disappeared from history – only to reappear in 1633 when she herself stood accused of crimes relating to witchcraft. In a bitter twist of fate, she was accused at her trial (along with sixteen others) by Edmund Robinson, a ten-year-old boy. The precedent she had unwittingly set came back to haunt her.

True story of the Pendle Witches

Jennet was found guilty and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle, where her family had been held. But times had changed and the verdict was overturned by the Privy Council some time later. Edmund Robinson admitted he had lied, saying he had been influenced by accounts of the Pendle Witch trials. Jennet was free to leave prison except for one overriding problem. Guilty or innocent, prisoners had to pay for their board, or must remain incarcerated until they could. For Jennet this would have been impossible, so she would have to stay. She was last heard of in 1636.

Cavendish Banner-2

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there. But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.

Here’s a short extract from the beginning:

His spirit soared within him and flew up into the storm-clad sky as blackness descended and the rain became a tempest.

He flew. Lost in a maelstrom of swirling mists. Somewhere a baby cried until its sobs became distorted, tortured roars. Beyond, a black void loomed. He saw Alizon’s spirit just ahead and tried to call out to her, but his voice couldn’t reach her.

Beside him, another spirit cried out. His mother. He flinched at her screams before they were drowned in the mass—that terrible parody of some hideous child.

The blackness metamorphosed. An amorphous shape formed as his eyes struggled to see with their new vision—the gift of death. Small baby limbs flailed towards him. Eyes of fire flashed as a toothless mouth opened. Screeching, roaring and demanding to be fed. Demanding its mother.

His spirit reached out for his lover. Tried to pull her back. “Alizon!”

She turned anguished eyes to him. “It calls to me.”

He recognized it instantly. The blazing fire. The devil child. That cursed infant had come for them.

Again he reached out with arms that no longer felt connected to him, but he was powerless to stop Alizon being swept away, deep into the abomination’s maw.

“No!” His cry reverberated around him—a wail of anguish in a sea of torment.

Then…silence. Only he remained, drifting in swirling gray mists of time.

“I will find you, sweet Alizon. One day I will find you. And I will find the one who betrayed us.”

From somewhere, he heard an echo…

You can find The Pendle Curse here:

Amazon Barnes and Noble

Cat Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish  Facebook  Twitter  Goodreads

Five Awesome Horror Movies You Probably Missed

Dan Stevens is The Guest who's impossible to resist.

Dan Stevens is The Guest who’s impossible to resist.

Horror movies are hotter than ever, but a few high-profile monsters of the genre gobble up the spotlight. If BabadookIt Follows, and the latest sequel followed by a sequel didn’t do it for you (or even if they did), you’ll appreciate the finds on this list.

Got a recommendation for me? Please let me know in the comments.

  1. The Guest. The best horror movies go beyond tight genre constraints. They’re a little bit thriller, a little bit mystery, a lot of suspense. Enter The Guest. A woman grieving the recent death of her soldier son is startled when his army buddy arrives at the front door. She’s never heard of him, but he’s in the photo of her son’s platoon, so he must be on the up and up, right? He’s so charming, after all.
     

    Things start to go wrong soon after The Guest arrives, but all the tragedies appear to be in the family’s favour–until they’re not. However, the soldier’s sister isn’t fooled and is determined to expose The Guest for who he truly is…but will her investigation get them all killed? The success of this fun, thrilling movie comes down to two things: an awesome script and an even more awesome performance by Dan Stevens.

    The Final Girls is one awesome horror movie you may have missed

  2. The Final Girls. This is another fun one for those who like their horror tongue-in-cheek. A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a scream queen from the ’80’s, reluctantly agrees to attend a film fest in honour of her mother’s biggest slasher hit. When a fire breaks out in the movie theatre, the woman and her friends slash the screen to escape and end up in the middle of the infamous horror flick. In order to save themselves and the girl’s mother, the friends have to decide who will be the Final Girl–the virgin who’s destined to vanquish the killer in the end. This film was so entertaining I didn’t want it to end. It’s similar in some ways to Cabin in the Woods.
     
    You're Next is one awesome horror movie you may have missed

  3. You’re Next. I loved The Guest so much that I took a chance on You’re Next because it was another creation of writer-director Adam Wingard, with great reviews. I wasn’t disappointed. You’re Next revisits the tired home-invader-slasher trope that has been done to death–with an unexpected twist. Wingard turns this genre on its head by making the would-be killers victims and one of the victims the most kick-ass hero I’ve seen in a long time. I cheered out loud while watching this one. Very intelligent and diabolical.
     
    The Boy is one awesome horror movie you may have missed
  4.  

  5. The Boy. A woman is hired to take care of a child while his elderly parents are on vacation. When she arrives, she finds her charge is not a toddler, but a doll. A creepy, life-sized doll. Even more disturbing, her employers insist she treat him as if he really is a child, and never, ever leave him alone. At first the would-be nanny suspects the “parents” are cuckoo, but then she starts to question her own sanity as strange, inexplicable things happen. Are her employers right? Is the doll really alive? Or is something far more sinister going on?
     
    The Invitation is one awesome horror movie you may have missed
  6.  

  7. The InvitationYour ex-wife invites you and your new girlfriend to a dinner party, along with a group of your closest mutual friends. Nothing odd about that, right? Turns out the ex has found a new love–and a new religion, one that appears to worship death as the ultimate release from life’s pain. The dinner begins with the hosts sharing a decidedly spooky infomercial about their new “faith,” and things quickly spiral downhill from there. A powerful thriller with lots of emotional drama between the characters, The Invitation has one of the most chilling endings I’ve seen in a long time.

How about you? Seen any good scary movies lately? I’d love to hear about them, and if you’ve seen any of my picks, please let me know your thoughts.

PS – If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your peeps. You may also like Cinema’s Baddest Bitches.

The Strange Case of the Reincarnated Egyptian

The strange case of the reincarnated Egyptian Dorothy Eady

Imagine you have a perfectly “normal” child, happy and healthy.

Then, one day when she is three years old, she falls down the stairs, is knocked unconscious, and declared dead by the family doctor.

When the doctor comes to retrieve your child’s body, she is awake and playing again, as if nothing has happened. Wonderful, right? Only problem is, you know she is not your daughter anymore.

This is what happened to the parents of Dorothy Eady in London in the early 1900s, sparking one of the strangest–and most convincing–accounts of a past life.

After her near-death experience, Dorothy pleaded that she be allowed to return home, describing her life in a large building with columns. She began to speak with a strange accent, and had an inexplicable knowledge of an ancient religion. Her parents no doubt dismissed all this as a child’s fantasies…until they took Dorothy to the British Museum a year later.

When they reached the Egyptian rooms, Dorothy ran through the exhibits, kissing the statues’ feet. When she saw a photograph of Seti I’s temple, she exclaimed “There is my home, but where are the trees? Where are the gardens?”

As an adult, Dorothy moved to Egypt and became known by the name Omm Sety. She worked for the Department of Antiquities and settled in Abydos, where Seti I’s temple is located. She spent a good majority of her adult life as the Keeper of that temple. Dorothy was extremely open about her “past life,” and would worship Egypt’s ancient deities in the old ways, claiming to be the reincarnated priestess of Seti’s temple.

As if that weren’t bizarre enough, she made a number of discoveries based on her “memories.” Following her direction, Egyptologists found the temple’s ancient garden–right where she said it would be. To this day, noted Egyptologists don’t deny her discoveries or her astonishing knowledge of ancient Egypt. If you’re interested in her other discoveries, there were quite a few, which you can find on Wikipedia.

Aside from her insistence that she’d been reincarnated, Dorothy appeared quite sane and thrived in both her personal and professional lives until she died in 1981.

As I prepare to visit Egypt myself in just over a week, I find Dorothy’s story especially interesting. What do you think–do you believe in reincarnation? If not, how do you explain stories like her’s? What would you have done if you were her parents?

IWSG: Free (or really cheap) Resources for Writers

Free and cheap resources for #writers. http://www.jhmoncrieff.com/iwsg-free-or-rea…rces-for-writers/

Last month’s IWSG post discussed five things writers don’t need to buy (and five worth investing in). The post definitely struck a nerve and made me realize there was a need for a follow-up about all the great free and inexpensive resources out there.

I’d love your suggestions too. If you know of some great free or cheap resources, please post them in a comment. Working together, we can come up with a fantastic list!

Free Resources

aboutYes and Yes’s Free Site Review: Sarah from Yes and Yes is a bit of a phenom, to put it mildly. She’s ghostwritten NYT bestsellers, been featured in national magazines like Forbes and Glamour, and gets over 12K visitors to her site every day. In short–she knows what she’s talking about. In exchange for your email address, she’ll review your website or blog for free and give you tons of helpful suggestions. Seriously, when I had her do this, the resulting list was daunting–but worth it! If you don’t care for her newsletter, you can opt out, but I always find her posts interesting, insightful, and helpful. She shares a ton of free career advice too.

Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing series: Dean Wesley Smith isn’t afraid to give it to you straight–and that’s what I love about him. He’s never been shy when revealing controversial truths about the writing industry, and he was doing it long before others made it popular. Think you need an agent to be traditionally published, or that an agent always knows what’s best for your career? Think writers can’t make money, or that only a few make a living at it? You need to check out Smith’s myth-busting Sacred Cows series. You can buy the books if you want your own copy, or read them for free on his website.

Toby Neal’s Building an Author Platform ebook: When Toby Neal decided to break into self-publishing,Toby-Neal-headshot-300x300 she did it in a big way–she spent $15,000 USD to launch her first book. She made her money back within a month or two (can’t recall the exact time frame), and has now sold well over a million copies of her mystery novels. Neal’s free ebook has lots of helpful advice about how to target your marketing, figure out who your ideal readers are, and launch a successful indie career. Most of her marketing tips would work for the traditionally published as well.

Lexa Cain’s Foxy’s Friday Freebies: Every Friday, writer Lexa Cain features a large and varied line-up of links to free stories, novels, novellas, and other goodies on her blog.

  • My own Hidden Library: when my new site debuts near the end of February, those who sign up for my Hidden Library will have access to free ebooks, along with other resources and perks.

Cheap Resources

footer-nanowrimoWinning NaNoWriMo: It’s only available once a year, but if you sign up for NaNoWriMo and manage to write 50,000 words in November, “winning” the challenge, you’ll receive lots of discount offers and some freebies, including free trials of Scrivener and other software. There’s always a lengthy list of prizes. I guess, if you were just in it for the freebies, you could enter a manuscript you’ve already written to snag them, but you didn’t hear it from me.

Jutoh Ebook Formatting Program: My writer friend swears by this program, and computers are not her thing. She even showed me how easy it is, and it’s true–within minutes, your ebook is ready to go. Jutoh can fill most, if not all of your formatting needs, and the program is a one-time cost of $39 USD (although there are more expensive options, of course). If you currently pay for formatting, this will save you a lot of money over time.

Lynda Online Courses and Classes: Another writer friend is a huge fan of Lynda, which offers courses and tutorials in just about everything, from software programs to design to marketing. After taking advantage of its ten-day free trial, you can subscribe starting at $19 USD per month, which I believe you can cancel at any time. There are free training videos offered for every course. However, if you opt for the free trial and decide it’s not for you, be sure to cancel Lynda or they’ll start billing you as a subscriber.

Focus: I gave a more in-depth description of this program in yesterday’s post, but it has greatly increased my productivity by blocking social media sites, Google, etc. during the hours I’m supposed to be working. It has a generous free trial, and a one-time purchase of the program is only $19 USD.

Fiverr: If you need something–a business card, photography, editing, voiceover work–chances are someone’s offering it on this site for $5 USD. Everyone wants you to opt for something more expensive, of course, but if you’re in need of a great deal, this site has tons of them.

Now it’s your turn to add to the list! What free or low-cost resources have you discovered? Have you tried any of the ones I mentioned?

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThe Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s purpose is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.

Stuff I Loved in 2016

Stuff I Loved in 2016: The Mysterious Package https://www.mysteriouspackage.com unusual gifts adventure

Photo credit: The Mysterious Package Company

Happy New Year, my friends! I’m sure most of you are as relieved as I am to have a fresh start.

I always do a round-up of the greatest products I discovered during the year, but I figured everyone would appreciate a break from blogs last week, so here it is–better late than never, I say!

I am not affiliated with any of these products, so I don’t receive any kickbacks from mentioning them, sadly. 🙂 They’re just too good to keep to myself.

Best Products

Mysterious Package: If you’re looking for a unique gift, look no further. The Mysterious Package Company will send the “victim” of your choice pieces of what appears to be a real-life mystery. If the recipient hasn’t heard of the Mysterious Package Co., so much the better–he or she will believe the mystery is genuine until the final reveal letter. Most of the packages are creepy, but there are a few with a science fiction flair. Some recipients have even called the police, who confiscated their packages as evidence–that’s how genuine they seem.

Imagine having a starring role in an adventure!

Word to the wise: These adventures don’t come cheap. The least expensive one is $99 USD.

Focus: This distraction-eliminating program is super easy to customize and saved my butt during the 2016 NaNoWriMo. A free trial is available, or you can download it for just $19 USD–well worth it. It comes with a long list of pre-banned websites, but if you have discovered other time sucks, you can add them too. I love the ability to schedule the program in advance. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, I will not be able to access Google, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Watch my productivity skyrocket! If you really need to get out of the program, you can, but for those with no willpower, there’s a special setting that won’t let you access the blocked sites during your “Focusing” time–even if you restart your computer or turn the program off. So far I haven’t had to resort to that.

If you slip and try to access a banned site, Focus will show you a motivational quote. You can customize those as well, deleting the ones you don’t care for and adding your own.

TeeTurtle: While settling on my brand, I found myself conflicted. I write dark fiction, but I also have a weakness for all things adorable. Did I have to sacrifice my love of kawaii? As it turns out, no.

Friday the 13th T-shirt by TeeTurtle

TeeTurtle is proof that horror doesn’t have to be scary or gory. They have a wide range of soft, irresistible shirts for all genders, and almost every Thursday everything on the site goes on sale for $12 USD. Even if you don’t love horror, there’s tons to choose from. Narwhale socks, perhaps? All I know is, I’m set for any horror con in the foreseeable future.

Word to the wise: Do NOT put TeeTurtle shirts in the dryer–hang them instead. They shrink like crazy. Also, their “Women’s Fitted” shirts are in junior sizes.

Dragon Draper Necklaces: When I first saw a photo of one of these necklaces on Facebook, had to have it. I was thrilled to discover these wearable works of art are handmade by a fellow Canuck. While the site warns that it will take a considerable amount of time to receive your custom necklace, I believe I had mine in less than a month–not bad at all. She makes lots of other lovely pieces as well.

Dragon Draper Necklace - photo copyright Aelia Petro www.artbyaelia.com

Photo copyright: Aelia Petro www.artbyaelia.com

Word to the wise: I got the Aurora Borealis model shown above, and while beautiful, the colors aren’t quite as bright or dramatic as they appeared in the photo.

Rocky Mountain Soap’s Root Beer Bubble Bath: A bath is a real treat for me, and this bubble bath makes it even more so. It really does smell like root beer, results in tons of fluffy bubbles, and best of all, there are no icky chemicals, no sodium lauryl sulphate or other irritants. Pretty awesome treat for $14.50 CAD. Now, if they’d only make a bigger bottle….

Best Helpful Blog

Roland Yeomans authorI’ve gotta admit, the first time I visited Roland Yeoman’s blog, I was taken aback by all the different fonts and colors and graphics. I had no idea what I was in for.

Over the past year, Roland’s posts have become some of my all-time favourites, as he cleverly uses the words of history’s great thinkers (Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, etc.) to dispense writing and life advice. Each post is written as if Roland is interviewing the subject’s ghost, and I always find at least one gem of really helpful advice while being in awe of his skill–it really does seem like Mark Twain is giving us advice from beyond the grave. What a clever idea! Definitely worth checking out.

Your turn! What was your best find of 2016? Have you tried any of the items on my list? If so, I’d love your opinion. What blog helped you the most last year?

If you’d like to see my picks for 2015, you can find them here.

The Dark Side of Christmas: Beware the Yule Cat and Yule Lads!

Beware the Yule Cat and Yule Lads! #Christmas #legends Yule Cat photo credit diademgrove

Ah, Christmas. When visions of sugar plums dance in our heads, and it’s all about peace on earth and goodwill.

Or is it?

Thanks to a rash of recent horror movies and books, you’ve no doubt heard of Krampus, Santa’s horned cohort who punishes the bad kids. But have you heard of the Yule Lads and the dreaded Yule Cat?

The thirteen Yule Lads (of course there are thirteen of the little bastards) appear in our midst during the last thirteen days before Christmas (there’s that number again). Some are mischievous and some are a huge pain in the keister.

How do you know you’ve been targeted by a Yule Lad? Here are some signs you may have an infestation.

  • Have your leftovers mysteriously gone missing? Blame Pottaskefill, who steals them.
  • Have your spoons been licked? That’s the fault of Þvörusleikir, who takes care of all those cookie batter-caked utensils.
  • Have your sausages been swiped? That’s a true sign of a Yule Lad in action. Bjúgnakrækir hides in the rafters and steals sausages that have been smoked.
  • Feel like you’re being watched? It’s Gluggagægir, the window peeper, who looks into your home in search of things to steal.
  • And finally, beware of Ketkrókurwho will wander your home with a meat hook to steal your Christmas turkey or ham.

These things may seem fairly innocent (or the work of children and pets), but a guy peeking through my windows with a huge meat hook would freak me out a bit–just sayin’.

As bad as these little trolls are, they’re nothing compared to the Yule Cat, a gigantic kitty that lurks outside during the Christmas season and eats people who haven’t received any new clothes to wear before Christmas Eve. Ouch! Perhaps there’s a practical use for that ugly Christmas sweater. Or, may I suggest a Christmas suit?

Christmas suit

Just to be on the safe side, stay in on the night of the 24th.

As you may have guessed from some of the names, these are all Icelandic legends, so you may think you’ll be fine if you’re not Icelandic.

But then again, why take chances?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and best of the holidays to you, no matter what you celebrate! Do you have any fun (or creepy) holiday legends or traditions to share? I’d love to hear them. And if you’re Icelandic, I wish you the best of luck!

Photo credit for this awesome Yule Cat photo goes to Diademgrove.

If you’d like to read a fun horror novella featuring the Yule Lads and Yule Cat, J.G. Faherty’s Winterwood is excellent. I gave it five stars. It’s available on its own as an ebook, or in a trade-paper collection that includes my own novella, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave. That’s how I discovered it, but it’s not why I love it–it’s just an awesome story.

Unsolved Mysteries: Whatever happened to Zebb Quinn?

 Zebb Quinn, taken by his mother Denise Vlahakis

Zebb Quinn, taken by his mother Denise Vlahakis

It’s been almost seventeen years since eighteen-year-old Walmart employee Zebb Quinn went missing in Asheville, North Carolina on January 2, 2000.

The events surrounding his disappearance are truly bizarre, and in many ways, a horrifying update in 2015 resulted in more questions than answers.

After finishing a work shift at 9 p.m. on the 2nd, Quinn decided to check out a car he was considering purchasing. His friend Robert Jason Owens tagged along in another vehicle. Surveillance footage showed the two young men outside a gas station at 9:15.

According to Owens, after leaving the gas station Quinn flashed his headlights and signalled for him to pull over. Apparently he’d received a page. In the days before ubiquitous cell phones, the men had to find a pay phone for Quinn, who was reportedly “frantic” after making his call. Cancelling their plans to look at the vehicle, Quinn drove off in such a rush that he rear ended his friend’s car. Owens showed up at a hospital later that night with fractured ribs and a head injury, claiming he had been in a second car accident that evening. Hmm…and yet, no one reported this second accident to the police (or, presumably, to an insurance company, since that’s easy enough for cops to trace).

Accused killer Robert Jason Owens

Accused killer Robert Jason Owens

Quinn hasn’t been seen since, but two days later, someone purporting to be him called in sick to Walmart. The coworker who answered the phone knew the guy on the other end of the line wasn’t Quinn. Once again, all signs pointed to Owens–the call was traced to the Volvo plant where he worked. Confronted by police, he admitted making the phoney phone call, saying Quinn had asked him to. Though he was considered a “person of interest,” Owens continued to deny his involvement in Quinn’s disappearance.

So far, this case seems pretty open and shut, right? Wait–it gets weirder. Remember that page Quinn received? Turns out this wasn’t a farfetched story. The teenager really did receive a page that evening–from his aunt, whom he rarely saw. The aunt denied making the call, saying she was having dinner at her friend’s home at the time–a friend who just happened to be the mother of a girl Quinn was in love with when he vanished. A girl who reportedly had an extremely jealous boyfriend. Both the girl and the boyfriend were at this dinner. The aunt later claimed her home had been broken into that night. Nothing was stolen, but some picture frames had been moved around.

Odd. And even more bizarre, when Quinn’s vehicle was recovered two weeks later near the hospital where his mother worked, bottles, an untraceable hotel key card, someone else’s jacket, and a live Labrador-mix puppy were found inside! Someone had drawn lips and two exclamation marks on the windshield in lipstick. Quinn’s mother believes she was meant to find the vehicle. So far, the mystery belongings located inside have not been traced to anyone, but an investigator adopted the puppy, who was unharmed.

Years went on and the case went cold, with only the loyalty of Quinn’s friends and family keeping his memory alive. No new leads were publicized. And then came 2015.

Quinn’s old buddy Owens was discovered with the dismembered remains of three people in his wood stove–Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd, her husband J.T. Codd, and their unborn child. Owens had been the couple’s “friend” too–they’d hired him to work on their home and had thought enough of him to invite Owens to their wedding.

Murdered Food Network star Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd and husband J.T. Codd Photo credit: FOURFRONT PRODUCTIONS

Murdered Food Network star Cristie Schoen Codd and husband J.T. Codd
Photo credit: FOURFRONT PRODUCTIONS

This crime prompted investigators to take another look at Owens and his possible involvement in Quinn’s disappearance. During the Codd investigation, police found fabric, leather, and “unknown hard fragments” under a layer of concrete on Owens’ property. What the hard fragments are, and whether or not this discovery is related to Quinn, has not been confirmed. The state is seeking the death penalty against Owens for the triple homicide of the Codd family.

Even if you write Owens off as a cold-blooded psychopath who killed his friend and then murdered again fifteen years later, many questions remain unanswered.

  • Why did he put himself in the hot seat of the Quinn investigation by phoning Walmart, pretending to be the missing teen?
  • What’s with the aunt, the page made from her home, and the bizarre burglary where nothing was stolen?
  • Where did the puppy come from? What happened to Quinn’s car after he went missing?
  • If Quinn is dead, why was he killed?

And that’s just for starters. What do you think happened to Zebb Quinn? Have you heard of this case? Please share this near and far–let’s get some justice for this man and his family.

PS – If you can’t get enough unsolved mysteries, let me know what you think about this strange case, where two people disappeared.