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?

A Conversation With True Crime Writer Kathryn Casey

Welcome, dear readers. I hope you enjoy today’s post–an exclusive interview with mystery and true crime author Kathryn Casey. I first met this award-winning, Houston-based author through Women In Crime Ink., a wonderful blog that she’s a part of. Enjoy!

Q: You started out writing true crime books. How has this influenced your fiction?

KC: I’ve had a couple decades of what I’d call homicide school: going to sensational trials, hanging out with prosecutors, cops, defense attorneys, forensic experts, medical examiners, murderers, victims and their families. I’ve seen more than my share of crime scene photos and read countless autopsies. So when I decided to write fiction, I had all those experiences to draw on, situations to use, and friends I could ask for insight. The true crime writing has been invaluable.

Q: What’s it like to write true crime?

KC: Pretty interesting. As I mentioned, I go to the trials, interview everyone involved. A book usually takes me about a year. When I sit down to write, I have crates full of information to work with, which is important to give the books depth. I usually start on my research at the trials. That works for me because I get to hear what the jury hears, and from there I work my way out, looking for others involved in the case. Right now, I’m working on the Matt Baker case in Waco, Texas. I’m at the stage where I’m beginning to write.

Q: How did you become a crime author?

KC: It just kind of happened. I started covering criminal cases back in the mid-eighties, for Houston City Magazine. When I started writing for national magazines, including Reader’s Digest, Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, etc, the editors knew that I had experience and the assignments rolled in. In the nineties, I turned a magazine story into my first book, The Rapist’s Wife, now called Evil Beside Her. From that point on, I began writing the books. It seemed a natural progression to go from true crime to crime fiction.

The truth is that I never intended to be a crime author. After a couple of decades as a fly on the wall in this world, it simply happened, because it’s what I know best.

Q: What are some of the challenges of writing about real cases?

KC: Finding people to interview and convincing them that they should talk is a big one. There are some bad true crime books out there, so some folks don’t understand that there are also good ones. I work hard on my books, and I’m proud of them. They serve a good purpose. Sure, they entertain, but they also enlighten folks on how these tragedies happen. They connect all the dots. And I do believe that they warn people about the types of behaviors that lead to violence. I get letters all the time from people, usually women, who write that they saw their significant other reflected in my book and realized that it was time to leave an abusive mate. We tend to make excuses for people we love, but when violence enters a relationship–when we fear we’re in danger–we need to take action and reach out for help. My books illustrate that by showing what’s possible.

Q: Have you ever been afraid or threatened because of what you write?

KC: I’ve been threatened but never really afraid. For the most part, the people I write about are in prison. Some have gotten out, but my guess is that they realize that if they come after me, they’ll be on a short-list of suspects and will undoubtedly end up quickly back in prison. I hope that they’ve learned their lessons and are ready to become valuable members of society.

There is one person I am trying to keep behind bars, however, not for my own safety but the safety of others–James Bergstrom, the psychopath in my first book. Bergstrom got four 99-year sentences because the jurors NEVER wanted him to walk free. He admitted to raping five women and attacking 35 over a two-year period. He’s obsessed, a true sexual predator. He’s been eligible for parole for the past few years. When his parole hearings come up, I protest and urge others to as well. The instructions for how to protest are on my Web site, kathryncasey.com, on the update page. If Bergstrom ever gets out, there will be more victims.

In addition to the fiction being exciting and fun to write, one of the great things about it is that the bad guys aren’t real. No one actually gets hurt. After all these years, that’s incredibly refreshing. I put my main character, Texas Ranger Sarah Armstrong, in harrowing situations, it’s true, but it’s all for fun.

Q: Any advice for upcoming and/or new writers?

KC: First, hang in there. It’s a journey. Second: You have to take that first step. Many people write but never attempt to publish. If you’re writing for personal reasons and don’t care about seeing your work in print, that’s fine. But if you want to be published, you have to pull together your courage and submit your work to an agent or an editor. To determine how to proceed, I recommend Writer’s Market, a great publication that’s updated, I believe, annually. There are books listing agents and explaining how to get one. For a good book on writing, read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

KC: I’d like to thank everyone who reads my books and recommends them to others. I can’t thank you enough. It truly means the world to me.

If you have questions for Kathryn, feel free to post them in the comment section. She may agree to answer a few.

Thanks for reading!

Ten Books That Will Scare the Sh*t Out of You

Scene from "The Ruins," based on Scott Smith's terrifying book.

Scene from “The Ruins,” based on Scott Smith’s terrifying book.

The talk always turns to scary movies around this time of year. Freddie, Jason and Michael crawl out from under their respective rocks for the one month they are remembered and celebrated.

But what about books? Sure, they’re not the best for quick scares, but a book can get under your skin and unnerve you the way few movies can. After the last page is read, you’ll still think about them for a long time to come.

Here are my picks for the ten creepiest books I have ever read. Some will disturb you, while others will make you want to hide under the covers and not answer the door. No matter what, you’re guaranteed to be entertained.

Rebecca1. I first read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca because Stephen King referenced it almost constantly in Bag of Bones, another book I loved. This is an eerie gothic tale of a new bride tormented by the spectre of the former woman of the house and the twisted housekeeper who remains devoted to her. Rebecca was published in 1938, but has yet to go out of print.

Different SeasonsSpeaking of Stephen King, an entire list could be devoted to his work, and I may do that in the future. But if I have to limit myself, Apt Pupil gets my vote for one of the most skin-crawling things the man has ever written. This novella is often overlooked because it’s in the same volume as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Body, which were both turned into spectacular movies. Apt Pupil, on the other hand, was adapted into a spectacularly shitty movie. Still, the novella’s charming, fool-everyone teenage sociopath is one of the most chilling, believable characters King has ever created.

3. Journey into DarknessI love everything John Douglas and Mark Olshaker have written, but Journey Into Darkness is probably the most frightening. Douglas is a retired criminal profiler who was one of the founding members of the FBI’s Behavioural Sciences Unit. Journey Into Darkness’s power comes from Douglas showing us the inner workings of some of the world’s cruelest killers–and how easy it is to become a victim. The story of Suzanne Collins–a marine who was out for a jog on her military base when she was sexually assaulted, beaten and killed–really got to me. No one ever expects to be the target of that kind of attack, but so many are.

God Chariots4. It’s been many years since I discovered Chariots of the Gods in a pile of my mom’s dusty books, so it may be quite dated. This “non-fiction” account sets out to prove that God was actually an alien. It seems like a ridiculous premise, but Erich von Däniken’s arguments are so compelling that I found it highly disturbing.  As a teenager, it bothered me enough that I had to stop reading, which made a huge impression on me.

18498558With Bird Box, Josh Malerman accomplishes something extraordinary–he scares you with what he doesn’t say. In this unusual take on a post-apocalyptic tale, most of the population has died after seeing something horrific. As a result, Malorie and her two children live their lives blindfolded in a world of self-imposed darkness, where even the tiniest sound can mean the worst. If you’re like me and think monsters are scariest when you can’t see them, you’ll love this book.

6. Read Rosemary’s Baby and you’ll instantly see why it’s a classic. I must have Rosemary's Babyread Ira Levin’s novel at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it. I love the way the mystery slowly unfolds as you wonder “Is Rosemary crazy, or is she on to something?” The ending is a tad cheesy by today’s standards, but the rest of the book makes it well worth the read.

woman in blackBefore Daniel Radcliffe was a glimmer in his mother’s eye, Susan Hill’s gothic horror tale The Woman in Black was scaring the crap out of readers all over the United Kingdom. Hill is a master at scene setting, and before you know it, you’re out on Eel Marsh with poor Arthur Kipps, watching the tide come in and hearing the children scream….

8. Yes, I admit it–I used to be a fan of Dean Koontz, and The Servants of Twilight is why. Part horror, part suspense, and part psychological thriller, this unsettling novel explores what happens when a crazed religious cult sets their sights on aServants of Twilight innocent child, convinced he is the anti-Christ. Spooky on many levels.

9. If you’ve graduated from high school, you were probably forced to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I wonder how many teenagers that book has freaked out? Not so much scary as highly disturbing, Lord of the Flies shows what can happen when polite society no longer exists. It’s King’s Children of the Corn taken to another level.

 

ruins10. And finally, one of the only books I can honestly say truly SCARED me as an adult–Scott Smith’s The Ruins. The evil in Smith’s novel can’t be reasoned with, because it shouldn’t be sentient at all. What it is, however, is hungry. Very, very hungry. Don’t open this one on a dark and stormy night. You can read my reactions to Smith’s book here.

Your turn, dear readers! What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

If you like this post, you’ll love The Five Creepiest Children in Film. Happy Halloween!

Send in the Killer Clowns

John-Wayne-Gacy-clown

I wonder whose brilliant idea it was to have clowns entertain children. Is there a child alive who actually likes them?

Clowns have always made me uncomfortable (as have mascots, but that’s a different story). When I was little, I’d cry if one got too close to me.

When I heard about John Wayne Gacy, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised. Of course a serial killer who preyed on young people would dress as a clown.

pennywiseI’ve often wondered if Stephen King was thinking of Gacy when he wrote IT, featuring the terrifying clown Pennywise. I suspect Gacy has inspired many horror stories – the man was a serial-killing clown politician. Can’t get much scarier than that.

Gacy started molesting young men in Illinois when he was twenty-five. In 1967, he spent some time in prison for his first offence, but this barely slowed him down. A year later, he was again charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

Like other killers before him, he soon figured out that the best way to satisfy his depraved urges and stay out of jail was to get rid of the witnesses. His contracting company gave him access to a seemingly endless supply of young men, and he continued to put on a happy face while he abused and murdered them. He was a successful politician, a prominent member of the Jaycees, and even posed for a picture with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1978.

Rob Piest

A brilliant sociopath, Gacy didn’t arouse many suspicions until he got a little too comfortable. Still in ’78, Gacy was chatting with the owner of a pharmacy in Des Plaines when he mentioned he hired teenage boys. Fifteen-year-old Robert Piest overheard, and rushed out to tell his mother–who was waiting to drive him home–that someone wanted to talk to him about a contracting job.

“I’ll be right back,” he promised. It was her forty-sixth birthday, and she’d delayed her party until her son was finished work.

She never saw him again.

This time Gacy had gone too far. Robert’s co-workers were able to tell police who had last been seen with the missing boy. It didn’t take much digging for the investigators to discover two of Gacy’s young employees had also disappeared, or that he’d been convicted of assaulting and sodomizing other teenagers. As the net tightened around the serial killer, he continued to joke and laugh with the police officers, once telling them, “You know…a clown can get away with murder.”

Not this clown. Not anymore.

As the police investigation resulted in more and more evidence, Gacy’s home was searched. An officer who used the killer’s bathroom detected the distinctive aroma of rotting flesh coming from the heating ducts. Gacy eventually confessed, showing police where the bodies were hidden. He is believed to have murdered at least thirty-three young men, twenty-six of whom were buried in his crawl space.

Gacy learned to paint during his fourteen years on death row, creating masterpieces that resemble Stephen King’s worst nightmares. Some people purchased his paintings just to burn them.

Gacy's masterpieces

Gacy’s masterpieces

The portly killer was finally executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994.

His final words?

“Kiss my ass.”

If clowns are your scare of choice, you’ll love L.L. Soares and G. Daniel Gunn’s Nightmares in Greasepaint, which is part of the Childhood Fears collection. I’ve seen a few reviewers guess at how Soares and Gunn worked together to co-write such a creepy novella–since the book is told from two points of view, the common assumption was that each author took charge of one. The truth is far more interesting.

L.L. SOARES: Dan Keohane (aka G. Daniel Gunn) and I have had pretty good luck working together.  Our first collaboration, the short story “Mermaids,” was in Cemetery Dance (the first time either one of us were in that magazine).

When I first met Dan at a convention in 2000, we hit it off right nightmare-in-greasepaintaway, and when we talked about what we were working on, he mentioned a story he called Billy and the Clown that he was having fun with but hadn’t finished. In subsequent years, I’d ask him how Billy was doing, and if I could read it, but the story always seemed to get pushed onto the back burner. Never finished. So around 2008 I said to him, “Hey, if you can’t finish the story, send it to me and I’ll finish it.” So he did. Originally, it was a short story that took place in the course of one scary evening, as a father, wife and son were terrorized by a supernatural clown. But, working together, we expanded on it, gave all the characters a backstory, defined more clearly who the clown was and what his powers were, introduced the mythology of a mysterious amulet, gave it a new title, and had it all culminate in that spooky night when the clown comes back to his family home.

G. DANIEL GUNN: I wrote the original story in late `80’s and it was my very first horror piece, what got me hooked on writing horror in the first place. I had worked on it and worked on it, and then it was stuffed in a file drawer for ten years until I met Lauran (L.L. Soares) at Necon. At that point it was a fond memory of my earlier writing days. But the guy kept bugging me. Somehow he knew just from the description that it was something he could have fun with. So he gets a printed (no disk copy) copy, scans it in and a while later I get it back with five thousand new words and a complete back story for the clown and father. Well, after back and forth between us for another two years and 14,000 more words (!) , we had Nightmare in Greasepaint. I’m really happy with how it came out.

L.L. SOARES: Me, too.

***

If you’re interested in getting your own copy of Childhood Fears, which includes the story Nightmare in Greasepaint, it’s available at all online retailers, including  iTunesBarnes & NobleKobo, and Amazon.

Best-selling authors reveal their childhood fears

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At long last, it’s finally here! Childhood Fears, which contains my novella The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, is released today.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I asked some of my favourite authors to reveal their childhood fears.

Read on…

Sara Gruen“Monsters under the bed! I had to take a running leap to get into bed, and as long as all of me was entirely on the bed I was safe, but anything that hung over the edge might get eaten.”

Sara Gruen#1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Water for Elephants, At the Water’s EdgeApe House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes.

 

Cheryl Strayed“As a child I had a nightmare that I was abducted by gigantic rodents.They’ve deeply creeped me out ever since.”

Cheryl Strayedthe #1 New York Times bestselling author of the memoir WILD, the bestselling advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things, the novel Torch, and the quotes collection, Brave Enough.

 

John Douglas“I think my greatest fears were a fear of heights, and claustrophobia would be another. I think it may have been learned behavior because I remember my grandfather avoiding driving in tunnels and over bridges in NY. My mother had those same fears as well. Fortunately, I eventually outgrew those fears.”

John Douglasone of the FBI’s first criminal profilers and a founder of the Behavioural Science Unit. Bestselling author of Mindhunter, Law & Disorder, The Anatomy of Motive, and many other true-crime accounts, Douglas inspired Jack Crawford’s character in Silence of the Lambs.

 

“My fear as a child was the most common of them all, and a fear that still tickles my reptilian brain: the dark. Fearing the dark is the purest kind of fear, as it embodies the fear of the unknown — what we can’t see is always scarier than what we can. And that’s a pretty good lesson for horror writers, too, I think.”81E9GrmUHXL._UX250_

Chuck WendigNew York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and social-media behemoth. His new release is Zeroes, which he swears is a horror novel.

 

Diana Gabaldon“Claustrophobia. It wouldn’t make a good costume.”

Diana Gabaldon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning Outlander series.

 

kathryn casey“Well, I had a monster who lived in my dresser drawer. I would wake up at night and think that I heard the drawer open. But by the time I walked over to check, it was closed. Really sneaky monster.”

Kathryn Casey, true crime and mystery author of Shattered and Evil Beside Her.

 

“When I was a kid, my parents built a house in a rural area of Central Texas. Upon completion, many of the scorpions that had been living in the surrounding woods apparently decided that the air conditioning ducts were preferable to wherever they’d been spending their time before the house came along. My bed was directly underneath an air conditioning vent, so it was only a matter of time before a scorpion landed on me in the middle of the night. The sting was very painful, and hurt for a while–but the fear of scorpions lasted for years.









”

Jonathan MooreJonathan Mooreauthor of the soon-to-be bestselling The Poison Artistwhich will be released in January 2016. Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) called it, “…an electrifying read. I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.

 

“Cellars and basements paralyzed me with fear as a little boy. IndefinableEric Red unknown terror lurked in the darkness past the bottom of the basement stairs in my child’s imagination. Back then, I would never, ever set foot past a cellar doorway—literally, physically I couldn’t. Can still recall how that grip of fear felt as tangible as a force field I dared not cross.”

Eric Redscreenwriter and creator of The Hitcher and Near Dark, and author of the scary-as-hell White Knuckle.

 

Ronald Malfi“In the canon of my childhood fears, there was no greater terror than the giant, strutting, monocled, anthropomorphic Peanut Man–he who tromped the boardwalk of Wildwood, New Jersey, that frozen rictus grin on his crenellated face, the sun gleaming in the single glass lens over one eye, those slender, shimmery black limbs protruding from his terrible hourglass shape. Many nightmares were born of the Planters Peanut Man, and my life as I knew it would never be the same.”

Ronald Malfi, multi-award-winning author of Little Girls, which I highly recommend. (And yes, he actually was afraid of Mr. Peanut.)

 

“I can’t remember any so-called normal fears, like that of the dark or the Dacre Stokerbogey man under my bed. But I somehow developed a tremendous fear of confined spaces—claustrophobia.

I played in plenty of snow forts while growing up in Montreal, and never had a traumatic experience that I can remember, but I do remember at some point freaking out when playing hide and seek in a laundry hamper.  Years later I had to enter an MRI machine and just about lost it and had to come out.

Ever since then, no tight spots for me!”

Dacre Stokergreat-grand nephew of Bram Stoker and author of Dracula the Un-dead.

Now it’s your turn! What was your childhood fear?

The Unwanted Guest: Scary True Stories with Horror Author Brian Kirk

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Today’s scary true story comes courtesy of Brian Kirk, who writes psychological horror. One of the best things about being with Samhain Horror is all the amazing people I’ve gotten to meet. Brian is one of them–I’ve only met him online, but he’s been incredibly helpful and generous with his time. An all-around great guy.

Q1) I hear you’ve had some scary experiences in real life. Can you tell us about one of them?

A1) While my scariest life experience was learning that, no matter what, I would one day die, that doesn’t make for an entertaining story. So I’ll go with this one instead.

I used to live in a large home owned by my ex-stepfather, who, unbeknownst to us, was a conman running a major pyramid scheme. This house was a huge, sprawling ranch with long, flowing hallways and spacious rooms with tall ceilings, twenty feet in some rooms. I never felt comfortable in this house. There were too many places to hide.

On this particular night, my sister and I were home alone with a babysitter. I was probably 8 and my sister was around 5. The sitter was a neighborhood girl, probably 14. It was fairly late for us at the time, maybe 10 p.m., or so, and we were playing tag inside the house (I’m telling you, this house was BIG). The babysitter had me cornered in the main foyer area, which was quiet at this time of night, when somebody started yanking on the front doors really hard like they were trying to break in. They weren’t knocking; they were trying to throw the doors open as quickly as possible–to break them if they could. We froze, not sure what to do, just watching these large doors being violently shook and hoping that the locks would hold.

Eventually, the shaking stopped and we mustered the courage to peek out the windows. But we didn’t see anything. The sitter waited a little while and then went outside to look, but didn’t encounter anyone. We went to the family room, which was backed by a wall comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows, to watch TV and settle down. It wasn’t long before we heard the back gate open. We looked out and saw shifting shadows as though someone was approaching. We ducked down behind the couch, certain that someone was looking at us through the windows. But once we got the courage to look, no one was there.

Q2) What do you think was at the door?

It’s hard to say. While it could have been one of my neighborhood friends, it was a bit too late for one of them to be out on their own. Plus, they would likely have owned up to it. Especially if they were trying to scare us as a joke.

It was a suburban neighborhood in an upscale part of town, so it wouldn’t have been a random straggler. Although it could have been a burglar who had been casing the neighborhood.

If it truly was someone with nefarious intentions, I think it may have been someone whom my stepfather had screwed over and was out for revenge. There were a few other incidences that make this a real possibility.

Q3) How did this experience influence your writing?

A3) I’ve always been drawn to the dark, and fascinated by fear. My childhood imagination was always putting a claw-handed serial killer right outside my window. And I loved to watch horror movies that were explicitly forbidden – the more grisly, the better. This was a different flavor of fear, however. A more immediate, and primal kind. One that reduced my body to its base animal instincts (which, in my case, were to cower, whimper, quiver, and release a few squirts of pee.) I would have made a pathetic cave man.

I can’t honestly say that this experience directly influenced my writing. Writing is influenced by the amalgamation of our life experiences, I think. Of which this is a component part. I still remember this moment, however, which meant it made a lasting impression on me. Knowing what causes the mind to store a memory in its permanent folder is helpful when attempting to write memorable fiction.

Also, when it comes to horror, one can’t expect to scare someone else unless he has been scared himself. And I have a master’s degree in terror, particularly the existential type.

Okay, blog readers, what do you think was at the door?

***

WeAreMonsters-2Samhain Horror has just released Brian’s debut novel, We Are Monsters

The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum. 

He is the hospital’s newest, and most notorious patient – a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side.

Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia–a medicine that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge. Forcing prior traumas to the surface. Setting inner demons free.

Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum. They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.

 

Brian Kirk lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys. He works as a freelance writer in addition to writing fiction, and is currently working on the second book in a planned trilogy. WE ARE MONSTERS is his debut release.

Feel free to connect with Brian through his website, Twitter, or Facebook. Don’t worry, he only kills his characters

 

The Muse Party Blogfest

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Today I’m participating in The Faux Fountain Pen’s Muse Party Blogfest. You’re all invited to bring your muse or one of your characters to the party. Since I don’t have a muse (unless you count Stephen King), I decided to bring Edgar, the misunderstood teddy bear from my new novel, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave

Bigger Cover-200 x 315

1. Who is your muse (or character)? Tell us a little bit about him and why you brought him. 

Some people think Edgar is an evil, cursed bear. I think he gives back what he gets. All he needs is a little love, and who could argue with that? I figured that, after everything he’s been through, this bear could use a fun night out.

2. What are you guys wearing? Dressing up or keeping it casual?

Of course Edgar is Them Birdsdressed to the nines with his built-in fur coat. And since he’s a panda, it always looks like he’s in a tuxedo. As for me, I’m wearing my favourite Threadless shirt and jeans.

3. It’s a potluck! Did you bring something yummy?

was planning to make honey cake and butter tarts, but Edgar has this nasty habit of destroying everything in the fridge.

4. Open bar! What are you both drinking (booze or otherwise)? 

Edgar loves a dry martini, but he’s bad enough when he’s sober, so I think we’ll both stick to water. That sangria does look good, though…

5. Wallflowers or social butterflies? 

We’re both extroverts. For Edgar, that’s part of the problem.

6. What song(s) will you and your character sing for karaoke?

The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, of course.

7. What’s your favorite party game?

For some reason, Edgar has a soft spot for Hungry, Hungry Hippos.

8. Which one of you is more likely to end up dancing on a table top?

Edgar. Especially if there’s something valuable on the table that he can smash.

9. Has your character been a good date and would you ever hang out with him again? 

One thing I’ll say about Edgar–a night with him is never boring!

To visit the other bloggers in this festival and find out more about our host, please check out her blog.

I post about haunted travel, supernatural stuff, and unsolved mysteries on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more of my posts, please sign up to receive them by email. I also have a monthly newsletter with exclusive contests, updates, and writing tips. Everyone who signs up gets a free ebook!

Thanks for visiting.

Bloody Book Club: The Most Disturbing Novel I’ve Ever Read

As someone who visits the dark side on a regular basis for work, I don’t scare easily. Sure, I have some phobias, but I couldn’t remember the last novel that scared me or unnerved me…until now.

When I was in Maui, I stumbled upon the most interesting little store in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Shopping Center. Run by Friends of the Maui Library, it was an awesome used-book shop, crammed to the rafters with treasures. What a great idea! More malls should have used-book stores.

After clearing out their true crime section, I headed over to Horror and picked up The Ruins by Scott Smith.

I’d watched the movie version a few years back, and remembered liking it. The book was over 500 pages, making me suspect it went into a lot more depth. It was a steal at $2, so I bought it, along with some ancient John Saul’s.

One thing I love about horror is that it’s unpredictable. When you start reading a horror novel, you have no guarantee that the protagonist is going to triumph. There’s none of the formula and neat, wrapped-up-in-a-bow denouements that one so often finds in mysteries and thrillers. And when you have no idea how things will turn out, the author has you exactly where he or she wants you.

<Insert evil laugh here>

Smith, like Stephen King, is a master at building a sense of impending doom in a very slow, subtle way. The Ruins focuses on four twenty-somethings who are enjoying an impromptu trip to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico (the fact that I’ve been to the Mayan Riviera made the story resonate even more. Interestingly, Smith has not). When a German tourist they’ve befriended decides to go after his brother, who followed a love interest to an archeological dig near Coba, the four agree to accompany him.

And that’s when it all goes to hell.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say this: if you’re in a foreign country and several locals warn you away from a particular place, Listen to them.

There were moments in this book that literally gave me shivers. There were passages that I found extremely difficult to read. This novel evoked strong emotions in me, from excitement to sadness to yes, horror.

From reading others’ reviews, it appears that The Ruins is one of those things that people either love or hate with an equal ferocity. Some didn’t like the ending. Others didn’t like what awaited our unfortunates in the jungle (I personally did–it was an original and chilling form of villain that I don’t believe has been done before or since). And there were critics who said Smith didn’t give the characters any depth, so you didn’t care what happened to them.

I disagree. There were a couple of characters in particular that I cared deeply about. Others weren’t as well-drawn, but Smith’s book isn’t a character study. It’s a social commentary on the dangers of being an ill-informed, ill-prepared tourist.

It may make you think twice about that trip to Mexico.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Did you like The Ruins? Why or why not? Do you need to know the books you read will have happy endings?

Challenge #8: My Other Addiction

Hello Dear Readers,

First of all, thank you for all of the heartfelt, insightful comments on yesterday’s post. Just when I’m starting to lose faith in this blog and feel like I’m writing these words in a vacuum, you surprise and strengthen me. Each and every comment here is a gift, whether you agree with what I have to say or not.

Before I continue this Crawling Out of the Big Black Hole series on debt, I have some very positive news to share. When this year began, I’d hoped to be out of debt by December. Then my hot water tank burst. The threat of flooding this spring required the expensive installation of a sump pump. My furnace needed repair. The bad luck seemed never-ending, and it looked like 2011 was not going to be my year. But with a lot of hard work, and quite a bit of luck, I am thrilled to report that–unless my roof suddenly caves in–I will be out of debt by the end of this summer, or even before! I am so excited and pleased about this. It took some sacrifices and a lot of adjustment, but it was so worth it. I only wish I’d started sooner.

That said, let’s talk about my other addiction, which isn’t harmful to anything but my bottom line. Since I was old enough to have my very first library card, I’ve been addicted to the printed word. When I was a child, I read every single book that was of any interest to me from my small town’s public library. From my school’s library. From my mother’s collection (I’m surprised she let me read some of that stuff–Jackie Collins was pretty racy). It was nearly impossible to keep me in books, and I didn’t have many of my own, so I contented myself with constantly re-reading old favourites. And not just that–I read the backs of cereal boxes, waded through cookbooks and women’s magazines. I read everything I could get my hands on. When books got passed through school, they usually stopped at me, and I confess I might still have a few schoolbooks somewhere. I was insatiable.

We didn’t have a bookstore in my little town, so when I stepped into my first McNally Robinson in the city, I thought I was in heaven. I could easily spend $1,000 on books within an hour, and still not have satisfied my wordlust.

When I got serious about getting out of debt, I dusted off my library card and tried to get my fix for free. You’re allowed nearly unlimited books here, so I would fill my basket so full I was barely able to cart them home. In spite of the pressure of having to read them all by a deadline, this seemed to work until…(SENSITIVE READERS SHOULD SKIP TO THE NEXT GRAPH) I borrowed a book that someone had repeatedly used as a Kleenex. It was so disgusting that, since returning it and informing the personnel, I haven’t been back. I realize that this is most likely a very rare occurrence, but it sickened me, and after hearing from a friend who used to work there about all the other gross things discovered in the books, it might not be rare enough for me.

Still, it wasn’t a problem. I had a pile of books waiting to be read, and I promised myself that I would only buy the books of my writer friends until I was out of debt. People like Barbara Ross, a wonderful woman who had just released her debut novel The Death of an Ambitious Woman, deserved the support of their friends. How many friends could possibly release books in 2010 and 2011? I was certain I could support all of them and still live within my means. However, when I took stock of my spending at the end of the year, I was shocked to see that–even with all the cutting back–I had still spent over a thousand dollars on books and magazines. Yikes! And no, they weren’t all written by friends–there went that resolution.

I’m a junkie for new words, but I’ve discovered the joy of used words. A delicious way to spend a weekend afternoon is prowling used bookstores and sales with a fellow addict. Anything you find on these trips truly feels like treasure, and is so much more appreciated for the time spent on the hunt.

Now that I’m nearly out of debt and have some savings to spare, I’ve indulged in a special treat for my upcoming birthday: the complete series of Time-Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown. Remember those books? I longed for them when I was a kid, and can see them inspiring a lot of intriguing stories, if not novels.

Any other book junkies out there? Feel free to stand up and declare your addiction–this blog isn’t exactly anonymous, but it is supportive. What was the best book you read recently? How do you balance your budget while still fulfilling your lust for literature? What’s the best treasure you found in a used bookstore or sale?

Thanks for reading!

Cute Sells

There it was, winking at me from the corner of the table. It was my favorite color. It had an eye-catching title. And best of all, it had a skull.

A skull made of blueberries. Baked into a muffin. How could I resist?

I snatched it up, along with its lemon meringue and fudge cupcake buddies, hoping I’d found treasure. But I have to admit, I had my doubts.

Cute is great when it comes to baby animals. Or stuffed animals. Even a cute guy is fine. But I like my reading material a little less light.

I wasn’t expecting much when I cracked open Blueberry Muffin Murder by Joanne Fluke. I’m not into cutesy mysteries with a reoccurring theme…I’ve stayed clear of the cat ones and the alphabet ones. But these books were free, just waiting to be taken home, so why not? What did I have to lose?

Three books later, and I’m addicted. Thankfully, my parents got me an Amazon gift certificate for Christmas, which will feed my Fluke habit quite nicely.

For those not in the know, the Hannah Swensen mystery series features a thirty-something woman who manages to squeeze in some detective work while running her bakery and cafe. Seems Hannah is always stumbling over dead bodies, and someone always manages to convince her that she “really should” investigate. No one ever needs to twist her arm very much. (Although with so many people turning up dead, one wonders why anyone sane would stay in Lake Eden.)

The stories are set in small town Minnesota, with a memorable cast of characters, including a cantankerous feline roommate. And the plots are cute, all right. Sometimes they’re almost unbearably trite. The murder victim is either a bad guy or a woman with questionable morals. The murderer is always a minor character that you haven’t formed an attachment to. And Hannah, who continuously vacillates between two boyfriends–the bad boy and the boy-next-door–somehow manages to keep her virginity intact. Some pristine kisses are the most either guy is going to get.

There’s no swearing. No sex. And very little violence, considering these are murder mysteries. When Hannah gets into trouble, as she invariably does, you know she’s not in real danger. Even the discovery of the corpse manages to be cute…and yet….

Something about these books is so compelling that they managed to overcome my initial cynicism. Maybe it’s the original recipes, which are sprinkled throughout each story like edible gems. (It’s all I can do to stop myself from flipping forward to the next one, but that would ruin the surprise.)

As good as the recipes are, though, I think the real recipe for Fluke’s success is another secret ingredient…

fun.

Fluke’s books are just plain fun. They’re fun to read, and you can tell that the author had a hell of a lot of fun writing them. Even Hannah has fun as she goes about her days making cookies, eating too much, and solving mysteries.

Fine literature, they’re not. And you won’t learn anything from them, except maybe how to make a kick-ass cookie. But who cares? If it’s an escape you’re looking for, I can’t think of any place more appealing to visit than Lake Eden.

Have any of you read the Hannah Swensen books or another series like it? What did you think? And if you’re a writer, how do you keep it fun? Have you ever been tempted to write something purely for fun? I’m a writer of psychological suspense, but I have to say I’m feeling the urge. All that dark stuff gets pretty dreary after a while.

In the meantime, I can’t wait to sink my teeth into a Cherry Cheesecake Murder.

Oh yeah, did I mention Fluke is a NY Times best-selling author? She’s not just slinging cookie dough.

Thanks for reading!