Monday, December 31, 2012

One tradition dies, another is born

Christmas Eve, as I was filling the last stocking and preparing for bed I was struck by how much life has changed over the past year, and how much more it will do so in 2013.

At that moment I realized we had lost one holiday tradition that has been a part of our family just as much as Christmas trees and wrapping paper, when I noticed there was no milk and cookies on the table for Santa.

That’s right – my little one, who turned 11 earlier in the year, has finally reached the point where she no longer believes in dear old St. Nick. I have five kids, with the oldest of the brood turning 21 in October, and for 20 years we’ve placed the little mug of milk and a saucer of cookies on the end table nearest the Christmas tree. For 20 years the last thing I’ve done after everyone is long gone to bed and I’ve filled the last of the stockings is sit on the sofa, watch a little television or listen to some music and munch on those cookies. Some years there was a note, and I’d scrawl out a reply, taking great pains to hide my handwriting style.

As you can imagine, with five children our house has always been busy, particularly at Christmas. When our four oldest were really young (my first child was a month short of turning 5 when the fourth one was born), after I’d eaten the cookies and left the note my wife would cover the doorway to the den with wrapping paper, as if the entire room was one big present. That served the dual purpose of enhancing the excitement for the kids and keeping them out of the room in the wee hours of the night.

I can’t tell you how many Christmases we’d be awakened at 2 or 3 in the morning, the sound of little footsteps running up and down the hall, hushed voices talking about what might be behind the wrapped door or how many hours were left until they were allowed to rouse us from bed. We’d chase them back to bed, only to repeat the process every hour or so until 7.

Despite running low on sleep, that was always great fun.

Gradually those days gave way to less excitement, and now, for the first time in two decades, sadly, no Santa, and already I’m missing those days when Santa was real and the kids were little.

A new tradition was born this year, though even that one has a bit of bitter-sweetness to it.

My oldest daughter is engaged to be married, having officially accepted the young man’s proposal in October. Every year we have a family Christmas Eve dinner, just my wife and I and the kids. This year we added to that mix the young man engaged to my daughter. After eating, the two of them opened the presents we all had purchased for them, then left on a four-hour drive to his family, where they spent Christmas Day and the days afterward.

Saying bye to the oldest of our crew on Christmas Eve, watching her ride away to spend Christmas with her soon-to-be husband and his family is the new holiday rite we’ll be observing. My daughter is ecstatic over her pending marriage and her new family, and I’m genuinely happy for that, but it’s still a little sad to see the holidays change, knowing we may never all be together on Christmas again.

Change, of course, is the nature of life. I think it was Billy Joel who sang “Life is a series of helloes and good-byes.” I was a very young man when I first heard those words, and while the young tend to think they understand everything in a way no one else can, it’s only with age one truly starts to understand such sentiments.

I’ve witnessed a great deal of change in recent years, with the declining health of my parents, approaching adulthood for my kids, and my own advancing age. Still, I’m not unhappy. My oldest is as content with her life as I’ve seen in a long time, and my other children are growing up to be, if I do say so myself, nice young men and women whom I’m proud to know.

The coming year offers great promise: the aforementioned marriage, my second daughter’s transfer from a community college to a four-year school, and I hope my continued development and success in the literary world.

Still, forgive me if every once in a while I sit and wish for times gone by.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Dark Secret of Warren House is free today!

Just a quick update to let you all know my winter horror tale, THE DARK SECRET OF WARREN HOUSE, is FREE today only (Dec. 29) at Amazon. THE DARK SECRET OF WARREN HOUSE is part of the Holiday Horror Collection (the full collection is available for just $1.49).

As a stand-alone piece, WARREN HOUSE can be purchased normally for 99 cents (but FREE today!), and it's gotten a handful of really strong reviews.

Here's an excerpt:

Kevin looked at her. She was pointing to the next alcove.

There, Kevin saw, sat Lucy Adams. Her face was drawn and pale, eyes staring vacantly. Blood dripped from a dozen different entry wounds where tentacles invaded her body. Kevin reached into the alcove, fingers brushing Lucy’s face, when a tentacle stabbed from the shadows, slicing into his forearm.

Kevin yanked his hand away. The tentacle stretched and then snapped, a sliver still in his arm.

“Get it out,” he screamed, clawing at this skin. “My knife,” he gasped.

“What?” Marcia asked.

“Knife … in my right pocket,” he said through clenched teeth. He continued scratching, peeling the skin away from the wound. Marcia slipped her hand in his pocket, withdrew a small pocketknife, then opened it.

“Now what?”

“Cut it out!” he screamed.

“Wha… I can’t do that.”

Kevin grabbed the knife and sliced around the wound. The tentacle was longer now, growing from his arm. Kevin slashed deep into the skin, cutting under the tentacle, like a surgeon removing a tumor. A chunk of flesh, tentacle imbedded in it, fell to the floor.
Kevin stumbled away, the room spinning, gray clouding his vision. He fell to one knee. Marcia knelt next to him, eased him to lying position. Blood trickled from his arm, pooling on the cold stone beneath him.

“We gotta get out of here,” Kevin said. “Help me up.”

Marcia helped him to his feet. Kevin stumbled, dizzy. He looked down, his senses snapping awake when he did. Two tentacles sprouted from the floor where his blood pooled.


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Need help wrapping up the Christmas shopping?

We made it past the Mayan Doomsday, but your personal D-DAY is just around the corner because Christmas is here and you haven’t finished your shopping.

Maybe your significant other has everything she (or he) needs; perhaps you need a little token gift for a coworker or casual friend; possibly you just procrastinated and now you’re up a creek without a paddle (or perhaps you just want to treat yourself to a little electronic stocking stuffer).

Ever thought about e-gifting a book? It’s inexpensive, you don’t have to worry about on-time delivery (in fact, delivery is FREE), and it’s just a cool 21st-century thing to do.

You can give an e-book to anyone who has a valid e-mail address, and they don’t even need to own a Kindle to read your gift. For complete information on how to e-gift a book, visit giving an e-book, then check out my offers here:

For the suspense lover who has a little romance in them, might I suggest my novel CLAIMING MOON? It’s a riveting, fast-paced murder mystery with a serving of humor, a healthy dose of romance, and a little bit of the macabre. And it’s just $3.99 deliverable to a Kindle or Kindle reading device.

For horror lovers, I offer HOLIDAY HORROR, a $1.49-short story collection (five tales) built around three of my favorite holidays – Halloween, Christmas and New Years. I won’t give any of the tales away, but I will say this: You’ll never look at Christmas angels the same again, you’ll think long and hard about setting any more New Year’s resolutions, and come next October you might be a little more hesitant about visiting any of the seasonal haunted houses that spring up around your community.

And if you’re looking for something for the zombie lover in your life (who’s probably having Walking Dead withdrawals), I have a brutal short story that fills the bill, and at 99 cents SUMMER’S END is affordable for everyone.

Last, I offer a story for the lover of old books – you know, those things that used to be printed on paper, with a cover and everything. Think older, collectable books are great? You might not after reading THE JOURNAL, for just 99 cents.

Just click on any of those titles to order, or visit my author page at for additional choices.

If you purchase any of my work, I hope you (or the one for whom you buy it) get great enjoyment.

And most of hall, have a Merry Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Can a horror guy do religious/inspirational writing?

It was a spring day in 1990 and I was sitting on the courthouse steps in the tiny town of Stuart, Va., talking with a young colleague named Melody. Her desk and mine faced one another in the newsroom of the paper where we worked, some 30 miles away. It was unusual for our newspaper to send a reporter to Stuart, yet today there were two of us -- Melody to report on some controversial school board action and I to cover a trial. Her board was in closed session, my jury was deliberating, so there we were sitting in the pleasant spring air of the Blue Ridge mountains, under the watchful eyes of a statue of Civil War hero J.E.B. Stuart.

Although I would not seriously pursue writing fiction for many years, even then I dabbled a little in horror. Melody knew that. She also knew I had attended Liberty University. You know, Jerry Falwell’s school, the college the good Dr. Falwall had said would become to fundamentalist Christians what Notre Dame was to Catholics. It was right wing conservative central at the dawn of the modern conservative social and political movement. Naturally Melody, and most everyone else I knew back then, thought folks coming from Liberty University were clean-cut Bible-thumping, right-wing clones of Jerry Falwell.

So, the first guy she meets from Liberty is me, someone who dabbles in horror writing as a hobby. A religious guy who writes decidedly non-religious work.

“How do you reconcile your beliefs with what you write?” she asked me that afternoon.

I don’t recall exactly what I said. I mumbled what was probably a long-winded series of words that sounded good but in truth gave no real answer.

In some ways I guess that’s a question I’m still trying to answer.

I was raised in an ultra-conservative home, at the northern tip of the Bible Belt of the South. Whatever the preacher said on Sunday was right, everything else was wrong, and there was no room for gray areas between the two. From the sixth grade through college my formal education took place in Christian institutions – first a Christian middle and high school, then Liberty University.

I’ve spent most of my adult life in the field of journalism, with a brief time out when I was executive director for a suicide/crisis hotline. I have seen some of the worst in people along the way – crimes people commit against one another; businesses that chew up and spit out their employees while lining the pockets of top executives; and worst of all churches where preachers and “leaders” just pound away at some in their congregations until they have literally broken those people.

Through the years I’ve questioned many of those beliefs ingrained in my psyche when I was young. Quite frankly, some of them just don’t measure up in the cold hard light of critical examination. They’re myths, in best cases half-truths passed down through the generations and followed blindly by those who don’t know better, in worst cases they are dogma intentionally used by church leaders to keep others in line – to emotionally enslave them.

Some of those beliefs, though, stand up to rational examination. At the very worst they make for a solid set of principles by which to live, and at best they show that there may very well be more to this life than we can glimpse, that there is something larger than we are, something we can belong to, become part of. Something – or someone – we can place our faith in.

Which brings us back to that question, maybe from a different angle, these many years later. How does a guy who writes horror suddenly come out with a book that’s best described as Christian/inspirational?

I’m not sure. I do believe it’s a travesty to pigeon-hole a writer, to say he’s written horror so everything he pens must be horror, or she writes romance so all of her work must be romance. Those neat little genre tags have by-and-large been developed by the publishing industry – more specifically by the marketing arm of the publishing industry. Books, at least ones submitted to the major publishing houses, aren’t so much judged on quality of writing or story-telling as they are along one simple principle – is there a potential big market for this? Will it sell? Might it sell big?

So the publishing industry selects what it thinks might be big sellers, and packages them in neat little categories that make for easy marketing – inspirational, horror, science fiction, romance, and so forth. I understand that – publishing is a business, and its sole purpose as a business is to make money for its owners. That’s the way of the business world.

As writers, and readers, we’ve allowed that marketing vernacular to take over the way we define what we write, what we read.

And that brings me back to that original question: Can a horror guy write religious/inspirational work?

The answer to that is no.

But a writer who just happens to pen horror can. A writer can, or should, challenge himself, write in the different genres, tell the stories that are on his heart to tell. Most of my work is horror. I don’t know why – I’m wired that way. To those of a more religious nature, who believes God made everyone specifically as they are, that everything is controlled by God, I can only say this is the way I was made.

But not all of my work is horror. I’ve got a murder mystery novel (CLAIMING MOON) with a bit of romance in it, I’ve written and published erotica under a pen name (and no, I’m not telling you the name), and I now I have a religious/inspirational novel on the market called CHOICES.

So how does a horror guy write a religious/inspirational work? I don’t know. I’m no longer just a horror guy. I’m a writer, and CHOICES is the work I have to offer today. It’s a story about second chances, about bitterness and forgiveness, about homelessness and death and family and, I suppose, redemption, and how belief in God affects all of that.

I hope you decide to download the book. More importantly, I hope you enjoy it, and tell others about the novel. You can download CHOICES to your Kindle here, and to your Nook here. If you don’t have either, you can download a free Kindle reading app for your computer or mobile device right here.

Thanks for stopping by.