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The Bloodlust of Carmilla

It was a read-a-thon challenge on BookTube, #HorrorMAYhem if you’re curious, that finally nudged me toward reading a classic story burning up my library shelf (and Kindle Fire) for years. Maybe I resisted reading Carmilla because I was under the delusion that I had read it before—that was actually Coleridge’s Christabel. So, during my yearly creative retreat at a lakeside cabin in the woods, I finally cracked open my vintage paperback copy and took a bite.

Carmilla, the 1872 novella written by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu, burst in my mouth like the wild red berries I’d indulged in during my morning hike—more bitter than sweet, but delicious.

Perhaps my resistance also had something to do with a belief that I needed a proper setting in which to absorb the story. After all, we live in a world of distractions that makes focusing on anything a challenge, let alone dense, Victorian prose. I had just completed Brian Keene’s The Conqueror Worms for Week One of the reading challenge, the assignment being supernatural creatures. After Keene’s gory gut punches, it took me a few paragraphs to adjust to Le Fanu’s writing style. Still, with only the music of birdsong—including a pair of owls outside my cabin—and soft breezes to accompany my reading, Carmilla stirred my blood in ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time.

Several adaptations, including a wonderfully cheesy Hammer film, have seized on the titillating “lesbian vampire” theme. Yes, the theme is there and it’s quite subtle (more Sappho than Sade), but my deep reading yielded so many more delights. For one thing, the setting could not be more Gothic. The story takes place in Styria, which a quick search on my phone informed me is part of Austria. Austria is a place I’ve always wanted to visit; my grandfather was born there, and I’ve only heard about its natural beauty and stunning architecture through stories and films. This setting is in the remote country, a lonely and primitive place, where English ex-pats can afford to live like kings and queens on modest yearly incomes. But the quiet beauty is haunted by the ghosts of an old aristocratic family, the Karnsteins, their lineage now reduced to mouldering tombs in a roofless church and an equally-desolate château which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins of the town.

The ancient estate (or schloss) the young heroine, Laura, and her father inhabit has a moat, a drawbridge, and so many rooms (replete with secret passages) that one’s screams in the middle of the night are undetected by other household members, as Laura discovers when at six years old she is attacked by a ghostly nocturnal visitor. This strangely beautiful lady-phantom kisses and caresses Laura in a way the motherless child finds comforting until she shocks her by penetrating her chest with two sharp needles. While Laura screams for her governess, the phantom disappears beneath the bed (a creepy image indeed). Later, she will return in the guise of a cat during her attacks.

Laura, now a young lady of eighteen at the time of the narrative, is still disturbed by the incident from her childhood. Will this strange apparition come back to haunt her? We know it will.

A dramatic opening scene sets the stage when young Laura, her father, and a few servants take a moonlit stroll and witness a carriage with footmen in full livery crash against a tree and overturn. The team of horses shied at the site of an ancient cross on the estate—someone remarks in a chilling bit of foreshadowing. A noblewoman dressed in black velvet, a turbaned woman within the carriage grinning derisively toward the ladies, and ugly, hang-dog looking grooms hint at the evil lurking beneath the gilded veneer.

In a rushed moment of chivalry, Laura’s father decides to let Carmilla, stunned in the carriage accident, remain at his estate until the mother can reclaim her in several months’ time. The plan is vague and not very well thought out, but Laura is happy to have a new friend even if the new friend is a bit…strange.

Carmilla is pale, languid, rarely eats except to nibble on some chocolate, and sleeps most of the day. She is also “abnormally” affectionate toward young Laura, caressing her and proclaiming her love with rapid breaths and a heaving bosom. Laura finds her young companion’s romantic expressions, like great beauty, both seductive and repulsive. Still, she’s inexplicably drawn to her.

Despite her sweetness and languor, Carmilla occasionally flames with the imperious indignation of a Countess Bathory. When a grotesque peddler shows up with some bizarre taxidermy of various animals stitched together and suggests grinding down Carmilla’s unusually sharp teeth, Carmilla retorts: “How dares that mountebank insult us so? Where is your father? I shall demand redress from him. My father would have had the wretch tied up to the pump, and flogged with a cart-whip, and burnt to the bones with the castle brands!”

I recognized in this early work of vampire fiction many subplots and characters recycled in every Gothic vampire story from Dracula to Dark Shadows and beyond, including midnight gallops, country doctor visits, superstitious common folk, misty graveyards, and even a Van Helsing character who shows up at the end with his “tool kit” to dispatch Carmilla, really the two-hundred year old Countess of Karnstein, with a stake through the heart followed by decapitation for good measure.

Glued to the page, I sucked down every word of this Gothic tale, and when I finished, my bosom heaved for more. In fact, I’d barely read the last line when I fired up my iPhone and listened to the audiobook while sitting by the lake, pretending I was in Villa Diodati. Like other favorite Gothic classics, Jane Eyre and Frankenstein among them, I will revisit this novella many times hence.

With my bloodlust for Carmilla unsated after two successive readings, I desperately searched for some film adaptations. Carmilla, a recent film written and directed by Emily Harris, is an atmospheric interpretation of how a sexually-repressed governess takes out her frustrations on the budding Sapphic romance between her teenage charge and her mysterious new friend. The film is pretty and meant to be poignant, but I yawned through most of it. I wanted more of Carmella’s fierceness, and I almost found it in The Vampire Lovers (1970), the first in a Hammer Film trilogy starring Peter Cushing. Here, you’ll find more boobs than blood. The late 60’s hairstyles and make-up had me giggling, but at least it stuck close to the original plot. I plan to watch the entire trilogy this weekend. 

Perhaps a definitive adaptation is out there. I’ll continue to search. In the meantime, Carmilla will haunt my dreams most deliciously. Feeling refreshed from my cabin retreat, a sweet female cat showed up on my doorstep when I returned home. She purred and threaded through my legs when I petted her and has shown no intention of leaving.

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Call for Submissions – HorrorTube Anthology Vol. 3

Seeking submissions from authors with active BookTube or AuthorTube channels for the next HorrorTube Anthology.

Again, we are looking for a diverse group of authors with active BookTube and/or AuthorTube channels (no channel too small) so please do not hesitate to submit.

Genre: Classic Horror! *Please, no horror erotica, paranormal romance, or romantic suspense.

Theme: MONSTERS! Monsters can be human or inhuman, but for this anthology, we’re seeking horror stories of a gorier nature, so don’t hold back! But please, no graphic depictions of sexual assault, child or animal abuse. Supernatural stories depicting unique monsters are encouraged. Contact Regina at reginashauntedlibrary@gmail.com with any questions. *See FAQs below.

Length: 1,000 – 5,000 words

Deadline: June 1, 2022

Details: Please submit your story as a separate attachment (word doc) along with a short cover letter including a clean link to your YouTube channel to reginashauntedlibrary@gmail.com. Please use the standard submission format. For guidance see https://www.shunn.net/format/story.html.

Please submit only your best, most polished work. Reprints are okay. The terms include the nonexclusive right to display, copy, publish, distribute, transmit and sell digital and print reproductions of your story worldwide.

English language only.

Payment for accepted submissions: $10 honorarium, print and digital copy. All proceeds will be donated to the literacy charity First Book.

Deadline: June 1, 2022

Release Date: October 2022

Cover Design: Cameron Roubique

Edited by Regina Saint Claire with a  foreword by Steve Donoghue.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered an “active” booktube/authortube channel? 

Your channel should have recent uploads (at least once a month) and include bookish and/or writerly content. 

Why is my story rejected?

The biggest reason for rejection is a poorly edited story. Another reason for rejection is if your story does not fit the theme. Also, poorly formatted stories annoy editors so please follow the directions for submissions including pasting a clean link to your YouTube channel in your cover letter. 

Are psychological horror stories okay?

Psychological stories are great, but for this anthology (slated for a spooky-season release), we’re looking for gory, “fun” horror stories with good suspense and satisfying “pay-offs.” Think R.L. Stine with more gore!

Are reprints okay?

Yes. But please do not break any contracts with other publishers.

What does “non-exclusive rights” mean?

It means you’re free to publish your story on other publications and platforms. 

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The Woman Beyond the Attic – Book Review

I recall the moment in my high school math class (my least favorite subject) when I spotted a classmate with a paperback copy of Flowers in the Attic stashed under her desk. I began to see the book floating around the halls and whispered about in the girls’ locker room—something about child abuse, incest with a brother. Beyond intrigued, I immediately bought a copy from one of those revolving racks in the drugstore. I read it in one day and never forgot it. It wasn’t just the unsavory sex that kept me riveted. The subject of family secrets, a mother and grandmother doing horrible things to children, was something rarely–if ever–discussed at that time. The gothic melodrama catapulted to the top of the bestseller list, threatening to topple Stephen King from his throne. And who can forget the cover!

When King accused VC Andrews of writing bad prose in his book On Writing, I doubt if it was just professional jealousy at work. If I’m being generous to Mr. King, I believe he meant that she is a bad writer in the same way Margaret Keane is a “bad” artist. I’m sure their popularity drove the cognoscenti of both art and literary worlds mad, but still, as Warhol quipped about Keane’s art, “If it were bad, so many people wouldn’t like it.”

We don’t expect ” good ” literature when we read VC Andrews or the many series penned by her ghostwriter Andrew Neiderman after her death. But we do expect to be entertained in the way only connoisseurs of the genre understand. And what is the genre exactly? Well, that’s been debated, but in Neiderman’s new VC Andrews biography, The Woman Beyond the Attic, he asserts that she created her own genre. I agree. And what a fun genre it is—a bit of romance, but no syrupy happy endings, a lot of sex and suffering. In other words, it’s like life, for many women especially, the keepers of family secrets. 

Neiderman’s The Woman Beyond the Attic delves into VC Andews’ life and exposes some secrets along the way, including her mysterious illness, relationship with her mother, and the impact of her work. 

Although I suspect many fans won’t be satisfied, I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read. Below is my video where I discuss the book in more detail. 

 

 

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New Release!

Writing Goals

One of my goals for 2022 is to release new fiction (a short story, novel, novella, anthology, or collection) every month. So far, I’m right on target. I even began a month early with Served Cold, the second horrortube anthology, which was released in December.

Speaking of Served Cold, here is a guest blog post I wrote for horror author Nicholas Kaufmann’s blog, in which I examine what’s scary about producing an anthology. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but not completely. Writing is general, can be pretty scary.

Scares, of mostly the internal kind, are what I explore in Women in Trouble, a new collection of female-themed horror. Some stories have been previously published, but there are quite a few new pieces included. It’s been out about a week. If you enjoy psychological horror, as well as a few supernatural chills, please check it out. Here is an excerpt from the foreword written by fellow horrortuber, Lydia Peever.

Trouble transcends the traditionally feminine here—be it physical, psychological, or perceived—and brings us to a more modern stage but with roots in timeless sensibility. This is the signature of Saint Claire.

Below is a video where I discuss Women in Trouble, and other new projects coming in 2022.

I’m going to keep this post short today because I’m currently editing my next release, a young adult paranormal romance. If you’d like a sneak peek, the first book in the series is currently on Kindle Vella and doing quite well on that site. If any other writers are trying out Vella, I’d love to hear what you think of it so far. Please leave a comment and we can compare notes.

P.S. To receive a free digital copy of all my new releases, including Women in Trouble, consider becoming a patron.

 

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A Holiday Gift of Horror

Book Cover design by Premade Book Covers. All rights reserved @RSaintClaire 2021

 

Dear Friends,

I wrote this holiday horror story to share with you this holiday season . You may read it here it is entirety, or download it for free to read on you Kindle or other device. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas season!

XOXO

Regina

 

 

 

 

HO HOW HOWL

by R. Saint Claire

“Uncle Buck smells, and he’s weird,” whispered Carrie beneath the covers. My kid sister clung to me for warmth the way six-year-olds who still act like babies sometimes do. But I had just melted away into a very cloudy dream starring Mark Batters from my fourth-grade class and resented the intrusion greatly.

“Shut up,” I said, facing the wall to emphasize my point. But when she started blubbering about how mean I am, I rolled back.  “Okay. He smells. So what?”

“I used the bathroom after him today.” Carrie’s little face puckered. “Pewee.”

I tucked the blanket under her chin. Her light brown hair had been washed that night; she smelled of strawberries. I wished I had her hair. Mine was dark, like Dad’s, and wiry, and cut too short for my taste, but whatever. “He’ll be gone soon.”

“But why is he here?”

“Because it’s Christmas.”

“So?”

“Don’t you remember last year when he fell off the roof while pretending he was Santa Claus?”

I recalled waking up to what sounded like the house shaking, followed by my mother screaming, and then a string of curses from my dad, including the really bad word.

Uncle Buck was Dad’s older brother, the black sheep of the family, I suppose. He worked at a garage in Philly—the grease under his fingernails was legendary—but he liked to hunt in the country, which is why he used to come to our house almost every weekend. Mom put her foot down after the incident when he hung a deer he’d shot on our lamppost, and every dog within miles came during the night and tore it down. We awoke to pieces of deer strewn all over the front yard, which not only made Mom cry, but was super gross. I could never eat venison after that.

Dad admitted Uncle Buck was irresponsible with his shotguns and his beagle, Schmoke—weird name for a dog—who snapped at me once when I tried to pet him. But every Christmas, Dad would get sentimental. Also Schmoke had just died.

“Buck has no place else to go,” said Dad to Mom.  I suppose their Christian spirits won out because here he was again, taking up the entire sofa with his legs spread, watching football games when it was time for our favorite cartoons. Mom would set down a plate of food and a cold beer for him, and he wouldn’t even say thank you. Also, he smoked cigars. Outside the house, at least, but the smell lingered around the door, making me gag every time I stepped outside.

Yeah, Uncle Buck pretty much sucked.

“Why does he have to ruin Christmas?” moaned Carrie, her lament hovering ghostlike below the shadowy ceiling.

“I’ll talk to Dad about it.”

“Promise?” Her arms circled my waist. She was nice and warm, so I allowed her to stay there.

“Promise. Now go to sleep.”

Continue reading “A Holiday Gift of Horror”

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Served Cold is Launched!

It’s been a long time coming, but Served Cold: A HorrorTube Anthology is now available in print and ebook. EBook copies are also available on Smashwords. I’m happy to report our initial launch was very successful. We earned Amazon’s little orange #1 check mark, which is always a pleasant sight.

As Served Cold continues to make strides, I am so happy to see how much our HorrorTube community has come together with not only our love of horror fiction, but also by sharing that passion with each other. Below you’ll find a short promo video created by a very talented member of our community, the lovely Mers from Harpies in the Trees. I’ve never met Mers in person, but she is part of an informal group of HorrorTubing women I communicate with during our occasional “Creepy Cocktail Hour” via Zoom.

I’m not sure if I will be editing another anthology anytime soon—I have many of my own projects commanding my attention—but ask me again in six months and I might already be planning the next one. It’s a lot of work, but the rewards are great. Of course, I am someone who always thinks big, so I can imagine in the near future HorrorTube having its own conference where we could all come together and meet in person. How cool would that be? As a new year approaches, I am considering a few projects along those lines, including creating a completely analog HorrorTuber zine, but more about that later.

If you would like a FREE ebook copy of Served Cold, consider becoming a Regina’s Haunted Library member. Also, I will be sending out many free ebooks to my mailing list subscribers, so considering signing up.

I’m keeping this post short because I’m a bit distracted after just finding out this morning that the great Anne Rice has passed away. I plan to post a video about her this week on my YouTube channel.

Here’s Mers’ promo video for your enjoyment. Remember, all proceeds for Served Cold benefit the literacy charity, FirstBook.org. Thanks for your support!

 

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Another NaNoWriMo Win and Why I Left Wattpad

It was down to the wire, but I was able to complete my NaNoWriMo project this year. It wasn’t the most ideal time to write a 50K word draft (is it ever?), but I was happy I didn’t give up. It will require another 20K words to flesh it out. I’ll get there, but until then, into the file drawer it goes.

I had fun writing my V.C. Andrews’ inspired melodrama, but there are a few other projects now requiring my attention. I hope that when I return to Black and Blue Ivy in a few weeks, it will be with fresh eyes and insights and I won’t run screaming with horror at what I’m reading.

Speaking of horror, I’m working on two projects now (besides getting Served Cold up and running). One is a short Christmas horror story I hope to have up on Amazon by next week, and the other is Code Red, the vampire novel for which I won a Watty last year.

I suppose now is as good a time as any to confess that I’ve left Wattpad for good. It is with no animosity. I was honored to win their top prize and to become a Wattpad “star,” but it got to the point where I wasn’t really growing on that platform. It was, however, a wonderful place to develop my writing skills and grow confidence.

My decision to leave was based on a few factors. One, I wasn’t participating as much as I used to and I found that another social networking platform was draining my time and energy. Two, after five years on the platform, I found there was little to no transfer of readers from that site to purchasing my books on Amazon. Even with over half a million reads and tons of active engagement with readers, I could barely convince them to sign up for my newsletter. Wattpad readers like to read stories for free. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I got tired of giving away my work for free, which leads me to reason number three. There comes a time when you’ve “‘practiced” enough and you need to enter a higher echelon of professionalism. In that respect, I felt that posting “good enough” stories on Wattpad was holding me back. In the month or so since I transferred two of my stories from Wattpad to Kindle Vella, they’ve already made over $500, so there’s that.

Still, I would encourage new fiction writers, as I was when I started five years ago, to consider Wattpad as a place to share their stories. I have no regrets for my time spent there. I just knew it was time to make a change. If everything goes as planned, Code Red will be released on Amazon in 2022, along with the seven or so other fiction projects I wrote during the Covid isolation months.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year holds.

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When You’re Stuck…

Write a Scene.

Despite working under a tight deadline to prepare my new HorrorTube Anthology for pre-order (the clock is ticking), I’ve been diligently chipping away at my NaNoWriMo project. This morning, I was able to close the gap on my stats, which indicates—not to jump the gun here—that I may just make it to the finish line.

One tip I discovered that really helps me out when I’m stuck is to write a scene, any scene, as long as it involves my protagonist (an orphaned teen trapped in a scary gothic mansion) and one or more characters. You may find, as I have, that writing a scene, even if it’s not planned, helps to clear the creative cobwebs. And not only that, you may also discover (if you’re lucky) an entire aspect of your story hitherto hidden beneath sedimentary layers of stress and self-doubt.

Think of it as a game of Clue: Ivy (my MC) and Bentley (her stepbrother) in the choir loft with a pipe organ. Go! Sounds much kinkier than I intended, but you get the idea. This particular scene, which I’m still not exactly sure where I’ll insert in the final edit, opened up a story subplot I hadn’t thought of, which is the beauty of discovery writing.

Another thing that’s great about writing into the dark is it grants one the permission to write out of order. So feel free to skip around in your story and then circle back. Jump chapters or even time dimensions if you like. It doesn’t matter. The creative brain needs freedom from restraints. You’ll have plenty of time to buckle on those weeks from now when you pull your manuscript out of the proverbial desk drawer. That “My God, what have I done?” moment is waiting for you down the line. Isn’t it fun?

Well, this one is going to be short because I have a lot of editing to do. Here is one of my Patreon vlogs where I am very tired and talking about my NaNoWriMo process. For more scintillating (lol) content, consider becoming a patron.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo – Prioritizing Writing

When it comes to my work schedule coinciding with NaNoWriMo, November, not April, seems to be the cruelest month.

I’ve participated in the novel-writing contest five times and “won” twice, although I completed all of those books eventually.

So with no one pressuring me except myself, I shouldn’t despair too much about my lagging performance in this year’s NaNoWriMo project, a gothic romance inspired by my love for V.C. Andrews titled Black and Blue Ivy.

Still, as always when I find myself in the middle section of any work in progress, frustrations set in. I’ve written enough to know those imaginary gremlins mocking me from computer screen, tempting me to scroll through Facebook or Instagram to “relieve some stress,” are part of the process.

I was definitely seduced by this beautiful new cover by Consuelo Parra.

Still, I have to concede it would have been far smarter to just complete my horror novel, Carni, instead of starting an entirely new project. Shamefully, I admit to being seduced by shiny object syndrome, the erroneous belief that a new project will not yield any of the angsts and frustrations I inevitably encounter any time I sit down to write, that somehow the words will effortlessly flow from brain to keyboard, perfection from start to finish. Of course, that’s pure folly which I’ve now discovered as I’m struggling to keep up with the daily word count of my new project while Carni (a killer clown ironically) taunts me from the sidelines.

 

Does it matter that no one is watching (or caring) and my mental gymnastics are mine alone to suffer?

Not really.

I am usually, creatively that is, quite productive, and although I write most days I do take off and then. For example, it doesn’t seem quite fair to force myself to remain in my monk’s cave and write when accepting a lunch invitation seems the better option. If wine is included then all bets are off.

What NaNoWriMo forces me to do (again, no one’s watching), is to make writing a priority, and therein lies the lesson.

Because of NaNoWriMo, I’ve stuck to an (almost) daily writing schedule despite being extremely busy. I don’t want to get overly confident and jinx myself, but even if I take Thanksgiving Day off, I think this year I just might cross the finish line.

How about you? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If so, feel free to add me as a buddy. We can spur each other on through the final stretch.

For weekly vlogs on the creative process and other topics, consider becoming a patron.

 

 

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It’s Getting Cold Outside!

A little over a year ago, Local Haunts: A HorrorTube Anthology came alive, like Frankenstein’s monster, from the kinetic energy of many creative minds joining together on a sub-group of BookTube known as HorrorTube. And now, another creature emerges, this one from the ice. Served Cold: A HorrorTube Anthology slated for a mid-December release is now available for pre-order.

There are some returning authors from the first time around, veteran HorrorTubers like Cameron Chaney and Andrew Lyall, as well as some new voices like Janine Pipe and Aphrodite Lee whose work I’m happy to feature. Each of the twenty-two teeth-chattering tales probes the vast and terrifying landscapes comprising the chills and thrills of cold-themed horror. Just in time for the holidays too!

My efforts to pull this project together were assuaged by the aid of Steve Donoghue, the professor emeritus of BookTube. Steve’s daily dispatches from his charming Boston library, crammed to the rafters with books and the occasional dog, offer a true education in literature. Steve is helping with the editing and other sundry unglamorous tasks self-publishing demands.

Here is an excerpt from Steve’s foreword to Served Cold:

Leaving aside the increasing probability that the very concept of ‘winter’ will be completely foreign to the grandchildren of the authors represented in these pages (that’s a horror story of an entirely different order of magnitude, and alas, it’s no figment of somebody’s imagination), there’s a long-standing connection being celebrated here. Horror tales always give chills, not hot sweats. Think of the pervading cold in such horror classics as Dracula or especially Frankenstein. Remember that the heart of Dante’s Hell is not a lake of fire but a vast field of ice. 

Horror pairs naturally with the season of dark and cold, when hungry wolves could come down from mountain passes, cross frozen rivers, and ghost along village doorways in search of warm prey, when snowbound solitude created phantoms out of corner-shadows, and when the eternal patience of the ice and the dark seems extra pointed, and not at all friendly.

So wrap yourself in your favorite blanket, curl up by a fireside or in a warm bed, and enjoy these tales of sub-zero terror brought to you by some of the many voices of HorrorTube.

I’m happy that what began as a creative whim of mine garnered enough interest from creators and readers alike to develop into what has turned out to be a growing trend. Last month, popular BookTuber from Down Under, Cam Wolfe, picked up the mantle with the release of his horror anthology We’re Not Home, of which I’m proud to be part. The proceeds from all three anthologies will be donated to children’s literacy charities.

The cover art by Cameron Roubique now occupies a sinister space in my library.  To receive a FREE ebook copy of Served Cold and other fun perks, consider becoming a patron of Regina’s Haunted Library.