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!

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

Write The Next Sentence

Working on a new novel is always a bit destabilizing. You start off with what you think is a good idea, hopefully enough to galvanize the process, but then you reach the dreaded three-quarter section slump. My novels do tend to be on the shorter side, but I don’t see this one concluding for another twenty thousand words or so. I know where I want the story to get to, sort of, but how to get there?

While procrastinating before my morning writing session waiting for the caffeine to kick in, I often amuse myself by watching YouTube writing videos. There are some good ones out there, as well as some really bad ones whose advice you should never take. But among the videos I do find useful are the ones by Dean Wesley Smith. I’ve mentioned him before; the reason I like his advice is that he’s a pro who’s been there. He also put the idea of “writing into the dark” in my head. I read his short book on the topic, but honestly, you can glean enough from the videos to get the message.

I’ve written the past two novels, including my current draft, into the dark and I will probably never go back to outlining again. It’s not an easy process, but it’s a much more creative one. By not knowing what is going to happen next in my story, I am tapping into my creative brain, not the critical one. Now, that doesn’t mean a writer can’t get extremely creative inventing an outline, and I have approached writing that way in the past. But if all the creativity is spent on the pre-write, then isn’t getting the words down just an exercise in filling in the blanks? Many successful writers, I imagine, prefer outlining, but I’ve found it much more satisfying—and scary—to write into the dark.

As I approached this morning’s writing session feeling my way around blindly, hoping to grasp something familiar that will guide me to the light of sudden inspiration, that “aha” moment every writer lives for, I took Smith’s advice to not think too far ahead. Just write the next sentence and then write the next one.

So, I did that until I had written 1700 words in less than an hour. I feel pretty good about it, and not only that, during my writing into the dark session I found an entry point to the next scene I hadn’t thought of before. This is the value, and the joy, of discovery writing. It’s the essence of creative writing. When you get stuck, just write the next sentence.

It worked for me. If you’ve ever tried this approach or if you’re dead set against it, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For weekly vlogs on the creative process, including writing into the dark, consider becoming a Patron.

 

Storms and Melodramas!

I am almost through reading the Landy Series by V.C. Andrews (ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman). In one of the series’ most dramatic scenes (spoilers), the teenage protagonist gives birth while a hurricane rages outdoors, threatening to tear the Bayou shack down around the heroine’s ears. Just as I was reading this harrowing chapter in book two, Pearl in the Mist, real-life hurricane Ida was tearing through New Orleans sixteen years to the date of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Luckily, this time the levees held.

As the storm moved north, I became more absorbed in my V.C. Andrews’ melodrama and less interested in following the weather report until I received the first-ever tornado warning on my iPhone.

What? Tornado? The only time I’ve ever confronted a tornado was during my annual viewing of The Wizard of Oz.

Laughing off my concerned friend’s “Go to your basement now!” text (my basement’s nasty), I obliviously returned to the next paperback in the series with its nifty step-back cover. The flickering chandelier lights and rain-lashed windowpanes added to my enjoyment. I only hoped the electricity would remain on until I got to the end of the chapter where the heroine was being chained to a bed in order to be raped by a drunken lout.

I was riveted, quite oblivious to the fact that a tornado was, indeed, about to rip through my town. The first image is about two miles from where I live and the second is only three blocks. Yeah, it was that close.

Yesterday, my husband and I trekked down the Delaware River banks to observe the damage at the bridge. It was humbling to see the evidence of Nature’s wrath, her ability to render tall young trees into scattered timber. 

Despite the danger, there is something about storms that always invigorates my spirit, provides grist for my poetry.  Here is an example.

Perhaps I’d view storms less romantically if it were my roof laying on the street. But somehow I doubt it.  Storms—like highly operatic melodramas—ease my own interior chaos like nothing else.

However, the next time my phone alarms with a tornado warning, I will take my friend’s advice and bring my book, my candles, and my loved ones down to my nasty basement. As much as I adore storms, I’d rather not star in my own melodrama.

Speaking of melodrama, here is my spoiler-ridden discussion of V.C. Andrews’ Pearl in the Mist. I am working my way through all of the V.C. Andrews series and loving every minute of it. If you’re a V.C. Andrews fan, please let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

On a different note, I just started a Patreon to help support my writing and my YouTube channel. My patron perks include weekly vlogs, ebooks, merch, and even personalized tarot readings by our own Batilda Belfry so please give it a look.

 

Whatever Happened to Gothic Romance?

I loved visiting my Aunt Rita when I was a kid. Her little brick house in Doylestown, PA was not only warm and cozy, it was also a few blocks away from a castle. Seriously, it’s called Font Hill, and here is a photo of it.

 

Widowed at a very young age, my Aunt Rita was a single mother who developed her talent for art, music, gardening, and pop psychology.  She was also an avid reader. Every visit to her house was an exercise in art emersion and mind expansion.  It was also the place where my much older teenage cousin kept a store of great rock albums, Mad Magazines, and underground comics, but that’s for a different blog topic.

One thing I loved to do whenever I visited her house was read from her seemingly never-ending stack of Gothic romance books. As a collector and reader of this brand of pulp fiction, I often wonder why the genre fell out of favor with readers. Or did it just evolve into Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer? I enjoy Twilight, but somehow, the Cullen’s high-tech Washington home does not manifest the same chills as Wuthering Heights or Manderley. Nor can their mountain-top vampy ball games compete with bareback rides through the moors. I still long for the girl running away from the castle.

It is generally agreed that the Gothic literature genre began with Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto. From there, the blackened vine wove its way through Ann Radcliffe and the Brontes. But what we know as modern Gothic romance probably began with Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.

The distressed heroine is so meek she isn’t even named in the novel, and yet her goodness wins out against the “ghost” of wealthy Maxim DeWinter’s beautiful and accomplished former wife. The sweeping English estate, Manderly, is as much of a character as any other.

Recently, while preparing to write in the classic Gothic romance genre, I consulted a book written by Dean Koontz about the craft of genre writing. The book came out in the mid-70s, so much of it was outdated, like what is the ideal typing paper to purchase. But I took to heart his advice about not veering too far from the expected tropes. These include the virginal young governess type who arrives at the estate to fulfill some job. She is often an ophan, impoverished, but dignified and smart. Her status at the estate is far below the owner, but one step or more above the domestic staff which usually includes a hostile housekeeper. Mrs. Danvers exemplifies the trope perfectly. The lord of the manor is the Byronic hero personified. He is remote but charming. His reputation is stained from some past indiscretion. He is the subject of local gossip. The nearby village of “common folk” is often featured as a homey contrast to the corrupting influence of the grand estate. As our heroine attempts to perform her job, creepy supernatural events cause her to question her dashing but dangerous employer and inadvertently lead her into his arms.

In his chapter on Gothic romance, Koontz stressed that the “love scenes” should never go past gentle kisses and brief caresses and that the heroine should not be the “women’s lib type” because she will turn off readers. Interesting.

Perhaps the best primer in Gothic romance comes from the TV sensation Dark Shadows. Even before Barnabas Collins makes an appearance, young governess Victoria Winters grapples with the strange events at Collinwood, and soaks up some local color at the Blue Whale. I collect and read the accompanying books written by Marilyn Ross (W.E.D. Ross, the prolific genre writer) and they follow Koontz’s checklist to a T.

Did the Gothic romance genre evolve into domestic noir such as Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train as the article listed below suggests? Possibly.

The 2020 release of Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia offered high hopes for a return of the genre. Although the book was well-received, I found it lackluster.  By making the heroine a “strong female character ” who pushes back against the patriarchy instead of focusing on her vulnerability and inner strength to overcome the doom-filled environment, the author missed the mark. In that respect, I think Koontz was right.

I attempted in my own way, to meet the criteria of the genre in my recently completed Gothic romance novella, Ravenscroft Hall. Read if for free on Wattpad.

 

I made this video a while ago. My obsession continues. If you’re a fan of Gothic Romance, please comment below with any of your favorites.

Additional reading:

A Glimpse of Genre: The Gothic Romance

The Girl in the Mansion: How Gothic Romances Became Domestic Noirs

New Novel Inspirations – Carnival Horror

The new novel I’m working on, titled Carni, will be my first attempt at writing carnival horror, a sub-genre that includes killer clowns, freak shows, and tunnels of love leading straight to hell.

My story is set in South Jersey, specifically Burlington Island, 300 acres of wilderness wedged in between Jersey and PA on the Delaware River. The island has an interesting history that I’m using as a springboard for my creepy carnival story.

Burlington Island from the PA side

Called Matennecunk by the Lenape natives, the island became the location of New Jersey’s first recorded murder when two Dutchmen were slain by Lenape braves in 1671. No, my story will not include an “old Indian burial ground” filled with vengeful ghosts. I think that cliché has been done to death by now. That’s not to say I won’t be using established genre tropes because I always do. Creepy clown anyone? But I will be attempting, in my own way, to give them a fresh merry-go-round spin.

Island Beach Amusement Park

What inspired my story, besides the island itself, was that it was once the location of an amusement park called Island Beach. Judging by the old photos, it was quite a popular attraction. A fire in the 1920s ended the fun, however, and the island changed hands and purposes. It is currently owned by the state of New Jersey and is used for mining sand and gravel, thus the man-made lagoon at the island’s center. Clean-up efforts persist to this day, as do occasional exploration into the rusty relics of the island’s past lives. I’ve never set a foot on its banks, but I hope to soon. I want to absorb its essence for my story. I’ll probably absorb plenty of mosquito bites and Poison Ivy as well, but it’s all in a day’s work.

I begin my story with the fire at the carnival and who set it (all fictional). My villain is the Island Beach mascot called Carni, a killer clown inspired by Coney Island’s Steeplechase Jack—can’t tell me that grin isn’t creepy, and Alfundo, the Dorney Park mascot featured on this wonderful sign I remember from visiting Dorney as a kid. A fire in the mid-1980s destroyed most of Dorney’s original small-town charm, but the park is still there.

Dorney Park’s Alfundo
The Dorney Park fire

Creaky wooden rides erupting into sudden flames, roller coasters becoming derailed, creepy clowns with Glasgow grins, that persistent legend of the kid who lost his arm in the fun-house machinery—these are what adds those extra chills to the carnival thrills. As part of my story mapping, I’m not only recalling my own fond memories of being deliciously scared at carnivals and amusement parks, but I’m also revisiting some carnival-themed works like Dean Koontz’s The Fun House and classic horror films like Freaks and Carnival of Souls. From the unsettling strains of the calliope to the rough-trade roustabout who just might mess with the gears on that ride, there is always danger lurking within, and just outside, the midway’s colored lights. Isn’t it fun!

My latest video, adding to the discussion.

 

Read What Thou Wilt

Last week, I wrote a blog post about intuitive writing, a concept I’m finding useful while working on my current writing projects.

Yesterday, I finished a short story for a new BookTuber anthology that will be coming out in a few months. It took me about a week to get it to where I needed it to be. As many fiction writers know, short stories can be more challenging than full-length novels. I’m never completely satisfied, but when I find myself changing back things I already changed in the editing process, I know it’s time to let it go. Also, finding a reliable proofreader is always a challenge. Anyway, it’s gone through the internet chute and now I’m back to writing my new horror novel, which I will be attacking this week with a daily 3,000-word count—my goal is to finish it by the fall. But Sunday is my blogging and reading day so here I am.

Yesterday, I posted a video about what I’ve been reading lately, bemoaning the fact that I’m no longer accepting ARC copies to review because I don’t want my reading to feel like a chore. I want to support indie authors, but at the same time, I’m not really a reviewer. Or rather, it’s not my ambition to establish myself as a book reviewer per se. I’m just a lifelong reader who likes to discuss books. I like to hear what other people are reading too. I’m an emotional reader and I’m not ashamed of it.

Just recently, one of my favorite BookTubers with a popular channel put out a statement to defend his right to “pleasure read” after being criticized for not reading the books authors sent him. As an indie author myself, I empathize with trying to draw attention to one’s book. A positive review from someone with a large platform can create a real buzz. As someone who does both, writing and BookTubing, I am flattered when one of my books gets reviewed by a peer. But I don’t push it because I know what it feels like from the other end. Nothing makes me resist reading more than feeling forced into it. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. If I wanted to subject myself to compulsory reading, I’d go back to school.

My reading tends to be all over the place and I’m okay with that. To illustrate, I am currently reading Moby Dick in tandem with a V.C. Andrews pulp novel. I love them both! Like many of us, I think of reading as my great escape. I can get into a seafaring adventure story as much as a family melodrama. As a commenter on one of my videos recently pointed out, if someone can watch several TV series at once (and most of us do) then why not read several books at once? He’s right, of course. Sometimes you want a little pulp, sometimes something more substantial. Both are valid if you enjoy them.

It’s good to remember the readers’ bill of rights: read what thou wilt.