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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.

 

Featured

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.”

* * *

I confronted Dad the next day. He was stringing the last set of Christmas lights on the big pine tree in the front yard. Mom was watching from the  living room picture window with her arms crossed. She was mad because it was Christmas Eve, and he was just putting the lights up now.

Carrie was running around  trying to catch snowflakes on her tongue. Buck had borrowed Dad’s truck (again) to drive to Freddie’s bar, so when Dad asked me to hold the ladder for him, I thought it was a great time to bring up the subject while earning some brownie points.

“Hey, Dad?” The ladder shook and creaked as he advanced up the rungs. I gripped the side rails tightly.

“Yeah?”

“Is Uncle Buck going to spend every Christmas with us?”

Dad stretched with a grunt to place a lasso of lights around the tree’s tippy-top. “I don’t know. Why?”

“Because Carrie doesn’t like him.”

Carrie heard me and ran over.

“You don’t like him either, Lisa!”

I gave her a look, but it was too late. Dad was heading down the ladder. “You know,” he said, wiping his hands on his jeans. “Christmas is about being kind to people.”

Carrie and I bowed our heads. The toe of my boot made a half-circle in the light layer of snow on the ground.

“It’s not just about you two getting presents,” he continued. “Maybe you should think about that. Your Uncle Buck loves you both.”

That was hard to believe, although he tried to kiss me once. He reeked of stale beer, and his whiskers ripped into my cheek as I twisted from his grasp.

“But Lisa said he smells,” Carrie whined.

“I did not!”

“You did too!”

“That’s enough!” Dad picked up the ladder and moved it to the other side of the tree to distribute the lights equally.

Perhaps sensing trouble, Mom opened the front door. She looked thin and pale in the blue wintery light. “Come on in, girls.” She brushed her long brown hair from her eyes. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

As Carrie and I trudged sullenly toward the house, I sidled up to her to give her a hard pinch. She deserved it, and it couldn’t have hurt much because she had on her new ski jacket. Still, never missing an opportunity for drama, she squealed and ran ahead. I didn’t care if I got in trouble. She’d messed up my entire plan.

Carrie huddled under Mom’s arm. “Lisa’s mean,” she whined. “She pinched me and—“

I rejoiced when Mom cut her off to call to Dad, “Shouldn’t Buck be back by now?”

“Hell if I know.” Dad sounded irritable as he struggled to untangle another string of lights that someone (probably me) had tossed willy-nilly back into the box last year.

“I was just wondering with the storm and all,” she said, worriedly.  More than flurries now, the snowflakes were fat and just starting to stick to the ground like white lace.

“He’ll be back. For Christ’s sake, whoever put these lights away…”

Mom closed the door and told us to set the table. She sounded a little pissed off. Carrie trailed behind Mom like she always does when she’s not getting her way, so I set the dining room table by myself. We were using the special Christmas china with the reindeers running around the edges of the plates. I placed the tall red candles in the brass holders with the little plastic holy wreathes around the bottoms. Looking at the table gave me a warm, Christmasy  feeling until Dad came crashing through the front door, bringing with him a blast of cold air. His nose was red as he pulled off his hat and gloves.

“Hey, it’s getting bad out there,” he said as Mom poked her head out from the kitchen. “Think I should go look for Buck?”

* * *

An hour later, Mom had her arms around Carrie and me as all three of us stood at the picture window watching the snow batter against the pane. Mom turned off the living room lights when it became dark enough to see our worried faces in the glass. The Christmas tree sparkled from the corner of the living room, but it gave little cheer without Dad.

“Mom, I’m hungry,” said Carrie.

“Go and eat your dinner then,” Mom said. “Lisa, you too.”

I tightened my arms around her waist. “No, I’ll stay here and watch for Dad.”

“Okay,” Mom said, kissing the top of my head as Carrie padded away.

“Do you think they got stuck in the storm?” I asked.

She sighed. “I don’t know, honey. Maybe I’d better—“

“What?”

She pulled away from me without answering.

“Mom, can I have more milk?” asked Carrie as Mom passed through the dining room. But Mom ignored her, for once, and walked straight to the wall phone in the kitchen and picked up the receiver.

I followed. “What’s wrong?”

She placed the receiver back in the cradle and rested her chin against it for a moment. “The storm must have knocked out the phone line.”

A shock ran through me like the time I stupidly stuck my thumb in a light socket. Mom must have sensed my panic because she said, “Don’t worry, honey.” But her face looked tense as she crossed the kitchen to the little mud room where we keep our winter coats and boots.

“Mom?” Carrie, milk mustache dripping, still held her glass in the air like she expected Mom to wait on her hand and foot.

“She’s got more important things to do right now,” I snapped as I retrieved the milk carton from the fridge.

“Like what?”

I filled up her glass. “Like none of your business. Now drink your milk and shut up.”

Carrie swung her foot to kick me, but, ha-ha, she missed.

Mom came out of the mud room bundled up in her long down coat and new knit hat. The scarf grandma made was wrapped around her throat several times. Dad’s big flashlight was clutched in one of her mittened hands.

“Mom?”

“Take care of your sister, Lisa,” Mom said, heading for the front door. “And Carrie, you be good.”

“Where are you going?” Carrie jumped to her feet. She must have been scared because I’ve never seen her leave any food on her plate.

On panicked feet, we tracked Mom to the door.

“I’m going to look for your father.” Mom tested the flashlight.

“Are you driving?” My voice cracked.

“No, honey. Daddy took my car. I’m just going to walk a little way down the road. Freddie’s is not that far.”

I knew for a fact that Freddie’s wasn’t that far away because one time Uncle Buck, who maybe had a bit too much to drink that day, bribed me into riding my bike there to buy him a few cigars. He gave me a twenty-dollar bill and told me to keep the change. It took me maybe ten minutes to ride there, but I was sorely disappointed when the bartender refused to sell me any tobacco products because I was only nine, and not only that, she called my house. Mom was waiting for me in the driveway when I pedaled back home, and boy, was she pissed!

She and Dad had “words” about Uncle Buck. The worse part was she made me give back the money.

It wasn’t that far by bike, but walking in a snowstorm in the dark?

“Mom, don’t go!” I hugged her waist tightly, and Carrie did the same on the other side. Mom hesitated for a moment as if weighing her options, but then she slowly wiggled out of our grasps and said, “I won’t be long. If the electricity goes out while I’m gone, light the candles. There are more in the top drawer of the buffet.”

I gulped.

She opened the door, and a cloud of snowflakes rushed in. Carrie and I stood hugging ourselves on the threshold, watching Mom walk away until the light from her flashlight faded into the darkness and Carrie started blubbering about being cold.

No sense in both of us getting pneumonia. Mom had put me in charge, and now I had to put on a brave face for Carrie’s sake.

I shut the door and led my sister to the living room sofa. She was shivering, so I took Grandma’s crocheted quilt off the recliner and covered her with it, tucking the edges around her butt the way I’d seen Mom do.

“Are you still hungry?” I asked, being really nice to her.

“No-no-no…” And then she opened her mouth and wailed, “I want Mommy to come back!”

Needing to distract her, I located the remote between the cushions and flipped on Rudolph, our favorite Christmas show. Our cat, Bony, jumped into Carrie’s lap and began purring as if sensing her distress.

“See, Bony here’s, and he loves you,” I said, laying it on thick now.

Pouting, Carrie hugged our ashy white cat to her chest as if he was one of her stuffed animals. His skinny tail whipped through the air, which is a thing it does when he’s annoyed.

We named him Bony (actually, it was my idea) because no matter how much he eats—and it’s a lot—he always stays a skinny mini.

Now, I would have loved to sit there and watch Rudolph too, but now that I was in charge, I couldn’t afford to indulge in childhood pleasures. So instead, I went back to the dining room to light the candles, just in case. I had just blown out the match when something awful happened.

The lights went out fo real.

Carrie screamed, and when I ran back to her, I tripped over one of the dining room chairs and crashed face-first onto the carpet.

* * *

I must have passed out for a minute or two because I awoke to the sound of Carrie whimpering. I was aware of flickering candlelight and the wind bashing so hard against the walls of our house, I thought it might fly into the air like Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz.

Stunned, I sat up and asked Carrie if my nose looked broken.

“You have a big nose anyway, Lisa,” she said between sobs. “It’s hard to tell.”

I was about to pinch her for that rude comment when a loud bang at the front door sent us leaping to our feet.

“Mom?” we said in unison.

There was no answer except a whistle of wind and a branch scratching against the kitchen window pane.

Carrie pressed a finger to her lips and shook her head so that her bangs made a fringed curtain over her eyes. “It’s not Mom,” she whispered. I smelled the fear on her breath.

A sound like footsteps crunching through snow moved around to the side of our house. The mud room doorknob rattled. If it had been Mom or Dad they’d know that the key broke off in that lock months ago (I swear, it wasn’t me this time). Dad still hadn’t gotten around to fixing it, and Mom was still pissed about it.

Gripping the back of the dining room chair, I held my breath and stared at the spaghetti sauce running like blood from the noodles on my untouched plate.

“Lisa,” Carrie whispered, bouncing up and down on her stockinged feet.

The footsteps hurried back to the front door followed by a great pounding against the wood.  “Let me in, will ya? Tommy!” That was my dad’s name. “Yo, Brenda!” My mom’s. “Come on. I’m freezing my balls off out here.”

“Uncle Buck?”

“Yeah, kiddo.”

Don’t think he ever learned our names. We were always both ‘kiddo.’

He pounded again, but with less force. “Come on.” Then he muttered something about “little brats” and I knew he meant us.

“Where’s Mom and Dad?” I shouted at the door.

“How the hell should I know? I’m getting frostbite out here. Open the damn door, or I’ll break it down!” The door handle rattled.

Carrie fell at my feet and grabbed my ankles in a dramatic gesture of submission I will remind her of someday. “Don’t open it, Lisa!” she cried.

Of course, I should let Uncle Buck in, but why was I stalling? And why was Carrie so scared?

Carrie clung to me as I dragged her across the carpet to the door.

I unlatched the dead bolt, and Uncle Buck barreled inside. If we hadn’t jumped out of his way, he would have knocked us over like bowling pins.

Buck shouldered the door shut against the harsh wind and snowfall that had changed to shards of slanting ice.

“Get your Uncle Buck a brandy, will ya, kiddo?”

“What for?” My knees knocked together from fear and cold.

He removed the snow-crusted shell of his coat, gloves, and knit cap. Beneath all those layers he a wore a bright red Santa sweatshirt and mismatched red sweatpants, hanging so low I could see the top of his tighty whities, which didn’t look very white. Yuck! His big pot belly stretched the girth of the printed black belt, completing the look. “Saint Bernards carry brandy flasks to revive men who get trapped in blizzards.”

Was he comparing me to a dog?

Bony perched on top of the recliner with an arched back, gazing at Uncle Buck with feline contempt.

“Christ, don’t they teach you nothing in school?” He stomped his way into the kitchen. “What’s wrong with her?” He poked a red and raw finger at Carrie, who had fallen prostrate on the floor.

“She’s scared,” I said, defending her for once. Uncle Buck did look like the Abominable Snowman from Rudolph when he first came inside.

She’s scared?” A kitchen cabinet door creaked open. “What about me?”

“What about you?”  I sounded mean, but did I care? Nope.

“Try walking through this shit. I missed the road and ended up at some farm.”

“Wendig’s farm?”

He shrugged. “Hell if I know.” He gulped down the brandy in one shot and proceeded to pour in more. The snow on his face had melted some; his cheeks were red on top, hairy on bottom. “I knocked, but the pricks wouldn’t answer. It’s not like I was trying to rob ’em or nothing.”

I was thinking that Mr. and Mrs. Wendig were really old and probably didn’t hear him, but whatever.

“Jesus H. Christ,” he muttered as he opened another cabinet. “I can’t see a damn thing. Can’t you light some more candles or something?”

I didn’t like the way he was pushing me around, but I didn’t like the darkness either, so I did what he asked. I placed all the candles we had, some in jars, some in holders, on the coffee table and breakfast bar and lit them up. The piney scent was pleasant—almost masking Uncle Buck’s stench which seemed to have worsened despite his walk through the cold air—but the effect was eerie. Our Christmas tree cast a long shadow on the ceiling so that it appeared like a monster looming over us. Carrie started whimpering again, so I helped her off and floor and led her back to the sofa where she immediately curled up under the quilt.

It was her only defense. Now I had to deal with the situation alone.

My nerves tingling, but trying hard to stay calm, I wandered into the kitchen where I found Uncle Buck pouring more brandy down his gullet. When he was done, he smacked his lips loudly and then poured himself another one. The entire bottle was almost gone.

 “What happened to Mom and Dad?” I asked.

Uncle Buck rolled his gaze toward me. The centers of his eyes had a yellowish cast I’d never noticed before. Maybe it was the candlelight, or too much alcohol.

“My guess,” he said after a loud belch. “Is that they’re both holed-up at Freddie’s. I should have stayed there, but I wanted to spend Christmas eve with youse guys.” He said it like he was doing us a favor. “I hope your dad’s not too pissed about his truck.”

I folded my arms over my chest, trying to appear tough, but really to stop myself from shaking. “Why? What happened to it?”

“Drove it into a ditch, but it wasn’t my fault.”

It never is.

He tossed his head back to swallow more of Dad’s special occasion brandy, but then he winced suddenly. He slammed down the glass so hard I thought it might break and touched the side of his neck. He held his fingers to the candlelight and said, “That look like blood to you?”

I jumped back when I saw the red wetness on his fingertips. “Yes.”

“Shit.” He picked up the bottle of brandy by the neck and carried it into the living room. He headed for the sofa where Carrie was. I followed to protect my sister and also because I was curious about the blood.

He dropped onto the sofa like a sack of potatoes, making the springs creak and Carrie’s end bounce.

“Let me have some of that blanket, kiddo.” When he pulled the quilt off Carrie’s shoulders, I saw she was trembling and sucking her thumb.

Uncle Buck began drinking straight from the bottle, which is something I’ve heard Dad say only bums do. The liquor dripped from the corners of his mouth, glistening on his whiskers. I was about to ask him how his beard grew so fast, when his head fell back, and his legs knees flopped open. “Take off my boots, will ya, kiddo?” he said.

“What?”

“Come on. Do it for your Uncle Buck.”

I knew Mom would be mad about the stains on the carpet. So, swallowing my pride, I knelt in front of Uncle Buck and started to unlace his boots, something I would only ever do for Dad.

“Are you sure Mom and Dad are at Freddie’s?” I asked.

“One-thousand percent. I must have just missed them. I shouldn’t have taken that short cut.” He meant the service road. Only an idiot would drive down a gravel road through a blizzard. He winked at me as if that would make it all better. “I’m wouldn’t lie about that, kiddo.” His words sounded garbled and weird like his tongue was too big for his mouth or something.

I yanked off one boot and then the other. The smell was awful.

Uncle Buck let out a big sigh of relief and rested his head against the back of the sofa. Carrie was silent. I prayed she hadn’t died from fear or something.

I stood and carried the boots—as far as possible from my nose—to the rubber mat next to the front door.

“Fetch me a towel from the kitchen, will ya, kiddo?” he called after me.

“Why?”

“My damn neck’s bleeding again.”

I knew Mom wouldn’t like him bleeding on her dish towels, so I grabbed a roll of paper towels instead.

“What happened to it?” I returned to the living room and tossed the roll onto his lap while still remaining a safe distance from his smelly feet.

“Fucking dog bit me. Excuse my French.”

Didn’t sound French to me, but whatever.

“What kind of dog?” Seemed like a reasonable question.

“German Shepherd, I think, but a big one. I went into a barn to escape the storm, and the fucker jumped me. I hope he ain’t got rabies. If I still had ole Schmoke to protect me…” Tears welled up in his yellowish eyes as he pressed the wad of paper towels against his neck.

I noticed his sweatpants had a tear in the crotch. “Why are you dressed up like Santa Claus?”

“Supposed to be a Christmas party at Freddie’s tonight. I was hoping I could get some young ladies to sit on Santa’s lap, if you know what I mean.” He winked again, but his eye hung lazily as if it required some effort.

“You should probably go to the hospital to get a rabies shot.”

“I ain’t going nowhere tonight.” The bottle was between his legs now. One of his hands was cupped around the neck in a very embarrassing way.  “Remember, kiddo,” he slurred, closing his eyes. “The Buck stops here.” He chuckled at the dumb joke I had heard him say a hundred times, and then he fell asleep. His mouth hung open in a very unattractive way. I noticed for the first time how sharp his teeth were.

Soon, Uncle Buck was sawing logs, and Carrie was breathing with a whistle in her nose like she sometimes does. I was tired too, but there was no way I could sleep, not until Mom and Dad were safe at home with us.

I figured it had to be at least midnight. I walked to the kitchen and after checking the phone—still dead—I leaned over the kitchen sink, rubbed away the fog from the windowpane, and pressed my face against the glass to watch for any sign of a car or a flashlight piercing the blackness.

There was nothing.

Except —a growl like there was a wild dog trapped in our house. Had the rabid German shepherd tracked Uncle Buck here? Before I could reason out the logistics of that possibility, there was a crash followed by Carrie’s high-pitched wail. Bony flew out of the room with a screech and then disappeared  into the shadows, proving cats are a lot smarter than humans. I should have high-tailed it out of there too. Instead, I ran back to the living room and…

Froze.

Uncle Buck was standing next to our demolished Christmas tree. Only now, his sweatpants and Santa sweatshirt were in tatters with only pieces of red cloth clinging to his fur. Yes, I said fur—black and matted, disgusting fur that smelled like a wet dog, only a hundred times worse. He’d grown too, so much so he had to stoop to keep his head from touching the ceiling, and his long arms were so long they swept the floor.

I looked around for Carrie and spotted her hiding behind the recliner. Her face like a ghost’s.

Uncle Buck thew back his  head, which had changed to a giant wolf’s head and howled with such force I swear the floor shook beneath my socks.

Worse, I peed my pants. But I had no time to register any humiliation. I had to think and think fast.

I saw Carrie crawling toward me, mouthing the word “help” like a guppy gulping for air. But before I could even hatch an escape plan, Uncle Buck, now fully transformed into a werewolf, lunged at us with his enormous taloned paws.

We screamed and cowered before the beast, already accepting our fates. But then something happened that I can only attribute to divine intervention on account it was now Christmas Day. The werewolf’s hoof-like feet had gotten tangled in a string of lights from off the tree. As the monster stepped forward to finish us off, he dragged the fallen Christmas tree behind him which then hit the coffee table with all the candles on it.

And—WHOOSH!

The Christmas tree ignited in flames.

Still entangled in the tree, the werewolf growled viciously as he batted the swirling flames with his paws. I grabbed Carrie and ran for dear life. When I opened the front door, a cold draft blasted in from outside, feeding the flames.

The beast let out a howl that sent us flying across the yard, our feet barely touching the snowy ground until Carrie screamed that Bony was still trapped inside. She went limp, refusing to move. It was then I realized that neither of were wearing shoes and the snow was knee-deep.

I looked back at our house for any signs of our cat. By now, violent orange flames filled the open doorway, and black smoke gushed from our bedroom window.  Carrie started crying about Bony, but then we heard his meow. He was on top of the shed looking at us like, “what took you so long?”

We hardly had any time to celebrate Bony’s survival, when from inside the house came an agonized wail.

I screamed as the werewolf blasted like buckshot out of the front door. A running torch now, he stumbled toward us, big hairy paws clawing the air. Again, I thought, this is the end. But Uncle Buck was always kind of awkward, and fresh hope rose in me as I watched him tumble face-first into a snowdrift. His legs and arms paddled the ground like a snow angel, or maybe snow devil. It was a pitiful sight, really.

With no time to waste, I held onto Carrie, who I am sure had also peed her pants by now, and rushed her down our driveway toward the road.

But like Lot’s wife in the Bible, I couldn’t resist looking back at the inferno that had once been our house. Shades of orange and darkness filled the space where the werewolf had lain in the snow. But he was gone, which meant he…

was still alive!

“Come on, Carrie!”

We turned and ran down the road, which was hard because the snow was deep, and we weren’t wearing boots. I think Carrie was in shock because she was quiet, too quiet for once. I started thinking that we may just freeze to death and wondering if that would be better than being eaten by a werewolf when a flashlight’s beam cut through the gloom.

“Lisa! Carrie!” Dad shouted, his knees stirring up clouds of white powder as he ran toward us. The snowfall had softened to flurries once again, and a big full moon shone through the hazy night’s sky.

“Daddy!” Carrie and I screamed as we ran to him, not even feeling the frost nipping at our wet feet.

Mom was shuffling a few yards behind Dad, but she soon caught up, and we all had a big reunion in the middle of the road. Dad told us they were trapped by the storm and stayed at Freddie’s to wait it out. Taking off his coat to drape around us, he asked if we had seen Buck.

“Yeah, he came back,” I said, but before I could tell them everything that had happened, Dad and Mom both smelled the smoke and ran toward what was left of our house.

When Carrie and I caught up with them, which wasn’t easy because we were like conjoined twins inside Dad’s coat, Mom was kneeling in the snow at the end of the driveway crying and Dad was comforting her.

“Okay,” I said, catching my breath. “I can explain what happened. Uncle Buck showed up and he turned into a werewolf, and he knocked over the Christmas tree, and…”

They didn’t believe me.

And Carrie, the little suck-up, totally failed to back me up. “Lisa did it!” she sobbed. “She put the candles too close to the tree and—“

“Liar!” I screamed.

Dad yelled, “Shut your mouths!” and then he started crying too, and that was the end of that.

Carrie climbed into Dad’s arms like the baby she was. He noticed her wet feet and tucked them into his sweater to warm them. I was about to ask, “What about me?” when a snowplow’s headlights came around the corner. Dad flagged it down, and soon we were all huddled inside the cab, a lot warmer, but still very upset.

I hated seeing my parents cray, especially my Dad, but he might have felt better if he’d only listened. Then he would have understood that Uncle Buck hadn’t died in the flames. He was a werewolf, sure, and pretty burnt up I guess, but still alive. Still out there.

* * *

Everything turned out okay because Dad used the insurance money to build us a new house, and Mom seems happy about it. A year flew by, and all of us got over the trauma of that night.

It’s Christmas Eve again, and I’m in my new room—no more sharing with Carrie, thank you very much. I close my eyes because the sooner I go to sleep, the sooner I’ll wake up to presents. Mark Batters is a jerk now, and I hate him, and I don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. Still, I like getting presents, and—

What’s that noise on the roof?

I fly from my bed to look out the window. A big yellow moon penetrates the sky’s soft cloud covering. I stare at it, hypnotized by the hazy beauty, when a dark shadow from outside blocks my view. Could Dad be hanging up Christmas lights at this hour?

“Dad, is that you?”

My voice trembles because I can’t believe what I’m seeing: yellow eyes surrounded by singed fur and big black paws with sharp claws clinging to the window ledge.

Before I can scream, the werewolf opens its mouth—saliva stringing between its sharp white fangs—and says, “Hi ya, kiddo. Ho ho howl!”

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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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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.

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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.

 

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Kindle Vella – a Writer’s (and Reader’s) Perspective

Amazon’s new episodic fiction platform, Kindle Vella, launched last week, and a lot of writers have already jumped on the bandwagon, myself included. So, let’s take a look at how Vella is stacking up against what I imagine is its chief competitor: Wattpad.

As a Wattpad star and Watty winner, I’ve had a lot of success on that platform and have enjoyed the experience every step of the way. I especially enjoy the social interaction on Wattpad. It’s fun to chat with readers in the comments and offer suggestions to other writers via book clubs and contests. Politeness and positivity are encouraged.

Wattpad started as a free reading platform and has slowly adapted its business model to include a paid membership (no ads and a choice of profile color) and now offers paid stories redeemed with purchased “coins.” The latter seems to be Amazon’s inspiration for Kindle Vella, an app where readers may access stories (the first three episodes are free) by purchasing tokens. Additional features include author’s notes at the end of each episode. Readers may voice their approval with a thumbs up or by rewarding their favorite story with a coveted crown by redeeming tokens.

Caught up in the hype and eager to get in on the ground floor like many of my fellow authors, I uploaded the first eighteen episodes of my epic fantasy Starlex to Vella. The multi-character POVs and various plotlines seemed ideal for serialized fiction. For my launch, I did the requisite email blast and ran some Facebook ads. But after all the effort, my story is pretty much dead in the water. Not even a crown! (cue sad queen face).

Scrolling through the comments on some of the Facebook groups I belong to, I see that I’m not alone in my struggle to find readers. Part of the problem, for me perhaps, is that I’m trying out a new genre. I usually write horror so there hasn’t been much reader transfer. It’s also possible that readers haven’t yet discovered the new platform despite all the promotion authors have been doing, or maybe there is just too much damn competition. I’ve already detected notes of despair among some authors’ comments, some already expressing a desire to give up. Maybe there is too much expectation to strike Amazon gold. I went in with the attitude of experimentation so I am fine with diligently updating my story every few days along with a Facebook post boost expecting little returns and being pleasantly surprised if someone discovers my story.

Depressing? I suppose that depends on one’s perspective and is a topic for another blog.

On to the Vella reading experience. Stories are divided into episodes (akin to Wattpad’s parts vs. chapters). Leading up to Vella’s launch, there were plenty of discussions in the Facebook groups about how serial fiction differs from a standard novel approach. From the stories I sampled there doesn’t seem to be much distinction. There is, however, a lot of talent on display here. The stories I read were decent genre fiction I hope will attract a readership.

Comparing my reading experience on Vella to Wattpad, I have to say Wattpad wins out on two fronts. One, Wattpad offers a clever feature where the reader is shown how much time is left in the chapter. This is useful, like Kindle’s progress feature, for readers to gauge if they want to stick out the chapter (part, episode) or put it down for now. Vella’s episodes vary from 500 to 6,000 words so there is a lot of range. Coins are redeemed according to word count.

The second drawback is the reader’s inability to leave comments. After giving a thumbs up, I found myself returning to the Facebook groups to give a quick take on what I read and to offer words of encouragement, the same type of give and take that is part of the Wattpad experience. There are many conversations happening on Facebook that could be taking place on Vella. Vella does offer readers opportunities to leave a review (stars and comments) in typical Amazon style and there is apparently a return policy where readers may redeem their tokens if they’re unhappy with the story. Authors understandably are already taking issue with this feature given readers may read the entire story before requesting a return. Obviously, there is still some tweaking to be done.

So, what is your opinion? Are you checking out Kindle Vella as a reader or writer, or both? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you have any favorite stories to share, please let me know. I believe online fiction sites will continue to develop, hopefully offering more opportunities for writers to share their stories. But is there any real money to be made? Time and talent may tell.

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Vella Story Launch and Mid-Year Reading Wrap-up

Kindle Vella

Kindle’s new reader platform, Vella, launched today and I have a story on it. Check out Starlex, my interstellar fantasy. I’ll be adding new episodes every week for what will eventually be a two-season epic!  Be sure to give it a thumbs up to help more people discover the story in this brand-new app.

I belong to several Vella authors groups on FaceBook and there are over 2,000 writers involved! Obviously, it is competing with Wattpad. I knew when I joined Wattpad that it was pioneering an excellent idea. I don’t plan to transfer my stories from Wattpad to Vella any time soon, but I thought I’d dip my pen in and try it out.

Speaking of Wattpad, I have a new gothic romance story I’ve been uploading regularly. The first draft is finished. I wrote that story consistently for most of the summer. It’s my first foray into vampire romance so exploring that genre and mixing it in with classic gothic tropes has been fun. I may even develop this story into a series depending on the reader response I get.

Do you plan on using Vella as a reader or writer, or both? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Mid-Year Reading Wrap-up

I can’t believe I’ve read thirty-four books so far this year! I discuss all the highs and lows in my latest BookTube video.

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More Writing Advice: Believe in Yourself

Because no one else will.

At least not at first.

Late last night, after working my “day job” as a theater “roustabout,” I received the fantastic news that my screenplay, Unmasked, was chosen as a finalist for the Best Horror Feature Screenplay Award at the Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival. A few months ago, on a whim, I entered my screenplay into a bunch of film festivals. So far, I’ve heard back from two. It won fourth place at The International Horror Hotel, and now it’s up for another award.

Look for rainbows and you’ll find them.

I’m thrilled! Unmasked was the first feature-length screenplay I ever attempted to write, the first draft produced in a weekend fever dream over a decade ago. Since then, I’ve written many novels and other works, but Unmasked convinced me I could do it.

I don’t think there is one writer, professional or novice, who doesn’t feel a level of terror when facing the blank page. I’ve written about this before. There is always trepidation, the fear that you can’t do it. The only way to prove to yourself that you can do it is to sit down and do it.

Easy right? Not really. I think what holds most creatives back, and I’m certainly not immune, is that it takes a great deal of self-belief even to attempt a creative endeavor, let alone complete it and work it to some level of competence. Framed another way, you’ll never prove to yourself how incompetent you really are unless you try. The dreaded I suck! fear is probably the number one reason most of us make excuses about why we can’t do something.

I’m telling you, you can. But it takes work. And practice. Most of all, it takes belief in yourself. We’ve all seen examples of mediocre talents who’ve gone on to have tremendous success because of their unwavering confidence in their abilities. They shake off criticism like a dog after a dunk; they keep pushing forward no matter what. As annoying as some of these creatives are—Madonna, I have you in my sights—you have to admire their tenacity.

Conversely, there is another type of which many of us are all too familiar. You may count yourself among them. I’m referring to the creative person with immense talent who never seems to complete any project, or worse, has a self-destructive bent. I’ve seen it manifest in many ways. In fact, I’ve explored that destructive messaging myself in my work, including UNMASKED, which is essentially a horror story about a dysfunctional family. I know the territory all too well.

If you can turn your pain into art, people will respond to it.

Believing in yourself means showing up for work every day without expecting any accolades. Keep working and keep pushing forward. People will start to notice. You’ll gain fans and maybe even turn it into a lucrative venture. I’m still waiting for the latter, but in the meantime, I’ll keep working on it every day because I love it. If you are struggling with your creativity, start with self-belief and let the rest of the world catch up.

Read UNMASKED
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Another year, another Nano

I’ve decided to start this Monday morning’s NaNoWriMo writing stint by updating my long-neglected blog. This year has been strange, and with tomorrow’s Election Day looming, I expect it to get even weirder. But here I am doing another NaNoWriMo writing challenge. I feel more prepared this year than I ever have before. For one thing, since my Covid lay-off, I have a lot more time on my hands. That can be a blessing or a curse for procrastinators, but I’m usually good at knocking out my daily words first-thing in the morning when my brain is fresh, and the caffeine is pumping.

For this year’s Nano, I’m writing the sequel to my Wattpad fantasy book. It’s called Hyperia Rising, and I already have this lovely cover by Consuelo Parra to inspire me. I love using Wattpad to try out different genres. I know fantasy readers are a tough crowd to please, so before I release this into the Amazon jungle, I want to have at least three completed books in the series ready to go. But that’s getting ahead of myself. For now, I have to write this sucker, and I’m only 2000 words in. Here’s book one of the series on Wattpad if you’re interested taking a look.

I’m attempting to up my word count this year (50K is about half the average fantasy book). So, I’m setting the goal for least 2000 a day, maybe more if I’m feeling particularly inspired.

And because I’m not quite ready to face the blank page yet, here are some tips I’ve learned from doing previous Nanos (completed or not).

  • Write at the same time every day. It helps to establish the habit. I like to write in the morning before the world rushes in, and my brain is alert. Like exercising, getting it over early in the day keeps that dark cloud of procrastination from following me around. Find the time of day when you have the most energy and put in a good hour or writing with no interruptions.
  • Get in the zone. I listen to mediation music from the YouTube channel Yellow Brick Cinema every time I write. It’s become such a habit that just hearing the first droning chords signals my brain to get in the writing zone.
  • Just write. Don’t rewrite. This is difficult for me to do. When I know the sentence I just wrote is horrible, I do sometimes pause to revise, but in general, I try not to stop. I know I’ll be going over it again and again and again…
  • Know what you’re going to write each day. Some writers (planners) have elaborate outlines. Some make it up as they go along (pantsers). I do both. For this novel, because fantasy generally has more characters and complicated storylines, I created a more detailed outline than usual.
  • Try to complete your word count in one sitting.

Well, I think I’ve procrastinated enough this morning. The coffee is kicking in, and I’m ready to face the blank page. If you’re participating in NanoWriMo this year, feel free to add me as a buddy so we may spur on each other’s progress. Let’s have fun this year!

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