Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: “Memorable Characters” by Maynard Blackoak

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Memorable Characters

Maynard Blackoak

The enjoyable aspect, and sometimes the most challenging, of writing is creating characters with personalities that leap off the page. I tend to think of character development as adding flesh to words. If the people in the story do not seem real, the author has not done the tale justice. When the figures of a story take on a distinct life of their own, I feel like Doctor Frankenstein—instilling life upon a creature constructed from various corpses.

Another challenge of character development is to give each their own individual voice. As in real life, we all have our idiosyncrasies and personalities. It is what keeps the world from growing stagnant, and sometimes keeps it in conflict. Characters in a story should speak in different voices, even if the variances are slight or its reading will be monotonous.

Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West has many diverse characters, from despicable outlaws to sympathetic individuals. There are a few villainous figures that evoke mixed feelings. There are also a handful of seemingly good people whose actions are highly suspect. Choosing a personal favorite would be difficult at best. Still, a few stand out among the others.

First and perhaps foremost are the brothers, Kid Cooper and Cole the Younger from The Culling. To explain my affinity for these characters I should reveal they were modeled after my two grandsons. Using their personalities and the character of their parents as a basis, I aged them to adulthood and placed them in the old west. Perhaps I am a little biased, but I believe they made good cowboys.

Annie Shoulders from Willows of the Mourning Dove and Hattie from Deception at Skull Creek are characters that also stand out in my mind. Annie proves herself a strong woman with grit and determination. Hattie is as tough and clever as they come. Their characters are meant to showcase that strong women inhabited the wild west as well.

Some characters appear only briefly in a story, yet manage to make a memorable impact. Loki from The Most Killed Man in the West is one of those. He only appears twice in the story, though his final appearance will leave the reader with a grin.

For pure contemptible villainy, Boone Helm of Neither Friend nor Foe Wasted is as vile as they came in the old west. He cannibalized those he counted as friend and foe alike. Given that he was just as despicable in real life as he is in the story, makes him the type of character everyone loves to hate.

Rose Dunn from Cimarron Rose is a tragic figure from the Wild West. A star-crossed lover whose place in the world was unjustly removed, it is difficult to read her saga without hoping for the best for her. Her sad tale tugs at the heartstrings all the way to the final paragraph.

I am sure the readers of this collection will have their own favorites. With so many colorful and diverse characters from which to choose, I hope they find it as difficult to select a favorite as I did.

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: Interview with Maynard Blackoak

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Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West Interview – Horror Tree

1: What made you decide on the Wild West as a setting for these short stories?

I’ve always been fascinated by the old west. Plus, I come from a long line of ranchers and cowboys. Add in my own experiences of wrangling cattle on horseback and it was only natural that I wrote some kind of cowboy stories.

2: How do you find inspiration for writing?

Inspiration comes in many forms. Sometimes a song conjures images in my mind. Other times a story is written in the way the wind blows. There are times looking at an old dilapidated building makes me wonder about the folks who dwelt in it or the history it might have witnessed. There’s inspiration all around me. I just never know when or how it will strike me.

3: Why horror?

My first memories are of watching the old classic black and white horror films with my momma. I grew up loving them and later on fell in love with classic horror literature

4: Who are your writing influences?

I love Poe’s use of obscure words. I love the way Dickens paints images in the mind. Since I was young, I enjoyed the way Conan Doyle challenged my mind with his intellectual approach to storytelling. I’d have to say those three influenced me more than any others

5: You have a couple books under your writing career, these are much different than Wild West. What is your most favorite subject of the horror genre?

To be honest, I don’t have a favorite. Each is fun to write in its own right, but some off more of a challenge than others. Since I don’t prefer one over any of the others, it helps maintain a diverse imagination

6: Do you believe in aliens?

Only if they believe in me and buy my books

7: If you could tell your young writing self something in three words, what would you tell them?

Don’t be stupid.

And if I can add this: put down the pen in pursuit of the mighty dollar. It is possible to keep writing while pursuing a career in the corporate world.

8: What kind of music do you listen to when you write?

Like my writing, my taste in music is diverse. I listened to a lot of cowboy music writing my Wild West tales. Other times I listened to heavy metal and in others, it was goth music. Oftentimes, my playlist is filled with songs from many genres

9: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

Being a cowboy, I’d have to be shot if I didn’t say a horse. Besides, there’s no better way to feel free than riding a horse on the open range

10: What should we look out for in the future of your writing?

Look for something totally different than the wild west. Maybe something more like classic literature of old. Also, there just might be something more contemporary and even a little depraved. You just never know what will spin through the splintered windmill of my brain.

Kidnapped Week! Guest Blog: Spotlight “Eerie Trails….of the Wild Weird West”

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Synopsis:

Eerie Trailsof the Wild Weird West

In this collection of fourteen strange tales from the wild west, Cowboys and Indians face down supernatural beings of all varieties – from vampires and werewolves; to ghosts and vengeful spirits; to mythological creatures.

Saddle up cowboys and ladies alike, once the journey begins, Eerie Trails of the Wild Weird West will take you down a strange and bizarre path through the old west that you’ve never been on before.

Available on:

Amazon: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil |India | 

The Netherlands

Amazon Print: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil |India | 

The Netherlands

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

CreateSpace (Print)

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maynardblackoakAbout the Author — Maynard Blackoak is a freelance writer living in the backwoods of Pawnee County, Oklahoma. He draws upon the sights of neglect and unusual sounds around him for inspiration. A bit of a recluse, he can often be found strolling through an old, forgotten cemetery or in the woods among the twisted black oaks and native elms under the light of the moon.

Twitter: @maynardblackoak

Facebook: Maynard Blackoak

Guest Blog: Why African American Authors Shouldn’t Read HP Lovecraft by Jeff Carroll

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Why African American Writers Should Not Read HP Lovecraft

by Jeff Carroll

Amidst the debates around diversity in the Hugo Awards, I said on a panel at the 2015 World Horror convention that I don’t read HP Lovecraft. Now, at a horror convention that comment fell like a pin dropped, everyone went silent. I went on to explain why I don’t think black horror or Sci-fi writers need to read Lovecraft to become good horror writers. There is a big difference between African American concepts of horror and that of HP Lovecraft. They differ in their interpretation of what death is, what are dead people and what should we do to the dead.

First, let’s define what HP Lovecraft horror is or better what Lovecraftian horror is. HP Lovecraft is now regarded as one of the most significant 20th-century authors in his genre. His style of horror is one of the most revered. Lovecraftian horror is a subgenre of horror fiction that emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown. Its basic tenants are Unanswered questions, Detachment from society and, Helplessness and hopelessness all with an Antiquarian writing style. While everything in horror isn’t exactly like Lovecraft, he is the poster child for Western horror. It was a bust of him which was used as the World Fantasy awards trophy from their inception through 2015.

Let me use my book It Happened on Negro Mountain to illustrate my hypothesis. In my story, Negro Mountain (a real place in Maryland) is protected by the spirit of an escaped African during the time of American slavery. The story follows a young girl who becomes emotionally terrorized by her father in the presence of her mother. As the father’s (a drug dealing gangster) threats and other activities become more prominent the ghost of the dead African comes to the aid of the little girl. The story follows as the ghost terrorizes and kills anyone who does bad things on the mountain.

My story while it sounds good, it is very unique among horror stories. What makes it so unique is that it is a good ghost story and still a scary horror story. You can count on one hand, the amount of good ghost stories that have achieved commercial success. In fact, I only know of two stories with good ghosts that have succeeded in popular culture. Casper the friendly and Ghost the movie with Whoopie Goldberg are the only two I know. That said, the difference between the elements in my story and that of a western horror story is the difference of cultural interpretation of death.

In western Lovecraft stories, concepts like ghosts and dead things are equivalent to evil and bad. Even the use of the word dead is synonymous to evil. However, in African American culture or its root African cultures dead and spirits are more good than bad. In African cultures when humans die they become ancestors. Africans view their ancestors as protectors and sources of aid and assistance. They are able to do both good and bad. This is a fundamental difference between horror interpretations.

As with all of Lovecraftian concepts they depend on this different interpretation. Instead of praise for the dead Lovecraftian stories depend on fear and hate of the dead. While African cultural stories seek help from their dead western Lovecraftian stories run from and fight their dead.

I wind this up by saying as we seek diversity in science fiction and horror we must not allow for variations to be blurred. If African American writers begin to study HP Lovecraft and start writing Lovecraftian stories then we are really missing out on all of what we have been asking for. With my book It Happened on Negro Mountain I have proven that good ghost stories can be just as scary. The motto of Negro Mountain is it is a place where bad things happen to bad people. I ask everyone to join me in enjoying this expanse of the beloved genre of horror and ask African American writers to keep away from HP Lovecraft.

Vile Vacations Guest Blog My Stay In A Haunted Bed and Breakfast By E. A. Black

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Vile Vacations Guest Blog My Stay In A Haunted Bed and Breakfast By E. A. Black

Several decades ago I stayed at the Kitty Knight House on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This B&B nestled next to the Sassafras River and it dated back to the Revolutionary War. I stayed there when I was in town for a theatrical stage crew convention. I had worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and makeup artist (including F/X) and this convention was a learning experience. The story behind the haunting is as follows: After British soldiers sailed up the river they set the small town on fire, destroying most of it. Soldiers threw torches on the porch of the Kitty Knight House. The owner, Kitty Knight, swept the torches off the porch with her broom as quickly as the soldiers threw them. She made a deal. She’d provide the soldier’s food and shelter as long as they didn’t burn down her home. They agreed, and this house stood whilst homes around it were turned into cinders. The haunting involves Miss Kitty’s ghost wandering the halls in the dead of night, checking on her visitors staying overnight to make sure everyone was comfortable. The B&B itself is absolutely beautiful, decorated with Victorian furnishings. It includes a small bar and at the time I stayed there you could get a discounted dinner every Friday night. The rooms are beautiful, homey, and spacious in the ornate Victorian style I liked very much.

The first time I stayed it was mid-winter and the off-season rates were very attractive. My room overlooked the Sassafras River. What a view! I enjoyed a delicious meal and then headed to my room. That night I slept well until about 3 am when I heard a party going on in the room next to me. There was a lot of noise. I almost walked over to knock on the door to ask them to keep it down but I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun. I managed to go back to sleep. At about 4:30 AM, I heard heavy footsteps walking up and down the hallway. The party had ceased. Otherwise, it was dead quiet. I immediately thought of the ghost of the owner wandering the halls to check on everyone. I fell back to sleep. The footsteps were heavy and loud so I wondered why Miss Kitty wore combat boots. I wasn’t the least bit afraid. I felt very comfortable, secure and safe.

The next day, when I went down for breakfast, I told the clerk about the party and the footsteps. She told me I couldn’t have heard anything because I had been alone in the building all night. The footsteps! The party! None of it could have happened!

When I calmed down, I rationalized away the entire experience by believing I heard the kitchen staff cleaning up for the night instead of a party, but I want to believe I heard ghosts having a rip-roaring time.

Of course, I had to return.

My husband came along for the ride the second time I stayed there. Someone had turned on the overhead light in the dead of night while we slept. I was a very light sleeper and awakened the second the light turned on. He slept, snoring away. Since I was too exhausted to get up, I went back to sleep. The light was out when I awakened shortly before dawn. I later asked my husband later about the light and he said he had turned it off before going to bed. He didn’t get up during the night at all.

So who turned the light on? And who turned it off as the sun was coming up?

I heard those footsteps in the hallway again and felt as safe as I did the first time. Sadly, I didn’t hear a party in the room next door. I wasn’t alone in the building since other guests were staying overnight. I haven’t been back since but I’d happily return there assuming the place is still open. It was exciting and gorgeous.

E. A. Black writes in a variety of genres. She writes erotica fiction as Elizabeth Black and horror and dark fiction as E. A. Black. Her new novelette Roughing It is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. You may find Roughing It at Amazon. Her horror fiction has appeared in Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales of Body Enhancements Gone Bad, Wicked Tales: The Journal Of The New England Horror Writers Vol. 3, Teeming Terrors, and more. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.

Book Review: It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World by Curtis M. Lawson

Review of the Curtis M. Lawson book It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

By Michele Roger

Grinning like a school girl, she said a prayer of thanks to God Almighty and pressed a hand against her ribs. The bones should have been broken. They had been earlier when she lay on the snowy cobblestone in Boston alley. Now there was no pain, and breathing came easily. The blade, which bore the seal of Samael, had performed what it had advertised.”

51ms92t5gxlWhat if eternal youth didn’t come by way of a holy grail, or a fountain? What if it came in the form of a pair of ancient knives? The blades are said to not only take the life of a victim but also transfer the victim’s vitality to their murderer. Such knives are considered the reality behind the mythical powers of Vlad the Impaler and Jack the Ripper, showing up at just the right, or wrong time throughout the world and history, depending on which side of the blade you’re standing.

It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World” is one part ancient relic mystery, much like the Dan Brown novels. Characters the reader comes to trust suddenly commit acts of betrayal. Villains, (and there are a whole lot of them in this story) come from every different background, backstory and motive. In the race to possess the two knives known as the Fangs of Wallachia, an assassin nun sent by the Vatican, a ninety year old occultist, two terminal cancer patients, a junkie, a gun for hire, a cop, and a pawn dealer, a misspent teenager, an antiques dealer and an aristocrat are all entangled in a dark web.

A little slow to start, Lawson’s book becomes a page turner. His characters are richly written with a plot that quickens its pace with every chapter. One part gore, one part Indiana Jones, it was a thrill ride I would highly recommend.

Guest Blog: What a Piece of Work is Man by Loren Rhoads

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What a Piece of Work is Man

by Loren Rhoads

From the Via Veneto, home of La Dolce Vita, the yellow brick church didn’t look like much. Mason marched up the sidewalk past it, but something about the name Chiesa di Santa Maria della Concezione gave me pause. “I think we’re here,” I called after him.

One might expect that a centuries-old international tourist attraction like the Church of the Immaculate Conception would have a multilingual sign. Not until we climbed the first flight of stairs up to a landing large enough to be considered a patio did we see a small plaque with an arrow pointing toward the Coemeterium.

That caught me off guard. I hadn’t expected to see a cemetery, which I think of as bodies buried in dirt or, at least, bodies hidden behind stone. We had come to see skeletons. This Capuchin “cemetery” ranked with the Paris Catacombs and Kutna Hora’s Bone Chapel in the European triumvirate of weird assemblages made from human bones. The visit marked a pilgrimage for me.

The Capuchins separated from other Franciscan monastic orders in 1525 AD. The Capuchin monks wanted to exist closer to the way St. Francis of Assisi had lived at the turn of the thirteenth century. To that end, they wore sandals without socks and a simple brown tunic that had a hood to cover their heads when the weather turned bad. The name Capuchin derives from this hood, called a capuce.

Capuchin monks gathered in houses near woods or green spaces, where they could meditate. They planted orchards, in which their work served as prayer. They cared for the poor, especially the sick. They continue those ministrations today.

In 1631, the Capuchins of Rome moved from their friary near where the Trevi Fountain now stands to land donated by Cardinal Barberini near his palace. The monks exhumed and brought with them bones of 4000 of their brethren. These bones were piled under their new church of Santa Maria della Concezione, in six rooms connected by a sixty-meter corridor.

Sometime in the 1700s, arrangement of the bones began. Several theories exist about the identities of the decorators. Either they were French Capuchins who fled the Terror, or a notorious criminal who sought refuge with the monks and atoned for his crimes by positioning the bones, or a man of “ardent faith, who is almost joking with death,” as the brochure suggests. The Marquis de Sade, who visited in 1775, suspected that a German priest constructed the decor.

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Just inside a thick wooden door to the “cemetery” sat a paper-thin old man in blue coveralls. People tossed money into his wicker basket as they passed his rickety wooden table. Since the Capuchin catacombs were our first destination in Italy, we only had large bills or very small ones, neither of which Mason considered an appropriate donation. He put in a couple of thousand lira notes and hoped that once everyone came in, he could make change out of the basket to add more.

Although I felt devastated to be forbidden to photograph the bones, nothing prevented note-taking. I tugged my notebook out of my backpack and jotted down descriptions of the crypts.

A dim hallway stretched ahead of us. Gray light flowed in through cloudy windows facing an alley alongside the church. Inside the “cemetery,” the cool air smelled of dust.

To the left of the hallway, a painting of Christ leading Lazarus from the tomb dominated the first room. Grasping his friend’s wrist, Christ tugged the revenant up from the ground. The former corpse was nearly naked: his shroud had slipped down beneath his buttocks. Turned away from the viewer toward his sisters and Christ, Lazarus’s expression was impossible to gauge. One can only imagine his thoughts after having spent four days in his grave. Lettered boldly in yellow at the bottom was the legend: “Lazare veni foras”: Lazarus, come forth.

The command made me uncomfortable as we stood outside a room crammed with bones. I had a sense that the monks had tried to use as many bones as possible here, in order to fit everyone in. Skulls formed two triangular arches, beneath which lay the dusty mummies of two monks in tattered brown robes. I wanted to climb the low fence, step across the holy dirt brought from Jerusalem, and take a feather duster to the cadavers. Mason pointed out that the Catholic Church probably had a sacred maid to dust the hallowed bones. Looked to me like she didn’t come around often enough.

The next room — the only one on the corridor free of bones — served as the cemetery’s mass chapel. The altarpiece depicted Mary seated on a cloud. A toddler Jesus stood on her knee, his nakedness shielded a mere wisp of white fabric. With the help of three monks in brown robes and an angel in gray, they raised souls out of the flames of purgatory. Only one of the dead seemed to be female: she was modestly wrapped in more fire than the others. A dead man gave her the eye: bold behavior at the feet of his savior.

Next door, the Crypt of the Skulls had been decorated with curved niches formed by arm and thighbones, supporting cornices of skulls. Inside each arch lay another dusty monk.

In the tympanum of the central niche hung an hourglass made of two tailbones tip to tip. The bottom coccyx looked darker in color, as if the sands of time had all run down. A double row of very straight bones, perhaps somebody’s forearms, drew the hourglass’s case. Outside the case, four shoulder blades symbolized wings. While the message was certainly intended to be serious, I smiled at the artwork. Time flies, as these bones testified. The bone art seemed lighthearted, though not at all disrespectful. Joking with Death, indeed.

Ornaments made of bones continued overhead. A garden of ribs suggested furrows of earth, where tulips bloomed into single vertebrae. A chain formed by jawbones came to a point, from which descended a lamp made from a sheaf of thighbones. Unfortunately, it wasn’t illuminated. I wondered if it had been wired for electricity. Baroque squares with in-turned corners decorated the ceiling. A double row of vertebrae sketched these on the wall. Inside blossomed ten-pointed stars made of tailbones.

Next came the Crypt of the Pelvises. Against the back wall rose an ornate canopy made from stacks of pelvic bones. The flat planes of the hipbones nested together like scales or roof tiles. A fringe of vertebrae dangled from the cupola.

Mummies of three monks leaned into the room, so stooped they seemed to be bowing. Each cradled a wooden cross in the sagging sleeves of his robe. From their cuffs protruded hands that looked like withered sticks wrapped in autumn leaves. More than anything that had once been human, the monks’ leathery faces looked like masks from some science fiction film. I suppose that two hundred and fifty years of standing around in the open air will do that to a person.

Reading up on them later, I learned that some of the mummies are unidentified. I’d assumed that anyone important enough to preserve “whole” would have been important enough to remember. The records must have been misplaced or destroyed.

My favorite decorations in the Crypt of the Pelvises were crosses suspended from the ceiling formed of thighbones. X-ed across them were shinbones. Something about the mobile aspect of these dangling three-dimensional crosses struck my fancy.

Though the fifth room was called the Crypt of the Leg Bones and Thighbones, its predominant motif seemed to be skulls. Rows of leg bones interspersed with orderly stacks of skulls gave the overall impression of pinstripes. It was an incredibly beautiful arrangement — and functional, because it used up a great deal of bones. When you’ve got thousands of dead monks to jam into five rooms, you’ve got to get busy.

The room’s centerpiece caught my eye. Two severed arms, lopped off at the shoulders, had been affixed to the back wall. The arm on top was bare; the other wore a rough brown sleeve. Their skin had dried to the color of paper ash. Instead of curled into fists, bones protruded through their outstretched fingertips as if they wore Fagin’s gloves. The image shocked me more than anything else I’d seen. All the other bodies were either complete or defleshed. These amputated limbs looked inexplicably creepy.

(Much later, while researching the details of this essay, I discovered their significance. They represent the Franciscan coat of arms: the bare arm of Christ crossed over the robed arm of Francis of Assisi.)

The final room, called the Crypt of the Three Skeletons, was the most ornate. Complete skeletons of two children lounged over the altar made of pelvises on the back wall. The children reached up toward an adult skull. One child held a short spear like a fishing pole. The other balanced a winged hourglass atop his ribcage.

Another small skeleton lay flat against the ceiling. He held a staff formed of shinbones crested with a blade of scapulae. In his other hand swung a scale whose cups were skullcaps, dangling from chains strung of finger bones. A halo of foot bones and vertebrae encircled him. He was the least threatening death figure I’d ever seen. Even his grin looked wistful.

I turned to look back down the hall and saw an ornate clock above the arched doorway. Hand and finger bones formed its large Roman numerals. A breastbone served as its single hour hand. I read later that the clock symbolized that eternity had no beginning or end.

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The ultimate sensation I took away from the Capuchin crypts? Joy. I could not interpret the lacy tracery of vertebrae and foot bones and ribs on the vaulted ceilings as anything other than ecstatic. What wonderful creatures we are, how marvelously made! Inside us hide complicated puzzles. Whether you believe in the cosmic clockmaker or rest your faith in evolution, you have to admit that humans — with joints that knit together, tailbones like doilies and shoulder blades like wings, the myriad complicated bones of hands and feet, the inquisitive orbits of our eyes, the cuplike hollows of our pelvises — are miraculous creatures.

Mason pointed out that most of the tourists in the dusty twilight corridor grinned. It was difficult not to get caught up in the joie de vivre of the decorators.

The sole English-language text Mason and I found inside the “cemetery” said that the monks made the place for three reasons: because the body doesn’t matter, to glorify God’s handiwork inside man, but especially because time is so short that one can’t wait to do good works.

We bought a stack of postcards from the little man in blue. Mason threw a larger bill into the collection plate. The caretaker beamed at us and disappeared under the church to find the last brochure they had in English. After he returned, Mason and I slipped out into the Roman sunshine to search out the Pantheon and the Mausoleum of Augustus. Life seemed rich and full. I was in Italy with the man I love and Rome was full of dead people. Carpe diem.

 

 

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It’s part of All you Need is Morbid, which was published on Wattpad: https://www.wattpad.com/story/19869433-all-you-need-is-morbid
Loren Rhoads is the cemetery columnist at Gothic Beauty. She also blogs about graveyards as vacation destinations at CemeteryTravel.com. Her book 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die will be out in October 2017.