Diary

Call of the Night Singers

Tomorrow, our Gothic horror novella, “Call of the  Night Singers”, is coming out! It’s something Ari has already talked about, but there were a couple of behind the scenes things I wanted to share as well.

The story takes place primarily in Bath, NC, and it mentions a curse on the little town, which is a real thing. Well, as real as a legendary curse can be, depending on how much stock you put in that kind of thing! It’s called the Whitefield Curse, and it was placed on Bath by a traveling evangelist in the mid-1700s. Apparently, he thought the residents of Bath were unrepentant sinners, and when he left town for the last time, he shook the dust of the town off his shoes and laid his curse on it.

Coincidentally (or not *ominous music*), Bath began as a prosperous port city, but not long after Whitefield left, its fortune began to decline. Washington (NC) began to rise in its place, stealing away its business, population, and prospects, and Bath has never flourished again since that time.

I’ve mentioned before that we often include elements in our stories purely for our own amusement, and Roderick Heatherford’s faithful manservant is one of those elements. We named him O’Brien after Richard O’Brien, and we based the character’s appearance on Riff-Raff. I pictured the character so strongly that I typed “Riff-Raff” instead of “O’Brien” more than once.

We hope our readers enjoy our foray into the realm of the Gothic! Given our love of the supernatural and paranormal, it probably won’t be our last. Just not in first person. 😉

callofthenightsingers

Diary

Holiday short stories

It seems we’ve developed a routine of writing two holiday stories, one romantic drama and one romantic comedy. This year, our romantic drama is the historical romance we wrote for Dreamspinner’s holiday anthology, Last Leap of the First Foot. We wrote a romantic drama for Dreamspinner’s anthology last year as well, although that one has a contemporary setting. Like “Last Leap”, it features best friends who fall in love, but Mal and Aidan have a much harder road to their happily ever after than Iain and Bran! Their story is told in On the Rocks.

This year, our romantic comedy will be released this coming Wednesday from Torquere, “Holiday Hootenanny”, in which Josh takes his boyfriend Clint home to meet his large and boisterous family. Last year, we wrote about Kevin, who professed his feelings for his coworker Erik through a series of Secret Santa gifts in Santa’s Naughty Helper.

If you enjoy this year’s stories, you might enjoy our older holiday stories too! 🙂

Diary

Pumpkin Cheesecake

If you’re looking for a different spin on pumpkin pie, this is one of my seasonal go-to recipes that I trotted out just about every year back when my family still got together for the holidays.

Pumpkin Cheesecake:
1 can (16 oz) pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 pkg (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Bisquick baking mix
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
whipped cream topping

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pie plate. Place all ingredients except for the whipped topping in a large bowl and mix on high for 2 minutes, scraping bowl constantly. Pour into pie plate.

Bake just until puffed and the center is dry, about 45 minutes (do not overbake). Let it cool, then spread the whipped topping over top and garnish with pecan halves or twists of orange peel if desired. Refrigerate any remaining cheesecake. 

Diary

Halloween themed recipes

Note: These aren’t my original recipes; I found them in various cookbooks I’ve collected over the years.

Jell-O-Ween Poke brownies
1 package (19.8 oz) brownie mix
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 package (4 serving size) vanilla instant pudding
a few drops each red and yellow food coloring

Prepare and bake brownie mix as directed on the package for 8 or 9 inch pan. Remove from oven and immediately use round handle of a wooden spoon (or something of equivalent size) to poke holes at 1 inch intervals down through brownies to pan.

Pour milk into a large bowl and add pudding mix. Beat with a wire whisk for 2 minutes. Stir in a few drops of food colorings to tint the mixture orange. Quickly, pour about 1/2 of the thing pudding evenly over warm brownies and into holes.

Tap pan lightly to fill the holes. Let remaining pudding mixture stand to thicken slightly. Spread remaining pudding over top of brownies as “frosting”.

Refrigerate one hour or until ready to serve.

 

Ghosts in the Graveyard: 
1 package of chocolate sandwich cookies (aka oreos)
3 1/2 cups cold milk
2 packages (4 serving size) instant chocolate pudding
12 oz tub of Cool Whip

Remove the filling from the cookies (eat or discard) and crush the cookies well in a plastic ziploc bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor. They should be little grains, not chunks.

Pour milk into a large bowl and add pudding mixes. Beat with a wire whisk for 2 minutes. Gently stir in 3 cups of Cool Whip and half of the crushed cookies.

You can either spoon the pudding mixture into a 13×9 dish and sprinkle with the remaining cookies, or you can do what I did: get some small clear cups and layer the pudding mixture, the crushed cookies, and Hallowe’en M&Ms.

If you’re really creative, you can create wee ghosts out of the remaining Cool Whip to go on top and maybe some Milano cookies for “tombstones”. This would look especially cool with the dish variety, especially if you got some of those little candy pumpkins that come in the bag of candy corn. They taste like crap, but they make good decorations.

Refrigerate one hour or until ready to serve.

 

Witch’s Cauldron Cake:
20 Halloween Oreo cookies, divided
1 pkg (2 layer size) yellow cake mix, batter prepared as on package
1 container (16 oz size) ready to spread chocolate frosting, divided
Black shoestring licorice and assorted Halloween candies
2 cups thawed whipped topping, tinted orange with food coloring
1 pretzel rod
Gummy worms

Chop 16 cookies. Fold chopped cookies into prepared cake batter. Pour into greased 10 inch fluted tube pan. Bake and cool according to package directions for tube pan.

Halve two cookies and decorate as bats, attaching two halves side by side with frosting to form bat wings and decorating with frosting and assorted candies for eyes. Decorate two remaining cookies as spiders, using frosting to attach 1 1/2 inch pieces of licorice as legs and assorted candies for eyes. Set aside to dry.

Place cake, flat side up, on serving plate. Frost side of cake with remaining frosting. Frost top of cake with tinted whipped topping. Place pretzel rod into center opening of cake for “wooden spoon”. Decorate cake with cookie bats, spiders and gummy worms.

Diary

A Halloween non-fiction rec

“Call it Samhain, Summer’s End, All Hallows’ Eve, November Eve, or Witches’ Night – Halloween has its essential roots in the terrors of the primitive mind, which made no distinction between the waning of the sun and the potential extinction of the self. Ancient rituals of sacrifice and supplication were employed to guarantee a good harvest and, by extension, continued earthly existence.

“In northern climates, harvest time was, or seemed, the very death of nature. As Robert Chambers, the great Victorian chronicler of holidays characterized October: ‘As the fallen leaves career before us – crumbling ruins of summer’s beautiful halls – we cannot help thinking of those who have perished – who have gone before us, blown forward to the grave by the icy blasts of Death.’

“Because life itself was literally in the balance at harvest, the close proximity of the visible world and the spirit world was more than metaphor. And so the tradition grew: for one night each year, permission would be granted to mortals to peer into the future, divine their fates, communicate with supernatural entities, and otherwise enjoy a degree of license and liberty unimaginable – or simply unattainable – the rest of the year.

“The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vice versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented. And, most important, graves open and the departed return.

“Of course, the ‘return of the dead’ is an evocative allegory for the return or expression of just about anything that’s been buried, repressed, or stifled by the living. What’s ‘dead’ doesn’t necessarily look like a walking corpse – just take a look at the variety of secret selves on parade at any Halloween celebration today. People ‘resurrect’ themselves, besequinned and befeathered, as glamorous movie gods and goddesses, comic-book superheroes, immortal robots, insatiable satyrs, and inflatable sex balloons. Pneumatic breasts and phalluses bounce and bob everywhere. Fantastic, towering wigs and headdresses emblematize the startling energies that lurk in the minds beneath.

But attending these lively carnival images – always – are the classic images of mortality and the grave: skeletons, vampires, zombies, and ghosts. The grand marshall of the Halloween parade is, and always has been, Death.”

From Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, by David J. Skal, a fascinating look at the holiday, its origins, and its transformations over time.

I’ve been reading Skal’s work since I was a grad student *mumble mumble* years ago because he focuses on topics that are right up my alley: Halloween, Dracula, vampires in general. He’s fascinated by horror and has insightful things to say about horror and pop culture.  I enjoy Death Makes a Holiday and try to re-read it every October, but my favorite Skal book is The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, which delves into history, horror, and our cultural predilection for the macabre.

So if you’re looking for something new to read this Halloween season, I’d recommend Skal!

Diary

“The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi'”, by Patricia Highsmith

My fascination with ghost/supernatural/horror stories began at a young age, and at some point, I received a copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense, which anthologized several chilling tales by such authors as Raymond Chandler and Muriel Spark. I found this book again while helping my mother clean out her attic a few years ago, and I immediately snagged it, because while I found the entire book scary as hell as a child, there was one particular story that frightened me and stayed with me to this day, some thirty years later.

“The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi'”, by Patricia Highsmith is the story in question. I didn’t remember the premise, but I remembered the “monsters” of the story, and I remembered the ending, which horrified me on some deep, primal level, although I’m not sure why.

Re-reading it as an adult, I have a different perspective, because the story is about a 48 year old academic who goes off in search of an island reported to be the home of giant, carnivorous snails, because he wants to be famous and have something named after him.

I repeat: giant, carnivorous snails.

Reading over it now, I have to admit, it has excellent pacing and a solid build-up to the ending which so horrified me as a child, but… snails? How could you not escape a snail, even a giant one? It’s like not being able to outrun a zombie. And how did they get to be carnivorous? WTF? If this were made into a film today, it would probably be a cheesy B-grade horror flick, worthy of the drive-in or MST3K, but at the same time, it’s a solid little horror tale, suitable for scaring the pants off less jaded children.

I think it’s probably more the sense of isolation and primality that create the fear factor here; civilization has no place on the island of the snails, and the professor made the standard mistake of most protagonists in horror stories: he wasn’t prepared.

And now the end of the story, which has stayed with me for so long:

Continue reading ““The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi’”, by Patricia Highsmith”

Diary

Speak the Speech Trippingly on the Tongue

One thing that helps keep Ari and me focused is deciding what we’re going to write, in what order we’re going to write it, and then making a list. Works with deadlines get priority on The List, and we also have a shared iCal calendar just for writing deadlines. Currently, we’ve just submitted a story and crossed it off The List, and we’ll be finishing up the rough draft of a Valentine’s Day novella this week. It’ll get a few days to marinate, and then we’ll edit it and send it off.

After that, it’s time to whip the rough draft of Blood Bathory 2 into shape! The draft is finished, but we need to add scenes we skipped over, mostly brief scenes establishing what the villains are up to, and then edit it. Considering it’ll probably be 100k-ish, that’ll take a while. We’re budgeting about a month to get that done, allowing for real life interventions, and once that’s finished, we’ll move on to the next thing on our list.

One of those things is Blood Bathory 3, the third and final novel that will wrap up our trilogy, although we’ll probably revisit that world down the road. The trilogy will be stand-alone, but the world we’re building will let us come back to it if we want to, and I think we will because we’ve enjoyed it so much.

I’m looking forward to writing the primary character I’ll be writing in BB3, and I think he’ll pose an interesting challenge. He was born in the 1500s, and for plot-related reasons I can’t divulge, he spent a rather long time more or less isolated from the world. Not cut off entirely but separated enough that his language didn’t have time to catch up completely to the modern world, so he still uses a fair bit of archaic language without realizing it. So I’ve been planning for his language — word choice, sentence structure — to be different, but I hadn’t stopped to think about how his pronunciation might be different until I saw this:

love this. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the past, and I love that there are people who are so passionate about language that they’d go to the trouble of researching and reconstructing Shakespearean pronunciation. Not only that, but now I have a pretty good idea of what my character probably sounds like. Maybe not quite to this extent but I’m sure it still impacts his speech, which should make trying to communicate with some of the other characters interesting!

Suffice to say, going to London to see an Original Pronunciation production at The Globe is going on my bucket list.

Diary

Must See TV

So the fall television schedule is starting up soon, and Ari and I have been deciding what we’re going to watch this season. Unsurprisingly, we end up watching a lot of the same shows, which makes things interesting when we’re in chat, watching the show together while living in separate states. It results in a lot of random “OMGWTF Did you see that??” and a gamut of emoticons. 😀

This week, season 4 of Haven begins on the SyFy channel. We’ve both been watching this series since the beginning and are still squeeful fangirls over it. It’s the only show I’ve seen where an OT3 (one true threesome) between the lead characters could actually work, because while Audrey is attracted to/cares for both Nathan and Duke and vice versa, there is something going on between Nathan and Duke as well. It’s like one minute, they’re both “I hate you so much” and the next, they’re all “OMG you’re in danger! I must save you, my woobie!” And they touch each other and get up in each other’s personal space in very non-platonic ways.

Above and beyond all that, the premise of the show is engaging, there’s an over-reaching story arc that is fascinating, and the monster of the week episodes are well-done. Haven has consistently remained on my must-see list for years, and that’s not easy to do.

Grimm will be starting up again next month, which has both me and Ari cheering because as much as we both love Nick and Monroe (such a woobie!), we are drawn to Captain Renard like moths to a flame because he’s one of those snarky, dark-haired, big-nosed antiheroes we so love. As with Haven, Grimm has an on-going arc with monster of the week type episodes. I always find it interesting to see how they’re going to incorporate new elements of fairy tales and folklore with the new creatures they introduce, and the makeup and SFX are amazingly well done. It’s rather like a police procedural meets Grimm’s fairy tales with political intrigue thrown in for good measure.

One of the new shows we’re looking forward to is Sleepy Hollow, which premieres next week. For one thing, both of us like the legend. For another, Ichabod is hot. For me personally, I’ll watch anything with Clancy Brown in it even if he only lasts five minutes, as the show’s trailer suggests. I’ve been in love with that man since seeing  Highlander back in the day. I’m hoping that a) it’s a good interpretation of the legend and b) Fox lets it last for more than one season if it is good.

One show that’s on my watch list but not Ari’s is Survivor, which I’ve been a fan of since season 1. This season brings back former participants — including Rupert, who has been one of my favorites since the Pearl Island season — paired off against their loved ones. It’s an interesting twist, although it could go horribly wrong. I hope relationships aren’t ruined over the course of the season, because this show can get brutal when people start getting caught up in the “outwit, outlast, outplay” mindset.

Then next month, I’ll start haunting (hee) TCM and AMC for classic horror movie marathons; I love it when I stumble across Hammer movie or Vincent Price marathons. I’ll also pull out my classic horror movie DVDs and watch those all month. I’m much more of a classic horror fan, meaning the 1920s-1970s. I especially avoid the modern slasher movies (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc) and torture porn (Hostel, Saw, The Devil’s Rejects). Give me Christopher Lee grappling with Peter Cushing any day!

Which reminds me! I do plan to give Dracula a shot because it’s Dracula. ‘Nuff said. Vampires in general and Dracula in particular are my favorite horror icons, and I could write a whole post about the evolution of the vampire based on what it represents on a cultural level… but not today. Suffice to say, I’ll give anything about vampires and/or with “Dracula” in the title a fair shot. If it sucks (hee), I’ll complain bitterly about it and grab my Lugosi and Lee versions to soothe my soul.

Diary

Visual inspiration

One advantage of using Evernote is that when either of us comes across an article or an image that we think might be useful either for inspiration or research, we can clip it and toss it in our planning notebook for future reference. We also have a note dedicated to an on-going list of plot bunnies in that notebook. Some of the clipped material will get used; some of it won’t, but it’s nice to have something to riffle through if we need inspiration.

tumblr_m80m40BiC61rc4k82o2_1280Images have played a significant role in inspiring our work. For example, an image of a decrepit house inspired our 2012 Halloween story, A Hundred Lonely Halloweens. I came across the image, showed it to Ari, and we both loved it enough to make it the visual inspiration for Delaney House. I don’t remember off-hand where the house in the photo is located, but based on the terrain, we situated our fictional version in the Smoky Mountains.

We often use visual inspiration for our characters as well. I’ve mentioned before that Luke Reynolds from Heart of Stone bears a strong resemblance to Captain Tightpants from Firefly, and Luke isn’t the only character for whom I’ve had a specific actor in mind while writing.

One of Evan’s biggest problems in Blood Bathory — aside from being turned into a vampire against his will — is being judged based on his appearance. He’s described as a “pretty boy”, and Elizabeth chooses to turn him because of his looks. Evan is not and never will be the rugged, macho type, and I had a specific look in mind for him: Ian Somerhalder, who is such a ridiculously pretty man, it ought to be illegal.

I first saw him as Boone on Lost, and now he’s pretty much the only reason I’m still watching The Vampire Diaries. When it comes to vampires on TV, I’d rather watch True Blood, because the characters are adults, not teens, and there is a generous bounty of adult men who roam around in various states of undress at pretty much all times. Especially Eric. I don’t even go for blond men as a general rule, but I’ll happily make an exception for him! Then again, I have a thing for snarky badasses in general, so it’s no wonder I love him. Ari and I have that in common, actually. Give us a book/movie/TV show with a snarky badass who is the anti-hero, and that’ll be the character we both adore.

As a woman of a certain age, I appreciate the scenery and the adult-themed plotlines on True Blood  much more than the young actors and teen drama plotlines on The Vampire Diaries. Last season of TVD was particularly difficult to get through because I developed a dislike for all but a small handful of characters on the show, but as long as Ian is there, snarking away as Damon Salvatore, I’ll tune in. Same thing for the spin-off show, which I’ll probably watch only for Elijah.

ANYWAY. This right here is my Evan:

ian_somerhalder_1252223858

Suffice to say, researching photos to use as visual inspiration wasn’t at all a hardship for me. *cough*

 

 

Diary

History and Villainy

dod-posterWhen we were thinking about a possible villain for Blood Bathory: Like the Night, we knew we didn’t want to use Dracula/Vlad Tepes because he’s been done to death *rimshot*. I can’t remember how we settled on using Elizabeth Bathory, but I do remember that we liked the idea of using her because while she has been used as a villain in some movies and books, she hasn’t been used nearly as much as ol’ Drac.

Mostly, she appears as the villain in B-grade 1970s horror movies like the one Evan mentions. He gets the name of the movie wrong (a deliberate mistake on our part); it’s called Daughters of Darkness (1971), and it does indeed star John Karlen, known for playing Willie Loomis on Dark Shadows.

Elizabeth’s alleged penchant for bathing in the blood of young women to preserve her beauty made her a perfect candidate for being cast as a vampire, and we didn’t see her working in the fashion industry as too much of a stretch either. She’d be surrounded by beautiful young people whom she could either turn into vampires or feed on as she pleased.

But Elizabeth isn’t the only historical figure we decided to use to our fictional advantage.  Anna is based on the historical Elizabeth’s eldest daughter by Ferenc Nadasdy, and Janos is based on Janos Ujvary, Elizabeth’s servant who was arrested as one of her accomplices and executed in 1611.  Multiple sources describe him as “dwarf-like”.

In keeping with our trend of using historical figures as villains, we’re introducing another one in the second Blood Bathory novel. Well, technically, we’re introducing three, but two of them are dead long before the action begins, and they’re only mentioned. One of them is Vlad Tepes because we couldn’t leave him out entirely, but the other two… you’ll just have to wait and see!

Evan and Will are returning for significant roles in the second novel, but they won’t be at center stage this time. Our leading men this time are Adam Carson and Tyr Gustavson, who are lost souls trying to find a place to belong after experiencing tremendous loss. Together, they face a threat even greater than Elizabeth Bathory… who is not the biggest, baddest vampire out there. After all, she may have created Evan, but someone else created her.

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