Sunday, July 26, 2015

GUEST POST: Author Francis H. Powell

 In the chasms of our minds lurk dark thoughts...

Why do so many writers choose to write about dark surreal subjects, things that they wouldn't wish upon themselves or others. Why do readers have such an appetite to read about such dark subjects? In a way we are weaned on such darkness, so many children's stories have such a dark side to them and maybe children's innocence is lost through being read them.  I read stories a lot to my two and half year old son,  today a story about Mr Nosy and the beanstalk...the story seems innocent enough, then suddenly there is a giant, who says “I will grind your bones to bake my bread”. The meaning and implication of this sentence is hopefully lost on my son...I imagine. I started reading Pinocchio, not a fluffy Disneyesque version, but an original story, I couldn't believe how dark it was, I had to skip large sections. Maybe you can't  keep a child away from the full horrors of this world, but then you worry you might be filling their heads with deep inner fears.

The Brother's Grimm are very much responsible for this strong legacy of dark fairy tales, that are so much interwoven in our childhood. The Brothers, both librarians collected many stories for different German regions, their earlier stories being interpretations based on real events, indeed very sinister events. This is an interesting pointer for a writer, a story works better, even if it is totally outlandish, that it is still in some way plausible. They had to adapt these stories, they had accrued, and leave out  elements such as rape, incest, torture and cannibalism, which were too much for innocent minds of children.  The anointed “father of fairy tales”, was a Frenchman called Charles Perrault, whose original Cinderella, had some extremely graphic violence, obviously done by the hand of the wicked step sisters. We should also bare in mind that at the time Perrault was writing, children's literature didn't exist and so he was writing with adults in mind. By contrast when we think of Tim Burton films we could term them as fairy tales for adults.

Maybe when the Brother Grimm were alive, it was a time when people let their imaginations run wild and people had this great capacity to “tell stories”. These days we hunch over a computer, we watch television or DVDs, people don't entertain one another by telling these incredibly imaginative stories.

Like the Brothers Grimm, some of my own stories emanate from real stories  I have picked up on, in a newspaper. Newspapers can be rich in stories about unlikely happenings...a man appears on a form of identification...he has no incline who he is or knowledge of his past...nobody comes forward to say who he is...These kind of stories really enthrall me.

Quite a few of my stories I would class as being “fairy stories for adults”. In my story “Flawless” a man is all set to marry the woman of his dreams, in the midst of his proposal, a beautiful insect  flies into his mouth and he is forced to swallow it. A few  days later he develops an awful skin disease.  The woman named Julia, soon deserts him and his brother deviously steps in and wins Julia's love and worse still intends to marry her. All this is too much to bare for Sirius, a noble man, who then cuts himself off from the world. The only thing left for him is...revenge. One the day of the wedding, he takes an axe and walks to the church where the treacherous couple are about to married. As he is about to strike the first blow, he is engaged a terrible coughing fit and this beautiful insect flies out. His skin immediately returns to its normal state.  The story also has a message, which is about the fickleness of people, how feelings are altered because of something like a sudden skin condition, and paramount is the theme of betrayal.

Another story that has distinctly fairy tale feel about it, is called “Bugeyes” It is a story about a child born with overly protruding eyes, hence is rejected by his mother and cast aside, being brought up by a gamekeeper. Later he has a sister who like him has the same features, namely large distinctive eyes. As with her older brother  she is rejected by her in-bred aristocratic family and sent to the gamekeeper, who is responsible for her upbringing. She grows into a beautiful woman, and becomes famous, her large eyes, helping to propel her career in the modeling world. She becomes the talk of the town and is invited to grand party, by another sibling (one with reasonably sized eyes and therefore not rejected) to large house by rights she and her older brother should have grown up in.  The story comes to a head as “Bugeyes” gatecrashes the part and seeks to claim what is rightfully his...

It seems a human characteristic, we seem to want to indulge in surreal dark stories, maybe stories are not passed down and elaborated in the same way that they were in the brothers Grimm's time, but the spark is still there...

Check out Francis Powell's new and very horrific anthology of 22 stories about misfortune:

Follow him on Twitter @Dreamheadz


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Excerpt from KINDRED (THE BIRTHRITE SERIES, #2) and Other Stuff Coming Up

Hey everyone,

Today I am sharing an excerpt from an earlier draft of Kindred, the second book in The Birthrite Series which is due out in August.

Next week, this blog will feature a guest post from author Francis Powell, followed by my long awaited book review of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey. I will also be announcing when I plan to start up my recaps of Vixen (The Flappers, #1).

If you missed the Kindred cover reveal, here is what the cover looks like (thanks to Rowen Poole) and the blurb:

It is the summer of 1933 and nearly two years since that fateful Halloween night in Plains, New York.

Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, eighteen-year-old Cletus Blake spends his days working to help his family through the massive economic recession spreading throughout the United States and many other areas of the world. As society struggles to accept that the economic surge of the 1920s are long gone, Cletus also clings to the memory of his last phone conversation with his cousin Dorothy. Having formed and maintained a relationship with two of her close friends - the recently married Reginald and Gail Carr Johnson - the three find solace in regular communication with one another.

Like Dorothy, Cletus possesses supernatural abilities inherited through his bloodline. His vivid dreams and visions - including ones of a beautiful young Romani woman and twin baby boys - continue to increase in strength. Meanwhile, Reginald and Gail begin falling prey to dark adversaries that have been lying in wait.

Evil surrounds at every turn, old friends race to help, and ancient evil re-emerges. A war between worlds brews beneath the surface, threatening to rip the protective seams that keep the portals sealed.

Then in the midst of it all, Cletus happens upon a caravan traveling through his Ohio town. The very familiar Romanichal family's history ties not only to his own past, but to all the kin of the four men that experienced worlds outside of their own on that summer solstice in 1844. All are linked to a future that will reunite the Blakes and the Livingstons, two families that at one time, shared a very unlikely friendship.

Kindred is the second full-length novel in The Birthrite Series. Picking up from where Descent and Sacred Atonement: A Novelette left off, the story continues to challenge all that is known about light and dark, good and evil. Passion, intrigue, and secrets abound as history unravels. Revelations uncovered in previous installments are given new perspectives, taking the reader on a thrilling ride into a world where nothing is ever what it appears to be.

In Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1), Dorothy's cousin Cletus is introduced but his role is more of a cameo. But starting with Kindred, he starts to have a more central role in the story. Enjoy the excerpt (the book is still going through revisions). :)

Kindred Excerpt:

Cletus was lying on the couch, recounting the evening with Reginald and Gail. On the way to their apartment, they had stopped at a diner for supper. After that, the three stayed up talking into the night, quietly touching briefly on parts of what would be discussed at Tahatan's. His eyes started adjusting to the dark as he looked out at the moon in the sky.
His mind started to wander, and his eyes grew heavy. As his eyelids started closing, they suddenly snapped open as a shape appeared in the window. A face.
As he sat bolt upright, the shape disappeared.
Chills started enveloping his body as he glanced about the dark room. Then he heard a whispering. He tried making out the words, but they were inaudible.
He considered knocking on Reginald and Gail's bedroom door, but his body was immobile, frozen in its place. Soon, the whispers were overtaken by the sounds of a piano, one playing a familiar piece by DeBussy.
Finally, Cletus was able to rise from the couch, but flinched as his foot touched an icy wooden floor. His eyes darted about and breath hitched upon seeing where he was. The Fleming Orphanage surrounded him as the summer breeze turned into a crisp, autumn chill. All around him, leaves fell from their branches, blanketing the ground. He felt as though there was a pull compelling him toward the woods. He could feel his cousin Dorothy's presence, and the danger she was in here.
Confused and disoriented, he continued looking around, calling out to her. But she was nowhere to be found.
The woods and the empty buildings of the former orphanage seemed to mock him. He heard a distant howling off somewhere, followed by the humming of a familiar tune. All the pretty little horses...
Cletus tried to take a step in the direction of the hill that would take him to exit the property, but it was as though the wind that had started up suddenly was holding him back. He heard the howling again, only closer this time. It sounded unlike any animal he knew of.
A foul stench began seeping out from the buildings. When Cletus turned, he beheld the windows of the buildings glowing red. 
(Blood red)
The stench of death, decomposition, and decay engulfed him and he knew he was not alone. A bloodthirsty growl was right behind him. He tried turning to see what it was, but his feet were planted to the ground. But he could hear it inching closer. Now, the roaring was in his ears and he felt a powerful pounce push him forward…

If you haven't read DESCENT or SACRED ATONEMENT: A NOVELETTE in the series yet, they (along with all my other books) are free on Smashwords as part of their July sale. So now is a great time to get started on the series. There will also be more giveaways coming up, so stay tuned. :)

Read Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) for FREE until July 31st with coupon code SW100:


For first access to giveaways and other content not seen by the rest of the world, sign up for the free Messages from the Labyrinth Newsletter!

Paperback copies of Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) and Sacred Atonement:Novelette (The Birthrite Series, # 1.5) available together for the low price of $21.00 at my Official Website

My music projects are available at CDBaby
My filmwork is on IMDb

"The Birthrite Series" and other books at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
 My books and music are also on Amazon and iTunes
Tiffany on Goodreads
Support great authors and independent bookstores at Smashwords and Indiebound

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Life in the 18th Century Continued

Hi everyone,

So throughout my summer so far working at the Depreciation Lands Museum, I have had many hands on experiences that I feel continues to help the historical content of my writing. Plus it's just an interesting and all around rewarding experience to be able to experience and live (even if just for a few hours out of the day) the way people centuries ago did.

Skills I have picked up along the way so far:

Drop Spindling - the drop spindle is a sort of portable spinning wheel that allows a user to spin fleece (or roving) into yarn or thread for things like sewing, knitting, and crocheting (the latter wasn't widely done until the 1800s or Victorian era). It is a straight stick (usually made of wood) and allows the person spinning to twist the fibers (usually wool, flax, or cotton) into the yarn needed. It is agreed that the process of spinning fibers to form thread has been around for over 10,000 years. And initially, it was done WITHOUT tools. Yes, according to the instructors of the drop spindle class at the museum, those massive sails on the Viking ships where originally spun manually by hand before the drop spindle and spinning wheels came about.
As for when the drop spindle originally came about, no one knows for sure, as the wood never survived. However, whorl-weighted spindles do date back to at least Neolithic times as whorl spindles have been found in archeological digs throughout many areas of the world.
As for the spinning wheel that many today associate with the art of spinning thread and yarn starts to appear in records at around the 13th century. However, it doesn't actually show up in European records until the late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance. Therefore, the drop spindle was largely used worldwide to spin all the threads for materials used for clothing, tapestries, Egyptian mummy-wrappings, ropes, sails, etc. for nearly 9000 years.
After taking the class and then practicing at home afterward, I've actually taken to spinning much of my own yarn for knitting. They do sell roving at a lot of fabric and yarn stores. Or if you live near a farm where they raise sheep or alpaca, you can also inquire about possibly purchasing some fleece from them. :)

Churning Butter - It seems a simple enough task, but in out ADHD society, many people do tend to lose focus after only trying a few pumps. The way butter was made back in the day (and can still be made today) was taking cream (heavy cream or heavy whipping cream works just fine) and pouring it into a jar (if you're churning a small amount) or small wooden barrel (if churning a larger amount). Many people also like to add a bit of salt to act as a preservative. Then you place a lid on top. The lid usually has a hole drilled into the center in order to make way for the plunging stick. Then you churn, moving the plunging stick in an up and down motion until the cream starts to solidify, forming the butter. Buttermilk will also start to form around the more solid substance. The buttermilk is also kept and used for cooking and some even drink it.
Now how long does it take? Well, I churned in a small churner and that took me about 20 minutes. However, churning a larger amount inside a small barrel can take a couple hours. Either way, it is an awesome upper body work out.
Another way to churn butter (and still get the upper body workout) is to put the cream and salt inside a mason jar with a marble and shake it up. The name of the game is to aggravate the cream so it may solidify and make butter. Or, if you need butter on the fly, you can put the cream and salt into a modern blender or food processor and blend for 2 minutes. :)

I will get into more tasks and skills that I have been doing at the museum in later posts. Some of these include cooking in a hearth fireplace (making bread, tarts, and fruit preserves), learning children's games (a lot of which really aren't all that different from games played today), being an 18th century schoolteacher, and writing with a quill and inkwell. I've also gotten to refine my knitting and sewing abilities.
In working at the museum, I continue to see more and more how as a modern society, we really don't do anything anymore. This is why I love learning and demonstrating these skills to people who otherwise would not get to experience them. And I can also pick up another skill for myself. I also love debunking many historical myths that have unfortunately been so widely spread, which I will also get into on a future post.

Til next time. :)


Depreciation Lands Museum Website: 
The Drop Spindle (a crash course): 
Churning Butter (yet another crash course, but please look up other sources as well):

Until July 10, all three of the first installments - Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1), Sacred Atonement: A Novelette (The Birthrite Series, #2.5), and Made in Heaven: A Birthrite Series Short - are available as free downloads from the following retailers:
My books are also available at Amazon (giveaways for Amazon coming soon):


For first access to giveaways and other content not seen by the rest of the world, sign up for the free Messages from the Labyrinth Newsletter!

Paperback copies of Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) and Sacred Atonement:Novelette (The Birthrite Series, # 1.5) available together for the low price of $21.00 at my Official Website

My music projects are available at CDBaby
My filmwork is on IMDb

"The Birthrite Series" and other books at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK
 My books and music are also on Amazon and iTunes
Tiffany on Goodreads
Support great authors and independent bookstores at Smashwords and Indiebound

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

GUEST POST: Author Megan Cashman, "Why My Vampires Are The Way They Are"

No two vampires are the same. What I mean by that is, it seems like vampires in each book, movie or TV show have their own appearances, powers, and blood drinking requirements. Sometimes these characteristics are based on folklore (the Eastern European of the vampire has had a big influence on how we see vampires these days) or at times, the author creates their own version (I never heard of vampires sparkling before “Twilight”).

So I say it is safe to say writers of vampire stories got their ideas from various sources – as did I. In this post, I will discuss where the characteristics of my vampires in my book, “The Dark Proposal”, came from.
Firstly, let me lay out what those characteristics are:
  • very pale skin that turns into a healthier tone after feeding,
  • the ability to read minds and erase thoughts,
  • move at a very quick speed (think True Blood),
  • turn into mist,
  • no need to sleep in coffins,
  • being able to walk around in daylight or even overcasts after many centuries,
  • superhuman physical strength,
  • heightened hearing and seeing,
Some of my vampires also have difficulty stopping themselves from consuming blood from a person, which leads to suspicious deaths among humans.
So how did I come up with these traits? Allow me to explain:
Very pale skin that turns into healthier tone after feeding: Almost white skin I think is one of the hallmarks of a vampire. Having one without pale skin is like not giving a vampire fangs. It also comes from Slavic folklore that a vampire was spotted by its pale skin that turned ruddy after feeding. Plus, for my trilogy, there needs to be something suspicious about their appearance. Without the skin issue, there’s no hint that something is off someone.
The ability to read minds and erase thoughts: Many vampires have done this and I think it can come from the heightened senses these undead creatures have. If they can hear and see things humans cannot see, why not human thoughts? And since I have my vampires inherit supernatural abilities, why not also erase human thoughts if necessary? If you are wondering why my vampires do not hypnotize people, like Dracula did or the vampires on True Blood, well, I did think about that. But it wouldn’t have worked for my book. If Daniel was able to make Claire say and do things through hypnosis, then my story had no point, would be boring, be done in 50 pages, with the whole idea down the drain. Plus, I didn’t want my vampires to be too much like their True Blood counterparts.
Speaking of True Blood…
Move at a very quick speed: Honestly, I gave my vampires this skill because I think it is so cool to see them zip around a room in a blink of an eye. Also, when I wrote the scene where Daniel proved to Claire that he’s a vampire, I just had to have him to do that. It worked so perfectly.
Turn into mist: Comes in handy, basically. I loved the 1992 flick, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Francis Ford Coppola, and the way it showed Dracula turning into green mist. While the mist in stories aren’t green, it is still a fascinating ability to have. It adds to the mystery and fear of the vampire.

No need to sleep in coffins: I really didn’t like the idea of a vampire sleeping in a coffin, even if it is basically a dead creature. It was just too archaic for me. I was also inspired by one of my favorite vampire books as a young teen, Christopher Pike’s “The Last Vampire” series. His vampire heroine, Sita, didn’t use a coffin and slept in a bed like anyone else.
Which leads to the next trait inspired by Mr. Pike’s books…
Being able to walk around in daylight or even overcasts after many centuries: This was something Sita was able to do, although not every single day since the sun would exhaust her after a while. I also had always wondered if a vampire could walk around during a cloudy, rainy day. After all, there is no sun to fry him, right? But I do think being able to deal with some sunlight is best for more mature vampires because age does make them stronger. At least for mine.
Superhuman physical strength: Because my vampires got their traits from ancient tribal gods, why wouldn’t they have the power and strength of those deities? Same goes for heightened hearing and seeing. Vampires are supposed to be, to me at least, creatures that we fear. We fear them not simply because they can kill or torment us, but because they have the supernatural ability to hunt us down easily, get us to do things other humans aren’t able to, and go mostly unnoticeable in everyday life. It’s hard to fear something or someone who isn’t two notches stronger or skilled than you.

Links to Megan's book on Amazon, Smashwords and Goodreads:

Megan on social media:
Twitter: @MeganCashman