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Sunday 26 June 2011

Supernatural Sunday - Poltergeist

Let's start off by saying the experts agree to disagree on what a poltergeist actually is. The word itself comes from German (Poltern & Geist) and means noisy spirit. The problem for most investigators is that they're not actually sure it is a spirit; a fairly high percentage of poltergeist activity turns out to faked. But when it isn't faked, both skeptics and believers are left scratching their heads.

Poltergeists are noisy, disruptive and destructive and potentially deadly, with a nasty habit of throwing knives and other dangerous objects at people.

The earliest recorded poltergeist activity comes from around 858 A.D., when a farmer near the town of Bingen along the Rhine river was pelted by stones. Stone throwing seems to be a favourite poltergeist activity, along with setting fires; the unfortunate man lost most of his newly harvested crops when a number of spontaneous fires started.

Other activity reported in cases includes objects moving, appearing or disappearing out of thin air (aporting), water boiling away from any heat, and people having their clothes ripped. Then we get to the really  serious stuff; victims getting scratching, slapping, pulling and punched, often in front of 3rd party witnesses. It seems poltergeists really like an audience.
Victims have also been recorded as vomiting pins and needles in a couple of cases, which can't be much fun at all.

Some poltergeists seem to show a benevolent streak though: the Bell Witch poltergeist, known as "Kate",  is credited with rescuing a  young boy who got his head stuck in a cave. Of course Kate also beat the living daylights out of members of the Bell family, interfered with Betsy Bell's engagement to John Gardner to the extent the marriage was called off, and threatened to kill John Bell, the family patriarch. Legend has it that when John finally lapsed into a coma and died after enduring some serious physical torment by the poltergeist, Kate claimed responsibility for the death by poisoning him.
The old Bell homestead. Today, only a pile of stone remains to mark the spot where it is thought to have stood.
An interesting fact is that poltergeist phenomena usually occur around children and adolescents, leading to the theory that it might be a latent psychokinetic talent that becomes active around puberty. Considering the kids involved are usually the main focus of the poltergeist's spite, if this is true it's probably a talent they don't want.

The 1967 Rosenheim Poltergeist was linked specifically to 19 year old employee, Annemarie Schneider, and cost the poor girl her job. Once it was established the activity only happened when she was in the building, the company dismissed her. It was one of the first cases of poltergeist activity recorded on tape. Poor Annemarie was followed by the poltergeist to a number of jobs afterwards, until the activity tapered off and eventually disappeared.

Moving onto Hollywood; the original 1982 movie scared the pants off of a pretty large audience. Being Hollywood, an explanation of houses built over a graveyard was introduced so that a logical explanation could be used in the script. A fun movie, but not the way poltergeists usually work.

An American Haunting, released in 2005, was a pretty good movie based on the Bell Witch case. The insinuation in the movie that the poltergeist was caused by John Bell abusing Betsy is pure speculation however, and since no evidence was ever found to point to this, can be considered another Hollywood convenience.

Attempts by skeptics to explain poltergeist phenomenon have included earthquakes, ball lightning, static electricity, ultrasound, infrasound and even carbon monoxide poisoning (for those pesky hallucinations shared by witnesses).

Some experts believe poltergeists are disturbed spirits, low elementals, or  psychokinetic abilities.

At the end of the day however, the only thing that seems clear is that nobody really knows what a poltergeist is - but nobody ever wants one hanging around.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues. You can find WolfSong on AmazonSony  e-bookstoreNook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords.

Saturday 25 June 2011

My mother vs Stephen King

I have a confession: my mother doesn't really  like my books. She thinks I'm a good writer, and she tries to read my stuff - but she hates reading horror, most fantasy leaves her puzzled, and the paranormal holds zero attraction for her.

She really wishes I'd write about, well nice things. You know - boy meets girl, boy wins girl, puppies and kittens and butterflies, and happily ever after. My version would probably go : boy meets girl, girl eats boy, bats and dragons and gargoyles, and  there's something under the bed.

She blames Stephen King for putting these thoughts into my head.

When I was about eight years old, I discovered a copy of Cujo in my grandmother's bookcase. I loved visiting Gran. The house always smelt of lemon and flowers and fresh baking, and she'd keep a box of condensed milk triangles to sneak to us when the folks weren't looking. Gran was love, and hugs, and being called "pet", and oh, my, I miss her. She passed out of this life more than twenty years ago, but I can still feel her hand stroke my hair, and smell her perfume.

In Gran's defense, the book wasn't hers - it belonged to her brother, who was staying over. Gran's taste, like my mom, ran more towards romance and the classics.
Uncle Gus, being the neat house-guest he was, finished the book and popped it in the bookcase to avoid clutter.
Me being me, once the adults were chatting in the kitchen, gravitated towards the bookcase in case there was anything new.

I was quite a way into the book when I came across a word I didn't know. My folks had taught me to look things up in a dictionary, but Gran didn't have one. So I went with plan B : ask an adult.

I wandered into the kitchen, book tucked under my arm. There was a chicken roasting gently in the oven, and my parents, Gran and uncle Gus sitting around the table with cups of tea.

"Mom," I said, when they all turned to look at me. "I need a word?"
My mother smiled in encouragement. "What's the word, dear?"
I opened the book and carefully pronounced it. "Master-bat-ing."

My father sprayed his mouthful of tea across the white painted ceiling and almost choked.

"Janet," my mother said carefully. "What are you reading?"

I held up the book cover so she could see the name.

Sorry, Stephen King. Mom has had issues with you ever since.

Truthfully, although I was a King fan from then on, my love affair the macabre started even earlier. Amongst the classics on my parents bookshelf were Shakespeare (Macbeth is still my favourite) and Edgar Allen Poe.
Although I've pointed that out to her, none of them resulted in an eight year old child with scabby knees wandering into a room and asking what a certain word meant. In front of her own mother. (Mom is a lady; and to her that means certain words and topics are not discussed in public.)

Gran wanted to take the book away from me. Mom pointed out that I was more than halfway through it, and would just find another copy if I wanted to finish it. Even at eight, I was pretty bull-headed when I wanted to do something.

At this point, nobody had told me what the word meant, which I pointed out. Mom turned bright red, and told me to look it up when I got home. (I did. It still made no sense to me. At the age of eight, words like sexual gratification are just words on a page.)

My dad was still making strangled noises when I left the kitchen to finish the book. I think he was trying not to laugh.

Sometimes I wish I could write a nice, normal romance for my mom. I could probably put the words on paper, but would it be good writing? I doubt it; the odds are it would be flat and stale and have as much emotional impact as a wet sardine. 

Mom read the whole of WolfSong, which surprised the hell out of me - there is a bit of romance in there, but it's more concerned with blood, guts and magic.She even kind of enjoyed it, which surprised me more.

Basement Blues was a different kettle of fish. Three shorts, one of which is outright horror.

Me: "Don't read Dim. You'll hate it."
Mom: "Alright, I'll skip that one."

Three days later:

Mom :"That story was not very nice, Janet."
Me : "I told you not to read it!"
Mom: "You're my daughter. Of course I'm going to read it. I'm just not going to enjoy it." 
Thoughtful pause.
Mom: "You know, you read way too much of that Stephen King stuff when you were young. That's why you write all these weird things."

Once again, sorry Stephen King. But I still love your writing. 

You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Supernatural Sunday - Ghouls

It's time for Supernatural Sunday again. This weeks topic - Ghouls.

Ghouls are used to describe humans with an interest in death and the macabre (so most of us horror/paranormal writers fit right in there).

Mythic lore about Ghouls stems from Arabic culture - the root word is "ghala", meaning to seize. Arabic ghouls are desert-dwelling demonic creatures, believed to have the ability to shape-shift, usually into hyaenas.
Their goal is to lure unwary travellers into the desert and feed on them, and they take on the shape of their last victim when the feeding is done.
Other charming habits include feeding on corpses, robbing graves, drinking blood and stealing coins, as well actively preying on children.

While sharing a number of traits with zombies and vampires, ghouls consider the dead to be the ultimate snack food, and will chose a dead body over the living.

Boris Karloff starred in the 1933 horror The Ghoul, and the ghoul as pop culture monster turns up in everything from books, to band names, to some really funky artwork on Magic the Gathering cards.

As a main character in fiction, the ghoul has never really taken off, unlike other monsters; it's hard to for an audience to empathize  with  this particular beastie. Romance? Nope. Show a ghoul a girl and he'll eat her. Sex Appeal? Barring a few rather unusual members of the human population, rotting corpses don't ring any bells. Angst? Not going to happen here. Ditto for intelligence and sense of humour. (Although, if anyone comes up with a sparkling, lovelorn ghoul let me know. I'd have to check that out).

As side characters, or something for the protagonist to face off against, they fare a bit better.
The Anita Blake books use ghouls through the series as red herrings, referring to their pack-like behaviour and habit of enjoying the local cemetery. Cowardly and vicious, with no ability to talk (if it's lurching forward saying "Brains," you have a zombie, not a ghoul) they are dangerous to the wounded, ill, and children. A solitary ghoul is likely to run from confrontation. A pack on the other hand, is dangerous to anyone they come across.

Repelled by any form of light source, especially a sunlight, ghouls can be destroyed by using fire or decapitation.
They are however, immune to poison, don't need to breath and feel no pain, so although highly flammable, getting up close and personal with a ghoul could be tricky.


Thanks to LSH (on twitter as @magicdarcy) for this weeks topic. Tweet me with ideas for next week, or post in the comments below.

You can find WolfSong on AmazonSony  e-bookstoreNook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Kindle Author interview up, & some funky new stuff

My Kindle Author interview went up yesterday, focusing on Basement Blues. A massive thanks to David Wisehart, who's a talented author himself,  for the opportunity and a really cool site.

You can now get Blue Moon Detective Agency goodies from the U.K.  Zazzle site, as well as WolfSong and Basement Blues mugs.

 My favorite are the mugs, but there are hooded tops and vests available too, with more to come soon - watch this space.

Blue Moon Detectives Agency mugsBasement Blues mugs mugs

Supernatural Sunday: A brief look at... Vampires

Every Sunday I'll post about something related to the paranormal world. It's a topic I love, and everything paranormal has fascinated me since I was knee-high to a leprechaun.

This week's post - Vampires.

Vampires have existed in one form or another in every culture on the planet for centuries. The traditional western image of the vampire shot into popularity with John Polidori's The Vampyre. Then along came Bram Stokers creation of Dracula, and when cinema came along Hollywood picked up the ball and ran with it.

Nowadays, the image of a vampire with cape and lisping accent is considered an overdone cliché. In fact, it's pretty recent. Even the word vampire only became popular around the 18th century, so historically it's in its infancy.

Stoker actually has quite a lot to answer for. Instead of drawing on the traditions of vampirism, such as the bloated rotting corpses (not quite so pretty) that inspired the myth in areas such as Eastern Europe and the Balkans, he envisaged an elegant count, with abilities cobbled together from werewolf myths and demonology. He gave him the name of a man many in his home country consider a national hero, and started a fan following that still exists to this day. (Most Transylvanian's are not impressed by the  legions of tourists that pitch up looking for Dracula's grave, considering the whole legend disrespectful and dreadfully inaccurate). 

Thanks to Stoker, we have vampires with sex drives (Anita Blake), vampires that sparkle (Twilight), angst-ridden, whiny vampires (pick a recent mainstream series) and comedy vampires (Fright Night, Once Bitten). 

Around the world in 80 000 vampires
If you define a vampire as something that lives on the life force of others, and don't get stuck purely on the whole blood-drinking thing, there are so many other cultures out there, and they all have vampire myths.

The Adze is a vampiric spirit from the Ewe trip found in parts of Ghana and Togo. It looks like a fire fly, and feeds on coconut water, palm oil and the blood of children. (Guess which one it prefers?)

The Ekkimu was described by ancient Sumerian's as "evil wind gusts" had no physical form at all, and was feared throughout Mesopotamia. This purely psychic vampire later developed a physical form in the Inuit culture and was described as being rotting corpses who retained their mind and personality from when they were living people.

The Kyūketsuki comes from Japan, and can be persuaded to live on honey instead of blood, while the Baital from India is a short (about one &  a half meter tall) half-man half-bat creature. 

These are just a view of the vampires that are found around the world, and the similarities and differences never fail to fascinate me, even though they don't fit the sanitised, sexy version currently popular.

The astounding thing is that every single culture has a version of this myth. That's a lot of people, considering the age of these stories and the fact that cross-contamination between cultures can't account for all of them, it does make you wonder - what happened to start it all?

How did a tribe in Africa come up with a myth that bears a startling similarity to a legend in Japan?

And do we insist that these tales are myth and legend because we are rationalists, or because part of us is very afraid they might be grounded in truth?

You can find WolfSong on AmazonSony  e-bookstoreNook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords.


Saturday 11 June 2011

Guest blogs, and blogging in general

The lovely and talented Thea Atkinson had me up as a guest blogger this week over at GonzoInk.

This was my first ever guest blog post, and I was pretty nervous; Thea is one of the most elegant writers I've come across.
I can't claim the same; passionate and enthusiastic yes, elegant, no. It's comparable to inviting a Great Dane puppy into a room full of china. I was hoping I didn't smash anything or leave puddles on the floor.

There was a bit of a hiccup to start with; thanks to my usual ability to kill technology, my home PC decided to go on strike and my net book was giving me gyp. Thea was kind enough to push the date back and I got the post sorted.

It was one of the best learning curves I've ever had; and as it turned out, I had a blast with it.

 It wasn't a blog to just plug the book, it was chance to write about anything I wanted to. How often do you get an opportunity like that? (And why, for the love of Cthulhu, aren't I using it on my own blog? That's pretty much going to change, effective immediately.)

I only started blogging a couple of months ago, and I'm pretty new at the self-promotion game. But looking at GonzoInk, and sites like Mark Williams International  have made me realise that my own blog was pretty, um, boring. Because it doesn't really reflect me as who I am, or what I'm really like. A weekly round-up might keep a few people interested, but on the whole, most of them will probably skip it.

Good blogs not only inform their audience, they entertain, and if you want to be a writer, entertaining the people that shell out their money for your books is vital.

So I'm going to start to blog about the good stuff; which is the world in general, as well as the writing side of things, and see how it goes.

I'd be interested in how anyone else feels about their own and other blogs in the comments section - have you changed your style from when you started? How have other bloggers influenced you? What do you really like reading about in a blog, and what do you hate?

Dream time

Dreams have always had a big impact on my writing. During my interview over at Indie Book Blog  in March, I mentioned that WolfSong started off as a dream about a group of soldiers riding into a village, and finding it full of bodies.

The whole book pretty much took off from there; I woke up wondering about this group and what happened to them. Strangely enough, I've had dreams - standalone episodes and re-runs - about the Crescent since I was about fifteen or so. I look forward to them; it's like my subconscious has decided to chill out with a big bowl of popcorn and the latest action/fantasy installment.

If you're wondering about the movie/t.v. reference above, that's because of how I view the whole dreaming thing - entertainment my subconscious produces for my personal enjoyment. I tend to remember most of them, although I admit there are a couple I try very hard to forget.

Dreams are where my snarky side really gets its boots on: I went through a five or six year patch where I'd suddenly dream about the guy I was currently dating wearing a pink tutu and army boots. Can you say passion killer?
A few relationships later, the tutu dreams stopped - thankfully, since I was starting to contemplate a life of severe abstinence at that point. (The worst was one were the chap concerned was a 6 foot five red-head. Not.A.Good.Look.)

I'm never sure what I'm going to get when I do get to sleep - I tend to suffer from insomnia on and off, so an actual eight hours of sleep is both rare and appreciated. But the couple of hours I do snatch here and there are always filled with dreams, and 90% of the time I'm fully aware I'm dreaming. If I don't enjoy it, I try to switch the channel, so to speak - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

Some of the best ones are where I get to eat nice food. My favorites by far are where I can fly.

Apparently, having all five sense active in dreamland is fairly uncommon. I wouldn't know - I've always been able to taste, smell, and feel in them. Sometimes I body-hop; first I'm one person in the scene, then I'm another. I have no idea how common that is either, but it's definitely interesting.

It really is kind of like channel surfing: sometimes it's fantasy, sometimes comedy. On a couple of nasty occasions I get full blown horror, and spend the rest of the day feeling grumpy and out of sorts even if  I've managed to forget the details, which can take a lot of doing.
My subconscious doesn't seem to go for romance much, although every now and then it flips to the porn channel (usually spoilt by part of me going "I don't think that's actually physically possible without breaking something"). For some reason those are usually interrupted by either the phone or the doorbell ringing. Sometimes that's a good thing.
I'm still waiting for a good western to pitch up though, and if I get the same recurring dream too many times I get bored, even with the ones that scared the hell out of me the first couple of times. They tend to go like this:

Subconscious : Spiders! LOTS of SPIDERS.
Me : Oh, jeez! Again? Seriously? Give it up.
Subconscious: HAIRY spiders!!
Me : I could always try shaving them..
Subconscious: Oh, piss off. I'm sulking now, and for that, you get to stay awake for another three hours. Go write your blog..
Me : Oh, bugger.

You can find WolfSong on AmazonSony  e-bookstoreNook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Weekly Round-up, and the WSJ YA storm.

It's been a crazy one again - getting used to being back at work, plus getting Basement Blues out there, sorting out artwork, and screaming hysterically at the electronic malfunctions in my life.

Before moving on to the round-up though - I've had the extreme displeasure of reading the Wall Street Journal article about YA.

Now, I don't write Y.A. I do however read it, and have done so from a fairly early age.

The article is an insult to writers of Young Adult fiction, their agents, and publishers. It is an even bigger insult to the people who read it, most of whom are teenagers.

Teenagers are a lot of things. Often confused, alienated, and trying to figure out the world they are in. The one thing they are not, is stupid. And if they don't like a book, come hell, high water or 6 months detention, they won't read the blasted thing.

Opinion writers like Ms. Gurdon seem to have forgotten this. She seems to have fallen into a trap I've seen before,  which is the one of wishfully relegating teens to the status of children who still require adults to make every decision for them, from the clothes they wear to the books they read.

Hate to tell you this, sweetie, but it doesn't work.

Pretending that teenagers need to be wrapped up in cotton wool and not exposed to the horrors of life is beyond stupid. It's actively dangerous.

They might not be adults legally, but teens are exposed to the world, with all the beauty and brutality that entails.

Pretending they aren't makes Ms. Gurdon appear so far removed from reality, she might as well have invited Tinkerbell to tea in her article.

Moving on from the mini-rant, the round-up:

Liverpool (cold) and Romford. It was my first visit to Romford, which is not that far away from London. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much apart from the train station and the business I visited.  Best part was chatting to two delightful elderly gentleman on the train coming back about the merits of kindle versus tree books.

Technical Malfunctions
My new wireless headphones decided not to recognise my phone any more. I got them because I was very tired of fighting with the cord on my normal headphones. LSH, who got a pair because I was so chuffed with mine, is still laughing at me. Hers are working fine.

Home PC has (again) become the worlds largest paperweight. Not happy.

And for something completely different, the light fitting in our home toilet has discovered new life as a water feature. Hopefully, the letting agent fixes it before either LSH or I end up crispy crittered, which is a distinct possibility if one of us forgets and flips the light switch while its still raining.

Got Basement Blues up on Amazon this week - the link is here. I sent a couple of preview copies out and the response was incredibly positive, so I'm moving forward with plans for a full length series with these guys.

Now it's back to working on the follow up to WolfSong. I think the break to work on BB was a good thing. The only problem is I now see a huge amount of the book I want to re-write since it's just not up to scratch. The weird thing is, a year ago I would have been happy with it. But I think in the past 6 months I've learnt so much - and hopefully improved - that there is no way I'm happy putting it out the way it currently stands; so we're talking a major re-write. Possibly from scratch. Ah, well..

I have about a month before university starts up again, so will be writing as much as I can.

Found some absolute gems:

Bubba and the Dead Woman by C.L. Bevill. Waiting for pay day so I can download all of the books by this author, I enjoyed it that much.
Scary Mary by S.A. Hunter - I really hope there's a follow up to this one. Loved the characters.
Wild by Naomi Clark. If you aren't following this particular author by now, you are really missing a treat. And I LOVE the cover for this. I have the feeling it won't be long before this author gets to write full time; there's just too much talent here for it not to happen. Personally, I can't wait, since it means more books from her. :-)
I've also just discovered Camile Laguire and the Mick & Casey adventures, & I can't wait for the next lot.