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Sunday 31 July 2011

Sample Sunday and latest interview news

Anne-Marie Simpson put up with my warped sense of humour in this weeks Author/Human interview on her blog here.

Laughing Boy, the follow up to Basement Blues, is trotting along nicely. If all goes well this should be ready for e-publishing in the next couple of months, and the first couple of chapters are posted below as a bit of a sneak peek. Hope you enjoy.



When Mike Lin called me I was trying to decide between a third cappuccino with sprinkles or lacing a straight coffee with a shot of whiskey.
It was two o’clock in the afternoon, I was on my day off, and I was bored out of my tiny little mind.

It never occurred to me to ignore the call, which came through on my work cell phone. Mike’s a pretty good guy – the only reliable medium I’ve ever dealt with – and since he managed to get control of his allergies around me, we’ve become sort of friends.
If I’d known what he was about to drop my furry ass into, I would have pushed the little red button on the phone instead, and developing friendship be damned.

Instead, I pushed the green button. Keanu Reeves, eat your heart out.

“Mike. What’s up?”
“Billy.” Mike’s voice was terse and clipped, totally unlike his usual semi-drawl.
I dropped my feet off of the table and sat upright. “What’s wrong?”
“I need your help. I‘m way over my head on this one.” He paused. “I’m scared, Billy.”
“Where are you?”
“Can I meet you at your office? I’ll have a client with me.”

I thought for a moment. I didn’t want to go into the office. Bored or not, I had no interest in driving to the business district. And I knew better than to bring a strange human into Astrid’s home territory. That never ended well.

If you think cats are territorial, you’ve never met a vampire.

I named a local area coffee shop, and Mike quickly agreed. I hung up and tapped the phone against the palm of my mind. I’d never heard Mike so rattled, and I’d been through a couple of bad situations with him.

The old saying about curiousity killing the cat? When the cat is a private detective, you might as well throw in re-incarnation and a cool I.D. card.


I was halfway through a sandwich and iced coffee when Mike walked into the shop with his client.
They headed over to my table, Mike leading the way.
I looked at his client and forgot how to breathe.
She was tiny. Huge brown eyes and light brown hair, skin the colour of toasted caramel. I reckoned my hands would fit around her waist without straining my fingers, and unless she was wearing very high heels the top of her head wouldn’t quite reach my chest.
Mike pulled out a chair for her, kicking me swiftly under the table and giving me a chance to swallow my mouthful of ham on rye.
I swallowed and smiled at her. “I’m Billy.”
She smiled back.
“I’m a detective,” I said, and heard Mike groan quietly. Smooth, Billy. Real smooth.
She eyed me as though I’d grown a second pair of eyebrows.

“Billy,” Mike said, and I thankfully transferred my attention to him and felt my brain start to function again. “This one’s serious.”
“Talk to me,” I invited, and watched Mike blanch. Tiny little beads of sweat popped up on his upper lip, like little pearls.
“Is this a joke?” The girl on the other side of the table did not sound happy. I held up a hand without looking at her.
“I’ve said that to you dozens of times, Mike. Why are you freaking out on me now?”
He swiped a hand over his mouth. “Sorry. I used that phrase to open a channel today. The results were .. unpleasant.”

I looked at him, then popped the last of my sandwich in my mouth and chewed. No point in letting the food go to waste, and it gave Mike time to think. I took a sip of iced coffee and waited.

I’m good at waiting. I’m not sure if that’s a cat thing or just me, but when I know something is going to happen I can wait for a long, long time. It’s a skill that most people don’t have.

Eventually the girl leaned forward. “Mike? Are you okay?”
“No,” he answered, and cocked his head. “No, I’m not.”  And passed out cold, taking the table and the remnants of my iced coffee with him.

Just as well I ate the rest of my sandwich when I did.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords

Supernatural Sunday - A brief look at Voodoo

Let's start off by saying that if you've learnt about Voodoo from the movies, pretty much everything you know is wrong.For the purposes of this post I'm sticking to the New Orleans spelling - traditionalists from Benin, considered the cradle of Vodou, are likely to use that spelling.

Hollywood, once again, has a lot to answer for. So do a lot of fiction writers, but movies such as The Serpent and the Rainbow and Angel Heart  didn't help. Neither have the multitude of t.v. series that feature voodoo as a story line, fun though they were - everything from the Twilight Zone to Relic Hunter have added to the misconceptions.
This is NOT a voodoo doll...

Sticking pins in dolls, so vital to the Hollywood conception of voodoo, is actually alien to everything the religion stands for. There are dolls used in voodoo; placed on altars with a petition to the loa, or as a focusing object. Sticking pins in human shaped images known as poppets is a form of sympathetic magic from a totally different system of European magic, and a traditional voodoo worshiper wouldn't be be very impressed with these at all. (It should be noted that "voodoo cursing dolls" can be found anywhere from the net to physical shops in New Orleans and other places. This is part of an ancient and honored tradition found in cultures world-wide, known as "Fleece the Tourist.)

This IS a voodoo doll.  A Marry Me voodoo doll, found on

Like any long-established religion, Voodoo has a dark side. Bokors will perform black magic - i.e. negative magic, that will harm as well as heal - known as "working with both hands." However, mainstream voodoo practitioners have a  strict moral code that eliminates pesky little things like human sacrifice, another Hollywood/schlock horror staple.

The idea of human sacrifice as a voodoo rite stems from fear and misinformation.

Voodoo has strong ties to Catholicism, with the belief in one supreme being and a pantheon of loa, or spirit forces that are addressed and gifted by worshipers. However, rites and gifts can change regionally, as well as being dependent on the needs of the petitioner. Voodoo practised in the mainland USA is very different to Voodoo practiced in Haiti or Africa, for example. It's also worth noting that the title of Houngan or Mambo (equivalent in many ways to a priest or priestess) is often passed down through the family line.

The tradition of animal sacrifice is often viewed with repulsion by outsiders, and a particularly sore point for animal rights activists. It's been held up as a symbol of satanism  at work in voodoo by a number of westerners. Animal sacrifice, however has been an integral part of the majority of western religions and can quite easily be traced through the Christian-Judaic bible. As the animal killed in these rituals is usually cooked and eaten by the people attending this ceremony, it's probably a lot less wasteful than what my ancestors used to practice several centuries ago. (Judging by the horror stories that escape traditional abattoirs, it's also probably a lot more humane.)

The concept of the soul is a vital aspect to voodoo, as is inviting the loa, considered a form of benign possession. This can be more closely compared to mediumship than the christian theory of demonic possession, although the actions of the loa can be extremely energetic while riding the host, depending on the loa that turns up.
The vever, often stunningly intricate patterns drawn with handfuls of powder or flour, both represents the loa to be invoked as well as serving as a focal point and occasional altar.

Vever for Ghede, the family of spirits that  embody death and fertility.

Despite the dark connotations, thanks mainly to western media and misrepresentations, voodoo as a religion is  very focused on light and enlightening the soul. A high number of rituals and requests focus on healing, and helping, both the practioner and their loved ones. With this in mind, it's a sad reflection on society that most voodoo worshipers in the west hide their religious beliefs through fear of victimization by their neighbors and employers. Even Haiti only recognized this ancient religion officially in 2003, leading to fairly predictable howls of moral outrage from a variety of christian groups across the world.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Mid-week news & Guest blogs to come

Some great news (excuse me while I have a fan girl moment) is that Thea Atkinson is going to be guest blogging for me in a couple of weeks. I can't wait!

If you haven't come across Thea's writing yet, do yourself a favor and head over to Amazon or Smashwords - the lady has a range of books out and they all absolutely rock. I'd recommend starting with Formed of Clay and hitting the rest as fast as possible.
You can follow her on twitter @theaatkinson or check out her excellent site here. And she had a birthday this week, so happy belated birthday, Thea.

Mary Beeson (also known as @xchylerconn at twitter) just had Keizara Part 1 and 3479 published by Solstice. I'm so proud of her - I saw one of the early drafts of Keizara and it's a great little read. I'm looking forward to settling down with my copy of 3479 this coming weekend.

Joe Garraty (@JosephGarraty) has The Q Bomb up on both Smashwords and Amazon - if you like a bit of fun sci-fi, this is perfect to fill up your lunch hour.

And last but not least - a quick shout out to everyone following me on twitter and this site. If I haven't followed you back it's because with my usual flair for technology, every time I try Google has hysterics and dies on me. S J Wist - if you read this, all I've been able to access is the artwork on your Google profile - if you can put a blog link in the comments, that'd be great.

The other reason for not following on twitter is if I can't read any of your posts because they aren't in English (sorry, but if I can't read you I have no idea what's happening, or if we'll connect), or if all I see on a profile is a series of tweeted links, which gets you blocked and reported for spam.

The other reason is if your opinions and comments are polar opposites to mine. You're perfectly entitled to them, since they are your opinions. But if reading them raises my blood pressure, I'm just not going there.

There's enough nastiness on the net already, I have no inclination to add it to my life or my twitter-stream voluntarily.


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords

Sunday 24 July 2011

The week twitter turned my stomach

I'll be one of the first to admit I'm a twitter addict. I don't tweet everyday, and a lot of what I do is re-tweeting when I come across a comment or article that someone else has written, because I find it valid, or interesting, or just plain funny. I've met some great people on twitter, the kind you just want to sit back and chat with. No agenda, no issues.

But this week... Man, this week left me with a truly sick feeling. There's a lot of sad, vicious little trolls out there that use stuff that happens in the world to push an agenda.

It started when Japan beat the USA in a football match. I lost count of the number of people screaming about Pearl Harbour. What the bloody hell a sports game has to do with a war event that happened before most of the morons tweeting about it were born escapes me.

Then the horrific shooting in Norway, where every right wing racist came out waving their banner about the Muslim danger. The fact that fundamentalist terrorists don't live or abide by the rules of Islam doesn't fit it with their own agenda's, so is casually ignored. Of course when it turned out the guy responsible appears to be a flaming right wing racist himself, the sound of rapid braking nearly drowned out the news. Hate to tell you this guys - it doesn't make him less of a terrorist. Look up the definition, since I'm too cursed grumpy and disgusted to do it for you right now.

Then yesterday Amy Winehouse was discovered dead. Once again, the trolls came out to play.

For me, when someone dies, no matter who or what they are, it should be a tragedy. All of their potential futures in this world are lost. No matter what they did in the past, are doing in the present - a loss of a life is a loss of the future. Keep in mind that right now, nobody knows what killed her. Everyone assumes it was an overdose, but hey - we've been wrong before.

Amy Winehouse was famous because she was one of the finest singers to come to light in years. There was nothing manufactured about her voice or her music. I avoided reading about her personal issues and the whole drug thing, because for me they were the least interesting thing about her.

At the same  time, she was one of many people struggling with a dark place. Her family, and the survivors in Norway have to try to find their way around the fact that a loved one is irrevocably gone. Your mind stumbles over that for a long, long time, and it hurts. It will always hurt.

 Something the twitter trolls seem unable or unwilling to understand. These people have the moral fiber and ethics of a rabid jackal. The difference is I pity the jackal, which after all never asked to go crazy and infect anything it contacts.

Les Floyd wrote in his blog about it being a psychic virus, which is the best way of putting it I've ever heard.

This week, the virus came close to making me physically ill.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Birthday Shout-outs

July is a busy month for birthdays it seems.

My cousin, Long Suffering Housemate hits her big day today - you can follow her on twitter at @magicdarcy; Scott from Indie Book blogger and G. David Walker, the author of  From A Far Land gets the Happy Day on July 22nd, and my dad shares his day with a personal hero of mine, Nelson Mandela on July 18th.

If I'm missing anyone, drop a line in the comments so I can update this post - thanks to Scott for the update on G. David Walker (if you haven't read his book, you're missing a treat).

Happy Birthday to all of you, and anyone else celebrating this month - may the Universe grant you sweetness and light.

Supernatural Sunday: A brief look at... Astral Projection & Bi-location

Astral Projection works on the theory that all living beings have an astral body separate to the physical body. The astral body is also frequently referred to as the "etheric" body - for the purposes of this post, astral and etheric can be considered interchangeable.

Astral projection is a massive subject, so this post will focus on sightings of living people as apparitions by others. Also known as bi-location, this has occurred a number of times an in front of multiple witnesses.

These appearances are different to the tradition doppelganger, or body-double, commonly believed to be evil or a death omen.

Some people appear to be able to practice bi-location at will; one of the most famous in more recent times was Padre Pio, a Capuchin priest from Italy now venerated as a saint by the Catholic church. Other reported cases include  St. Anthony of Padua, St. Gerard Majella, St. Pio of Pietrelcina, St. Severus of Ravenna, St. Ambrose of Milan, Maria de Agreda, and Martin de Porres, and even a pope - Cyril VI of Alexandria.
Padre Pio (1887 - 1968) suffered stigmata. Levitation and bi-location were reported by witnesses.

The phenomenon is not restricted to Christian mystics; tales are found in the Talmud and references to the concept of tei al-ardh are found in the Quran.

In the secular world, sightings or feelings of being accompanied - and comforted - are often reported by groups or people in extreme physical and mental conditions. Reports of being accompanied - known as the third man factor - have come from Ernest Shackleton, Peter Hillary, Anne Bancroft and Reinhold Messner.
Ernest Shackleton and his team all agreed on the sensation of being accompanied by another person.

There are numerous eyewitness accounts of people seeing loved ones or acquaintances when the actual person was somewhere else entirely. While these often appear involuntary compared to the religious mystics who claim to be able to bi-locate at will, the majority appear to be unaware they have appeared somewhere else or done anything unusual, and the photo's claiming to capture the phenomenon appear to be explainable as double exposure.

But it sure makes you wonder, doesn't it?


J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords

Sunday 10 July 2011

Supernatural Sunday - Spontaneous Human Combustion

UPDATE:- On 23rd September 2011, it was reported that a death in Ireland was ruled as death as SHC - the link to the BBC report is here.  To my knowledge this is the first time a verdict like this has been officially recorded in modern records at least - if there are others please let me know in the comments. The coroner must have balls of pure titanium, because as expected, this is generating a lot of controversy.

The skeptics in this case are unbelievably annoying. Guys - just because it doesn't fit in with your beliefs/world view doesn't make it wrong. The outrage expressed puts you on pretty much the same playing field as people who believe everything about religion, the right wing press and paranormal activity being generated by lizard people.

While there is obviously a lot of speculation and comment flying around the internet, and the skeptics are having absolute hysterics, let's keep in mind that this was a real person, with a real family and friends, who lost his life in a pretty unpleasant way - whether a genuine case of SHC or not. Our first concern should be for those left behind, who are probably having to relive the whole business once more and no doubt wishing everyone would drop it. My sincere sympathy to the family and friends of the victim.

Spontaneous Human Combustion - SHC - tends to awe fans of the paranormal, and seriously piss off the sceptics.  I'm avoiding pictures in this as they are pretty damn gory. There is a good chance that there are still family members out there; and I don't think they need these pics rubbed in their faces should they stumble over this blog.

SHC fires are characterized by there being little damage to surrounding furniture, and in cases where the victim was sleeping, minimal charring to the bedclothes. There is no obvious ignition  point or cause of fire.
A strong smell is  described, along with yellow streaks (often found to be body fat) along walls and ceilings once the fire dies down. The flames described by witnesses vary in colour from yellow to blue.
Usually what is left of the victim amounts to extremities such as hands, feet, shrunken skulls, and melted fat.

The incidents appear to occur in almost any location, from a dance floor, school, bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, cars and outdoor clearings.

There is a range of sex, nationality and age - the oldest victim appears to have been in his 90's, the youngest less than 6 months old.

Dickens did a lot to bring the phenomenon into the public eye, using it to kill off a character in Bleak House.

There are claims to SHC that go back earlier than Dickens; in 1673 one poor soul in Paris was consumed while she lay on a bed of straw. Other famous cases include Countess Cornelia di Bandi, of Cesena in 1731, and Nicole Millet, an  innkeepers wife in 1725. The latter case was remarkable as the innkeeper was placed on trial for murder, convicted, and sentenced to death. The conviction was overturned due to the evidence given by a physician, Claude-Nicolas Le Cat, who convinced the court that the fire was not natural but a visitation from God.

More recent cases have occurred across the globe, from Norfolk, England, on July 29th, 1938 when the unfortunate woman erupted in flames in front of her husband and children, to Hawaii where Mr Young Sik Kim was discovered in flames by his neighbor in December 1956.

People who claim to have survived SHC are usually mystified as to the cause of the burns they receive, but are positive they did nothing to cause them.

Sceptics have claimed everything from victims falling asleep while smoking (at the age of under 6 months? Not including the non-smokers here, who may have decided to experiment after decades of not smoking, I have my doubts that any kid starts smoking in their crib), the "wick effect" which involves rolling up a body in something like a cloth cocoon and setting fire to it (pretty much discounted in the case of, well, everyone, since they appeared to be normally dressed at the time of the incident) and ball lightning. Ball Lightning seems to be the favored explanation for a lot of paranormal events by sceptics. Just saying.

A number of authorities in the past have blamed alcohol consumption, combined with smoking. Coroners have refused to accept the evidence of witnesses, in effect forcing them to change their stories, and I have no doubt that there are a few fire officials who got raked over the coals (pun intended) over daring to to mention the possibility. Sadly, shoe horning the facts to fit the preconceived ideas of what is possible has probably resulted in tainted evidence and loss of pertinent facts here.

The only thing certain in cases of reported SHC is that nobody knows for sure what causes, or triggers it. Scary stuff, by anyone's standards.

J H Sked is the author of WolfSong & Basement Blues.
You can find WolfSong on Amazon, Sony  e-bookstore, Nook and Smashwords. Basement Blues is on Amazon and Smashwords

News, Reviews & Guest Blogs

Book promotion news
Both Basement Blues and WolfSong are on special over at Smashwords for the month of July.

Get 49% off Wolfsong by using Code SSW50, and Basement Blues is running at a 100% discount - use Code SSWSF.

And if you're hitting Smashwords, there's a whole bunch of authors with specials on - check out Thea Atkinson's brilliant range of psychological thrillers, and Bernard Schaffer's short story collection, Gods and Other Monsters. I'm not sure if the collection is still on special, but if not it's very reasonably priced. The Bakkian Chronicles by Jeffrey Poole is not on special, but worth the read just for the banter between the husband and wife team who find themselves in a really different kind of world.

Over on Kindle, I discovered Voice by Joseph Garraty last month. If you like your horror, get this - I reckon this guy hits the same level as Joe Hill, and if he isn't absolutely huge in the next couple of years, I'll eat my kindle.
John Locke made headlines across the world as being the first purely self-published author to sell a million books on kindle. I took the plunge and read the books - and loved them. Quirky, off-beat and sometimes hysterically funny - I can easily see why he's achieved this. 

On a weird pricing note - I put the price of WolfSong up on the US store. Since then, it's climbed the ranks a bit. I'm not sure why, but US audiences seem to want to pay more for a book. I've kept Basement Blues at the 0.99c mark, and it's been dropping down the ranks. I just don't feel comfortable charging much more for what it is essentially 2 short stories and a short novella; but might need to rethink that in the future. It's the other way round on the UK site, with Basement Blues bopping along quite happily and WolfSong meandering along.

I'm working on the first full length book, and providing my net-book co-operates and I get through the trauma of the finance paper I'm working on for university, hope to have it out in the next couple of months.

I got a couple of great reviews on Basement Blues on Goodreads, Amazon and Smashwords - thanks! It was the last thing I was expecting, and I was feeling pretty down when I came across it so it really did make my day.

Guest Blogs

Indie Book Blogger stepped up to the plate (again!) and let me trample all over his blog here. Whether you write or simply love to read, Scott delivers the goods tirelessly on Indie books - I've found some gems on his site. Everything from interviews, to reviews, to good old fashioned banter - go check it out.

The lovely Thea got her hooks in me again via twitter, and talked me into doing a humour piece - Paris Hilton Gets a Fairy, as part of her regular Writer Wednesday exercises on Gonzo Ink. From a writers perspective, her exercises are invaluable - even if you never post them. 

Coming up next - Supernatural Sunday - a look at SHC (Spontaneous Human Combustion, which is just as scary as it sounds..)


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