Monday, March 2, 2015

Huntress Moon: A Novel Review

A Thriller Award nominee for Best eBook Original Novel... Book 1 in award-winning author Alexandra Sokoloff's riveting new Huntress FBI series about a driven FBI agent on the hunt for that most rare of all killers: a female serial.
FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.
Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.
As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.”
*Review copy provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*
I’ve been thinking about how I would rate this book since the midway point, and I’m left feeling conflicted. Was it well-written? Sure. Did it grab my attention early on? Yes. But it lost my attention at several points, too. Initially, I was drawn to the character “she,” the female killer with the mysterious past. It’s obvious “she” has endured some kind of tragedy because the clothes she’s wearing are designed to mask a scar. Who hurt her? Why? And why is she hurting others now?
To call her a female serial is misleading. I’m a horror fiction gal, and serials to me imply thrill killers. What “she” is isn’t exactly that.
Roarke, the alternate viewpoint, investigates the related cases with the drive of someone obsessed. He has a soft spot for this woman, though I don’t buy into the motivation. You’d have to read the book to decide for yourself, but the ages at which things happen seem unlikely on his part.
Often clinical in it descriptions, Huntress Moon didn’t grab me the way I expected a serial killer novel to. The motivations, profiling, etc. were well-researched, thorough, but jarring. I felt like I was in a class on killers at several points.
It is only the female character I connected with, though her “talking wind” and the few lapses where she is “childlike” were out of place with her overall reason for killing. The child connection was explained, but nothing about the woman seemed to fit the explanation otherwise. She might have been a more multi-dimensional interesting character had that played out differently, though it would have affected her as the love interest of a man who quickly brings her into his home. A divorcee with a young son who instantly attaches to her, this man is instantly smitten. Had she behaved in an obvious developmentally stunted way, I don’t think this would have happened. “She” is portrayed as the femme fatale.
When the motivation behind the killings is revealed, the happenstance romance between “her” and Sebastian seems contrived, if not forced. Convenient that the boy who finds “her” on the beach is, himself, in some kind of trouble.
Huntress Moon is logical in its plotting, but veers from the killer’s motivation when it’s convenient. What ultimately happens to Jason’s mother seems out of line with “her” motivations. *SPOILER ALERT* I wouldn’t believe supervised visitation was an appropriate punishment for a drug-addicted would-be supporter of questionable soft core child porn (at least, intended or hinted at). The characters had variable appeal for me, but I knew who they were so kudos on characterization. Pacing was also uneven, making the urge to skim read high after the mid-point. There’s a lot of time spent on kills like “The Preacherman’s” when it felt like that wasn’t really the story. Yes, Roarke needed to understand how the murders connected to this woman, but the fallen fellow FBI agent got much less page time by comparison. Odd, given that his death served as a catalyst. I loved “her” backstory and I hope that as the series unfolds these seemingly random vengeance killings ties together to mean something to “her” past. I want for this to be an instance of long plotting. In that case, I’ll probably eat my words about the importance of one killing over another. Having only read the first in the series, I can only go on what I’ve read so far.
For me, this book was a mixed bag. I enjoyed parts of it, and am curious how the series plays out. I have Blood Moon on my Kindle and will check it out after a palate cleanser. Three and a half stars because I’m curious what “she” will do next.
Total sidebar, but editing wasn't as solid as I'd have expected from T&M. The version of this novel I received was what NetGalley provided, but there were minor errors as follows (not all-inclusive, but the things I felt were absolute):
12% typo "Surer *that* he ever had been about anything ..." (I'm thinking the author meant surer than)

16% missing word "That boy who said that was drunk" (Something's wrong here? Missing a "he"?)

28% wrong word "Faster that he could ever think possible" (Faster than)

43% extra word "Roarke drove through the winding road through the green hills ..." (through appears twice)

General note: the treatment of written ages seem out of line with conventions. The use of hyphens is inconsistent.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Lazarus Effect: A Film Review

A group of medical students discover a way to bring dead patients back to life. -IMDB

Frank and Zoe are a couple working on a medical experiment pertaining to comatose patients. At least, that's what their grant was approved for. When it comes to light that what they've really been doing is reversing death, their program comes under fire from the university they're working at. 

With the help of Niko and Clay (fellow researchers, Niko being a former lover of Zoe's), Frank and Zoe successfully bring back a euthanized dog. The dog shows signs of abnormalities, but their isn't time to study The Lazarus Serum's unexpected effects before things go totally haywire. 

Big pharma (who has been secretly spying) wants to get their hands on this cutting-edge medicine. The shut-down begins. All of Frank and Zoe's work is confiscated, with the exception of their backup supply of serum. Determined to get the credit for their work, they return to the lab for one last clandestine attempt at reversing death. Something Eva, the filmographer who has been working with them, can document on video. When Zoe takes a lethal electrical jolt, Frank goes from returning a second dog from the dead to returning his fiance (Zoe). Clay warns against it, but Frank and Niko are too close to Zoe to let her stay dead. What returns isn't her. How could it be, right?

The good: I'm a sucker for Evan Peters, and he plays a genius, but goofy, wisecracking Clay. The rest of the cast isn't bad, either, but Evan is to The Lazarus Effect what Matt Lillard was to 13 Ghosts. Integral, and the heartbeat of the film. Some great effects, a clever medical storyline, and while there is quite a bit of recycling of themes (Flatliners, Pet Sematary, Event Horizon or anything hell-related), this is a good movie for PG-13 horror. 

The IMDB rating is 5.5 at this point. My rating, a solid 7.

Ratings and reviews are a lot like that dress everyone's talking about. What one person sees isn't necessarily what others will see. I apply this bit of wisdom to my own reviews. While I'm tickled and grateful when someone likes my work, I don't sweat it when someone gives me a low rating or a scathing review. The best movies and books are only as appreciated as their ability to resonate allows. The Lazarus Effect hit a sweet spot for me. I enjoyed it. Not the most cerebral or unique film, but worth watching if you like medical thrillers/horror.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Novel Research: Haunted Hospitals, Asylums, Experimental Medicine, and Serial Killers (For Starters)

Sitting here, contemplating my seventh novel (and my eighth), I'm gearing up for major research mode: off the grid living, sustainable farming, canning, medicine, vaccinations, haunted hospitals and asylums, autopsy protocol, serial killers, vestigial organs, and the history of medicine. There will be other topics, but make no mistake, this gal is loving learning mode. 

As a reader, I enjoy picking up trivia through fiction. My brain is wired for knowledge so it is important to me that my books are grounded at least partially in fact. To that end, there's a lot on the docket for my upcoming projects.

I'm giving myself more lead-in time than normal with my next thriller because it relies heavily on genuine locations. I'm normally an anywhere, USA  writer, hence why I'll be working two projects simultaneously to avoid excessive downtime. I can write and research, while feeling productive.

Fatal Intention should wrap this week, but I'll need at least a month for revisions, if not two. It's run longer than any of my other novels to date, and I'm going to have to see what can be pared down. What I've learned over the past several novels is the second draft is the hardest. Stories tend to take unexpected turns on me during the rough stage, giving me a bit of filling in to do later. Third and fourth drafts are proofing and prose. I usually wrap on the fifth. 

With each book, the process gets easier.

Make no mistake, this author is on fire. I have a third novel concept I've been kicking around for a couple of years that will move up front and center after Departure. The next two thrillers focus on serial killers in different ways. The first will have a paranormal angle to it, the product of research on haunted locations. The second, a "beat the clock" race to save a young woman's life that is more of the amateur sleuth variety. I can't give away the details just yet, but trust me when I say that I'm writing the books I'd like to read as fast as my brain can process them. I expect these next three projects to span the upcoming eighteen months to two years. 

At least one will be self-published hopefully by the new year 2016.

Here's what I'd like from you, reader. Since I'm in the research phase of things, deciding on locations, maybe there's something you'd like included in the next novel. Tell me your favorite US haunted location (someplace of true historical depravity) with a medical angle (hospital, asylum, sanitarium) in comments and you're in the running to win an e-book of your choosing. Links appreciated. I have a running list including: Peoria Asylum, The Ridges (aka Athens Lunatic Asylum), Pennhurst, and Taunton. Let's see if you can help me expand it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Striking the Balance: Success, Sales, and Passion

You know what that is, right? A steep sales decline depicted. People familiar with the KDP publishing dashboard might know a thing or two about this phenom. I can tell you from firsthand experience that writing income is fickle at best, unreliable at worst, and that there's really  no point in being a full-time starving artist if you can't afford to starve.

There are so many variables when deciding to write and publish a book, not the least of which is how am I going to publish it?

On the indie side, you get total control and up to seventy percent royalties, but all costs are your own. You have to pay an editor, a cover designer, and do all your own marketing. That last bit gets expensive fast, and there are so many people buying advertising that the good exposure comes at a premium (if you can get it at all). Book Bub being the reigning Holy Grail is getting next to impossible to get approved for, even at hundreds of dollars a pop. Also, if you self-publish, you're one of a bazillion fish in the indie sea, bearing the self-publishing stigma (that while yes, is less than it used to be, still exists), and you're likely to have to sell cheap or give your work away en masse to even get noticed. You can make great money this way. You can also go broke.

On the Amazon publishing side, you get better than traditional royalties, a top-notch marketing machine, all the accouterments of the legacy publishing experience, and a solid author platform to springboard from. These deals aren't easy to get, but I hear good things and am glad to be part of the Thomas & Mercer team. There are concessions, including giving up some amount of control, though they've been fabulously agreeable and easy to work with.

On the traditional publishing side, you're getting low royalties, questionably wider distribution than either indie or Amazon Publishing, but chances are, you're losing a chunk of change to the agent who landed you whatever deal you got. The gatekeeper system is alive and well, and as fickle as it is antiquated. There are perks, but they're diminishing. With royalties as low as fifty cents per sale, or worse, how can anyone be expected to pay their bills?

All of those things and more factor in when you're deciding what to do with your opus. People who think writing the book is the hard part has never tried selling one.

Some books do better than others (in my experience) on different platforms. For example, my zombie stories do much better on Smashwords and ACX than anywhere else, including Amazon. Obviously the consumer mix is different in those places, or I have more discoverability, or it's Tuesday and zombies sell better on Tuesday. Who knows?

What I do know is that not every book is going to be successful. The market is constantly changing, and part of the experience of being an author is determining not only where your book will go, but which book you are going to write.

I struggle with this a lot because at any given time, I have three or four novel concepts rattling around in my head. Coming on the heels of hiring Red Adept for a Cure  editing makeover, I have zombies on the brain. Are they my bestselling books? Not by a far cry, but this is the part where I say I have to manage writing for love and money. Strandville now has its own blog, and that will be where I'll be posting most of my zombie news. There's a free prequel short over there (Payback), and a look at the new covers for the tentatively titled Departure, A Strandville Zombie Novel: Book Three. Miranda, Scott, and the now five-year-old Amelie (a child of unique zombie parentage) are going to have to leave the comforts of their new home when Dr. Michael Waters goes off the rails. Think big pharma dies with the z-poc? Think again. Greed, power, and necessity propel this strikingly human tale along.

In the meantime, people have to eat. Full-time authorship adds a layer of pressure to succeed. I write faster, leaner, and with the daily dedication any full-time job requires, whether I want to or not. I enjoy mysteries and thrillers and am wrapping up Fatal Intention hopefully this week. I am proud of my new publishing connection and want to make sure I continue to write books in the Thomas & Mercer wheelhouse in the hopes of a long and mutually beneficial relationship. While I'm working on Strandville out of love, I'm going to also be working on another thriller to continue on that path. What does this mean? Hard work. Long hours. Major gambling. That about sums up being an author in a nutshell.

Will your book be a success? Maybe. Does the decision about which book, publisher, genre, cover, price, etc. factor in? You bet. Will those variable produce different results on any given day? Guaranteed. Don't even get me started on market saturation, competition, reviews, and the general tomfoolery that seems to sprout up all over the place for no apparent reason other than people must be bored. As an author, you reap what you sow.

You also have to strike a balance. For me, at this point in my life, I can write like a mad person, spending long hours reading, honing my skills, and gambling with genre and content. My son is grown, and my lifestyle is comfortable. This career change has been an enormous undertaking and I'm learning something new every day. This isn't for everyone. If you're writing to get rich and famous, please do anything else. Walk away, no hard feelings. This isn't going to be easy. There are so many misconceptions about authors and wealth, even in my own social circles. Those of us who do this for a living know better. What I can tell you is this: work hard, persist, and write because you have to. Writing because you love it is the best way I can tell you to get to the money--at least happily.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Psychology in Fiction (The Power of Repressed Memories)


Better Left Buried is a gritty coming of age tale about the power of repressed memories and the loyal, emotional connection forged between lifelong friends. Touching on issues of suicide, addiction, and mental health, this story will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. 

A spirit board, a murder, and a cold case that refuses to stay hidden. 

Harmony Wolcott's already difficult life is about to get harder when her recurring nightmare takes a paranormal twist. Haunted, terrified, and questioning her sanity, Harmony must relive an event she refuses to remember, even if it costs her life. 

What starts as a message from beyond the grave turns into something dangerous that won't be ignored. The only way to stop it is to understand who it is and what they want. Together with her best friend, Brea, Harmony investigates her childhood, starting with the mysterious street address someone or something has given her. 

The dilapidated home seems like something from another lifetime, a place of mixed memories where Harmony and Brea's friendship had started, and where their families' lives had intersected years earlier. What happened there might well be the town of Reston's best kept secret. 

A tragic discovery threatens to unravel Harmony's patched together life, bringing those she loves down with her and proving with devastating consequences that sometimes the past is better left buried.

The power of repressed memories is a trope I can't get enough of. What's more powerful than a secret that even the person keeping it can't remember? I'm a big fan of The Blacklist and particularly enjoy the scenes where Lizzy recalls the details of the fire she was in as a child. Last week those memories were chemically retrieved and the whole thing was pretty intense. Red's place in her world is the crux of the series. We're learning the details of Lizzy's past as she re-learns them, which is the real hook of the show. It's as effective as it is haunting.

The science of memories fascinates me, particularly the they have been known to be unreliable. Power of suggestion plays a role and there have been reports of contrived memories known as False Memory Syndrome where the person legitimately believes their false memories to be true. This is fiction gold. An unreliable character can be very useful when spinning a tale of suspense. I'm probably dating myself here, but does anyone remember the rash of false sexual abuse cases in the 80's and 90's that literally stemmed from a legal witch hunt? It boils down to that even your mind can work against you.

That's something I decided to explore with Harmony, my wayward teen MC in Better Left Buried.
Like Lizzy, Harmony's memories cause conflicting feelings. She can't believe her own mind, and it's driving her crazy. Already saddled with mental illness, poverty, drugs, an overbearing boyfriend, and a crazed mother who needs more care than she provides, Harmony walks the fine line of despair. The more she remembers, the more she falters. That was the reason behind the title of this novel. Harmony's past really was better left buried.


“There’s my girl.” A gruff voice breaks through the haze and Harmony turns on her heel. A smiling man crushes out his cigarette in an ashtray on the arm of the porch swing and reaches for her. He has a gentle way about him, but he is blurry. Her memory does its best to recreate something long-forgotten, but she is seeing him as if looking through someone else’s much-too-strong prescription glasses.
She runs toward him, her pigtails catching the wind and flapping behind her. He feels like safety and she rushes up the few porch steps to fling herself at him. He catches her. He always catches her, and this time is no different. He pulls her close and blows raspberries on her cheek, the stale beer on his breath familiar and strangely comforting. She throws back her head and laughs, but her giggling is cut short by the storm clouds gathering in the sky above them. Before she can ask what’s happening, she is ripped from his arms and dragged through time to a ruined version of the same scene where the house is dark and the porch swing sways empty.
A raging bonfire dies to a shower of dancing embers that rains down on her like volcanic ash. The cold night air burns her throat and she coughs as the tendrils of smoke work their way into her lungs. She walks toward the boarded-up house wearing only a band tee and a pair of black underwear. She’s no longer a little girl. Dread tightens every muscle.
An icy breeze cuts through the thin cotton, making her shiver.
No one answers.
The front door is locked.
She wiggles the handle and pounds the heel of her hand against the jamb. The cold makes it hurt but she keeps at it, listening to the scuffle of feet inside.  There’s a struggle. Someone she loves is in trouble.  She runs around the side of the house, past the tire swing in the tree and the fire pit, to the back screen door and screams to be let in. She beats her fist against the wooden crossbeam, noticing red droplets leeching through the tiny gray squares.
A crimson slick coats her hand, bringing her back to the night she tried to end her life.
Panic sets in, the fear of being back on the bathroom floor of her mother’s shitty trailer, bleeding and in pain.
 “Help. Someone, please help me.”
She claws at the screen, her fingertips searching for a weak spot or tear, but it’s impenetrable. There is no help. Only when she works up the courage to wipe her forearms clean does she realize the blood isn’t hers.

What are your favorite show/novels/movies about memories? 

Author Bio:

*Runner-up Halloween Book Festival 2012 and optioned for film, Cure
*Honorable Mention New York Book Festival 2014, Better Left Buried
*Acquired for summer 2015 re-release by Thomas & Mercer, Fatal Reaction
After the author's fifteen years of working in health care, Belinda Frisch's stories can't help being medicine influenced. A writer of dark tales in the horror, mystery, and thriller genres, Belinda tells the stories she'd like to read. Her fiction has appeared in Shroud magazine, Dabblestone Horror, and Tales of the Zombie War. She is the author of CureAfterbirthFatal ReactionBetter Left Buried, and The Missing Year. She resides in upstate New York with her husband and a small menagerie of beloved animals.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rolling with the Changes: T&M Cover Art for "Fatal Reaction"

During a slow night on duty, paramedic Ana Ashmore drives past a crime scene at the shabby Aquarian motel--a scene that, strangely, wasn't broadcast on her first-responder's radio. Curious, she stops to help and quickly realizes why she'd been excluded from the call. Her sister, Sydney, has been found dead of an apparent suicide. But why would Sydney take her own life right after her successful battle with cancer?

As the police get to work, Ana decides to launch an investigation of her own. Sydney's soon-to-be ex-husband certainly had a motive to murder her, and while the police focus on him, Ana makes a startling discovery: a chain of e-mails between Sydney and her surgeon that brings into question Sydney's diagnosis and the life-altering treatment that followed. With the help of Dr. Jared Monroe, who has his own troubling connection to the surgeon in question, Ana uncovers a ring of corruption and greed. As the two dig deeper, they develop a complicated attraction. Can they survive their attempt to expose a dangerous deception and avenge Sydney's murder?

Revised edition: This edition of Fatal Reaction includes editorial revisions.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Loft: A Film Review

"Five married guys conspire to secretly share a penthouse loft in the city--a place where they can carry out hidden affairs and indulge in their deepest fantasies. But the fantasy becomes a nightmare when they discover the dead body of an unknown woman in the loft, and they realize one of the group must be involved." -IMDB

Whoa! All I can say is if you're a fan of a plot twist, you have to check this film out. The Loft opens with the ending--someone jumping to their death from the loft balcony--but who and why will have you guessing the entire time.

The film relies on some clever tricks: the women look the same, the men are fishing in the same hole so to speak, and there are tons of hints at motives that have you thinking any or all of the men could be the victim's killer. Even the victim's identity is obscured to keep the viewer on their toes. I won't spoil anything, which pretty much means the review ends here. You have to experience all the facets of this movie for yourself to appreciate the expertly crafted ending. I'm sorry. Those are the rules. But it's a great film. You'll think you have the killer figured out at least five times before realizing you never had a clue ... but should have.

9/10 stars because I don't believe anything is perfect. 

The Haunting Season: A YA Novel Review

The Haunting SeasonThe Haunting Season by Michelle Muto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Allison, Jess, Bryan, and Gage enter Siler House after being paid a “hefty sum” for their participation in an EPAC (mysterious possibly governmental agency) study on the paranormal. Allison sees demons. Jess sees ghosts. Bryan can make things vanish into thin air. Gage can raise the dead. The house, itself, has a murderous history and a way about it that makes those who enter not want to leave. Dr. Brandt, the group’s ringleader and observer, moves the story forward by unveiling bits of Siler House history as the four teens work to hone their paranormal “gifts.” But to what end? Ultimately, I’m not really sure.

The Haunting Season left me with mixed feelings in part because I’m not a big reader of young adult fiction, but also because I prefer a thriller’s pace. The four main characters all had good backstories that were well thought out and played integral parts of their roles in the unfolding drama. The mysterious deaths two young girls who formerly inhabited Siler House are at the core of the story. The girls are part of the reason Jess supports the use of the Ouija and other paranormal devices. She believes ghosts are good and wants to help these children move on.

Allison serves as the “spook factor,” iterating ad nauseum how “bad” things are and how “evil” the house is. She is the harbinger, and for that never quite connects with the others. There are teen love interests and a sex scene I think is age appropriate, all things considered (even if I hadn’t felt more than a forced connection between the characters). Being told how “hot” the characters are to each other doesn’t lend much of a genuine emotional connection and Jess starts off thinking Gage is the typical stud—something that doesn’t interest her in the least. She’s attracted to him, but it’s not until the end that I felt the two connected (when Gage put her well-being before his own and vice versa). I had to remind myself that these were late-teens verging on adulthood, though they read much younger on occasion (expressions like “Omigod!” during sex).

Bryan is one of the lesser developed characters who sits in the sidelines mostly because unlike the other three, he serves a specific purpose to the end plot rather than acting as the couple or Allison had in the grand scheme. Dr. Brandt, too, is lost in the wash so to speak. His history is somewhat glanced over, his role (and EPACs) minimized and speculated on rather than being delivered outright. I don’t like guessing at purposes. Brandt has a limited character arc and his infatuation with the house is observed, but not through his eyes. An added layer with his POV and motivations would have gone a long way in establishing tension for the group. Late in the book he begins calls Jess “Ms. Perry,” though I don’t know why. It’s a minor thing that maybe hints at his descent, but the change in demeanor falls flat.

The plot itself is interesting enough though if I’m comparing this to Rose Red (and I did in my head throughout), the history of the house isn’t fully developed as its own entity. Why can’t people leave? I’m left to believe it’s something to do with the nefarious “Riley” more than the house. I would have liked a lot more of “Riley’s” story, too. There are bits, but since he really is the main antagonist, it would have been great for the four to have found journals or some bit of history related to him.

If I’m being honest, dissecting the story had me wanting more plot and less of the back and forth that is the first forty percent of this book. Allison and Jess’s conflicting feelings and their position on ghosts and demons eats up a lot of page count when, in the end, all of that doesn’t matter a whole lot. There’s a point where the four approaches the house’s main gate to find it locked and there’s a discussion about the house’s motives, what could happen to them, etc. that comes from out of nowhere. This happens a lot in the book. I would have loved some solid anecdotal evidence.

Overall, I’m probably over thinking this. It’s a young adult book and a reasonable offering as such. Is it a haunted house book? Kinda. Sorta. Not so much. It’s more of a book about possession and demons. The truly haunting scenes (almost exclusively limited to the basement) were great. Creepy, atmospheric, and effective. I loved the Three Blind Mice references and the nods to mirror and iron mythologies. The Ouija board seemed like a device that perhaps shouldn’t have been necessary given the group’s supernatural talents. EPAC and the study never did come to fruition nor did the ending tell how the group explained the final showdown. I don’t want to spoil, but will say there are some things that needed answering for before Jess and Gage walked off into the sunset. I’m going to rate The Haunting Season as a solid 3.5 stars primarily because of pacing and plot issues. Solid characters, some great spooks, but I would have liked more of them and more history than present. After all, that’s what makes haunted houses intriguing.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 30, 2015

Not All Great Reviews Have to Be Five Stars

Better Left Buried  on Amazon $2.99


Better Left Buried is a gritty coming of age tale about the power of repressed memories and the loyal, emotional connection forged between lifelong friends. Touching on issues of suicide, addiction, and mental health, this story will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. 

A spirit board, a murder, and a cold case that refuses to stay hidden. 

Harmony Wolcott's already difficult life is about to get harder when her recurring nightmare takes a paranormal twist. Haunted, terrified, and questioning her sanity, Harmony must relive an event she refuses to remember, even if it costs her life. 

What starts as a message from beyond the grave turns into something dangerous that won't be ignored. The only way to stop it is to understand who it is and what they want. Together with her best friend, Brea, Harmony investigates her childhood, starting with the mysterious street address someone or something has given her. 

The dilapidated home seems like something from another lifetime, a place of mixed memories where Harmony and Brea's friendship had started, and where their families' lives had intersected years earlier. What happened there might well be the town of Reston's best kept secret. 

A tragic discovery threatens to unravel Harmony's patched together life, bringing those she loves down with her and proving with devastating consequences that sometimes the past is better left buried.

I have had a lot of time to reflect on reviews since 2011 and while they're a good barometer for how the public receives my writing, I take reviews for what they are: opinions. I can't say I was always so graceful. Four years ago I'd be brought nearly to tears by a one star review, but I took things more personally then.

There comes a time when every writer has to learn to read between the lines. Sometimes reviewers pick up on something you didn't while you were writing. I look for themes in my reviews to know what I did well (or not so well) through my readers' eyes. I do my best to improve from valid criticism. 

Better Left Buried happens to be one of my favorite stories. I can't tell you why other than the characters meant something to me when I was writing them. Theirs wasn't just another story that popped into my head, but pieces of my adolescence revisited. Reader feedback say I was successful in writing an emotional tale, though some suspect from the cover that this is a darker story than it is. 

I went back and forth on what image best suited the story and settled on the creepy house that is at the heart of the action. This is where history took place, and where Harmony comes to terms with how what happened there affected her. To me, Better Left Buried is this black old house and blood--not in a slasher movie way, but in a visceral one. The cover conveys mood in a story where happy endings are few and death isn't murder for horror's sake, but the result of an act of desperation.

This particular reviewer (click link above) gave Better Left Buried  three stars, but their review is a triumph for me. I converted someone who was looking for horror with the quality of my writing. 

Some of what they said may be some of the nicest things any reviewer has said (especially this first one):

" The book itself is well written from a grammatical standpoint. It is thoughtful and intelligent and crafted by an author who pays attention to even minute detail so there are no issues with consistency in the story."

"This book is recommended for those who like well thought-out plots and interesting characters that have deep histories."

"Perhaps it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, but it was still a good read. I liked that the author detailed the past history of her main character through her own introspection rather than just through her character being told or learning about events that happened to her."

I'll take it, and thank you to this reviewer for taking the time to not only read my work, but to dissect it so thoughtfully rather than publicly flaying me for not giving them the horror story they were looking for. I think the world could use more readers like this one. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sugar Gliders Make the Best Writing Partners

Meet "The Boys", Bandit and Rascal. On any given day you'll find these two snuggled under a  blanket with me while I'm working on my latest story. I'm an animal lover from way back having grown up with dogs, cats, rabbits, and horses. It only made sense once I had a home of my own that I'd share it. I had no idea it would be with these guys.

About five or six years ago now, the husband and I went to our local mall to start early Christmas shopping and were surprised by a gathering crowd near the food court. Since that's not a place with a huge draw, we went to see what the commotion was about. Pocket Pets (a much maligned company that I have my own feelings on) were showcasing sugar gliders.

I had no idea what a sugar glider was. I had never seen one,  but damn if it wasn't the cutest thing ever. The "handlers" had super well-trained, bonded gliders meant to convince prospective buyers that if you purchased one of these guys you'd have a forever friend. I had to have one. The husband isn't one to say no and we were told things like, "they barely smell--like a new puppy--here, sniff" and "they're really friendly" and "they can live on this one bag of food for two years."

We were going for it, and these things weren't cheap. Several hundreds of dollars for the cage, critter, food, and vitamins. You got a "carrying pouch" and a CD to listen to that came with the instruction, "Don't open the bag until you've listened to this CD." At this point, gliders were beginning to sound more like Gremlins, but okay. I'm on the hook. The salesperson brings us to two cages under fabric and asks us if we want a boy or a girl. I'm partial to male pets and girls (since these are marsupials) have pouches like a kangaroo. No, thanks. I'll take the boy. He grabs one off the pile, puts him in the pouch, and hands him to me. "If he gets upset," the man says, "do this." He puts his hands on mine and squishes the new critter like a pancake. Instantly the chattering quiets and I'm like ... okayyyy ... he likes this.

As I tend to do with everything, I went home and did my research. I listened to the CD and I kept the pouch with me. There was an apple slice inside for hydration and food so he wasn't hungry, but sooner or later I had to let him out. The CD did nothing to prepare me for what happened next. Bandit, my first glider, was a banshee! A hella biter! And man, did those bites hurt. Want to hear an interesting sound? Click here. THAT is the noise he made while he attacked me. We now know what "crabbing" is and it's something we're very used to. The boys don't like their sleep interrupted so sometimes when I check on them, they crab. My internet time told me two important things 1) gliders need a community, or at the very least a mate. To have one would be cruel and unusual punishment for Bandit's entire life, which may well be cut short by depression. 2) biters bite. The recommended path is to withstand the bites and not let the glider know they scare you. I can't tell you how hard that theory is to put into practice. 

Lo and behold, Pocket Pets (PP) sells an anti-biting spray. Consider it like Bitter Apple that keeps dogs from chewing, only for your  hands. This cemented my impression that PP wasn't being entirely up front, but I'm all in at this point. I have a raging lunatic who hates me and he needs a buddy. PP was leaving town the next day so I called my husband at work and told him we need another glider. At this point, you're probably thinking he's a saint. You're not far off. Of course, he agreed. We went back and got another male, Rascal, who we call "baby" because he's always been much smaller than Bandit. I suspect Bandit might have been one of the older gliders in the litter, outside of his bonding to humans period. Fortunately, Bandit and Rascal bonded to each other immediately. The two are never apart.

It took me months to be able to handle Bandit and I'm lucky I wasn't struck down by some marsupial-born illness in the process, but we are now good friends. He's cuddly, loves to hang out in my sweatshirt pocket, and is a fan of a good petting and scratching. The baby has always been nice to everyone, so that was a blessing. It solidified that not all gliders come with bared fangs. PP is not on my top ten of ethical businesses, but they told the glamorous side of the story. Gliders make good pets, but not always easy ones. They do smell. Really bad sometimes (and males, I found out later, smell worse than females). Corn cob bedding helps mitigate that. Sometimes they bite, but not all of them. The baby is NOT a biter. They shouldn't live on pellet food alone. There's a lot of literature about gliders, which are insectivores by nature. I have learned to feed crickets and mealworms without losing my lunch. It's gross, but hey, they love them. They throw poop. Yep, like a monkey. Funny thing, one of the people in the mall audience said, "Don't they throw their poop?" PP of course denied the claim because who wants that? They do. I have proof. They bark, too, like a small dog, sometimes for hours at night. I see a handful of these fellows showing up on Craig's List because people don't know (and I didn't know) what they're getting into. In all, sugar gliders are adorable exotics with a host of dos and don't. Once you do your  homework, you'll have a pretty good handle on the time and care they take. Five years later I can honestly say, they make the best writing partners. Once you get the basic care things out of the way, all they want is to be snuggled and to get in on the action every time you eat something. I'm such a sucker, I always make sure there is something for them, too.