Book Review—The Haunted

[The Haunted Cover]Sometimes, my wife asks how I can read scary books just before going to sleep. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and it’s never bothered me. Like most people, I read for pleasure. But as a writer, I also read for understanding. Usually, when I read books about the supernatural, I intellectualize everything down to the story, writing style, and authenticity of the characters. I may have to revisit that approach.

The Haunted is the true story of the Smurl family, devout Catholics living in Pennsylvania who find themselves being infested with a demon and other vengeful spirits. Based on everything I’ve read so far about demons, this situation can occur when someone invites the demonic into their home through the use of Ouija boards, spells, or cursed objects like the Annabelle doll. Not so with the Smurls. This family did none of those things, yet the demonic entered their lives and plagued them for years, terrorizing individual family members—and even the neighbors.

Despite everything that happens, the Smurl family remains rooted in their faith. It’s the main reason they were able to manage for so long, undergoing multiple exorcisms and hordes of tourists wanting a glimpse of “the dark side.” As for me, I am comfortable in my faith and have always believed the demonic will leave me alone so long as I don’t seek it out. After reading The Haunted, I’m not so sure anymore.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
The world’s most famous demonologists, Ed & Lorraine Warren, were called in to help an average American family who were assaulted by forces too awesome, too powerful, too dark, to be stopped. It’s a true story, supported by dozens of eyewitnesses neighbors, priests, police, journalists, and researchers. The grim slaughterhouse of odors. The deafening pounding. The hoofed half-man charging down the hall. The physical attacks, a vicious strangling, failed exorcisms, the succubus… and the final terror which continued to torment the Smurls. In this shocking, terrifying, deeply absorbing book rivaled only by The Amityville Horror—a case also investigated by the Warrens—journalist Robert Curran digs deep into the haunting of the Smurl home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, and the unshakeable family bonds that helped them survive.

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Book Review—CLOCKWISE

[Clockwise Cover]I love stories involving time travel. If I were writing one, it would probably take on a more dystopian tone—not unlike the television show ‘12 Monkeys’ on Syfy. But that’s me. Clockwise is different, though. Thanks to the talented author, Elle Strauss, it’s funny, girly, and inventive. Also, it feels historically accurate, which is always a good thing for the discerning reader.

Teens have enough going on in their lives without adding sudden, awkward trips to the past. And when you add a little danger and a series of escalating romantic complications, you end up with a fun, satisfying read. The protagonist, Casey Donovan, is very self-aware. She goes on endlessly about her height, her hair, and her perceived lack of personality. And like most teens, she’s not really sure where she fits in, though her best friend Lucinda is mostly supportive. The fact that Casey is smitten with a jock doesn’t help matters.

In less skilled hands, this story would have seemed trite. One thing I noticed is that Nate, the object of Casey’s endless fascination, is written with real heart. I mean, come on. Good-looking high school athletes have a reputation that precedes them in movies and television. Allowing him to mature along with Casey was absolutely the right move. Clockwise is socially relevant and charming. A genuine pleasure.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
A dance. A dare. An accidental tumble through time. Awkward.

Casey Donovan has issues: hair, height and uncontrollable trips to the 19th century! And now this –she’s accidentally taken Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.

Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother, and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just “brotherly” protectiveness?

When they return to the present, things go back to the way they were before: Casey parked on the bottom of the rung of the social ladder and Nate perched high on the very top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her younger brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.

Which of course, she does.

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Book Review—AN EXORCIST EXPLAINS THE DEMONIC

[An Exorcist Explains the Demonic Cover]As an author of horror, I am fascinated by demons—especially as portrayed in movies like ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Conjuring,’ ‘The Conjuring 2,’ and the more comic ‘Supernatural’ television series. But as a Catholic, I am in truth terrified of the demonic. I believe they not only exist but are striving every day to win over our souls. Strong words? Well, we’re talking about the ultimate battle between Good and Evil, after all.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who died in Rome this past September, was an exorcist and author. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic is the first book of his I have read, and I intend to read more. I found his words to be both direct and comforting. Direct, because he doesn’t mince words when it comes to Satan. And comforting because, in the end, he offers hope for those suffering from ailments such as Possession, Vexation, Obsession, and Infestation.

For authors interested in true stories of the paranormal, I can highly recommend this work. Movies and television may exaggerate some of what happens during an exorcism, but apparently, they get a lot of it right. And I believe that if you’re going to write about something unfamiliar, you should research the hell out of it. For believers, Fr. Amorth offers advice on how to keep yourself safe from the forces of Evil. And for nonbelievers, the book is a fascinating read.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
From Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the renowned exorcist in Rome, comes this powerful, eye-opening book on the deadly antics of Satan and his fallen angels, as well as spiritual remedies for each. 

These pages provide a basic orientation in the dark phenomenology, succinctly explaining Catholic doctrine on the fallen angels and the innumerable manifestations. Among the many questions Fr. Amorth answers in this book are:

Where does the Evil One dwell in the human body?
How does the Devil appear and what does he look like?
What are the powers that comes from Satan?
Do the sins of ancestors influence our life?
How are spiritual evils contracted?
What is the state of souls in purgatory?
What is the role of sacramentals in fighting off temptation?
When should exorcisms and prayers of healing be performed?
What happens during an exorcism?
What you should do when a family is being attacked by a demon?

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I Know What I Did This Summer

[Chainsaw-chicks]
Photo Courtesy of Lennart Takanen via Creative Commons

Surprise! I haven’t fallen off the planet. Yet. Actually, I’ve been busy polishing my new novel, based on a screenplay I wrote several years ago (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). Curious? Before I get into the details, I want to tell you that this thing is a real departure from my last three books, which make up the TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD trilogy, a horror thriller blood fest that takes my beloved antihero Dave Pulaski from the fictional Northern California backwater of Tres Marias south to the very real and horribly violent City of Angels.

Anyway, after lots of gory mayhem, I thought I’d try something different—family fiction. Yep, you heard me right. This is a story about a modern family in crisis. Now before you get too wound up, let me just say that there is still plenty of horror. And laughs. Only this time, the not-so-gory mayhem is seen through the eyes of a precocious fourteen-year-old girl, who I am hoping will steal readers’ hearts.

Still with me? Great. Because today, I’m giving you a glimpse of what’s coming. The book is called Chainsaw Honeymoon, and—trust me—there’s something in it for everyone.

Chainsaw Honeymoon Synopsis
Ruby Navarro is not your typical fourteen-year-old girl. Sure, she’s bright and funny. But she’s also an incurable carnivore who adores horror movies—the bloodier, the better. A year ago, her parents separated, leaving her to live with her mom, Stacey, and her dog, an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. Now, Ruby loves her mom, but she also misses her dad. A lot. People split up all the time, and most kids might get over it, providing they could still Snapchat. Not Ruby. She has decided it’s her mission to save her family. And save them, she will!

Ruby is leaving home to spend the summer with her dad, Alan, a top-performing salesman at a luxury car dealership. At his apartment, she divides her time between her machinima project—a dark fantasy featuring a crazed killer with a chainsaw—and hanging out with her two best friends, Claire and Diego. While Ruby is away, her mom’s boss proposes marriage—ew! And Stacey is seriously considering accepting. In the meantime, Alan stupidly believes he can win back his wife, and gets to work on a “best of” video reel, using years of mind-numbingly boring home movies. Ruby suggests contacting her dad’s younger brother, a talented but arrogant student filmmaker. But her uncle has other ideas, and he talks her dad into making a real movie—with actors and a script—a romantic comedy guaranteed to win Stacey’s heart.

As the movie takes shape, unexplainable things are happening to Ruby. Diego is acting weird around her—what is up with that boy! She’s having nightmares. Her doll Mr. Shivers might be trying to talk to her. And a creepy stain on her ceiling is turning into the killer from her machinima project. Oh, and people are dying—for realz. While on location for the movie, Ruby accidentally discovers that her uncle is actually using her dad’s money to shoot a horror movie, instead of the rom-com he promised. When Alan finds out, he gets into a fist fight with his brother, cuts off the production money, and returns home with his daughter.

But Ruby is still determined to get her parents back together. She gets her uncle’s girlfriend to help, and together they cook up a plan to get the movie back on track. Stacey, a certifiable “horrorista,” is totally on board. And Ruby’s dad? Well, “Mr. Rom-Com” is another story.

Shaun of the Dead Meets a Tarantino Movie

[ETDWB 3D Cover (Small)]by Elisabeth Scherer

There is a fantastic book from my favorite reads shelf that hit movie theaters this weekend, Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. If you liked that book, or if you like face-paced zombie thriller/horror novels you might very well like the Steven Ramirez’s Even the Dead Will Bleed.

My Initial Thoughts:
When I was given this book as an option to review I was hesitant at first because it is the third book in the Tell Me When I’m Dead Collection by Ramirez. I worried that I would be put into the middle of the story and have no idea what was going on. The back of the book blurb intrigued me so much I thought I would go ahead and see if the book could be picked up and read without reading the other two books first. It does not disappoint and can definitely stand on its own without its predecessors.

Quick Plot Summary:
Dave is a man on a mission to kill the man responsible for the deaths of his wife, friends, and many others. He has lost everything and believes he has nothing else to do but take the bad guy down with him if it comes down to it. He has prepared to carry out his suicide mission, and yet the undercurrent of something coming. Things don’t always work out the way you imagine, hope, or plan. Dave finds this out first hand and finds himself thrust into the role of bodyguard for a Russian girl who escapes the very person who Dave is hunting. The hunter becomes the hunted and Dave finds him mission changes. Will Dave find something to live for after losing everything? Will the Russian girl evade those that are hunting her? Can faith and determination help you survive genetically modified super zombies? You’ll have to read Even the Dead Will Bleed to find out.

To read the rest of this review, please visit Girl Who Reads.

Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times

[Scream Poster]
Photo Courtesy of IMDb
Early in my writing career I focused entirely on writing screenplays—something I would not recommend to the foolhardy. You see, unlike novels, screenplays serve absolutely no purpose if you can’t sell them. They sit in a pile in the corner of your home office collecting dust, instead of appearing with nice covers on Amazon. That said, if you are lucky enough to have a written a screenplay that sold (I did that once), you might be on your way to an actual career in the movie business.

But enough about fairy tales.

Horror Comedy, Anyone?
I want to talk about a particular screenplay I wrote a few years back that had to do with a fourteen-year-old girl, a nasty marital breakup and a behind-the-scenes look at an indie horror film. Sounds fascinating, right? At the time I really thought I could make that thing sing. Now, from a technical perspective the work was professional. But I was never really able to generate enough interest. So … I tossed it into the corner and allowed it to gather a nice patina of dust.

Until recently.

I’d been toying with the idea of adapting some of my screenplays into novels. I mean, why let all that good writing go to waste? And I decided that, because I had just come off a heavy horror thriller trilogy with lots of bloodshed, I would tackle a fun horror comedy … with somewhat less bloodshed.

Novelization, Shmovelization
I’m just about finished with the “novelization”—something I’d never done before. And let me tell you, it’s hair-raising. In screenplays, each page is a combination of slug lines, short descriptions and dialogue. That’s it. Try turning that into beautiful prose that descends on the reader like the first gentle snowfall in a New England winter. The process is quite instructive, though, and I am learning more about voice than I ever thought I would.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress from time to time, but it’s my goal to turn this thing into an enjoyable book that captures some of the craziness of living in LA, from the POV of a precocious teenager. Wish me luck.

Danielle DeVor Interviews Me

Author extraordinaire Danielle DeVor has decided it would be a good idea to interview me. Go figure. My brain is pretty nonstandard, and I tend to run off at the mouth after too many espressos. Nevertheless, she is a brave woman and likes a challenge, I guess.

1. What drew you to the horror genre?

Like many, I grew up watching monsters in movies and on television. Also, I loved reading fairy tales as a child—still do. As you know, those can get pretty gruesome. I must have a pretty healthy dark side, because I am truly drawn to this genre.

2. Do you think monsters are the scary ones or are humans scarier?

I am really attracted to the misunderstood monster. One of my favorite stories is “Beauty and the Beast.” I remember in college watching the Cocteau film at one of those art house theaters late at night. If I think about humans and their dark sides, I definitely believe they are scarier. If you watch the news, you’ll see more monstrous behavior from people than the awful things we write about, supposedly perpetrated by monsters.

3. Do you think slasher films should make a comeback?

I like slasher films and, if they did make a comeback, I would really like to see a fresh take. Other than Michael Meyers, I can’t really think of a killer who was simply driven by pure Evil. Most of these types are motivated by some past trauma which, for me, is a little boring.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Danielle’s blog.

Big News—TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD Is Coming to KU!

[TMWID - 3D Transparent Shadow]Just a quick note to let you know that my horror thriller series TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD is coming to Kindle Unlimited. I’ll be talking more about this development in a future post.

What does this mean for readers now? Well, the main thing is, the books will now be exclusive to Amazon. No need to fret, though! If you are a KU subscriber, you can read all three books as part of your subscription. And if you aren’t, I will be offering occasional discounts on the series.

You can check out the series here. Looking forward to connecting with more readers.

THE GHOST FILES—Taking on the Dead with Style

[The Ghost Files Cover]I can see why this book is popular—and why it’s headed for the big screen. (Supposedly, it went into production this past summer.) I’m sure with the right cast, the movie could be a lot of fun. Oh, how I wish Roddy McDowall were still alive to play Dr. Olivet! Never mind. Maybe Brian Cox is available.

I only had a couple of quibbles with the story. Mattie sure has a lot of guys in her life who she thinks are “the one.” Hey, maybe that’s sixteen-year-old girls. Who am I to judge? That, and the ending is a little convoluted. No spoilers here, but I thought the reveal was a bit messy. These are minor points, though, so please don’t let them stop you from reading this very entertaining book.

Book Blurb

[The Ghost Files Cover]

Cherry blossom lipstick: check
Smokey eyes: check
Skinny jeans: check
Dead kid in the mirror: check

For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too.

Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister … Sally.

Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance.

Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim …

Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

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The Monster Mash—Creating Believable Beasts

[Lauren Scharhag]Guest post by Lauren Scharhag

I grew up in the 80s. It was a magical time when bug-eyed, glowing-fingered aliens crashed in suburban back yards, when heroes rode luckdragons, when David Bowie danced with goblin puppets, when nightmare creatures battled for the fate of a flawed purple gemstone … well, you get the idea.

For me, the creatures of science fiction and fantasy are just as compelling as the main characters in the story. Anybody writing in the genre knows how important world-building is. Part of good world-building is creating believable creatures for your distant planet or magical realm.

Here are some things to consider when designing your monsters from the claws up:

Magical or Cryptozoological?
Is your creature born or conjured? Did it hatch from an egg, or did a rabbi scoop some mud together and slap a sign on its head? The way a creature comes into being tells a lot about what its habits will be like, where it lives, what it subsists on, etc. Magical creatures don’t have to be as convincing from a biological standpoint—or stand up to close scrutiny at all, for that matter:

  • Don’t feed a mogwai after midnight. Um, isn’t it technically always “after midnight”?
  • How the hell does a Pegasus fly? Does it have hollow bones like a bird?
  • What about Beholders? How do they—ahhh, you know what? Never mind.

As magical creatures, it’s part of their charm. But if we’re talking about an animal that is born or hatched, this takes a little more thought.

What Is Your World Like?
What is your world’s climate like, its ecosystem, its culture? Animals adapt to their environment to survive. Consider how the animal might have evolved in relation to where it lives. Is the animal native to the area you’re writing about or did they come from someplace else? If they’re not native, how did they get there? How do they interact with other species?

Some of my favorite fantasy beings are the elephant-like Mulefa from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. Now, it helps that he was writing them from the point of view of a scientist who made keen observations regarding their anatomy, habitat, social behavior, etc. But Pullman obviously put a lot of thought into their ecology. A species of pod-bearing tree combined with some solidified lava beds gives the Mulefa the means to move—and I don’t mean that in the sense that they use pods for transportation. I mean they have evolved in such a way that they now require the pods to peregrinate, attaching them to spurs on their legs and zooming around on them like Tony Hawk.

I was blown away by the level of detail, planning, imagination and originality the Mulefa required. How in the world did someone dream something like that up?

Real Creatures, Alive or Extinct
Start with real critters. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but coming up with good, convincing and memorable creatures for your book has to be more than a Horse of a Different Color (enchanting though that rainbow-hued equine was, he was still just a horse with a dye-job).

I co-author a series called The Order of the Four Sons with Coyote Kishpaugh. It takes place across multiple dimensions. In the second book, the heroes find themselves marooned in an inhospitable, desert world called Carcosa. Keeping the Mulefa firmly in mind as we began to design the world, we gave a great deal of thought to what sort of flora and fauna could thrive under its harsh conditions. We researched animals and plants that live in the Australian and Saharan deserts, as well as Death Valley. To give the animals an otherworldly bent, we turned mainly to creatures that have gone extinct like the Tasmanian tiger for inspiration.

We also took into consideration the symbolism of the place. We have stranded the heroes in a world where everything is either aggressive or toxic. We looked at some of the fiercest-looking desert dwellers we could find, like the Solifugae, an order of desert spiders that can get quite large and look like an ungodly mixture of arachnid and scorpion, with pale, segmented bodies and pincer-like mandibles. They’re not terribly threatening to humans, but the point is, they look scary.

Another type of creature we looked at was some sort of animal to transport people around our deadly fantasy desert. Ultimately, we found our way to tapirs, an endangered South American animal with a prehensile snout (maybe Pullman influenced me even more than I realized!). Related to horses and rhinos, tapirs are decent runners, so with some alteration, we thought they would make fine pack animals. In the course of researching them, we found out that tapirs appear in Asian folklore. In Korean, their name is maek, so we named the creatures “meks.”

Finally, there are the real, live animals that share space with you. I can’t tell you how many creatures in my oeuvre have been influenced by an ugly, runty, squinty-eyed, foul-tempered little cat I found by the side of the road one day and decided to bring home. She has way more attitude than a five-pound bundle of dirty-looking orange-brown fur ought to have, but she’s my little beast, and I love her. Without her, I wouldn’t have stories full of dragons, mermaids, ehlems and man-eating blobs. At least once a day, I pay homage to my little feline muse with offerings of tasty treats. She seems as pleased with this arrangement as I am.

So all those hilarious pet stories you love to tell at parties? Yeah, turn those into fantastical adventures.

Barring that …

Tap into Some Folklore
There’s an entire world of myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore from which to draw inspiration. From kitsunes to skin walkers, from djinn to Baba Yaga—there’s always some creature or entity begging to be remade into a new story.

Obviously, you have the perennial favorites: vampires, werewolves and zombies. Personally, I find those to be a bit tired, but even they can have new life breathed into them—reanimated, if you will. (I know, I know. Feel free to throw things.)

To use another example from our books, in The Order of the Four Sons, we have an Eastern European sorceress who practices necromancy. Eastern European folklore is rich with blood-suckers and the undead. We came up with creatures called eretics, a sort of zombie en flambé. The amount and type of magic it takes to raise and sustain them burns their flesh, so they’re blackened, red and quite disgusting as they lumber about, flaking off patches of skin and doing their mistress’ bidding.

Another resource is the good ol’ D&D monster manual. I’m not saying to blatantly rip something wholesale from the Eberron or Forgotten Realms playbooks or whatever. What I am encouraging you to do is a monster mashup—create composites. Synthesize. It’s amazing what sort of literary Frankenstein might emerge. A fang here, a bit of drool there, some galvanic action and voila! Your creature will be up, wreaking havoc on a poor, unsuspecting populace in no time.

I hope you find my thoughts on monster-making helpful. Thanks for reading, and best of luck dreaming up your own ghoulies, ghosties and three-legged beasties!

Book Blurb

[The Order of the Four Sons Cover]

For centuries, two ancient, magical sects, the Order of the Four Sons of Horus and Starry Wisdom, have battled for possession of the sacred, powerful Staff of Solomon. Whoever possesses the staff can open doors to other dimensions—or rip open the very fabric of existence.

The staff was broken into pieces and scattered across the cosmos.

Now, a member of the Order, Fernando Rios, has disappeared in a small Missouri town.

When a team is sent to investigate, they discover that Rios was close to finding one of the lost segments.

The problem is, he wasn’t the only one.

The Order of the Four Sons by Coyote Kishpaugh and Lauren Scharhag is a classic tale of good versus evil. An epic, magical journey of fantasy and adventure.

Join members of the team, Colonel JD Garnett, novice mage Kate West, Detective Ryan Murphy, scholar Doug Grigori, and field techs Bill Welsh and Cecil Morgan, as they race to stop evil from destroying not just Earth, but a myriad of worlds.

And life as we know it.

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About the Author
Lauren Scharhag is a writer of fiction and poetry. With Coyote Kishpaugh, she is the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. She lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband, two cats and a squinty-eyed beastling. You can find Lauren on Twitter, on Facebook and on her blog, www.laurenscharhag.blogspot.com.