Guest Post: I Hear Voices in My Head and I Like It

By Jordan Dane

So, my friend Jordan demanded that I turn over my blog for this post. In fact, she pointed to a picture of my dog and, with a sly grin, said, “You do the math, Sparky.” Fine. Anyway, she’s an outstanding writer with a sharp sense of humor. If you haven’t done it yet, check out book 1 in her Ryker Townsend series, The Last Victim. I just bought it, so look for my review soon. Over to you, Jordan.

[Jordan Dane]Horror makes me giddy. There, I said it. I’m not into overly descriptive gore, but the titillating anticipation of what is about to happen makes me tingle. I like the bizarro world of Dean Koontz when he tiptoes through scary notions and the paranormal. I watched the seductive Penny Dreadful on Showtime with equal parts abhorrence and glee, yet I’ve never seen the movie Jaws, by choice. I don’t want to have nightmares about turning into shark poop, but I put my readers in a front row seat to darkness in my crime fiction books, without shoving them off a cliff.

In The Last Victim, my FBI profiler’s secret is a gift and a curse. Ryker Townsend sees through the eyes of the dead. The last images imprinted on the retinas of the dearly departing become macabre puzzle pieces for him to decipher. These creepy flashes come to him as he sleeps. Hence, the tag line – When he sleeps, the hunt begins. Ryker is an open vessel for the dead, and they reach out to him, sometimes beyond his nightmares in broad daylight, until he’s unsure which side of reality he should be on.

Ryker’s Basic Framework
In crafting Ryker Townsend, I wanted to look beyond his gift of communicating with the dead to solve heinous crimes. I formed him from two characters I love—Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Ryker has an eidetic memory. His mind is like a computer that spits out facts without a filter. He’s socially awkward and highly intelligent, but not exactly macho.

As an author, I have firsthand knowledge of the perils of an unfiltered brain. Writers need to “hear” the voices in our heads, but it can get us in trouble at social occasions. This I know.

Ryker’s Added Layers
I wanted Ryker to have more layers to his personality and his past. I needed to heap on the right baggage to make his job more challenging. Being an odd child, he had a special bond with his mother who embraced his psychic gift. His father didn’t always understand it and Ryker’s sister Sarah became jealous of the extra attention from mom.

Ryker’s gift is at the center of all his strengths and his weaknesses to show how he lives with a trait most people would fear. When something happens to his dear mother, it creates a wedge between Ryker and his sister—and of course, it’s my duty as an author to torture him.

Ryker’s Journey
I couldn’t write about Ryker without delving into his personal life and heaping emotional heft into his Samsonite. It’s what makes him real. I force him to confront his personal demons while he’s up to his neck in bloody murder.

The Last Victim (Novel 1)
In book 1 of Ryker’s story, his life is laid bare. He’s in the middle of a hunt for a baffling serial killer who has eluded him. When a gory crime scene puts him in Seattle, home to his estranged sister (and her family that he’s never met), his life becomes an onion with layers to peel away.

He’s kept his psychic gift a secret from everyone and withdrawn into himself. His only outlet is his work, but he’s afraid of losing respect within the ranks of the FBI—and he risks his cases being overturned by the courts if it became clear how he investigates. He hasn’t told anyone about his nightmares, not even the trusted team who work for him.

After he realizes that the killer has targeted him personally, he must use his gift to hunt on his own terms—alone. Ryker learns what it’s like to become a victim and he’s forced to deal with his past, a theme that will become his journey through any story I write about him.

Following the novel that established him, I wrote novellas that allowed me to examine his life in different ways. A common theme for me is spirituality and how investigators deal with the violence they see. How does it change them?

Redemption for Avery (Novella 2)
In novella 2, Ryker deals with the aftermath of becoming a victim and nearly losing his life. He’s confided in a special woman, and the relationship carries more risk and complications. Because this story deals with a brother who lost his younger sister to a serial killer when he was only fifteen, Ryker and his notions of family are put through an emotional wringer.

In the Eyes of the Dead (Novella 3)
In novella 3, I wanted him to struggle with lingering PTSD from book 1 in a case involving Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and superstition. He’s forced to confront his own beliefs on the afterlife. I had to examine the things that truly get my heart pumping—my own mortality—and the things I sometimes wonder when I can’t sleep after the death of someone I love.

The Darkness Within Him (Novella 4)
In story 4, Ryker must recreate a horrific moment in a young runaway’s life, the night his mother murdered his sister and tried to kill him. Imagine someone like Ryker—who had a close relationship with his mother—how would his feelings of failure with his own family affect him? He’s forced to confront the guilt he has for the way his mother died.

Fiona’s Salvation (Novella 5)
In story 5, the reader sees his compassion for the dead, no matter who they were in life. He feels a profound duty to them in a grander scheme as if he has a role to play in death. He protects Fiona as she deals with her haunting demons, something he knows about.

Ryker’s Journey Is My Challenge
Each character Ryker encounters becomes a mirror for him to see into his dark corners—and his journey becomes my own voyage of self-discovery. My characters explore where I sometimes don’t want to venture, but I push to discover things about me through them. They are my teachers. The old adage to “write what you know” never worked for me. I believe you should write what you fear and dig deep for the truth to breathe life into your pages.

Discussion
For Writers.
How do you tackle adding layers to your characters to make them memorable?

For Readers. What novels have remained with you long after you closed the book? What made the story and the character(s) memorable?

Links
The Last Victim
Redemption for Avery
In the Eyes of the Dead
The Darkness within Him
Fiona’s Salvation

Author Bio
[Jordan Dane (Twitter)]
Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel No One Heard Her Scream as Best Books of 2008. Dane is multi-published in crime fiction thrillers, has books in over seven countries, and has written young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. www.jordandane.com


TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD—Stumbling into Hell

[Steven Ramirez Portrait 2016]Hey, I wanted to let you know that I had the privilege of doing a guest post at Horror Made, a site run by the amazing and charming artist Jeanette Andromeda. You can read an excerpt below, and when you’re finished be sure to check out some of Jeanette’s art here. In fact, take a look at what she did with my boring old headshot—wow! This girl has a real gift, and I am thrilled to have made her acquaintance! Okay, here we go…

In 2013, I published what I thought would be a single novel about a regular guy fending off zombies in the fictional Northern California town of Tres Marias. Though I’m a pantser by trade, I had the whole thing figured out in my head. I would take the recovering alcoholic Dave Pulaski on a soul-bending journey of sorrow that would cause him to inadvertently put his wife, Holly, at risk while he struggled to stay sober, even as the body count was going up. But when I finished the book, something happened.

“Dave’s not done,” I said.

And so began the long, hard road to the Tell Me When I’m Dead trilogy. In 2014, I published Book Two, Dead Is All You Get. And in 2015, I brought Dave to the end of his trials with Book Three, Even The Dead Will Bleed.

Pantsers and Plotters
I mentioned earlier that I’m a pantser—as opposed to a plotter, who carefully outlines their book the way a draftsman creates a blueprint. I tried doing that a few times with other stories. But the same thing always happened. Fifty pages into the outline, I would get fed up and start writing the damn novel. Want to know another thing about outlines? You don’t always end up going where you thought you would, once you actually begin writing. Plotters will tell you they love being surprised. Well, in my defense, I am surprised every moment I write.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against plotters. In fact, some of my best friends… Okay, never mind. The point is, both types of writers turn out brilliant fiction. How you get there is more a function of how your brain is wired. Moving on…

You can read the rest of this post over at HorrorMade.com.

Ginger Nuts of Horror—5 Minutes with Steven Ramirez

[Steven - Friendly (Thumbnail)]Hey, check out my author interview over at Ginger Nuts of Horror. And thanks so much to Jim Mcleod for the opportunity. I had a great time doing it.

 

Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

In college, I started writing screenplays. I did that for a number of years. If you live in LA, you sort of have to. I managed to sell one that was made into a feature film. At some point, I decided fiction was a better way to go. I’ve published a horror thriller trilogy called TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD and have written another novel and a novella—both of which I hope to publish soon.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Well, I have a family I am devoted to. I love to read, and I also like to watch movies and television.

Other than horror, what other things have been a major influence on your writing?

Crime fiction has always appealed to me. If you think about it, often characters do horrific things when committing crimes. Usually, it’s out of desperation.

Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?

I love the term Dark Fiction because it covers a lot of ground. When some people talk about Horror, they are imagining serial killers. Others prefer demons and the paranormal. And some think of fantasy. In my trilogy I chose zombies.

Who are some of your favourite authors?

There are many, but I will name a few I very fond of: Jack Finney, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith.

What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?

For book and film, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. For film alone, The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2.

How would you describe your writing style?

Okay, this is where my ego enters the room. I’ve always wanted a reviewer to describe my style as “visceral and immediate.” Let’s go with that.

Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?

Someone recently reviewed Book One of the trilogy and said, “Very nearly as good as Stephen King.” That means a lot to me because King is a master of the craft of writing.

To read the rest of the interview, jump over to Ginger Nuts of Horror.

Will the ‘Ghostbusters’ Reboot Live up to Its Name?

[Ghostbusters Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

Guest Post by Elizabeth Rose

In 1984, when audiences first heard the chilling word “Zuul”! emerge from Sigourney Weaver‘s refrigerator, and a guardian of Gozer crashed Rick Moranis’s flat party, they immediately got the chills. From the opening library scene, an air of real doom was present. Don’t forget that this was the movie season when Freddy Krueger invaded dreams, Gremlins took over a town, Indiana Jones explored the Temple of Doom, and the crew of the Enterprise championed the modern environmental movement. The world was completely taken with the supernatural, but ‘Ghostbusters’ added a fresh comedic way to tackle the “other side.” Based on fan reactions to trailers and reviews, however, the 2016 reboot may not come anywhere close to enthralling moviegoers like the original and its sequel.

The reason ‘Ghostbusters’ I and II were such iconic creations is that they only used comedy and hip cultural motifs to hold an audience captive, while the main characters saved humanity from a force bigger in scope than the stresses of modern life. Like their box office counterparts, they were delightfully original successes at hero-building (both of the originals are streaming on Netflix and DTV at the moment, if you want to be reminded).

Every character in the first two ‘Ghostbusters’ films had qualities with which the common person could identify. Three struggling scientists and another friend play off each other’s eccentricities to confront the inexplicable. A goddess from the underworld is trying to manifest on Earth, and she chooses New York City as her home base. Of course, angry and preoccupied New Yorkers pay no attention. The destruction of the planet doesn’t compare to the chaos of rush hour traffic.

As more and more supernatural events occur, the city’s mayor recruits the newly-formed Ghostbusters “agency” to calm the nerves of the city. Throughout the movie, audiences are treated to absolutely terrifying demon guard dogs, a conveyor belt of endless masterful catch phrases, larger-than-life apparitions, a wide spectrum of emotional underpinnings, and the ultimate solidarity of a city full of people who refuse to kowtow to their fears.

The ‘Ghostbusters‘ reboot, hitting theaters in July, is a complete reversal of the original movie’s intent. It’s like reversing a charged particle stream, and just as dangerous! The remake hijacks all of the familiars associated with the original films, but uses them only as portals to interject loose contemporary social commentary.

There’s no doubt that the new Ghostbusters are composed of a very talented group of comedians. Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones are the female alter egos of Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), respectively. Director Paul Feig and writer Katie Dippold make sure every physical and ethereal element of the original has a cameo in the remake. This includes Slimer, the Ecto 1, the old firehouse and containment unit, and endless views of New York City.

Unfortunately, it’s the trite treatment of what’s familiar that makes this movie fall flat as entertainment. Every entity in the original movies was animated with minimal digital resources. Of course, this is due to the era. Computer animation was new, but the ghosts had to be convincing. The ghosts of the first two movies seemed so real that an audience member had the distinct impression they could get slimed in their seats. The animation in the new movie is neon, wispy, and similar to the graphics of a lower tier PlayStation game.

What is evidently putting off fans of the original the most, is the obvious politicizing of one of the most revered storylines in movie history. Instead of men, four women are now the heroes. Costumes and equipment are sexualized (watch for the proton gun in the official trailer). One of the larger entities is a ghostly Uncle Sam. Does this imply America’s symbols are just old, dead, evil relics? The feminist take on the script makes vulnerability impossible, so the new ghosts have to be able to magically possess people, and instead of Sigourney Weaver’s legs, viewers now must behold Chris Hemsworth’s bare chest.

None of these gimmicks are totally new. The originals had a bit of sultriness and kitsch, but there always existed a degree of import. The StayPuft Marshmallow Man got fried because he stepped on a church, and the Statue of liberty came alive to save the city in ‘Ghostbusters II.’ On top of all this, who can forget the Billboard success of Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song, and the New Year’s party positivity of Howard Huntsberry singing “Higher and Higher”? The ‘Ghostbusters’ remake features (surprise) a remake of the original theme song with a depressing industrial vibe.

There are innumerable parallels between the America of 1984 and 2016. People of both eras are experiencing social and economic changes that are frightening and seemingly too big to overcome. The original ‘Ghostbusters’ movies used the supernatural to embody these fears. They were eventually defeated with innovation, lightheartedness, and the necessity of human fortitude. The remake seems to hold wonder and fantasy in contempt, and tough situations only as opportunities to promote the self. This movie will probably be very funny, but instead of trying to build on a cinematic monolith, it’s likely summer audiences will have to watch a theory on how the ladies from ‘Bridesmaids’ would deal with the underworld.

About the Author

[Elizabeth Rose]

Elizabeth Rose is a film and entertainment blogger who was born and raised in Chi Town, Illinois. She especially favors fantasy, as well as sci-fi and other fiction genres. You can connect with her on Twitter.

COLD FEET FEVER—the Story behind the Story

[Maureen Fisher]Guest post by Maureen Fisher

Truth be told, Cold Feet Fever, a spin-off from Fur Ball Fever, was my most difficult book to write so far. This may be partly because my new protagonist’s backstory was already established in the previous book. I had no choice but to define his goal (pull off a kick-ass grand opening for his paranormal nightclub), a great plot providing seemingly insurmountable obstacles (a goofy dog, exploding trucks, an unfortunate synchronized swimming episode, homicidal thugs, a corrupt building inspector, disappearing corpses, a kidnapping, not to mention the threat of live cremation), and the perfect heroine (a bossy mortician-turned-event-planner with criminal ties) to ensure suitable character growth in a serial womanizer with commitment issues, albeit he’s smokin’ hot, funny, and irresistible.

But that’s not the main reason I had difficulty writing Cold Feet Fever. Nope. Although it was never diagnosed, I’m pretty sure I suffered a brain injury that affected me for close to three years. I only put this together after talking to a friend who’d experienced shaken brain injury.

Here’s the thing. Every winter, my husband and I flee Canada to enjoy Puerto Vallarta weather. Sidewalks in the Mexican seaside town are notorious for causing injuries. You wouldn’t believe the tourists limping around the city, balancing on crutches, sporting casts, or renting portable wheelchairs. One day, I decided to take inventory. For half an hour, I sat on the Malecon and counted four arm casts, five walking casts, three knee braces, two pairs of crutches, and one tensor-encased wrist.

At first glance, those sidewalks look innocuous—mostly paved and surprisingly level. Hah! If you take your eyes off those suckers for one split second, an unexpected slant, or a two-inch metal bolt cunningly camouflaged as part of the sidewalk, or, my personal favorite, a rogue crevice roughly the size of the San Andreas Fault takes out the unwary tourist. And don’t get me started on the stairs, which are everywhere given that Puerto Vallarta is built on the side of a coastal mountain range. Seemingly normal-looking stairs invariably have one tricky step that is either higher or shorter than all the rest. Always. I believe it’s written into every construction contract.

It took a while for me to learn that if I wanted to sightsee, I must stop walking before gawking. But by then, it was too little, too late. Over the course of three winters, I not only twisted an ankle and sprained my wrist, but also cracked my head not once, not twice, but three times on Puerto Vallarta concrete. Suffice it to say that when the brain, which has a consistency similar to Jell-O, suddenly collides with the skull, which is as hard as cement (at least I’m told mine is), bad things happen to nice people.

The end result? For three years I was unable to focus on anything requiring brain activity, namely my writing. Whenever I sat down at the computer and tried to resolve a plot twist or write a sexy love scene, my brain fogged up. Immediately, I grew exhausted and crawled away for a nap. This, from someone who never napped a nanosecond in her life.

Slowly, things improved. I started writing again and managed to finish a book that I’m proud to publish. I hope you will enjoy Cold Feet Fever as much as I did while writing it.

Book Blurb

[Cold Feet Fever Cover]

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Smashwords

Cold Feet Fever
A Romantic Crime Mystery with Tons of Humor

Secrets and Crime Have Never Been So Much Fun—or So Romantic!

A bad boy gambler with a lazy streak and commitment issues:
Owning Kinki, Atlantic City’s first paranormal nightclub, isn’t as easy—or as much fun—as Sam Jackson anticipated. Someone’s trying to shut him down before he opens, he’s on the verge of bankruptcy, and his matchmaking granddaddy has hired a sexy event planner with a mysterious background, bossy disposition, and criminal ties.

A mortician-turned-event-planner with big secrets:
A job as event planner offers single mom, Katie Deluca, her last chance to escape her past. Turns out party planning is more difficult than organizing funerals. Plus, the nightclub owner, although perfect for awakening her sensuality, couldn’t be more wrong for the stability she craves.

Forced to collaborate, they overcome obstacles and fight crime:
Katie is the one person who can salvage Kinki—and heal Sam’s emotional wounds. Together, they tangle with a goofy dog, exploding trucks, an unfortunate synchronized swimming episode, homicidal thugs, a corrupt building inspector, disappearing corpses, a kidnapping, and the threat of live cremation, all to deliver a kick-ass grand opening.

Excerpt

With growing desperation, Katie managed to pry her purse from Rex’s jaws. He registered his disapproval with another howl ending in an eerie, wolf-like falsetto.

She prayed the couch’s occupants were far enough along in their bliss to ignore the interruption. Purse to chest, she silently backed away. She’d reached the main office when a man’s drawl flooded her entire body with apprehension.

“Much as I hate to break the mood, darlin’, I’d better check up on Rex. I don’t trust him near the pizza.”

Before Katie could flee, or dig a hole for herself, or better still, throw herself out the window, Sam Jackson, playboy and, if she believed the Internet gossip, all-around heartbreaker strolled out of the alcove. Buttoning an amber silk shirt the same color as his eyes and wearing a Stetson, he halted and scrutinized Katie across the gleaming expanse of conference table.

The grainy newspaper photos she’d studied online didn’t come close to doing justice to his masculine glory. Everything about him screamed sexy, from that chiseled jaw and those sculpted lips, to his streaky blond hair framing a face that belonged on the big screen.

Fortunately, pretty packaging didn’t interest her in the slightest. Nope. The man was a degenerate who enjoyed booze, gambling, and women, not necessarily in that order.

As he closed in, his gaze took a long, leisurely tour of her body before settling on her mouth. He exuded a hint of cologne, all woodsy and spicy and delicious, not that she cared. Was it her imagination, or did his expression hint at amusement?

“Howdy, ma’am. I apologize if my dog scared you, but I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong office.” His voice was a little raspy, steeped in moonlight and magnolias.

Katie cleared her throat. “I’m in the right place, thank you.”

One side of his mouth kicked up a notch. “You must be here for our job fair. Try Room 204. That’s our HR department. In that outfit, you’d make a perfect Dracula’s Lair attendant.” A broad grin creased his cheeks, causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle.

“No, but thank you anyway.” Katie studied his face. “It’s obvious you didn’t touch base with your boss this morning.”

“Really? And all this time I believed I was the boss.”

 

About the Author
Transplanted from Scotland to Canada at the tender age of seven, Maureen Fisher now lives with her second husband in Ottawa, Ontario. Besides writing, she is a voracious reader and volunteer for an addiction family counseling program. In addition, she’s a bridge player, yoga practitioner, seeker of personal and spiritual growth, pickle ball enthusiast, and an infrequent but avid gourmet cook.

You can find Maureen on Twitter, on Facebook, at Goodreads, and at booksbymaureen.com.

STRANGE DARKNESS—Enjoy the Ride!

By Danielle DeVor

[Danielle DeVor]Why does horror lend itself to the short story format so easily? I think it really does because, with horror, you can jump in right at the moment of action. Through setting, smell, visuals, and sound, you can put someone right into a situation where their heart pounds and they are waiting for the monster to strike.

That’s why I decided to put out a collection of stories. While I like drawing a reader into a world and leading them up to the impact, I like the instantaneous shock too. The moment the werewolf’s teeth bite into your leg. The moment when you know you might die. So, welcome to Strange Darkness. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Book Blurb

[Strange Darkness Cover]

Pull up a spot around the campfire and join us in this collection of 8 spooky short stories.

A deadly, dangerous man is caught between
the paranormal and his evil, hungry dreams.

A study on urban legends becomes all too real
for one student.

Time waits for no man and a horrible vampiric
legacy is in need of an heir.

Puppies are sweet and cute, but this little girl’s
Hellhound is loyal.

There’s nothing like an alien war.
Frog isn’t what he appears. And Boyd?
He’ll be thankful.

Running away will solve all your problems.
Or not. One girl will wish she stayed home.

There’s nothing like a few brain eating
hermit crabs to turn your world on its axis.

Sometimes the one who saves you from the
monsters is one person you’d least expect.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

About the Author
Named one of the Examiner’s 2014 Women in Horror: 93 Horror Authors you Need to Read Right Now, Danielle DeVor has been spinning the spider webs, or rather, the keyboard for more frights and oddities. She spent her early years fantasizing about vampires and watching “Salem’s Lot” way too many times. When not writing and reading about weird things, you will find her hanging out at the nearest coffee shop, enjoying a Mocha Frappuccino.

You can find Danielle on Twitter, on Facebook and on her blog, danielledevor.wordpress.com, as well as on her Amazon author page.

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.

Where to Buy
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

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.