Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: The Paranormal Bad Guy

Vampires, witches, werewolves, ghost, and zombies are all popular as characters in today's fiction. Not just as villains, the sparkly vampires of Twilight are romantic leads. But enough about Twilight. Today I wanted to talk about an unusual paranormal bad guy that I had the good fortune to review this month. The book was titled A Mystery / Suspense Collection Anthology: Sweet, but the paranormal villain that I want to talk about was a villain from a story by Gerald Costlow titled The Call.

I am not going to give a great story away by telling you too many details of the plot. Let me just say that the "the call" was not from a human, nor did it originate from a particularly malevolent being. Those two facts are part of what make this particular villain interesting and unique. This is a villain who cannot move, and whose only power is the abillity out to those who can hear. Yet, the power of the call strikes fear into the locals. It causes grown men to stay home and lock their doors.

The call began so long ago that nobody remembers when or knows why it started. If there is evil, that evil is rooted in the very human need to recover past joy. The call conjures to the mind of a victim those happy dreams of the past. In dreams of goodness the hero is pulled toward madness and death. Costlow has managed to turn good and evil on their ear with "The Call." I loved the story, particularly the ending. I loved the way his minister fell victim to the call and a mountain witch fought to save him from dreaming to death. Most of all, I loved his villain. He was a paranormal bad guy to remember.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guest Blogging at Suzanne Adair's Blog

Today I am guest blogging about Kentucky during the Decades of Discord on Suzanne Adair's Blog. If you love Kentucky's turbulent history following the Civil War, I think you will find the post well worth reading. If that doesn't capture your interest, I am giving away a copy of my novel, Circle of Dishonor to someone who comments on my post.

Stop by and read a little history, leave a comment, and you could find a copy of my book in your mailbox. While you are there look over some of Suzanne's books and you might just find a new favorite author.

Kentucky in the Decades of Discord

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Guest Blog by Howard Sherman

Howard loves reading books as much as writing them. When he's not wiling away his day with words he also enjoy fine food and wine, rousing conversation, travel, golf, gambling and gourmet cooking that he both executes and eats with his wife and daughter.

Howard Sherman is an 'implementer of interactive fiction'.  All of his books can be considered ebooks that you play or games that you read, thanks to the fact they are all 100% text based and yet require a computer, a smart phone or other tech gadget to enjoy.

Howard has graciously stopped by today to talk about writing villains in interactive fiction. I hope you will give him a warm welcome. If you would like to know more, you can visit his blog at:

Interactive Fiction Villains

Like any writer, I take great care and give much consideration to the villain in my novels.  It's a tricky balance writing a character who's evil machinations are simultaneously plausible yet unpredictable. 

Plausible in the sense the villain's decisions and actions make (relatively) perfect sense when fully unveiled and unpredictable in the sense that the reader should have only the vaguest of notions as to who the nemesis may be.

This becomes a whole lot more complicated in my arena as an Implementer of interactive fiction.  I have all of the same challenges any author of fiction has plus a couple of more to really keep things interesting:

1) Interactive fiction is non-linear, which means that the normal understanding of "beginning, middle and ending" doesn't apply.  Since you can investigate a crime scene one moment, go buy a bagel the next minute, then head over to police headquarters the next minute, and then decide to retrace your steps - the story is a vast area of unpredictable possibilities all driven by the reader.

2) Since the story is dynamic in the sense that the other characters in the story are also walking around of their own accord, performing actions in keeping with their own timetable and at times reacting to what you, the reader who has assumed the persona of the main character,  those characters (including the bad guys) can become capable of almost anything.

How do you write a villain that can just as easily keep tabs on you (as the good guy) as you (the main character good guy) can keep tabs on them?

I tend to keep my villains hiding in plain sight.  That means they can be anybody you'll meet in the story.  Then, to keep the reader guessing, I pepper in enough red herrings to make at least three characters prime suspects. But which one is the villain?

This is exactly what I did in my forthcoming interactive murder mystery Four Badges.  I wrote the entire novel around who did it, what they did and why they did it.  The only thing the reader knows starting out is that a sleepy little town in New Jersey way past the 'burbs wakes up to discover two prominent members of the local community were slaughtered in the safety of their own hones.

But that's it. Who did this? Why would they do this? Where are they now? What are they up to? From there I leave the reader guessing as they explore town, examine crime scenes, question witnesses and local townspeople in the quest to find the killer.

Along the way, I throw a few more curve balls to really keep things interested and mix it up for the reader.  I'm a big fan of the art of misdirection and consider it the most cherished tool in my author's toolbox.

At the end of the day, the villain's been discovered only after the reader discovers crucial details yielded only through keen observation while also, employing superior deductive reasoning to come up with the killer -- whose actions are perfectly plausible, yet far from predictable when all is said and done.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review: A Mystery / Suspense Collection: Sweet

A Mystery/Suspense Collection Anthology: SweetA Mystery/Suspense Collection Anthology: Sweet by Miss Mae

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Mystery / Suspense Collection Anthology: Sweet would not be my first choice as a title for this anthology. The title is long, cumbersome, and lacks the real flavor of the book. The anthology was an interesting, well written, and diverse group of romantic suspense stories. Victory Tales Press is a Christian press, therefore, the four novellas are free of profanity, gratuitous violence, and graphic sex. I wouldn’t hesitate to give my mother a copy of this book. On the whole, the anthology holds up and is well worth reading.

Miss Penelope's Letters by Miss Mae opens the anthology. The only opening scene is unnecessarily italicized. Otherwise, it is an excellent story. Miss Penelope, a London doctor’s daughter, is filling in for Lord Wellington’s ill housekeeper and begins receiving unsigned letters. The writer demands that Penelope meet him in one of London’s most ill-reputed sections of town. When she dares to keep the assignation, she encounters trouble and a mystery man in a black mask. She must decide if the man behind the mask is truly a man of honor as he claims. It doesn’t help that his stolen kiss leaves her breathless and his presence makes her heart pound.

A Distant Call by Gerald Costlow takes readers deep into the mysterious wilds of the Appalachian Mountains and holds them spellbound by “the Call.” Jessy Corman, a young minister who has answered the call to preach, finds a church and a home in the mountains. He also finds Anna May Sherritt, a beautiful young mountain woman that locals believe to be a witch. Jessy doesn’t understand the dangers of his new home or the fear locals have of  the full moon. Anna May and her granny, know the mysteries of the mountain too well. Can they save Jessy from being the next victim of the call? To succeed, Anna May must solve the mystery of “the call” and save Jessy from being the next to disappear. If she succeeds what will happen to the new preacher if he falls under the spell of the local witch?

The Last of Her Kind by Cheryl Pierson is the story of an old Victrola and its place in the family. The Victrola is the cherished possession of Cassie's dying grandmother. Her father and new stepmother are fighting over the antique phonograph, which her stepmother is determine to get out of the house. During the fight Cassie discovers a frightening secret about the Victrola and its place in the family. Will this secret bring her broken family back together or destroy it? Cassie takes the Victrola into her grandmother’s room and together they play the music of love lost and found.

Dangerous Deception by Anne Patrick: Gwen Jacobs is the story of an investigative reporter who thrived on dangerous assignments, until the massacre of an African village. At first glance this story didn’t seem to fit with the others. The massacre is in the recent past, the magical elements of the previous two stories are absent, and the language of the story is very different. The story is of love and redemption. Gwen is offered a chance to become the kind of person she wants to be by accompanying Jack Peterson and his small group of humanitarians to report on the atrocities taking place amidst a civil war. Her chance is tainted by the past and her relationship with the owner of the newspaper that has given her this assignment. When her secrets are revealed, will she be able to overcome her past and build a future with Jack?

View all my reviews

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Guest Blog by Mary Reed

Today I would like to welcome Mary Reed, one member of a dynamic husband and wife historical mystery writing team. Mary Reed and her husband, Eric Mayer, published several short Lord Chamberlain detections in mystery anthologies and in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine prior to 1999. One For Sorrow, the first full length novel about their protagonist, was published in 1999. They are currently working on the as yet untitled ninth entry in the series.

Their current book is titled Eight For Eternity. It is set in January 532, when mobs ruled Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire. Against a murderous backdrop lit by raging fires, John, Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, must find those seeking to use the Nika Riots to dethrone the emperor, untangling a web of intrigue in a city where death holds court at every corner and before escalating violence in the streets removes all hope of finding those he seeks.

Mary has graciously accepted my invitation to talk about one of her villains on Thursday's Thugs, Theodotus of Constantinople. Enjoy:

Four For A Boy, the prequel to John's adventures, relates how John regained his freedom and began his rise to great office. Theodotus, a major villain in the novel, was based upon an historical City Prefect of Constantinople.

According to Procopius' Secret History, Theodotus was much feared for his ruthlessness, particularly in putting down riots. It was also claimed he practiced magick. Theodotus was nicknamed the Pumpkin but Procopius gives no reason, leaving it open for authorial speculation.

We took Procopius' mini-portrait of a powerful and hated man who exhibited what my mother would call a nasty manner, changed his name to The Gourd, and described him thus:

Though he dressed like a peasant in leather breeches and a rough wool shirt, no one could have mistaken the broad-chested figure, shambling along as if weighed down by his enormous and asymmetrical head, set between wide shoulders without apparent benefit of a neck.

Some whispered he'd been kicked in the head by a horse as a youngster. Others said the misshapen head was a result of his mother easing her pregnancy with demonic potions. No one, however, said anything at all about the matter when within earshot of the man nicknamed the "Gourd".

Early in the book, the Gourd gives a banquet at which he insults his high-born guests by giving them cooked gourds to eat before performing an apparently magickal feat. Having freed a caged dove he proposed dropping into a scalding pitch, he plunges his hand into the bubbling mixture.

His hand emerges unscathed -- an explanation is provided later in the novel -- and the Gourd declares:

"This is the indestructible hand that reaches into the darkest alleys to choke the life from the murderous bastards who lurk there! Why do you think they whisper my name with such dread? They know my powers. They fear me. And rightly so!"

At that point news arrives of a riot breaking out in the city, an event allowing him to display his vicious nature and confirming his boastful statement was not mere words. We do not often feature violence on stage, but in this instance the Gourd illuminates the scene by burning a captured rioter alive:

Upending the pot he doused the [rioter] with lamp oil. The man began to struggle frantically as the viscous liquid soaked into his clothing and trickled down, forming a puddle.

Theodotus stepped away and casually kicked one of the lamps illuminating the scene towards the obelisk. The lamp skittered on its side, rolling in a tiny wheel of flames to come to rest against the man's oil sodden cloak. A thin line of red snaked slowly along it and began climbing up the man's chest.

Then the oil exploded into a ball of flame, inside which a dark figure writhed and screamed.

While the Gourd is only briefly mentioned in the Secret History, he made such an impression it was inevitable he would show up in our series.

Although it does not occur in Four For A Boy, the fate of the Gourd is known. According to the Secret History he was accused of causing a near fatal illness to Emperor Justinian, and of being a magician and a poisoner. While the charges are probably untrue, evidence against the Gourd was obtained by torturing his friends. However, one courageous high-ranking official spoke out, declaring the Gourd innocent, and as a result the Gourd was exiled rather than executed. When he later learned men were being sent to assassinate him, he fled to a church, took sanctuary, and spent the rest of his life there.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend Writer: Butt in Chair -- Brain Missing

Has anyone missed me? Since very few people leave comments on my blog, I'm never sure it would be noticed if I'm gone. That has been put to the test. Last weekend, this weekend writer turned into a hibernating bear. I slept until coughing woke me, then went foraging for drugs, followed by more sleep. Which means there was no post on my writing weekend, because that would have required me to write.

I must have looked as bad as I sounded. As I hacked and coughed my way through a workweek that could not be missed, Sarah took over the blog and did an excellent guest post on villains from the Darkover series. If you haven't read that post, please do. Her insight into these bad boys is first rate.

Now that it seems I am not going to die from this miserable illness, I got my butt back in the desk chair and went back to work. Today, for the first time in a week, I have been working on my novel. Well, I've been attempting to work on my novel. Once the cough syrup, antihistamines, decongestants, steroids, and headache medicines wear off, we will see if anything I've written stands up to edits.

It really doesn't matter if what I have been writing is garbage or not. What matters is the effort to get back to writing. Contrary to popular belief, books do not spring magically onto the shelf. Every single one of them had to be written. There are times when the writing flows easily. Most of the time, the words are plucked from overworked brains, squeezed in between other jobs, and, more often than not, have to go through several revisions before they are fit to be read by an editor.

So here I am, folks, banging away at the keyboard in a drug induced state while hoping that the words on the page make sense when the drugs are no longer needed. I know that somewhere in my foggy head there is a brain. If only I can find it and make it crank out another page or two... Wish me luck.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: a Double Standard

Hello, I'm Sarah Glenn, guest posting on Gwen's blog today. We're going to take a little departure from mystery for today's discussion of fictional villains.

When it comes to books, movies, television shows, etc., there are villains we hate, villains we love to hate... and villains we just love. Marion Zimmer Bradley created two of the most polarizing characters in SF/fantasy fiction with her Darkover series: Dyan Ardais and Bard di Asturien.

Don't know what Darkover is? Oversimplification: Darkover is a planet inhabited by a lost human colony. Through interbreeding with a local humanoid species, some descendants of the colony were born with psychic abilities. Those descendants gave rise to family dynasties, the Comyn, who rule the inhabitable part of the planet.

Dyan Ardais is usually presented as a villain or at least a dangerous man in a group of the novels, but dies heroically. He uses his psychic powers to try coercing teenage boys into sleeping with him. He had an unpleasant childhood, overshadowed by an insane father.

Bard di Asturien is the hero of a standalone novel in the series. He makes several missteps, but does 'the right thing' by the end of the book. He uses his psychic powers to coerce women into sleeping with him. He had a marginally pleasant childhood, overshadowed by his illegitimate status and ambitious relatives.

Dyan stops his depredations once they are publicly revealed. He makes public reparations.

Bard di Asturien stops his depredations after raping the woman he wanted to marry. She psychically shows him, in detail, how awful his acts are and how his blindness to others has screwed up not only his relationships with women, but with everyone else in his life. Bard is guilt-ridden and resolves to make up for everything he can.

The majority of Darkover fans are female. They love Dyan Ardais. Many fanfic stories have been written about women who convince Dyan to sleep with their Mary Sue character. They also despise Bard di Asturien, who developed a much greater desire to right his wrongs and become a better person than Dyan every did. Meanwhile, Bard di Asturien's story is one of the few Darkover novels I have heard straight men say they like.

What's the difference? Female fans of Dyan talk about his painful past, his doomed love for Kennard Alton, his sense of honor (except where young toothsome men are concerned), the aura of dark power about him that made Darth Vader sexy, too. The same women often view Bard as pond scum, craven, evil. They ignore Bard's sense of honor, mostly in waging war. His reform at the end is a plot device by the author, wanting to end the book with the hero's redemption. I think they underestimate MZB at that point, who in her prime was very good at creating complex and compelling characters.

I think it comes down to whose ox is getting gored. Bard's story is one of the few Darkover novels I don't read over and over again, because it pisses me off. I think if he wanted to really show his regret about forcing himself on those women, he would have castrated himself like the priests of Cybele. This is probably because I, like other female readers, pictured myself as one of his victims.

Dyan does have a certain amount of Darth Vader coolness, but is he really so much better? Or does he provoke less hostility from me because I'm 'safe' from him? How would I feel about Dyan if I were a teenage boy reading The Heritage of Hastur, whether straight or gay?

What if we turned the concept upside down? What if the villain were a woman who forced men to sleep with her? We might picture a kinky dominatrix, which would probably sell well... but what if we're talking about an ugly woman? Worse, one with herpes or something worse? How about the woman being a member of an alien species that has vagina dentata, and the sexual coercion is how she gets her meals?

Oh, wait. It's been done. OMFG.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: The Manipulator

The manipulator as a villain is one of the more interesting types of criminal, because the nature of a manipulator's evil is revealed through the actions of others. The manipulator is a puppet master, pulling strings that make his hapless victims dance. He or she would never soil a hand by actually committing a crime, but beware that you are not persuaded to do his dirty work. Horror uses manipulators very well. Stephen King's Needful Things is a prime example. Mystery is not without its manipulators, though.

When I consider manipulators, none impresses me more than X in Agatha Christie's Curtain. In many ways Curtain is a very sad book. Poirot and Hastings have returned to Styles. Styles is not the stately country estate it once was. Poirot is very old. Considering that he was a retired Belgian detective at the beginning of the series, 'ancient' would probably be a more accurate description. He is confined to a wheelchair and suffering with a failing heart. Hastings is mourning the death of his wife and worried over the romantic entanglements of his daughter. Into this, Christie introduces X.

Poirot knows the identity of X and tells Hastings that a murder is about to occur, but not the identity of the victim. He gives Hastings newspaper clippings of five murder cases, each with a different person convicted for the crime. X is connected to every case, but is not the actual killer. Poirot steadfastly refuses to confide the identity of X to Hastings, because Hastings' face would reveal the truth.

The book makes us question whether X is the master puppeteer Poirot believes, or if, at last, the great detective has lost the deductive powers of his "little gray cells." Christie's final twist is a surprising bit of manipulation that saddens us as it restores our faith in her storytelling ability. Few writers today have the skill to craft such an excellent example of the inner workings of a manipulator's mind.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lincoln’s Jump into the National Spotlight - KMPH Fox 26 Central San Joaquin Valley News Source in Fresno, California Entertainment, News, Sports and Weather |

Lincoln’s Jump into the National Spotlight - KMPH Fox 26 Central San Joaquin Valley News Source in Fresno, California Entertainment, News, Sports and Weather |

Lincoln may have represented Illinois in the US Senate, but his roots run deep in Kentucky's Bluegrass. Since I am always interested in historical articles about famous Kentuckians of the 19th Century, I thought I would share this story with my readers.

Enjoy Lincoln's famous leap.

By: Bill Coate

Abraham Lincoln's first success in the world of politics came when he won a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. He learned the craft quickly and by 1840, he was in a life and death struggle with the Democrats over the Illinois State Bank in Springfield. This set the stage for one of the most bizarre episodes in the career of Abraham Lincoln.

Now it just so happened that Illinois was in deep financial trouble in 1840. Its bank had given out more paper money than it had gold and silver in reserve. That's when the Democrats saw their chance to destroy the despised institution. They agreed to allow it to suspend its obligation to exchange its paper money for specie, but only for the remainder of the legislative session.

That's when Lincoln determined to keep the legislature in session in order to buy precious time for the bank to find a way to survive, and that's how he jumped into the national limelight on December 5, 1840. On that date, the Democrats proposed an early adjournment, knowing this would bring a speedy end to the State Bank. The Whigs tried to counter by leaving the capitol building before the vote, but the doors were locked. That's when Lincoln made his move. He headed for the second story, opened a window and jumped to the ground!

For a while Lincoln's escape denied the House its quorum, but it didn't last long. He was returned to the chambers and the House voted to adjourn.

Although Abraham Lincoln wasn't able to prevent the vote on adjournment that day, his determined antics put him in the media spotlight for the first time. The newspapers couldn't resist telling their readers of "Mr. Lincoln's celebrated leap" from the 2nd story and how it "caused him no harm because his legs reached nearly from the window to the ground."

They knew they had not heard the last of Abraham Lincoln. Any politician who was willing to jump out of a window on principle was bound to amount to something some day.