Dark Fantasy: The Best Parts of Two Great Genres

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Dark Fantasy is my creative playground. I love reading it almost as much as I love writing it. This special genre takes the magic of Fantasy and mixes it with the terrifying themes of Horror. Still not clear on the difference between the three? Here is my oversimplified cheat list:

@Konstantin Yuganov – Stock.Adobe.Com

Fantasy – Epic adventure involving magic and some sort of quest

Horror – Story themes designed to tap into your darkest fears and scare the hell out of you

Dark Fantasy – An Epic adventure with magic and a quest that unearths your darkest fears

Urban Fantasy – An adventure involving magic and some sort of quest, but takes place on the mean streets of a modern-day city

Curious about Dark Fantasy? Goodreads.com offers a list of awesome books in the genre. Perfect for the season!

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Why Horror Is a Necessary Part of Our Literary Culture

Halloween is the time of year most folks want to be scared. We flock to haunted houses. Dress up in scary costumes or slightly less impressive facsimiles of super heroes. Some adults choose to put on their fuzzy nonthreatening stuffed animal heads. No judgement. You be you.

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No matter which costume you go with, we all seek out the scary on Halloween. Why?  I have a theory:

Fear shakes us out of the mundane antiseptic world. October lets us step away from our boring 9 to 5 jobs. We aren’t stuck in our career roles. We aren’t just “Mom” or “Dad.” During Halloween, we can be anything. The scarier the better.

Experiencing this shake up just once a year isn’t enough. Ghost stories and other scary tales offer us an individual experience where the only limit is our imagination. Horror forces us to recognize our fears and hopefully it encourages us to face them.

Boo Alert – Don’t Forget to enter my Spooky Season Sweepstakes! Enter by Midnight, October 27th for a chance to win 1 or 3 EBook copies of The Lords of Valdeon (Book One: Heart of The Warrior).

 

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A Halloween Story – The Dirt Room

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[Halloween-art.com]

Folks have asked me where my inspiration for fantasy comes from and I tell them about my grandma. Visiting her house was like visiting the gates of Otherworld. She’d tell us stories about the gnomes and other magical creatures. Often we’d wake up in the morning to find candy in our shoes. Grandma would assure us the pixies had filled them with sweet treats during the night.

The next question I’m usually asked?

You seem like such a nice lady. Where did the horror stuff come from?

I usually shrug and tell them how I’ve always loved ghost stories. Writing dark fantasy is a great way for me to share wonderful spine tingling tales. It also allows me to explore the darker side of human nature. Then I started gathering ideas for this blog post and a repressed memory bubbled to the surface.

My grandmother’s house (built in the late 1920’s and made out of copper) rests at the mouth of Bingham Canyon in the little town of Copperton, UT. Once consisting of several little mining towns – including Galena Gulch and Highland Boy Mines – Bingham Canyon was eventually gobbled up by the Kennecott Copper Mine. The land was once home to several miners. If you ask me, they never left.

I still remember the narrow stairs descending from her kitchen to the backyard. Go left instead of right and you’d find yourself headed down into every kid’s nightmare. Some of you may be old enough to remember your own grandmother’s house. Do you recall the grumbling roar of those furnaces or the hiss of steam heat coming from the radiator pipes in each room?

Her basement was best avoided, but sometimes we’d have no choice. Grandma would send us down to her wash room for one errand or another. Braving the hollow sounds of my shoes striking the stairs, I’d descend toward the roar of the furnace. I remember the washroom and my uncle’s empty bedroom were painted a sickly mint green. Following the high gloss (and I’m sure lead-based) paint around the wash room, I’d head to my grandpa’s work bench.

Standing between me and my objective was a 3’ x 3’ door suspended in the very center of the wall. Reaching it required a ladder. Open the door and an unsettling darkness greeted you. Grandma called it the ‘dirt room’. I thought of it as the gates of hell. Every lost soul who’d ever passed through the mouth of the canyon could have stepped upon the dark earth in that room. I could feel them every time I went near that door.

Grandma passed away several years ago. Her children and grandchildren had the sad job of gathering her things. Somehow I got stuck with the basement and its Dirt Room. My flash light was a comfort as I climbed inside. The confident belief in “childhood fantasies have gone now that I’m grown up” vanished as soon as my feet hit the dirt. Utter darkness surrounded me, suffocating my courage. I clung to the only source of hope – the flash light.

Running the beam along the floor, I found old metal toys from the 40s and glass bottles from gawd only knows. Gathering as many as I could, I continued the search. Then my light hit them. Discarded doll heads. Not just any doll heads, but porcelain ones with the open and close eyes. You know. The ones that are usually possessed by a malevolent spirit.

Then the furnace roared. Something moved in the faint fringe of the flash light. I don’t know what it was. I don’t care what it was. Backing toward the door, I kept the beam in a protective circle about my legs. I crawled back out and shut the door. The house has new owners now. If they had any sense, they’d sheet rock over that door and forget it’s there.

Meanwhile upstairs in the light, the rest of the clan had been busy. Imagine my giddy excitement when my mother showed us the two intact porcelain dolls she’d found in the hidey hole above my grandma’s closet! A Shirley Temple doll and a Roxie doll (named for my grandma’s other daughter who’d passed away as a child). Both of them had those blinky demon possessed eyes. Shiver. My mother had them refurbished and still displays them by her bedside. I believe her plan is to leave them to one of her granddaughters. Maybe they can terrify a new generation?

So what childhood terror do you still carry around? Besides clowns I mean. Everybody hates clowns. Snakes maybe? Bugs? A deceased relative’s painted face in a casket? Leave your answer in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

Happy Halloween!

Guest Post: Author Liv Hadden

I’m a really happy person, which doesn’t mean much unless you’ve read my novel, In the Mind of Revenge. You can tell from the title it’s not a tale of unicorns, rainbows, and happy-endings. It is dark, twisted, sad, murderous, and most certainly violent. So, I often get asked where I got the idea for this book, especially since it seems so opposite of me and my life experience.

Well, besides my love of all things Halloween (Creepy? Scary? Paranormal? Yes, please!), the inspiration for this particular story started as all my ideas do—with an unexpected visit from the main character. Shame came to me in a dream during a time of depression, which I am sure is why I latched on. In honor of Halloween and the release of the audiobook version of In the Mind of Revenge on October 31, I thought I would share the haunting that started it all—my eerie dream of shame.

***

The silence is heavy and jarring in a way no amount of noise could ever be. It commands stillness, taunting me to dare cross it. My lungs burn as they expand as far as they possibly can. I do not exhale despite my chest’s urging. Every inch of me is working hard to suppress the panic bubbling in my gut. The vast emptiness around me does nothing to aid my cause. Hot breath sends an icy chill across my neck and shoulders. I stiffen, hoping it is possible to be more still, more silent than I already am. I am becoming part of the emptiness, releasing into it everything I am made of. I know I will die in this place, slowly consumed by the darkness of silence.

It is then a whisper tickles my neck, curling its way around, tightening its grip. It crushes my throat, denying me any option for one last breath. I do my best not to look, not to hear. Just let me go, I shout inside the prison of my mind. But, it is stronger than me and its message rings through the air, cutting through the stark silence.

“I see you.”

Everything in me wants to recoil, but it won’t let me. The pressure in my chest and stomach are unbearable. I open my mouth, relenting to the burning in my lungs, but no air enters them. It’s strangling me, this invisible demon. I can feel it bucking and bursting in its relentless pursuit to break free of my body. Despite the blackness of my surroundings, I can see the demon oozing from my abdomen, one tendril at a time. It is blacker than the darkest night, more sinister than its most evil villain.

The contents of my bowels spill onto the ground with the amorphous form of the demon that was once living inside me. The smell is wretched, like nothing my senses have ever encountered before. I can see the stink of rot floating around the demon as it begins to grow larger. Fear grips me, urging me to run, but I cannot move my feet. I must watch in horror as the monster that has been suffocating me for years begins to take form. Black demonic fingers extend and retract from arms that are defining themselves quicker than I’d like.

I am scared to look, to face my demon. I close my eyes as hard as I can, my attention immediately drawn to my exposed insides. The hole my monster crawled from is still there, a wound I know will never heal. Blood is steadily dripping from the tear, which I now fear is feeding the demon. Suddenly, it is near me, its lips grazing my ear lobe. We are both still, waiting for the other to make a move. I wonder if it knows I am paralyzed. Is this part of its game? I can think of nothing crueler than continuing to plague me with the ultimate villain in dark silence like this—time.

Hands shoot up to my face. Fingers pry open my eyes, forcing me to see what I have been dreading. “I see you,” it hisses, licking my left cheek as if taste testing its last meal. My eyes lock with its, stopping my heart with the realization of its true nature. Staring back into my eyes is me—a shadow Peter Pan would surely be glad to lose. Though, I know it is more than just a shadow. It is the embodiment of everything I have ever hated about myself. Every piece of me I have ever abhorred, detested, looked down upon. I am right—my demon is drinking of my blood…of my shame.

My shame begins to laugh hysterically, its low booming voice somehow sounding of many. It wields its right hand to deliver my final death blow, plunging its fist into my chest. I can feel razor sharp claws penetrating my heart, slowly sealing my fate. It whispers in my ear again, one more time before it releases me into the nothingness for good.

“You fool.”

I begin to fall. The descent lasts so long I am certain there is no end. To my surprise, my shame is falling with me, now fused to my heart. It is a part of me now in a way I cannot escape. I knew I would die in this this place.

In the space where acceptance meets desperation, I feel a tugging that wrenches my head backward, threatening to remove it from my neck. My shame cries out in agony, and I realize the tugging is not hurting me. In fact, it is refreshing, like melting ice against too hot skin. No, the tugging is not breaking me—it is interrupting the black shadow’s snack of my feeble heart and soured soul. My demon’s ghoulish screams are music to my ears. I wonder what has come to fight it and hope it will win. The heat of it I now recognize as an old friend I was certain had abandoned me long ago. Love bends around me, cradling me in its arms, its whispers sweet and tender.

“I see you.”

I am at a crossroads called choice, and I must make a decision. It seems simple to my heart, who is suffocating under the weight of shame. Yet, my mind is ill-content to let it rest as such—these things are not so clear. This demon is mine—this demon I have earned. It came from me. It is of me. I must carry its weight. My shame knows I do not deserve love. The warmth rescinds as quickly as it came, leaving one last message before it departs.

“You fool.”

The blackness consumes me, and I disappear into my demon’s rotten form. We are one now, indistinguishable from one another. Where I start, my demon begins. I am my shame. My shame is me. We are the Shamed.

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About The Author

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Debut novelist Liv Hadden has been writing ever since she was a little girl. But, it wasn’t until 5th grade when her teacher said she’d one day write a book that she started taking it seriously.

Her Shamed series began in college, when Hadden employed her writing as an outlet for her feelings during a serious bout of depression. After a brief, yet impactful first night of writing, she dreamt of a shadowy figure, tormented and demonized by their own mind and realized this was the shadow of pain that hurting people everywhere felt.

She woke from her dream feeling more energized that she had in months, picked up her computer and began to write. “I felt if ever there was a story inside me and a character worth taking the leap, it was Shame and this story,” says Hadden. “This one in particular is personal in nature, and perhaps the very reason it’s so close to my heart.”

Hadden has her roots in Burlington, Vermont  and has lived in upstate New York and Oklahoma, where she went to college at the University of Oklahoma,, and earned her degree in Environmental Sustainability Planning & Management.  She now resides in Austin, TX with her husband and two dogs, Madison and Samuel and is an active member of the Writer’s League of Texas.

Incredibly inspired by artistic expression, Hadden immerses herself in creative endeavors on a daily basis. She finds great joy in getting lost in writing and seeing others fully express themselves through their greatest artistic passions, like music, body art, dance and photography. “I get chills when I have the great privilege of seeing someone express their authentic selves,” says Hadden. “I believe it gives us a true glimpse into the souls of others.

Author Website: LivHadden.com

A DTJ October

The Scary Season is here at last!

I have some fun plans for the blog in October:

Me on a local talk show (absolutely frightening).

Ghostly encounters in the Denver area.

And “Witchy Week” – Get the skinny on some real life witches. A few of my amazing friends share some creative…well, you’ll just have to join us the week of October 24th!

TinyPumpkin

Publisher Spotlight: Black Mirror Press

Tell me a bit about yourselves. How did Black Mirror Press come into being?

Scott: First, thank you so much, Cynthia, for this opportunity.  In terms of background, both Clint and I spent a great deal of our careers in the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).  Currently, I’m a consultant and Clint is currently a background check consultant for the State of Indiana, Department of Child Services.

In terms of BMP’s origins, a few years ago, Clint and I found ourselves working in the same IC office and discovered that we were both writers and both very interested in horror, thrillers, fantasy…basically dark fiction.  As an interesting aside, one of Clint’s stories—which I actually read while I was in grad school—was published in the very first Horror Writers Association anthology, Under the Fang,  so it’s been a privilege to work with and learn from Clint.

So after working together for a while, we decided we should form a small press as we had a number of ideas for anthologies and other products and established the Company in early 2015.  We greatly benefited from the help and experience of members of various writing groups within the IC, especially the LEA, which produced its anthology, Bill of Frights, in 2014 or so and Clint and I were both a part of that process.

Clint: Thanks, Cynthia. I have to give Scott full credit for coming up with the idea of forming a small press and even with the name of the press, which I thought fit perfectly for what we wanted to do. We both liked the idea of doing anthologies for themes we saw no one was doing. We saw there was an opportunity to do something fun and creative and give readers something completely different. We also knew there were other voices out there wanting to be heard, and that to me is the joy of an anthology, introducing new and up-and-coming writers to the world. I have been thrilled and pleased to see how writers responded to our first effort, Snowpocalypse.

Your new anthology, Snowpocalypse: Tales of the End of the World, sounds intriguing. What was the inspiration for the anthology’s topic?

Scott:  Much as I would like to take credit for this inspired choice, this was Clint’s baby.

Clint: I have to say it would still just be an intriguing idea if Scott had not initiated the effort to create Black Mirror Press, so he was the great north wind that pushed the storm along.  Scott and I both recall the big winter storms that hit Virginia a few years ago, when we had something like over three feet of snow that closed schools and the government. I remember walking along empty roads gleaming with ice to the grocery store. It was then people started using the terms “snowpocalypse,” “snowmageddon,” and the like. Trudging back over snowdrifts, the wind chill nipping at me, I wondered “What if it stays like this? What if spring never comes?

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Black Mirror Press

Are you planning your next anthology project?

Scott: We have several in mind, including: a Poe-themed anthology and one based loosely on that classic comic book, Weird War.  However, next up will be an espionage-themed anthology and what we think will set this apart is that it will include stories written by current and former members of the IC…as long as they go through the appropriate pre-publication approval process, of course.

Clint:  I think our niche is doing anthologies that are always a little different and not the same stuff you can find anywhere. We want to offer readers collections they will find nowhere else. The espionage anthology will be like that, and will be worth the time it will take to put it all together, for you won’t be able to find anything else like it.

What advice would you give to authors submitting short stories for your consideration?

Scott: First I would say, definitely submit, don’t ever let the fear that your story is not good enough hold you back and we love hearing from authors.  When I think about the Snowpocalypse submissions we ultimately rejected—and let me say that as authors ourselves, we know how disappointing this can be—there were several commonalities in many cases: the stories did not address the theme of the anthology (suggesting they had one on hand and were resubmitting rather than creating for our anthology), they had far too much narrative exposition, the ending was inadequate and/or they were fraught with craft errors (e.g., jarring POV shifts), there was nothing all that original, and/or in some cases it was good but either just didn’t fit.  So, in terms of advice, aside from avoiding the preceding, I would suggest asking a trusted reader (someone objective) to review, taking a hard look again at the anthology requirements, and giving it a thorough edit.  Also, in terms of craft, one of the best books I’ve found is The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing by Alice LaPlante and would highly recommend that.

Clint:  Scott is absolutely right in saying some stories sent to us didn’t address the requested theme. We got one story in which there wasn’t even any snow! So, yes, please read the submission call carefully and look at what they want you to send in. I would even say ask the anthologists what is it you want but don’t have if you are having trouble coming up with an idea. I know we will gladly tell you. I got a story into an anthology one time because the editor said I would really like a story about this particular aspect, and so I came up with one responsive to what she wanted. Editors will give you clues. I was hoping to get a good Yeti story, but never got one. ; )

Also be supportive of any suggested editing or tweaking, as the editors want you to succeed. We had to suggest a few things so stories fit our theme a little better, and I think everyone was really pleased how it worked out. We have a collection of stories unique as snowflakes, with a myriad of perspectives of what it means to be caught in a snowpocalypse.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? Tips? Advice? Thoughts about the Horror genre?

Clint: Keep writing as you have a unique voice. No one else has the ideas you have, so send them out there. Not all will fly, but some will make it into the night sky. Horror is a great big carnival tent and you’re invited. Just bring something new and different as your ticket in.

Scott: I definitely agree with Clint on both the importance of continuing to write and the inclusiveness of horror.  I’ve also been struck by the increasing popularity of horror across mediums (movies, TV, etc.) which I think (hope) bodes well for the genre.

Thank you again for the opportunity to be interviews.  If anyone is interested, you can find the Snowpocalypse anthology—in both Kindle and trade paperback—on Amazon.

 

 

Dipping My Toe in the Kindle Select Pond

Trying new approaches for the same old task is critical for success and growth. This is especially true in the literary world. Technology is carrying us along at a rapid pace. Our work is available on all sorts of devices and media. We, as authors, have constantly changing options to get our books to readers.

In the spirit of experimenting with new approaches, I decided to try enrolling my newest release – The Lords of Valdeon – in Amazon’s Kindle Select program. This was a huge step for me. I’ve been a Smashwords supporter for several years. It’s a one stop shop for laptop readers and folks with Kindles, iBooks, and Nooks. Whether or not to exclusively sell my book on Amazon was a tough choice. Would I alienate my Nook and Apple Readers? Would I limit my exposure on an Amazon only platform? Am I taking that first step toward the Dark Side?

Every experiment has a risk associated with it. The key is doing your research in advance and mitigating it as best you can. I took an honest look at my readership through the tools available on both sites.  The results: My novel length fiction does much better on Amazon. My horror short is a favorite with the B&N crowd (Smashwords), but scored a big fat goose egg on Amazon. This new insight left me with the lingering question: Is it really necessary to spend the extra money on multiple platforms for each work when I might be wasting money?

NOTE: My results are unique to my books and my experience. Take a look at your own readership to make sure you’re making the right choice for you. Not published yet or first time Indie Author? Consider looking at the best selling Indie books in your genre to gauge the route those authors have taken.

I made the decision to dip my toe in the Kindle Select pond for the mandatory 90 days. The Lords of Valdeon (Heart Of The Warrior – Book One) was released on Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited on Jan 7th. It’s been out there for almost two weeks. I have to admit, Amazon is seducing me with their real-time charts and reader participation. There’s a graph (Angelic music plays) indicating how many pages of your book per day Kindle Unlimited subscribers have read. Which brings me to another insight: How do we measure commercial success in this new era of subscription services? Will it be based on how many pages read or books sold?

My experiment has just begun. I’ll be discussing my results  on DTJ when the Kindle Select 90 day period is up. Have some insight or experience with Kindle Select? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.