Gothic Novels in the Modern Age

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m excited to have the Halloween post for the first time in my Spellbound Scribes career! I’m not as into it as Shauna is, but for me it ushers in three very holy days: Samhain (Oct. 31), All Saints (Nov. 1) and All Souls (Nov. 2) I thought about talking about that but decided to go in a more literary direction instead.

Earlier this year I was on a panel about neo-gothic fiction at the Historical Novel Society Conference. I thought this was the perfect day to share some of my observations. I am planning a gothic novel, but it keeps getting pushed farther and farther down the priority list. But you will see it eventually.

Introduction
(Full disclosure: My friend, fellow panelist and fellow author Kris Waldherr wrote this introduction, but I like it so much I’m stealing it. The rest of the post is all me.)

The birth of the Gothic novel occurred alongside and in reaction to the industrial and scientific revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the book considered to be the first Gothic novel, was published in 1764; in 1818 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein terrorized readers with its nightmare vision of science run amok. Over two hundred years later, the Gothic novel is enjoying a renewed popularity in historical fiction, aided in part by television shows and films such as “Penny Dreadful” and “Crimson Peak.”

What Makes a Novel “Gothic”
To me, Gothic always has—and always will—have its basis in death, as that is ultimate human fear. It is all about the “in-between:” life and death i.e. ghosts, automatons, even vampires and zombies; cursed and blessed: angels, demons, old churches and graveyards; fears, real and imagined: anxiety, hallucination and dreams.

But what sets it apart from similar genres like horror is a dark, haunted atmosphere. Gothic always takes place in the shadows. Whether it is a castle, a mansion or even a dark alleyway, it is a place where one’s sight is not clear and one’s mind is played with and preyed upon. If and author can’t build that kind of atmosphere, the rest of the novel will not succeed.

The author also must have the main character wrestle with a psychological torment of some kind, whether it comes in the form of an apparition or haunting or a question of sanity or something in between. That issue is usually related to the character’s life and/or political situation in some way. Class and politics were very big in classic Gothic novels, whereas neo-gothic tend to be more psychological and sometimes even spiritual.

What Makes Neo-gothic Novels Different from Traditional Gothic Novels
I touched on this a little above, but the biggest shift in my mind is the power of the heroine. She used to be a victim and passive, but in most neo-gothic books she is anything but. She may begin the story as subjugated, but finds her power through the course of the novel, which is very inspiring. I think feminism and a reaction to the current political climate has a lot to do with that.

I also think gothic novels have become subtler as their audience has grown more sophisticated. The Castle of Oronto was just bonkers in your face, to the point of seeming absurd to a modern reader. Now, gothic fiction preys so much more on our minds and subtle fears because we have been conditioned, both through the horrors we see on the news and the gore in horror films, not to react to the obvious as we once would have.

I also see neo-gothic as less overtly political, i.e. not so much about nobility and common man so much anymore as about the fears about and fighting against societal issues that go beyond class structure. I just read about a new sub-genre of Gothic literature called environmental Gothic or ecoGothic. Dates to about 2013 book called Ecogothic by William Hughes and Andrew Smith. It engages with the dark side of nature and our anxieties around climate change. Nature is an entity and a presence in and of itself, rather than just being a backdrop.

How Gothic Gives Women Writers and Their Female Protagonists a Voice
Spiritualism was one of the founding forces of gothic novels – more on that in the next section. It gave women a public voice for the first time, because it wasn’t them speaking; it was the “spirits” speaking through them.

Today we have much more freedom, but using the supernatural still gives us a chance to voice opinions and viewpoints we otherwise might not. For example, in the 60s and 70s, we had figures like Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter using their work to explore women’s issues for the first time. In the Haunting of Hill House, Elinor has always been a dutiful daughter and sister, but when she disobeys societal expectations to go to Hill House, she slowly loses her sanity and eventually, her life. Theo, on the other hand, who is the more subversive character, in that she never followed the rules – she is clearly a lesbian or bisexual – pays a bit through her pain of seeing what happens to Elinor, but emerges largely untouched. Because she never played by society’s rules, for her the price wasn’t as high.

How the Growth of Spiritualism in the Mid-nineteenth Century Ties into the Rise of the Gothic Novel
Gothic certainly existed before the rise of Spiritualism in the late 1860s and 1870s with Hawthorne, Poe and others, but I think Spiritualism took it out of the realm of fantasy for the average person and brought it much closer to home.

The timing of the rise of Spiritualism was two-pronged issue:

  • The Civil War had left so many dead and the living were desperate to be in touch with them.
  • New inventions like telegraphs and unseen electric waves made people wonder if we could communicate invisibly on this plane, why not on another?

Between the emphasis on mourning and death from the war and this tantalizing new technology came a new religious movement where gifted individuals could communicate with the dead. It is very interesting to me that scientists were among the most fervent Spiritualists, whereas today we tend to think of science and faith as needing to be divorced from one another. James Prescott Joule, Michael Faraday, and William Thomson, whose research created scientific advancements such as the Laws of Thermodynamics, the creation of “electric current from a magnetic field,” and the “foundations of modern physics” respectively. What used to be considered superstition was now possibly scientific fact.

I think Spiritualism, in putting the otherworld within reach—all one needed was a medium or someone at least willing to hold a séance or work with a planchette—opened minds to Gothic fiction.  It also came at a time when organized religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church, was beginning to really feel a lost from the Enlightenment and the emergence of agnostics and atheists on a larger scale than ever before. Even these people could embrace Spiritualism if they so desired.

The Relationship Between Psychology and Gothic Novels
I think Gothic novels are highly psychological, especially from WWI on.

I actually HATE Freud, but I could talk about his theory of the Uncanny for hours. The Uncanny is anything that gives you that creepy feeling that something isn’t quite right, a type of anxiety and uncertainty. It arises when the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred, when we are faced with the reality of something that we have until now considered imaginary.

Freud believes that the feeling of the “Uncanny” has its origin in something that was once familiar and well-known that has long been forgotten. He basis it in primitive man’s feelings on God and death, feelings we have repressed in modern society.

There are two main ways the Uncanny manifests:

  1. The double or doppelganger. Freud believes this comes from when primitive man believed in an animistic form of religion in which everything had a spirit. He made images of himself (think Egyptian sarcophagi) as an attempt and immortality; but then those images became reminders of his of mortality, and thus engendered fear. Examples:
    • In Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, the main character is often seen playing the piano under a portrait of St. Cecilia who also plays the piano, and was a martyr, which seems to be the death the main character is heading toward.
    • Twins in every horror movie. Ever.
    • Mirror images, shadows, ghosts and guardian spirits—even our own conscience.
    • Things that are not quite living, but not quite inanimate either, such as dolls, automations, and wax figures.
  1. Repetition. Freud believes this comes from an infantile compulsion to repeat, which dominates the unconscious mind. We are helpless to stop it and therefore it creates anxiety. One example is seeing the same number everywhere and taking it as an omen. This is also why The Raven’s “tap, tap, tapping” and “rap, rap, rapping” gives us the chills.

Freud also mentions severed limbs (which he says come from a castration complex, especially the eyes), wish-fulfillment, the evil eye, and madness as forms of the Uncanny.

Freud says the uncanny can’t happen in fairy tales or other forms of fantasy because we already know anything can happen in them. He believes that the uncanny happens the most often in stories where reality is interrupted by some form of fantasy and where the reader highly identifies with the place and point of view character. In that way, the reader can feel the uncanny event as though it is happening to them.

Why All Things Gothic Endure
I think humans will always have an attachment to the Gothic because we are always going to need a safe space in which to work out our fears, especially the deepest and darkest of them. It is part of human nature to want to question and explore the “unexplainable.” It’s also human nature to like to be scared; it’s a way to have a brush with danger and death without the consequences.

The Best Gothic Authors Today

  • Carol Goodman (aka Juliet Dark)
  • Ruth Ware
  • Diane Setterfield
  • Kate Morton
  • Libbra Bray

Happy Halloween, everyone! And Blessed Samhain, All Saints and All Souls, if you celebrate any of those holy days.

Of Vampires and Other Things

Back in 2015 – yikes! I’ve been blogging here for along time – I made a post called Ten Good Vampire Books. At some point along the way, that post got caught up in Google’s SEO magic algorithms and it’s had more views in 2019 than it had the year it was published.

Go me?

At any rate, when I sat down to write this post, I planned to make an updated version of the old post, except almost immediately I ran into a problem. I haven’t been keeping up on the vampire literature.

In part, that’s because I have a vampire of my own. Thaddeus Dupont is 100 years old, and he was a monk before he was turned back in 1925. He and his boyfriend Sarasija Mishra appear in the Hours of the Night series I co-write with Irene Preston. (Jump HERE to learn more about Vespers, book 1 in the series.)

Some of you have seen me post about the Hours of the Night and Thaddeus Dupont before, so maybe this won’t be news, but bear with me for a bit. There were a couple compelling reasons I chose to write a vampire character – above and beyond Irene telling me I needed to write another vampire. (She can be very persistent.)

First off, I’ve always loved stories about vampires. Whether it’s trad vamps like Dracula or naughty vamps like Bill & Eric from the Southern Vampire Mysteries (the books that inspired True Blood), I’m a fan. For a while, I made something of a study of vampire fiction, reading as much as I could get my hands on.

Did you know George RR Martin wrote a vampire novel? I couldn’t finish it.

When Irene and I first started working on Vespers, I had a good knowledge of what was out there in the world of vampire literature and some ideas about the kind of character I wanted to create. The popularity of vampire fiction rises and falls, following some unspoken cultural zeitgeist.

Victorian vampires addressed the cultural fear of death. Later in the ’80s and early ’90s, the themes were blood and infection, likely a response to the AIDS crisis. Then in the ’90s to early ’00s, vampires explored our ideas about eternal youth and sexiness.

At the risk of taking myself too seriously, when I write Thaddeus, there’s a similar theme at play. See, I’m the elderScribe, a good 10-20 years older than the rest of the gang who blogs here, and Thaddeus Dupont is my attempt to express my sometimes bewildering experience dealing with the modern world.

Thaddeus was born in 1900 and grew up in the bayou, speaking a patios of English and French, in a time and place before most of the modern accouterments we take for granted. His mildly confused response to his 21st century boyfriend is an echo of my own feelings. I try to keep up, but kids these days….damn….

There’s another, more personal reason for Thaddeus Dupont’s creation, specifically, why I gave him a strong Catholic orientation. I’m a cradle Catholic, and while my relationship to the Church has waxed and waned over the last 50-odd years, it’s currently on indefinite hiatus. The dissonance between Thaddeus’s relationship to the church and the love he has for Sara give me a place to work out my own feelings – in a hopefully-entertaining way.

Irene and I are currently working on Spooked, book 2 in our spin-off Haunts & Hoaxes series. The first book, Haunted, was written for a freebie giveaway, but readers liked the characters so we turned it into a series. I made the first cover (b/c freebie), but we recently unveiled a much-improved version that brands the series.

Isn’t it pretty?!

Haunts & Hoaxes is a mash-up of Supernatural + The X Files with naughty bits thrown in, and we’re hoping to release Spooked sometime in early 2020. Keep your eye out for it!

This post turned into kind of a ramble, but in summary, I probably know more about vampires than is good for me, I hadn’t kept up with vampire fiction b/c I don’t want it to color my own vampire, I have several reasons for how Thaddeus Dupont took shape, Irene and I are headed in a slightly different direction but will come back to HotN soon, and this is one of the longest sentences I’ve ever written.

Happy Halloween!

Oh, and…uh… I have a couple gift codes for a free copy of Vespers. Leave me a comment and I’ll hook you up. (In the off chance that I get more comments than I have codes, I’ll draw names or something.)

Writing Under a Pen Name

Not everyone knows I have a nom de plume, which I do. I started writing under Leila Bryce Sin almost as soon as I started publishing under this name.

My first series was a YA series but I found that I had a little bit of talent at writing racier content and came up with this idea of a race I called Bright Elves. Bright Elves were kind of a take on a succubus who didn’t kill. They raised magic and power through lust and love and all that good stuff.

But, since I was starting out as making my name as a YA author, I was a little worried about the wrong audience picking up something they weren’t expecting from me.

So I decided to publish under Leila Bryce Sin. One of the cool things about writing paranormal erotica was that I didn’t have put out full-length novels every time–a lot of readers of that genre like novellas and short stories. I liked it too because it helped me hone some writing skills. When writing fantasy and world building I tended to get lost in descriptions and narrative, but if your word goal is less than fifty thousand words, you tend to focus on character and plot.

But then I had an idea for a novel. A story set in Las Vegas, one of my favorite places, following an actual succubus who was hiding from the other demons of Hell and working as a bartender at an Irish pub. Billie the Bartender.

I love Billie and her story was pretty well formed in my head when I first set out to write her book. I didn’t realize it was going to be a full-length novel, let alone the trilogy it turned into, but some characters demand more stage time than others.

I got the first novel, Hellfire, and the second novel, Holyfire, written in good time while trying to balance writing under my real name. But the novels I was working on as Shauna Granger definitely took precedence and I realized, as I was starting to hit a creative wall thanks to a massive word count I was building, I didn’t have anything left in the tank to figure out the third and final book.

I’d ended book two with a cliffhanger and the start of a war, I couldn’t not write the ending. But I also couldn’t write it. While I’d given myself a creative outlet for a different audience and type of story, I’d also pushed myself to the limit and couldn’t find it in myself to keep going.

So there was a very long break between publishing Holyfire in April of 2016 and even starting the outline of the final book this past autumn. Honestly, if it wasn’t for NaNo last year, I don’t know if I would have finished writing the book, let alone be ready for it to be live tomorrow. #shamlesspromo

But I did.

So what I can tell you about writing with a pen name is that it gives you a lot of freedom. You can delve into new genres or age categories that you don’t normal wade into. You can try new techniques and voices that don’t lend themselves to your normal milieu. And if those genres are a bit racy and you don’t want friends and family to know it’s your work, they don’t ever have to know! But you need to be careful. As with any creative job, it takes something from you, so if you’re not careful, if you don’t find a balance, you can wear yourself out and burn out before you’re ready.

We’ve Got Every Book Universe You’re Looking For

Every once in a while you gotta toot your own horn, create a little, well-deserved fanfare, even if it feels little self-serving.

I’m really proud of the writers at this blog, we’re a pretty damn talented group! And I think we deserve a little spotlight time. So if you’ve been looking for something to read, or are like me and enjoy having an ever-growing, teetering TBR pile, check out some of our awesome works:

First up, Liv Rancourt. Liv is an immensely talented writer who doesn’t focus on angst in her romance writing, so if you need a good pick-me-up, you need to check her out. Most recently Liv has placed her book, Aqua Follies, into Kindle Unlimited–so if you’re a KU user, now is a great chance to give her writing a taste if you haven’t yet!  And if you’re looking for a great #Pride read, this might be just what you’re looking for!

AquaFollies_Digital_WebThe 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll. 

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot. 

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

You can find all of Liv’s awesome books at her Amazon Author page!

Next up is Lyra Selene! Lyra has a way with world building that makes me so envious I can’t even explain. We’re very excited for Lyra’s first publication later this year, with her debut novel, Amber & Dusk! It is already available for pre-order and I have mine, so you should too! If a beautiful epic YA fantasy is more your speed, you won’t want to miss this one:

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 12.35.09 PM

Sylvie has always known she deserves more. Out in the permanent twilight of the Dusklands, her guardians called her power to create illusions a curse. But Sylvie knows it merits her a place in Coeur d’Or, the palais of the Amber Empress and her highborn legacies. 

So Sylvie sets off toward the Amber City, a glittering jewel under a sun that never sets, to take what is hers.

But her hope for a better life is quickly dimmed. The empress invites her in only as part of a wicked wager among her powerful courtiers. Sylvie must assume a new name, Mirage, and begin to navigate secretive social circles and deadly games of intrigue in order to claim her spot. Soon it becomes apparent that nothing is as it appears and no one, including her cruel yet captivating sponsor, Sunder, will answer her questions. As Mirage strives to seize what should be her rightful place, she’ll have to consider whether it is worth the price she must pay.

You can pre-order your copy on Amazon and Barnes & Noble now!

Next we have our in-house scholar, Nicole Evelina! I was a pretty studious person in school and I pride myself on the research I do for books now, but let me tell you, I cannot hold a candle to Nicole. When you get one of her books, know that hundreds (thousands?) of hours of research went into them. I honestly don’t know how she does it! But you can see for yourself in her amazing Guinevere’s Tales series–the first two books are available now with the third set for publication later this year!

Nicole's booksBefore queenship and Camelot, Guinevere was a priestess of Avalon. She loved another before Arthur, a warrior who would one day betray her.

In the war-torn world of late fifth century Britain, young Guinevere faces a choice: stay with her family to defend her home at Northgallis from the Irish, or go to Avalon to seek help for the horrific visions that haunt her. The Sight calls her to Avalon, where she meets Morgan, a woman of questionable parentage who is destined to become her rival. As Guinevere matures to womanhood, she gains the powers of a priestess, and falls in love with a man who will be both her deepest love and her greatest mistake.

Just when Guinevere is able to envision a future in Avalon, tragedy forces her back home, into a world she barely recognizes, one in which her pagan faith, outspokenness, and proficiency in the magical and military arts are liabilities. When a chance reunion with her lover leads to disaster, she is cast out of Northgallis and into an uncertain future. As a new High King comes to power, Guinevere must navigate a world of political intrigue where unmarried women are valuable commodities and seemingly innocent actions can have life-altering consequences.

You may think you know the story of Guinevere, but you’ve never heard it like this: in her own words. Listen and you will hear the true story of Camelot and its queen.

You can see all of Nicole’s books on her Amazon Author page and if you “follow” her there, you’ll find out when the third book, Mistress of Legend, is available for pre-order, releasing September 15th! 

And, finally, your’s truly! So I’m what you might call, your resident witchy-writer as witches and magic are my happy place, but my most recent work isn’t about witches or potions or magic, but rather about monsters and hope and survival. In 2015 I finished my post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Ash & Ruin Trilogy. But I had people asking, what happened before this? So I started writing spin-offs, first Dandelions, now Blackbird, which was just released!

Blackbird

What if YouTube warned of the end of the world? Would we even take it seriously? Or just assume it was some lame, internet hoax?

Maggie has her first college finals to prepare for; she doesn’t have time for pranks and conspiracy theories. But a super flu has broken out on campus and her dorm mate keeps coughing, threatening to get her sick before she can get through the tests and get home for Christmas.

More and more people are coming down with the super flu and the vaccines aren’t working for everyone and when one of her professors is dragged out of the classroom by cops and doctors, Maggie realizes she’s waited too long to leave campus.
Finals are the last thing she should be worrying about—she needs to get home, but can she make it in time?

You can find all of my books on my Amazon Author page (though all books are available on all online retailers) and you can follow me there so you never miss out on a new release!

Hopefully there’s something here that has piqued your interest! We’ve got something for everyone, that’s for sure! Happy reading!

Behind the Scenes of Self Publishing–Paperback Edition

As you know, if you’ve been following along with my posts, I have a new release coming out on June 1st–less than a month away, EEEEEP!

Being self-published that means a few different things than it does for a traditionally published writer–including being able to try out a Friday release instead of the traditional Tuesday. And, as we’re all writers here, offering insight into the whole writing process, I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you guys.

The beginning is exactly the same. We all start with a spark of inspiration, then develop that into a story, then kill ourselves over the next 4 to 156 weeks trying to write the damn thing.

tumblr_odxrimmyjl1qhtqtjo1_r1_500

Then we put the book away (or at least, we should). For me, I’ll set a book aside for between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how difficult the book was to write. Then I print it out and go over it for revisions/edits/plot holes/etc. Then I put those changes into the computer. It’s at this point I awkwardly ask betas/critique partners to read it for me.

And then you wait.

tumblr_p2kixabvz91wd0zf4o2_540

Once I get it back from them I compare notes. Then it’s revision time again.

Then, on to the editor!

Some self-published writers will try to avoid this step because it is the most expensive step, but there’s a reason for that: editing is the most important thing you can do after you’ve written the book. You need an editor to rip that thing apart and fix it. I don’t care how awesome you are. I have a New York Times best selling author I used to love, but I could tell when she finally made it to the point where she could include a no-edit clause in her contracts. I don’t read her books anymore.

At this point, when the book is with my editor, I’ll start on the cover. Now, depending on the book, either I will do it myself, or I’ll hire a digital artist. I cannot stress this enough, if you are not savvy with digital art, don’t do this yourself. I will only do simple covers. If my cover is for something more magical or detailed, I hire someone experienced. And when I do it myself, I don’t just pick a stock photo and stick my title on it in a white bar in simple font. I edit and digitally paint/alter the photo to fit the mood of the book.

Dandelions before and after.jpg
An example of something I feel comfortable enough doing myself.

Water before and after
And something I would have commissioned because holy crap, how do you even?

I pour over my title in fonts until I find the right one–just picking out the fonts can take me a few days–even if I’m having the cover commissioned, I like to pick out the fonts unless my artist has a better one in mind, which she often does. I go through photo sites for the cover for days until I find the one(s). I spend at least a week in my art program putting the cover together, usually mocking up three to choose from before I’m sure I’ve made something that fits the book and sells it. This takes a lot of time even without all the tricks my preferred cover artist does. Your cover is important. Even if you’re not going to do hard or paperbacks, the cover is still important. When someone is scrolling through the Zon or B&N or Kobo or wherever, the cover might make them stop and look at your book.

(If you’re on a tight budget, the two things I would recommend you spend your money on are an editor and a cover artist. And if you’d like to use mine, you can find my editor here and my cover artist here.)

Usually this is when I’ll set up pre-orders. Now that all the online retailers have finally allowed Self-Pubbers to set up pre-orders, we can finally get in on that action. Once I have the cover ready, I’ll write my book blurb and set it up the pre-order pages with temporary files for the manuscript (once you have the final draft, you come back and upload the final file before the publication date).

Now, once the book is edited and the ebooks are all taken care of, I’ll start on the paperback.

No, self-published writers don’t sell nearly as many physical books as traditionally published authors do. But I like to have the option. I just do paperback, mostly because I have so many titles, setting them up with hardback would be cost prohibitive for me. With Createspace I can get my paperback onto all the online retailers including libraries and BookBub.

And they have a guided, step-by-step process to help you get your book ready for publication.

You pick your book trim size and they give you a Word template to format the interior of your book. At this point, you want to make sure your line spacing, font size, page numbers, and chapter headings look good. Don’t forget your title page, your copyright page, your table of contents, dedication if you want, all before the first chapter page.

31958349_1952072051484191_1606488716992315392_n

Then, once you have that sorted, you can tell the site your dimensions (book size, paper color, page length) to get a cover template. This is the file you would send to your cover artist to ask them to expand your cover to a paperback cover. Or you use it yourself to make yours.

BookCover5_25x8_Cream_230.jpg

Then, once CS approves it (or emails you and tells you you screwed up, fix it please and you do it all over again and again until you get it right), this is what it looks like.

Paperback cover.png
Another cover I did myself — I even took the photo on the back cover!

And you can see what the inside looks like too!

digital proofer for blog

You can either approve the digital proof or, and I highly recommend this, you order a proof copy to be printed and mailed to you so you can see if the printing is perfect or screwed up.

Shauna Granger Matte Printing Spine offcenter
See how the spine wrapped around to the front cover on the top one, but not on the bottom one.

But, once it’s all done, and all perfect, then you can step back and admire your beautiful books on a bookshelf.

thumbnail (7).jpg

This isn’t for the impatient. I promise you. Yes, there are people who you can pay to go through all of this for you. You tell them what you want your book to look like and they’ll do all the formatting for you and just email you the files you need to upload to CS and be done with it. And if you have the budget for it, go for it. But if you don’t, with a little patience and practice, you can do this yourself, I promise.

(Slightly) Creepy Halloween Reads

2420467-main_imageBlack trees swathed in cloaks of red and gold sway in a sudden chilly breeze. Lit pumpkins leer from stoops and porches. A distant fluttering, like the wings of bats or the shaking hands of some dead thing. Disembodied footsteps just outside the door. Who’s there?

Aaaand that’s about as creepy as I can stand, folks. I am a total wuss when it comes to scary things. I think I can safely blame a babysitter I had when I was about 7 or 8. Somehow, she hadn’t been briefed on my parents’ blanket ban on all things violent, scary, or in anyway gory, and proceeded to tell me every murder story, ghostly tale, and urban legend she could think of. Suffice it to say, I was traumatized. I spent the next few years utterly convinced that I would be violently murdered in my bed by any number of supernatural or banal intruders, and even after growing up and gaining a little perspective, I’ve still never been a fan of horror movies or scary books.

But it’s Hallowe’en. And that means even I can be convinced to push my boundaries a little bit. And since we all know where to find Stephen King, Dracula, and Frankenstein on the shelves, here are some new ideas for eerie reads. So lock the doors, pull the covers tight, and let one of these spooky-ish books stand your hair on end.

enhanced-buzz-9426-1380902047-31Coraline, by Neil Gaiman

Even though this book is classed as a middle grade novel, I found it to be delightfully dark and unexpectedly unsettling: in other words, classic Neil Gaiman. When Coraline Jones goes through a door that shouldn’t be there, she discovers another apartment in another house that seems exactly like her own, but with better food and cooler toys. But then she meets the other mother and other father, and they don’t want to let her go home.

Quote: She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”

This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

In a world where evil deeds and violence breed actual monsters, sometimes we fail to recognize the monsters within. A thrilling page turner, tense with terror in the darkness and chilling rhymes and unexpected betrayals.

Quote: “Violence breeds. Someone pulls a trigger, sets off a bomb, drives a bus full of tourists off a bridge, and what’s left in the wake isn’t just shell casings, wreckage, bodies. There’s something else. Something bad. An aftermath. A recoil. A reaction to all that anger and pain and death.”

Slade House, by David Mitchell

While this is technically a companion to The Bone Clocks, it stands perfectly well on its own. If you know where to look, Slade House can be found down a nondescript alley in a working-class neighborhood in London. Sometimes. Saying too much about this book amounts to a spoiler, but I’ll admit it gave me nightmares.

Quote: “Tonight feels like a board game co-designed by M. C. Escher on a bender and Stephen King in a fever.”

Language of Thorns, by Leigh Bardugo

A collection of short stories set in the Grisha-verse, this book isn’t strictly scary, although a few verge on creepy. But these haunting vignettes live where all proper fairy-tales do–on the edge of the woods, where the dark trees whisper secrets and we fear what humans have always feared: if we go in, will we ever come out? And is what’s lurking in the darkness worse than what’s lurking in our hearts?

Quote: “This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always ones who do.”

enhanced-buzz-orig-14529-1380902238-41

Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan

Mary has been taught her whole life that there’s nothing beyond the village, only the Forest of Hands and Teeth, filled with the relentless Unconsecrated. But when the fence is breached, Mary has to choose between the village, life, and love in this heart-pounding twist on a zombie novel.

Quote: “There is a child – a baby – who long since kicked off her blankets. Her skin is ashen and her mouth open in a perpetual yet silent scream. She isn’t old enough to roll over, to sit up, to climb. So she lies there kicking her fat legs against the footboard of the crib, eternally calling for her mother. For food. For flesh.”

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake

Still wearing the blood-stained dress she was brutally murdered in, ghostly Anna kills everyone who sets foot in the deserted Victorian house she once called home. Full of spooky atmosphere with a compelling protagonist and just enough cheeky humor, this book sucked me in and didn’t completely turn my hair white.

Quote: “I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.”

The Diviners, by Libba Bray

Full disclosure: I couldn’t finish this one. It was just too sinister and gory for me. (I told you I was a lightweight!) That said, I’ve heard only fantastic reviews from people braver than me, so if you enjoy historical paranormal fantasy featuring a diverse cast and elements of horror, then this might be for you.

Quote: “Naughty John, Naughty John, does his work with his apron on. Cuts your throat and takes your bones, sells ’em off for a coupla stones.”

Have you read any of these, or do you have any favorite Hallowe’en books of your own? Share yours in the comment section below!

SaveSave

Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

tumblr_inline_mf8h7mju6i1ru6epy

All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

tumblr_oeon07sgjv1rp0vkjo1_500