My Writing Corner

Writing Frustrations – Or a Rant. You Pick.

For a while now, I’ve found myself getting frustrated at the state of publishing. All my short story collections and novels have been finalists for awards or have won awards. Lord knows I’m not comparing myself to Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, or any of the other excellent writers who have inspired me over the years. I believe my writing has merit, yet I’m finding myself isolated from the publishing world in unexpected ways. Some of it is my fault, and others I feel are the fault of the industry.

While there are numerous calls out there, most of the publishers (at least the ones I’m seeing) offer a mere $5 to $15 per story. I’m sorry, I just won’t write a 5,000+ word story for such an obscenely low price. That may sound arrogant, but so be it. The Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member, considers 5 cents a word as the professional going rate.

Then, of course, there is, what appears to me, a competitive factor – a thought that horrifies me. Everyone wants and needs reviews. Reviews are critical to our success as authors but trying to get another author to read and write even a one-sentence review for Amazon is like finding an eyelash in a pile of compost. No one seems willing to help other authors. That’s part of what I’m trying to change. I buy the books because they interest me or because I want to try a new author. I want to help other authors by reading their works, writing reviews, and posting reviews everywhere.

Yes, this post may be a whine or a tiny violin I’m playing alone in the dark, but hell, it’s dark in my head, and the darkness is where I like to be. I’ve asked friends to read my books and write a review and their answer is usually one of two things. “Sure, I’ll do that for you.” They don’t. Or they say, “I don’t like reviewing things.” If you can’t rely on friends (or fellow authors) to help you out, how can you rely on strangers? It’s maddening.

I’ve been pushing my novel, The Demon Librarian, probably the best thing I’ve ever written. (Sorry no cover design yet) And I will continue to do so. I’m almost done with a new collection of horror stories, Evil Personified, and I’m two books in on a four-book novella series. I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep submitting, and I’ll keep looking for a publisher or agent who sees my work for what it is, likes it, and is willing to sign me up.

Any takers?

Thanks for listening.

Dark Thirty: A Novella by Andrew J. Brandt

To be honest, I’ve never read anything by Andrew J. Brandt before. The blurb on Amazon intrigued me, but not for the typical reason. The blurb doesn’t do the story justice. It makes the novella sound like the same old horror/mystery trope. A small-town kid goes missing, and the town’s secrets are slowly exposed. It seems to be everywhere these days – television, movie, and books. (Think Broadchurch, Dark, The Disappearance, The River, etc.… You get my point)

Despite the blurb and seemingly commonplace plot, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Dark Thirty. Brandt has a wonderfully devilish mind. The plot and story are a bit unsettling, but it also makes for a great read. I bought the book to see if something different or unique could be done with the old trope. While the trope is common, Dark Thirty is not. Brandt has devised a way to make even an old idea fresh and new.

Available on Amazon.

Charred Salsa Verde

I don’t know about you, but salsa is like my first love. I could eat it every day of the week. There are so many varieties, heat levels, and flavor combinations the options are unlimited. This charred Salsa Verde is my go-to when I’m craving a Mexican fix. It works with just about anything you can imagine. Tacos, quesadillas, grilled chicken, roasted fish, enchiladas you name it, and this salsa will please the taste buds every time.

The problem with restaurant and store-bought salsa is that they are loaded with garlic and onions and for those who chose not to eat garlic and onions (me), or those who can’t, due to intolerance or other dietary concerns (my partner) this is a magical elixir.

Trust me with the abundance of fresh flavors in this salsa, you’ll never miss what’s missing. You may not eat anything else.

3 poblano peppers

2 dried ancho peppers

1 pound tomatillos*

½ bunch fresh cilantro

1 head romaine lettuce

3 cups chicken stock (use vegetable stock for vegetarians)

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

*A note about tomatillos for those not used to buying them. They are usually near the tomatoes but are in no way like green tomatoes. They come in thin paper husks that should be rather tight around the fruit inside. If the tomatillo is too large it will burst the husk. These tend to be a bit on the tart side, so try to avoid these. I also try to buy 3-4 tomatillos over the 1 pound in this recipe as on occasion you might find one bruised or damaged once the husk is removed.

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Use parchment paper or aluminum foil to line a large, rimmed baking sheet.

Place the 2 dried ancho chiles in boiling water for 5-10 minutes to rehydrate.

Remove the husks under warm running water and quickly rinse the tomatillos. There is a sticky film on the tomatillo from the husk. Cut the tomatillos in half and place them on the baking sheet along with the 3 poblano peppers. Leave them whole for the roasting. Place in preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the peppers and tomatillos you want a nice black char on all the skins (especially the peppers).

While roasting, roughly chop the romaine lettuce, cilantro, and the rehydrated ancho chiles.

Remove the peppers and tomatillos from the oven and place them in a food processor along with all the other ingredients. Pulse several times until you have a very chunky mixture.

Pour the contents of the food processor into a large skillet. Bring to a very quick boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the broth is reduced by about 1/3. Doesn’t have to be exact. As it’s simmering add some salt and pepper to your taste. White pepper will bring out a bit more heat than standard black pepper.

Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, then return everything to the food processor and blend until a fine salsa. Or to your desired consistency. Pour into a serving bowl and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Crazy Mama and Fun Facts

Even though National Squirrel Day isn’t until January 21st (please mark your calendars now), I thought I’d introduce everyone to one of my buddies, Crazy Mama. She and I met about two years ago. She was extremely timid at first. She would sit on one of the large branches high in the Live Oak and watch other squirrels come and have breakfast with me. She never seemed to like being around others. She’s a loner, or so I thought. It turns out she’s quite the lady’s man. I can’t begin to count the number of times she’s been pregnant.

Over the years, she’s become, my buddy. As she’s gotten older (haven’t we all), and the more times she has her litter of pups, she’s became less of an introvert and more of an extrovert. There are times I’m outside working in the yard, and she’ll follow me up in the trees and bark at me if she thinks I’m ignoring her. When she sees me outside, she’ll run down the tree, run up to me and run circles around my feet until I feed her. She never comes down with the morning crew (now around 11) but instead finds times to enjoy her nuts when she can be alone. I never know what to expect from her. I know the glowing eyes make her look demonic, and perhaps there is a sparkle of evil in her, but that could be why we’ve bonded.

From Merriam-Webster:

Squirrels have had their English name since the 14th century. However, it’s Greek in origin. It comes from skiouros, from skia, meaning “shadow,” and oura, meaning “tail.”

Fun Facts:

These tidbits of squirrel facts came from the National Wildlife Federation’s website last year during National Squirrel Day. (Clears throat, January 21st).

  1. Squirrels can find buried nuts beneath a foot of snow.
  2. A squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing.
  3. Squirrels can lose up to 25% of their nuts to thieves.
  4. Squirrels don’t dig up all of the buried nuts, which results in more trees. (So, we can consider them environmentalists).
  5. Newborn squirrels are about one inch long.

Nana by Mark Towse

Nana, as most people know, is the endearing term used for their sweet, loving grandmother. Mark Towse says it’s derived from the Italian word for grandma, Nonna. Whatever the origins, Mark Towse has a wonderfully twisted, unsettling, and at times humorous story to tell.

Olly must stay with his Nana while his parents work out some marital issues. Nana says she has a lot of surprises waiting for her grandson. One would expect from your grandmother, home cooking, television, or even letting you be alone while she knits. Not Olly’s Nana. Olly is about to face some extraordinary things. I’m not talking magical creatures and fantastical worlds. I’m taking things a young boy (or even an adult) should never witness.

Not sure how anyone could write something so bizarre and mind-boggling terrifying, but Mark Towse has done just that. Nana doesn’t fit into any box. There’s not a box big enough to contain it. From gruesome scenes too deliciously unique to describe in this review (no spoilers) to sexual pleasures of all kinds. There is something wrong at Newhaven Crescent Community Center, and it’s not just Nana.

This book is truly one of the most insane rides I’ve been on in quite a while. If it wasn’t for the humor dotted throughout the book, I’m not sure I would have come out of the story quite the same person. I felt exhausted and a bit dirty when I finished the book. Not an easy accomplishment, Mr. Towse, from one horror author to another – well, done.

It’s a great read, but be warned – you’ve never met a Nana like this one.

Available at Amazon. Amazon affiliate link

Old Dog – New Tricks

The last couple of weeks has been an interesting one as far as my writing goes. About six years ago I wrote a novella. I loved the story and had a blast with the characters. The protagonist was especially wicked. A ninety-something-year-old woman, who on the outside seemed like anyone’s grandmother. On the inside, she was twisted, brutal, and unapologetic. Despite all this, there was something simple and satisfying about her.

Six years later, I’m revisiting the novella and realized there was more to her than I thought early on. She was missing a husband. I won’t go into any details as I hate spoilers. Let’s say that it’s been an interesting learning curve. I’ve never added a character into a long-established story. And worse yet ensuring that the readers won’t know. Of course, anyone reading this will be in the know. (Clearing throat) Please, buy the novella when it comes out, please. And don’t forget a review. They are vital to authors.

The process at first seemed daunting. How does one add a character after the fact? It was something I never encountered before. I spent days of negotiations with myself and my characters. I decided to divide and conquer. I began re-reading the novella. I used the comments function to note where the husband needed to appear. From those insertion points, I was able to revisit actions, conversations, and scenes. The husband’s presence glides onto the page with little effort.

It’s been a long process, and at times it seemed impossible to pull off. I’m not quite there yet, but what I’ve managed so far, reads well. I’m always amazed at the writing process. After over two decades, I’m still learning new tricks and new things. Writing is an always-evolving process of discovery. It’s one of the things I love about the process.

If this all works out, as I hope it does, then I’ve answered the age-old question. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Thanks for visiting. Be well and stay safe. Until next time.

Bird Migration

If you follow anything that has to do with climate change, you will inevitably come across dozens of articles and websites (National Audubon Society comes to mind) on how climate change is not only affecting bird migration, but the number and types of birds, their routes, and even their lives.

Here in North Texas, I spend a lot of time in my backyard during migration periods. It’s one of the few occasions where I can see birds from other parts of the world. We get a lot of birds heading down to coastal Texas and into Mexico.

Recently, I came across an impressive website that tracks bird migration day by day. It’s called Birdcast. It highlights the United States based on not only predicted bird movement, for live migration maps and migration alerts. On September 28 it was predicted that 295 million birds would migrate that night alone.

Go check out their website. It’s an eye-opener. Oh, and while you’re there. Map when the birds might be migrating through your town and turn off your outdoor lights at night. Light pollution is one of the largest threats to birds during their migration. A small thing we can all do to protect our feathered friends who can’t speak for themselves.

Thanks for spending time with me. Please, let’s all work together to ensure there is a future for all of us.

Friends in High Places by Rob Smales

I’ve seen Rob read a few times at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His readings are always lively and memorable. He’s a talented reader as well as a masterful writer. If you get to see him read, consider yourself fortunate.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from his novel, Friends in High Places. One never knows what to expect with Rob Smales. I’m here to tell you, this novel will haunt me for quite some time. His characters, in this case, a group of young boys, are not only engaging but familiar. We’ve all been there. We all had childhood fears and phobias. And I bet we’ve all had a special group of friends to share those terrifying times with. It’s part of growing up. It’s how we learn to become adults and deal with difficult situations. If you’re like me those childhood memories are alive and well in me today. I’ve learned to keep them at bay (most of the time).

When I was eleven or twelve. I had an overactive imagination. Same as most kids. I always believed that writing horror for twenty-two years made me immune to the scares. Rob proved me wrong. His novel spooked me beyond words. This is a classic ghost story in a whole new light, or dark in this case. From the moment I opened the book, I realized Rob was taking me someplace I didn’t want to go, yet I couldn’t say no. I couldn’t stop reading because I was there in the story with the four friends. I was not only witnessing the events that unfolded I was also living it.

I knew Rob’s craft of storytelling is impressive, but I had no idea how unique and twisted his stories could get. Rob has brought my childhood fears to life once more, and I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. Thanks, Rob.

Available at Amazon. Amazon affiliate link

Sicilian Cauliflower Steaks

This dish has everything going for it. It’s hearty enough to be the main meal. It’s rich and buttery with notes of pepper from the capers and the sweetness of the cauliflower shines after being roasted. It is one of our go-to meals regardless of the season. It comes from the Sicilian region of Italy and pairs wonderfully with a crisp white wine. One of my favorite wines for this dish is Grillo, a drier wine with notes of flowers and citrus. 

Times are approximate: Prep: 10-15 minutes            Cook: 20 minutes        Serves: 4

1 large head cauliflower, stem end trimmed, but leave the stem intact.

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

8 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley (chopped)

¼ cup capers, drained

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

1 lemon, quartered

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Use parchment paper to line a rimmed baking sheet.

Place the cauliflower, stem side down, on a cutting board and cut into 3/4-inch slices. Don’t worry if pieces fall off. It’s part of the cauliflowers, charm. Place the slices and any pieces on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the cauliflower with 1 Tbs. of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Roast until the cauliflower is soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

While roasting, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, swirling the pan, until the butter foams and begins to brown, timing is difficult due to differences in heat, just be careful not to burn the butter. Add the pine nuts then remove the pan from the heat. Cover pan to keep warm.

Once the cauliflower is caramelized and roasted transfer slices to a large platter. Drizzle the brown butter and pine nuts over the “steaks” and sprinkle the parsley and capers on top.

Place platter on the table and let people serve themselves, squeezing a little lemon over their plate.

Like most recipes, I modify them to remove anything in the Allium family. The original recipe comes from William Sonoma.

From my table to yours. Happy eating.

Putting Myself Out There

My website is officially out there for the world to see. It was a long process of self-discovery, even with a minimalistic site like mine. Putting myself out there, to be perfectly honest, is terrifying. I’m an introvert. I’m much happier behind the scenes. Sure, I’ve done my share of readings and book signings, but that’s not my natural setting. I know it’s good for me to be out in the world face to face. (At least before the pandemic). Moments leading up to events were nerve-racking. Afterward, there was a sense of unimaginable excitement. A rush of adrenaline and pride in myself for doing something so against the grain of who I am.

It, the website, and my sense of who I am as a writer are still a work in progress. I often wonder if we ever really land in one place. After twenty-three years of writing, I’ve shifted and morphed several times. Not just in genres, but also in my style, in my characters, and my ideas. If we do stay in one place, is there even a point to writing? Shouldn’t we all be striving for something different in each piece we write? A different perspective, a different way of looking at the world around us.

I hope you enjoy my website and learn a bit more about me from my various posts. I’ll be behind the scenes where I am the most comfortable. From the other side of this screen, I’ll continue to blend genres, genders, and identities in horror and urban fantasy. I will continue to work to give my unique characters and perspectives a place in the larger world.

Until next time, be well and be safe.