Clarissa Johal: September 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shape-shifters and Werewolves



Werewolves. Probably the only thing that scares me besides butterflies...
and we won’t go there. I believe my fear stems from an incident I experienced at six-years-old. It was Halloween and I was making my way up a neighborhood driveway to trick-or-treat. As I got to the front door, a werewolf jumped out of the bushes and scared the bejeezus out of me. It wasn’t a real one of course, but a costumed teenager who was counting on a bit of fun. My parents tell me I went flying down the driveway at 90 miles an hour, with no intention of stopping. 
Apparently, the teenage boy was mortified. 
And I was made to go back and “face my fear.”  
The boy took off his mask, apologized profusely and filled my pillowcase with candy. Unfortunately, I don’t remember that part because I think I blanked out.
And so a phobia was born.

Werewolves and shape-shifters are a hot item these days. You can't turn on the television or pick up a paranormal novel without encountering one in some form or another. They have been populating mythologies and literature from all over the world since the dawn of time. Historically speaking, those with the affliction of lycanthropy, or werewolves, were usually cursed. Shape-shifting however, was a different story.


Shape-shifter: Also called metamorphs, skin-walkers, mimics, and therianthropes. A human with the ability to change its shape into that of another person, creature, species, or entity. It could be voluntary or the result of a curse, magic potion or object. Some shape-shifters were able to change form only if they had an item, usually an article of clothing.

In Norse mythology, warriors or berserkers, were said to change into wolves and bears in order to fight more effectively. The tradition of wearing the pelt of a bear or wolf into battle and penchant for fighting into an uncontrollable fury may have given rise to these myths.
In Greek mythology, shape-shifting was often a punishment from the gods to the humans who crossed them. Zeus transformed Lycaon into a werewolf as a punishment for killing his children. Athena transformed Arachne into a spider for challenging her as a weaver. Artemis transformed Actaeon into a stag for spying on her while she was bathing. And so on.
Early Mayan texts speak of the shape-shifter, or Mestaclocan, who had the ability to change his appearance and to manipulate the minds of animals.
Selkies, found in Scottish, Irish and Icelandic folklore, were magical beings said to live as seals in the sea, shedding their skin to become human on land. In order to change back into seals however, they had to keep their seal skins in a safe place.
Japanese kitsune (foxes) were said to be intelligent beings. They possessed magical abilities that increased with age and wisdom. Among these magical abilities was the ability to assume human form at will.
In Korea, a gumiho (nine-tailed fox) was a creature that could transform into a beautiful woman with the goal to seduce men and eat their heart or liver.

Werewolves, on the other hand, have slightly different mythologies. Many authors have speculated that werewolf legends may have been used to explain serial killings.

Werewolf: a human, through either a curse or will, with the ability to shape-shift into a wolf or wolf-like creature. The idea that werewolves were able to be killed by silver or infect another with a bite or scratch wasn’t popularized until the appearance of modern literature.

Werewolves in European tradition were always considered evil. Usually said to be men that terrorized people (in the form of wolves) at the Devils command, there were few stories of people being transformed involuntarily.
In Hungarian folklore, the concept of werewolf goes back to the Middle Ages. It was thought that the ability to change into a wolf was obtained after suffering abuse by parents or by being cursed as a child.
In Latvian folklore, a vilkacis was someone who could transform into a wolf-like monster. In some instances, it was a human who could send their soul into that of a wolf. Vilkacis were considered benevolent, however.
In Armenian mythology, sinful women were condemned to spend seven years in wolf form. A condemned woman would be visited by a wolfskin-toting spirit who ordered her to wear the skin, thus causing cravings for human flesh soon after.

Werewolves and shape-shifters: both with similar abilities, but perhaps different origins and reasons for utilizing them. I've toyed with writing a horror novel focusing on werewolves, but every time I begin it, I have nightmares. The story stays on the back-burner until I stop being such a weenie.

In spite of my werewolf phobia (and oddly enough) I have a tattoo of what you could call a shape-shifter. A friend of mine, knowing how much I like history and art, gave me a copy of The Book of Kells as a gift. I started reading it and came across this gorgeous illuminated drawing of a wolf. Wandering across the page, it seemed completely out of place within the illuminated scripts. I couldn’t stop looking at it. I researched the the wolf online and found that they think it represented a Pictish 6th century clan of people. Its twin, the Ardross Wolf, is located in Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. My husband joked that I was obsessing over the drawing, which I probably was at that point.
One night, I had a dream that my wolf was getting lost in the Celtic knots on my bedspread, weaving in and out of them. I tried to catch him, but he kept slipping in and out of my fingers and jumped off the bed; shape-shifting into a warrior. I could see him in great detail—his weapons, his beard, the animal skins he wore. I could smell him, everything. I woke up and thought, “I’m getting that wolf as a tattoo.” And so I did. 
Shape-shifter? Kind of. But definitely not one I’d be afraid of. And oddly enough, the 6th century Pictish clan in question lived in northern and eastern Scotland, which is where my family history can be traced. 
Perhaps this is a sign that I need to let my fear of werewolves go. 
Or perhaps, that the shape-shifter has my back.
 

Ghosts


The other day, I took a break from writing to do what I rarely do--watch television.  It's not that I hate television, it's just there are very few shows I have the patience to sit through. While channel surfing, I came across not one, but seven different shows on something that's always fascinated me--ghosts. My paranormal novel, Between, is about a woman that can see ghosts. They don't necessarily frighten her, spirits are a part of her "normal" world, but they do pose problems from time-to-time.
One thing I noticed was that a common theme in these television shows, save for Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International, was a "scare" factor. I've always been confused by the thought of ghosts being scary. I don't understand why they would be, at one time they were human. Are humans scary?  Not usually.
Unless they're wearing polyester and eating tuna fish sandwiches.

I'm also amazed with the amount of effort people put out to quantify and prove their existence. Once they prove ghosts exist--then what?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and just say; "Yes. I believe in ghosts." I've seen them, I've heard them, blah, blah, blah. And after ruling out every logical explanation, I'm still left with; "Yes. I believe in ghosts."  Is it scary to see a ghost?  Not really. I've always been of the ilk, "It is what it is." Do I believe that ghosts can harm the living?
I have to say "no" to that too. But then, I've never been harmed by a ghost so perhaps it's a mindset. Maybe if I had been, I would feel differently.

So why people afraid of ghosts? In this culture you could attribute a fear of the unknown as the main reason. Not helpful either, are claims of people being harmed by ghosts and overly-dramatic television shows. Different cultures define ghosts different ways. There are the ghosts that were once human, and ghosts that are something else entirely (which would be another blog post). And while most cultures regard ancestral spirits as innocuous, they can also be regarded as undesirable if they continue to be present.

Definition

Ghosts: the soul or spirit of a deceased person or animal that can appear to the living. The belief is wide-spread in most cultures and dates back to pre-literate cultures and folk religions, animism and ancestor worship. It can also reference a good or evil spirit (ie. angel or demon) in some belief systems. 

The appearance and ideas of ghosts vary according to culture.

The ancient Egyptians believed that ghosts were created at the time of death. They took on the memories and appearance of the dead and traveled to the Netherworld to continue a life similar to that of the living.
Historical writings of pre-5th century Greece mentioned that ghosts could appear as vapor offering advice and prophecies to the living, but they weren't to be feared.
The Aztec believed that souls of the fallen warriors and women who died in childbirth would be transformed into hummingbirds that would follow the sun on its journey through the sky. Spirit and soul were two different things, however. The soul of a woman who died in childbirth may be transformed into a hummingbird, but the spirit became Cihuateteo. For five days out of the year, the Cihuateteo descended to earth and haunted crossroads to steal children. 
In India, ghosts or bhoots are restless spirits with unfinished business. They can shape shift into various animals. Most appear human, but with one telling trait: their feet are backwards and sometimes certain features are upside-down. They also tend to lurk in trees and wear white clothing.
Ghosts in many Asian cultures are often seen as harmful. Ancestral ghosts can be helpful as long as they're appeased and rewarded for their help. Hungry ghosts, however, are seen as beings driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. They are the ghosts of greedy or jealous people who were unable to appreciate what they had in life.
In the Amazon rainforest, the Wari believe that the spirits of dead people may appear as jima. The jima have cold, poisonous hands and can pull a person's spirit away.
In South Africa there are many beliefs about ghosts and evil spirits. The Bantu people speak of the tokoloshe. An evil spirit summoned by those wanting to make trouble for others. The tokoloshe can create illness or even death.
The Indigenous Australians believe that after death, relatives or close friends must sit by the grave of the deceased to ensure that the spirit of the deceased would go to the spirit place. Once this was completed (or the mourning was completed) the persons name was never to be mentioned again.

In view of this, one can see that there are many different beliefs pertaining to ghosts. In this culture, ghosts seem to break down into three categories; ghosts with unfinished business, ghosts that repeat a moment in time, and then the third; the ones with issues. Ghosts with issues choose to scare or annoy the living for various reasons. I look on these entities as bullies of the spiritual playground. Stand tall and they tend to leave you alone. Let them push you around and you are setting yourself up to be bullied.

So, what are your thoughts and experiences with ghosts? Real or imaginary? Scary or something we have yet to discover?

Reincarnation


I thought I’d write today on the topic of reincarnation. Between, my paranormal novel coming out in December, touches lightly on this subject and it’s one I find fascinating. Whether or not you believe; you have to admit, it’s an interesting idea.
I consider myself pretty open-minded. My parents were agnostic and atheist but the door was always open to discuss religious ideology and how it pertained to other cultures. It was something I was grateful for because it allowed me to discover and follow my own path. Religion was fascinating to me, but religion as it applied to different cultures, even more so.
By the time I finished college and university, I had taken so many classes in cultural anthropology that my curiosity had led me into receiving an unintentional minor in that field. As a student, I'd been lucky enough to participate in a ceremonial Native American sweat-lodge, observe a voodoo ritual connecting with ancestral spirits, experience a Wiccan banishing of negative entities and participate in a Pagan fire-walk. (And no, I didn’t get burned. There were others, however, who did)
At that point, I knew what I had experienced but was unsure of what I believed. Nothing fell into one religious category.
One day, a friend of mine was telling me about a physics professor who was conducting a class on reincarnation. The local university offered a series of extension classes that were always off-beat and educational. It sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a try.
The class met at the professor's house and the first meeting was basically him outlining the concept of reincarnation and how it applied to different religions. I was familiar with the concept from the anthropology courses I had taken, but I politely listened. He went onto say that he would be offering a past-life regression hypnosis session to those that were interested. Now, that was something I hadn’t counted on! He made no promises, nor did he say what we could experience was fact, but the offer was there. Always open to new experiences, I was the first to sign up.

Here’s a definition for those who are unfamiliar with past-life regression. 

Past life regression a technique that uses hypnosis to recover what practitioners believe are memories of past lives or incarnations, though others regard them as fantasies or delusions.

So, there you have it—both sides of the spiritual coin, so to speak.

The evening of the meeting, I showed up expecting everything and nothing. Would hypnosis be like falling asleep? Would I know what was happening around me? Would it be like the movies where you were pulled into an alternate lifetime you couldn’t escape from? Well, it turned out that being hypnotized was much like being talked through a relaxation exercise. You are aware of everything around you. You aren’t asleep. You do, however, get pictures in your head that come without thought. They come fast and extremely detailed. Did I have any past lives to speak of? I'll let you be the judge because here's what I experienced.
I experienced a lifetime in 7th century Japan. I was looking at myself in a polished bronze mirror of some kind. The image wasn’t very clear but I could see that my teeth were blacked out. Not gone, just dyed black. I fact-checked afterwards and found that this was called Ohaguro. It was something I was unfamiliar with and apparently, it died out by the Meiji Era. In this particular lifetime, I had fallen in love with a village artist who was hired by my husband to paint my portrait. Our affair was discovered and my husband sent a group of his men to behead me. Oddly enough, when I saw this happening, I rose above the scene and watched them toss my body in a river before the scene went blank. The experience was not only disturbing, but completely unexpected.
Another life I experienced (in the same session) was one in 18th century America. Not quite as violent as the one in Japan, but extremely detailed. I was a woman living in a very nice manor house. My set of silverware had handles of animal antlers which I found out later was popular at the time. In another scene, I saw myself fighting with a gentleman who was pulling my hair from where it wound around my head. I do remember feeling extremely angry when I experienced that. Fast-forward to me as an old lady. I was in my bedroom, my maid was closing all the curtains, and I was floating over the scene observing my own death. Fade to black on that one. 

After the regression, I met with the professor to ask his opinion on what I had experienced. In typical professor fashion, he answered my questions with more questions. “Have you ever met someone you feel you’ve known before? Have you known facts about something you have had no experience with? Some would say those are past-life experiences.” Um, okay. Thank you, Professor. 
I decided to stop at one session because I found regression to be fascinating, yes, but too much to wrap my brain around.

Both experiences gave me pause for thought. Certainly, these "lifetimes" were nothing I would have thought of or expected and I’m still unsure what to think of them. But it’s what I experienced and I file it away under “Things I’ve Experienced but Cannot Explain.”
That file seems to get bigger and bigger the older I get.

So, the subject makes it’s way into my novels. I don’t do it consciously, but when I go back and read what I’ve written, it’s there. The concept has been around since the Iron Age and in Indian and Greek philosophical traditions of 6th century BCE. To this day, it endures in many tribal societies; places such as Siberia, West Africa, North America, and Australia, and many religious philosophies around the world.

What are your thoughts? And more telling, how would those thoughts change if you experienced something you couldn't explain?

Vampires


Due to a recent rash (nest?) of self-professed vampire followers on my Twitter, I thought I would write this week on vampires.

Vampires.
Personally, I worry the entertainment industry is past the point of saturation on vampires but I could be wrong. It used to be that these creatures were scary and could seriously, oh I don’t know, kill you. In the past fifty years, however, vampires have been simultaneously sexualized and emasculated. There's a new list of traits they share in literature and on film. They no longer terrify but instead; their spit heals wounds, their fangs grow in response to sexual desire, they worry over moral choices, fall in love and have babies. We’re not going to even talk about vampires that sparkle.

So here is comes…my definition:

Vampires: mythological or folkloric creatures who subsist by feeding on the life essence (generally in the form of blood) of living creatures, regardless of whether they are undead or a living person/being. Belief in such legends became so rife that in some cultures it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires.

In European folklore, vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance with skin that was ruddy, purplish, or dark in color. In the coffin, they would be clad in the shroud they had been buried in and their teeth, hair, and nails would continue to grow. Blood was seen seeping from the mouth and nose and their left eye was often open. In general, however, fangs were not a feature. 
The origins of these physical attributes can be attributed to what we now know of forensic pathology: remaining bacteria in the body cause it to swell; which in turn, cause blood vessels to rupture and ooze blood out of the mouth, skin and gums shrivel; which in turn cause the hair, nails and teeth to look like they’ve grown, etc.  The process of decomposition.

Dead sexy.
But not very romantic.

Vampiric entities exist in many cultures and go back as far as prehistoric times. These blood-drinking, flesh-eating entities were associated with demons or evil spirits. The term vampire was not popularized until the early 18th century.

Ancient Greek mythology contains several precursors to modern vampires. Empusa, the daughter of the goddess Hecate, was described as a demon with flaming hair, a serpentine tail and one leg of brass and the other of a donkey. She would transform into a beautiful woman and seduce men as they slept...before drinking their blood and eating their flesh.

Aztec mythology described tales of the cihuateteo; skeletal-faced spirits of women who died in childbirth. Childbirth was looked on as a battle in Aztec culture, and those that died in the process were honored as fallen warriors. The spirits of these women were said to haunt crossroads at night; stealing children, seducing men and causing sickness, seizures and madness.

Various regions of Africa share folkloric tales of beings with vampiric abilities. The Ashanti of southern Ghana tell of the sasabonsam, or forest vampires. They are said to be hairy and man-sized with short stubby arms, a wingspan of 20 feet, blood-shot eyes and teeth made of iron. They hang from trees utilizing hooks on their feet, making it easy for them to swoop down on their prey from above and drain their blood.

Vetàla are vampiric entities from Indian Hindu mythology. Inhabiting the zone between life and afterlife, they are the hostile spirits of the dead whose children neglected to perform funerary rites in their memory. The vetàla can move from corpse to corpse, stopping decay and existing indefinitely. Victims reanimated by a vetàla would always have their hands and feet pointed backwards. They can haunt the living, kill children, cause miscarriages, and drive people insane.

In China, it is the jiāng shī, also known as a “hopping vampire” or reanimated corpse. The jiāng shī are said to have long, white hair, greenish-white skin, (due to rotting and mold) and a stiff gait. In the daytime, they hide in dark places, but at night, they move, arms outstretched, by hopping. To kill living creatures, they must absorb their qi (life energy).

So why are we not scrambling to read about getting down-and-dirty with these kinds of vampires? Vampires are, after all, the new aphrodisiac. Sadly, romance with something leaking fluid and hopping about just isn't sexy. It would be the ultimate hurdle to overcome for an unfortunate couple, however. Live Girl falls in love with Dead Boy. Their romance is ill-fated because Dead Boy can't seem to stop himself from doing what vampires do. On their second date, Dead Boy rips Live Girl apart, drains her dry and eats her.
The End.

Few authors and novels hold onto the idea of truly scary vampires. Stephen King's Salem's Lot, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend and the classic Dracula by Bram Stoker are ones that come to mind. Stephen King even goes so far as to state, "Here's what vampires shouldn't be: pallid detectives who drink Bloody Marys and work only at night; lovelorn southern gentlemen; anorexic teenage girls; boy-toys with big dewy eyes. What should they be? Killers, honey. Stone killers who never get enough of that tasty Type-A...Those vamps got hijacked by a lot of soft-focus romance."

The concept of vampires obviously polarize readers and writers both.

Personally, I prefer my vampires just plain scary. Handsome and sexy vampires are fun, don’t get me wrong. John Mitchell from BBCs Being Human, Eric Northman from Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series (HBOs True Blood) and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are some of my favorites. But there's something to be said for delving into folklore and mythology and tapping into what terrifies us. 

What are your thoughts?

Guardian Spirits, Angels and Totemism


Guardian spirits, angels, totemism, whatever you wish to call them, they are the gentle nudges or voices in your head said to guide you throughout your life. My paranormal novel, Between, touches on the concept of guardian spirits but personally, it's been a topic I rarely discuss. Why? Because people give you "that look" when you talk about intangible things. And even though I should be used to "that look" (I'm a writer and as you know, we all have whack-a-doodle things going on in our heads) it makes me self-conscious.

My father was a brilliant math professor and logical thinker, my mother a dental hygienist and devout atheist. Growing up in my household, things like guardian spirits just didn’t figure into the equation. But it was always in the back of my mind. As a child, I was convinced that somebody was watching over and guiding me. Whether it was a voice popping into my head to “make another choice” or a stray thought, I always managed to avoid dire situations. And there were plenty of them because that’s just the type of kid I was.

Perhaps it’s wishful thinking but recently (and maybe because I’m getting older) I’ve wondered if there isn’t something in the concept of guardian spirits.

My trusty definitions:

Guardian spirit: a benevolent spirit who guides an individual throughout their lifetime. The concept of guardian spirits is shared among many different cultures and belief systems. In some traditions the guardian manifests itself through dreams or other portents. In other traditions it is the individual who sets out to discover his guardian by undertaking a vision quest.

Guardian angel: an angel believed to have special affection for a particular individual.

Totemism: a system of belief in which humans are said to have a connection or a kinship with a spirit-being, such as an animal or plant.

I’ve had a number of things happen over the past few years which have led me to re-examine the concept of guardian spirits; I'll share two of them. This isn’t to say that I couldn’t attribute these experiences to my “inner voice” or some such thing, but my inner voice is telling me it isn’t my inner voice.

Several years ago, I went through a period of nine months where I was convinced I had cancer. Obsessed, I found myself opting for medical tests, including an MRI, and probably saw my doctor more within that time period than I had in the past ten years. The thought was quite literally, making me sick. I rarely get sick, nor do I give it any energy if I do, so this kind of thinking was highly unusual for me. One day, I noticed a small spot on the part of my hair which I thought was a bug bite. After a couple of days of seeing that it wasn’t going away, I decided to have it checked. It turned out that it was cancer. Not the “bad” kind but the kind that could be removed through a process called Mohs surgery.  A week later I was missing quite a bit of hair and had 32 staples in my scalp. Though it had looked small, the cancer had covered a larger area than they expected and had probably been there for awhile.
Do I attribute my obsession with having cancer to a guardian spirit tapping me on the shoulder? I don’t know. But I can say, I’ve never had health anxiety issues before and they disappeared after my surgery. (I'm happy to say too, that my hair grew back and hides a killer scar)

My second experience was a bit different. One evening, it was pouring with rain and I decided on a quick trip to the bookstore. I was sitting at a traffic light with the choice to turn left or right, either way would get me there. Suddenly, the voice of Austin Powers popped into my head, "Left, baby!"  Kind of amused with the fact that apparently Austin Powers was paying me a visit out-of-the-blue, I turned left. Immediately, I heard a loud screech and crash and looked in my rear view mirror. The car in front of me had turned right and was involved in a five-car pile up.
One that I missed completely.
Which means that one of my guardian spirits is an Austin Powers wannabe. Kind of funny and fitting because I can totally see that if I had a guardian spirit, Austin would be my guy.

These experiences can be shrugged off, sure. But things that have happened over my lifetime do add up and give me pause for thought: What if?
If there are such things as guardian spirits, let me just take the time now to apologize to mine because seriously, I've probably kept them very busy.

How about you? Have you ever had that “little voice” in your head nudging you in another direction? A thought to do something different that ultimately kept you out of trouble? An animal affinity? A brush with death? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Friday Guest Blogger Winner

The winner of Sloane Taylor's free download of Czech Mate is India-Jean Louwe. 

Congratulations, India-Jean!  
Please check your Facebook messages for further information

CZECH MATE by Sloane Taylor is available on Amazon.com

Synopsis:
Life isn't easy for aspiring interior designer Lacey Blake when she finds herself stranded in Prague dressed like a dolled-up hooker for her fetish-minded, soon-to-be-ex, boyfriend. The cash-strapped American traveler, boasting a feather boa and stilettos that would make a dominatrix cry, is saved by an intriguing offer proposed by a staid giant in a sleek Armani suit. It doesn't take long to convince herself there's nothing like a sex-fest to get the most out of a free vacation.

Dragan Petrovic is determined his 5-star hotel will retain its unblemished reputation and no prostitute will kickoff her career in his lobby. But one look into her eyes and he knows there is more to her than a micro mini and a push up bra. The urge to protect her drives him to madness when he suggests an unusual scheme that stirs up deep desires and alters their lives forever.

Lacey is hot and ready for action when she accepts Dragon's offer, and to relieve the sexual tension between them, takes the matter in hand...

The Author Look Challenge

The Look Challenge is this: find the word look in your latest work in progress and post the neighboring paragraphs. Then, go tag five authors to do the same. Easy-peasy.

My fellow authors who started this:

Sharon Ledwith, author of The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis










and  Sloane Taylor  author of Claire De Lune, Masquerade and Czech Mate

(trouble makers, both of them) will be immortalized in my next novel and subjected to a million different tortures for throwing this Challenge my way.





Struck, my latest paranormal horror novel work-in-progress, had 222 occurrences of the word look when I ran a check.
Curses, Batman.
And back to edits to see if all 222 of them stay. 
So, which paragraphs to choose, which to choose...?

Here's a synopsis (also a work in progress) and paragraphs/excerpt from my paranormal horror titled, Struck
You are the only ones allowed to peek as I just finished the first draft--so no telling anyone you saw it. 
Or I may have to set my minions on you.

Synopsis:

After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend who gets her a job at a retirement home. One evening, she learns that one of the residents has died and goes to the funeral home to pay her last respects. On the way home, Gwynneth is caught in a thunderstorm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, Gwynneth is visited by the stranger who seems to appear at will. He shares with her that he has a gift to bestow. At first, Julian seems to be offering a true gift, one that will stay the hands of death. But the gift comes with an exchange that Gwynneth is unsure of, something she can't define. As time progresses, Julian’s price for his gift becomes more demanding. Is he all he claims to be or is there something more sinister to his motives?

Excerpt:

“I really appreciate this.” I shut the door hastily and hurried along behind him. “I didn’t really know her family. I wouldn’t feel comfortable inviting myself to the funeral.” Liar, my brain scolded. I knew them. They had visited Mrs. Engel twice and that was all I needed to see. “I just wanted to…” I stopped, catching my breath, “say good-bye, I guess.”

“Yep, got it,” he dismissed my ramblings. “Poppy’s finishing up her make-up for tomorrow. All the way down the stairs. Last door on the left.” 

He gestured with a neatly manicured hand toward the general direction of a door which I presumed led to the basement or cellar...or wherever the dead bodies were stored for safe-keeping. So nice, Gwen. Just keep those thoughts coming

“Thanks.” I followed his gaze to the puddle I was making on the wood floor. “Sorry. It’s raining outside.” Duh. You can shut up now. I slipped out of my worn jean jacket and hung it on one of the mahogany coat racks that flanked the foyer.

He glared at me. “Whatever.”

I watched as Mr. Compassion sauntered down one of the hallways into the darkness. Maybe he saved his best manners for the dead. “Not everyone has to be nice, Gwen,” I murmured. “Just pay your respects and leave.” Warily, I opened the door that led downstairs. It was dark down there and distinctly uninviting. Of course it is. My hand felt for a switch light. Finding none, I headed carefully toward a lit room at the end of the hallway. How ironic. The light at the end of the tunnel is in a bright yellow Addams family house with an asshole for a caretaker. As I made my way down the hall, I could hear talking coming from the room.

“Now you’re just being rude. I didn’t put too much on at all. You look fine. Stop being so persnickety.”

I peeked into the room to see a young woman with a long, red ponytail high on her head, holding a tube of red lipstick and talking to a corpse. Except it wasn’t a corpse...it was Mrs. Engel.  
Oh, good god, my brain whispered. 



For this Look Challenge, I'm going to tag five of my fellow authors--and then I'm going to run away laughing.


Rhea Rhodan, author of romance with a twist of magic and touch of the paranormal.
Author webpage
Amazon Author Page
Rhea's blog







Laura Hardgrave, author of LGBT science fiction and fantasy.
Debut novel; Captive by the Fog coming from Musa Publishing October 26th
Laura's blog






 
Liz DeJesus, author and poet.
Author website
Amazon Author Page
Liz's blog







Peter Lukes, science fiction and fantasy author.
Author website
Amazon Author Page
Peter's blog


















Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Guest Blogger - Author Sloane Taylor

Please welcome my guest blogger, author Sloane Taylor.

Thanks for having me out to play today, Clarissa. I appreciate the opportunity to meet your friends and chat with them. For a little incentive to bring out lurkers, I’d like to offer a free download of Czech Mate to one lucky winner. Clarissa will post the winner tomorrow. So, bring on those questions and comments! I’m happy to answer anything you like.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a sensual woman who believes humor and sex are healthy aspects of our everyday lives and that carries over into my books. I write sexually explicit romances that take you right into the bedroom. But since I’m a true romantic, every story has a happy ever after.

My books are set in Europe where the men are all male and the North American women they encounter are both feminine and strong. They also bring more than lust to their men’s lives.

On the personal side, I was born and raised on the Southside of Chicago and still have the attitude when needed. As a young adult I lived in the Pullman neighborhood that was created by that old curmudgeon George Pullman. It’s also the area where many scenes from Tom Hanks’ movie Road to Perdition were filmed.

Studly, my mate for life, and now live in a small home in Indiana and enjoy the change from hectic city life.

There’s another side to me, I'm an avid cook and proud of it. My dad used to tell me he ate to live while I lived to eat. So true.

Several centuries ago when I was a young woman starting out on my own, I wanted menus to plan meals, not have to search through dozens of cookbooks and magazines to come up with a total meal. It just wasn't available.

Over the years I've collected cookbooks from all over the world. The frustrating thing is that they too only gave me recipes, not menus.

It was time to take matters into my own hands.

I created “It’s Wednesday. So What’s Cooking?” with complete menus posted once a week on my blog.  The recipes are user friendly menus, meaning easy, Please check it out and let me know what you think. Also, feel free to email me at sloanetaylor@comcast.net to be included on my list of Cooking Pals. These are people who like to be emailed weekly with a short reminder the new menu is available.   

Here’s a taste of what you’ll see weekly;

Chicken Cutlets, Roasted Potatoes with Thyme and Vinegar and Candied Orange Carrots

Summer is hanging on during the day, but the nights have become deliciously cool. This is a lovely meal you can enjoy for two by candlelight or with family and friends and rousing conversation. It’s also perfect al fresco on a Sunday afternoon.
Chicken Cutlets
Roasted Potatoes with Thyme and Vinegar
Candied Orange Carrots
Dry Crisp White Wine


Chicken Cutlets
Boneless chicken breasts - I prefer Purdue brand
5 slices bacon chopped
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary chopped
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. Butter
1 cup chicken broth
4 garlic cloves crushed
2 tbsp. lemon juice

Fry bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer bacon onto paper towels to drain. Spoon off all but two tablespoons of the fat.

Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow dish. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake to remove excess. Add butter to the reserved fat in the pan and heat over high temperature, swirling to melt the butter. When the foam subsides, reduce heat to med-high and cook chicken until browned on both sides, 3 – 4 minutes. per side. Transfer chicken to a plate and tent with foil.

Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, rosemary, pepper flakes. Cook under one minute. Do not let the garlic brown. Add broth and lemon juice, scrape up browned bits with a wooden spoon, and simmer until slightly thick, about 4 minutes.

Return chicken and bacon to pan, simmer turning chicken once until sauce is thick and glossy, 2 – 3 minutes. Adjust seasoning with black pepper.

Roasted Potatoes with Thyme and Vinegar
3 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. cider vinegar
3 tsp. Kosher salt
2 lbs. potatoes quartered
1 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 425°

In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, salt, thyme, and vinegar.

Place the potatoes in a large Zip-lock plastic bag. Pour the mixture over them and gently shake the bag to coat evenly.

Spread the potatoes in an even layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle and remaining mixture over them. Bake until potatoes are tender and slightly browned, about 50 minutes.

Candied Orange Carrots
½ lb. of ready to eat carrots
Juice of one orange
1 pinch nutmeg
¼ cup maple syrup
4 tbsp. butter
Chopped fresh parsley

Place all the ingredients together in a saucepan. Gently simmer, covered, until the carrots are bright orange and tender.
Garnish with the parsley and serve.
 

The leftovers from this meal make a perfect lunch and are easily reheated.

While you’re hashing over which recipes you want to adjust to suit your taste, please allow me to give you a PG13 peek at my latest release from Musa Publishing, Masquerade.

Behind every mask is a fragment of truth.

BLURB:
Chicagoan Clancy Marshall has planned her dream vacation in Venice down to the last detail. From gondola rides to masked balls, and anything else that just happens along, she is determined to experience all pleasures. But those careful plans fly out the door when she literally falls into the arms of a masked stranger.

Vittore Ricci comes from an old Venetian family that claims two doges in their lineage. A straight-laced Count and owner of a prestigious hotel, he never does anything without serious consideration. Until a sexy American tourist offers an opportunity no man can refuse.

To read an excerpt from Masquerade, please click HERE 

Please check out my website to learn more about my work and my Amazon Author Page.
You can also stay connected with me on Facebook 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Guest Blogger

Please welcome my guest blogger, Juli D. Revezzo, author of  The Artist’s Inheritance.


Guardians and ghosts
by
 Juli D. Revezzo
We, as humans, are a superstitious lot. The belief in ghosts and guardians have been with us from the time of the first humans. The ancient cavemen revered the spirits of their ancestors, and even today American Indians and other peoples do as well. Many people believe in guardian angels.

Researching this subject can bring up quite few pages in ye ole Google land. With the help of the popularity of shows like Ghost Hunters and writers like Sylvia Browne it’s clear the belief remains strong. Many books and websites seem to pop up every day witnessing that These Things Are Real and we gobble them up.

There are different distinctions of these entities (and this isn’t meant as a primer, just a very rough, very short overview). The guardian keeps you out of trouble, or saves you from imminent danger. Sometimes it just gives reassurance when you need it (say going into that scary dark closet or attic). Ghosts come in different forms, strangers, ancestors, departed friends—they can give you direction.
Or just scare the beejesus out of you.

Personally, I prefer the guardian ones. There’s a few things I’ve read you can do to attract a guardian. Some people leave little offerings for them—or maybe just offer up a bit of your morning coffee while asking for their assistance? There’s also the age-old Dumb Dinner (aka Silent Supper), as it’s called, usually done at the Samhain holiday—aka Halloween. For that, you leave a small bit of bread and wine (or tea or milk) out on the table for your guest.

Then, there are the ones that ask for your help, which might present all sorts of problems for living folk. How do you find something a ghost lost long ago? What if they what they want to do with it will ultimately harm you? I’m not well versed in dealing with those but I can point you to some books and interesting websites. At any rate, such tales fascinating research for stories and books. I used a few, working them around to add flavor to my own my new book of a woman and her guardian Civil War-era ghost in The Artist’s Inheritance.

Want to learn a little more about my Cait and her spirit-filled family? 
Okay, here’s a little teaser:
Settling into their new home in Gulf Breeze, Florida, Caitlin finds strange changes coming over her husband Trevor. He seems obsessed with a beautiful chair he’s carving.
When the nightmares deepen and ghosts begin lurking—she knows something’s not right, and not just her newfound precognitive abilities. It’s the damned chair, she’s sure. Could it be just what it seems: a mundane piece of furniture? If so, why is it attracting dark forces—the forces she suspects drove Trevor’s siblings to insanity and suicide?
Before the same happens to Trevor, Caitlin must convince him to sell his art. But armed with only a handful of allies, and little experience of the supernatural, she must proceed with caution against the hellish forces besieging her family. If she succeeds, she will break the ancestral curse. If she fails, she may lose forever the one thing she cares about most: her beloved Trevor.

The Artist’s Inheritance is available now at Amazon.com and it’s also in various formats at Smashwords


Bio:
Juli D. Revezzo has long been in love with writing, a love built by devouring everything from the Arthurian legends, to the works of Michael Moorcock, and the classics and has a soft spot for classic the “Goths” of the 19th century, in love of which she received a Bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of South Florida. Her short fiction has been published in Dark Things II: Cat Crimes, The Scribing Ibis, Eternal Haunted Summer, Twisted Dreams Magazine and Luna Station Quarterly. She also has an article and book review or two out there. But her heart lies in the storytelling. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Tampa Area Romance Authors, and the special interest RWA chapter Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal. The Artist’s Inheritance is her first novel.


Juli D. Revezzo’s site links:
Author Webpage
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
Goodreads

References:
Spirits, Ghosts, and Angels: The Metaphysical Institute
Real Ghost Stories: Your Ghost Stories
Sylvia’s Articles “Ghost Story”: Sylvia Brown
Samhain Tradition-Silent Supper by Starwitch: Everything Under the Moon
Haunted Objects: Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf by Christopher Balzano
Tales of Ghostly Horror: Real Life Encounters with the Supernatural by Peter Drake
The Ghost Hunter’s Survival Guide by Michelle Belanger

These are just a few. I’m sure you can find more if you put in time at your local (hopefully not haunted!) library. So, do you believe in ghosts or guardian angels? Any stories of such things that you’d care to share?
Thanks, Clarissa, for having me here today!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Guest Blogger

Please welcome my guest blogger, author Kaitlin Bevis. Kaitlin discusses the changes she made from the original myth in her young adult novel, Persephone.

Persephone Myth

*Myths were passed on and adapted through oral retellings through multiple cultures, and retold by a variety of authors. Homer, Ovid, Virgil and many other classical writers each put their own spin on the myths to suite their stories, just as I altered the myths to fit the plot of Persephone. I pulled from a variety of sources, combining the elements of multiple versions, so please be aware that the myths you read below are by no means the "official" or definitive versions of the myth. If you hear or read an alternate version somewhere else it is not wrong or inaccurate. It is simply a different telling.


The rape of Persephone:

  Kore, the goddess of Spring, was a beautiful goddess and would have had many suiters had her mother, Demeter, goddess of agriculture, not kept her hidden away from the other gods. One day Kore went to a meadow to pick narcissus flowers, lilacs, poppies, or some other flower depending on the source with some nymphs when Hades, God of the Underworld spots her and decides he wants her for his wife. He bursts through the earth (in some versions, Gaia, goddess of Earth assists him) in his creepy black chariot of death, and drags Kore into the Underworld. After her rape/marriage, Kore becomes known as Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld.

  Demeter, goddess of Agriculture and Persephone's mother, searches frantically for her daughter, neglecting her duties as a goddess and plunging the earth into famine. Helios, god of the sun, or in some versions Persephone's nymph friends, tell Demeter what happened and she begs Zeus to rescue her daughter.

  At first Zeus tells Demeter she should be pleased to have such a high ranking son in law, but eventually relents since too many people are starving to worship him properly, and sends Hermes to liberate Persephone so long as she has not consumed food or drink in he Underworld.

  Meanwhile, Persephone is tricked into eating (depending on the version) pomegranate seeds by the god Ascalapus, Hades' gardener. He is turned into a screech owl in retribution for his crime, and Persephone is forced to return to the Underworld for a month every year for each seed she ate. While she is home with her mother, plants grow, but during her time in the Underworld every year they die. This myth is considered an explanation for winter.

Why did her name change?

  Changing a gods name to reflect a change in their divine role was not uncommon. In Persephone's case she doesn't even get a name until she's important. Kore translated to girl, or maiden.
Persephone has a variety of other names and titles within her cult the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Why a pomegranate?

  The pomegranate is known as the fruit of the dead as well as a symbol for fertility, and thanks to the little crown on the top of a pomegranate is a symbol of royalty. So it's easy to see why it was chosen as symbol in the Persephone myth. You've got royalty for the new Queen of Spring/fertility of the dead. When you cut it open is naturally divided into three to six sections depending on the fruit. It is full of tiny little seeds covered in a blood red juice. 

  While the Persephone myth is the most well known example of using a Pomegranate for symbolism, way back when, this weird little fruit found its way into a variety of stories across cultures.

Why does it matter what flower Persephone was picking? 

  The flower chosen in the myth kind of sets the tone for the whole story. The narcissus  flower for instance is commonly seen as a phallic symbol, and a symbol of unrequited love, and as a portent for death, so you've got some foreshadowing, and loss of innocence going there. Other flowers symbolize different things that the story teller may be trying to get across.

Why did I change it?

  In my version of the story Hades was actually rescuing Persephone. The idea that Hades may not have been the bad guy has been toyed with in popular culture throughout my entire life (Beauty and the Beast anyone?) so it's logical, and certainly not original, to consider that Hades may have just been misunderstood. 
That myth has never really vanished or fallen out of fashion. It resonates with us for some reason. If you studied any mythology at all in school, you learned the Persephone myth. I think part of it is if you take the myth at face value, it's unspeakable, so we want to fix this poor girls fate. But another part of it is that it seems incomplete. In most myths you get a bit of characterization. Zeus's personality and wants and needs come across crystal clear in every single myth he's a part of. Hades and Persephone both are ambiguous in this myth. Instead we learn a lot about Demeter, and her devotion as a mother. I wanted to know what happened down there. So I wrote my own version.

Blurb:

There are worse things than death, worse people too.
The "talk" was bad enough, but how many teens get told that they're a goddess? When her mom tells her, Persephone is sure her mother has lost her mind. It isn't until Boreas, the god of winter, tries to abduct her that she realizes her mother was telling the truth. Hades rescues her, and in
order to safely bring Persephone to the Underworld he marks her as his bride. But Boreas will stop at nothing to get Persephone. Despite her growing feelings for Hades, Persephone wants to return to the living realm. Persephone must find a way to defeat Boreas and reclaim her life. 




Author Bio:

Kaitlin Bevis spent her childhood curled up with a book and a pen. If the ending didn't agree with her, she rewrote it. She's always wanted to be a writer, and spent high school and college learning everything she could so that one day she could achieve that goal. She graduated college with a BFA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and is pursuing her masters at the University of Georgia. Her young adult fiction novel "Persephone," and her short story "Siren Song" are available for purchase in ebookstores everywhere. She also writes for Athens Parent Magazine, and trueconfessions.com.

You can find Kaitlin Bevis on her Author Website
Purchase Persephone on Amazon.com