Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thoughts on Camp NECON and Axe Murderers

For about two years now, I’ve had friends from all over the world telling me that I had to go to NECON, that it was the best writing conference out there, that it was all about family, all about support and celebrating what we do as artists. As most of you know, writing is lonely. It’s a very solitary kind of craft. We spend most of our time alone making up stories in order to connect with others, and truth be told, even if we are out in public, we’re still probably lost somewhere in our heads, talking to our characters, building our worlds. For this reason—amongst others—I find writing conferences to be extremely uplifting to my mood and to my creativity. So after all the late night talks at World Horror, I decided to drink the Kool-Aid—which I actually learned is called a Staggering Squirrel—and go to NECON. I bought my membership, a last minute plane ticket, and before I knew it, I was in the sky and on my way to Rhode Island.

I had no idea what to expect when I got there, but I was met with big hugs from old friends, and warm welcomes from new ones. It was great to finally put some faces to names as I moved through the conference and met people that I’ve been reading and communicating with online for quite some time. I attended great panels—my favorite being The Best Monsters in Modern Horror—ate saugies, drank Staggering Squirrels (which side note, I will not be doing next year) and had great conversation and many, many laughs.  The great thing about NECON is that it gives you the opportunity to be yourself in a relaxed environment and just be. We stood around a campfire and listened to people play the guitar, we watched the sun come up in the courtyard, and we told ghost stories and just enjoyed each other’s company. And maybe it’s just because I’m a writer and I appreciate the importance of words, but there is nothing better in this world than having good conversation with people, and when you can talk at ease with those you admire and love, it becomes something more than a discussion about books, about business, about life.

It’s becomes a comradery.

A friendship.

A family.

And speaking of family… I also got invited to spend time with another very special clan that I’m sure you’ve all heard about: The Borden’s. Yes, my love for all things paranormal and disturbing sent me to Fall Rivers, MA with Sephera Giron, Gardner Goldsmith, Dennis Cummins and Heather Graham Pozzessere and her husband, to spend the night with Lizzie Borden and learn about the infamous axe murderess. We walked the house, heard the stories, and reenacted the murders.  It was surreal to lay in the spot where Abby died, to sit on the couch where Andrew was bludgeoned 11 times in the face. We got to see the autopsy boards were they were laid out, got to spend time in the basement where Lizzie found solace twice after the murderers, and then we got to pick our rooms.

I have a ritual when I spend the night at places like this. I don’t like to make blind decisions about where I’m going to sleep. I normally walk through all the rooms in the location and see how I react mentally/physically to the space. Part of me wanted to stay in Lizzie’s room just because I wanted to say that I did it, but I had no reaction to either of the places that she called her own while she lived there. However, when I made my way up to the third floor—the attic—I knew this was going to be it. I walked into the room of Bridget Sullivan—the Borden’s Maid—and was immediately overcome with paranoia and anxiety. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting to see someone as the room felt very crowded to me. I felt my body go cold and I wanted to get the hell out of there ASAP. So naturally, I did the opposite: I brought my suitcase upstairs, unpacked, and claimed the room as my own. Then, to top things off, I went downstairs and had birthday cake for Lizzie while I looked at the autopsy photographs and ate on the table where her family was briefly laid out.

Totally good luck if you ask me.

But back to Bridget. In my opinion, Bridget was involved in the case, maybe not directly, but definitely during the aftermath. If you look into the murders, Bridget has a solid alibi, but there’s something about the way things were handled afterwards that doesn’t quite add up: the clean up, the disposal of the clothes, the weapon, how she came into money after Abby and Andrew’s deaths, how she skipped town. It seems a little suspicious to me. Plus, throw in the fact that she wouldn’t talk during the trial, and even if she did, how she didn’t say a single bad word about anyone, especially Lizzie. Now naturally, during that time, it wasn’t wise to speak out about your employers for fear of not getting another job, but there’s also a flip side to that.

Maybe she was afraid of talking.

Maybe she was afraid for her own life.

I think that’s why I got the anxious feeling when I walked into the room. Plus, there’s this terrifying rocking chair in the corner that you just know is going to kill you the second you fall asleep…which probably accounts for the reason I didn’t get much shut-eye that night. The sleep that I did get was wrought with horrible nightmares. I was in the attic, pacing the hallway, wringing my hands together in panic. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what, so I came back into the room and laid down. The rocking chair was violently moving back and forth and then there was a woman standing over me screaming, screaming for help.

When I woke up, I saw that rocking chair rocking, swinging back and forth. The only problem is that I can’t account that it really happened. I have a tendency to stay in my dreams after I wake up. I still see whatever or whoever it is for a few moments as I’m coming out of the dream so it’s hard for me to delegate fact versus fiction in those moments. Do I personally think it happened? No. But it was enough of a scare to get my heart racing and to make stay awake for the rest of the night.

This was the first place I didn’t write in.

Case in point, I was too scared.

I think it will be different next year when I go back and I’ll definitely be able to get a grasp on things and get some writing done, but this year, it was more or less about surviving the night, about making sure I stayed alive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cover Reveal: Mr. Wicker by Maria Alexander

The MADHOUSE presents the cover reveal for Maria Alexander's novel, Mr. Wicker.

Novel Summary:

Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. The Librarian is Mr. Wicker — a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal. After committing suicide, Alicia finds herself before the Librarian, who informs her that her lost memory is not only the reason she took her life, but the cause of every bad thing that has happened to her.
Alicia spurns Mr. Wicker and attempts to enter the hereafter without the Book that would make her spirit whole. But instead of the oblivion she craves, she finds herself in a psychiatric hold at Bayford Hospital, where the staff is more pernicious than its patients.

Child psychiatrist Dr. James Farron is researching an unusual phenomenon: traumatized children whisper to a mysterious figure in their sleep. When they awaken, they forget both the traumatic event and the character that kept them company in their dreams — someone they call “Mr. Wicker.”
During an emergency room shift, Dr. Farron hears an unconscious Alicia talking to Mr. Wicker—the first time he’s heard of an adult speaking to the presence. Drawn to the mystery, and then to each other, they team up to find the memory before it annihilates Alicia for good. To do so they must struggle not only against Mr. Wicker’s passions, but also a powerful attraction that threatens to derail her search, ruin Dr. Farron’s career, and inflame the Librarian’s fury.

After all, Mr. Wicker wants Alicia to himself, and will destroy anyone to get what he wants. Even Alicia herself.
Praise for Mr. Wicker:

“Elegant chills, genuine awe, and true tragedy are all ingredients in the spell cast by Maria Alexander’s Mr. Wicker.   Anyone who has encountered Maria’s short stories surely expects her first novel to be extraordinary, and she doesn’t disappoint.  Mr. Wicker is rich, lovely, and deeply unnerving.” —Lisa Morton, author of Malediction and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween
Artist Ryan Rice:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Manuscript a Month: A Summer of Poetry

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”   ― Anaïs Nin

Poetry is my game. Always has been and always will be.

And for those of you that have been watching, I’ve been under a type of spell lately. For the past three months, I’ve been writing a manuscript every 30/31 days. That’s anywhere from 50-100 poems a month, and there’s a lot of factors that are influencing that. I’m in a unique point in my life right now and there’s a lot happening. Some stuff I can talk about, some stuff I can’t, but for me, poetry has always been the easiest way for me to communicate to myself and to you, my readers. So that’s why I chose to pour out a little more soul than usual lately.

Now everyone keeps asking me how I’m doing this, how I’m generating so much work and I’m sorry to say, but there is no trick of the trade. No deep, dark secret. I didn’t sell my soul—at least not for this—but as Edgar Allan Poe said, “I was never insane except upon occasions when my heart was touched.” So on that note and in that respect, I suppose my answer is simply that  I write every day, not because I want to, or because I think it’s a good habit to have, but because I have to. When I tell people that poetry is cathartic, I stand by that full heartedly. I turn to poetry when I need to find God, when I need to relax, when I need to cry. Poetry has always been a type of medicine, a type of drug. It helps me sleep. It keeps me calm. It keeps me sane—unless we’re talking Hysteria. There’s always an exception for everything. The only difference lately is that I have a lot on my mind—too much on my mind—and the only way that I know how to sort through it, the only way I can decipher my feelings, is to write them all out. That, and I’ve found some pretty wonderful presses that only had their submission period open for a month.

So there’s that.

In tangent, I’ve been studying poetry for years, but I’ve been doing a kind of self-assessment and self-study lately, exploring and expanding my style and my voice. I had two projects specifically that I was finishing up—both horror—but the collection that I’m married to now is literary. It’s personal, it’s raw, and it’s me being myself, talking through my own words and experiences without a muse to hide behind. Is it any good? I have no idea. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s much easier for me to build monsters and play with madmen than it is to face reality and write about what’s happening around me.

So I’ve turned to Bukowski, slept curled up next to Neruda, and I often spend time with Plath, and they’ve taught me about the self as subject, about not being afraid to love and not being ashamed to feel sad, lost, and confused. I’ve been reading their works for the past seven months, and I’ve learned that it’s okay to bleed on the page a bit. It’s okay not to hold back.

And so I’m not, and I didn’t.

I’m bringing Goth to literary, taking a stab at a new victim.

And it’s scary for me.

A new type of horror in its own way.