Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Weirdly Halloween!

Copyright by Daleberts

This is a good time to talk about Halloween, the night of dark deeds and things that go bump in the night. All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain or Pooky Night, as I like to call it, has been bastardized by the large retail conglomerates into a holiday of costumes and candy. Instead of lighting huge bonfires to ward off evil spirits, we dress up our children as princesses, pirates, ballerinas, Spiderman, fairies and other myriad cute and cuddlies. This is in complete violation of the spirit of Halloween! It is supposed to be the night where the living world and the world of the dead collide, allowing the dead to inhabit the earth again. People dressed as spirits or otherworldly creatures when going outside in order to blend in with the walking dead. I’m thinking cheerleaders and Spongebob Squarepants are not exactly blending in.

But one thing hasn’t changed – and that is the telling of the scary story. And so just in time for Halloween, I have my review of Weirdly: A Collection of Strange Stories published by Wild Child Publishing. This is my first time purchasing an e-book and I will admit to previously being pretty skeptical about an e-book. I mean, part of reading is the physical aspect of opening a book and turning the pages. And I love the smell of a new book. Pure ambrosia. But we all know how expensive buying new hard covers are these days. It’s hard to justify over $25.00 for a book sometimes, especially when you could be terribly disappointed. But here is the delight of my purchase, Weirdly is an awesome read. And at the current price of $5.95 with no going to a store and waiting in line, or waiting for a package to come in the mail, this is an incredible bargain. For a terribly indolent person like myself, instant gratification without ever leaving my house is so satisfying. Twenty-six strange and scary stories for $5.95? Seriously, I don’t think you can find a better bargain. Everyone will find at least several stories in this anthology that will make their heart pound a little faster and creep you out just a tad. Now, isn’t that the spirit of Halloween?

So let’s talk about the stories. Well, some of them are more vignettes, but just because they are short doesn’t mean that you are being shortchanged. Now, I can’t review all of them but I can tell you that the ones that hung with me after I finished the book did so with a vengeance. The book opens with vampires and ends with werewolves. Could you ask for more? The first story Those Who Won’t Be Missed by C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp, is a well written vampire story with an interesting voice and an excellent ending. The bookend is aptly titled The Sickness by Amanda Tieman which features werewolves in love. And in between are stories of ghosts, beasts, murderers, demons, morticians, and soulless sorority girls. What is there not to love?

Two other stand-out stories are Anya by Stacia Helpman and The Beekeeper by James Cheetham. One tells the story of the rise and fall of an Avenging Angel while the other delves into the clouded mind of a dying man and his daughter who seeks for one last time her father’s missing affection. The other pieces were all strong and interesting in their various ways but hands down my favorite piece was Stone Child by Bernita Harris. Its central protagonist is Lillie St. Claire and she is a full spectrum mega-Talent and an exorcist. A Talent is a rare individual of unusual psychic sensibility. The mark of a Talent is shown in the silvering of their hair. In Stone Child, we enter a world with a proliferation of spectoral entities and ancient creatures from myths and legends. Talents are employed in criminal investigations to discover missing victim’s by their ghosts and help solve murder cases. The story opens with a missing child case, but the plot untwists itself to reveal no ordinary missing person’s case. I can’t reveal more for fear of giving away too much of this unique and fascinating story. You are just going to have to buy your own copy.

So impressed was I by the story that I immediately emailed Bernita and asked if I could ask her some questions about Stone Child. I had a terribly urgent question I had to ask her, pressing heavily on my mind. I needed to know when I would be able to read an entire novel about Lillie St. Claire. You see I became very attached to Lillie from this one story and was anxious to read more about her. I knew Bernita was working on the St. Claire Chronicles, but I wanted to know when she would be completed. Those who know me, know that patience is a virtue I am not familiar with. And I admit to being terribly disappointed to hear that A Malignity of Ghosts (how cool is that title?!) wouldn’t be finished until February 2008.

So what’s a person supposed to do? Well, what does any fan do when faced with waiting for their next favorite book from their favorite author? They start looking at the history of how it all came to be. So I decided to investigate further into the St. Clair Chronicles and learn more about the creation and evolution of Lillie St. Clair.

The lovely and immensely talented Bernita Harris is also well known for her popular writer’s blog An Innocent A-Blog. And if you are a writer, you need to add her to your blogroll as a place to frequent. It’s filled with great posts on the art of writing and every so often a post will trigger some heated discussion in the comment trails. A former forensic consultant from Ontario, Canada, Bernita has assisted the police in cases involving occult-related material, events, practises and beliefs. She has been a member of both the American Society of Criminology and the Canadian Identification Society and has what she calls a “mild familiarity” with police procedures and psychology, as well as a working knowledge of the belief systems of non-traditional religions. On top of all this, she has a Master’s Degree in English Lit. With all of this background, how could she not come up with a paranormal thriller starring a kick-ass female protagonist with special and unusual abilities. Here’s what she told me:

E: Hi Bernita, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed Weirdly. It was a really good read. And I have to tell you quite honestly that Stone Child was my absolute favorite story.

B: Thank you for those generous words, and I'm delighted you thought Weirdly a good read.

E: How did you get Stone Child in this anthology?

B: I originally met a couple of Wild Child editors through my blog and liked their personalities, their attitude and their observations about writing. One of them requested I do a short-short story ("Ornamental") and a medieval poem for the Wild Child magazine (a monthly e-pub operating since circa '98, and recently closed so they can concentrate on books.). That same editor asked me to submit a story for this anthology. Since I was already deep in Lillie's POV for A Malignity of Ghosts, and found it difficult to extract myself from it, I thought to provide her with an extra "adventure," explore a different view of the paranatural creature, and take the opportunity to expand on Lillie's ethics regarding them and other paranormal entities.

E: How was it working with Wild Child Publishing?

B: They are a wonderful company and my editor was a honey to work with.

E: So how did you come up with Lillie’s story?

B: Lillie evolved from the writer's classic “what if?” Part of the plot revolves around just who or what appears intent on killing Lillie off, her sympathy with the Godforsaken, her sense of isolation and acceptance at being termed a Freak, and the haunting effects on her self-image by her dead husband's treatment -- all of which complicates a budding and guilty attraction she has developing with a Psi-crime detective, John Thresher.

E: So what type of book is Malignity?

B: Malignity is a contemporary urban fantasy. Stone Child is a further adventure and occurs after the events in Malignity. I have always been intrigued with finding the mythic in the mundane and the auguries of ordinary things and I enjoy cross-genre stories which have that added resonance.

E: Did your background as a forensic consultant specializing in the occult lead you to creating Lillie?

B: Well, I suppose in a way Lillie is a kind of forensic occultologist herself, except that in her world, it's not a question of belief but of reality.

E: Can you tell me about the world Lillie inhabits?

B: Lillie's story is set in a society which strives to accommodate itself in a practical manner to the unexpected and inconvenient emergence of ghosts and other paranatural entities by hiring rare Talents - like Lillie - to take out the trash, so to speak. Talents are used to remove unwanted apparitions who disturb the public peace. Society, as usual, divides over legalities, rights, ethics, and exploitation. Talents are also employed in a forensic capacity - to discover victim's bodies by their ghosts and to supplement CSI indentification in cases of murder. It's an evolving situation, as the society attempts to adjust to this new paradigm. Even Talents are playing at catch-up. The increase in paranatural apparatitions and paranormal creatures, including zombies raised by the unscrupulous or the unwary, has also led naturally to incidents of psi-crime, abuse of apparitions, and other illicit activities. (Want to buy a property cheap? Have a half-assed psychic introduce a ghost to haunt the place.)

E: That is so fascinating. What kind of issues will Lillie face?

B: While Lillie would like to find out who or what is behind several attacks on her life, why a bean sidhe keeps showing up to chat, and just what does the big, ugly psi-crime detective really thinks of her, the question most readers might like answered though, is did Lillie truly kill her husband?

E: And of course we have to wait for your book to find out, right?

B: Right.

E: No hints for special bloggers?

B: Patience…

E: Oh, alright, will you at least tell me what a bean sidhe is?

B: A bean sidhe is a banshee (banshee is the phonetic rendering). Other entities besides garden-variety ghosts, from Celtic and Northern European myth make appearances in Malignity like the dullahan (the Crom Dubh - a death messenger). The appearance of paranatural entities seems largely related to the basic ethnicity of the original immigrants of the area. Lillie also has as a kind of protective companion, a Black Dog of legend, Dumbarton (Dummie, for short.)

E: Oh, I can’t wait to read it! Thanks so much for answering some questions for me and wetting my appetite even more for Malignity.

B: I’m still in a state of astonished delight over your reception of Lillie and Stone Child. Thank you, E, very much!

So there you have it, an inside view into the upcoming novel Malignity by the author of Stone Child, Bernita Harris. I hope more people will purchase Weirdly and read these excellent stories. And after you read Stone Child, I hope you will pop by Bernita’s blog to tell her what you thought.


SzélsőFa said...

I found the review interesting. I agree with everything you said on Bernita and her blog. She does have thought-provoking entries that help writers, writer-to-bes, and ordinary people alike :)

And as you've said at the top of this post, I am sorry to see that most of our celebrations are taken away by commerce. Halloween is not really celebrated over here, so I can not relate to that.
But there are other festivities, such as Christmas, which should be all about intimacy and finding true love, and the streets and the media are shouting *buy, buy, BUY!*

And the same with Halloween. I guess it should be celebrated by some spooky gatherings, candle-lit speaches and recitals of poems and such, night walks in an abandoned forest and or cemetery...
Instead people buy, BUY and enjoy the material world.

Perhaps, that's what people like you and Bernita are here for: to make us remember the real thing behind an event. I hope to contribute to that, even if only in a comment like this.

Sherry said...

You certainly captured the essence of halloween...and I found the interview interesting...I'm intriguied about this. I love it when we think outside the box and look at that which we tend to ignore or place no importance if it couldn't or doesn't exist. How do we know for sure? We don't. Keeping an open mind is essential. Always.

Melissa Marsh said...

I gotta admit - I'm not a fan of Halloween. Last year, I kept my front porch light off and went downstairs to write while my husband took my kids trick or treating. ;-)

Anonymous said...

In keeping with your opening paragraph, it looks like the scary tree in the picture is flipping the retail/commercial world.

On the other hand, perhaps I need another cup of coffee . . . or perhaps less.

Da' Man

Patti said...

i love halloween, but then again i was born on the day of the dead and naturally feel an affinity for those who have gone before us...

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for doing this interview with Bernita. I loved the story but didn't think of interviewing her. I should have. I still have the rest of weirdly to read so sounds like I have some good stuff to look forward to.

Love halloween.

Bernita said...

~still astonished, still delighted~
Thank you, El.
And thank you Charles and Szelsofa.

Robin S. said...

Congrats Bernita, on your success!
Ello, great idea about doing an interview - fun to read!

And...I thought the same thing anon did - the tree is giving us a very barky finger. Love it.

Aine said...

I just love that photo! You're getting me excited about Halloween.

It saddens me to see how commercial Halloween decorations have become. It used to be homemade witches or ghosts set in creepy scenes in everyone's front yard with a jack-o-lantern lit by a real flame. And all the natural beauty of autumn: pumpkins, gourds, mums and other fall-colored flowers, dried cornstalks and hay bales were used to decorate. Very Halloween-specific decorations. Now you can get the same decoration in different colors to fit any holiday of the year (think decorative flags, lights, and window clings). Last week, my 5 year-old was confused about why someone had their "Christmas lights" up already. I had to explain that because they were orange and purple, they were actually Halloween lights. Somehow, I don't think they'll ward off evil spirits as well as a bonfire....

Thanks for reminding us of the true spirit of All Hallow's Eve!

The Anti-Wife said...

Loved the interview. Thanks so much for doing it. The picture is very interesting.

Church Lady said...

I agree with what everyone else is saying--fantastic interview! I didn't know Bernita had a background in forensics. That is just too cool for words!
I also enjoyed Stone Child, and didn't know that Lillie is the character in Malignity of Ghosts (Love that title).

I've been pretty good at predicting who gets published (my last prediction--an author spent almost five years writing a book and was offered a six figure deal. Yes, it's in the children's genre, but I knew from this person's writing that it was only a matter of time. This was my most successful prediction). Bernita will be published also--the novel, I mean.

Also enjoyed the photo.

Merry Jelinek said...

Great interview, Ello. I've run across Bernita in comments here and abroad, I definitely have to got check out the anthology...

Bernita, good luck with the novel, it sounds fabulous!

Oh, and Ello, have you done your writing today?

Lisa said...

Bernita's blog is one of my favorites and this is a terrific interview. I'm going to have to get the ebook now too. Thanks so much for featuring her today!

moonrat said...

you've changed color! blue is nice.

Danette Haworth said...

Wonderful interview and great link!

Vesper said...

Great review and interview, Ello! I really enjoyed reading it.
You're right about Halloween. Commerce has conquered it, like so many other old or "new" holidays. But at the same time, I'm thinking, you can't really scare little children too much and expose them to gory masks and costumes...

Stacia said...

I just wanted to say thanks for buying a copy of Weirdly & reviewing it. I'm so glad that you enjoyed it. It was so much fun to work on & there really are some amazing authors included in this anthology. I was really excited when you mentioned that my story was one that stood out for you. That really made my day :)

Ello said...

Thanks Stacia for popping by! I really enjoyed Anya and am so glad to meet you in blog land. Are you working on anything else these days? I would love to read more of your work. Best to you!

Stacia said...

I've got a couple of things in the works that I hope to soon find a home for but nothing set in stone as of yet. Anya was my very first published work & I'm still on a high from having anything published. It's all been pretty exciting for me.