Pardon the Interruption—Pulitzer Prize-Nominated Caitlin Rother Talks True Crime

With the e-book release of Pulitzer Prize-nominated Caitlin Rother’s first foray into fiction, Naked Addiction, we pause to share a snippet of her expertise. As a long-time journalist and crime writer, Rother details the horror behind the true story Dead Reckoning.

For more clips, be sure to visit her website!

New Authors of 2011!

Can you believe it’s almost 2012?! Before you toss that 2011 calendar take a look back at Dorchester’s debut authors of 2011. Check out these great newcomers to the Dorchester family!

S. Craig Zahler had an amazing year in 2011, and we’re looking forward to more from him in 2012! Between his successful screenwriting career and Western debut of A Congregation of Jackals, Zahler is creating much buzz, including becoming a 2011 Spur Best Western Award finalist! Here’s what people are saying about A Congregation of Jackals:

“A noir western of uncommon power…what happens…is more horrific than anything we might have imagined…All of (the) characters…confound us with their complexity.” —Booklist

“Genre fare will always be a premium in Hollywood, but original, literate voices that embrace dark material are anything but common. Enter Craig Zahler…”  —Variety

Laura Navarre is another Dorchester newbie this year! Like others new to the Dorchester family, Navarre has an interesting background. She holds degrees in National Security and International Relations! You definitely see the effects of Navarre’s background in her novel, as mysteries lurk around every corner in the dark, romantic plot; there are tastes of espionage sprinkled throughout. Her second novel, The Devil’s Temptress, met rave reviews, as many historical romance readers embraced her vividly described Crusades setting, dark and mysterious characters, and steamy relationships! Here’s what fans are saying about The Devil’s Temptress:

The Devil’s Temptress is a well-written novel that explores the lasting effect of the Crusades on the soldiers that served the King during that time. The dark, sexy romance is both satisfying and enjoyable and every chapter is filled with secrets and subterfuge. I will certainly add this author to my auto-buy list.” —Night Owl Reviews

A fresh face in the thriller genre is Chuck Hustmyre. What’s a Harley Davidson-riding, retired ATF special agent to do in the off season? Write a fast-paced crime thriller, of  course! If you like cop drama, then you’ll love Hustmyre’s books! His back-to-back 2011 releases are both set in The Big Easy and tell the tale of detectives caught on the wrong side of the law. Pick up Hustmyre’s House of the Rising Sun and A Killer Like Me today!

“Hustmyre is as gritty and in-your-face as can be, making readers feel like they’re poring over a real-life crime scene.” —The Best Reviews

A Killer Like Me is a thriller from page one, to the very end. Hustmyre keeps you gripping the edge of your seat, just hoping that Murphy tracks down this crazy [#] killer and doesn’t [let] himself go down the path of destruction…” —The Kari AnnAlysis

All the best in 2012!

John Everson: NaNoWriMo winner and inner-critic squelcher!

Packed with drama, suspense, and even a prize t-shirt, the NaNoWriMo challenge entices the best of us. John Everson tells all in this full spread companion post to his snippet of writer’s block advice on last week’s NaNoWriMo series. Did you know that most of his second novel, Sacrifice, was written during the NaNoWriMo of 2002? John is living proof that all aspiring writers should try tackling so worthwhile a challenge.

Now sit back with that double espresso, clear off the empty energy drinks from your desk, and settle in for a true success story.

Throughout the ’90s, I was mainly a horror short story writer.  I published dozens of short pieces in scores of tiny magazines and anthologies, and they were fun and easy to knock out— a couple hours on the weekend and they were done. But over the course of five years, I had also slowly developed (over many stops and restarts) my first novel, Covenant. I finished the first draft in 2000, and spent the next couple of years trying to sell it, being rejected, going back and trying to polish it some more, then sending it out yet again.

By the end of 2002, I still had not sold that first novel, and hadn’t started a new novel in the 2+ years that Covenant had been languishing on many slush piles. All writers know that the worst thing you can do is finish a project and then wait for it to sell before starting the next one. You need to get back on the horse. And it had really been seven years since I had started a novel project, since Covenant was begun in 1995. I knew I needed to either decide that I was just going to stick with short fiction, or I had to begin a new novel, whether the first one ever sold or not.

I needed a kickstart.

Someone steered me to NaNoWriMo that fall. The group wasn’t quite as ubiquitous in 2002 as it is today—it was just three years old—but it was growing in leaps and bounds each year. I liked the fact that, unlike many writers critique groups, it was strictly a solo challenge. You either made your 50,000 word deadline or you didn’t. People could join together at coffeehouses and commiserate or cajole each other, and there were message boards to help connect, but you didn’t need to. I’m a pretty independent creature in that sense and wasn’t interested in the community aspect of the challenge. I just needed the writing challenge. And the hard deadline.

Just one problem. My day job pretty much owned me the first week of November 2002, because I had to work a convention (anyone who’s staffed a national convention knows that after those 14-16 hour days, there is nothing left of you but a husk that needs sleep).  So I began my NaNoWriMo challenge already exhausted and a week late… leaving me just three weeks to write 50,000 words.

And in October 2002 I didn’t even really know what I wanted to write about. But while I was out of town during that start of November, I figured it out.

I wanted to do a really stupid thing—I wanted to write a sequel to my first novel, the book I couldn’t sell!  I had a whole different kind of story I wanted to explore within the world of the first book, so I knew the second novel, while a sequel, had to be self-contained, in case the first book never sold.

Somewhere on or around November 8, 2002, I wrote the first chapter of Sacrifice. I realized quickly that in order to meet the November 30th 11:59 p.m. deadline, I had to average more than 2,200 words per day for the next three weeks. The admonitions on the NaNoWriMo website were key to achieving that—edit later, write now.  I still find myself whispering that advice to myself today when I start slowing down on a project.

Squelching your inner critic is probably the hardest thing a writer can do. The inner critic is the voice in the back of your head that says everything you’ve just written… or wrote yesterday…or are about to write is utter tripe. Your inner critic can make you stare at a blank screen for those few precious hours you have allocated for writing, or it can make you waste 45 minutes wrestling with a single sentence or paragraph that just doesn’t feel right.

Your inner critic is your biggest enemy to rampant productivity. And rampant productivity is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

So I dug in. I wrote before work. I wrote after work. I probably wrote at lunch sometimes. And during every session, I had to keep saying, “don’t worry if it’s crap— just get your 2,200  words down today.” It’s the same sentiment as the movie adage, “just get the shot, we’ll fix it all in post.”

I didn’t have an outline when I started the book— this was a seat of the pants endeavor. I really only had a vague idea of where it all was going. But every couple days I took a few minutes to “backwards outline” what I’d done before, so I remembered the crazy things I was coming up with so I could tie it all together later. Because when you’re forcing that word count, you come up with all sorts of weird ideas and plot departures at 11:45 p.m. that you don’t even remember writing  the next morning.

In the end, I got 50,000 words of Sacrifice written (about 2/3 of what the final novel would become) in three weeks, working right up to the last minute. I uploaded my file, and it was validated. I have the t-shirt to prove it!  I also was sick with a horrible cold for the next two weeks because I had burned the candle at both ends for so long.

But it was something I wanted to prove to myself I could do. I proved that I didn’t need to take five years to write a novel. I worried that I’d written 50,000 words of crap, and honestly, it was months before I re-visited the project to find out. When I did, I  spent 2-3 months writing the other 40,000 words, and found to my surprise that I actually didn’t need to change much in that first half. By gagging my inner critic and just forcing myself to write and not critique, I’d set loose creativity that might never have surfaced if I’d tortuously over-thought the book. I honestly think that Sacrifice is the better novel of the CovenantSacrifice duo, though it was written the fastest of any of my books.

I’m now finishing up my 6th novel, and I have to say, I still think Sacrifice may be my quickest moving book. And that’s got to relate in part to the environment it was written in.

So what happened to the books? Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award for a first novel thanks to a small press release in 2004, and both Covenant and Sacrifice were sold in a two-book deal to Dorchester’s Leisure Books imprint in 2007 and released in mass market paperback in 2008 and 2009 respectively. It was a happy ending!

I’ve never taken the NaNoWriMo challenge again. I don’t need to—I know I can do it. And I still use the lessons I learned that month to this day.  I don’t write books in a month, but I’ve never taken over a year to produce a novel again.

NaNoWriMo taught me how to silence—or at least stifle—my inner critic. If you just start running, you don’t have time to study and get lost in the cracks in the sidewalk!

Now if that story doesn’t inspire you to tackle NaNoWriMo with four weeks to spare, I don’t know what will!

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

When writers hit a wall (and no, I don’t mean the fourth-wall)

Four days into NaNoWriMo and everything is moving swiftly. Your characters are championing outrageous obstacles, your setting is a dizzying hybrid of dystopian delight, and you know this is the month everything falls into place.

And then, inexplicably, it happens.

Your inspiration loses steam and you’re left wondering if that pesky, sprite of a muse will ever return in time to fill the 1,670 word deadline for the day. Worry not, travel-worn bloggers! Four of Dorchester’s authors detail how they address these concerns, and thus, offer writers a bit of advice. We thank Rose Lerner, Graham Masterton, Caitin Rother, and John Everson for their time!

Rose shares her own experiences with traversing alternate writing channels as a way to alleviate the block itself.

I had [writer’s block] for a long long time after my mother died.  But the thing is, it wasn’t really writer’s block.  It was historical romance block, because that was always something I shared with my mother.  I wrote A LOT during that time, but I wrote romantic fanfiction for TV shows.  I was able to get excited about that because there was a built-in community and audience to share it with.  And when I was finally ready to dive back into historical romance (or rather, fall flailing back in: it didn’t happen naturally, it took a giant shove), my writing muscles weren’t rusty and I’d learned a lot in the meantime.  So I think if you’ve had writer’s block for a while, you need to sit down and figure out why.  What’s missing now that used to get you so excited?  Is there something else you still feel that way about?  Give yourself permission to write whatever the heck you want.  Keep writing and practicing your craft.  Give yourself time—but do force yourself to come back to your original idea every so often and see where you’re at.

Good luck, everyone!

Graham takes the straightforward approach when it comes to his craft!

I was trained from the age of 17 as a newspaper reporter and then spent the next 10 years being a magazine editor, and in those jobs you simply don’t get the time or the opportunity for writer’s block because you are always working against a deadline.

Nowadays I have more ideas for books and short stories than I will ever be able to complete in my lifetime.  I know some writers like music in the background, but I prefer silence.  All the sound comes from inside my head.  My advice to anybody who wants to write is just to write, whether you feel in the mood or not.  I currently have two protégé writers, and I am very hard on both of them.  Get on with it.  Stop being pretentious and get something down on the screen, even if you delete it all later.

After detailing her busy writing schedule earlier this week on the blog, Caitlin elaborates on how to combat the nasty writer’s block bug.

[…] I honestly don’t have time to have writer’s block, but if I do run into a wall, I simply switch gears and either mull the problem or let my subconscious work on it until I’m ready to give it another shot.

Last but by no means least, the following is an excerpt from John’s successful foray into the NaNoWriMo challenge, which kick-started his second novel back in 2002. Tune in Monday for details!

Squelching your inner critic is probably the hardest thing a writer can do. The inner critic is the voice in the back of your head that says everything you’ve just written… or wrote yesterday…or are about to write is utter tripe. Your inner critic can make you stare at a blank screen for those few precious hours you have allocated for writing, or  it can make you waste 45 minutes wrestling with a single sentence or paragraph that just doesn’t feel right.

Your inner critic is your biggest enemy to rampant productivity. And rampant productivity is what NaNoWriMo is all about.

How do you weather the tides of inspiration? Reply for your chance to win a nifty tool every writer needs to succeed! Or rather, throw at their monitor when the going gets tough. I know I certainly need one of those.

Signing off (believe in me who believes in you!)—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Insurrectionizing the insuperable writer in you + prize package!

(Rest assured, I’m only using a title of that caliber to celebrate NaNoWriMo.)

Let’s write! Crack those knuckles and consider the following, oh lascivious lovers of the written word. As I know I’m among good company here on the Dorchester Community Blog, I can readily confess that my research into the world of providing prompts has thoroughly inspired me to share in this treasure trove. There were two Web-sites in particular that yielded exceedingly helpful results! One-word prompts are a fun and easy way to generate tantalizing possibilities quickly and, perhaps most importantly, efficiently.

Word Dynamo is a program that challenges the breadth of your vocabulary and, in the process of taking the test, broadens your knowledge! Take, for instance, the word typy. I merely concluded the impossible definitions, thus narrowing the field to two possibilities. Really, it was a lucky guess! Did you know it means “(of a domestic animal) embodying the ideal characteristics of its variety or breed?” I certainly didn’t.

For more specific prompts, try the Random Word Generator! I can’t tell you how fast my commute went simply by browsing endless combinations of obscure transitive verbs (my personal favorite). As the title of this post may suggest, my foray into the English language yielded insurrectionizing, which means “to rouse (a person, group, or people) to insurgent action.” Who knew? Perhaps you did—thus, I bow to your far superior level of expertise.

How did you measure up against the forces of the dictionary dynamo? Do word prompts help or hinder your writing? Reply in the comments for your chance to win a prize package worth over $30!
Signing off (to generate more random word combinations, most likely)—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

‘Keep it Moving’ says Caitlin Rother!

Ah, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo to those in the know), you irresistible siren of the proverbial seas. Clearly, it seems as though everyone is mustering their courage with the intent of braving this literary beast, even one of our very own. Go-getters everywhere, may you succeed! We are all supporting you on your quest for word count glory.

To celebrate, Dorchester will be serving up tips from published authors, tricks of the trade, and enough side dish prompts leading up to the pièces de résistance. First up on the menu, Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother discusses her writing process and how she manages her busy schedule (creatively, might I add)!

As a full-time author, I’m often asked about my writing routine, if I write every day and how much. The answer is that some days the only writing I do is emails and in my journal because much of my job is juggling cats to make sure I have money coming in so I can keep my job and the freedom it provides. Other days, when I have a cappuccino, for example, I might write for 12 hours straight, taking breaks only to use the restroom or to eat (not at the same time) because I’m in the zone.

Most days, I write best during the time slots I know my brain does its most creative work, and that’s a finite number of hours on a non-cappuccino day. I find that a built-in routine, which includes several changes of scenery and multiple shifts of the task at hand, really helps me to work longer before I get too tired to do anything more. That means e-mails and Facebook first thing in the morning, possibly some rewriting to prepare for a late morning interview, then a breakfast break at the local bagel place, which I consider my second “office.” There, I read research materials or edit on paper as well as plan, think, write a rough handwritten draft of a blog, visualize scenes and, most importantly, perhaps, dream big. I’ve always got to have at least one project in the hopper.

Thinking is an important part of being a writer, and I often do my most fruitful thinking while I’m out for my late afternoon walk or swim, in the shower, or in the car, where I may talk out loud and thanks to Bluetooth, no one thinks I’m crazy anymore.

After the bagel place, I go home to either make calls, do an interview or write for a few hours, then I take my exercise break. I try to do one more session of writing, editing, e-mailing or arranging interviews (by the media of me to promote my books and of research sources by me to write the books).

All of this juggling is important to keep this job and churning out books. I’m now working on my ninth, a spin-off to my first novel, Naked Addiction, which will be released for the first time in trade paperback in January 2012.

For more information on Caitlin Rother and her award-winning novels, stop by her website!

Signing off—

Jillian, The Zombie Intern

Sarah Pinborough: The woman behind the terror!

We finish out the month of AH!-Tober with British female horror author, Sarah Pinborough, the mastermind behind books like The Hidden, The Reckoning, and Feeding Ground. Yesterday we featured a first chapter excerpt from Breeding Ground; it’s on shelves (physical and electronic) now, and is a great read for Halloween.

Today we’re lucky enough to feature an interview with this horror legend.  Get your Deet and Raid ready as we get to know a little more about Sarah, her writing techniques, and tips she has for aspiring authors.

Welcome Sarah! Thanks for joining us!

1.      What made you pick spidery creatures for your books Breeding Ground and Feeding Ground? I know you’re a horror writer, but are there creatures like spiders that creep you out? What’s your Achilles’ heel? 

I can’t actually remember why I chose spiders (the book was written a lot of books ago for me now;-)) but I think it was because they have a tendency to freak people out. And I can think of nothing worse to grow inside me! It’s strange that even in England where our spiders are harmless, people are still terrified of them. Personally they don’t scare me as such but I do shriek if they move too fast. However, I never kill them, just catch them in a glass and pop them outside.

2.      I was really impressed with how seamlessly you voiced Matt, the protagonist in Breeding Ground. As a female author, was it difficult to write from a male perspective? Any tips to your fans and writing audience on writing for a different gender?

I nearly always write from the male perspective—or have a male lead. I’ve just finished a trilogy for Gollancz where nearly all the main characters are male. But then, nearly all my friends are male and I’m not a very girly-girl. I’m not married and I don’t have children nor am I interested in shoes and handbags etc. So I guess maybe on some levels I think like a man anyway! I can’t actually think of a tip for it. I would just say it’s more important to know your character and how they would react in any given situation. If you have that, then the gender should fall in line.

3.      In Breeding Ground, I was really pulling for John and Katie, and truly disliked Nigel. How do you name your characters? Do you pull from names of friends or family members? How do you develop their personalities within the story? Do you tend to map out the characters’ relationships to each other first, or let it develop as you write the manuscript?

I always steal names from real life. Normally one person’s first name and then someone else’s surname. Before I became a full-time writer (nearly four years now! Yay!) I used to use the names of students I taught at school. Now I tend to steal them from Facebook and Twitter. I never map out the relationships between characters, nor do I really think that much about any of them before I write them, apart from the protagonist and antagonist. They tend to develop along with the story.

4.      The setting in Breeding Ground is your hometown, Stony Stratford—how cool! Did you visit home while you were developing this manuscript? Is there really a Hanstone Park in Stony Stratford?

I was only living a mile or so away when I wrote the book so it was easy—partly why I set it there. And Stony is such an epitome of the quaint English village. I also set The Reckoning there but I changed all the names of places, but the layout is the same. As for Hanstone Park, there is a Hanslope Park which is the Foreign Office’s communication centre. Very hush hush. Lots of barbed wire. My dad used to work there.

5.      We’re coming up on National Book Writing Month in November, and I’m venturing to write a novel in 1 month… crazy, I know. How do you come up with your ideas for writing your stories? How long does it take you to write a book, and how many versions do you go through before you submit a manuscript?

Gosh, the ideas question…I don’t think anyone can answer that. Although the more writing you do the more you start to ‘see’ ideas around you. As for writing a book, it really depends on what else I’ve got going on. The current book has taken longer than expected, but I was hired to write some TV at the same time, so of course that slowed me down. I like to get a book done in four months really, but that doesn’t include the thinking time. That’s from when I sit down and write page one. My next books for Quercus may take longer because they’re set in the nineteenth century and so will involve more research. I pretty much hand in my first draft. I plan a lot along the way so when I’m finished, the book is normally pretty tidy. I just go through and check my spellings etc. and then hand it over.

6.      When and why did you begin writing? Breeding Ground has some super detailed passages, and quite a few lead characters—how do you keep up with it all without getting confused?

I’ve always dipped in an out of writing since I was a child but my first novel was The Hidden, published by Leisure at the end of 2004 (thirteen books ago!). As for keeping track of it all—I have notebooks full of jottings, and if you write every day it’s quite easy to remember stuff.

7.      If you could co-write a horror novel with any other author, who would it be and why?

I’m not much of a collaborator really. I have a collaboration I am planning to do with someone who I’m a big admirer of, but I can’t mention it yet!

8.      For those who haven’t read Breeding Ground yet, here’s some background information to help clarify this next question: the apocalypse survivors discover a special trait that’s linked between two characters, Rebecca, and the dog, Chester. 

I’m a huge animal lover, and I know you are too—check out Sarah’s blog to read about her cat, Mr. Effing!  I loved the dog, Chester, in Breeding Ground, and was really pleased with the ending you wrote for the characters of Chester and George. Oftentimes, animals get lost in the plot or serve as background. Why did you decide to feature Chester so heavily in Breeding Ground?

I think I needed to make amends for what I’d done to Teacher in The Reckoning! Actually, I’m just a sucker for pets, and I think they can often be a really good representation of pure goodness in a plot. Or innocence at least. I needed Chester to be a survivor, and therefore gave him the same trait as Rebecca (also enabling the rest to figure out the potential immunity), and we all root for pets in these instances. They’re a reminder of old lives when an apocalypse hits.

9.      Recently you began writing YA Fantasy genre as Sarah Silverwood; how does writing YA Fantasy compare to that of horror writing? What do you miss most from horror when writing fantasy, and vice versa? Any advice to prospective cross-genre authors? What do you love about writing?

To be honest I haven’t written a horror novel in about three years (Feeding Ground was my last), most of my horror has been in short form. My adult novels have been crime with some supernatural elements (although I would say sci-fi rather than horror) and the YA as you mention is fantasy. But it has to be said, both series have been very dark so I’ve still got to play around with fear and the darker elements of fiction.

10.  In the spirit of Halloween, Dorchester is asking spotlight authors to share a dare with your fans…got anything for us?

Oh gosh. Actually this Halloween I shall be in L.A. out and about in Taluca Lake dressed as a witch. My dare is if anyone sees me….come and say hello! 😉

She’s so interesting, right?! So, we’ve got about 3 days until NaNoWriMo begins! For those of you taking the plunge with me and are interested in writing a horror, you can definitely use some of Sarah’s tips! For the rest of y’all, if you’re in the need for a scare, Sarah definitely delivers! And don’t forget, be kind to the spiders; you never know when they may take over the world!  Leave a comment and be entered to win a copy of Breeding Ground!

The Horrors of Department 18 Exposed

The horrors of Department 18 exposed
By Paige Turner

Hertfordshire, UK (AFP)—What was recently reported as a domestic disturbance at a downtown apartment block that resulted in three deaths looks to have been a cover-up for something far darker. An eye witness has stepped forward with an account of the ‘disturbance’ that is greatly different from the official police report. Much of the facts of the case have been sealed, not by local law enforcement, but by a government agency simply referred to as “Department 18.” While this department volunteered no comment when contacted, sources have led to two researchers, Len Maynard and Mick Sims, who have had past dealings with the government agency in question. I was able to meet with them briefly and what they had to say was quite shocking.

I had to agree to meet up with them in a bar in an out-of-town suburb. The booth they had chosen was at the back, presumably an exit within easy reach. They sat facing the doors so they could see who was coming in. Throughout the interview one of them talked while the other was clearly keeping a watchful eye out for…well, for what, or for whom?

Q. When did you first discover the existence of Department 18?

It was while we were writing Black Cathedral. It mentioned, almost in passing, Department 18. This was something we had heard about in whispered conversations in and around the restaurants and bars of London.

We then, over a period of a few months, became aware that we were being—what should we say? We were being ‘watched.’ We became aware our phones were being hacked, people were seen outside our houses, our friends and families reported being contacted about us.

So Department 18 exists, so far as we know. In Whitehall in London, near where the Guards in their Bearskin hats and the Changing Of the Guard and Buckingham Palace all get photographed every day, are some palatial offices where tea does get drunk, and investigations do take place.

We didn’t realise by mentioning it in our novel that there would be quite such a fuss. We didn’t think when we got our website updated that linking to the website would mean attention on this scale.

Q. In Night Souls and Black Cathedral, you reveal to the public a variety of paranormal activity going on in the world today as well as the inner workings of a secret government agency that works to protect society from any dangers these activities pose. Why did you decide to go public with these events and Department 18’s involvement in them?

When you gradually realize that your own government is keeping tabs on you it makes you more than paranoid. It can’t be true because the government is there to protect us. That’s what everyone is encouraged to believe.

Every time you hit on, even if out of curiosity, then a file is opened up on you and you come under their scrutiny.

When we knew Black Cathedral was making many waves in high places, and Night Souls would make that worse, we decided to investigate as many paranormal events as we could find. Not only in England and the U. S. A. but worldwide. It was eye-opening. So many events that conspiracy theorists get castigated about are in fact linked to the Department and many have supernatural origins.

Q. Night Souls reports on Department 18’s discovery of the existence of the Breathers, a species of vampire-like creatures that feed on human souls. Do you expect people to be able to look past their pop culture-infused ideas about vampires and take the necessary steps to protect themselves?

We think the Spiraci, or Breathers, are the Vampires of the 21st Century. Ironic, really, when they have been around for centuries. They are the iVampires if you like, the bloodsuckers for the SmartPhone generation.

Certainly the Breathers encompass all modern trends, and always have, to ensure they keep up a steady stream of ‘candidates’ for their ‘restaurants.’ If they have to masquerade as rock gods to get what they want, then they will. If they have to don Armani to infiltrate the upper echelons of society then they do that as well. You only have to look at news clips and videos from past decades and you’ll see them in the background, mingling with the crowds. Look at film of the Stones at Altamont. Look at the crowds in Dallas.

Everyone should protect themselves against them, but thanks to Department 18, no one will get to hear about them. Only through Night Souls reaching readers can the public be made aware of how much danger we are all in.

Q. From the events told in Black Cathedral, clearly the men and women of Department 18 are willing to risk their lives to overcome these paranormal threats. While once a much more public unit, the Department’s operations are now very secretive. Does the public have anything to fear from Department 18? Does it help or hurt the Department’s cause to work unseen in the shadows?

The origins of Department 18 can be traced back to a meeting in 1922 between Fletcher Pressman, the munitions millionaire, and Genevieve Madison, an American medium, well-known in the United States for her work in the field of psychic research, and equally for a series of exposes of fake mediums and clairvoyants.

During the Second World War their services were called upon by the War Office. Hitler was rumoured to be dabbling in the occult and especially black magic, and so Pressman, Madison, and their team were given the role of advisers to the SIS, the Special Intelligence Service.

Pressman died from a heart attack in 1944. It was a blow from which Genevieve Madison never recovered and, immediately after the war, she went back home to America where she died eighteen months later. Rather than disband the team, the government initiated a special department to carry on the investigations into paranormal phenomena.

Q. You recently discovered that Department 18 has case files open on both of you. Have you ever been contacted directly by a Department agent in regards to the cases you’ve made public in Night Souls and Black Cathedral?

(At this point both Maynard and Sims demanded we move bars. I don’t know if they saw something or if the question was too raw for them. We took to our vehicles and drove a complicated back and forth route to another bar in a different part of town. When we were seated in a booth that suited them, we ordered steaks, burgers, some Sam Adams and Smirnoff, then we got started again.)

Len was nearly led into a ‘honey trap’ by a female Department operative. He was contacted discreetly at work and a relationship began to build that seemed perfectly natural and normal. After a few dates he became suspicious. She never talked about herself much, never wanted to go back to her place, and had no family photos to show.

It was when she began to ask detailed and pressing questions about Len’s writing that he became aware that this lady was more than she purported to be. She took the break up badly, was persistent in trying to get back with him, but when he in turn followed her, as best he could—after all we have had no covert training—he found her pressing the buzzer of a building in Whitehall London. She was Department 18.

Mick was at a cocktail party in London when two apparently friendly business types engaged in what became a long and increasingly personal discussion about Mick’s political beliefs. It was when they asked if he would be interested in joining a certain charitable organization that Mick made a polite exit for the buffet. Shrimp was good.

Q. In your opinion, should Department 18 be doing more to educate the public about paranormal activity?

Simon Crozier says, “We at D18 now tend to operate beneath the public radar. Although we are a part of the Civil Service, and accountable to the usual government committees and ministries, we work in the same kind of netherworld that MI’s 5 and 6 inhabit. At the end of the day, whether they are aware of us or not, I like to think that we work in the public’s best interests, and that has to be our primary concern.”

That is a lot of baloney. They keep things secret because it suits them to do so. If the public became aware of half what they get up to there would be an outcry.

Q. Have any new cases surfaced that you’re researching?

There are several cases on the site that refer to stories of ours that have been published over the past 30 years. Although, on the site it states that “these cases have been cleared for wider dispersal.” This is in fact a lie, as access to them triggers a link being made to the accessing computer and from that moment onwards you are theirs. This is a typical excerpt from one of their files (CASE STUDY: D18 / 3257 / 2005) NOTE—this story (as with many other cases, has been written up as a piece of fiction by LH Maynard (see NOTE 1953) & MPN Sims (see NOTE 1952) as a short story ONION and was published in a fiction anthology THE SECOND BLACK BOOK OF HORROR. This is edited by a Charles Black (ACTION—research and ascertain details of Mr Black.)

Even more worrying are the personal files they have compiled on us. Here is CASE STUDY D18 2008 / 39M P N SIMS / Michael Philip Norman Sims was born in New Cross London in December 1952. He moved to Enfield in 1956—see case 38. He met Maynard in 1964 in Enfield Middlesex. Father dies in late 50’s leaving widow. Mother dies after long Alzheimers aged 71. Has brother, seems unrelated to investigation. Has wife and daughter. All 3 close family live in ——— in Hertfordshire. Michael appears to have done reasonably at his schooling, leaving at 19 and began work in banking where he is still employed. This may be a mask for his real activities. Since age 21 Sims has written supernatural stories. Many mirror to a specific degree known and recorded D18 investigation. NOTE—is Sims privy to Department data? In 1979 with Maynard, Sims had his first book published SHADOWS AT MIDNIGHT. And so it goes on.

Q. Would you ever consider working with/for the Department?

I think this conversation is over. Have you ever been to London? Why are you asking all these questions anyway? Do you know Robert Carter?

At this point in the interview both Maynard and Sims stood and left the bar, using a side exit. I watched them get into a rented Buick and drive off into the night. Clearly my last question had spooked them.

I have to add, though, that they had thrown enough bills onto the table to enable me to order a very nice Key Lime Pie for dessert and still leave a decent tip.

It seems clear to me, reviewing their responses, that there is something deeply sinister in Department 18. Whether these two authors are at risk of personal harm, I can’t say.

But what I would say without hesitation is that the public has a right to know. I for one aim to get Department 18 out of the shadows by shining a very bright light on them.

John Everson: An Interview with the Man Behind the Jack-o’-Lantern + Giveaway!

Break out the candles and carving knives! John Everson joins us to discuss his newest release, The Pumpkin Man, his writing process, and all things ghoulish and ghastly. Leave a comment and be entered to win a free copy of The Pumpkin Man!

As the proud zombie intern at Dorchester, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet with such an immensely talented author. Jealous? Don’t be! With you in mind, fellow lurkers of the Internet depths, I made sure to ask only the most pressing of questions. See? I promised horror and I delivered! You may thank me with candy come this All-Hallows-Eve.

Welcome to the blog, Mr. Everson! It’s an honor to have you with us.

How do you come up with the titles for your books? Do you know what the title will be before you finish the manuscript, or is it a process that takes as much consideration as writing the story itself?

The answer to that has actually been a little different for each book! With Covenant, my first novel, the book was actually called The Cliff for most of its pre-publication life (the book launches with an investigation of mysterious suicides from a cliff near a seaside town). Dorchester actually rejected the book in its initial draft under that title, but a couple years later, after a rewrite, I decided to change the name to focus on the real heart of the story—which was a series of deals or “covenants” with an ancient entity. Eventually, obviously, that version of the book sold.

With Sacrifice, I knew the title from the start—human sacrifice was the gist of the story, which revolved around a sexy serial killer committing sacrifices to open the door to demons to our world.

But then with my next novel, The 13th, again the book was originally titled something else—Castle House—until halfway through the writing, when I realized that the book wasn’t really about Castle House per se, but more the mysterious ritual of “the 13th”… and who would BE “the 13th”. So I changed the title…and let’s face it, The 13th has a creepier vibe to it anyway!

For Siren, I never had any question about the title, and for The Pumpkin Man, the title was actually driven by a short story long before I envisioned the novel. I wrote a story called “The Pumpkin Man” several years ago and published it in Doorways Magazine. The events of that short story were the “deep background” jumpoff point for the novel. So I never had any question that this book was The Pumpkin Man.

You begin and end The Pumpkin Man with the use of a Ouija board. I’m curious—do you believe in them?

The kid who used to sit around Boy Scout campfires and listen to stories about the hauntings of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery (a famous Illinois “haunt” near my house as a kid) or Mary “Bloody Mary” Worth appearing in mirrors if you said her name three times—that kid?—he believes in Ouija boards.

The guy who now writes horror novels? I think he writes partly because he wishes that stuff were true. It would make the world a more mysterious, mystical place than I believe it is. I’m still spooked in the dark, sure. But I don’t believe that’s because of any ghosts tapping me on the shoulder.

Do you take the meaning of a name into consideration before choosing them for your characters? In The Pumpkin Man, I was particularly impressed with the history behind Jennica (my favorite!), Meredith, and Travis. Very clever.

I do research names when I’m writing characters. Sometimes a name just pops into my head, and that’s what their name is. Period. I think Jennica was really of that ilk, but others in the book, like Meredith (which means “protector”) or Travis (“crossroads”), yes, the deeper meaning was intentional.  I try not to get too hung up on that, but it does help to avoid simply naming everyone Bill, Jane, John and Mary if you look up a lot of names. Sometimes it’s just the “feeling” of a name you’re not that familiar with, and sometimes it’s the derivation of the name that makes it perfect for a character.

As a horror writer, I imagine it must be impossible to frighten you. Do you secretly blanch at the very mention of heights or small spaces like most of us?

I love heights! Tight claustrophobic spaces—not so much.  I’m scared of the dark, whether I believe intellectually that something’s there or not. Mostly I’m scared of people—they’re the unpredictable predator that really has to be watched out for, not ghosts or ghouls.

Do you write in chronological (or relatively chronological) order from beginning to end?  

Always chronological. The joy of writing for me is telling myself/discovering the story. If I jumped around, I’d confuse myself! I certainly know a lot of the key scenes in my head before I sit down to write… but discovering what lies in the dark murky passages between those “goalpost” chapters is what makes the writing fun. You have to entertain yourself as much as your readers.

You write at length in your recent interview with Borders about the different types of fear featured in your works. How would you describe the type of fear in The Pumpkin Man?

The Pumpkin Man centers around that fear of the relentless, unstoppable force that is coming for your life. You can’t see it, you don’t know what it is, you can’t stop it…but the hair prickling on the back of your neck knows it’s there. It’s that fear of walking down into your basement to grab a beer and finding a ghastly man with a knife waiting at the bottom of the steps for you.

You’re clearly a music aficionado! If you were to compose a soundtrack for one of your novels (or more!), how would you approach the project?

I wrote songs before I wrote stories so… yes! I was also a newspaper music critic for 20 years. Music colors everything I do (I can’t write without it). As for how I’d approach such a project? I WANTED to do exactly that for Siren, my last novel which really featured music as a critical component of the narrative in that the title creature uses music to lure her victims. I could never quite carve the time out to lock myself in the basement music studio for a few days to work up some themes and songs for it, unfortunately. And I knew that I would need a female vocalist to do what I wanted to do… and I don’t know anyone who would have worked. But the way I would go about it if I had more time is, I’d sit down at my Roland, turn the lights down, think about the book and key scenes, hit the record button and just play. Music just… happens. Some of it you record and develop, and some of it you just let go.

The folklore surrounding jack-o-lanterns is widely popular and always sinister. Did any of the tales influence The Pumpkin Man?

I did some research when I was midway through the book to see if there were good “gourd” stories that I could adapt and use as part of the stories from Meredith’s occult library reference books that Jenn and Kirstin are reading. I found a couple of items that I wove in, and I also used the opportunity to weave in my own mythology—I’ve written a couple of stories in the past about pumpkins, so I retold bits of those as part of Meredith’s reference library!

What would you dare your readers to do on Halloween if they were looking for a little scare? 🙂

Find an abandoned house or a remote cabin near a wooded lake. Take a Ouija board and a couple of friends. Light a lot of candles and turn off the electric lights. Listening to This Mortal Coil or Dead Can Dance is a plus. Talk about all of the people you’ve known in your life who are no longer here, and then hold a Ouija board session to try to talk to one of them. I’d bet that nothing will happen, but I’d also bet you’ll feel pretty creeped out for at least part of the night! You’ll laugh and joke a little nervously when nobody answers you on the board, but probably when you’re trying to go to sleep, and you hear that scritch-scratching noise on the window outside your room, your heart will beat faster. It’s just a tree branch. Right?


Meet L. J. McDonald, Rising Royalty in Fantasy

If any of you have been following our September Sylph Series, you might know that I have a badly disguised obsession with sylphs. Considering L. J. McDonald has created my beloved battle sylphs, you could say I’m head-over-heels for her, too.

I’m ecstatic to have L. J. on the Dorchester Community Blog today talking about her latest book in the series, writing, and her fabulous life. And this isn’t any ol’ stop for L. J., it’s the last stop in her Queen of the Sylphs blog tour! She’s been a busy lady, and I’m honored that she’s concluding her tour right here with us. So read on, and celebrate her sensational sylph series with us!

Welcome, L.J.!

  • In one sentence, how would you summarize Queen of the Sylphs?

A story about love, betrayal, and the danger in giving your heart to the wrong person.

  •  Queen of the Sylphs is the 3rd book in your Sylph series. In what ways does it differ from The Battle Sylph and The Shattered Sylph? How do you feel writing a debut differs from writing a sequel?

It’s different in that it’s more of a mystery. The characters are trying to find out what’s happening in the Valley and there’s a lot of tension because no one knows who the real enemy is.

Writing a sequel is different from writing a debut. In a lot of ways, it’s easier. You don’t have to create the world. It’s already there. Instead you can focus on getting into the meat of it, since your readers are already familiar with it and you don’t have to explain quite so much what the world is like.

  • In a previous interview, you mentioned that you wrote The Battle Sylph while away from home on a domestic operation with your military unit. Can you tell us a little bit about your time serving your country and how this influenced your books?

I’m a Resource Management Support clerk in the Royal Canadian Air Force (we just got that title back after a few decades of not having it). Currently I’m working for an Army Reserve Intelligence unit in Ottawa, which is fun and different. I’m a Master Corporal and I basically run the administration office and handle all the finances for the unit.

I’ve worked for a bunch of very different units in my career and was posted to northern Alberta for seven years before I got to come to Ottawa, where I hope to stay. I’ve been all over the country and the U. S. on exercises and operations and I’ve also been overseas in support of the Afghanistan mission for six months.

Being in the military has affected my writing in that I have a better idea of how fighting men work and think. Also in how tactics work, which affects my combat scenes.

  •  What’s your favorite line from Queen of the Sylphs?

I have a bunch, but my absolute favourite is one that I can’t actually put here. It’s way too much of a spoiler. It’s the last line of chapter nine if anyone wants to open the book and look it up.

  • In your acknowledgments you site your husband, Oliver, as a source of inspiration for the Sylph series. Are there any specific characters that you based off of him?

No. I try very hard not to create characters based off of real people. I don’t want someone to go ‘hey, I don’t like that.’ Or get upset if I kill them horribly or something down the road.

  • If you could be paired with your very own sylph, what kind of sylph would it be and what would it look like (both in its natural and chosen form)?

I’d actually like to have something like a fire sylph. The kind that loves creativity.  It would likely look like a little ball of fire bobbing in the air. Or like a little girl made of flame. Of course, one that doesn’t set fire to everything…that would be annoying.

  • Battle sylphs worship females, but in Queen of the Sylphs this trust and adoration is shaken by a cunning character. Do battle sylphs then lack the ability to differentiate between “good” women and “bad” women?

Sure, just as much as anyone who gets into a bad relationship does. How many of us have found ourselves involved with someone who looked really great at first, but then turned out to be a nightmare? It’s not the fault of the person who’s looking for a relationship, but that of the person who betrays it. That’s what happens here.

  •  You mentioned in one of your blog posts that the structure of bee hives inspired the power grid in the sylph universe. Can you tell us a little bit about this?

Well, it’s a very structured society and really, not a human one at all. Every sylph has a very specific, unquestioned role, from the Queen all the way down to the lowest sylph. No one resists it – at least, no one who stays in the hive does. Bees are rather like that, and like bees, in their world, that kind of organization is vital to their survival.

  • If you were given 24 hours to spend with one of your characters, which would it be and where would your day be spent?

I would love to sit down and have a nice long talk with Leon Petrule. Perhaps over coffee.

  •  If a famous fashion designer wanted to base their next line off of your books and the “sylph look,” what do you imagine the garments would look like?

Well, there are the uniforms the battlers wear, with the deep blue jackets and pants with gold trim, and the high collars. Carefully fitted stuff that likely shows off their broad shoulders and nice butts quite well (laugh).

  •  When you’re not writing, what is it you do for fun?

I knit a lot, and draw. I also play computer games. I love World of Warcraft (and yes, I’m on one of the Roleplaying servers. Woohoo, Argent Dawn and the guild Agency) and DragonAge II. I also read voraciously. I always have my kindle with me.

  •  Words to live by:

Kindness is never a waste of time.

For more on L.J. McDonald, visit her Web site or delve into her books!