The Tale of The Harpy – A Scary Short Story by K. D. Dowdall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wish for a tropical breeze to lighten the intense humidity that hugs this August morning.  The porch, thank goodness, is high off the ground and the mildew on the screens somewhat block the steamy rays from the sun.  The sky is intensely blue and the ocean is still and quiet—waiting. I breathe in slowly through my nose and exhale gently through my mouth, waiting for what I know must come. I feel powerless to change my fate.

My notebook is before me and I stare at the cover, that I am unwilling to open.  I have been siting here now for what seems like hours trying to begin a story that I must tell.   I must make sense of it, at least in my own mind. Perspiration drips from the corners of my temples.  Tendrils of fading blond curls are damp across my forehead and I push them aside with the back of my hand.

The old mahogany rocking chair I sit in, with its old cane seat, presses into my bare legs making my skin feel sticky and I am sure that deep patterns are now embed on the backs of my thighs that might blister, courtesy of the mahogany chair.  I shift uncomfortably, and vow to retrieve a pillow from the sofa when next I rise.

The breeze I have been waiting for finally arrives like a soft whisper across my cheek and I turn my face toward its source, the sky and sea.  In the morning light, I open the notebook and stare at the empty pages, that are now somewhat damp from the humid air and I begin again searching for the right words, the truest of words. It will come to me…..I know it will. I close my eyes and I try to remember all of it

_____________________

 It began some years ago.  I was standing on this screened in porch with my cousin, Jordan. It was after the funeral of my great Aunt who willed me this beach house that sits comfortably overlooking the ocean.

The sky was a vivid blue and the sea was quiet, until quite suddenly, a quickly moving storm, crossed the horizon and blocked out the sun. Darkness came, and a whispered voice, close to my ear, spoke, “Dare ye not linger lest she bring a curse upon ye, child.”

I turned quickly to the voice, but no one was there. A chill went up my spine. I thought I had imagined it. Moments later, again, the disembodied voice spoke, “Dare ye not linger lest she bring a curse upon ye, child!” This time the voice was urgent and fearful.

I began to tremble with an unreasonable fear, of what—I did not know. I grabbed my cousin Jordan’s arm to plead with him to let us head for home. He took no notice of me and continued to stare at something that was standing beyond the gate. I turned to look and before us was something that could only have materialized out of a Grimm’s fairy tale.

An unearthly woman glared at me from beyond the gate, and her dark crystal eyes began to glow so brightly that the darkness disappeared around us. The hag-like woman, lifted by unseen wings, soared over the gate.

The whispering voice behind me suddenly gave out an ear-splitting scream that shook the floor where I stood. The hag-like apparition beyond the screened porch screeched with such an unearthly sound that I dared not move, even if I could. I was still holding Jordan’s arm and he turned to me as if to wonder what I was doing.

“Jordan,” I whispered, “What is that?”

“What is what, Ana?”

“You know, the old hag, the woman, Jordan.”

“Ana, there is no woman, only a light in the window from the cottage down the road, but there was nothing to it. Let’s go home.”

I was incredulous. Was I the only one who saw the woman and heard the unearthly screams?  My young cousins, Richie and Anise seemed not to be at all aware of what had happened as they played along the beach before me.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong with them and then once again, I heard the whispering voice behind me and I angrily turned to respond. The whispering apparition was floating in the air, now in front of me, her long dark hair was whirling around her head as though she was in the center of great storm, “Thou art hexed, forsaken in ye life, poor child,” she said. “I begged thee not to gaze upon the Harpy.”

The apparition’s voice was sad and low as she slowly vanished before me. The sky was once again blue, and the sea was quiet now. The storm was gone along with the screeching old hag.

______________________

The Mahogany chair is now hotter against my thighs as the chair begins to rock back and forth. I know she is coming. I look beyond the screened porch, knowing she will come. I see her now, the Harpy, she stands beyond the porch. Her dark crystal eyes glare at me, as her dark mane of hair blows in the dark storm she brings with her.

Another form appears on the porch, near me. It is the apparition, I now know as Nellie, who has been protecting me all of these years. The Harpy’s unholy screech suddenly pierces the air and in turn, Nellie’s high pitch scream drowns out all else.

Then it finally comes to me, the truest words: “Do not look at the creature, the Harpy. Do not listen to her screams, should you hear them, and abide this warning: Go as far away as you can, a quick as you can—for it is far too late for me.”

 

 

The Beautiful Words, A Poem by K. D. Dowdall

The beautiful words,

That ring so true,

Bring me but dark memories,

From a time and a place,

Best forgotten,

Yet always, just beneath,

The surface of a black night,

Filled with anguish and loss,

Of fear, trepidation, horror,

Not of this world,

Not now, I pray,

but then it crawled

Into being, by what force,

I know not,

They say, nonsense, but it lives,

Somewhere, now,

To come again,

To crush, destroy, all the goodness

The world has ever known.

The pinnacle has arrived,

Once again, we face, the face,

Of evil incarnate, we see it,

Daily,

but never acknowledge,

What we see,

We feign ignorance,

Deny what we see,

Yet, it creeps to our door,

Seeps under the floor,

The poison of its words,

It lies so beautifully.

 

 

 

 

Critical Thinking: The 5 Factors that Earn 5 Star Reviews!

An excerpt from: Paul Goat Allen | March 12, 2018, Writer’s Digest. Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

Novelists live and die by reviews yet uncovering what garners a gushing ovation or blistering takedown is often a mystery. A professional critic lays out what it takes to earn five-star book reviews. For two decades I’d been working as a freelance genre fiction book critic for outlets such as BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and the Chicago Tribune. After sharing my credentials with the group, some of the writers began telling stories about mediocre or bad reviews they’d received at different points in their careers from one or more of the companies I’d listed.

As a reviewer, not much has changed since then. I enjoy all genres and have reviewed thousands of titles in hundreds of sub-genres ranging from apocalyptic fiction to zombie erotica. (Yes, there’s such thing as zombie erotica.) In the end, genre categorization matters little to me—it’s all about the story. With that in mind, I decided to formalize a universal framework through which I process and analyze my various reading experiences. While there are undoubtedly specific narrative elements I look for in-particular-genres (pacing and tension level in thrillers, for example), there’s a pyramid of qualities—a Hierarchy of Needs, if you will—that I seek in every story. While highly simplified, it’s this structure that dictates whether I give a book a positive or negative review.

These five criteria will not only provide a glimpse into how a veteran book reviewer dissects and evaluates a novel but, hopefully, make you look at your writing in a different light. See for yourself: Does your work-in-progress have what it takes to earn a positive review?

The Book Reviewer’s Hierarchy of Needs: How to Earn Five-Star Book Reviews

  1. Readability

A book’s degree of readability is the base layer of my reviewer’s pyramid, and the foundation for any good story. The quality of a novel—narrative clarity, narrative fluidity, having a coherent storyline—is directly related to the number of times I put that book down. Some are so bad, so poorly written, that I struggle to get through a single paragraph without wanting to walk away. Others have such a fl uid plot that I find it virtually impossible to stop reading—Tad Williams’ The Witchwood Crown and Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass being two such examples of utterly readable, page-turning novels.

I’ve read a lot of “unputdownable” books over the last few decades, and the vast majority of these all have something in common beyond a clear and fluid narrative: The stories have noticeably strong chapter beginnings and endings. It’s a small thing, but a great way to compel readers to keep reading. How can you put a book down when every chapter begins and ends with a cliffhanger sequence, bombshell plot twist or powerful statement? When I consistently find these elements in a novel, I know the author fully understands the significance of readability.

Conversely, novels that aren’t as readable—that are poorly written with awkward sentence structure, a confusing storyline, weak chapter beginnings and endings—are almost asking to be tossed aside. This may sound obvious, but if you can’t compel a reader to read your story, then you need to focus more on your craft before penning another book.

  1. Immersion

I define immersion as the ability for me, the reader, to not only lose myself in a novel (I call these “stay-up-all-night-till-your-eyes-bleed” reads) but to experience the story intimately, living vicariously through the characters. This trick is accomplished through a continued focus on setting, rich description and atmospherics. I don’t want to experience the story as a detached viewer looking down at what’s happening—I want to feel like I’m in the story.

The litmus test for this is easy. If I become so engaged with a book that I lose track of time—if I glance at the clock and hours have passed by—you’ve succeeded in drawing me fully into your read. Writers who are absolute immersion masters (think Cherie Priest, Justin Cronin, Charlaine Harris) are so good at captivating description that weeks, months and oftentimes years after reading their novels I can still vividly recall specific scenes.

This layer is where many writers stumble, and here’s why: While they may excel at world-building and meticulous description at the beginning of a novel, once the action and adventure ramps up, they not only lose focus but completely ignore description altogether. I’ve seen this happen countless times in every genre: rich description for the first 100 pages or so, then almost nothing in the final 200. It’s called literary escapism for a reason. If I can’t lose myself in a read—from beginning to end—then I haven’t fully escaped. Writing the Intimate Character: Create Unique, Compelling Characters Through Mastery of Point of View

  1. Character Depth and/or Plot Intricacy

Three-dimensional, interesting and identifiable characters bring emotional connectivity and intensity to the read. If your readers aren’t emotionally invested in your characters, then the narrative impact of your story is inevitably going to be negatively impacted. Emotions wield power. If you can bring your readers to tears, make them laugh out loud or scare them to the point of checking under the bed, then you’ve succeeded on some level.

Creating authentic characters to whom readers can relate is a solid achievement—but an obvious word of warning: Stay clear of clichés and stereotypes. Overused conventions—like the Chosen One in fantasy who is consistently a white male, or the emotionally damaged billionaire entrepreneur in erotic fiction who needs to sexually dominate his love interest—even if brilliantly rendered, will underwhelm and disappoint more than a few readers (and reviewers).

Now, the reason I include an “and/or” between character development and plot intricacy is because, in some rare cases (particularly in mainstream thrillers), a novel with an impressively knotty storyline can still succeed with relatively cardboard characters.

Which is why plot intricacy is key: Why read a novel where you can accurately predict what’s going to happen after a few chapters? (I do that quite often. After reading the first chapter or two, I’ll jot down a prediction in my notes. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve guessed the ending correctly.) I just finished reviewing a brilliant historical mystery for Publishers Weekly that was filled with so many plot twists I was left guessing until the last few pages. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy or a thriller or a romance—the plot has to be intricate enough to keep your reader simultaneously engaged and a bit off balance.

  1. Originality and Innovation

This one ties in with embracing originality, be it atypical characters or unconventional story structure. So many books out there today are built upon unoriginal, rehashed, derivative storylines. I read a lot. And I get bored easily, especially when reading the same basic story arc again and again. My advice? Don’t play it safe. Write a story that you’ve never read before. In a 2016 Goodreads interview I conducted with fantasy novelist Michael J. Sullivan, author of Age of Myth, he said,

“It doesn’t matter if it’s been done before. It just matters if it’s being done well now.”

I love that quote. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean it can’t be re-envisioned or reimagined but be innovative—put a new twist on an old mythos, turn a stereotype on its head. Have the courage to be creative!

  1. Thematic Profundity

In the introduction to the 2006 reissue of Walter M. Miller Jr.’s 1960 Hugo Award–winning classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Mary Doria Russell writes, “You’ll be different when you finish it.” That’s my hope for every novel I pick up—that within the story there will be a kind of spiritual and/or existential wisdom, a kind of revelation or insight that will change the way I look at myself and the world around me.

A novel that holds this kind of thematic power—as well as the other elements in the Hierarchy of Needs—will get a starred review from me every time. Stories, no matter the genre, have the power to change lives. Novels like Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We have irrevocably changed who I am. After all, that’s the ultimate goal, right? To write a commercially successful and critically acclaimed novel that is both entertaining and enlightening.

Evaluating a novel is a cumulative process. Those with masterful character development but zero immersion will still receive a poor review, for example, while a thematically profound read with excruciatingly bad readability will receive a terrible review.

May this Hierarchy of Needs not only make you more aware of how your writing is experienced by readers—and jaded book reviewers like myself—but also offer up a few invaluable insights that can be used to improve your craft. Who knows, maybe my next starred review will be yours.

Paul Goat Allen has worked as a genre fiction book critic and written thousands of reviews for companies like BarnesandNoble.com, Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Kirkus Reviews.

 

 

Blog Tour for Charles F. French and His New Release, Gallows Hill, A Review

Gallows Hill, by author, Charles F. French, is the second book in his series, The Investigative Paranormal Society.  Within this taunt, terrifying, page-turner, we find Roosevelt, Jeremy, Helen, and Sam continuing to pursue ghostly evil and new revelations about a heart-breaking past event, that complicates an already murderous ghost assignment that the IPS needs to vanquish before more innocent lives are lost.

Adding to the taunt, terrifying ghost encounter, is a back-story vendetta out to destroy Sam, a retired police detective, and anyone else in proximity to Sam.  Beyond the uniquely horrific ghost mystery, is a heart-breaking love story, as well as a long-lost love rediscovered, that adds to the emotional complexity that drives this story forward.

The character development within this ghostly horror novel is superb and adds to a narrative that is taunt with tension and suspense. The dialogue is not shy and gives a realistic representation of language, idioms, and images within the back-story to the present day, that reflects the different characters’ prerogatives and state of mind. The physical environment presented in this horror novel, is tangible, adding to the realism, terror, and fear in Gallows Hill.

Anyone who loves, not only a terrific horror story, but also one that is expertly written with a strong human story, heartbreak, and a love story, wrapped up in terror and courage to face what could be a death sentence, this story is for you. Don’t miss out on reading Gallows Hill, you won’t be disappointed. I highly recommend this intriguing horror novel. I give it 5 stars!

*****5 stars*****

Interview with Writer and Author, Charles F. French, Part 2

 

 

 

 

Good day to you Professor Charles F. French!  Thank you  for taking time, in your busy schedule, between teaching literature at two universities in eastern Pennsylvania and writing great horror novels! I just read your latest horror novel,  Gallows Hill, and it is a blockbuster of a horror novel!  I am very interested in discovering more about why reading, writing, and teaching is the love of your life.  Thank you for answering the following questions.  I know your readers are as anxious to know all about you as I am.

1.  How do you get your ideas for writing books, such as Maledicus, your first published book, but not the only novel you have written?

This may sound odd, and I do not know what it says about either me or the creative process, but I see characters and wonder what their stories are. I begin to think about them, and I jot down my ideas. And I never seem to run out of ideas.

2.  Do you feel that novels should have a moral dilemma that must be addressed?

I do not think that all novels should have a moral dilemma in them—that must be up to the author to decide, but I can say that in my novels, I always have at least one, if not more, moral dilemmas that the characters face in the course of the action.

3.  Do you research your story before you begin to write a novel?

I do not have a set pattern when it comes to research for my novels. I usually do the research as I come across something I do not know for the books. Then I attack the research to learn as much as I can about it. Because I never outline a book, I cannot be sure what it is I will need to learn until I reach that point. I am not suggesting that anyone else should follow my way of research, only that it is what I do. Each writer must find his/her own paths.

4.  In your latest novel, Gallows Hill what single idea inspired you to write this story?

Its origin is found in the first book in this series: Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society, book 1. The three men who create the ghost-investigation group all have lost someone very close to them to death. The first book focused on Roosevelt, and this one focuses on Sam, who lost his teenaged son, Josh to suicide. Sam carries deep grief with him, and the book is about his search to find answers about his son’s death. So, the theme of the past intruding on the present also informs the creation of the supernatural villain of the book, a former executioner/fundamentalist preacher who just cannot seem to let go of his need to punish those he considers to be sinners.

5.  Are you presently writing another novel and can you give us an idea of what it is about and why did you chose this subject matter?

Yes, I have written the first of a Young Adult series that I am currently pitching to agents, and I hope that I can break through into traditional publishing with it. It is an environmental post-apocalyptic novel, informed by the middle ages. I am also working on the first draft of the first book in a fantasy series that I thought would be midgrade but now I realize is adult fantasy. The themes of the evils of the world and how they intrude through fantastic events into the lives of several youngsters is too powerful, vivid, and horrific to be anything but adult fantasy.

6.  I have been told you that have also written another novel that has not yet been published. What is the name of this novel and when will it be published?

The name of the next book in the paranormal investigation series is Evil Lives After: The Investigative Paranormal Society, Book 3, and it will come out around Halloween in 2019.

7. Is there anything else that you would like to add to this discussion?

First, thank you to K. D. Dowdall for conducting this interview with me. Second, I want to say to all writers out there: continue to do what you do, and never lose hope or dedication to your craft and your art.

 

 

An Interview with Charles F. French, Writer and Author, Part 1

 

 

 

 

Good day to you Professor Charles F. French!  Thank you for taking time in your busy schedule, between teaching literature at two universities in eastern Pennsylvania and writing great horror novels! I just read your latest horror novel,  Gallows Hill, and it is a blockbuster of a horror novel!  I am very interested in discovering more about why reading, writing, and teaching is the love of your life.  Thank you for answering the following questions.  I know your readers are as anxious  to know all about you as I am.

  1. How old were you when you started reading books?

I was three years old I believe. I know I cannot remember not being able to read, and I know that my mom always read to me from a very young age.

  1. What kind of books, when you were a child, interested you the most?

I loved reading any kind of adventure, fantasy, or science-fiction the most. By the time I was in elementary school, I remember reading the Tarzan series and several of the Jules Verne novels such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

  1. What is the name of your favorite book when you were a teenager?

This is a more difficult question to narrow down to one at that time, but if I had to choose one, it was Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse, a novel about two friends of different backgrounds and interests and how their lives intertwined. When I was a teenager, exploration of mysticism and spirituality, both issues in this novel, were a part of many people’s lives.

  1. What was it that made you interested in writing books about horror stories?

I have enjoyed horror novels and movies since I was young. I read both Frankenstein and Dracula as a young teenager, and I always enjoyed the Universal Studios horror movies of the 1930s and 1940s. As I grew, I came to understand that horror in novels is often a metaphor for the true horror of the world. I do not see it as a way to escape reality, although reading is very useful to do that and it is fun, but as a prism or lens through which light can be focused on very real problems in life. Does that make sense?  So, I have tried both to tell interesting stories in my writing but also to explore important problems in the world in them.

  1. What made you want to be a professor of literature?

I originally wanted to be an actor. Theater was my first love in terms of profession, but I soon found out that I was not good enough to stand out from the others and unlikely to make a living from it. I also did not want to spend at least 20 years trying to make it as an actor. My whole life story is one of following unusual paths, but without going into great detail, I will say that I had dropped out of college, then after working as a steel-worker for several years, wanted to go back to school. I did return to college while working full-time as a janitor. I earned my degree as an adult student, and I realized then that I had both a talent and a passion for teaching, so my course was set.

  1. Why do you think it is important to spend a great deal of your time mentoring?

I have had the good fortune in my life to have had several professors go out of their ways to help me when I needed it the most. As I have become older, I realized that not only do I have much to pass along as a teacher of literature, but also I can offer whatever knowledge I have to younger people, including adult students, about life, books, and writing. I hope I do not sound full of myself in this answer.

Tuesday, February 27 – Part 2 of my Interview with Charles F. French, Writer and Author!

*****NEW RELEASE LIVE ON AMAZON NOW!****** 

A Review: THE GENIE HUNT by author, M. C. Tuggle

A new novel, by M. C. Tuggle, The Genie Hunt, is so engaging that I could not put it down. I continued reading it until the end, without stopping.  It is not often that I want to reread a novel that I just finished reading. It is that good.  It is a rather unique story about a lawyer, a reformed law-breaker, a kidnapped Genie, and a crime. It is a story about a friendship under duress, life-threatening danger, and a who-done-it mystery. The writing is superb, smooth transitions through scenes, characters that are so real that I was sure I knew them. It was the great dialogue, however, that moved the story along, including, strong pacing and time elements, that rang true.

As the investigation drew closer and closer to the perpetrators of the crime, the action grew and so did the breath-taking danger. And, oh yes, there is a real Genie with a complex set of circumstances.  The main characters, Coot Pickard, and his lawyer friend, Buddy Vuncannon, have been friends since childhood. However, they are total opposites in personality and lifestyle. It is often said, that in relationships, opposites do attract and in this case, it adds to the interesting complexity of the characters. I found this story to also be about a well thought out ode to the wonder of friendship under great duress, because the evidence clearly points to Coot Pickard.  But, as is often said, “the devil is in the details” and in this story, it is certainly true.  The ending is very satisfying and since this novel is book 1, in a new series entitled, Spook Hunters, by author, M. C. Tuggle, I look forward with great anticipation to book 2 of the Spook Hunters. I highly recommend this intriguing story!  5 stars!