The Horror of Motherly Love

This Sunday, May 12, is Mother’s Day. Sadly, my mom lives several hours away in North Carolina; but we chat every Sunday and I always send her a gift (though it’ll be late this year — sorry Mom).

Ahead of the holiday, I found myself reflecting on how most of my love stories fall into two categories: romantic (however twisted it may be), or familial between a mother and her daughter. The titular stories in my two collections, “The Crow’s Gift” and “Wither,” both focus on relationships between the main female protagonist and her mother. “Wither” goes one step further and includes Mother Nature — and the destructive relationship that can occur between her and her children.

sharp objects
Left to right: Amma, Camille, and Adora from Sharp Objects.

Without Condition is my first story to examine both motherly love and romantic love. While the focus is largely on Cara and her boyfriend, my first inkling of the story was rooted in the relationship between Cara and her mother. It was her mother’s unconditional love for her, even in the face of horrendous activities, that helped me think of the rest of the plot (not to mention the title).

I once read a study that claimed the bond between a mother and her daughter is the strongest possible bond between any parent-child pairing. While I can’t say that for sure, there is certainly something special about the way a woman is bonded to her mother in ways we don’t see with her father, or don’t see between a mother and her son. It’s something special to witness when it’s good, and something terrify to witness when it’s broken or abusive.

Carrie touched on this perfectly. The terror doesn’t lie in Carrie’s powers, nor just in the way she’s bullied; but in the power and influence Margaret White has over her daughter. As evil and tormented as she is, you still see their bond and the fact that Mrs. White truly worries about her. I think of in the movie, when Carrie shatters the mirror; and Margaret stops playing the piano and says in her most normal, concerned voice, “Carrie?” She’s worried her daughter is hurt, even as she calls her sinful. It almost makes it all the scarier when Margaret comes for Carrie with a knife in the climax.

margaret white
Also, this scene is just creepy AF.

I also think that the TV show Riverdale has done an excellent exploration of mothers and daughters in the fraught connection between Betty and Alice. Season 3 has been a little uneven, but the show has quietly shown how hard it is for a daughter to sever a tie with her mother, and how that tie — even when dangerous — may be the least dangerous option she has. Alice has joined a cult called The Farm, a group that Betty wants no part of; even if it means losing a connection to her mom. Out of desperation, Betty turns to her jailed serial killer father instead of her cult-worshiping mother, but when her father is (purportedly) free, he comes for her and tries to kill her (this post was written on May 7, and it’s possible revelations in later episodes may dispute these facts, because that’s what Riverdale does and that’s one of the reasons I love it in all its messy glory). Betty gives in to her mother for safety, and she’s embraced. She may still be in danger, but she’s with her mother; and with her mother, the feeling of safety is stronger and perhaps more real. This could be to Betty’s advantage or her detriment — only time will tell.

A final story that delved into this in spectacularly creepy fashion is Sharp Objects (which I also wrote about when the HBO adaptation aired last summer). Here, you have three female bonds: mother, daughter, and sister; none of whom can abandon the other completely despite the misdeeds of each. It also shows the darker side of a mother’s desire to feel needed, and how her daughter will nearly die to fill that need.

Betty and Alice Cooper
Betty and Alice Cooper.

The bond between a mother and daughter can make for excellent dark fiction when done well. I’m less interested in “crazy mom/rebel daughter” narratives, and more the stories of daughters who can’t leave their mothers behind, or vice versa; despite their dark deeds. The bond is strong, even when it’s frayed — maybe even the strongest of all. But that isn’t always a good thing.

I hope that those of you with good bonds, though, have a wonderful Mother’s Day. And, I want to wish the happiest of Mother’s Days to my mom. Thanks for reading my work, supporting me, and being an all-around gem.

New eZine: Check Out Two Flash Pieces From Me in “The Sirens Call”

I’m happy to announce that I have two flash pieces in the latest issue of The Sirens Call, a horror ezine which you can read for FREE online!

The two stories included are “I Never Knew Your Name” — which first appeared in The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales — and “The Note on the Door,” a new story I wrote this past summer. Both stories were inspired by my morning walk to work. I wonder if I can dedicate a story to a neighborhood block, what with all the inspiration its given me.

I’m proud to share space with several writers in this month’s issue. The Sirens Call: Halloween Screams and Other Dark Things will keep the spirit of the Halloween season going for weeks to come.

Check out Issue 41 of The Sirens Call for FREE right here — and let me know what you think!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, boils and ghouls!

cryptkeeper

Halloween, along with Christmas, is my favorite holiday. I love how everything takes on an extra spooky feel, even beyond decorations and costumes. The trees are a little more crooked, the wind is a little bit more like a sigh, and the silence in the darkness is a little more thick.

While Halloween is the pinnacle of all things scary, I celebrate it all year long. A frequent exchange in my house is me suggesting a horror movie, and my husband saying, “It’s not October.” Yes, and?

My books follow the same pattern. My next novel, Without Condition, is scheduled for February 12, 2019. I’ve scheduled its release around another holiday: Valentine’s Day. It is a romance, after all — just my version of one.

I also have two short story collections that are great for any time of year, but extra good when read during late autumn’s chill. Check out The Crow’s Gift and Wither if you’re looking for some quick, scary reads today.

Have a great holiday, everyone!

“The Crow’s Gift” Turns 1!

One year ago today, I published my short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales!

the crow's gift
Art by Doug Puller

The Crow’s Gift contains many firsts. It holds “All the Pieces Coming Together,” the first short story I wrote when I got back into writing seriously. It was the first time I collaborated with Doug Puller, who designed the cover and formatted the book; and the first time I worked with Evelyn Duffy, who edited the collection. It was the first book I put together, as well as my first short story collection. It was also my first venture into self-publishing.

That final first (an oxymoron if there ever was one) was probably the most nerve-wracking. I’d only ever shared my work amongst a few friends, a couple family members, and teachers. I’d never put something out into the world that was out of my hands when it came to who would buy it and read it.

It’s been a great experience. I’ve loved seeing people’s responses to the stories in the collection — especially when friends and family send me pictures of, and tweets about, crows. I’ve also gotten less nervous about collecting my work and putting it out there (just less nervous, though — not free of nerves). And, I’ve stayed inspired to keep writing more.

Thanks to everyone who’s purchased and read the collection, and who’s shared it with their friends. Your support means the world to me.

If you’d like to buy The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, it’s available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

If you’ve read the collection, please be sure to review it on Amazon.

And if you want more short stories, my next collection, Wither and Other Stories, will be out on October 9, 2018.

Cover: Wither and Other Stories

This fall, I’ll be releasing another small collection of short stories called Wither and Other Stories. While I have some finishing touches to do on the collection itself, I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover with all of you:

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller.

The cover features excellent artwork from my frequent collaborator and friend, Doug Puller. He is hard at work illustrating Volume 1 of Wretched Heroes, the graphic novel which I co-wrote with him; and I’m glad he had time to bring his talents to this collection.

The collection will be available in ebook and paperback form. Below is the full cover that will appear on the paperback, minus the description and author bio (two of the pieces that need finishing touches):

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller

I anticipate publishing this collection in October, just in time for Halloween. It will feature four short stories: Wither, Nesting, Smoke Circles, and We Really Shouldn’t. It will also have the first chapter of my next book as a bonus. I can’t wait to share all of them with you this fall.

If you just can’t wait that long, I do have another collection of short stories available now: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, available in ebook and paperback form. If you’ve already purchased or read it, I’d appreciate it if you left an honest review on Amazon — or, if you’d rather write a review on your own blog or website, please send me a link. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Finally, please add Wither and Other Stories to your shelves on Goodreads if you’d like to read it.

What I’m Reading: True Crime Time

First, my second book — I’m almost finished with the first draft! I think I can safely say I’m 3/4 done. I’m hoping to finish by the end of May, and use June and part of July as a resting period to finish revising the stories in my upcoming short story collection.

In between work on my own books, I’m still trying to read each day. I have read a couple of good true crime books (which, without revealing too much, have also helped me along with Book #2). I recently read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by the late Michelle McNamara. I admit I was not familiar with her blog or her work until after her death in 2016. I read the book before they caught the suspected Golden State Killer last month.

The book was an interesting read about McNamara’s attempt to solve the mystery of who was responsible for a series of murders and rapes in California. Without a known criminal to detail, most of the book was accounts of the murders and accounts of the cops’ attempts to find him; as well as her own. It was an interesting read, but I did find myself thinking it got repetitive after awhile with no known suspect to bring all the murders together. There was no villain to get to know — just his crimes. It’s understandable why this was the case, but now that there’s a suspect in jail, I hope the book will be rereleased with an addendum from Patton Oswalt, Paul Haynes, or Billy Jensen, all of whom helped finish the book McNamara left behind. I would buy and read it if they did.

Shortly after (though not right after — I need breaks between true crime stories), I read a classic true crime novel for the first time: The Stranger Beside Me: The True Crime Story of Ted Bundy by Ann Rule. This was the polar opposite of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, for not only did Rule (and the public) know that Bundy was responsible for a slew of murdered girls, Rule knew him personally. They’d worked together at a crisis center, and remained friends and confidants even as he was being investigated.

The Stranger Beside Me was fascinating. Rule did an excellent job with something that’s very hard to do: she wrote about Ted Bundy’s human side without glossing over the atrocity of his actions or the fact that he was not a good person. One of the passages that struck me the most was from the FAQ she added to the revised edition I purchased:

Q: Was Ted Bundy really nice … underneath?
A: No.

I really appreciated how quick she was to shoot down any notion one might have to try and gloss over who he was. Rule spoke of their friendship, and spoke to how she thought he was broken and how she wished he could’ve been committed or had some sort of treatment that would’ve saved others and himself; but she never made him out to be a martyr or a nice person. She knew who he was, and she wrote about what she knew.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the macabre and my interest in stories about killers, true crime was never really on my reading radar. Reading two true crime novels in a short period of time, I’d say that’s mostly still the case. I’m interested in these stories, but the format can grow tiresome when every other chapter has yet another story of someone getting killed. There are only so many times I can read a variation on “Jane Doe was really excited to live a full life. She didn’t get to” before I want to say, I get it. It’s like reading a really long episode of Unsolved Mysteries. The first couple accounts at least are necessary, because it establishes what the killer did and how they did it. After awhile, though, it’s understood that there is a killer and these people we’re being introduced to will be killed. It no longer feels suspenseful or shocking after that. It feels tedious, and almost feels exploitative.

This is why I’m a little more fascinated with stories about other things to know about the killer. What were they thinking? What were they like before? What’s going on with the friends and relatives and partners who love them even after they’ve been exposed? What did people know about them and yet not associate with them becoming murderers? What can we learn from all this?

A story I feel does this really well is My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. It’s a graphic novel written by one of Dahmer’s childhood friends. While his violent crimes are mentioned, they’re not shown or depicted over and over. Rather, we see Dahmer as a teen, one with violent habits that are ignored and psychological issues that the adults in his life dismiss as growing pains. The book ends with him picking up his first hitchhiker. We all know what happens next — and in my mind, it’s more effective to leave it there.

I’m taking a small break from true crime, as I do; but if you have any recommendations, please let me know in the comments!


I’m no stranger to serial killer stories — my short story, All the Pieces Coming Together, tells the tale of a man who’s found a place so perfect to hide the bodies that there isn’t anybody to hide. You can read it for free. It’s also included in my short story collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales.

Last summer, I read and discussed The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a girl who’s drawn into a cult reminiscent of the Manson family. I think it’s going to be a movie soon. I recommend the book despite its flaws.

Thanks for reading!

Happy International Short Story Month!

It’s International Short Story Month! I honestly didn’t know there was a month dedicated to short stories until I saw #ShortStoryMonth on Twitter the other day. But now I know, and now I’m going to celebrate it. *throws confetti*

As you know from my writing, I’m a fan of short stories. A lot of my ideas begin as short stories, and a lot of them end up staying that way. While there have been a few times I’ve gone in with an intended length (heh), I prefer to start writing and see where it ends up. My gut has done a pretty good job of telling me when something needs to keep going and, most importantly, when something is finished.

I also enjoy reading short stories, though I don’t always gravitate to them as quickly as I do to novels. I’m more inclined to read a book of nonfiction essays than a collection of short stories. My biggest shortcoming here is the speed at which I read. I read quickly and I often find short stories to be over just as I’m starting to get pulled into them. I’ve had to train myself to not read through them too quickly, and I’m glad I did. Some of the stories that have stuck with me the most have been less than 5000 words.

I am celebrating Short Story Month on Twitter by recommending one short story a day in an ongoing thread. I’m also trying to find some short stories to read between the novels in my “To Read” queue and my work on my own novel (which, interestingly enough, began as an idea for a short story). If you have any recommendations, please share them with me in the comments!

I also hope you’ll read a few of my own short stories this month. My first collection, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, is available for Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. It features four stories and is perfect for a quick read.

Art by Doug Puller

Purchase The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales on:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

You can also read one of my stories for free: All the Pieces Coming Together, which was the first story I wrote for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales; and also the first story I wrote in several years when I returned to writing in 2016.

Art by Doug Puller

Read “All the Pieces Coming Together” for Free

Happy reading, everyone!