Monday, October 31, 2016

5 Indie Horror Movies to Watch this Halloween

Celebrate this Hallowevening. Binge watch some chilling horror movies. I'm watching more indie films lately because there's more of them. We get maybe 1 or 2 big horror movies in theaters a year. They usually aren't that scary. On the other hand, it's difficult to find good indie horror movies. In general, horror's not doing so great but it's hanging on.

5. The Babadook
 I've heard about this movie a lot about but never watched. It sounds to me like it's average. Not a total waste of time but not something people would watch twice. I might check it out.

You can watch it on Netflix.

4. As Above So Below
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. It's not earth shattering but it's interesting enough that I watch it over and over. Although the main protagonist is more than a little selfish, she isn't the weeping female we've come to expect from horror movies.

You can buy it on Amazon Prime.

3. The Taking of Deborah Logan
Another one that surprised me. I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did. I'm usually not a fan of possession movies but I was so into The Taking of Deborah Logan.

It used to be on Netflix. Now you have to rent it on Amazon Prime.

2. Southbound
An oddly fascinating collection of linked horror stories. The shorts are strange but not in a bad way. I was a bit sad when this one was over. It's brutal so I don't know if this is a movie I'd watch over and over. I need to prepare myself for Southbound.

You can watch it for free if you an Amazon Prime membership.

1. Grave Encounters
This will probably live on the top of my indie horror movie list until I see something better. I watched this movie so many times. It had me scared of the dark. This is how you do a haunted asylum movie.

You can rent it on Amazon Prime.

For those who have a streaming device like Roku, you can watch Masters of Horror on TubiTV. They're not movies. They're one hour stories but you can get some good horror in by binge watching the episodes. This show has a special place in my heart. The stories are messed up.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Celebrate Diversity in Horror, Paranormal and Dark Fantasy: Join the Party

The Week in Link will be back next week.

I love social media. I can go to a party without leaving home. You can discover hidden gems, some dark and twisted books by diverse authors. You can hang out with people from across the country, the globe. Colors in Darkness, an awesome Facebook group celebrating diversity in speculative fiction, is throwing a Halloween Party on Facebook 10/28-10/30. 

"Come and celebrate horror, dark fantasy and paranormal with the cool kids. Offering a diverse selection of authors and artists, we expect to have some fabulous prizes, namely books, swag, gift baskets, gift certificates and more! Also, someone mentioned something about a Kindle fire...but we shall see!" Colors in Dakrness 2nd Annual Halloween Party

Get to know some of the authors. Listen to Katara's Cafe where the authors, including me, called in to talk about writing and their books.

I'll be taking over the party Saturday, Oct. 29 2pm - 3 pm EST. Stop by. I'll be playing some games and giving away Devdan Manor and Welcome to my World. Perfect Halloween reads.

Join the 2nd Annual Colors in Darkness Halloween Party!

Let's have some pre-party fun. What horror books/movies are you enjoying to get you in the Halloween mood? I finally saw The Conjuring 2 and it was awesome. The Vatican Tapes was one of those movies on Amazon Prime I kept passing. Recently, I decided to watch it. That movie is soooo good. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Writing a Haunted House Story

I was watching a horror movie when a banging noise made me jump. It came from inside my apartment. I live in an old building. The heater makes noise when it turns on. Only it was summer, the heater doesn't come on.

There's a house in my neighborhood. Years ago, whenever I passed it, I'd hear this squawking sound like the owner had a bird on the top floor. Recently, I discovered the house was empty. Had been for awhile. What was making the squawking sound?

I've had mice problems in my apartment. When you put out poison, the mice tend to die in hidden places. You know where they are by the rotting odor. When I started to smell something rotting in my kitchen, I knew a mouse died somewhere. I worked myself up to search for it. One day, I left my apartment to take my dog for a walk. That rotting smell slammed into me, 100 times worse. It came from an apartment 2 doors down from mine. My first thought was it smelled like a dead body. Unforntualy, I was right. They were wheeling that thing out when I returned after walking my dog. Seeing the body bag and then being assaulted by the smell in my apartment...the memory of it still gives me the chills.

There's something fascinating about a horror story. They aren't a lot of fun when you experience them. That's why I love books and movies. I especially love haunted house stories. I think it's the history, the mystery. They're subtle in their creepiness. They're the type of stories that make you jump at strange noises in your houses.

For some reason, despite my love of haunted house stories, I don't write them often. Devdan Manor was the first. For those following me on Instagram and Twitter, you've heard me talk about my haunted dorm story that's turning into a haunted island story.

How do you write haunted house stories?

A bit obvious. There needs to be a place to haunt. This place doesn't have to be scary looking. A nice twist would be having an ordinary, bright house with a dark past. I tend to go towards old, scary houses mostly because I love old buildings. Those places that just look like they have history built into their walls.

Generally, haunted stories take place in old locations because they're more likely to have a dark history. However, history can be yesterday so you could set a story in a modern apartment where a gruesome murder happened.

You could also go the Poltergeist route where the land is cursed.

Most stories pair a haunted house with an ordinary family. Paranormal Witness is nothing but everyday people being tormented by evil forces. That contrast makes you feel how powerless they are. You feel sorry for them because they're trapped and there's no escape.

It's difficult to pull off the powerlessness if you have magical beings trapped in a haunted house. Why can't they use their powers to get out or banish the monsters? Both Devdan Manor and the haunted island story, The Unburned Island (working title) have otherworldly people in a haunted location. In Devdan Manor, the characters are demons and the house was made to trap them. In The Unburned Island, the characters willingly went to the island to solve the haunted mystery.

It's possible to write a haunted house story with paranormal characters. You have to work a little harder so readers can beelieve these characters are in trouble.

Then there are paranormal investigators. Hunter Shea's books are good references on how to write haunted stories with paranormal investigators. These characters hear about strange happenings, they stay in the house with all their equipment and most of them die. They're not everyday people becuase they're trained to research haunted locations.

This type of story takes some research to write. You need to know the type of equipment a team would bring to a potentially haunted house. How would a typical team investigate the paranormal?

Classic literature often featured the crazy house owner with the story being told from the POV of the mentally stable house guest.

The Skeptic
One spouse, usually the wife, experiences the hauntings. The husband, who's away all day, doesn't believe his wife and becomes angry at her insistence that the house is haunted. Or you have skeptic who believes in ghostly phenomena but thinks there's a scientific explanation for it. I often wonder about the skeptic. Why are they included in the story? There's that wonderful feeling of satisfaction when they are proven wrong. Maybe that's why. Maybe ghostly or demonic antagonists aren't enough, we need human drama added to the mix.

Most horror movies have certain types of characters. The skeptic is one of them. There's also the ultra believer. The two morons who go off to have sex in the middle of a haunting. The female who becomes a weeping mess at the first sign of anything paranormal.

This is one of those instances where movies shouldn't be your inspiration. At least not always. Books need characters we feel for, especially in horror. A scene can be creepy but if the reader isn't invested in the characters, they won't feel fear.

The Hauntings
Writing the location and characters are the easy parts. Hauntings should escalate, slowly. Somehow, you have to keep readers interested even when the only thing happening is a door opening by itself. There needs to be a balance. Not enough haunting makes the story boring. Too much and readers get tired of it.

The best way to learn how to portray a good haunting is to inhale media about it. Not just books. Movies and TV shows as well.

I watch Paranormal Witness.

-Some of my favorite haunted house movies are:

-Books are harder, at least for me. With movies, you have creepy visuals. It's difficult to translate that jerking movement from the female in The Ring into a book.
9 Haunted House Books to Keep You Up At Night
The Best Haunted House Books

Remember, don't throw in a strangled cry just because it sounds creepy. Why would a ghost or demon make that noise? Everything in a story needs to have a reason.

A haunted house story is all about the atmosphere. Check out my post on writing Atmospheric Descriptions.

What are your tips for writing a haunted story?

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Legend of Slender Man

Feels like just researching this...thing opens a door I want to leave closed. I keep looking over my shoulder. Am I going to start seeing him everywhere? Will he drive me insane?

Slender Man is featured often in horror video games and short films. I heard about this creature often but never knew the lore.

Slender Man (also known as Slenderman) is a supernatural character that first appeared on the SomethingAwful forums under a thread titled “Create Paranormal Images.” User Eric Knudsen (a.k.a. "Victor Surge") in 2009 created photoshopped images featuring this creature. Knudsen also created fake "official" documents about Slender Man such a doctor's note recounting ita victims. Afterward, others added Slender Man images and fiction to the forum.

According to lore, Slender Man generally appears as a tall humanoid creature in a black or gray suit, red or black tie, and white shirt. His face is blank, with no eyes, mouth, or clearly defined facial features. He has no hair and his fingers are longer and bonier than a typical human. Slender Man has been depicted at anywhere between 6 and 15 feet tall, depending on the situation, though in videos he's usually only around 6-7 feet tall. No one has yet determined what Slender Man is.

Image Credit: ILL-Zzz
The creature may cause memory loss, insomnia, paranoia, coughing fits (nicknamed “slendersickness”), photograph/video distortions and can teleport at will. Some say he lives in the woods and eats children. He sometimes stalks human prey wherever he can find them: in basements, outside half-open windows, along lonely streets late at night. Some say he has no face. Others say, his face looks different to everyone who sees it.

Anonymous graffiti of the Slender Man drawn on pavement in Raleigh, North Carolina
In some stories, Slender Man has multiple arms, like tentacles, and in others, he has no extra appendages.

Stories of the Slender Man commonly feature him stalking, abducting or traumatizing people, particularly children. He appears in many works of fiction, typically published online. Outside of online fiction, Slender Man impacted popular culture, having been referenced in Minecraft and video games such as Slender: The Eight Pages and Slender: The Arrival.

Beginning in 2014, readers of his fiction committed several violent acts in his name, particularly a near-fatal stabbing of a 12-year old girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Slender Man started out as a few photoshopped images and some bacsktory and took on a life of its own.

Enjoy this horror short film featuring Slender Man

Slender Man | The Slender Man Wiki | Fandom powered by Wikia
The complete history of ‘Slender Man,’ the meme that compelled two girls to stab a friend

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Week in Links 10/21/16: Nintendo, JRR Tolkien, Logan

Welcome to the weekly roundup of links for fellow writers and nerds.

Book Marketing and Branding
11 Ways to Grow Your Snapchat Following

We Asked Writers How A Game of Thrones Changed Fantasy Forever
Exclusive Teaser Premiere: Screamfest Short Film “AGATHA”!
JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth love story to be published next year

19 Beautiful Bookstores You Need to Visit in America: The List List #224 Pokémon Sun & Moon Developer Wants to Add Pokémon Go Interaction The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Gameplay Videos Show Exploration, Survival
Wildlife Photography Tips – Telling A Story

Want to see your post in the next The Week in Links? Email me at The post needs to be published between today, 10/21 and next Friday, 10/128.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dead Man's Curve: A Twisted Ride

Just the book to get me in the Halloween mood. Man, this story is twisted. And that ending is messed up. I don't like roller coasters but I love a book that'll take me on a wild ride.

Dead Man's Curve gets right into the action and doesn't let up. I'm tired of books that start off with long expositions. It gets boring. This story did not take long to get into the horror. It's a pretty short read. The story's kind of trippy. Terrible, gruesome things happen to and around the characters and you don't know why. You're just along for the ride. I felt a bit lost during some parts but not so much that I wanted to stop reading.

It starts off pretty cliche with teenagers driving home from a party and then getting lost in the woods. There's even the female who becomes useless once all the gruesomeness starts. Dead Man's Curve reminds me of a watchable B-horror movie without the cheese. It doesn't add to the horror genre but I don't regret reading it.

Although I was into the story, I also felt some distance between me and the characters. There are the two main characters who are fleshed out and the side ones who are just there. The two main character were likable. I didn't feel much for the side ones.

The story is the right amount of disturbing. It's not so gruesome that I can't read it again. It's not for the faint hearted. Dead Man's Curve has some light gore but it's...tasteful, if that's the right word for it. Alex Van Tol doesn't rely on it to get the scares across. This story was one twisted ride.

Title: Dead Man's Curve
AuthorAlex Van Tol
Genre: YA Horror (novella)

The road to Hell passes through Dead Man’s Curve.

It’s been two years since Booker broke up with Rachel, and he wants to get her back. Only problem is, he doesn’t realize it until he and his four friends are hip-deep in a deadly nightmare. They've run over a wispy figure on the highway on Halloween night and now something is preying on them, one by one, going after their deepest fears.

Lost and scared in the New England wilderness, the group realizes they’re trapped in their own twisted version of The Blair Witch Project. They're powerless against dark forces. When Rachel's life is threatened, Booker realizes it’s up to him to figure out a way to stop the unholy madness.

If he’s man enough to face it head on.

“What’s with the scrubs?” I ask. Rachel’s wearing them, too.

“The clothes are the least of our problems,” she says. There’s fear in her voice. As she speaks, the light above us flickers. She reaches toward me and pulls my mask down, below my chin.

I look around. We’re sitting against the wall in a long, dim hallway. A few old metal chairs sit askew, tipped over on the dirty linoleum floor. Paint peels from the walls, its faded blue-green leaves curling away from the pinkish concrete below. Several doorways lead off the corridor, but no light comes from any of them. Something hisses through the pipes that run along the ceiling. One of them drips somewhere far away.




Rachel shudders.

“Where are we?” I ask. A pile of broken beds hulks darkly at one end of the hallway, their legs a tangled forest of metal tubing. Heavy double doors block the other end of the hall. A reddish light shines through their round windows. They remind me of portholes. Or windows to hell.

I push the thought away. A bedpan, a scale and an old wheelchair form an obstacle course of abandoned equipment, separating us from the double doors.

Fuck. An old hospital. Far away, deep inside some other part of the rotting building’s bowels comes the haunting sound of someone screaming.

Rachel closes her eyes. “Welcome to my nightmare.”

“Then we need to get out of here,” I whisper. “STAT.” I stand and pull Rachel to her feet. My legs feel like rubber. My hand burns, but when I look at it there is no blood. No scab, even. Just a wide, pale scar across my palm where the cable seared through the skin.

An elevator dings in the wall nearby and I jump, my heart slamming. I hadn’t even noticed it. Rachel gasps and turns toward the sound. An old-fashioned curved display lights up above the doors. An arrow arcs across its face, pointing to each floor as the elevator moves. I watch, horrified, as the arrow shows the elevator’s descent.

Ping! 10.

“What the hell?” Rachel’s eyes are huge. “Why is it moving?”

“I don’t know. But I’m not sticking around to find out.”

“Oh, god.” Rachel’s got my hand in a death grip and she’s not letting go. I’m worried that she’s breathing so fast. They don’t teach you about hyperventilation in first aid. All I know about curing it is that it has something to do with breathing into a paper bag, and I’m not sure where I’d find one down here.

“It’s okay. We’re getting out of here,” I say.

“Which way are the stairs?”

“I don’t know.” I’m getting tired of hearing myself say those words. I rub my thumb across the back of her hand in what I hope is a reassuring way as I look up and down the hallway. Even though things are terrible, there’s something so good about having Rachel with me right now. She gives me confidence. Makes me feel stronger than I actually am. Even if she’s losing her shit, she’s still braver than any other chick I know.

Girl. Any other girl I know.

Ping! 9.

My adrenaline spikes. “What about that door at the end?” I ask, pointing to the circles of red light.

Rachel shakes her head. “I don’t want to go down there, Booker.”

I turn and look behind me, to where all the beds are piled up. “Well, this way is blocked. We won’t be able to move all that stuff out of the way in time.”

Ping! 8.

“We could try.” I can hear the desperation in her voice.

I almost take a step in that direction, but then I realize how ridiculous the idea is. There must be a dozen beds down at that end of the hall, all jammed together in a car-crash of a stack job. And they’re heavy hospital-grade beds, metal frames and all. We’d cut ourselves, or worse, crush a bone. “No way,” I say. “And anyway, who’s to say whatever is behind that door is any safer?”

Rachel studies the blocked doorway. She presses her lips together.

Ping! 7. Her hand tightens around mine.

A born writer, Alex Van Tol cut her teeth on Stephen King novels so terrifying she had to turn them face-down on the floor in order to sleep at night. Alex writes across a broad range of genres for youth and adults, including contemporary, paranormal, historical and, of course, horror and thrillers. She lives between the mists and moody skies of Vancouver Island.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fantasy and Horror Designs to get you in the Halloween Mood

If I had 5 more hours in the day, I'd still need more time. Don't know why I came up with 5. It seemed like a nice number. I'm trying to get a handle on my schedule. Writing and marketing take up most of my life. Because I'm completely insane (and I'd like to make some money), I added selling my photographs and designs into the mix on top of starting my own business. Yeah, I don't sleep much.

Some things get left behind. I haven't been designing as much as I'd like. 

Last week was Virtual FantasyCon. While thinking of ways to attract people to my booth, I figured I'd design some new images, including a cover redesign, and reveal them at the Con. Apparently, this was the kick in the butt I needed. In the past two weeks, I did some serious designing. 

First up was the cover redesign.

Here's the original:

This was one of the first covers I designed. Since I was still getting to know Photoshop, I made some mistakes. Somehow, I only have this cover at 100px x 200px. That is waaaay too small to do anything with. Photoshop can work magic but it can't make this image larger without it looking like crap.

The cover also looks like it's been Photoshopped. I think the test of a good image is whether or not you can see the seams, so to speak. It was time for a redesign. I also tweaked the ebook.

Amazon |

I created the below images for the Con. If you'd like to buy any of these images, email me at with the name of the design you'd like. 

Lunar Wraith

Blood in the Water

Don't Walk Alone 

Haunted View

 Lightening Kitana 


 Wicked Fire

 I did the following designs exclusively for my newsletter. If you subscribe to my newsletter, you get unlimited use of certain images I created. These aren't for sale. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Week in Links 10/14/16: Fantastic Beasts, Wonder Woman, Rogue One

Welcome to the weekly roundup of links for fellow writers and nerds.

Book Marketing and Branding
Authors: Do You Have the Perfect Pitch?
5 Tips to Build More Loyalty With Your Twitter Fans

The best horror movies to stream on Shudder, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu

Anime Feminist Wants To Get Real About Fan Service
Luke Cage Meets Family Matters in this Perfect Mashup!

Want to see your post in the next The Week in Links? Email me at The post needs to be published between today, 10/14 and next Friday, 10/21.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Guest Post: Myths and Legends that Inspired “The Blue Witch” by Joni Parker

One of my favorite legends of all times is King Arthur and his knights of the roundtable. I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard the story, but I was captivated. Consequently when I had a chance to include him in one of my books, I jumped at it. My book, “Spell Breaker,” which is book one of this series, ends with my main character, Lady Alex, having to make a decision. She could stay and face the consequences of her actions; she could hide out somewhere until the danger is passed, or she could run away. For a young woman aged sixteen, I believed she would run if she could. And where did she run to? Glastonbury village, located in the heart of King Arthur’s kingdom, is her destination. None of the Elves would look for her in the mortal world and she could be safe…or so she thought.

Greek mythology was also one of my favorite topics and for some reason, the Titans appealed to me. They were here before the Olympians and very little is really known about them. During the War of the Titans, the Olympians set about to destroy all of the remaining Titans. But what if one of them escaped? Where could he go? Well, he went to Seaward Isle and became Lady Alex’s grandfather, Themius.

The last legend that inspired me was J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elves from the “Lord of the Rings.” I’ve read the books and watched the videos both in the short and long version. From that, Lady Alex came to be. Her father was a mortal, a shipwreck survivor on the island and a Count. Her mother was the daughter of Themius, the Titan who was stranded on the island and married Lady Lestin of the Water Elves. Her background is so complicated she doesn’t know where she fits in. She’s not a mortal, but is raised by them. She’s not a Titan, but has some of their powers. And she’s not an Elf, but she loves them. Sometimes, she just doesn’t worry about who she is and reacts as any normal human being would. Unfortunately, she’s not normal.

This book, in particular, drew on more myths and legends than any of my previous ones because of King Arthur. I’m not so sure he was a legend, though. I understand they have found evidence of him and have dated his time to the end of the Roman era circa 400 A.D., which is why my book includes the date 420. By the way, one of my chapters in this book is entitled, “Myth and Legend.”

I hope you enjoy reading this book and wait…there are two more coming in this series. The next book is entitled, “Gossamer” and the last book in this series is “Noble Magic.” Stay tuned for more myths and legends.

Title: The Blue Witch
Author: Joni Parker
Genre: Fantasy

Under the rule of King Arthur, Alex finds the mortal world far from what she’d imagined, and the mortals are less than hospitable. Accused of being the “Blue Witch,” Alex is sentenced to die for treason and has been implicated in the mysterious death of one of Arthur’s noblemen by seemingly magical means. With help from unexpected sources, she escapes and returns to Eledon, where civil unrest and the threat of war looms. Alex resumes her responsibilities as Keeper of the Keys for the Council of Elders, but must execute a series of quests to prove her abilities to handle the magical Keys of Eledon. But are her efforts enough to save the Elves from Civil War? And can she commute her own death sentence by finding the Holy Grail?

| Amazon

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Joni’s a city-girl, raised in the heart of the city. So, when her first grade class took a field trip to the Museum of Science and Technology, she was fascinated by the chicken farm where there were live chickens and chicks hatching from eggs under a light. Like the other students in class, she wrote a report, but hers was selected to be in the school newspaper. Her first published article! Joni’s writing continued with short stories until the eighth grade in Phoenix, Arizona when she won second prize in a short story contest and an honorable mention for a poem. After that, she developed a writer’s block and couldn’t write another short story or poem for the next 45 years. Talk about a writer’s block! Now, it seems she can’t stop writing and has retired from work to write. “The Blue Witch” is her fifth published novel and the second book in “The Chronicles of Eledon” series.

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