Friday, February 26, 2016

Vacuum Wars

Little did I know how my life would change when I took the vacuum cleaner in to be fixed. A tale of woe and caution...
The store was a little one, a neighborhood joint. I always like to give business to "Mom & Pop shops." 

For you see my vacuum sucked, just not the right way. So in I went.

"Hmm, looks like you have 'The Boss.' Someone likes Springsteen," said the vacuum guy.

"Yeah, but this baby's not born to run."

I slayed. The vacuum guy laughed and laughed and laughed. Off to a killer start. But horrors awaited.

After a month of not hearing from them, I visited the store. Problem is they're never open. Weird hours. Only open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 10-4. And even during those times, the guy still wouldn't open the door for me. I visited, lurked, waited. Closed. Always.

I called. Got "Dave" in the warehouse. Speaking in an indecipherable foreign accent straight out of creaky Frankenstein movies.

"Hello! Yes! Yes! This is Dave!"
"Um, hi, Dave, I have a vacuum with you guys, been there for a month. It's 'The Boss,' and I..."

"Yes, yes, $89 dollars! But I'll sell you a new one, better than Walmarts!"

"Well, thanks anyway, but let's just fix the old one."

"Yes, yes!"

Another month passes. No word. I call again and get Ygor in the warehouse cavern again.

"Yes, yes, yes, I'm glad you called. We lost the ticket. Runs like new!"

Two days later, I pick it up. Then notice, after the fact, all of the arm extension and accessories are missing.

"Dave (which is a weird name for a clearly European mad doctor), I'm not happy," I tell him. "All of the accessories are missing."

"Yes, yes, yes! I knew I should've never taken on this job! I knew it! You should've bought a new vacuum! I told you so!"

Huh. So much for the customer is always right.  I let him know this.

"You're crazy! I spent too much time fixing this! You should've bought the new vacuum! I told you this! I told you to buy the new vacuum. Cheaper than Walmarts!  Yes! Yes! I don't want to argue, but..."

That's all Dave did was argue. Finally, he said he'd give me new extensions. But I'm kinda afraid to go pick them up.


Friday, February 19, 2016

52 Likes with Medeia Sharif

Today I'm featuring Medeia Sharif, the talented author of the gritty YA book, 52 Likes. I'll let Mr. Synopsis give you a taste before the interview begins:

After a brutal rape and near-murder, Valerie wants to get past feelings of victimhood from both the assault and her history of being bullied. Not knowing the identity of her masked rapist and dealing with the nasty rumors about that night are two things that plague her daily.

Valerie will have to follow ghostly entities, past victims of the rapist-murderer, contacting her through a social media site. Why do all of their eerie photos have 52 likes under them? Their messages are leading her to the mystery man, although he’ll put up a fight to remain hidden. 

SRW: Medeia, in 52 Likes, you tackle a tough topic in rape. While it was grueling to read the first chapter (although expertly done), I think you perfectly captured the various stages and emotions a rape survivor (I won't call Valerie, your protagonist, a "victim"; I don't think she'd like to see herself that way.) goes through. Did you do heavy research, talk to survivors? It really rings true.

MS: Thank you, Stuart. I rewatched some movies that involved rape—like “The Accused”—and read plenty of articles and message boards about rape survivors. It wasn’t fun and put me in a dark place in my mind, but I wanted to get 52 LIKES right in that aspect.

SRW: There also seems to be an anti social-media theme going through the book, one that makes cyber-bullying for teens that much easier. And more anonymous (I take this theme to task as well in my Tex, the Witch Boy series). While I know social media is a must for authors to build a readership, do you feel it does more damage than good?

MS: I think it’s great for people who use it to keep in touch and connect. I’ve had people try to bait me online, but because I’m an older person who can walk away and ignore, I believe no one can hurt me through social media. For young people who aren’t discreet with information and pictures and with the way they take things to heart, I’ve encountered teens who’ve been damaged by it.

SRW: I was surprised to see your book segue into a mystery and particularly, a ghost story! I had thought it was going to be a gritty, modern-day, downer drama (albeit it, a very well done one). Did you have this in mind from the beginning or did it evolve naturally?

MS: I’m a plotter. I had the opening scene in mind and knew I wanted a young woman to figure out who her rapist is, so the mystery was there all along. As I outlined, the ghosts came naturally into the story.

SRW: Your dedication contains a message I never tire of. "Things get better." A simple, yet powerful, statement. Without that belief, the lives of rape survivors, the bullied, the downtrodden teens would be very hard to confront. Is that the sentiment you want your readers to carry away from the book?

MS: Absolutely. We’ve all been distressed by something—assault, death of a loved one, and anything else that batters us emotionally—and although it seems like everything for a while, we need to know that we can get past these issues and life does get better.

SRW: Okay, I thought I was up on teen trends and what not (my daughter's a recent survivor of high school hell). But your tale had a couple of new items I've never heard of. First of all, what's a "thot (and please, keep it relatively PG. Lol.)?" Second, it's been some time since I darkened a high school hallway, of course, but I don't remember the guys splashing awful cologne on themselves as liberally as the male characters in your book do. What's up with that?

MS: “Thot” is new slang for “slut” and “whore.” Around the time that I wrote the book, I heard it a lot in my parts. I’ve met some young men who do wear an insane amount of cologne. Even if the other boys in a room aren’t wearing any, they certainly make up for that. Maybe it’s just them finding their style, in the same way some young women wear too much makeup or the wrong colors until they find what’s right for them. I don’t recall all the cologne when I myself was growing up.

SRW: In my (and my daughter's) high school experiences, bullying pretty much was kept solidly on the same sex lines: boys bullied boys, girls bullied girls. In 52 Likes, poor Valerie's worst bullies are all boys. (I love how she gives back to them, adopting a tough girl persona). Do you see this as true these days? Is it based on your own experiences? Or does bullying not know gender lines?

MS: I don’t think it knows any gender lines. Bullies can go on relentlessly about something they dislike about someone, male or female. Although it usually is same sex, I’ve seen bullying opposite sex.

SRW: I enjoyed the ghost story element of your tale. Kinda creepy, neck hair raising stuff. Have you considered writing a straight-up supernatural spook tale?

MS: Yes. I’m always trying to stretch myself by writing in different genres. I’ve also had ideas for supernatural tales, but I haven’t drafted them yet.

SRW: Tell everyone about your other books. And what's up next for Medeia?

MS: I have three “light” contemporary YA books entitled BESTEST. RAMADAN. EVER., HOT PINK IN THE CITY, and SNIP, SNIP REVENGE. My dark contemporary YA is VITAMINS AND DEATH. I have one published middle grade, THE ATTIC OF SAND AND SECRETS. My soon-to-be-published book coming out this spring is a horror middle grade, THE HAUNTED STEPSISTER, that’s multicultural and centers around a girl who needs an exorcism.  

SRW: Thanks so much, Medeia, for visiting. Now everyone go out and get 52 Likes. It's a powerful work.

Friday, February 12, 2016

STRIKE: Killers Incorporated, Book #2!


The killers are back in town.

Leon Garber’s an accountant and occasional assassin.  But he’s one of the good guys.  See, Leon’s only interested in taking out abusers. He’s not the only serial killer on a mission, though. His past employer, Like Minded Individuals, Inc. (LMI for short), employs quite a few. 

Mostly, Leon was a model employee. Or at least, he was until that little falling-out he had with them last year.  Now he’s got a target on his back.  He’s seriously out-numbered, but even worse, LMI has hired Leon’s former associate, Cody Spangler, to track him down. Unfortunately for Leon, someone else from Leon’s past, someone he never wanted to see again, has other ideas for Leon’s welfare. 

But now’s the time to strike. Old allies and dangerous new acquaintances join together to fight back. A team of disgruntled killers have banded together. The operative? Take down LMI. Or die trying.

Strike: Killers Incorporated Book #2

Serial killers have never been so much fun. Trust me. Many more dysfunctional and nutty characters are introduced: Nanette, the black widow; The I-35 Vampire; The Dobermann Pincher; Mr. Sensitivity; Bug; and, of course, my favorite: The Man with the Shoebox.

If you haven't already, get in on the ground floor with the first book, Secret Society. The only book to come with a "punch in the face" guarantee!* That's right! If you don't like Secret Society, I'll come to your house and you can punch me in the face!*

*Disclaimer: The reader must live within a one block range of said author's residence. Traveling is expensive. Plus, as much as I love this book, I also kinda like my face. Warning: Don't read Secret Society while driving heavy machinery. Don't mix prescription drugs with Secret Society. If drowsiness ensues, then you're not reading Secret Society. Pregnant women should not read Secret Society unless consulting me first and I say it's okay. If a rash persists while reading Secret Society, call your doctor and tell him to read Secret Society.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Everything Witches and Curses with Catherine Cavendish

Recently, I read and enjoyed Catherine Cavendish’s The Pendle Curse. The book is sprawling with ambition and crawling with ghosts and witches. As soon as I finished it, I knew I wanted to get Catherine over here to Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley and grill her. I’ve got questions…man, have I got questions…

SRW: Welcome Catherine! Thanks for walking into my inquisition chambers.

CC: My pleasure. I do so love a grand inquisition!

SRW: Tell everyone a little bit about The Pendle Curse.

CC: Happy to. 400 years ago, in the bleak windswept and frequently stormy countryside of Pendle in Lancashire, England, ten men and women were hanged as witches. In my story, they come back, with scores to settle. In the present day, a young woman is haunted by dreams of a distinctive landscape and even more distinctive hill. It seems so real to her she searches for it on the internet – and finds it. Naturally, she must go there and see it for herself. Once there, events overtake her. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil...and a curse that will not die. 

SRW: Okay. While reading the tale, I kept wondering something…Catherine, are you a witch?

CC: Er – no. Although I do have a broomstick.

SRW: Sorry! Didn’t mean to “Geraldo” you right off the bat. But one thing I love about The Pendle Curse is the nonchalant way you drop in tidbits and background about witches without feeling the need to handhold the reader and walk them through it. Guess I’m just saying you have a natural affinity for witchdom and pull it off with grace and ease.

CC: That’s very kind of you to say so. Although The Pendle Curse is loosely based on fact, I didn’t want to give everyone a history lesson and send them all off to sleep.

SRW: At the end of chapter two, there’s a true shocker, one that knocked this jaded ol’ reader outta his seat. I won’t spoil it here (it’s part of the “Curse,” after all), but it certainly forms the story-line of the book, both past and present.  I really liked getting a jolt upfront instead of having to wait for it. Was this intentional? Or did you make it so to propel the story-line? 

CC: Both. I like to jolt my readers, and scare them. I think it’s also vital to keep moving the story along and a sudden shock usually achieves that. Glad it worked for you!

SRW: Continuing along the same lines, how do you, the author, see the character of James?

CC: James is a complex character. He is intensely loyal to his family, and anyone who harms them better watch out. He is a powerful witch, well versed in the dark arts he has learned from his mother and grandmother. He is obsessive, ruthless and capable of extreme cruelty without a second thought. James will do anything to get what he wants and, having made a vow, nothing – not even death – will break it.

SRW: To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him. Actually, that’s not true, my opinion of him changed throughout the book.  Several times.  Very nice job of writing.  

How do you categorize The Pendle Curse? Is it a horror tale, a ghost story, a romance? All of the above? Which is most important to the tale?

CC:  It’s a horror story – with witches. Real witches. Nothing sparkly about this lot!

SRW: The romance angle…again, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. (It’s hard to talk about this angle without giving away major spoilers!) There’re two concurrent romances going on in the book: Laura’s in the present and James’ in the past. I’m onboard with the present, shipping away (well, until we get further in). But the past love story? Not so much.  How do you feel about James’ love story?

CC: As you say, it is difficult to talk about James’ passionate feelings without giving too much away. I will say that he is obsessed. Totally, 100% obsessed – and that’s unhealthy.

SRW:  There are clear-cut villains in your tale. And some people who tread the line between good and evil. Just when I start liking James, he uses witchcraft for nefarious purposes. I’m a fan of the color grey in characters. But James presented a peculiar case. Imminently rootable, yet…a little scary, not very trustworthy. A romantic though, ladies. Catherine, what’s your take?

CC: It’s interesting you see him as a romantic. I don’t really. It’s that obsession thing again. It drives him to do anything and everything to achieve his goal. Anyone who stands in his way will be eliminated.

SRW: My favorite scenes are when Laura, the modern day protagonist, is investigating Pendle Hill. There’s a wonderfully paranoid sense of “what the hell’s going on here?” as she visits with creepy old women who may, or may not, know more than they’re letting on. Reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby and other great past paranoia-driven supernatural thrillers, the scenes are masterfully written. And more than once, the ghostly aspects of the book brought to mind great ghost tales of the past: a little M.R. James, possibly some Shirley Jackson. Are you a fan of these books? What other writers inspire you?

CC: Thank you for those lovely compliments. I don’t often blush but you’ve made my cheeks all pink! Yes, I am a huge fan of M.R. James and Shirley Jackson. I love that creepy, ghostly, something-lurking-in-the-shadows kind of horror. My other favourites are Stephen King (I know. Predictable!), Anne Rice (she writes great witches), Ramsey Campbell, Richard Matheson, and some newer writers such as Ronald Malfi, Russell James, Hunter Shea, JG Faherty, Sephera Giron… the list keeps growing. There is some great emerging talent out there.

SRW: Okay, tell us a little bit about your other works. And where the reader can find them.

CC: I have written a number of novels and novellas – a lot of them with a Gothic flavour. Ghosts and demons feature frequently and I do love visiting the past. Prior to The Pendle Curse, my novel Saving Grace Devine was partially set early last century. My next novel – The Devil’s Serenade – will be published by Samhain in April and is set in a brooding Gothic mansion which has been infested by evil, thanks to its builder, Nathaniel Hargest. He has been dead for many years, but his demonic spirit lives on. 

My novels are published in print as well as ebook, and The Pendle Curse is also available on audio. All can be found on my Amazon page as well as Barnes and Noble, Kobo and the usual online bookstores. Those published by Samhain can also be found on my publisher’s page, by clicking here.

SRW: What’s next darkening your keyboard, Catherine?

CC: After The Devil’s Serenade comes Wrath of the Ancients, scheduled for publication in December 2016. This one is set in Vienna, Austria. Adeline Ogilvy, a young widow from London, goes there on an assignment to type up the memoirs of the deceased archaeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. To do so, she must reside in his house but, from the moment she arrives, she discovers this is far from the fantastic opportunity she had been anticipating.  She hears strange noises from behind the walls, sees shadowy figures that cannot be there, hieroglyphics that appear on the wall, and finds an enigmatic portrait of a long dead Egyptian queen. As Adeline types the pages of his manuscript, she discovers he dug up far more than just a famous mummy. Increasingly fearful, she calls on an old and learned friend for help, only to find he confirms her worst suspicions—and more.

SRW: Thanks much for being my latest victim, Catherine. Readers! Get thee busy and find her books at:

CC: Thank you for being such an excellent host!