4.07.2020

Researching & Launching a Novel During a Pandemic


 Launching a book during a pandemic is no joke. Nevertheless, the date I picked turned out to be smack dab in the thick of it. Witch of the Wild Beasts is a dark fantasy for dark times, and hopefully a good diversion, which we all need a dose of. The process of researching a book is always a deep diversion from the daily grind, pandemic or no pandemic. Allow me to tell you about the process.
          I’ve been fascinated by the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia ever since I visited for their Halloween fright tour, and saw the actual, untouched surgical room from when they opened in 1829. It still had a rickety metal operating table, sharp and crusty medical tools, and frighteningly tiny holding pens. The idea for Witch of the Wild Beasts rushed in right then and there: a thriller involving doctors devising medical mischief and unlucky prisoners, including Evalina Stowe, a woman accused of witchcraft.
It turns out that in the 1850s, when my novel takes place, Philadelphia experienced an explosion of new medical “breakthroughs”, from the wacky to the notable. At the offbeat end, there were herbal remedies inspired by the German Pow Wow or Braucherei practitioner, a combination of ritual prayer, herbal applications and the chanting of charms to not only heal the patient, but protect the farmers’ cattle and sheep. On the remarkable side, were the “plastic operations” of Dr. Thomas Mütter, who pioneered plastic surgery at Jefferson Medical School, and who invented applications we use to this day, such as the Mütter flap. This uses a flap of living skin, still partially attached, to cover open, damaged areas until they can heal, at which point the connected flap is cut and stitched. Dr. Mütter, who appears in the book, was quite the flamboyant dresser, who liked to match his suit to the color of his carriage. To this day, the Mütter Museum is a go-to attraction for all sorts of medical oddities, including dozens of wax molds of eye diseases and ‘The Soap Lady’, a woman whose body was exhumed in Philadelphia in 1875. She is nicknamed this because a fatty substance called adipocere coats her remains.
I grew up in Philadelphia and thought I knew a lot about its history, but in the process of research for the novel, I learned many new, startling facts. I love writing historical fantasy for this very reason.
Before Eastern State Penitentiary was built with its single cells and solitary confinement, people of all ages, including children were thrown in one holding pen at another location. Thus, Eastern State revolutionized the system and was considered state of the art when it was built. It was equipped with skylights, central heating and some of the very first flush toilets, and inspired by the Quakers’ belief that solitary penitence could quell an inmate’s urge to commit crimes.
Yet it wasn’t long before people realized that “paying penitence” 24/7 alone in a cell did not cure people of criminal behavior. Rather, the isolation drove them stark raving mad. Charles Dickens, who visited the prison, wrote a scathing treatise, saying, “Solitary confinement is rigid, strict and hopeless… I believe its effects to be cruel and wrong.” Oddly enough, during that era the phrase What the Dickens was a euphemism for What the Devil! Go figure.
Even in this cultured, modern city of Brotherly Love, superstition and chaos were alive and well. According the an article on the Historical Society of Pennsylvania blog, a sensational case occurred in 1852, with newspaper headings entitled, "Superstition in Philadelphia," and "Witchcraft - Evidence of an Enlightened Age”.
"Mary Ann Clinton & Susan Spearing, residents of Southwark Ward, were formally charged at the 'Court of Quarter Sessions,' with "conspiring to cheat and defraud George F. Elliott, by means of fortune telling and conjuration," in order to extort money. The 'Commonwealth of Pennsylvania' alleged that the two women were giving Mrs. Elliott, "a bottle containing some portions of Mr. Elliott's clothing, and telling her that as the clothing decayed, so Mr. Elliott would moulder away, until he would finally die by virtue of the spell..."

It appeared that Mrs. Elliott suspected her husband was guilty of infidelity, a belief that "had so strong an effect upon her as to make her wish for his death." Thus, she had enlisted the services of Clinton & Spearing, who also encouraged the jealous wife, as an "ordeal of witchcraft," to "take her husband's clothes, tear them to pieces, fill the bottle with them, then boil the contents nine times, and this would give him such extreme pain as to cause his death."
Enter my heroine, Evalina, accused of witchcraft when her pet bird, flies down the throat of her violent boss and chokes him to death. Add to this mix, Dolly Rouge, her prison neighbor and ex-bawdy house madam, Lightning, a homeless urchin who knew Evalina’s brother and was jailed for stealing horses, and Birdy, a handsome, kind Irishman jailed for a tragic accident while blasting granite for the railroad who Evalina falls for. Oh, and add a handful of sinister doctors, and Evalina’s perilous plot to gain justice for her brother’s murder.
Research is the grounding for the fire that ignites the writer’s mind. And let us all remember that after the Black Plague came the Renaissance. May we have one for 2020.

To see the novel on all sites click here.

3.17.2020

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading - After the Sky by Milo James Fowler #SpecFic #postapocalyptic


Blurb: The meek have not inherited the earth.

The world isn't how they left it. When the bunker airlocks release them after twenty years in hibernation, the survivors find a silent, barren world outside. But they are not alone. There is a presence here, alive in the dust—spirits of the earth, benevolent and malicious as they interact with the human remnant.

Milton is haunted by a violent past he's unable to escape, despite the superhuman speed the spirits give him.

Not interested in bearing the next generation, Daiyna is determined to destroy the flesh-eating mutants lurking in the dark, pierced by her night-vision.

Luther is a man of conviction who believes the Creator has offered humankind a second chance, yet he's uncertain they deserve it—and he's perplexed by the talons that flex out of his fingers.

Willard is a brilliant engineer-turned-soldier who refuses to leave his bunker, afraid of becoming infected and willing to destroy any obstacle in his way.

As their lives collide, the mysteries of this strange new world start unraveling, culminating in the ultimate life-or-death decision one survivor will make for them all.

My review: Twenty years ago, civilization was blasted away. Now the airlocks on the vaults have opened, and the survivors get to see what has become of their world. The land has been devastated, but spirits of the earth still roam. Some seem to be helpful, but others want to wipe away the last remaining humans. Will the survivors be able to make a new life for themselves or will the malicious spirits have their way?

This is the first book in a thrilling post-apocalyptic adventure series. It reminded me of the popular video game, Fallout, with survivors coming out of the safety of their vaults into a frightening world. After the Sky has much more twisted plot which wrapped me in it quick. We get to see the world through a handful of eyes, the points of view of different characters from various vaults. Each vault has its own specialty: engineers, scientists, breeders. Many people gain new paranormal abilities when they come to the surface. They venture out and meet one another along with other chilling surprises. Luther is the rock of the group and helps keeps hope alive. Daiyna is my favorite character. Strong and wise, and not letting the assignment of her vault determine her purpose. Milton is fascinating, and I never knew which way he'd go.

There's high tension and plenty of action along with a lot of depth in the plot. What exactly is going on in the world, and how to these spirits tie into everything? How can one person make all the difference? While fear, hate, and paranoia drive some characters, others still hold on to their faith and hope. An amazing read that has me eager for the next book.

P.S. Click here or on the cover for the Amazon buy link!

3.03.2020

No (Real) Spooks Allowed


In this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post over on my blog, the question of the month is, Do you ever include traditions or customs from your real life family into your writing?

My short answer was no. But I gave my main character my grandmother’s maiden name and physical characteristics. This got me to thinking about my character’s ability to see and speak to ghosts. In her world, it’s a normal occurrence. As easy as breathing. 

But the ghosts Indigo Eady encounter are not any scarier than they would have been in life. They carry on with their afterlives how they lived their mortal lives. The problems come when they carry on in the space which is now occupied by the living. 

In my cozy mystery books, the stories come with a sense of humor and fun. My sleuth, Indigo Eady, along with her ghostly sidekick, Franny Bishop, a former Victorian madam of some repute, solve mysteries that no one else can.

What makes cozy mysteries so enjoyable to read are not the plots, though it’s fun to help the sleuths figure out whodunit. It's the characters and their interactions that keep you reading. 

Franny is always trying to find Indigo a man (because she knows men, which she doesn’t hesitate to remind Indigo of at every turn) before her shelf life is up. Indigo thinks Franny is an interfering old ghost. But make no mistake, these two are besties.

Cozy paranormal mysteries are fun. We laugh at the character's antics. We want to join in the investigation. Perhaps sit down and have a chat with a ghost about what’s in the ether, and what they do for fun. 

But in real life?

I’m pretty sure I’d head for the hills if I ever ran into a real ghost. I believe they exist.
I do believe in spooks. I do believe in spooks. I do! I do! I do! 
The Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz 

I kind of want to see a ghost. In broad daylight. Surrounded by a crowd of people. Holding my husband's hand. 

I don't consider myself a coward...

...but if I saw one in the middle of the night hovering at the foot of my bed, staring at me? Or touching me? You’d hear me screaming from here to the moon.

Have you ever seen a real "live" a ghost?

Would you want to see one? 


2.18.2020

Speculative Fiction Worth Reading: Stormrider by Peggy Bechko #SciFi #Fantasy




An exciting, adventurous read!

The main character, Tanith Aesir, is sent on a quest by the rulers of her world to find a stolen amulet that lends authenticity to the ruler who wears it. She rose up from the ranks of slave to being trained to serve the Council of Nine on Antaris.

Tanith is sent to Nashira where she becomes stranded when her ship crashes. Her origins, before being taken by the slavers, is on Nashira, and she forms a bond with a pack of wolves.

When the story open, she saves a man who was left for dead by her enemies. Turns out, he's a bounty hunter after the same amulet.

This adventure was part science fiction, part mystery, part mystical, part supernatural. It was an exciting mix with twists and turns and great characters I enjoyed spending time with.

Highly recommended. Available at  KindleBarnes & NobleiBooks
















2.04.2020

New Life Form Created! Part Machine and Part Living Organism. #SciFi

When is a frog not a frog?




When it's created from computer algorithms (AI) and evolved into a new life form. A living machine.

Scientists at the University of Vermont evolved frog stem cells. The tiny blobs made up of living tissue are neither robot nor animal. About the size of the head of a pin, they can be programmed to do different jobs, such as heal wounds faster and deliver medicines to specific places in the body.

There's no external control. The xenobots are more like windup toys. The bots are programmed to do a job and nothing else. The bots can work alone or in groups.

How fascinating is that? It's incredibly cool. Want to learn more about the xenobots? Here's a link to the article. XENOBOTS

This bit of science inspired some scenes in Endpoint, Backworlds Book 8. I hope to release it before the year ends
.

Here are some M. Pax specials to enjoy in the meantime:



Available at all eBook retailers.

Now in Kindle Unlimited!















1.21.2020

Book Review - Louisiana Longshot (A Miss Fortune Mystery Book1) #Cozymysteries


I love to read mysteries, whether it's procedural, crime drama, or cozy. However, I get bored easily. But I don't like anything that stresses me out, so there can't be too much violence. On the other hand, I need something to read that has a fast pace. Yeah, I have a lot of reading codicils. Most importantly, if it doesn't grab me in the first page or two, I don't buy it.

I 'don't buy' a lot of books.

If I can get a fast-paced cozy I'll read it. Louisiana Longshot by self-publisher Jana DeLeon fits the bill perfectly. I came across it as a free-read (still free on Amazon), checked it out, then devoured it.

GWEN'S REVIEW

Fortune is a CIA operative that royally messes up and a price is put on her head by a middle eastern arms dealer. The CIA quickly becomes a former lifestyle. If you're looking for a hardcore thriller, this isn't it.

She ends up hiding out in a podunk town called Sinful, which operates on its own set of rules. She is supposed to be keeping her head down until it's safe to go back in the field. As with any mystery, she quickly stumbles over a bone in her own backyard and an investigation ensues (with the  hunky sheriff being the potential love interest).

The CIA agent-in-hiding walks on the edge at keeping her head down though. As she picks her way through the ins and outs of small (small, small, small) town Louisiana, she becomes friends with a couple of older women. Although they are from different generations, they have something surprising in common.

All three have secrets. All three are bad-ass. Trouble and hilarity is around every corner when the three of them team up to solve the murder.

This is a 'southern cozy mystery', which is sort of a sub-sub-sub-genre of mysteries.

I give Louisiana Longshot a 5* rating.



BLURB

It was a hell of a long shot....

CIA assassin Fortune Redding is about to undertake her most difficult mission ever—in Sinful, Louisiana. With a leak at the CIA and a price placed on her head by one of the world's largest arms dealers, Fortune has to go off-grid, but she never expected to be this far out of her element. Posing as a former beauty queen turned librarian in a small bayou town seems worse than death to Fortune, but she's determined to fly below the radar until her boss finds the leak and puts the arms dealer out of play. Unfortunately, she hasn't even unpacked a suitcase before her newly inherited dog digs up a human bone in her backyard.

Thrust into the middle of a bayou murder mystery, Fortune teams up with a couple of seemingly sweet old ladies whose looks completely belie their hold on the little town. To top things off, the handsome local deputy is asking her too many questions. If she's not careful, this investigation might blow her cover and get her killed. Armed with her considerable skills and a group of elderly ladies the locals dub The Geritol Mafia, Fortune has no choice but to solve the murder before it's too late.



1.07.2020

In the Year 2020


Happy New Year from Untethered Realms!

It's now the year 2020. Sounds very futuristic, doesn't it? As a child, I thought we would all be able to fly to the moon for fun and be friends with hundreds of kinds of aliens all mingling here with us on the planet by this year. Even now as I play with that date in my head, it seems like we should be living in some science-fiction type of world.

I know I'm not the only one who thought that 2020 should be some fantastical year for humans. There were predictions that we'd having flying cars by this point. We do have self-driving ones, though! Some thought we'd have androids with AI too. Sometimes I think my Roomba is smarter than it acts, but we aren't quite at the point where we have robots walking around as part of our every day lives.

There were those who predicted books would be dead. Shame on them! It's not true. While a lot of things have gone digital, humans will always crave stories.

While many of the predictions proved not to be true, there are things that have surprised us all. Good and bad surprises, to be sure, but the fact the human race keeps improvising and creating and pushing forward says great things about us.

What did you use to imagine the year 2020 would bring? What are some of the fun predictions you've heard?