QUARANCON 2022

QuaranCon is a FREE VIRTUAL Science Fiction and Fantasy writer’s convention that started back in April 2020, shortly after all of our lives got turned upside down by Covid-19.

It was “at” this conference–which was technically home–that I decided to commit to self-publishing my books. The excitement and energy the organizers, moderators, guest authors had about writing and publishing was incredible.

In those first months of the Pandemic/Lockdown, I didn’t know it at the time, but I desperately needed something to balance out my academic/work life. I was heading down a path of insanity and/or extreme apathy, which would probably have morphed a cyclical spiral, moving back and forth between one and the other, a mobius strip of bad feelings.

But that didn’t happen! Because three months later I hired an editor and a writing coach and kept myself busy with putting my imaginary worlds onto paper.

Last year, I was able to participate (dream come true) and did a live reading of one of the stories in Pulling Teeth, The Slaughter Chronicles’s Regina prequel short story collection.

Which you can watch here.

This year, incredibly, they’re letting me come back to do another reading AND a panel.

On April 8, at 11:00 a.m. CST I will be moderating what I know will be an amazing discussion about writing multi-genre works and navigating the traditional and self-publishing business of getting a story to fit in one or many spots.

On April 10, at 8:00 p.m. CST I will be reading from…yeah, I haven’t quite figured that out yet. But I will be reading from something.

Every QuaranCon panel, workshop, and reading is broadcast live but saved to YouTube, so if you can’t make it this weekend, you can watch this year’s videos, and the entire archive, at your leisure.

THE WISH MAKER

Despair on the home front of a war-torn dystopia.

Megan’s mother has no patience for her. Megan’s privileged pseudo-friend, Sophie, bullies her at every opportunity. And Megan’s teachers are sure she’ll only be good enough for the worst jobs available.

Midnight-blue eyes grant wishes.

But her special secret treasure is the one thing they can’t take from her. And it holds an incredibly powerful and frightening thing inside, something Megan can never mention to anyone. The thing with midnight-blue eyes and uncountable jagged teeth wants Megan to wish for something, anything, and it wants her to wish more and more. But at what cost?

Every wish has a price.

The Wish Maker is a cosmic horror short story exposing the disturbing similarities between real-life evils and a larger-than-life Lovecraftian monster.

Book cover for The Wish Maker

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’ve had the idea for The Wish Maker in my head for a long time now, probably 30 years to the day exactly.

It all started on a dark and stormy night. I was watching an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? that fantastic gateway show into horror and madness for every rural American child of the 90’s. The episode was based on the short story “The Monkey’s Paw.” Somehow I got a hold of that original story and the idea of wishes (bringing dead people back to life) having consequences intrigued me.

But I found the story wanting. A thought kept bugging me: what about the monkey? Was it still alive? Would more magical things happen if you got a hold of its whole body? And most importantly, was it pissed off about losing a paw?

I know I would be.

And thus, the creature inside Megan’s secret treasure was born.

HOW I GOT INTO STEPHEN KING

I don’t like all Stephen King books but I can’t deny he is a master of the horror genre. And the books of his that I do like, I like because they entertain me as a reader, not a writer. I get transported into that world and I don’t want to leave because there’s something there in the terror that feels like home.

So when I was a kid, my mom went to Pennsylvania for a conference or something and first I got scared because I didn’t hear Pennsylvania, I heard Transylvania and I thought Dracula was going to kill her. I was corrected rather quickly about that before I could realize that if Dracula “killed” her she could turn into a vampire and have a pretty cool life after that.

But then after we dropped her off at the airport my dad said something about how her plane might crash, a possibility that had never popped into my head before even though I had my first plane ride when I was 3, and when we got home he put on The Langoliers.

And I fucking loved it.

I loved the creepy abandoned airport, I love how the characters could pick through other people’s stuff and explore things that seemed ordinary but were really out of the ordinary.

I loved the little girl, I wanted to be her. I loved the tough Australian guy, I wanted to marry him and I was sad when he died. I loved the pilot and his bravery flying the plane through the rip in reality knowing that if he fucked it up they would all die. I even liked the guy who ripped up paper, even though he was also kinda creepy. And I felt kinda bad that he was messed up. But I also loved it when the Langoliers ate him.

I could go on and on about those characters. I think it’s one of the few stories where I like every single character, which doesn’t happen often.

I hot-glued cotton balls to a rock and drew teeth on it. I am not artistic. It was an albino langolier. Whatever.

I thought those monsters were fucking adorable. And if you think about it, knowing that a toothy, round monster thing eats the past is kind of comforting because everything embarrassing or humiliating that ever happened to you is, technically, gone now.

And that’s how I got into Stephen King.

READING LAURELL K. HAMILTON

The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #2)The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t do a lot of traditional book reviews and this isn’t going to be one of them, I guess, more like thoughts on the book while explaining why I think it’s so great. Maybe that is a traditional review. Whatever. It’s morning and I’m not awake yet.

A little bit of background:

The Laughing Corpse was published back in 1994 and is the second book in the Anita Blake Series. I first picked up Guilty Pleasures, book 1, with my high school bestie in 2002.

At that time the only other horror literature I’d been exposed to were the classics: Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I’d read Anne Rice but found Interview with the Vampire too serious (much like Louis himself). Reading Anne Rice, for me, is like reading Herman Melville. I love it (some of it in Anne Rice’s case) but I have to be in the mood for long, plodding tones and slow, plodding plots. I’d also read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and found her books entertaining and the characters compelling but they were very light and fluffy for me.

When I was on a summer job, one of my coworkers suggested I read Bloody Bones. Bloody Bones is book 5 so when I picked it up I was totally lost. But then my high school best friend bought a copy of Guilty Pleasures and said I needed to read it. So I did. And here’s why I loved it: Anita was real. I could hear her, see what she saw, smell what she smelled, feel what she felt. Laurell K. Hamilton makes her books like you’re plugging into the matrix. You get to live the book right along with the characters.

This was pre-Twilight. This was before everyone thought vampires and black nail polish was cool. I was more of the stereotypical goth girl than my friend but where I’d always been an “outsider” at my school, all the “cool kids” avoided her because she was new, she’d just moved to Arkansas from Florida and, as Southern preppy high schools are also incestuous institutions that follow the “keep-to-your-own-kind” paradigm, no one wanted to hang out with her except the other “outsiders.” This was before facebook took off and this was before anti-bullying regulations were set in place. We were no strangers to harassment and discrimination.

We weren’t accepted in our limited version of society, we had family problems at home, we struggled with addiction and alcohol abuse, we had unreliable boyfriends, but we could escape into books.

Here’s an image for you: underaged teenage girls sitting on a balcony overlooking a dark forest and the Arkansas River beyond, smoking cigarettes and reading Guilty Pleasures aloud to each other. At night. She was team Richard, I was team Jean-Claude. Guess who won 😉

I felt like Anita was someone I could look up to and maybe even be friends with, she struggled with thinking about religion and spirituality the same way I did. I wanted to be just like her and have a job when I graduated college. I wanted to have meaningful relationships and a solid sense of self. I found Anita and the rest of Hamilton’s cast of characters more real than any other characters I’d read at the time.

Thoughts on The Laughing Corpse:

In The Laughing Corpse, a killer zombie murders two families. But it doesn’t just kill them, it rips them apart and eats them.

You see a child with its stomach and intestines torn out. You see another child’s severed hand. You see a blood soaked baby blanket and possibly the little blob of meat that was left over from the baby.

You see ribs, you see ball joints, you see organs.

And that right there is my bread and butter. Because it’s real. When someone is murdered it’s not pretty, it’s not neat and tidy; it’s visceral and in-your-face. Showing this in literature, and the characters’ human reactions to this violence, are extremely important because somewhere in the world, this scene has happened. Minus the killer zombie, of course. But out here in the real world, a very unfortunate person met an extremely unfair end.

Daily life, for most people, is not filled with violence and death. But there are other bad things out there. You know the saying, “Everyone is going through something.” Hamilton not only gives me an escape from my “something” but makes me feel normal for having “something” to go through instead of feeling like a weird freak who can’t get her shit together (that’s another story for another time).

In the afterword to The Laughing Corpse, Hamilton writes, “Once upon a time it bothered me that I don’t think like the majority of people. That I walk through a world where the worst can happen, and often does. That I see danger where most people see nothing.”

This isn’t about being an alarmist or living in fear of all the things that can kill you, this, I feel, is about acknowledging and respecting the nightmares and, most importantly, showing that you can live through them.

When I re-read this book I’d forgotten that Anita was almost raped. Not by a vampire or any other supernatural creature, but a person. A human bodyguard for a human villain. Thankfully though, she wasn’t raped. She got free and kicked the shit out of that guy. But it still happened. A man put his hands on her.

I’m going to say something that you might not like. That attempted rape scene was important.

Not just for character development or plot, not because I like reading the horror genre, but because atrocities need to be looked at and acknowledged.

I didn’t like seeing Anita in that situation. I cheered when she got out of it. Anita was also tortured (physically beaten as incentive to do what the bad guy wanted) in that scene and yes, Hamilton could have chosen to not go that far–or faded the scene to black the same way romance authors will sometimes do sex scenes–but she did and I’m glad she did because, again, telling stories where REAL things happen is important.

I could look at Anita and say, “Wow, bad things happened to her.” Bad things happened to me too; making a connection with a character through a shared experience like that helped me not feel so alone, helped me function as a real human being.

In interviews and at book signings Hamilton talks about how fans will come up to her and say “Thank You” for making role models and heroes for them to look up to. She’s had people tell her that if Nathaniel could get therapy then so could they. And that’s a beautiful thing. And that probably wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton didn’t write the dark aspects of the human condition.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Anita has loving relationships with people, Anita is happy with herself (most of the time) and if she can do that then so can I.

The Laughing Corpse ends with the bad guys defeated but the mystery of life is still sitting there waiting to be solved. Anita solved one problem but she has others to deal with in book 3. That’s life too. Even when things are going good something will happen to turn things upside down. Anita handles those things like a human. She gets pissed off, she gets sad, but she always solves the problem and carries on with her life. Even when it hurts.

View all my reviews

NICK HOLLERAN: DEAD MAN WALKING

Dead Man Walking (Nick Holleran, #1)Dead Man Walking by David Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dead Man Walking is one of the best paranormal private investigator stories I’ve read in a long time. Nick Holleran is both delightfully sarcastic and sympathetic. You really feel for him and you can tell he really feels for other people, even when he has to shoot them in the face. He also has excellent taste in music. Green is a master storyteller and Nick’s voice and personality are beautifully crafted.

This book puts a unique twist on paranormal investigation, and given the vastness of the genre, that is really hard to do. The world building is wonderful and I’ve never seen a Hell on Earth concept like this before. Green definitely does not disappoint with this one. If you’re a fan of Edward Lee’s City Infernal, this is for you.

View all my reviews