The Philadelphia Experiment

The Black Cats

The Black Cats

No, not that one. This one.

Artemis Greenleaf here. Today I’m interviewing the multi-talented Monica Shaughnessy, and we’ll be discussing The Black Cats, the latest installment in her Edgar Allen Poe historical fiction series.

AG: You have a wide variety of books – an Easter picture book, a mid-grade superhero story, and some young adult romances, all for the 18-and-under set. How did you get from kid lit to adult historical fiction?

MS: I’m lucky (unlucky?) enough to have a brain that jumps from one thing to the next. I constantly crave variety. When it doesn’t come to me, I seek it out. When I can’t find it on the bookshelf, I write it! I guess the word for it is eclectic. This isn’t just how I write books, though. It’s how I live my life. In the car, I listen to Hank Williams and Rage Against the Machine. In the kitchen, I experiment with tagine cooking one night and wok cooking the next. You get the idea. On the flipside, “eclectic” turns to “scattered” if I don’t stay focused.

AG: Why did you choose Edgar Allen Poe’s cat as the POV character? Do you have a tortoiseshell cat yourself?

MS: The idea for this series began with a wish: to write a cat cozy. I really like mysteries, and the cozy market seemed like a good place to dive in with my adult writing. This, of course, lead to the idea of Edgar Allan Poe’s cat. So I had a choice – either narrate from Eddy’s perspective or from Cattarina’s. Since there’s something a little sacred about the master, I decided not to write from his POV. How can anyone truly know the mind of a genius? Alas, I didn’t realize that I had a third, and no less interesting, choice: Eddy’s wife, Sissy. In early outlines, however, I didn’t understand her pivotal role in the story. But now, Cattarina has taken on a life of her own. One reader even called her a diva. (so true!) And about that tortoiseshell…no, I don’t have such a creature in my home. But my grandmother was blessed with one. If I had to describe that tortie in a single word, it would be feisty.

AG: Eddie just had a birthday. Did you do anything special? Raise a glass in his honor? What is your favorite work by Poe?

MS: Sadly, his birthday passed without much notice in my house. I was hard at work on a ghostwriting project for a client, and the date zipped right by. But next year, when I’ve completed my Cattarina series, I’ll probably have a big book sale in his honor. (How else do indie authors celebrate?) My favorite work by Poe would have to be the poem, “Annabel Lee.” I even allude to it in my novella, The Black Cats. Though it was written years after “The Black Cat,” I suspect he received his inspiration much earlier.

AG: Your first Cattarina book, The Tell-Tail Heart, came out last spring, and you’ve just released a prequel (To the River) and a second Cattarina Mystery – The Black Cats. Are you planning on doing a Cattarina book for every Poe story? Poe died a mysterious death – is Cattarina going to have anything to say about that?

MS: From what we know, Poe acquired Cattarina (or she acquired him) in Philadelphia. So many of his early works are out of the question. After he left Philadelphia and moved to New York, he eventually brought Cattarina over, along with his mother-in-law. But during those later years, he traveled quite a bit due to his growing fame over “The Raven.” Sadly, he and Catters spent more and more time apart. This would make writing about his later works somewhat problematic. That’s why I chose to concentrate on his “golden days” in Philadelphia, where he was on the cusp of fame. And it’s a fascinating city to write about. To answer your second question, Cattarina won’t have much to say about Eddy’s passing because they were apart when it happened (he was in Baltimore, and she was in New York) AND they both died within days of each other. Bittersweet, no?

AG: Not unlike Lord Carnarvon’s terrier. What did you enjoy most about writing The Black Cats?

MS: I enjoyed writing about the interpersonal relationship between Eddy and Sissy. Since temperance and drinking to excess are the thematic elements of Poe’s “The Black Cat,” I used these as a springboard to explore the ups and downs of what I’m sure was a very rocky marriage at times. It’s no secret that Mr. Poe leaned toward alcoholism. And while he’s inebriated during several scenes in my book, I never say, “He was drunk.” Even his wife and mother-in-law never say it. Why? I suppose out of respect for the man. I wanted to discuss his problems in a way that didn’t tarnish him.

AG: 1840’s Philadelphia really comes alive in this story. Have you been to the city? Do they have a Poe tour?

MS: I would LOVE to visit Philadelphia one day. But we mostly vacation in places we can drive to (we own an RV), and Pennsylvania is a loooooong way from Texas. I’ve been bugging my husband about it lately. So we’ll see. J But! I have been to Richmond, Virginia, where I visited the Poe Museum. It’s a lovely place, but a thin substitute for his actual home. And yes, they give tours of his former dwelling on North Seventh in Philly. I watched hours of video footage, both from the National Parks Service and from amateurs, so I could get a sense of the interior.

AG: What projects are you working on now?

MS: Right now, I’m finishing up a collection of horror/suspense stories that I plan to release in February (fingers crossed!), titled Hell Cent and Other Fine Stories of Death and Dismemberment. After that, I’m going to start on the third book in the Cattarina Mysteries series: The Raven of Liberty. At the book’s conclusion, she inspires…. Well, I don’t have to tell you, do I? It’s obvious from the title!

AG: Ooooh! I’m looking forward to reading that. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with us.

 

 

The Veil

by Artemis Greenleaf

 Please join the Space City Scribes for “The Nuts and Bolts of Indie Publishing” presentation at Maud Marks Library in Katy at 10:00 AM on Nov. 8, 2014. A book signing at Katy Budget Books will follow from 2:00 – 4:00.  

The Veil

“You know what they say about Halloween, right?” Missy asked.

“What’s that?” Jacob replied.

“That the barrier – I think it’s called the veil – between the world of the living and the world of the dead thins enough for ghosts to get through. You think that’s true?”

Jacob signed quietly, more of a gesture than a sound. “I wouldn’t count on it. I know how much you miss your sister, but…well, I just hate to see you get your hopes up for nothing, that’s all.”

Missy fidgeted, and a frown flickered across her face. “There has to be a way. You hear about people seeing ghosts all the time.”

Jacob reached out and stroked her cheek with the backs of his fingers and gave her a half smile. “Come on,” he said, reaching for her hand. “We spend too much time here, and it only makes you sad.”

“I wanted to be here when they installed the grave marker, wanted to make sure it was right.”

Jacob nodded. Missy took his hand and got up from the metal bench that overlooked the family cemetery plot, running the fingers of her other hand over the top of the granite tombstone as she passed it.

“You’re probably right. We should go.”

By early afternoon, Missy had an appointment with Madam Celestina. She seated herself at a round wooden table in a cheery room with antique pictures on the wall. A smoky quartz crystal ball the size of a large grapefruit glistened in a shiny black stand in the middle of the table.

Jacob had refused to come.

“I need to talk with someone on the other side,” she told Madam Celestina.

The psychic advisor leaned forward, and the large jewel in her red satin turban glared at Missy like the eye of an ancient idol. “It can be done. But there are no guarantees,” she replied. “It makes a difference if the person you wish to contact also wishes to contact you.”

“I’m certain my sister would want to hear from me.”

The psychic raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps. It is easiest, then, to make contact in the dark before the dawn. Sometimes, it may help to go to a favorite place of your loved one. Don’t be too disappointed if she doesn’t respond. She may not be able to hear you.”

“Could you try something like a séance?”

The psychic shook her head. “Séances and Ouija boards are more effective for contacting localized entities – those just hanging around or passing through the area – rather than specific individuals. I have also found that when people are in a hypnogogic state, they are most receptive to messages from the other side.”

“I’m sorry. Hypno what?”

“Hypnogogic. That’s when you aren’t really awake, but you’re not really asleep, either.”

Missy nodded. “I never know that had a name.” She looked down at that table and traced the wood grain pattern with her finger. “My sister, Linda, was due to have a baby, when the accident happened. I was already feeling bad because I had scheduled the shower so late, and Jacob and I had just picked up the invitations from the printer on our way out to dinner. Then everything’s kind of a blur. I think the police said the driver was drunk, but I can’t quite remember. So many things happened that day – I just get confused about everything.”

The psychic touched Missy’s hand. “I know. Sometimes death seems so unfair, and we have a hard time understanding it. But it is possible to make contact across the veil. It may take some practice, however. When you wish to make contact, you must focus on the person you seek – much like tuning in to a radio station. If it makes you feel their presence more, you can go to one of their favorite places.”

“Thanks,” Missy said as she stood up to leave. “I appreciate the help.”

“Feel free to contact me any time,” the psychic said. “Have a blessed day.”

“Perhaps we’re just early.” Missy frowned and looked around the park. “I can’t understand why no one is here. There is always a barbecue on the Saturday after Franco’s birthday. Always. I would think that this year, it would be even more important than ever to have family and friends around to remember the dead.”

Jacob squeezed her shoulder. “Not everyone grieves the same way, Missy. It might be more painful than helpful to do it so soon after the funeral.”

Missy turned to Jacob. “Maybe. Besides, no one specifically said anything about having the barbecue at any time during the wake or after the funeral. It’s always done. I just assumed…”

“You know what they say about assuming.”

Missy whipped her head to the left. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” Jacob turned his head in the direction that Missy stared.

“There was a movement – a shadow – off to my left. There’s nothing there now, though.”

“I didn’t see anything.”

Missy scanned the area before turning back to her husband. Her head jerked away again, this time to the right. “There it is again!” She pointed over his shoulder. “Do you think it could be Linda? Mabye she knows I’m trying to contact her.”

Jacob shook his head gently. “Maybe. I didn’t see it, though. It could also be your imagination working overtime because you want to see your sister so badly.”

Missy scowled at him. “Just because you don’t think I can reach across the veil and contact Linda doesn’t mean it isn’t so.”

Jacob’s eyes tracked left, and he turned his head.

“You saw it, didn’t you? That shadow moving just at the corner of your eye.”

“There’s nothing there.”

Missy gave him a sly smile. “Sure. Of course not.”

Jacob ran his hand through is hair. “Look, no one’s coming. We should probably have tried to confirm this thing before we came all the way out here. I think we ought to go home.”

Missy smiled as she slipped her hand into his, and they left.

“It’s Halloween today. Maybe it will work this time.”

“Missy, I’ve been trying to humor you, because I know how much you miss Linda. But this has got to stop. This obsession just isn’t healthy.”

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do,” Missy snapped. “I’m going to contact my sister, whether you like it or not. You don’t have to participate.”

“I’m not trying to boss you around. I just think you’re too close to this and you aren’t being objective. You’ve put so much effort into crossing the veil that I’m concerned about your mental health.” Jacob squeezed her hand. “Linda was like the sister I never had. I miss her, too. But I love you, and I don’t want to lose you as well.”

Missy regarded Jacob for some time. “Perhaps you’re right. I want to try tonight, because I think it’s my best chance of making contact. But maybe after that, we should go. Leave this place. There are too many memories here, to many reminders…”

Jacob put his arms around Missy, but she wasn’t comforted.

Late afternoon shadows stretched across the grass as Missy and Jacob sat on the wrought-iron bench in the cemetery.

“Are you sure this is the right place? Seems to me like an odd place for her to come,” Jacob said.

“She’ll be here. I can feel it.”

In the near distance, a car door slammed, then another. Footsteps crunched on gravel. Muted voices. A baby crying. Silence. Missy sat forward on the edge of the bench, expectant.

No one came.

The orange sun kissed the western horizon, and the shade of the cemetery trees deepened into shadow.

Soundlessly, a pale figure moved down the paved walkway toward Jacob and Missy.

“Jacob, look! It’s Linda.”

He nodded. “So it is.”

Missy rose and moved toward the bare soil of the grave, her hands resting on top of the granite headstone.

The gate creaked as Linda pushed it open. She looked so pale in the dusky light that Missy felt a twinge of sorrow. Linda carried a bunch of white roses in her left hand.

“Linda!” Missy called.

Linda looked around, but didn’t stop. She knelt down at the headstone, dropping the flowers at its base. Then she pulled a soggy tissue out of her pocket and dabbed at her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to go into labor the morning of the funeral. I wouldn’t have missed it if I hadn’t been in the hospital. But you would love your niece. She is so beautiful. Well, maybe her hair is a little wild. But we’ve named her Melissa Jacqueline, after you and Jacob.”

Interview with Laurie Schnebly – podcast

LaurieEnneagrams

Click to find me at Amazon

by Artemis Greenleaf

Listen to the Laurie Schnebly Interview  here

Show notes:

Laurie Schnebly’s own website: http://booklaurie.com/

Writer University: http://writeruniv.wordpress.com/

Romance University blog post: http://romanceuniversity.org/2014/08/29/braiding-your-story-with-laurie-schnebly-campbell/

November Kiss of Death RWA class http://www.rwamysterysuspense.org/coffinClass.php?classdetail=m1.nov

The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the Nine Types of People, Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele http://www.amazon.com/The-Enneagram-Made-Easy-Discover/dp/0062510266

For a transcript of the interview, go here

Unconfidential Sources

My turn to blog! I considered writing about indie publishing. But Joe Konrath, Hugh Howey, and Passive Guy have that more than covered. Maybe a piece on getting some writing done, with kids, during summer break. But there are already at least 108 million mommy blogs (go google ‘mommy blog’ if you don’t believe me). That, and I haven’t solved that puzzle, either. I asked myself, “What is something that nobody but me can write about?”

Ideas. More specifically, how I get ideas for stories.

I read the “Weird News” sections of online news sources. I’ve even gotten ideas from reading the Homeowner’s Association newsletter.

I write down my dreams. Sometimes, I get weird scenes, scenarios, or dialog. But sometimes, I get entire stories.

I listen to podcasts, like Mysterious Universe.

I read websites, like CryptoMundo, Who Forted, Coast to Coast AM (a little heavy on the conspiracy theories, but sometimes they have gems).

I watch shows like Unusual Suspects, Homicide Hunter, and Forensic Files.

I eavesdrop on strangers in public places. Shhhh. It’s a secret.

I take pictures of odd things.

I go unusual places, and love doing “off the beaten track” activities. I would recommend the sewer tour in Paris, if you get the chance.

Put all those things in the blender, then ask “What if…”

Summertime (Take it away, Miss Ella!)

Game Dice

by Artemis Greenleaf

.

Summertime

And the children are restless

Chutes and Ladders

And lots of Lego.

 

Oh, we read out loud

Now my voice is so croaky

A book full of stories

All about ghosts.

 

Maybe in evening

And sweet kids lie dreaming

I’ll make my word count

And edit my podcast

 

But until that evening

A dinner needs cooking

Tired daddy comes home hungry and frazzled

 

Summertime

Children are busy

Swimming lessons

And playdates with friends

 

Time flashes past

Deadlines a hurtlin’ by

So little children,

What game is next?

Demonology 101

by Artemis Greenleaf

I kill a lot of people.

Granted, they are people who only ever existed in my imagination. And most of them are very bad people. In real life, however, not only am I a vegetarian, I don’t even kill bugs in my house – I scoop them up in a cup and put them back outside.

Recently, when I was on a ride-along with HPD, the officer and I were talking about sociopaths, as you do when you’re driving around a bad neighborhood late at night. I told him about an article I’d heard on NPR about a soldier who quit his white collar job and enlisted after 9/11. The soldier said that he was surprised by the number of men who told him they had joined up for the opportunity to kill someone without repercussions. I found that chilling.

But then, I realized that I essentially do the same thing.

Why do some people like to write about murder, and others like read about it? Is it that we need a proxy for our suppressed rage? Everyone knows at least one person who, as H.H. Munro once said, would be greatly improved by death. Since most of us have a failsafe in our brains that prevents us from killing people, even really awful people, unless we are in a life or death situation, we may have a lot of pent-up frustration with regard to others of our species.

It could be that in our modern, sanitized, civilized society, most of us are far removed from death. Meat, for those who eat it, comes in handy plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery store. The elderly go to nursing homes or hospice care; fewer people die at home than ever before. Most of the time, we only see the mortician’s artfully arranged end product, lying peacefully in a casket. Perhaps on some level, we crave the primal dance of life and death, because death, up close and personal, tends to bring life into sharper focus.

Or perhaps, it is a way to exorcise our demons (or possibly exercise, depending on your point of view). We explore the dark, whistling past the graveyard on our way back to our warm safe houses. But on the way, we’ve tangled with the most terrible of monsters – the ones that are real, and may even live next door to us – and survived. Because in books, the detective always solves the case, and the world is patched up and set right (or as right as it can be, after the killer’s rampage). The demons are at least caged, conquered for the time being.

Until the next time we need them. Because we all have a shadow, a dark side, that most of us keep tightly under wraps. But sometimes, the demons need to come out and run so that they’re tired enough that we can play nice with others.

Do you like to read and/or write crime/horror/mystery stories? Share what you like about it in the comments below.

Got Brand?

by Artemis Greenleaf

A long time ago, people started burning marks into the skin of their cattle to show ownership. John Maverick was famous, or perhaps infamous, for not branding his animals. He said it was because he thought the practice was cruel. Others said it was because it enabled him to scoop any extra, unbranded cattle into his herd.

So how about you, gentle reader? Are you sporting a brand, or are you a maverick?

Like any other choice in the world, there are pros and cons to each side. On the one hand, being a maverick is freeing. You write whatever you want, however you want. You have one handle. One marketing identity. If people search for your name on the interwebs, they find all of your stuff, bam! just like that. Easy, peasy lemon squeezy. And that’s probably fine if your work is all in similar genres. Maybe you have a police procedural, a political thriller, and a spy novel. There’s probably a lot of overlap between those audiences.

But what happens if you have written a heart-meltingly cute easy reader with butterflies and kittens. Everybody with children younger than six LOVES it. Congratulations! Now that you’ve had that success, maybe you want to write something different. Something like…Bigfoot erotica. What? Yes, that’s a thing. Look it up.

Jane Doe loved your kitten book, so she recommends you to her friend Mary. Mary searches for your books on her favorite e-tailer. Kitten Love comes up. So does Big, Big, Bigfoot. Oh, my. Now Mary starts to wonder if Kitten Love is appropriate for children, after all. Conversely, Jane Public loved-loved-loved Big, Big Bigfoot. She searches your name on Amazon to see what other books you wrote, and – voila! – up pops Kitten Love. Knowing how kinky you got with Bigfoot, she might be afraid you’re doing something highly inappropriate with kittens, and she backs quickly away from the page and pretends she doesn’t know you when her friends ask for book recommendations.

What’s a genre-hopping author to do? Have different brands. Maybe you write children’s books under the Susie Q. Sunshine brand, erotica in the name Ben Dover, and taut thrillers with the nom de plume of C.I. Anderson. Your divergent audiences sort themselves. It might be a little more work to market multiple brands, but your readers will know what to expect from each one. That’s the same reason people stop at chain restaurants when they’re travelling. The chain may not be the best restaurant in town, but they know what they’re in for.

What’s your experience with author branding? Let us know in the comments!