Book Reviews

Scribbling Scrivener Reads: Spook Lights – Southern Gothic Horror by Eden Royce

Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror by Eden Royce is a collection of horror short stories. Since Ms. Royce grew up with in Charleston, South Carolina she tries to capture the style known as Southern Gothic. Southern Gothic is a style which relies heavily on the spirits and magic, average people, depressed settings, and most importantly, utilizes Southern locations.

With Ms. Royce, her Southern Gothic is flavored with the Gullah culture of Charleston as well as dark witches and magic. Every story revolves around average, everyday people either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or for whom calling upon magic is not big deal. The people live in what some people would consider the outskirts of town and society. Some might even consider the people and situations to be grotesque and macabre.

I did enjoy the collection and felt it was just the right length and had a diverse group of characters. That being said, with any short story collection or anthology, I had a few favorites.

Doc Buzzard’s Coffin – First off that title is just plain cool. Someone’s coffin? Come again? Okay, let’s read this one and see where it takes us. In a nutshell, it wasn’t what I was expecting.

One of the biggest reasons why I liked this story is that it starts off with a woman and her two children putting Doc Buzzard into a coffin. It’s presented as such a normal family-bonding experience as the children argue as one would expect two twelve-year-olds do. Things are fine until a local cop shows up and inquiries as to what is going on.

The story is told through Jezebel’s point of view and we learn why burying Doc Buzzard is no big deal. What worries them most is Doc Buzzard and what will happen since his coffin is confiscated, sitting in the police station while mom is being questioned.

Through Jezebel we learn the family deeply believes in magic and this isn’t the first time Doc’s been dead. It isn’t until the end does the reader learn why Doc Buzzard was in a coffin and it is done so subtly that I had to re-read it a couple of times to make sure I understood what the reasons were.

I appreciated that as well as feeling the heat and stickiness of the setting. I also think the horror aspect of it was enough. After all it is a kid telling the story. I think because this type of thing isn’t unusual for the Jezebel and her family that’s why the horror isn’t over the top.

Homecoming – I like this one a lot because it was different. It’s probably the least horrorish of all the stories but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have scary parts.

The story centers around a couple dealing with their son being a convicted serial killer. The father believes they shouldn’t have anything to do with him because not only is their son a monster, he feels guilty for raising a monster.

On the other hand, the mother visits their son on a regular basis and believes, as most mothers probably would, she needs to stay by his side. She’s also a little delusional in that she believes he will get out of jail and return home.

Nothing in the story is really given to show they were abnormal in their parenting. They spoiled their son but unfortunately quite a few parents do that. Most of the children raised in such an environment don’t turn out to be serial killers. Perhaps there is more to that spoiling than the reader is initially led to believe?

That premise alone kept me interested. How often are stories told from the parents of a serial killer viewpoint? What do they think about the situation in private? How do they act? Do they keep up hope, like the mother, or do they have disgust and anger, like the father? I liked that dichotomy and thought it was done well in a short amount of time.

With the Turn of a Key – This story starts off with a typically unhappily married couple. The husband works six days a week and tries his best to keep his wife happy. The wife is nothing but a shrew described as having a “surgically enhanced chest”. Nothing he does will make her happy and she lets him know.

A key mysteriously turns up one day and neither of them knows where it goes to or whom it is from. The harpy of a wife accuses the husband of having an affair, projecting her own cheating ways. Where she believes he has time to have an affair when he barely has any time to sleep puzzles the husband.

Yet they keep the key. More specifically the husband leaves the key in his room. When he goes to sleep later that night, a mystery woman, who clearly is from the sea, visits him in his dreams. Naturally she says nothing and leads him under the sea up to a coral gate which the key must unlock. He hesitates that first night by not following her, but on subsequent nights follows the sea woman deeper into her world.

The ending has an interesting twist which left me wondering if what happens was a good thing or a bad thing and if so to whom?


One of the strengths of Spook Lights is the diversity in the situations and the people involved. These are average, ordinary people, in some cases what most would consider the “ugly” side of life. With the exception of the couple in With the Turn of a Key, everybody lives on the outskirts of town and life. This immediately draws the reader into the various worlds in Spook Lights.

Another strength is, in the stories I liked the best the horror was subtle, more psychological than anything. That doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate the more graphic and overt horror, often I did, but for me personally, I like it when things are rooted in realism when it comes to horror.

Something I felt was both a strength and a weakness was the how many of the stories featured women getting revenge against men who did them wrong. A couple of stories with this theme I would have been fine with, but more it gets repetitive. Also it makes women come across as petty and incapable of just moving on.

It also felt to me some stories were incomplete and with parts of the story physically missing. I re-read quite a few pages again to make sure it wasn’t something I was not reading correctly.

Overall, on a scale of one to five pencils I would give Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror a solid three pencils.


Weekly Musing: Ding, Ding, Round Two is Over

Well, I am done with the second revision of my novel. Hooray! This will be the last post about it. It’s a relief getting it before the end of the month. This gives me a few days off to rest my mind before I start prepping for NaNoWriMo.

As before, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned going through the process of learning how to revise a novel.

Realistic Expectations for My Process: I’ve already promised myself that for round 3 I am going to allow myself about 6 months to get revisions done. All my deadlines have been self-imposed because without them I fear I won’t ever actually learn what my process is. It’s also a kick in the ass to get over my anxiety and get it done.

But I think the 4 month deadline isn’t very healthy for me. That’s why for round 3 I am going to give myself more time since it will be the first time I will be revising the story from point A to point Z instead of by character. I’ll be truly reading it as a reader would be reading it.

Plugging Plot Holes: While I think I’ve managed to plug up some of the plot holes, especially as I switched from one main character to the other, there are still many more. This is another reason why I’m going to give myself 6 months to get through the round of revisions. I’m sure I will be drafting new chapters unless I can figure out a way to convert what I’ve already written. Sooner I can get those holes filled in, the better. It is my goal that once I am done with the third pass, each revision after will be more in line with simply polishing the manuscript and getting feedback.

Realistic Expectations for the Manuscript: This ties in a little bit with plugging the plot holes. Right now the novel is still quite a mess. That’s okay. I finally feel like the time line is coming together as well as my understanding of the characters.

I realize that my chapters as they stand are far too long. I have numerous chapters which are over 2,500 words which may not sound too bad but when an overwhelming majority of the chapters are that length, reader fatigue should be considered especially nowadays. That being said, historical fiction books tend to be pretty lengthy and long chapters aren’t unusual.

On the other hand, it’s about the flow of the story. Will having long chapter after long chapter really serve the story? Can I get away with paring down several of the long chapters and still get the story across? What chapters can be sacrificed? Already I cut several from the rough draft. I also added in several scenes.

Looking back at the breakdown of words per character, one of the two main characters has about 20,000 more words than the other does. At this point I don’t feel this is a bad thing. I’ve never been shooting for a perfect 50/50 for the story, but is that balance fair to the story and the characters?

Research: It’s a bitch at times. I’m sure it will continue to be going into round 3. However I hope to continue to utilize cheat sheets of info. I think it will be great to do this for important historical events so I can quickly refer to what would be key to my story.

It amazes me how often I looked back in my books and previous research for more than just a simple line about a battle, for example, and not finding much. Or being able to nail down people’s movements after a major event. I have a hard time believing people just disappeared for a few months. You would think the books I have would contain such valuable information. Apparently not. And these are history books written by well-respected historians on this particular subject.

Or realizing that there are some seemingly easy questions I’ve asked but had problems finding the answers. A lot of hours spent on different websites to find these answers or cross-referencing answers only to discover conflicting information. That’s when I whipped out my privilege as a writer to go with my gut keeping in mind it is fiction first. If someone wants historical fact then read history books.

Playlists Don’t Help: Oddly enough, listening to music somewhat of the time period or which match with a mood didn’t actually help me. If anything it was a bigger distraction. Didn’t matter if it was playlist I created or someone else’s. Eventually I gave up and went back to listening to classical music or non-annoying electronica music.

Briefly, just a couple of stats of my book as it stands. So far I have 51 chapters for a total of 127,759 words. That is a lot of words but again, one of the beauties of historical fiction is longer is fine. That doesn’t mean I want to pad the pages with fluff. This is also down from the initial rough draft which was about 155,000 words.

I’m getting there and do think the second draft is pretty much the story I’ve struggled to get just right. Overall I’m hopeful for each revision from here on out. I don’t know if I think things will get easier. I want them to as I had no clue just how much work this was going to be. At times it was frustrating but ultimately, it is incredibly satisfying. Not sure when I will start again; not until 2016 and probably no sooner than February.



Weekly Musing: What Scares Me

As Halloween is coming up in just a couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking lately about what is the scariest thing I’ve ever read. I admit I don’t really read a lot of horror. I’ve never been the type of person who was into horror movies or scary stories. Not because I’m squeamish of the blood and gore, just because a lot of that stuff doesn’t really scare me. If anything I’m more apt to laugh at the ridiculousness. I’ve also never found many of the monsters in literature and movies to be scary. Probably because I know vampires, zombies, and werewolves aren’t real.

Yet this doesn’t mean I’m never been scared while reading something. Legitimate proper scared and not scared because the writing was bad or the story was terrible. The kind of fear which makes sleeping a bit more difficult for the next night or two.

Surprisingly the two of the scariest things have come from the Harry Potter series. No, it’s not Voldemort; he doesn’t scare me as I’m told upfront he’s the bad guy. Nor is it Professor Snape although there are times he bordered on creepy; again, though, that’s part of who he is. Plus the twist in the last book made me reexamine everything about him.

No, the two things from the series which sort of terrify me are Professor Umbridge and the Dementors. Professor Umbridge because she’s a dichotomy as she dresses all in pink, likes cats and chocolate cake, is mousy-looking, and has an office is plastered with all matters of cutesy things yet she’s the scariest teacher at Hogwarts. You wouldn’t expect someone who is about the age of a grandmother to be so evil, but she is.

Her extreme hatred for Harry makes no sense. Professor Umbridge is on a power trip and in league with Voldemort and uses the Dementors. She constantly abuses him and other students by carving into the back of his hands all kinds of horrible reminders. No amount of magic or actual medicine can erase it. She’s like the teacher from hell and you question why she teaches children if she can’t seem to stand them.

The Dementors are terrifying because at first they appear just to be your average ghost demons. But they are far more chilling and horrible. They suck out your soul, steal your happiness and intelligence, and leave behind a shell of a person. That scares the crap out of me as they are the floating embodiment of what depression feels like. These things leave you a mess, forcing you to relive the worse parts of life. No wonder they originally guarded the wizard prison and sided with Voldemort.

The Dementors are more terrifying than any other creature in the series. Not because they are difficult to defeat, but because they are scary to look at which can paralyze a person with fear. By the time you realize what they are and what they want, it makes it difficult to get away from them. Now they’ve got you and start working on taking away all which makes a person happy.

As far as an individual book or books that have scared me, this is a bit of a struggle for me. Last year I read a collection of short stories called Dark Hall Press Techno-Horror Anthology which surprised me how many of the stories got to me. I didn’t quite know what to expect when I picked this anthology up. I saw Techno-Horror and thought it would be about crazed cyborgs or computers that come to life and try to kill humans like HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But, no, these were a collection of stories that were far, far more down to earth and subtle in their approach. Nothing is gruesome or bloody. Yes, there are some stories where the technology ‘turns’ on its owners but many of the stories are philosophical in that they point out how dependent upon we are on technology. If we allow it, or even if we don’t, technology can be master and we its slave.

Another book would be Needful Things by Stephen King. It’s Stephen King so one would expect to be scared by at least one of his books. Admittedly I have not read a lot of his stuff, but Needful Things stayed with me because the premise of the book is a creepy store owner rolls into town and sells people something that would bring them a lot of joy. These are small things, like a baseball card or a record, which happen to just show up in the store at the just the right time. The store owner doesn’t ask for money for the items instead asks the patron to commit a small prank on a neighbor. These ‘pranks’ explode into a small town full of violence.

The store owner is a master of manipulation and is clearly meant to represent the Devil. But that’s not what gets to me. What gets to me is how a small moment of happiness in our life can come at a larger price. It’s hard not to think twice about if buying that favorite book might set off a chain of unpleasant events.

I guess when it comes to what scares me as a reader I would say stories that are more psychological and rooted in reality. Characters who are not what they appear to be also scare me. Mental anguish within a character or something that causes anguish to a character terrifies me.

Perhaps one of the things the horror genre can explore other genres can’t is the idea of the hidden monster and scariness within us all. That dark side we don’t want to admit exists. Or the dark side we wish we could let lose once in a while.