After a warm spell, winter’s back with her arm’s spread wide to give a chilly embrace for anyone who ventures outdoors. Speaking of chills, I had to crank up the electric fireplace and huddle under my blanket as I dove into this delightfully spooky tale.
Ward Chatham, founder of Chatham Hollow, is infamous for two things—hidden treasure and a curse upon anyone bold enough to seek it. Since his passing in 1793, no one has discovered his riches, though his legend has only grown stronger.
In 1888, charlatan Benedict Fletcher holds a séance to determine the location of Chatham’s fortune. It’s all a hoax so he can search for the gold, but he doesn’t count on two things—Victor Rowe, a true spiritualist who sees through his ruse, and Chatham’s ghost wreaking havoc on the town.
More than a century later, the citizens of the Hollow gather for the annual Founder’s Day celebration. A paranormal research team intends to film a special at Chatham Manor, where the original séance will be reenacted. Reporter and skeptic Aiden Hale resents being assigned the story, but even he can’t deny the sudden outbreak of strange happenings. When he sets out to discover who or what is threatening the Hollow—supernatural or not—his investigation uncovers decades-old conflicts, bitter rivalries, and ruthless murders.
This time, solving the mystery isn’t about meeting his deadline. It’s about not ending up dead.
Personally, whenever I hear the word, “Hollow,” in a place name, I’m immediately intrigued as to its potential for supernatural events. Whether it be from a famous story I’m sure we’re all familiar with, or the fact that I grew up near a place called, “Plum Hollow,” which was storied to have a ‘seer’ back in the nineteenth century.
The title is but one link in the chain that rattled my enthusiastic anticipation each time I opened my Kindle. For me, this story had two key ingredients that I thoroughly enjoy; a good mystery and a rapid eye reading brush with the paranormal.
While I’m more familiar with Mae’s work and I know that Staci is also an excellent writer, when I bought this book, I wasn’t sure how well the two voices would blend. I can now testify that my concern was unfounded as their collaborative voices melded to form a flawless flow, even during the transition between several timelines.
Though all the characters brought something to the séance table, I especially enjoyed the banter between Aiden and Greer.
I highly recommend this book for those who relish a twisty tale, infused with history, humor, and netherworld antics, sans gore and slash.
Have I enticed you to learn more and grab a copy? Yes? Then please read on to meet Staci & Mae, and click on the links.
Staci grew up in Western Pennsylvania writing stories and poetry in my free time, so no one was surprised when I became a writing major in college. After receiving creative and professional writing degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, I went on to get my Master’s Degree in Professional Writing, and I worked in corporate communications until I had my children. Now I’m a freelance writer and editor and spend many of my days happily immersed in fictional worlds.
They say everyone has a story to tell. I wrote my first childish “masterpiece” at six and was immediately bitten by the writing bug. Since then, I’ve been composing nonstop, and have dabbled in multiple genres over the years, writing everything from fantasy, westerns, and horror to inspirational fiction, romance, and sci-fi.
It took me a while to find my niche, but I’ve settled comfortably into the mystery/suspense genre. I have a passion for folklore, myth, and urban legends and that attraction often factors into my writing. You’ll find threads of archaic tales, cryptids, and mysterious places woven throughout many of my novels.
Professionally, I am a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and a past president of the Central Pennsylvania Writer’s Organization. I’m also proud to be one of the founding members of the award-winning writing blog Story Empire.
If I’m not camped out at my keyboard or have my nose buried in a book, I’m likely looking up blurry images of cryptids on Google, sorting through vintage photographs, or imagining life as a cat.
Today I have the pleasure of hosting prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray. I’m excited about the release of her latest novel, Natural Selection, which is book #3 in her Dawn of Humanity series. I’ve read and highly recommend the first in this trilogy, Born in a TreacherousTime!
In this post, she’ll tell you about the latest release, but first, please check out the list of actual criticisms and tips that Jacqui’s gleaned from Twitter.
12 Writing Tips and 9 Criticisms I Got from Twitter Those of you who are either established authors, in-training, or anything in between, you probably already know the learning curve to become a writer is steep and endless. I’ve read a ton of how-to books, attended more than my share of conferences, and currently meet with fellow writers twice a month to discuss our passion. In each of these situations, no matter how often I attend, I learn something new. It will surprise none of you that I also find epiphanies in social media. Some streams offer one person’s insight on a chronic problem I also have. Others answer questions I couldn’t put into words enough to ask.
Here are some of the best writing tips I’ve gathered from social media the past year:
Get over your perfectionist tendencies.
If you’re having trouble meeting the minimum word count, it’s probably because you’re not being specific enough.
Keep a notebook with you at all times, and write in it. A lot.
Don’t compare yourself to other authors. Find your unique voice and write your stories.
If your story idea involves zombies, it probably has been done already.
If your scene sounds too much like a TV show or movie you’ve seen, cut it!
Writing’s hard. Good writing is even harder.
To uncover the plot of your story, don’t ask what should happen; ask what should go wrong.
Don’t let your dumb show.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
There are those who can make a $75 off-the-rack outfit look hand-tailored. Not true in writing. You can’t turn a bad novel into a good one by attaching a pretty cover.
Boldly go where other writers won’t.
To share the criticism I’ve received, I broadened the scope from social media to query letter responses, agents at writer’s conferences, Amazon comments, beta readers, and well-meaning friends:
What this story lacked in ambiance, it didn’t make up for with anything else.
From a trusted beta reader whose day job is doctoring: “I find you have idiopathic thinking.” When I asked what that was, she explained, “It’s thinking of unknown origin. In other words: What the f*** were you saying?”
From an agent who rejected my novel: I was whelmed.
About a too-complicated story I submitted: A bridge too far and a euphemism too short.
You promised a world-class thriller. I got a rerun of Fantasy Island.
“Why the h*** did you waste my time?” Sorry. Autocorrect. I meant to say, “Thank you for the submittal.”
I asked one agent for suggestions on fixing my story. Her response: “I got nothin’.”
“You wrote your MC right into a corner and she couldn’t escape, like a defective Roomba.”
“Nothin’ to see there.”
Have you found any great tips on your favorite social media?
Here’s a brief summary of Natural Selection. In this conclusion to Lucy’s journey, she and her tribe leave their good home to rescue former-tribe members captured by the enemy. Lucy’s tribe includes a mix of species–a Canis, a Homotherium, and different iterations of early man. In this book, more join and some die, but that is the nature of prehistoric life, where survival depends on a combination of our developing intellect and our inexhaustible will to live. Each species brings unique skills to this task. Based on true events.
Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.
A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!
One Pack Ends, Another Begins
Africa The Canis’ packmates were all dead, each crumpled in a smeared puddle of blood, Upright killing sticks embedded where they should never be. His body shook, but he remembered his training. The killers’ scent filled the air. If they saw him—heard him—they would come for him, too, and he must survive. He was the last of his pack.
He padded quietly through the bodies, paused at his mate, broken, eyes open, tongue out, pup under her chest, his head crushed. A moan slipped from his muzzle and spread around him. He swallowed what remained in his mouth. Without a pack, silence was his only protection. He knew to be quiet, but today, now, failed.
To his horror, a departing Upright looked back, face covered in Canis blood, meaty shreds dripping from his mouth, the body of a dead pup slung over his shoulder. The Canis sank into the brittle grass and froze. The Upright scanned the massacre, saw the Canis’ lifeless body, thought him dead like the rest of the decimated pack. Satisfied, he turned away and rushed after his departing tribe. The Canis waited until the Upright was out of sight before cautiously rising and backing away from the onslaught, eyes on the vanished predators in case they changed their minds.
He had planned to descend into the gully behind him. Sun’s shadows were already covering it in darkness which would hide him for the night, but he had gauged his position wrong. Suddenly, earth disappeared beneath his huge paws. He tried to scrabble to solid ground, but his weight and size worked against him and he tumbled down the steep slope. The loose gravel made gripping impossible, but he dug his claws in anyway, whining once when his shoulder slammed into a rock, and again when his head bounced off a tree stump. Pain tore through his ear as flesh ripped, dangling in shreds as it slapped the ground. He kept his legs as close as possible to his body and head tucked, thankful this hill ended in a flat field, not a river.
Or a cliff.
When it finally leveled out, he scrambled to his paws, managed to ignore the white-hot spikes shrieking through his head as he spread his legs wide. Blood wafted across his muzzle. He didn’t realize it was his until the tart globs dripped down his face and plopped to the ground beneath his quaking chest. The injured animal odor, raw flesh and fresh blood, drew predators. In a pack, his mate would purge it by licking the wound. She would pronounce him Ragged-ear, the survivor.
Ragged-ear is a strong name. A good one.
He panted, tail sweeping side to side, and his indomitable spirit re-emerged.
But no one else in his pack did.
Except, maybe, the female called White-streak. She often traveled alone, even when told not to. If she was away during the raid, she may have escaped. He would find her. Together, they would start over.
Ragged-ear shook, dislodging the grit and twigs from his now-grungy fur. That done, he sniffed out White-streak’s odor, discovered she had also descended here. His injuries forced him to limp and blood dripping from his tattered ear obstructed his sight. He stumbled trying to leap over a crack and fell into the fissure. Fire shot through his shoulder, exploded up his neck and down his chest. Normally, that jump was easy. He clambered up its crumbling far wall, breaking several of his yellowed claws.
All of that he ignored because it didn’t matter to his goal.
Daylight came and went as he followed White-streak, out of a forest onto dry savannah that was nothing like his homeland.
Why did she go here?
He embraced the tenderness that pulsed throughout his usually-limber body. It kept him angry and that made him vicious. He picked his way across streams stepping carefully on smooth stones, their damp surfaces slippery from the recent heavy rain, ignoring whoever hammered with a sharp rock inside his head. His thinking was fuzzy, but he didn’t slow. Survival was more important than comfort, or rest.
Ragged-ear stopped abruptly, nose up, sniffing. What had alerted him? Chest pounding, breathing shallow, he studied the forest that blocked his path, seeking anything that shouldn’t be there.
But the throbbing in his head made him miss Megantereon.
Ragged-ear padded forward, slowly, toward the first tree, leaving only the lightest of trails, the voice of Mother in his head.
Yes, your fur color matches the dry stalks, but the grass sways when you move. That gives away your location so always pay attention.
His hackles stiffened and he snarled, out of instinct, not because he saw Megantereon. Its shadowy hiding place was too dark for Ragged-ear’s still-fuzzy thinking. The She-cat should have waited for Ragged-ear to come closer, but she was hungry, or eager, or some other reason, and sprang. Her distance gave the Canis time to back pedal, protecting his soft underbelly from her attack. Ragged-ear was expert at escaping, but his stomach spasmed and he lurched to a stop with a yowl of pain. Megantereon’s next leap would land her on Ragged-ear, but to the Canis’ surprise, the She-cat staggered to a stop, and then howled.
While she had been stalking Ragged-ear, a giant Snake had been stalking her. When she prepared her death leap, Snake dropped to her back and began to wrap itself around her chest. With massive coils the size of Megantereon’s leg, trying to squirm away did no good.
Ragged-ear tried to run, but his legs buckled. Megantereon didn’t care because she now fought a rival that always won. The She-cat’s wails grew softer and then silent. Ragged-ear tasted her death as he dragged himself into a hole at the base of an old tree, as far as possible from scavengers who would be drawn to the feast.
He awoke with Sun’s light, tried to stand, but his legs again folded. Ragged-ear remained in the hole, eyes closed, curled around himself to protect his vulnerable stomach, his tail tickling his nose, comforting.
He survived the Upright’s assault because they deemed him dead. He would not allow them to be right.
Sun came and went. Ragged-ear consumed anything he could find, even eggs, offal, and long-dead carcasses his pack normally avoided. His legs improved until he could chase rats, fat round ground birds, and moles, a welcome addition to his diet. Sometimes, he vomited what he ate and swallowed it again. The day came he once again set out after what remained of his pack, his pace more sluggish than prior to the attack, but quick enough for safety.
Ragged-ear picked up the female’s scent again and tracked her to another den. He slept there for the night and repeated his hunt the next day and the next. When he couldn’t find her trace, instinct drove him and memories of the dying howls of his pack, from the adults who trusted their Alpha Ragged-ear to protect them to the whelps who didn’t understand the presence of evil in their bright world.
Everywhere he traveled, when he crossed paths with an Upright, it was their final battle.
Interested? Find out how you can grab your copies of this series and come meet Jacqui!
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics.
On this wintry Tuesday morning, I find myself pausing to stare out into the dark portal of my backyard window, while my fingers hover over the keyboard to conjure an appropriate review for this poetic masterpiece. I’m no poet, so below you’ll find my best attempt. I hope it will inspire you to read this, and other works by Gabriela, and experience them for yourself.
I was unable to find a synopsis, but this is a book of poetry, after all. Instead, I’m posting the Foreword:
Gabriela is the type of poet Robert Graves had in mind when he referred to being a poet as a condition- rather than a profession. During my correspondence with Milton, it became clear that the lush scenes and stories were not invented as much as they were unleashed. They came from a mind always teeming with ideas, anticipating these moments of expression when the stuff of thought finds its form in lines, rhythm and stanzas.
As Milton said in an interview, “The days in which I cannot write, I have to compartmentalize my brain and my soul, and then bury my fantasies . . . It’s as if I must exorcise my alter ego.”
Yes, Gabriela Marie Milton is a poet of condition.
Her poetry also takes on a cosmopolitan character, introducing the reader to diverse, sometimes fantastical, spaces. In some of these spaces, I cannot help but see fragments of her life flickering by – of being raised in Europe or of her extensive travels before and after settling in the United States. But in all this movement, we’re greeted by a common theme: the universality and borderlessness of love and passion. This is where her collection truly shines and this is where her poetry must be experienced rather than explained.
Foreword written by: Brian Geiger
Editor of Vita Brevis Press
I’m one that habitually looks for hidden meanings in descriptions and words. This is where I had to adapt this thinking and do what Brian Geiger has suggested, “to experience rather than explain.”
Once absolved of these tendencies, I was able to fully immerse into the abstract, yet well-mastered palette of imagery, orchestrated by this gifted poet. Here is just one example:
an island shimmers on the Nordic Sea
your eyes are madness and pale blue
under your fingers the piano
ennobles pain and makes the snow to fall
play the melancholy of winter
white adulterated by a frozen mauve
I’ll make the bed and walk in silence
to the place of roses and cinnamon
don’t follow me
remain and play under the blues of winter
the scented mystery of all the women
who never knew
the fires hidden
in the glaciers of your soul
I highly recommend this book for anyone who savors astral projection to wolf moonlit plains and sun ripened vines of tomatoes bursting with the flavors of scintillating verse.
Please note that I only post reviews on books I deem four or five stars. Life is short and if I don’t like a book, I simply won’t finish it.
Gabriela Marie Milton is an Amazon bestselling poet and an internationally published author. She is the author of the #1 best-selling poetry collection Woman: Splendor and Sorrow: | Love Poems and Poetic Prose, and the author of Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings. Gabriela is also the editor of MasicadoresUSA. Her poetry and short prose have appeared in various magazines and anthologies. Under the pen name Gabriela M she was awarded 2019 Author of the Year at Spillwords Press (NYC). Her piece “If I say I love you” was nominated for 2020 Spillwords Press Publication of the Year (Poetic). On July 6, 2021, Gabriela was featured in New York Glamour Magazine.
The dawn of a new week, and with a hot cup of joe steaming beside me, I’m bringing you my thoughts on D. Wallace Peach’s, The Ferryman and the Sea Witch.
What Amazon says:
The merrow rule the sea. Slender creatures, fair of face, with silver scales and the graceful tails of angelfish. Caught in a Brid Clarion net, the daughter of the sea witch perishes in the sunlit air. Her fingers dangle above the swells.
The queen of the sea bares her sharp teeth and, in a fury of wind and waves, cleanses the brine of ships and men. But she spares a boy for his single act of kindness. Callum becomes the Ferryman, and until Brid Clarion pays its debt with royal blood, only his sails may cross the Deep.
Two warring nations, separated by the merrow’s trench, trade infant hostages in a commitment to peace. Now, the time has come for the heirs to return home. The Ferryman alone can undertake the exchange.
Yet, animosities are far from assuaged. While Brid Clarion’s islands bask in prosperity, Haf Killick, a floating city of derelict ships, rots and rusts and sinks into the reefs. Its ruler has other designs.
And the sea witch crafts dark bargains with all sides.
Callum is caught in the breach, with a long-held bargain of his own which, once discovered, will shatter this life.
There’s plenty of blade crossing, high seas drama, and juicy betrayal in this fantasy novel. I was quickly caught up in the ‘Gulf Stream’ plot, unsure of where I’d be deposited next.
What really sucked me into the maelstrom was Peach’s amazing world and word building. Her writing flows like a powerful river, deep, smooth, and uninterrupted. I felt the story! From the crushing depths of the Deep, where the merrow live, to the rusted hulks of the impoverished, Haf Killick, I left my couch without standing.
I found that none of the characters were entirely evil, nor good. They all had a personal story of trauma and some justification for their actions. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another work by this author. Well done!
Meet D. Wallace Peach and get your copy:
A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked.
In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography.
Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.
Happy Friday! It’s the last weekday of Spring Break (changed from March by the government), due to COVID. As we deal with a third wave, staying home and writing has become more of a priority than ever.
Today I’m reviewing, Open, Shut, A Short Story, by Nonnie Jules. She is the President and Founder of Rave Reviews Book Club.
What Amazon says:
Darcy Lynn has a few problems: her sister, Lola, killed by a drunk driver, leaves her with an eerie message right before her death; her parents are atheists; her father drinks a little too much, and her brother, Bud, is just annoying. But, her most pressing issue is that things are mysteriously opening and closing around her and she hasn’t a clue as to why…or how.
This story is told from the POV of Darcy Lynn after her sister, Lola, was killed. Too young to remember the horrific details of her sister’s death, years later, Darcy seeks answers from Lola’s diary. What she finds is staggering. Her parents, sworn not to divulge a terrible secret to her younger siblings, by Lola herself, had never revealed the whole truth.
But has Lola really left? Soon after her sister’s death, Darcy Lynn experiences strange phenomena that cannot be explained by science, or her atheist parents. Darcy Lynn begins to question her own beliefs and comes to understand that the visible may not be all there is. Open, Shut is an invitation to consider this possibility.
Nonnie does a great job in the creation of realistic and ordinary characters, who encounter the extraordinary. There is plenty of growth in all of them, a key ingredient for a great story.
The central message was that good things can come from tragedy. The story flows evenly and logically to towards that end. As a man of faith, I really enjoyed this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced great loss and for those who struggle with the ‘big picture.’ I’m giving this one, FOUR STARS!