Excerpt: Woman’s Work

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Jamarcus was on that crazy tip before he hit the door. I could smell it on him, underneath the sweat that drenched his dingy wife beater tee.

He clumped into the kitchen, sucking his teeth. “Hamburger again?” He slammed a plastic grocery bag of empty, stinking food containers into the sink, ignoring the clean dishes already there, waiting to be rinsed.

Ten years of marriage had taught me that the conversation could go badly, whether I answered or not. I remained silent.

“You don’t hear me?”

I waited a couple of beats while my own anger leapt inside my chest. My neck prickled from the fire bubbling inside my skin.

“The whole block hears you.” I turned from the sink and faced him. He needed to back off. He didn’t always. Jamarcus was a handsome man, with chocolate colored skin that stretched over tight muscles and gleamed from his long day at work. I had loved him dearly once, warts and all. But I was getting tired of his shit.

He stared at me a moment and threw himself into a chair like a petulant child. “I work hard, you know. I’m sick of eating the same old thing every night.”

“It’s the best I can do, Jamarcus, when you spend money we don’t have on that bike of yours.” I placed a plate with the hamburger meat and macaroni in front of him.

“Oh, I’m gonna get my bike tricked out. And you nagging won’t stop me from going to Bike Week next month, either.”

“Do I ever nag you, Jamarcus? You do whatever you want all the time and I don’t say a word.” He wouldn’t meet my eyes, and mumbled under his breath instead.

Buy Link:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/721993

(c) Copyright 2016 by RJ Joseph. All Rights Reserved.

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Excerpt: To Give Her Whatsoever She Would Ask

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By my forty second birthday, it looked like my most passionate pleas would be ignored. I didn’t kneel so often by then. I was already the towns’ crazy old woman. I kept mostly to myself and only went to market and town when absolutely necessary. And I travelled to Mr. Frank’s cottage, down the hill, to work. Mrs. Frank had passed on five years ago, and now he was just waiting to join his wife in heaven.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I suspected that there was no heaven; there was no God to answer prayers. I was tired of praying.

It was time to try something else.

I trudged down the hill to work, using the heavy stick I walked with to scout for snakes in the grass before they had a chance to strike. The sun had just settled beneath the horizon, and the island was dark. I wasn’t afraid, although the island folks didn’t need much prompting to discuss their jumbies and other evil night spirits. I knew not to stop for strangers, and not to approach strange animals. I had my trusty pocket flashlight to spot predators before they could attack.

What I had not been prepared for was the large ball of fire that slowly flew over my head. I saw brilliance and expected heat, but instead there was an icy chill in the wake of the ball. I turned to watch where it would go next, transfixed by the way my womb ached as it passed, and my heart called after it. The ball circled my torso several times. I could hear the coos of a baby, and longed to touch the softness of its skin. I reached out to it and was overwhelmed with dread. I drew my hand back and turned on my flashlight. The ball rose upwards and dissipated.

I reached Mr. Franks’ house to find him seated on the porch. He seldom came out, so I knew he must have been having a pretty good day.

“Good night, Ingrid.”

“Good night, Mr. Franks.”

He sucked his teeth. “Look, de spirits flying tonight.”

“What are you talking about, Mr. Franks?”

“I glad you ain’t run into one because it would probably take you away.”

I thought about the ball of fire, but didn’t tell my employer.

“Dey looking for somebody to trick into taking dem on.” His eyes gleamed with an unusual fervor.

“Come now, Mr. Frank. Let’s get your dinner.” I helped him up out of the chair and guided him into the house.

I usually took my dinner with him, but I had no appetite. I sat by the open window while he slowly ate.

A soft whimpering floated through the window. I looked at Mr. Franks, but he seemed not to notice it. It came again, louder, with cooing. I stood from the chair and headed to the door.

“No, Ingrid. Dat’s no baby. Stay here.”

“You hear that baby, too?”

“I hear what pretending to be a baby. Sit down, girl. Don’t go by de door.”

My feet obeyed him, but my heart filled with anxiety. I twisted my sweaty hands in my lap. I can’t leave that baby out there.

“Girl, ain’t nobody gonna leave no baby on de doorstep.” Mr. Franks eyed me steadily. “I ready for bed, eh? I tired.” With a strength I had not seen from him in years, he pushed his chair back from the table and walked to the door, where he flicked on the porch light.

On the way to the bedroom, he instructed me to pull some candles from the cupboard and light them.

I got him dressed and settled into bed and took my regular seat in the chair next to him. The flames flickered from the hallway and across the room.

“Why didn’t you let me go to the door?” My arms still ached to hold the baby I’d heard.

“Dat was no baby. Dat was a soucouyant, trying to get you to open de door so she can come inside. She would have sucked you dry after you invite her in.”

“You believe in those jumbies and thing?” I asked.

“Yeah, girl, dey real.” He spoke with conviction, and fell off into a coughing fit.

“But don’t they grant wishes, too?” I remembered all the stories my parents and town elders had told me my entire childhood. I believed them, too. The evil spirits could be used, if you were smart. Of course, a devout person would never entertain making acquaintance with the spirits, and would instead pray them away.

“You gotta go look for dem and see where by de river dey leave dey skin, and if you take it, dey gonna beg to get dey skin back so dey grant you a wish.” He reached out and grabbed my hand, and the years old calluses pressed against my skin.

“But dey is very dangerous. Don’t mess wit dem, girl, please, because you more likely lose your life instead of get any wish. And even if you get a wish, it gonna be a payback.” He squeezed my hand until it hurt. “You hear me girl? Topic done.”

 

Buy link:

https://www.amazon.com/Sycoraxs-Daughters-Kinitra-Brooks-PhD/dp/1941958443

(c) Copyright 2016 by RJ Joseph. All Rights Reserved.

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I’m All In

I’ve finally done it. I’m now an official Supporting Member of the Horror Writers Association. It took me long enough and my delays had absolutely nothing to do with the organization itself. I’ve been an avid horror reader since childhood and read new releases more than I write my own stuff. And though I’ve written horror for quite a few years now, I’ve only recently completely embraced that fun loving but darker side of my writing personas. So why join now?

Some of the foot dragging was because I wanted to wait until I could come in as an Affiliate or Active member. That was taking longer than I thought to achieve. But as I waited patiently for the decisions to come from several editors who have my stories in hand right now, the whole Random House electronic imprint contract issue came up. I was transfixed as I watched the exchanges between authors, writer’s organizations and Random House.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Horror Writers Association were involved in the discussion and advocated for treating writers fairly. The fact that members from these groups stood so staunchly as a group that wanted to see change made to the contracts that were poor for writers made an impression on me.

As a writer who has been around for quite a while, I would know better than to sign a contract like the first one that was offered by those imprints. Not only have I had my finger on the pulse of writing and publishing for this time but I’ve also been lucky to be a member of a group of writers who are not only super awesome but who also talk and share experiences (I’m looking at you folks, Writing Popular Fiction-ers from Seton Hill University). I’ve also been a member of RWA off and on through the years.

But what about writers who don’t have the same resources? So many writers just don’t know what lurks out there for someone when they’re anxious to get their words out into the universe and someone approaches them with what seems like an offer they can’t refuse if they want to make their writing and publishing dreams come true.

Seeing that groups of writers were willing to stand up for all writers made me realize that I could be involved and help affect change from within a group, no matter what type of member I came in as. Instead of waiting on the sidelines, I could play the game, even if only as a water girl first. There’s room for growth and I’m ready to do that.

So I’m all in and going balls to the wall. Can’t wait to see what wonderful adventures this will open up.

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Mary Bell, Real Life Psycho

When I first saw the sweet little face of Mary Bell looking out at me through the television screen, I thought I had to have heard wrong. That beautiful little girl with the haunting eyes couldn’t possibly have killed anyone. Not on purpose. Looks can be deceiving.

Pretty little Mary Bell lived in Scotswood, England, and was ten years old in the year 1968. At that time, two young boys were found murdered in the neighborhood. The first death, that of Martin Brown, had been confusing for investigators, as the boy’s body showed no apparent cause of death. Once the second boy, Brian Howe was found, however, they understood that something sinister had happened to the first child as well as the second.

Mary Bell had a best friend named Norma Bell and they liked to torment the neighborhood children together. Many kids reported that they had been hurt by the two girls, naming Mary in most of the assaults. They bragged around the neighborhood that they had murdered. Surprisingly, the children and adults alike thought the girls were just talk. No one thought it strange that Mary had a preoccupation with death and dying and especially with the victims of the recent murders.

Mary also tormented Martin and Brian’s guardians with questions about their deaths and whether or not they missed them. She requested to see Martin’s dead body before he was even prepared for his funeral. At one of the funerals she was clearly giddy with excitement and giggled aloud during the service.

The most disturbing part in this case, however, was the details of the police interview with Mary. When she was questioned about Brian’s murder, Mary first tried to pin the deed on Norma. When questioned the second time, she gave a detailed confession that still placed the actions on her cohort. Even in these accusations, she showed extensive knowledge of the bodies and how the crimes were committed.

The ten year old who should have been too young to cover her tail completely gave it a very winning go, with details that painted Norma as the criminal and herself as the poor, innocent bystander. The fact that she knew enough to give fictitious details in her own defense, such as how she could never even kill a bird by choking it to death is horrifying. She showed herself to be a true psychopath and utterly manipulative.

Mary Bell also had a horrifying childhood to that point, having come from an abusive household where her mother worked as a prostitute and sometimes involved Mary in sexual interludes with her customers. It was also stated that Mary’s mother never wanted the little girl and beat and drug her. Being the victim of such abuse could well produce a demon spawn that did the things Mary did.

Mary was convicted of manslaughter for the murders and sent to prison. At the age of twenty three, she was released. She now has a daughter of her own. This is scary on many different levels. I’m not sure a child who experienced such a huge void of empathy for other human beings could ever be truly rehabilitated. She admits to having understood, even at ten years old, that it was important to say the right things to try and get out of trouble.

Since her release, how do we know Mary hasn’t simply learned how to play the game really well and avoid detection?

 

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The Killing Joke…Not Really Funny

The graphic novel The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Bryan Bolland is an interesting take on what constitutes a good enough reason to go crazy. The Joker has quite a bad day, in which his wife and child are killed and then he’s framed for robberies he didn’t commit. His subsequent dump into chemical waste that designed his current look didn’t help matters any. The Joker’s response was to plead insanity and embark on a life of crime.

I think it’s important that The Joker had already agreed to commit the burglaries before his day went south. He made an informed decision to walk on the other side of the law. Even though he didn’t go through with that crime, the decision marked the point at which he could have still returned to the side of right and decided not to. Most people have murderous thoughts and worse, on a daily basis. But most of us also know that acting on those thoughts come with repercussions and we aren’t willing to deal with the fallout of those actions, so we restrain ourselves from doing the worst of things. Most times.

Others of us give in to those impulses and don’t care about the results. We don’t care who we hurt or what laws we break because we just want to do what we want to do. Some people can’t help acting on those impulses. These are the truly insane. They have no way of filtering their actions from those of the majority of society and they don’t really seek to avoid capture. When someone can determine that what they’ve done is wrong and attempt to evade law enforcement and getting caught, they aren’t truly insane.

The Joker is not truly insane. I’m still struck by how much he knows about going crazy. I think he has walked on the crazy side of the track before, but never really went the whole trip. He has been treated like an insane person because as Kevin Spacey so eloquently states in the movie Se7en, “It’s more comfortable for you to label me as insane.” The rest of the world doesn’t know what to do with a person who willingly hurts and kills others, so it’s much easier and cleaner to deem them insane and treat them as such.

We could just make them superheroes like Batman. He’s no stranger to insanity, and suffers from the same thoughts and inclinations that The Joker does. The difference between the two characters is that Batman chooses to turn away from his dark side and indulge instead in martyrdom. By channeling his energies into capturing bad guys like The Joker, Batman can provide a release for his urges and still maintain a semblance of sanity and law abiding citizen.

I do agree that one little thing could break the boundaries that stand between some people remaining on the right side of the law and then crossing over into a life of crime. I especially think of the movie Set It Off that chronicled the adventures of four black women in California who, because of financial hardship and racial injustices decide to rob banks. It could be argued that the women had no real reason to commit the crimes, but I can see how watching a younger brother for whom you’re responsible get gunned down by police officers when he hasn’t done anything wrong might make someone snap. Especially after you raised him with little to no money and in the middle of other hardships. Not having anything else to lose could make someone opt to go left.

The Joker had nothing else to lose. Neither did Batman.

 

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A Bumpy Little Joyride

I think one true mark of an effective piece of writing, or any other work of art for that matter, is in a readers’ ability to view it over and over again and get something new out of it each time. In this way, Joyride by Jack Ketchum passes that test. Remaining relevant and thought provoking through a second reading, this book evoked different ideas during this time around.

The first thing I thought about was how Carole and Lee were murderers. Yes, they murdered for what I thought was a good cause, at least in the top ten of Best Reasons to Bump Someone Off, if there ever was one. But they had still killed someone.

Carole’s ex-husband was the worst kind of abuser: richer than most people and full of crap. He would never have left her alone and since he threatened her with a gun and cut her with a knife before, he would have killed her at a later date if she’d allowed him to live. Someone like him didn’t just let things die down and fade away. His money would have allowed him to follow her wherever she could have tried to run from him and he was full of enough meanness to have done just that. If she wanted to live, she had to kill him.

Howard was a threat to Lee, as well. Not just in the way that he targeted Carole but because he would have gunned for him, too. He saw Lee as having deprived him of his personal property in Carole, so he would have killed him for that reason alone. If they hadn’t killed him, he would have eventually killed them. They would never have been able to escape him or live a normal life with children and a ripe old age of relaxation and peace.

They had the unfortunate circumstance of having been caught in the act of murdering Howard by another abuser, Wayne Lock. When I first read this book, I thought of Wayne as just a strange man who wanted a little more excitement in his life. Of course, as the plot developed, those thoughts went out the window and I realized he was more than just strange. This time around I was able to see from the beginning that he was an abuser more than he was ever a victim.

His mother indicates that she sexually molested him and this could be true. Wayne never indicates that anything untoward happened with his mother. But he did blame everyone and everything around him for his misfortune. Nothing that happened to him was his own fault. I know quite a few people like Wayne, who consider themselves blameless in their state of being, where they can’t control anything that happens to them. I’m glad they haven’t all jumped into the killing business like Wayne to try and grasp some of that perceived control back.

Wayne kills indiscriminately, just for the sake of killing. None of his victims did anything to him. He didn’t even know them. The neighbors he mowed down at the end had not really done anything to him, either, even though he claimed to have numerous transgressions in his book against them.

And this is the main difference between Carole and Lee and Wayne: Carole killed out of necessity and Wayne killed out of boredom. And craziness. I feel that Lee is actually a borderline character, one who easily could have gone either way. In a way, his death may have been because he was leaning more towards the idea of killing again, as he thought that was the only way to get rid of Wayne. He didn’t entertain any other solution. Although killing their tormentor would have been a life-saving act, that he didn’t consider there might be a way to simply subdue him or escape him indicated that he may have already developed a taste for murder as a solution to troublesome problems.

I was glad Rule helped Carole at the end of the book. He was more helpful than Lee, who instilled in her a new fear that she didn’t really love him and that their relationship or her life hadn’t been worth killing for. Rule provided her with a guilt free future, without her having to return gratitude or do anything except accept.

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Red Dragon, Part II

In the foreword to Red Dragon, Thomas Harris addresses important issues regarding writing and character development. As he details how he wrote his books and created the character of Hannibal Lecter, he also shows insight into how he developed the character of Will Graham.

Harris states “To write a novel, you begin with what you can see and then you add what came before and what came after” (Harris IX). This is worthy advice, similar to the advice I’ve often gotten from fellow writers to “just write the story, the details will come”. So many times, writing is stalled when the writer does not know all the details of a story and feels that the writing cannot begin until all the specifics are worked out. It’s difficult to make progress following this method.

The way Harris discusses walking alongside Will Graham as he investigates crimes is indicative of characters being a part of their creators, whether acknowledged parts or subconscious derivatives. Harris had a kinship with Graham because he immediately understood how his character would work an investigation. This relationship seems to be an easy one, because Graham is the good guy.

Harris further describes the novel writing process with “…when you are writing a novel you are not making anything up…you just have to find it” (Harris X). I can appreciate this idea as one geared towards a writer learning to pull the story out from wherever it may be hiding during the writing process. If a writer goes into the story knowing there is indeed a story, the search and subsequent writing and revising may be better weathered.

Harris talks about how easy it was to leave the character of Dr. Frederick Chilton “in the cabin with the lights on and look back at him from the dark” (Harris XI). Chilton, too, is a part of Harris. However, this character is one that is not as detailed and does not require as much investment from the writer. He is developed as much as he ever will be.

Hannibal Lecter, however, makes Harris uncomfortable. In Lecter, Harris seems to be faced with the darker desires within himself: his ability to create a character which frightens him to explore and subsequently write to scare others.

Even though Harris admits that he did not know he would bring Lecter back for following works, he acknowledges that Lecter had a life of his own. He intruded on Clarice Starling’s story and then allowed Harris to build a novel in which Lecter not only helped Starling to solve the case but where Lecter helped the author get to know Starling herself better than he likely would have without the lense of the villain.

I can truly appreciate Harris’ honesty on how the good and bad guys will often derive from the same place within the author. It is difficult to examine our characters and admit that the villains are a part of us and our world views.

Works cited

Harris, Thomas. Red Dragon. New York: Berkley, 2009. Print.

 

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