RELEASE – Dark Voices

I’m excited to share with you all that the charity anthology Dark Voices has been released by Lycan Valley Press! Originally titled Her Dark Voice Vol 2 and put together by Theresa Derwin at Quantum Corsets, the project moved to the team at LVP and is now available for you all to buy.

Featuring my story, ‘Under The Skin’, amongst a whole host of hugely talented female authors, the paperback is now available to buy from Amazon US/UK, with the eBook version to follow.

In other news, I was thrilled to sign a contract with Empyreome to publish my SF story ‘Tabula Rasa’ in their October 2018 issue. More to come on that soon, but suffice it to say that this story is particularly close to my heart, and I’m delighted that it’s found such a great home with Randy and the rest of the team at Empyreome.

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RELEASE DAY! Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths

I’m excited to share with you all the news that Left Hand Publishers have released their new anthology, Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths, Volume 1, featuring my story, ‘Family Ties’. The stories were all inspired by the following quote:

Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me, but hate you?
Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie, and I am a painful truth.
~Anonymous

The anthology features a wide range of authors, each with a different and fascinating take on the prompt. As well as myself, Shaun Avery, S.R. Betler, J. Ryan Blesse, Devin Bradley, Terri Bruce, Steve Cameron, Douglas Clark, JCC Downing, Carrie Gessner, T. Gillmore, S.D. Hintz, LJ Hippler, Michael J. Hultquist, Robert James, A.G. Lopes, Paul K. Metheney, Robert Petyo, EB Pollock, Brandon L. Summers, Timothy Vincent and J.M. Williams all share their response to the quote to produce an anthology ranging from the macabre to the quietly thoughtful, beautifully collated by the professional team at Left Hand Publishers.

Reviews are already flooding in, and I’m delighted by how well the anthology has been received, as well as proud to be a part of it.

The quality of the stories read are amazing, with intricate plots in a short story form coming off as so perfect in their construction. The scope of the imagination of the writers just boggles the mind in the executions of stories that make you think. What might be considered ‘good’ isn’t. What is seen as dark and painful is honestly the way it should be. Major kudos to these stories. These stories will challenge everything you thought you knew.

Bruce Blanchard, book reviewer.

If your interest is piqued, head on over to Amazon to pick up a copy for yourself – and don’t forget to let me know what you think!

Story Notes – Life In Sepia

My story, ‘Life In Sepia’, was recently published by Fluky Fiction in their anthology, When Glints Collide. It’s a short piece – a little over 1000 words – but it’s a story I’m rather fond of, so I’d like to share with you all a little of the background to the story and how it evolved.

The initial spark for the idea came from a childhood memory of long, lazy summer days spent weaving in and out of the legs of the grown-ups at the village fair. I grew up in a quintessential English village, a stone’s throw from the green and the local church that was the centrepoint of village life. The summer fair was the highlight of the year, but for a wistful six-year-old with a head full of sunshine, stories and unicorns, and no concept of danger, it was all too easy to become lost amongst the crowds.

No harm came to me, of course – I’m clearly a well-adjusted adult human, whose love for horror and all things weird in no way indicates any pathological tendencies to seek out fear at every turn. Right? That aside, the memory that came back to me of looking up at so many unfamiliar faces closing in on me was the spark of the story that eventually became ‘Life In Sepia’. Lifting that memory away from the 1980s, I shifted the story back 150 years and placed it firmly in the Victorian era, adding a dash of superstition before transferring the viewpoint to the father desperately seeking his wayward child.

And so the story was born. It’s one of the shortest stories I’ve written, but I think that done right, flash fiction can have a powerful impact on the reader. Every word counts to set the scene, illustrate the characters and draw the reader in towards the story winding around them. It has certainly stayed with me since I wrote it, and I was delighted when it found a home with Fluky Fiction in their anthology. It’s amongst great company with the other authors there – if you pick up a copy, please do consider leaving a review on Amazon/Goodreads to let us know what you think!

The stranger smiled. Tall and thin, his limbs were gangly and jerked as if he were nothing more than a puppet under the spell of a child’s hand. His looping, elaborate moustache twitched with excitement as he swept his ebony top hat from his head, and his dark eyes shone with a feverish lustre that made the baker’s blood run cold as the man spoke again.

“Yes, I have seen her. You need not fear for your daughter. I have saved her.”

‘LIFE IN SEPIA’.

When Glints Collide is available to purchase now: Amazon US/UK

The Cardinal Sins of Submission

As I work my way through the fantastic stories and poems that have been submitted to Gallows Hill Magazine, it seemed a good time to share with you all some of my top tips for making it out of the slush pile. We all know publishing is a competitive business; there are hundreds of stories submitted to each opening, and that’s something to be celebrated. Writing is more accessible than ever, and equally, there are always new venues opening up to showcase the very best of genre fiction. But that means that if you want your story to stand out, you need to do everything you can to present yourself and your story in the best light.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t commit the cardinal sins of short story submissions.

  1. FORMATTING is vital. Seriously. I can’t stress this point enough! When an editor is reading through dozens of submissions each day, ‘quirky’ formatting will do you no favours. Presenting your work in bold font, unusual typefaces or without appropriate paragraphs and punctuation will elicit a pained groan from the weary editor, and giving them a reason to mark your story down from the start is a Bad Plan. Most publications will list the expected formatting for your submission, but when in doubt, always use Shunn standard format for your short stories. Learn it and use it.
  2. GUIDELINES are there for a reason. Don’t subvert them. It doesn’t make you clever or special; you just look like an arsehole. If an editor requests a hard limit of 5k, sending in your 7000 word story is an auto-rejection. If the guidelines request a HEA (happily ever after), then your story that culminates in a beautifully tragic murder of one of the main characters isn’t going to fit, and it’s a waste of your time and theirs to send it in. Read the guidelines, stick to them, and you’re already halfway there.
  3. SUBMITTING CORRECTLY will also stand you in good stead. If the publisher asks for a cover letter, provide one – and think about what you’re writing. They don’t need (or want) to know about the trophy you won when you were 9. But if you’re a member of the HWA or your story was recently nominated for a Stoker, then by all means let them know. Send to the correct email address, or via the submission portal if directed to do so. Don’t find the editor’s personal email to send it to them directly; it only makes you look like someone who isn’t willing to follow the process, and is therefore likely going to be difficult to work with. Address your email formally and politely, and if in doubt, address it as “Dear Editor”, NOT “Dear Sir”!
  4. And DON’T SELF-REJECT. Have confidence in your writing and in yourself. Once your story is the best it can be, get it out there! I know how hard it is for a writer to open up to criticism and send each story out there. Our writing is often intensely personal, and taking a risk on rejection is difficult. But if you’ve read the guidelines, crafted a story that fits and believe in it, then send it off! Take a chance and see what happens.

When Glints Collide Pre-Sale!

The Fluky Fiction anthology featuring my story, ‘Life In Sepia’, is just a couple of weeks away from release! Available from October 10th, When Glints Collide is a collection of science fiction, horror and oddities with something for every fan of quirky fiction that sends a shiver chasing down your spine.

There are two special pre-order deals available now. If you order your Kindle version before the release date, you can get it for the special price of only $0.99!

Alternatively, for those who prefer to have a paperback copy in their hands, you can order direct from the Fluky Fiction Etsy store for the special pre-release price of just $10. Readers from the USA can also get free domestic shipping with the special discount code FREESHIPFOX.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Naming my characters is at once the most fun and the most frustrating part of writing. I swear I found it easier to choose a name for my kids than to get all the names right for all the characters in each story.

A name is so much more than just a label. If you get it right, it tells the reader about their background, their character, and just as importantly, the genre of your story. Take Count Vlad Dracula as an example. Say the name out loud; roll the syllables around your tongue and listen to the harsh consonants amongst the long, soft vowel sounds.

Count. Vlad. Dracula.

It really is the perfect name for the aristocratic vampire of legend. Stoker lucked out, for his Dracula was based on the historical Wallachian Vlad Dracula, but there are many other examples in literature of names that use this principle to work in the same way. Peake’s Steerpike, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, Kesey’s infamous Nurse Ratched, even Dahl’s Agatha Trunchbull. Come on – you just can’t imagine a romantic heroine named Miss Trunchbull, but as a sadistic headmistress her name fits like a glove.

Drifting away from horror, I’ve always admired JK Rowling for the sheer amount of thought she put into naming even the most insignificant characters. Take Phineas Nigellus Black, whose portrait hangs in both Dumbledore’s office and in 12 Grimmauld Place. Nigellus is rooted in the Latin word niger, meaning black, and the Hebrew translation of Phineas is “mouth of a snake”. Phineas was a Slytherin, the portrait his only remaining mouthpiece.

The right name can make or break your character. When I sat down to plot out my new steampunk novella this week, there were eight main characters I wanted to name, from a Moulin Rouge dancer to the shadowy ringmaster of a travelling fair passing through Montmartre. And so Clemence Fontaine and Ignatius Demorte were born.

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. As much as I love his work, I would have to disagree. Getting the right name for your characters is key.

I would love to hear your favourite names you’ve come up with for your characters! Let me know in the comments below.

What Was Lost

I really miss editing.

There. It’s said. My name is Cara, and I used to be an editor. Under a previous nom de plume, I was a freelance editor. I edited horror anthologies and novels, and I was deeply proud of what I achieved. Helping other authors make their writing be the best it possibly could be was just as much of a thrill as creating my own stories.

And then life threw a curveball into my path. My impossible baby came along. Much wanted, but unexpected nonetheless. I planned to take three months of maternity leave before easing back into my freelance work; I didn’t want to take too much time out of a fast-moving market that I loved being part of. But then towards the end of the third month, I found myself standing at the side of the road calmly weighing up the pros and cons of throwing myself in the path of the next bus to come along.

Postnatal depression had hit with a vengeance. Out of nowhere I could barely face waking up each morning, let alone returning to work as I had planned. I spent the next two years on a high dose of mirtazapine just to be able to find an equilibrium once more.

For the last six months I’ve been able to stop my medication, and one of the best parts of not taking anti-depressants any more is that the fugue has lifted. I couldn’t write whilst I was taking them; now the inspiration and drive has returned. I can use the pain as a spur to dig deep and take my writing to places it has never been before.

I thought long and hard about whether to take up the mantle of my previous name when I resumed writing, but eventually decided to mentally ‘wipe the slate clean’ and choose a new name for myself. That meant I’m now starting from scratch. I still see a handful of names I recognise now and again, but mostly the publishing world is full of new faces. That’s great – but it means I’m finding my feet all over again, establishing my reputation from the beginning.

That in itself wouldn’t inhibit me from starting up freelance editing again, but for now the chronic pain issues I have with my spine after my pregnancy are uncontrolled. I can’t commit to editing a client’s novel when I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow.

For now I just keep writing. There’s so many submission calls and brilliant new publishers around that I have more than enough stories floating around to keep me busy – but every now and again, I stop and wistfully remember the days when I had the privilege of reading an author’s story before anyone else. Being able to guide them in shaping it into the book they wanted people to read was an honour, and I hope that one day I’ll be in a position to do that again.

Until then, if anyone is looking for a beta reader, I’m all ears!

Lair – a sneak peek.

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Today I’m delighted to share with you all a sneak peek at my erotic vampire novella that was published by Memento Mori Publications, ‘Lair’. Read, enjoy and let me know what you think!

~

Her eyes wide, Dixie stopped for a moment to steady herself and finally catch her breath. Now she knew why Jamie was so determined to come here. Castle Vancura was, quite possibly, the most spectacular sight it had ever been her fortune to behold.

The moon hovered low over the castle in the clear night sky, the castle’s numerous towers stretched high up towards her like a lover’s fingers reaching out to steal one last touch from the one they craved before they slipped out of reach. The dark stone blended in effortlessly with the night and the lush, verdant green ringed around the castle called out to something deep inside her.

It was easy to see why Jamie couldn’t see away from Castle Vancura. The space of just one heartbeat was enough to have her hooked, and before she even knew what she was doing she found herself putting one foot in front of the other again, the path rapidly slipping away in front of her as she stared wide-eyed at the castle ahead.

For all intents and purposes though the castle seemed to be abandoned. The path towards the door was worn and covered with all sorts of tangled undergrowth, thick ivy clung tenaciously to the castle’s stone walls and not a single light could be seen in any of the hundreds of windows.

Whether or not there was anyone there to help her, she had to press on. This was her last hope.

Dixie stumbled up the uneven path when it narrowed further still as it wound its way towards the door that was swinging open on rusted hinges. The castle wasn’t abandoned. Clearly someone was inside after all, and it seemed they had caught sight of her.

Out of nowhere the compulsion to turn and flee nearly overwhelmed her. She shook her head to clear it. She had come this far against all the odds. The answer to Jamie’s fate lay behind the door now opening, and there was no way in hell that she wouldn’t reach out and take it.

More determined than ever, Dixie squared her shoulders and then came to an abrupt halt when her eyes finally focused in the darkness. A stranger stood framed in the vast, arching doorway, and she couldn’t take her wide-eyed stare away from him.

He was tall; intimidatingly so. Jamie was nearly six foot, but this man was taller still. He would tower over her. His dark hair reached down past his shoulders, and he wore a loose, billowing white shirt tucked into the waistband of his old-fashioned breeches. Despite that formality, though, he was barefoot.

That strange juxtapose made it feel as if they weren’t strangers at all.

The shiver that chased down her spine had nothing to do with the cool night breeze.
He stared past her into the distance, almost as if he hadn’t even noticed her, but she took a hesitant step closer to him.

“Ah – do you speak English?”

She let loose the breath she hadn’t realised she was holding when comprehension flitted across his pale face. The moon passed behind a cloud overhead, briefly throwing the pair of them into total darkness, and some deep instinct made her breath catch again as the stranger tilted his head to the side and ran his thumb across his lips before he spoke, his heavy accent unable to mask the clipped, perfectly polished words that made her heart soar.

“You seek the Englishman, yes?” he said.

“Yes!” Her tired eyes alight once more, Dixie took another step nearer. “Do you know something about Jamie?”

His face was inscrutable. “If that is his name.”

This was far from promising, but she pressed on nonetheless. “Please!” she said, blinking back the fresh tears that threatened to fall. “I’ve come a hell of a long way and I’ve got nowhere else left to go but here. I’m begging you, if you know something then tell me.”

The stranger leaned against the doorframe. His arms were folded across his chest and his lips were pressed together in a thin line. A low sob built deep inside her and as the thick, oppressive silence stretched out, she turned away from him and buried her head in her hands to hold it back. It was no use. Whatever he knew, he wasn’t going to tell her.

Dixie twisted the diamond solitaire on her finger and closed her eyes tightly, preparing herself to set off back into the night. She had no idea where to go or even what to do, but it was clear she would find no answers here.

Before she could put one foot in front of the other, though, the stranger spoke again.
“He is inside.”

Hope flared anew and she whirled back towards him. “Then can I come in?!”

“If it is your wish,” he said without moving aside.

It was hardly the warmest of invitations, but she was too damn tired to care. As she neared the door she unzipped her jacket, for her temperature was steadily rising despite the thin mountain air, but as she did so she realised the stranger was making no effort to welcome her inside. In fact, he had positioned himself now so that he was directly blocking her way in.

Dixie inhaled sharply. Growing deeply frustrated now, she fixed her stare onto him despite the fact he was still gazing past her down the path behind her. “Much as I appreciate the hospitality, you’re making it impossible for me to get inside,” she said curtly.

The faintest of smiles finally drew back the corners of his thin lips. “Believe me, that is not my intention.”

“Then will you stand back so I can get in?”

The stranger inclined his head, but instead of stepping aside he came out onto the path – the path that was barely wide enough for one person, let alone two. As he drew near, he ran one hand through his loose hair and looked directly at her for the first time.

A fresh shiver chased down Dixie’s spine, dancing down each and every one of her vertebrae this time. When their eyes locked and he took another slow step towards her, her head rolled to the side. The stranger breathed in sharply and her eyes widened. There was nothing more imperative than making her way into the castle and away from this strange, ethereal intimacy that sprang out of nowhere.

As she darted up the path, she brushed against him and her breath hitched violently, a sudden twist of heat coursing through her veins that made her face flame even before his hand reached out to steady her. He spoke not a word, but the fierce, almost covetous expression on his pale face made her heart race. For a moment she forgot the reason why she was here, but then the moonlight glinted off the ring on her finger.

It was as if she had been doused with ice cold water. Backing away from the stranger, Dixie fumbled behind her until she felt the reassuringly solid frame of the castle’s door. With a strangled cry, she whirled around and darted through it, her heart beating so fast that she could barely even breathe.

No sooner did she find herself inside the castle, though, than she realised that far from fleeing danger, she had walked straight into it. She was inside now. He had her exactly where he wanted her, and she was entirely at his mercy – and when Jamie had gone missing since coming here, following the stranger inside with no way to defend herself was surely the worst thing she could possibly have done.

She swore softly and looked around the vast, cavernous hall as she slowly turned to face the door. Maybe if she was swift she could make a break for it and come back in the daytime. No sooner did she think that, though, than she realised that the stranger was already was at her side.

Dixie backed up towards the nearest stone wall, shaking from head to toe, but without speaking he reached out for her hand. The instant his fingers threaded through hers she could no longer remember why she felt so afraid just a few moments before.

Her lips parted uncertainly and he bestowed the smallest of smiles upon her as the heavy door swung closed in their wake, sealing out the moonlight and plunging the vast hall into darkness. It offered an intimacy that almost made her believe no one but the two of them existed.

The stranger’s hand was unnaturally cool against hers. Maybe it was because they were inside of the castle now, locked away from the lingering heat of the late summer’s day. A faint draught danced around the cold stone floor beneath their feet, and a whispered musty scent was carried upon it. Dixie swallowed hard, badly unnerved by the realisation she had made no effort to pull away from the stranger’s touch.

The cold air didn’t seem to trouble him, but she shivered again, aware now that her nipples were painfully taut. Maybe that was because of the cold castle too. She feared it had a different, far more powerful cause, one that could be directly attributed to the man whose fingers were still wound so intimately through hers.

“You are shivering, my lady,” he said under his breath, far closer to her than she anticipated him to be. “Is the cold air troubling you?”

In truth, the chill in the air was proving to be a welcome if inadequate balm for the fever she felt that was steadily spiralling out of control. It was the fact she was entirely blinded that frightened her. “I think it’s the darkness, actually,” she heard herself say.

“Forgive me, for my eyes are accustomed to the gloom. If it would suit you, though, I will gladly light a candle for you to see by.”

Dixie drew a shallow breath. “I’d appreciate that, yes.”

The stranger moved away without another word, and to her consternation the loss of his hand on hers was a physical pain. Her heart was in her mouth as she heard him strike a match and within moments a candle to the left flamed into life. Hugging herself tightly, she watched him in the flickering light as he moved around the hall, lighting all of the half dozen or so candelabras nearest to the front door.

It came as no surprise that the ancient stone castle wasn’t powered by electricity. Modern light bulbs would be jarringly out of place here. The candles were a perfect fit for the castle, as was the man whose face she could now see clearly once more.

When he came back to her side he bowed deeply to her, a spark of something indefinable in his eyes as he straightened back up. Perhaps it was just the candlelight’s reflection. Dixie couldn’t help but think she saw something more.

As she stared at him, he broke the tense silence that had settled over them. “May I introduce myself, my lady?” he said.

She forced herself to draw a deep, steadying breath. “Yes, of course,” she said, though her voice wavered.

The stranger smiled and reached out to take her hand again. “My name is Maxim Vancura, and this is my castle. I live here alone, the last of a long and spectacular dynasty, but of all of them I am the only one left. Castle Vancura is my prize – and my penance.”

There was no denying it now. She was intrigued, and Maxim’s enigmatic words were the hook that had her caught. “Your penance? In what way?”

“The lonely life it forces upon me. I rarely receive guests, being as isolated as I am.” He raised her hand to his lips and pressed the gentlest of kisses against it. “I am glad, though, that you have somehow found me. May I take your bag, my lady?”

The contrast to his earlier cool demeanour now she was over his threshold couldn’t be more marked. It left her on the back foot, and before she could think of any excuse she found herself mutely shrugging the battered rucksack away and handing it over to him.
Maxim. Dixie found herself silently repeating his name inside her head as he left her side, rolling it round her tongue again and again until a deep crimson flush rose from nowhere to burn her skin. The old-fashioned European name suited him. She couldn’t imagine herself shortening it, but what she could imagine very clearly was crying out his name as he took her into his arms and buried himself inside her.

Her breath caught in her throat.

~

Copyright 2016 Memento Mori Publications

~

Everyone knows that if you willingly walk into the monster’s lair, you won’t come out alive – or untouched. When Dixie goes in search of her missing boyfriend, her journey leads her straight into the dark and mysterious castle of the enigmatic Maxim Vancura, and he has no intention of letting her leave again…

Cara Fox’s first vampire novella for Memento Mori Publications is an outstanding debut. Dark, ethereal and wickedly sexy, the simmering undercurrent of danger running throughout is everything a vampire romance should be.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

 

Midweek inspirations

I don’t know about you, but I can’t write in silence. In the void my head does all kinds of crazy shit, and not the good sort. To dig deep and find the words that flow onto the waiting page, I need music. Here’s a little peek into my world this week and the songs that made the stories come to life.

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Butch Walker – Bed on Fire

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Spike & Tyla’s Hot Knives – King

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JB Newman & the Black Letter Band – Black Lullaby

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Tom Waits – I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You

Begin at the beginning…

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

  • Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.

As an author I live in the land of make-believe. It’s my home, and where I find my friends. Alice in Wonderland was the book that first led me there, as a wide-eyed eight year old first entrusted with the freedom of the local library and all the chapter books at my disposal. Constrained to picture books no longer, I dived in headfirst and came up for air clutching tightly to a battered old copy of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece.

From that moment I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to write; and not just that, I wanted to create worlds and stories just as rich and full of character as that eponymous tale possessed in such abundance. I was lost to the land of make-believe, and even now some twenty years later I live and breathe the wonder of imagination.

I don’t breathe life into my stories. They breathe life into me.