Inside Old Bones: The Crossroads

For this next installment in my Old Bones back stories, in which I discuss the origins behind the stories contained in my upcoming collection and delve into the creative process, we’re looking at a ghostly tale called The Crossroads. This one was written fairly recently, but it sprang from a decades-old incident.

For anyone familiar with the Miramichi area, you know ghost stories abound there. Every little hamlet and village, every town, and every inch of the vast, unbroken wilderness in between holds a spooky tale or two. You don’t have to look very far to find someone who either experienced something they couldn’t explain, or knows someone who has. Now me, I’ve spent more than my share of time rooting around the area over the years – long enough to have picked up more than a few of these stories. Some, like the Dungarvon Whooper (which we’ll get to in a future post), are well-known and oft-told. Others aren’t nearly as famous outside of where they took place. And then there are those, like this one, which virtually nobody knows about. How do I know about it, then? Because I was there.

The Crossroads starts off with the main character, Fred, telling his awestruck neighbor a ghost story from his past. He and his buddy were just youngsters when they witnessed an ethereal stagecoach-like carriage drawn by a team of horses with eyes that glowed red in the pitch blackness. It approached at a fast clip from behind the car the boys were in, charging down the old dirt road before vanishing into the dense forest without a trace. Terrified and fascinated, they investigate further and get a closer look at “the other side” than they ever imagined.

I was about the same age as the characters in the story when I was present for something very much like this happened. Similar setting, similar circumstances, and that same ghostly carriage complete with the team of horses. I didn’t personally see any of this take place, but I was at the wheel when one of my passengers did. He perched on his knees on the back seat and stared into the murky darkness behind us in silence, and when he turned around in his seat the look on his face left no doubt he’d seen something that spooked him.

At this point, the story goes in a completely different direction from the original encounter. In reality there was no further encounter with the horses, the carriage, or it’s otherworldly driver. We drove off into the night without further incident, though we debated the freaky encounter well into the night. Though I didn’t realize it yet, the seeds had been planted for The Crossroads. More than two decades would pass before I finally put pen to paper (literally – that’s how I write most of my stories, the old-fashioned way) and brought this old tale back to life. I like the direction this version went in, even if most of it isn’t strictly true to the original. The other principle player, the one who witnessed the carriage all those years ago, liked it too, even if he didn’t care for how it turned out for his character. I don’t want to give too much away, so I won’t tell you any more than that other than to say it ends in a way I could have seen playing out, had it come to that.

So, that’s the story of where The Crossroads came from. I realize there’s a fine line between sharing the behind-the-scenes stuff and spoiling the reader’s experience. Hopefully I’ve managed to straddle that line, and when the book is released hopefully you’ll read the stories and enjoy these “liner notes”, if you will, after the fact. More of these to come. In the meantime, thanks as always for reading!

Be safe, talk soon,

-JP

Dissecting Old Bones

Where do story ideas come from? It’s one of the most common questions I, and presumably most genre fiction writers, hear. It’s a legitimate question. I can only speak for myself, but in my case the answer usually comes down to one of two things.

The first is two simple words that form the basis for most speculative fiction: what if? Take any everyday situation or scenario, and ask yourself what if things aren’t quite what they seem, or what you might expect. A young couple sitting on a park bench having a conversation? What if they’re plotting a robbery, or a killing spree? A fisherman sitting on the bank of a peaceful stream? What if an unspeakable monster lurks just below the surface? The possibilities are endless; the trick is to figure out which ones will capture the imagination effectively and become intriguing stories.

The second type of story creation draws inspiration from real events and/or past experiences. In my travels I’ve seen and experienced all sorts of interesting and, in some cases, unexplained things. Some of these turned out to be perfectly mundane and explainable things, but that doesn’t necessarily take them off the table as good story ideas. As for the rest, the ones that defy reason or logic, well… those are even better story fodder.

This is all well and good, but broad-stroke generalities aren’t nearly as interesting as specific examples, right? So, since my first collection of horror stories, Old Bones, comes out later this year, I thought I would do a short series of entries here that takes a look at some of the stories contained therein and where they came from.

Today we’ll look at a tale called Fashionably Late. It’s the story of a young married couple attending a corporate Halloween costume party. This was one of those “what if” scenarios where I found myself thinking about how things might play out if the costumes the people at the party wore weren’t actually costumes at all. What would you do if you walked into a room filled with vampires and werewolves and such, only to discover these were real monsters around you? How long before they discovered you weren’t actually one of them? How would they react? The characters were loosely based on a real couple I know (who were pleased to learn they’d inspired this piece), which added an element of realism and believability. To the best of my knowledge nothing like this ever actually happened to the real couple, but I thought about how they might handle it if it had. Here’s a short excerpt:

Attention to detail was one thing, but the closer he examined some of the costumes the more he was convinced there was more to them than just extreme dedication to detail. The wiggling ears on the werewolf, the twitching antennae on the alien mutant, even the pulsing gills on the swamp creature. Somewhere in the back of his mind he questioned how a creature with gills could breathe out of the water, which made him aware that he hadn’t been thinking of the people in the room as his co-workers in costumes. Subtly, he crept closer to take a better look at the beast he’d seen eating the arm earlier, and it was only when he saw a small cluster of fleas leaping around near the neck and back that he came to the sudden, jarring conclusion that it was no costume. Realization dawned on him, creeping up from his subconscious with increasingly chilling clarity: these weren’t intricately detailed costumes. At least some of these people weren’t people at all. This was real, and he was in serious trouble.

Now that we’ve laid the groundwork for the creative process I’ll continue to feature the back stories from Old Bones here as we wend our way toward its release. To receive these posts directly to your inbox, sign up at my contact page and you’ll be the first to know whenever I add new content.

Thanks for reading and following along with me. Until next time!

-JP

Back to Class

Just a quick update today to remind you that spring is here, which means it’s time for the next round of online writing classes. Time is ticking, but there’s still time to register for Writing Horror: The Dark Side and Crafting the Short Story. Dark Side kicks off this Monday, April 12th, with Short Story a few days later, starting Thursday, April 15th.

What are these classes all about, you ask? From UNB’s registration site:

“Short story creation is an art form that is often neglected and overlooked. Related to – but entirely separate from – novel writing, short story creation can be a tricky art to master but also fun and rewarding. It has been suggested that writing short stories can even be more difficult than novels. Impossible? Take this course and judge for yourself!

Here’s an opportunity to focus on writing effective short stories, covering many of the basics of short story writing. You’ll learn how to set the scene, create and develop believable characters, avoid common pitfalls, and much more.

With an emphasis on developing the craft through good writing practices and habits, the course offers tips and advice on discovering the joys of short speculative fiction.

The course also covers important topics such as editing and preparing your work for publication. There is a segment that focuses on submitting for publication, publishing contracts, identifying and avoiding scams, and more, to help avoid the worst of the potential pitfalls in the publishing world.”

As for Horror: the Dark Side:

“The word “horror” often conjures images of masked, machete-wielding monsters doing unspeakable things to innocent teenagers. That’s definitely part of it, but there’s a lot more to the story.

Horror is a genre unlike no other. Its purpose is to unsettle, to elicit a strong emotional response from the reader through “safe scares”. It’s also perhaps the most misunderstood genre of all.

Horror is hack and slash, blood and guts. It’s creepy ghosts and haunted houses. It’s psychological thrillers, gothic tales, atmospheric tension, human drama, and of course, monsters. It spans generations and appeals to a wide audience – from Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe to Neil Gaiman and R.L. Stine, horror brings joy (and scares) to kids and adults alike.

In this course, we’ll dispel some of the myths surrounding horror, and explore the key elements including, what turns an ordinary story into a spooky tale, how to build and maintain suspense, developing strong characters (human and otherwise), how to write an ending with maximum impact, and more.

This course shares some basic elements with Crafting the Short Story, and emphasizes developing the craft through good writing practices and habits.”

Just a few days left to register, but there are still spots in both classes. Just follow the links above. If you or someone you know has an interest in learning the basics of creative fiction writing, or a specific peek into the world of creating scary stories, I’d love to have you come along with me this spring.

-JP

Tying Up Loose Ends

March is slogging its way to a close, and has apparently decided to end on a snowy note this year. After several days of weather in the high teens this weekend has dipped back below the freezing point and today is the third in a row it’s either rained or snowed, or both. Our newest grandchild is just a little over a week old now, and hopefully the warmer weather isn’t far behind her arrival.

It’s a rare down time for me in terms of writing. The forthcoming Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are still in the pipeline, and the winter sessions of my classes have all concluded. With the spring classes still a couple of weeks away from kicking off, I’m cleaning up a couple of projects that have taken a back seat lately.

First on the docket: edits on my next novel, Putting Down Roots. This is one of those projects that feels like it’s been on my to-do list forever. In a way, it has been kicking around for a long time. I came up with the original idea for this about five or six years ago and wrote the bones of the first draft, then put it aside for a while to let it marinade. Time went by and other projects pushed it down the list of priorities, but it’s always been a good enough story that it was never entirely forgotten. So the skeleton became a more complete body as I put meat on the bones and fleshed out the story. Now it’s more or less finished, albeit very rough and in need of a lot of polish.

About a year ago I started work on another novel idea I had. I started the fleshing out process, worked on developing some of the characters and researching the settings and such. To date it isn’t finished, but it will be. I’m usually loathe to work on too many projects at once – I prefer to finish one before diving into another for fear I’ll abandon the first one unfinished. But what this means is that I have two novels in various stages of completion, and it’s time to close one of them out.

The editing process is a lot less fun than writing, no question. It’s probably why I procrastinate and put it off as much as I do. But the fact of the matter is, whenever there’s an incomplete project waiting for me, I think about it pretty constantly until it’s off my plate. So the process now involves setting aside a block of time with as few distractions as possible and just push through a chunk of what needs to be done. Each time I do that, the sense of accomplishment pushes me to press on and get through to the end.

Of course, getting to the end isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning of the next round of edits. But that’s another story…

Anyway, that’s what’s new here. As much as I enjoy this novel, it’s time to lay this old friend to rest. The sooner it’s done, the sooner I can share it with the world and give the next big project the attention it deserves. Thanks as always for reading and following along with me. Until next time,

Be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Horror in the Books

Just a few notes to bring everyone up to date on what’s new in my little corner of the world. We’re mere weeks away from the first day of spring! If you’re in a part of the world that’s still clinging to the daylight savings thing, it happens this weekend.

The inaugural offering of Writing Horror: The Dark Side concluded tonight. I have to say, it went extremely well, even as I worked out the kinks and smoothed out the syllabus. What are the key elements to writing horror? How do you write for maximum emotional impact? At the same time, as with Crafting the Short Story, my emphasis is always on good writing habits and practices. So the challenge is to fit everything in, cover some of the basics while keeping it fresh for those who have already taken the short story course. I was thrilled and very proud as I watched my students, some of whom hadn’t written anything in years, churn out some chilling and creepy stuff. I’m already looking forward to the next session, which kicks off April 12th.

Seventeen Skulls and Old Bones are on the horizon, still working their way through the arduous process of becoming books. Next on the docket: the first draft of the next novel is done, now the process has begun to repair all the fissures and cracks and transform it into something that resembles a finished product. This one’s still several steps down the road before it sees the light of day, but it’s never too early to throw out a teaser!

Finally, thanks to everyone who read my post about the Donnelly massacre last month. It garnered a lot of interest and generated lots of positive feedback. It’s a subject of great interest to me, and a story I always enjoy recounting to anyone who isn’t familiar with the history. I suspect there may be more such entries in this space along the way.

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for stopping by for a visit. Feel free to sign up for updates via email through my contact page. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

A Dark Anniversary

I want to do something a little different for today’s post. It’s the 3rd of February, which marks the eve of a significant, if largely forgotten, date in Canadian history. So instead of the usual fare, today I have a story to share with you. I’d like to take you on a journey back in time to a little place called Lucan, in southern Ontario, not far from London.


As you head off to bed tonight, I want you to drift back through time to this very date in 1880, nearly a century and a half ago. It’s cold, one of those bitter Canadian winter nights. The wind is howling outside the old farmhouse, flinging snow at the windows in gusts that rattle the panes. Out in the barn, the team of horses waits in their stalls, ready to be hitched to the wagon at first light for the blustery trek through the drifting snow into town.


Farm life is a hard life, especially so in these pioneer days. Even if your family wasn’t feared and reviled by much of the surrounding community, the isolation is stark. It’s a lengthy drive to the nearest township, and your closest neighbor is a half mile or more distant. Worse still, tomorrow is February 4th – your day in court. You, your spouse, and your youngest son all face a litany of charges to be heard by the travelling magistrate. There’s a good chance tonight is the last time your family – what remains of it – will all be together under the same roof.


This is the scenario that James Donnelly faced as he lumbered off to bed on what would be the final night of his life. The patriarch of the most feared and notorious family in Canada stirred the coals, tossed another log in the fireplace, and dragged his weary, arthritic bones to bed in the adjoining room.


At the same time, in nearby Lucan, a mob of thirty men were making their final preparations for their night’s work. They set off on foot in the biting cold and silently traversed the miles toward the Donnelly homestead. It was around 2AM, the house was quiet, its occupants sound asleep, when there came a loud pounding on the door and a gravelly voice demanded to be let in. James’ son, Tom, answered the door. It was the local constable, James Carroll, a burly, scowling fellow, who claimed he had an arrest warrant. It surely seemed suspicious that such a thing couldn’t have waited until morning, but the intruder was reluctantly invited in.


Again, imagine yourself in this scenario. You’ve barely had time to fall asleep when you’re jolted awake by a blast of cold air through the open door. Your battle-scarred, 63-year-old body, aching and throbbing from decades of working the fields and engaging in countless bloody brawls, screams in protest as you struggle up from your slumber, pull on your boots, and stumble into the kitchen to the sight of your family’s most hated adversary in the doorway. Your son Tom, 25, the youngest of your seven boys, stands barefoot and clad in his long underwear, locked in handcuffs. And then, perhaps just as the horrible realization of your situation becomes apparent, the world explodes and an angry, violent mob bursts through the door. They’re brandishing clubs, axes, and other weapons. They are not here to serve a warrant.


The battle is a vicious, bloody one that leaves many members of the mob broken and scattered – for years the Donnelly clan have run roughshod over the entire region due to their numbers and terrifying fighting skills. But tonight, six of the seven sons are absent; some grown and moved out, one in jail, two others dead. Though individually fierce and formidable, the remaining family members are a manageable number for the mob, who exact their revenge for the decades-long reign of terror they’ve endured.


When it’s over, James, his wife Johannah, their son Tom, and niece Bridget all lay dead or dying, bludgeoned and battered beyond recognition. Members of the mob poured coal oil around the kitchen and nearby rooms, tossed in a torch and, satisfied all in the house had been killed, set off on the second leg of their grim journey. As flames lit the night sky the mob, which had dwindled to just six members, made its way to the house of the second eldest son, William. There, they readied their shotguns, knocked on the door, and opened fire the moment it opened. It wasn’t William who answered but his brother John, who tumbled backward into the house as the life slipped from his bullet-riddled body. Unaware of having missed their intended target, the mob dispersed, their bloody work done.


There’s more to the story, of course. The unseen child in the Donnelly house, overlooked by the mob, the lone witness to the fearsome massacre. The ensuing trial of the killers. The years of fear, violence, and bloodshed that led to this fateful night. All this and more, but this is neither the time nor the place for those chapters. No, for now, this gruesome ending to the tale is all I have to offer. But tonight, on the eve of this gruesome anniversary, as you turn off the lights and snuggle down in your bed, give a thought to this dark chapter in Canadian history. And, if your peaceful sleep is interrupted by a knock at your door, maybe think twice before you answer it.

-JP

Seventeen Skulls Cover Reveal

A couple of weeks ago I released a sneak peek at the cover of my upcoming short story collection, Old Bones. I’m excited about its release later this year, and I think the eye-catching cover art really does it justice.

At that time I promised to do the same for my new novel, Seventeen Skulls, in the near future. Well, the future is now. Allow me to present to you, for the first time anywhere, the cover of my forthcoming novel, Seventeen Skulls:

I’ll have more to say about the novel itself in future posts. For now I just wanted to share the cover, and my excitement for its impending release. Watch this space for more information including teasers, blurbs, excerpts and launch date!

-JP

Winter Semester Starts Soon!

Winter is in full swing – actually, I take that back… it really isn’t. I have to admit, as Canadian winters go this one has been rather mild, which doesn’t exactly break my heart. It’s still pretty chilly out there, but at least for the time being we’re not eyeballs-deep in snow. I’m speaking solely from my Maritime perspective though, so depending on where you’re reading this from your mileage may vary. If your locale isn’t getting off as lightly as we are here, my condolences.

Nevertheless, the onset of winter does mean the beginning of a new semester of online classes at UNB. And as always, it means Crafting the Short Story (which has moved from Mondays to Thursdays and now run for eight weeks) along with the latest addition to the lineup, Writing Horror: The Dark Side which takes over the long-standing Monday time slot. And the hour is nearly upon us! Classes begin next week, so if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, there’s no time like the present. There’s still room in both classes, so if you or someone you know is interested in learning/improving their writing skills – and filling some of those wintry COVID lockdown hours – you can kill two birds with one stone and come hang out in my virtual classroom.

Lastly, as I frequently do here, I would like to remind you that reviews for Terror in High Water are always welcome on any and all platforms it’s available on. Reviews are always welcome but they’re especially helpful now with not one but two new titles coming soon, to generate and draw interest in anticipation of the forthcoming Old Bones and Seventeen Skulls. Teasers, blurbs, and cover art when available can be seen on my World Castle Publishing author page, here. Also, for updates on new posts and news check out my contact page, fill out a few boxes, and voila! Emailed updates sent right to your inbox.

That’s all for now. Thank you as always for dropping in to see the latest goings-on, or catch up on some of the history around here. Whether you’re a first-timer or daily visitor, I’m always pleased you’ve taken some of your time to spend here with me. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Introducing Old Bones

As I mentioned in my last post, I have two new books coming out in the next little while. As I also mentioned, one of these will be a collection of short stories. Some of these stories you may have seen before, as there is a smattering of reprints included in there. But there are also a number of brand new, never before seen scary tales that I’m very excited to share with everyone. I won’t tell you any more about them just yet – but keep an eye on this space for hints and teasers.

To make up for the lack of information let me share with you something just as cool: introducing the cover for Old Bones, the first collection exclusively containing my own work.

Pretty snazzy, huh? Oh, and it’s also unique in the sense that it’s the first horror short story collection my publisher, World Castle Publishing, has ever produced. That’s all, just this one. So that’s a special and rare honor that I’m very grateful for.

To say I’m thrilled about this would be selling it short. Short stories are what I cut my teeth on in this industry. They’re still my go-to when I’m stuck or in a bit of a creative lull. For this collection I’ve selected some of my favorite stories from over the years. In turn, each of the stories included here has a back story about how it was created, where the idea came from, the process, and so on. Maybe down the road I’ll do a post dedicated to some of those behind the scenes tidbits.

For now, I hope you like the cover, and I promise there will be a cover reveal for the new novel very soon. Keep watching this space for more info and updates, or for even more prompt service feel free to drop by my contact page, fill out the info, and receive updates delivered right to your inbox.

Until next time, stay safe and talk soon!

-JP

First One of the Year

The New Year has started off with a bang in this part of the world. Yesterday I awoke to blinding, sideways snow which persisted well into the evening. I don’t know what the total accumulation was, other than “more than I would have preferred”. Thankfully, aside from dog walks and keeping the back deck cleaned off, I was happy to sit and watch from the comforts of my couch, all snug and warm.

Today, now that we’ve dug out from underneath the wintry blanket, I have some exciting news to share. First, the final edition of the Scary Snippets franchise was released just before New Year’s. The follow-up to last fall’s Campfire Edition, this time around it’s the Virtual Edition – technology gone wrong and wreaking havoc. This has been a fun series to participate in, it inspired me to write original pieces for both editions my work appeared in, and I’m proud of my stories.

And now, the main event. My publisher, World Castle Publishing, contacted me with an offer. I’m pleased to announce that as of this morning I have signed a contract for two more books – one novel and a short story collection. Release details and dates aren’t finalized just yet, but we can expect to see one or both later this year. It’s a good feeling, after a nearly sixteen-month gap between novels, to see the results of my patience and diligence bearing fruit. As with most of the things I’ve written, I’m proud of these forthcoming projects, and I’m excited to share them with you. As always, details to follow as they’re available.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Year, and wish you all continued health and happiness moving into 2021. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP