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

Last One of the Year

Happy Solstice! The shortest day of the year is now behind us, onward to longer (and, before we know it, warmer) days! It’s the holiday season, and possibly my last post of this crazy whirlwind that has been 2020. I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, even if you’re in a place where travel restrictions and such have hampered your plans. As of today Ontario has gone into lock down for the next month, most other Canadian provinces are in various stages of restriction, and I understand there’s a new strain of COVID making its way through the UK and possibly into Australia. And of course America is reporting some frightening infection numbers. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a little way off still I think.

As for me, I’m recovering from entirely different health woes, having suffered some broken ribs about a week ago. It’s the second time in my life that I’ve damaged myself in this way, roughly twenty years between instances. It’s not any more pleasant this time around, I can tell you. Fortunately for me, the next couple of weeks will bring a light work schedule, which means more time to convalesce here at home.

The time off will give me a chance to put the finishing touches on my new Writing Horror: The Dark Side class, which debuts on January 25th. Meanwhile, Crafting the Short Story moves to its new time slot on Thursdays starting January 28th. It also switches to an eight-week course as noted in this previous post. I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom – virtual though it may be – this new winter session.

In other news, I wrote a new story this weekend. One of those spur of the moment things where an idea occurred to me and I wrote it down as it was hatching. I guess it wasn’t so much the act of writing the story that was spur of the moment; I wanted to submit something to an open call but had nothing that really fit, so I did sit down with the intention of coming up with something. As for the story itself, I didn’t even have an inkling of what it would be before I started. Sometimes that’s how it works: a little spark of an idea turns into a story right before your astonished eyes. One of the things I tell my students involves a daily writing exercise which can spawn story ideas and, from time to time, actual stories.

Speaking of stories, keep an eye on this space in the new year for a new feature I plan to add to the site. I’ll be adding a section of free content including some stories and the like. For those who have already read some of my work and enjoy it, this is just a little something extra. For those who may not have read anything I’ve done yet, this is your chance to test the waters. Hopefully you’ll like what you see!

In case this is indeed my last post this year, let me thank you for spending some time here with me and my thoughts. Once again I end with the obligatory mention of my contact page, not only for yourself but any of your family and friends whom you think might enjoy what we do here. And what post would be complete without a gentle reminder than book reviews are the lifeline of all authors? Since it’s the season for giving and all, I would happily accept any and all reviews. Primarily and ideally for Terror in High Water, at any or all of here, here, or here. But any of the titles that have included my work would also be welcome. Finally, as always,

Be safe, talk soon!
-JP

Course Correction

Just a quick update to my (currently online, hopefully not forever) courses: An Introduction to Publishing is no longer being offered as a standalone class. We’ve now consolidated this as part of Crafting the Short Story, which will now have an extra two classes added. This makes more sense than forcing you guys to sign up for a second course to get information you really should have included as part of the main course. So for anyone who signed up for the February 2021 session (and I don’t think there was anyone yet), you should be aware of the change and contact the office to get that sorted.

Also, it’s official: the first run of Writing Horror: The Dark Side is a go for the winter session, beginning on January 25th. The class had already begun to fill up within days of the announcement, which is really cool. I’m really looking forward to seeing some old friends mixed in with the new faces. It should be a fun class.

I realized, as I was looking back at some recent posts, that it seems my writing classes are almost all I talk about lately in this space. I did mention recently the new anthologies with my stories in them, I guess. I’m also currently shopping my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, as well as a collection of my shorts called Old Bones. Hopefully we’ll see one or both of those available not too far down the road.

In a bit of writing/writing class crossover news: in the latest installment of CTSS I decided I would try something new. For the first time since we introduced the course many moons ago, I would write the weekly assignments along with the class. There were a few reasons for doing this, but a large part of it was that I wanted to show everyone that it was indeed possible, even by my own unorthodox methods. So I did write alongside my fellow writers, and shared my work with them as they did with me. It was interesting to see the process from the other side of the glass, so to speak. But in a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, my budding short story grew legs of its own and morphed from standalone story to what I’m tentatively calling ‘chapter one’. Yeah, I did it to myself – took something quick and easy, and turned it into a lengthy project for myself. I already have a few irons in the fire that need tending to, and I’ll get to them for sure. But this is just interesting enough to intrigue me, so I owe it to myself to see what (if anything) can be done with it. I’ll let you know what I find out!

That’s all for today. Just a few quick notes to keep everyone up to speed. As always, feel free to pop over to my contact page and sign up for email updates whenever new posts drop. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Dark Side of Writing

It’s November – early days, but November nonetheless – and it feels like spring out there. Sixteen degrees today, and a reported 20 tomorrow. High teens the rest of the week (That’s mid to high 60s, for my American friends). It’s as if I accidentally slipped into hibernation during last week’s sub-zero temperatures and arose from my slumber to happily discover I’d skipped ahead to April. I suspect these temperate days are destined to be short-lived, but considering what November usually feels like around here, we’ll take it.

On to more writerly matters: as of about two hours ago we wrapped up another successful run of Crafting the Short Story. It was a great group and we had a lot of fun, and everyone really impressed me with the cool stuff they came up with for the finale. It seems like a good time to plug the next offering, which moves to Thursday evenings for the winter session and beyond. The next round kicks off on January 28th and runs through March 25th (no class March 4th).

Why have we shifted to Thursdays after such a long run in the Monday slot? Oh, I’ll still be grinding away on Monday, fear not. But now, I’m pleased to introduce the debut of Writing Horror: The Dark Side. It’s an all-new course which, I’m told, was heavily requested by former and prospective students alike. So the good folks at the CEL asked if I’d be interested in offering such a course, to which I quickly agreed. This will occupy my Mondays beginning January 25th through March 15th (no class Feb. 15th and March 1st). I’m excited for this one – as much as I love teaching CTSS this is right up my alley, more in my wheelhouse, whatever tired cliche works for you.

Just before I go, I wanted to remind you that Scary Snippets – Campfire Edition is now available in Kindle and paperback. It’s my second time working with these publishers, along with Mother Ghost’s Grimm Vol. 2. Unlike MGG, which was written primarily for the little ones, Scary Snippets is aimed at a more mature audience. It’s filled with spooky stories that are on the shorter side (hence the ‘snippets’ thing) in there, including two of mine that are both loosely based on real events.

There, I think we’re mostly up to date now. If you’d like to have the latest blog posts delivered directly to your inbox, drop by my contact page and let me know, and we’ll make it happen. Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Step Right Up!

I want to take a slightly different approach with today’s post. It’s a little on the long side, but I think it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a writer or potential author, regardless of skill level or advancement. Think of this as a public service announcement.

Some of you may not be aware that besides being my first line of defense and primary editor my wife, Sheryl, is an accomplished writer in her own right. She’s got a few publishing credits under her belt and sends her stuff out just like most of us, in the hopes that a publisher she’s identified as a potentially good fit will like what they see. This week she received an acceptance email from one such publisher. To avoid any potential legal ramifications I won’t name the UK-based publisher in question. Let me just say that they’re named after a winged horse that rhymes with “Megasus”.

While it’s always exciting to receive an acceptance, this one caused Sheryl’s antennae to twitch. Something didn’t seem quite right, and she showed it to me. I read it over, and was delighted to see that they’d offered to send a contract. I glanced over at her and said “Please have them send you a contract.” I really wanted to have a copy of it to avoid any heresay or slander accusations. Once I had it in hand I chuckled and told her to reply with a ‘thanks but no thanks’. She did reply, in her own inimitable, colorful style.

Why, you might be wondering, would anyone do such a thing? Isn’t a publishing contract the goal here? Well, as it turns out, “Megasus Publishing” is what is known as a hybrid publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying they’re a vanity publisher. Essentially, the author pays the publisher for the privilege of having them publish his or her work. In this case, the asking price was a cool 1,900 GBP (or roughly $3,200 CDN). Just send us this money, the acquisitions editor said, and we’ll take care of everything. Hell, we’ll even pay you royalties on any books we sell!

Now, the difference between a hybrid publisher and a true vanity is that the hybrid claims to be a legitimate publisher that also offers what they call “inclusive contracts”. In other words, even though we offer real, legit contracts that guarantee actual payment to some authors, in your case we’d rather you pay us to “help defray some of the costs”. The difference, of course, is that there is no difference. In neither case do these hucksters operate in any legitimate manner, it’s all a ruse. Just smoke and mirrors, designed to ensnare starry-eyed would-be authors with the idea of seeing their name in print. Sadly, many still fall for these scams, which is how they manage to stay in business.

I discuss vanity publishers and other such scams more in-depth in my Introduction to Publishing course, but here are a few of the highlights of this particular contract. For starters, of course, is the matter of shelling out over three grand under a clause they’ve sneakily called “advances”. Advances, for the uninitiated, are monies paid TO authors in advance of sales BY publishers, against future royalties earned. For this price they will perform edits, cover art (all at the publisher’s discretion, with them having final say in all matters), and a bunch of other stuff that any reputable publisher pays for. They lay claim to subsidiary rights and draconian percentages. They will send you also 25 complimentary copies of your book, “completely free of charge” as the contract makes a point to specifically note – which, for your $3,200, comes out to about $130 per “complimentary” copy. The duration of these contracts is often ridiculous, too. There is literally no part of it that benefits the author in any way.

Oh, and in case you become disgruntled at your handling by your hybrid publisher, there’s also a clause that prevents you from saying, writing, or doing anything disparaging or that “may adversely affect the production, promotion, and sales of the work.” Unbelievable. And just for fun, they’d like first refusal on your future works. You know, just in case you happen to have another few thousand dollars left.

What the contract won’t tell you about vanity publishers is stuff like: horrible editing (often worse than it was in the first place), poor formatting, shoddy book quality, and maybe best of all, unrealistic cover prices to ensure few if any copies are ever sold. They’ll do zero marketing, nor will they make any attempt whatsoever to sell your book – they’ve already made their money from it, from you. So now it’s up to the poor author to sell as many copies as they can on their own (purchased from the publisher, of course) to try and make back as much of their sunk investment as possible.

I mentioned before that people still fall for these types of scams. Additionally there are still people who, for whatever reason, will defend their decision to publish with these slimy operations. I happen to suspect that in many cases they’re just too embarrassed over being scammed to admit what a bad experience it was for them. For the record, $3,200 isn’t anywhere near the top of the scale of what these scam artists will try and charge. The highest I’ve heard of was north of $15,000. Just incredible, the temerity it takes to run this kind of con with a straight face.

The long and the short of it is this: never pay anyone to publish you. Ever. If you plan to self publish, pay an editor, sure. Pay an artist for cover art, absolutely. These are part of the cost of doing business, which are generally covered by a legitimate publisher. But under no circumstances should you ever pay a publisher. The money always flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. And possibly a vanity publisher.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, Sheryl did not sign and return the contract. She will not be working with Megasus Publishing on this or any future project, a fact she made abundantly clear in her final correspondence.

The next installment of An Introduction to Publishing runs on November 7th. For more stories about scams like this one and how to avoid them plus a host of other fun topics, click the link and drop on in.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

(Even More) Online Learning

The unseasonable weather continues here in my little corner of the world, which I find delightful. I’ve heard it said we’re in for a mild winter this year. I freely admit this doesn’t upset me.

Weather-related happiness aside, I wanted to take a minute to let you know about another course I’ll be offering starting this winter. At the request of the college, I’m pleased to announce that “Writing Horror: The Dark Side” will debut in January. It will run simultaneously with Crafting the Short Story, and there will be a few overlapping topics since a big part of the focus is on structure and developing good writing practices. But we’ll also delve deeper into the horror genre specifically. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer this class, which along with An Introduction to Publishing brings us to three in total. I’ll fill you in on all the details in the near future.

You know, this writing thing has a lot of ups and downs. But despite the highlights that always end too soon, and the lulls that always seem to go on forever, on the whole there’s never a dull moment. It’s a rewarding experience that continually teaches me as much as I, hopefully, pass on to my students.

Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP