Stuart West is a true lover of horror and has written a great novel called Demon with a Comb Over. I chat with him here about Q Island.
Stuart West is a true lover of horror and has written a great novel called Demon with a Comb Over. I chat with him here about Q Island.
Catherine Cavendish is a wonderful writer who has just released to spectacular novel The Devil’s Serenade. I loved this book! She’s offered to share a real life ghost story with us below:
My new novel – The Devil’s Serenade – mostly takes place in an imposing Gothic style mansion built by Victorian industrialist Nathaniel Hargest. When Maddie Chambers inherits it from her Aunt Charlotte, she soon discovers she has acquired far more than mere bricks and mortar. From the strange appearance of tree roots growing in the cellar to the manifestations, noises and a nostalgic wartime song played again and again, Maddie’s fears grow and intensify. What is going on here – and who, or what, is seemingly hell-bent on driving her insane?
Of course, my novel is just that – fiction. But, in real life, there have been numerous reports of houses cursed or possessed by demons. Sometimes these emanate from the ground on which the house was built. Other times, the builder of the house has somehow managed to impart his – or her – evil into the fabric of the place so that it becomes irrevocably woven into the walls.
Around four years ago, a story hit the headlines worldwide and refused to go away. It concerned a woman called Latoya Ammons, her three children and Latoya’s mother, Rosa Campbell. It all started when they moved into an apparently ordinary house in Gary, Indiana and by the time the story became public, police, children’s services and a Catholic priest had all become involved – and perplexed.
According to Latoya Ammons, the problems began when swarms of flies appeared in the porch. Soon after this, strange thumps were heard coming from the basement and muddy footprints appeared on the carpet. Then, levitation and violent behaviour by family members began and the family were soon in turmoil, living in constant fear of something they couldn’t begin to fathom.
The Indiana Department of Child Services was alerted and officials called at the house, investigating allegations of abuse or neglect of the children. While there, they witnessed Ammons’ nine year old son walking “backward up a wall to the ceiling.” He did this while holding his grandmother’s hand. Then, he flipped over and landed on his feet in front of his grandmother. But, when asked to repeat this action in front of an attending doctor, the child claimed he was unable to do so.
Another strange phenomenon occurred when police took a photograph of the outside of the house. In the right hand window, a white figure appears to be standing – yet the house was reportedly unoccupied at the time the picture was taken. So convinced by the strange events and manifestations was the formerly sceptical Police Captain Charles Austin, that he refused to enter the house after dark.
In desperation, the family consulted a clairvoyant who told them that the house was possessed by more than 200 demons and advised them to build shrines to ward off the evil within. The family then called in a Catholic priest who carried out a series of exorcisms.
Latoya Ammons was subjected to psychological evaluation at a local hospital and declared to be of sound mind. Despite this, her children were taken into care for six months for their own safety. They were returned to her in November 2012 and the strange case was closed in February 2013. The Ammons family moved away and has reported no further disturbances in their new home. Various theories have been offered by clinical psychologists and others investigating the case. Was Latoya Ammons influenced so strongly by her religious beliefs that she induced some form of delusional system on her children? Or was it what she herself claimed, “When you hear something like this, don’t assume it’s not real because I’ve lived it. I know it’s real.”
Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…
“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.
She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.
Here’s an extract:
A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.
The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.
I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.
I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.
I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.
You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:
And other online retailers
About the author:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows. Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.
You can connect with Cat here:
Last Friday, my publisher, Samhain Horror announced they were closing shop. It was like announcing a death in the family.
In 2011, Don D’Auria was the editor for the line. The man was already legendary in the horror community. He accepted my manuscript for Dark Inspiration and it became one of the first six books the horror line released. I went from writing in my dining room to being published next to Ramsey Campbell. I wondered how that could possibly be true.
Many months later a box of new books arrived on my doorstep. I opened it up and there was my name on the cover. Every author knows that mind-blowing experience.
A few months after that, I attended the Horrorfind convention in Gettysburg at the Samhain table. I met other authors from the imprint, Ron Malfi, David Bernstein, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland, John Everson, Damien Angelica Walters, Mick Ridgewell. I remember sitting with all of them at dinner and wondering how the hell anyone let me into this amazing group. The whole first year of being a published author was a whirlwind.
Since then, Samhain has published five other novels and a novella I’d written. Other authors with the imprint diversified their releases at other presses. But they were far more prolific than I. One novel a year seemed to be my pace. And I liked having a home. I wanted to be part of helping grow the brand, and I liked Samhain. Don was a great editor. The production staff was wonderful. No one ever asked me to change a title. Every cover for each book came from a design I submitted. And all the authors got paid. Every month.
If something isn’t broken…
But something was broken. Sales. A truly phenomenal group of talented authors couldn’t muster the kind of breakthrough sales numbers they deserved. And I know. I read most of them and their work was so good that it made me cringe reading mine. I don’t know enough about the marketing end of the business to know why these authors never caught fire. But without those flames, Samhain couldn’t build the head of steam it needed to move forward. Unlike other publishers who’ve failed due to mis-management, this one just seemed to have been pounded flat by market forces.
Sadly, this poor sales record wasn’t true for me. A recent 99 cent promotion for that first born, Dark Inspiration, made it a #1 Amazon Best Seller for almost a week, drove continuing sales afterward, and had raised the sales of the rest of my Samhain works.
I even gave Stephen King a run for his money. Maybe a sprint. A step? Okay, he didn’t notice. But seriously, the company might not have seen the light at the end of tunnel, but I saw it bright and clear.
So my next novel, The Portal will not be released this June. I’d just approved the cover and was really getting excited for the debut. Now the artwork is like one of those promo posters for a movie that never got made. The manuscript will need to find a new home, and I’m daunted by the low adoption rate when you are picky about what family you join.
I’ve gotten some sage advice to look at this as an opportunity. I’ll soon have the rights back to seven books, one unpublished. I also have finished YA and thriller manuscripts to shop around. Self-publishing has worked for me in the past. (My horror ranking on Amazon has always been lower than my sci-fi ranking from my self-published works.) Next year at this time, I could be in a much better, bigger publishing place.
We’ll see. I’m trying to rush through the Five Stages of Mourning and Grief as quickly as I can. I guess this post is part of that process. Lucky for me I have the support of my wife, my friends, the other former (sniff!) Samhain authors, and the readers who enjoyed what I’d written.
If you want one of these future collector’s item Samhain editions, drop by my tables at the LA Festival of Books in April, Scares that Care in Williamsburg, VA in July, or Megacon in Orlando in May. As they say, when they are gone, they’re gone.
At one of the Horrorhound conventions, Samhain gave us a pin, like we’d pledged a fraternity, which I guess we all had. It’s been on my travel bag for a while now. It may be some time before I take it off.
Here’s a fun interview about Q Island and a lot more with the always entertaining Monster Men, Hunter Shea and Jack Campesi.
Copy editors are excellent. They have the detail-oriented personality to read through a text, catch every typo, flag every incorrect reference, and erase any continuity errors. Their value cannot be underestimated and no book should EVER be sent out to the world without one.
Copy editors are also on the lookout for the publisher, keeping them from being legally entangled in some mess, especially a copyright issue. Q Island raised that red flag a number of times, all about the same thing.
The lead character, Melanie Bailey, has an autistic son, Aiden. His autism brings on terrible panic attacks, and Melanie can calm him by singing to him.
When he was still just two years old, before his diagnosis, Melanie and her husband didn’t know what to do to calm this poor, sleepless child who seemed in constant distress. Then a song came on the radio and Aiden just relaxed, relaxed enough to finally go to sleep after an exhausting day. Their prayer was answered. Since then, Melanie used that song to calm Aiden in the most stressful circumstances. The first time he heard it was in December. It was a Christmas carol. So Melanie sometimes sings a Christmas carol year round.
Well, every time she sings the song in the book, the copy editor comments stain the margins like spilled wine, reviewing all the dire consequences possible when this copyright violation comes to light after publication. The good news was that I already had permission to use the song. Because I wrote it. The lyrics for it anyway. They are:
Angels in heaven, look down on the child,
Perfect and lovely, tender and mild.
Shepherds that evening, tending their flocks,
Kneel without pain on nettles and rocks.
The rams and the ewes, surround him in awe.
First to acknowledge our Savior and Lord.
Wise men who travel, came from afar,
Guided by faith and the light of a star.
Okay, “awe” and “Lord” is a stretch for a rhyme.
I’m thrilled when someone reads a book I’ve written and says the characters ring true, or the locations are vivid and real. But I was stunned that I might have written something that could pass as real song lyrics.
So if anyone wants to volunteer the melody, I’m willing to bang out a chorus and two more verses. Let’s get it done by December.