Thursday, October 10, 2019

Excerpt from LITTLE SHADOW MAN



     Here's an unedited excerpt from the horror novella I am currently writing...HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


UNEDITED EXCERPT
LITTLE SHADOW MAN

     It’s funny.
     You would think after being asleep--or technically, in a medically-induced coma--for three years, eleven months, and seventeen days, that your first waking thought would be something monumental.
     Your child’s face.
     A memory about your wedding or perhaps the moment you fell in love.
     Possibly something devastating. The day your mother died after falling down the stairs to the basement? 
     But for Jenny Kohler, after a four-year slumber of unnatural causes, her first waking thought was about McDonald’s French fries.
     Extra large. With ketchup.
     She’d ripped off the oxygen mask and attempted to speak, but with her atrophied vocal chords the words emerged as “Fra fra.”
     Obviously, it took some time for her to acclimate to her surroundings. Figure out where she was, why she was. What she was. 
     And why the date on the blaring television read 2004.
     Oops. Lost a few years.
     On the bright side, she’d finally lost those pesky fifty pounds. However, no one would mistake her for Sleeping Beauty. Her hair had been chopped into a boyish cut--easier for care at the nursing home. Her body was white and pasty and mushy--with bed sores and scabs and scars from the accident no one wanted to talk about.
     Then she discovered, after a few days of her brain starting to function again, that it wasn’t just fifty pounds of fat that she’d lost.
     Her husband--dear old Jimmy--had divorced her slumbering ass while she laid in a puke-filled hospital bed.
     Dear Old Jimmy.
     And to add the greatest of insults to a near-death injury, he’d married Marlene.
     Marlene.
     The bastard had married Marlene.
     He’d married the bitch from hell and taken Clare with him. They now lived in Marlene’s three thousand-square-foot condominium on the west side of town.
     Jenny realized a few days after waking up that the doctors were not going to be her best source of information.
     Neither were the nurses.
     It was the orderlies--bless their sweet souls--the ones who scooped up poop and vomit and other bodily fluids that no one else wanted to touch, who would answer her questions and be straight with her.
     “Sure did. Brought that bitch with him. She has a big, shiny ring on her finger, that one. They spent a couple of minutes at your bedside, then took off for Barbados.”   
     Jenny blinked a few times. Her tear ducts weren’t working so great, but honestly, Jim didn’t deserve the water works.
     “José, was my daughter here, too? Clare? She’s just a little girl.”
     José sent her a pitying look. “That girl ain’t little. She’s twelve. Middle school is hell, don’t you know. The girl has been here a couple of times. Not too much. Never saw her crack a smile or even talk. Sullen kid.”
     My girl is twelve!
     Jenny cringed. She’d missed four vital years of her daughter’s life. She could only imagine what Marlene was teaching her about growing up.
     “Did...did any of my friends stop by?” Jenny was dreading the answer, but she had to know.
     “Yeah. One. Barb. You know her? She came by every Sunday. Told me she knew you were in there, in that lifeless body, somewhere. And then she’d spout off a bunch of religious gobbledygook. You know, about how God was looking out for you. That God would take care of you. God would bring you back.”
     Jenny stared at José. “I don’t know anyone named Barb.”
     “Really?” José barked out a laugh. “She was here every Sunday. You sure?”
     Jenny wracked her brain, which probably wasn’t such a hot idea. It was full of holes and mismatched connections, warped memories, and a bunch of rage. The rage swam around in the gray matter like an alligator under an alga-topped swamp. Skimming the surface every once in a while, then diving back into the scum.
     “Well, I guess I’ll meet her if she stops by again. That should be interesting.”
     “Yeah. It should.” José snubbed out his cigarette on the linoleum floor. “Gotta get back to work. Let me wheel you home.”
     Jenny’s arms weren’t strong enough to wield the wheelchair yet. Physical therapy was now a daily occurrence, but her recovery would not be quick...or easy.
     And there would be no cheerleaders. Mr. Ex-Hubby hadn’t bothered to stop by. Clare hadn’t stopped by. The mysterious Barb had ceased all visits.
    No one had stopped by.
    Well, that wasn’t exactly true.
    Something had stopped by. 
Some...thing
But the thing, the thing that was stopping by, day and night, was something Jenny was trying to ignore. Thinking it a by-product of a long-term coma. Or maybe the meds.
     Meds could do strange shit to your brain.
     That had to be it.
     Because something was watching Jenny, all day and all night. Hidden in the corners. So small, tucked into the shadows, like a tiny bronze afterthought. Always just out of reach, on the periphery.
     At first she’d thought something was wrong with her vision. Like a spot on her retina? A dark spot. It moved as her eyes moved, always on the edges.
     But then one day, the thing...talked.
     Well, that wasn’t quite right. It didn’t exactly talk. It sort of...whispered. But low, like the grumbling of a furnace in the basement.
     She’d thought it was a furnace in the basement. Until she heard the words. Actual fucking words.
     And then the blood that flowed through her broken body turned so cold she’d thought she’d frozen in place. Like a block of ice.
     “Wel...come.”
     That was it. That one word, over and over. It wasn’t the furnace. And Jenny was certain it wasn’t the meds. Because she heard it when she was completely lucid. The blurry spots in her peripheral vision would grow, almost like an ocular migraine, but full of shadows. 
And full of something else.
Each day and night, the thing returned. Little Shadow. In the corner. 
Welcoming her. To what exactly?
And strangely, the Little Shadow seemed familiar, almost comforting. 
She’d heard once that people in a coma were aware of everything going on around them. Who was visiting, words spoken. They couldn’t respond, but they were aware. 
As days passed, Jenny’s memories of the last four years returned in a jumbled mass of images.
Dark, wavy images. Angry images. She hadn’t been aware of visitors or doctors or nurses or therapy done on her mushy body. But she was sure--as sure as she could be--that Little Shadow had visited her daily. Because it was the thing that seemed recognizable. It was the thing that filled her memories.
And so, in a very odd way, Little Shadow became a comfort. Something she could rely on, unlike her douchebag ex-husband. 
It wasn’t until fifty-four days after she awoke that it occurred to her that the something might be not be a friend or a comfort at all, but something altogether different. And that she, Jenny Kohler, was in way over her head with this thing.
That night a nurse came into the room to check her bedsores. Most of them had disappeared, but a few had become infected. Jenny couldn’t see them. They were on her lower back. But she could smell them. Something putrid and foul. And wet, with pus oozing onto the bed sheets.
Nurse Wilson was curt and pissy and had about as much bedside manner as a troll. Usually, Jenny ignored her, rolled over, and let her apply the topical ointment which was supposed to heal the open sores.
But on this night, the nurse seemed more disagreeable than normal. When Jenny turned over, the nurse gagged.
Actually gagged.
After all the shit this nurse had seen in this god-forsaken nursing home, she’d gagged at the sight of Jenny’s sores.
“Ugh. These are disgusting.”
Jenny got very, very still.
“They smell like crap. Why isn’t the antibiotic cream working?”
Jenny glanced into the corner of the room, where shadows collected and the light got sucked right under the door.
Darker. 
“Good thing your husband already left you, woman. If he got a whiff of these, he’d be repulsed.”
The shadows in the corner seemed a little larger. Climbing up the walls like a colony of mold. Growing.
Darker.
“I’ll bet that busty bimbo he’s married to now smells real good.”
Nurse Wilson was bending over Jenny’s back. Head low, concentration focused on the wounds. Jenny reached out and grasped the bed pan on her table. Her coordination still wasn’t great. Her strength was pathetic. But somehow Jenny got ahold of that bedpan, twisted in the sheets, and smacked the side of Nurse Wilson’s head.
The nurse wasn’t expecting it. It didn’t hit very hard due to Jenny’s less-than-stellar physical condition. But it startled the fuck out of poor Nurse Wilson. So much that the woman gasped, tipped backward, and fell onto the floor. Smashed the back of her head so hard she knocked herself out. And cut open a nice slice of her skull.
Bright red blood pooled under the nurse’s head.
And the shadows in the corner laughed.
The shadows in the corner grew.
The shadows in the corner coalesced into a huddled figure. The outline wasn’t sharp, and the face was hidden by a dark bronze haze. 
When the nurse finally came to, she remembered nothing.
     “I must have fallen. Damn slippery floors. I wish they’d stop polishing them at night.”
     That was the start of a new relationship for Jenny.
     That was the night she realized Little Shadow was actually Little Shadow Man. He was there, hidden in the corners.
     And he was growing.


LITTLE SHADOW MAN, © 2019, Nina Roth Borromeo

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Summer Wrap-Up

Freshly-picked berries from my garden.

I had plans for this summer. Big plans.

My daughter was going away for six weeks (art camp), and I was going to finish my novel.

Suuuuuuuuuuure.

So, that didn't happen.

Things did not go exactly as planned.

After dealing with concerns about my mother's health this past year, my family decided to move her into an assisted living home in Providence. She had spent her entire life in Pittsburgh, PA, so this was a monumental project. 

Moving my mom was at times exciting, stressful, overwhelming, emotional, frustrating, and finally a relief. She is safely ensconced in a lovely (and lively) spot, near to us, and we've been able to see her much more frequently, which is one of the bright spots of this move.

My mom and my son, Cristian

Adding to my stress pile was a troubling doctor appointment that forced me to deal--aggressively--with a worrying diabetes problem. My numbers were getting worse, not better. So, I started a very strict diet/exercise plan, and it worked. I have lost eighteen pounds since July 1, and my blood sugar is way down. I feel much better and will continue to work on healthy eating habits.

Homemade hummus and veggies

Needless to say, I did not finish my novel.

I did not start my novel.

I didn't write one single word this summer, and that's okay.

My mom is safe and sound. My health is on the upswing.

I spent a lot of time in the garden, which was good for body, mind, and soul...

Goodies from my garden

My son completed an on-line class at home, my daughter had a wonderful experience at RISD, and my husband finally got to Canada for his yearly fishing trip.


Did he have fun? Yes.

We are now about to launch both kids into their junior years--Cristian is going to Budapest for a college semester, and Hazel is gearing up for volleyball season in high school.

I am finally able to start thinking about writing projects and workshops. Coming up this fall...


1. I will be attending the NJRWA conference in October and co-presenting a workshop with the uber-talented Rosie Genova. We are giving a talk called HOT MAMAS, SILVER VIXENS, AND GROOVY GRANNIES: WRITING THE OLDER HEROINE. I will also be participating in the book fair on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 4:30-6 pm. I hope to see some of you there!

2. I have re-worked the concept for my YA Christmas series that is a spin-off of the KLAUS BROTHERS SERIES. I decided to turn it into a YA paranormal mystery series called THE KLAUS COUSINS CAPERS.


More information and a sneak peek coming this fall!

I hope all of you had a restful, inspiring, and adventure-filled summer. And, even if things didn't go as planned, it's time to forge ahead in September.

HALLOWEEN IS COMING SOON! Woo hoo!

Love and good wishes to all,

Nina/Penny


Monday, July 15, 2019

"SCARE ME IN THE SUMMER" Reviews from Watsonville


Who likes to be scared over the summer?

Also, fall? And winter...

ALL THE TIME!

*raises hand*

I have three reviews coming up today. One is for a fabulous Gothic story by Laura K. Curtis (coming in October, just in time for Halloween). One is for the third season of Stranger Things. And one is for the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House.

A DARKER SHADE

STRANGER THINGS SEASON 3

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

Two of these things were super scary. 

One was not. 

Let me know if you agree!



1. A DARKER SHADE by Laura K. Curtis

As you all know, I love scary stuff, especially atmospheric Gothic tales.

Throw in a haunted house with secrets aplenty, and I'm totally in love.

I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of A DARKER SHADEThis wonderful story by Curtis hits all of my high points...excellent writing, suspenseful mystery, super creepy paranormal elements, a bit of romance, an intriguing family, and a heroine filled with grit and determination.

I love the isolated Maine setting, including a brutal winter that any New Englander knows all too well. A DARKER SHADE is a haunted house story in the best possible way for horror fans...filled with many secrets and an unfolding family history that is both tragic and horrifying. Eerie dreams, unexplained accidents, chilling visions, and unseen forces are driving the events at Rook's Rest.

Molly Allworth--with a Romani heritage and plenty of common sense--is the perfect protagonist. She is determined to protect the Prescott family she cares for, regardless of real or imagined threats.

Curtis has created a remarkable Gothic with this book, and I hope she will follow it up with many more.

Highly recommended. Available for sale Oct. 1. Available now for pre-order.

Grade: A

Is it scary? HELL YEAH!


2. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE on Netflix.


WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

This came highly recommended by multiple people. It took me a while to carve out time for a binge-watch, but I'm happy I saved it for a summer project.

The single season on Netflix includes ten episodes that jump back and forth from the past to current times, and follow the Crain family--parents and five children--as they navigate life in the presence of...

...what? Mental illness? Evil spirits? Ghosts who can't let go?

I sometimes find time jumps irritating and unnecessary, but I must say this was extremely well-done. The poor children who are traumatized by this haunted house carry their memories (and the consequences) into adulthood in a believable and terrifying way.

And when I say terrifying, I mean TERRIFYING! I had to turn off the TV a couple of times because I was scared out of my mind. That's an embarrassing admission for a horror genre-lover, but this show crushed it.

The acting was superb, including Timothy Hutton, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, and a cast of amazing child actors who impressed the hell out of me.

The build-up of suspense and horror was as well-done as I've ever seen on film. Walking slowly down a dark hall--which is now the most obvious horror element--was fresh and new and jump-worthy. (Yeah, I jumped out of my seat.)

The ghosts were horrifying, the monsters were horrifying. 

This series was horrifying. *huddles in corner*

I also loved the complex and believable family dynamics going on, and the resolution which included love and family loyalty.

There were a couple of spots that needed a bit of editing--some dialogue that went on too long, some scenes that could have been somewhat abbreviated. But overall, I found this totally engaging and effective.

Highly recommend. 

Grade: A

Was it scary? Gulp. *whispers yes, don't talk too loud or you'll disturb the ghosts!*




3. Stranger Things Season 3 on Netflix

**WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD, DON'T READ THIS IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE SHOW YET!**

I have very mixed feelings about this. Troubling feelings. I hate to even bring this up, because I love quirky stuff. 

Love love love the quirk.

Wes Anderson. Buffy's unexpected musical. Shaun of the Dead. Mixing horror and humor together is usually my thing.

However, it needs to blend and not be choppy. And yeah, I get it. That's a challenge. 

Also a challenge is weaving together multiple storylines and making it all work.

So, true confession time.

I actually did not like the first six episodes of Stranger Things Season 3. Episode seven was getting better, and the final episode was fantastic.

Was it enough to make it worth watching the whole season?

Probably...yeah. I'm a Super Fan and that made it worthwhile.

Nevertheless, there were some major fails at the beginning. So, here it goes...

1. THE MONSTER WASN'T SCARY

I know. It's hard to make a scary monster. Even with excellent special effects. But Seasons 1 and 2 did an extremely good job by building up the fear, anticipation, growing apprehension of the unknown.

The monster in season three looked like a big steaming pile of uncooked hamburger meat.

Just...no. Totally didn't do it for me at all.

Was it gross? Yeah, sort of. Was it scary? No, not really. Ugh.


2. THE MALL WASN'T SCARY

In Seasons 1 and 2, the setting (The Upside Down) was freakin' terrifying. But Season 3 did not capture that terror. The mall...no. The underground facility...no. The hospital scene was scary, but nothing compares to the The Upside Down.

Could you make a mall scene scary? Yes, you could. There are ways to juxtapose quirky, creepy mall images with a monster. But this show did not do that.

Mall Setting: FAIL.

3. WHO THE HELL WAS HOPPER?

Hopper used to be serious, somber, tortured. So very tortured.

He was a big goof-ball in this season. WHAT THE HECK IS UP WITH THAT? Goofy with Elle--I get it, adding humor into the teen-parent relationship. But the fear about her safety which was a huge part of the past seasons was totally gone.

Also, the ridiculous scene in the restaurant waiting for Winona Ryder to show up?

WHO IS THIS GOOFBALL? Ugh. 

Redeeming Hopper scene: The final episode. Damn. 



4. PACING TOO SLOW

First six episodes dragged.


5. THE QUIRKY STUFF WAS FUNNY, BUT IT MADE THE SHOW FUNNY NOT SCARY

I love quirky. You know I do. But Stranger Things is supposed to be a horror/sci-fi show.

Too many tongue-in-cheek jokes, musical moments, and quirky banter turned this season into Quirky-ville and not Scare-the-bejimminies-out-of-me-ville.

Not a good balance of horror and humor. Too much kooky stuff. (I can't believe I just said that).

6. DIDN'T FEEL PARANORMAL OR CREEPY. NOT ENOUGH SCIFI.

Related to #5. This hardly felt like a sci-fi show at all. Totally disappointing for me.

7. ELLE WAS A NO-SHOW

Elle spent most of her time making out with her boyfriend and having a completely freakin' ridiculous "Cinderella-Makeover Scene" in the mall.

OH MY GOD!

I wasn't sure if this was Stranger Things or a dumb teen movie. Sob.

I WANT BAD-ASS ELLE BACK, PLEASE!


Now for the good stuff! 

1. STEVE

Steve is the best. His character was one of the bright shining spots of this season. He has grown so much, still filled with teen vulnerability and confusion, but also courageous and loyal.

LOVE HIM SO MUCH!

And he and Robin and Erica were absolutely the strongest part of this show. Sheer perfection. The perfect balance of bad-assery and humor. Well done.

2. ROBIN, THE ICE CREAM GIRL

Robin, Steve's new sidekick at the ice cream shop--who just happens to be actress Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke--was flat-out phenomenal. Amazing acting, perfect complement to Steve and Erica. Complex character filled with surprises.

Also, BAD-ASS and SMART. She took over the part that Elle used to have.

LOVE ROBIN!

3. ERICA--"YOU CAN'T SPELL AMERICA WITHOUT ERICA"

Where the heck did she come from? Why haven't they used her character in previous seasons?

She was the bomb! Wicked snarky, smart, funny. So much sass. Hot diggity damn.

LOVE ERICA!


4. MURRAY AND ALEXEI

Best chemistry on the show, hands-down, was this bromance between Murray and Alexei. They stole every scene they had together.

I was not happy about the sad ending for Alexei.

Also, Murray had my favorite quote for the season...

"I hate children." Hee hee!


5. THE FINAL EPISODE

I got chills and bawled my eyes out. The scene where Elle is reading the letter from Hopper was one of the best TV scenes ever. So heart-felt and emotional and tragic. Insanely good. This single scene made the whole season worth watching.


A few final thoughts...

The Nancy and Jonathan scenes were pretty much throw-aways.

Billy was the scariest part of the show. Scarier than the monster. And I loved his redemption scene at the end. That was well-done.

The eye-rolling scene where Dustin and his girlfriend sing the "Neverending Story" was quirky and weird and sort of cute, but also way too long and a huge disruption. I'm not on board with ST turning into a quirky hot mess instead of scary-as-hell scifi horror.

Overall feelings about ST3...it had a split personality, and it showed. Couldn't decide what it was trying to do. I hope ST4 gets back to basics...science fiction/paranormal horror.

Leave the musical numbers to Buffy.

Also, please for the love of God--no more Cinderella teenage makeover scenes.

STRANGER THINGS 3: Was it scary?

No, not really. Bits and pieces were scary, but overall it did not capture the terror of the previous two seasons. 


That's it!

Hope all of you are having a scary summer.

Let me know your thoughts about Stranger Things, The Haunting of Hill House, and A Darker Shade. Let's chat!

Love,

Nina/Penny