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Self-Editing Your Manuscript Series: How to Line Edit Your Manuscript

Line editing, by nature, requires the structure of your story to be solid and complete. Finish developmental edits first. It is not an efficient use of your time to perfect sentences that you may not need later. We’ve just wrapped up our series on developmental edits of short fiction. You can find them here:

6 Elements of Characterization
How to Assess Your Plot
How to Assess Your Pacing
How to Assess Your World-building
How to Revitalize Your Setting

We defined line editing in our initial post as working on a sentence level. It is digging into your craft to improve the clarity and reception of your manuscript.

These are some of the many questions line editing will ask:

Do the sentences make sense to a reader?

Did you use the right word for that scene’s mood, or does a different one have more impact? Do you need to make sure that you didn’t use overly long sentences in your fast-paced fight scene?

Everyone has a different writing and editing process. Some elements may cross over, but at the end of the day, use whatever method works for you. Let’s start off with some format elements that can benefit your line editing before we dive deeper into the process.

Change the format:

Some may suggest you even print the story out. However, if you are looking for zero cost to low budget ways to elevate your writing you can work around that.

If you have been looking at your manuscript on the standard 8.5in x 11in page that comes with word documents, and 12pt Times New Roman font, it may become difficult for you to start seeing any mistakes. This is specifically because the writer of the manuscript can go story-blind.

Story blindness is when you miss obvious mistakes, or subtle ones, in your own writing because you are overexposed to the material.

Change it up.

Use a smaller page size. Example: 5 in x 8 in.

Use a different font. Georgia, Courier New, even the oft-dreaded Comic Sans can make the manuscript look new.

It may also help to change the page color and font color. 

For example:

When I write I use white font on a black page.

When I edit I use black font on a white page.

Read the story aloud:

This age-old advice comes in handy for a reason. When the material is read to you by another person or a device, you can’t add in the tonal changes to help push your meaning to the reader. And while you may miss a double word, the computer will read it it aloud. Notice the previous sentence used it twice.

If you aren’t comfortable reading aloud or listening to the computer speakers blaring your manuscript, there are options–and they come with headphones.

Microsoft Word and Google Docs both have text-to-speech features that can read your MS to you. There are also online programs such as naturalreaders.com, and ttsreader.com

Common Mistakes (and how to fix them):

While the above is a way to see your manuscript differently, let’s look at some line editing examples and how you can apply that to your own work.

Please note: This list will not be comprehensive. You may or may not come across these depending on the strengths and weaknesses of your own manuscript.

Too many words:

For example, this is the process of using entirely too many words than the manuscript calls for at any given time, in a way that can cause run-ons.

Cut the fluff.

How many ways can you find to rewrite the above sentence? There is no one right or best answer. Use the version that best suits your manuscript and *relevant era.

*Relevant era: Some line editors and copy editors will take the setting into account when marking up a manuscript. Certain time periods have slightly different grammar rules for authenticity.

Pronouns for clarity:

You may have come across a sentence like the following either in your own work or in another’s.

He plunged the stake into his chest, and he screamed as black smoke poured from his gaping maw.

Bare with the lack of imagination, but can you see how the reader may not understand that there is both a vampire and a vampire hunter in this sentence?

Bonus! Did you also notice that this sentence needed to be split? There is simply too much happening…

Hunter plunged the stake into the vampire’s chest. The creature screamed, black smoke poured from his gaping maw.

Gerunds and when they hinder plausibility:

While the advice may be met with staunch resistance, let me show you what editors mean when they say gerunds and past participle phrases.

Action scenes, or when speed is necessary, the past participle phrase seems an easy answer to make things happen quickly.

This is, by far, one of the most common errors I see when working with authors.

Jumping up, he ran down the stairs and flipped the breaker.

Our brains are hardwired to see these as chronological events. First this, then that. However, that is not what has been written. In the above example, the character is running down the stairs while jumping up–something that the author clearly intended to be two separate actions.

A quick fix:

He ran down the stairs and flipped the breaker.

Unless the character’s jumping is relevant, it’s not an important word. The reader will know that in order to run down the stairs he stood in some manner. Keeping or cutting the phrase in the sentence is a matter of personal taste.

Make sure that, if you are using a gerund (an -ing word) to start a sentence, it makes sense.

The right emotional word:

The character and their emotions are how a reader experiences a story. It is true that you can show emotions by describing the way a character feels, and how it affects their body and mind, but you also have to make sure that you have utilized your narration properly. This is not to say that you should be using telling words like “angry,” “happy,” or “sad.” The right emotional word means, to ask yourself “Is this the best descriptor word for my character’s, or my scene’s mood?”.

Which of the following examples sounds more like the creature is dangerous?

Example 1:

Snow crunched under the weight of the creature as he trudged through the ice-laden briar patch. Wispy flakes of magic fell from his scaled skin and swirled in the air like campfire embers.

Example 2:

Snow crunched under the weight of the creature as he trudged through the iced-over thicket. Wispy flakes of magic fell from his scaled skin and swirled in the air like little fairy lights.

We covered some common problems and solutions for line editing, however, you may have a more specific manuscript problem to address. Do you have any specific line editing questions that we missed? Drop them in the comments below.

Next Self-Editing Topic:

Next time we’ll continue our dive into prose and cover the big one everyone thinks about when they hear editing. How do you copy edit your own work?

Self-Editing Series: How to Revitalize Your Setting

Self-Editing Your Manuscript: Revitalizing Your Setting

The setting should be as essential to the manuscript as the character and plot. Without the setting, your characters would meander around an abyss of nothing with no discernible life, just floating people and an occasional pop of something like a dagger in their hands, or even a staircase. Have you noticed that that happens as you read back over your manuscript?

The setting should be intrinsic to the world. If characters appear in a place, there needs to be a reason for it, and if the characters are in a setting they need to interact with it. Otherwise, they have become floating bodies in an abyss of white with nothing to help ground the readers in their reality. The setting is more than what we see with our eyes. It should involve all the senses: sight, touch, sound, taste, and scent. Word count is precious in short fiction; do not let the eyes have it all.

Note: if your character is missing any of these senses, simply skip over it and think of how you can use the others to better let your reader imagine the world as the characters are experiencing it.

As you work through your manuscript, also ask yourself if you are using the right words to describe your character’s senses. A character’s personality and emotion will heavily impact the words used to describe the setting. Imagine coming upon a pond in the forest. That little bit of water is going to have a different description to a group of friends on a nature hike than it would to stranded travelers who are lost and dehydrated. In the same way, it would be different to someone who is afraid of the water as opposed to someone who loves it. The character(s) should help you define the word choice for setting your scenes.

Sight:

This is one not often forgotten when working through a manuscript. Many writers find themselves hacking away the words ‘see’, ‘saw’, and ‘seen’ like thorny brambles around a golden treasure chest. You are free to simply describe things that the characters are observing because it is your description that lets us follow the camera pan of their eyes.

Did you have a quick blanket-style description to start the scene before you focused on the more intricate details? This establishing shot is a quick view to place the main elements of your story so that the reader understands what to imagine. This makes it less confusing when your characters start interacting, as you’ve already established certain things were present.

Touch:

It can be easy to forget to include what things feel like when writing, as most of the feeling goes into the emotions. Rough bark on a tree scratching against someone’s hand, or how hot or cold something is as it touches the skin. That blade may be cold when pressed to your character’s neck by an enemy, or it could still be warm with the previous victim’s blood.

Did you make sure that your character was able to touch/feel things in the physical world of their setting? Patting someone on a shoulder in congratulations will feel different if they’ve freshly bathed, or they’ve just been covered in monster entrails.

This is not always another character, but their surroundings. If they do not interact with where they are, it may be time to consider why they are even in that particular place.

Sound:

Whether hearing the trilling of monsters closing in, the groaning of another character, a babbling brook, or the scratch of pencils on paper… Sound is just another way to breathe more life and immersion into your character’s world.

A note on filters. Heard and hear, while valid at times, do not always need to be used to describe the sound in one’s fiction. Simply being told that a piano played softly, or nails scratched against wood is more than enough for the reader.

Did you incorporate sound into your manuscript, in more than just dialogue?

Taste:

This is where food is always fun to play with in a manuscript, but with short fiction, what if you don’t have a scene where the characters eat? You don’t have to add those kinds of scenes just to fulfill this sensory element.

Maybe you have a character just wanting to get through the story so they can have a delectable piece of pie that they may or may not get by the end. If a character has their face pushed into the dirt, dirt has a taste. The grainy texture can make them overly aware of their tongue, and even bring bile–which also has a taste–to their mouth. Blood can leave a metallic flavor, and there’s a powdery substance on gloves.

Have you included taste in your manuscript, either through action or memory?

Scent:

Much like with taste, it’s not hard to want to toss in every delicious sounding word to describe the way food smells, or even someone–sandalwood is quite popular. However, scent goes beyond food and even people when it comes to setting a scene.

An unused and dusty room can smell musty, or if there is something old and decaying in the cellar, rot and death can choke your character. It is also easy to flip the script, as they say, and include appealing scents, a common one being the cleanliness of lemon, or freshly baked cookies, and have it at war with the scene–more disturbing for your reader.

Bonus Setting Tip: Weather.

One of the easiest ways to set the mood and even speak for a story’s theme is the weather. By nature, humans–readers–take cues from their surroundings. Dark clouds gathering in the distance can be an omen, and a storm with a torrential downpour when you finally enact your vengeance can be a visual theme of washing the old version of the character away. In that same way, your character can have a happy, shining day, with no clouds and blue sky when something tragic happens–the weather helps the irony of the concept of a perfect day hit a bit harder.

How have you used the weather to set the mood in your manuscript? You may notice that you placed everything organically. If you didn’t, consider ways to pull more depth of the world up for the reader. Is there an interesting way to play with the weather of your setting to make the story mood have more impact?

Next Self-Editing Topic:

Next time we’ll start diving into your prose. How can you line edit your own work?

American Southern Gothic

There’s no doubt that the origins of Gothic literature came from England, rich in medieval history. Not surprisingly, then, that American Gothic differs from the old world, especially since it grew from the New England tradition, with its own unique twist on the genre.  When the Gothic genre crossed the ocean and appeared on American shores, it was championed by Edgar Allan Poe, whose Gothic tales of horror set the standard for American authors.  It is interesting to note that Poe’s Gothic tales are virtually all set in New England, the oldest part of America (1850s), with the kind of places that paralleled the dark and haunted places in which the English authors set their Gothic tales.  Hardly anyone stops to think that Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher is actually set in Boston.

But then something happened: The Civil War, and a once grand and pastoral part of America was reduced to ruins, destruction heaped upon it by the conquering Northern Armies.  Plantation houses were abandoned; dark forests reclaimed the land. Places once bright and sunny became grotesque and macabre.  It became the perfect milieu for the birth of a literary sub-genre: AMERICAN SOUTHERN GOTHIC.

Unlike its predecessor, American Southern Gothic uses the tropes of the Gothic not only for the sake of suspense, but also to explore the social issues besetting the country.  There is a realism in the American Southern Gothic that makes it unique.  Disturbing rural communities replace the magnificent plantations of an earlier age. Madness, decay and despair are common themes as is the blurred line between victim and villain.  You find these themes developed in the works of William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote.

The roots of Southern Gothic can be traced back to such authors as Henry Clay Lewis and Mark Twain in portions of their works.  Originally “Southern Gothic” was used as a dismissive way to pan an author’s works.  Many early critics were not fond of the style.  One early critic panned William Faulkner’s novels as being filled with aimless violence and fantastic nightmares.  Obviously, the Nobel Committee did not feel that way when it awarded Faulkner the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

In Faulkner, the clash between Old South and New South becomes uniquely Gothic as it explores the suppressed sins of slavery, patriarchy, and class strife. And all this takes place in a landscape of swamps, deep woods, and decaying plantations. Add to this the language of Faulkner’s works, which creates a singularly Gothic sense of uncertainty and alienation.

A perfect example of Faulkner’s Southern Gothic genius is A Rose for Emily. Narrated from multiple viewpoints, the story tells of the spinster Emily Grierson, who after her father’s death scandalizes the community when she takes up with the northern carpetbagger Homer Barron. Homer disappears shortly after Emily has purchased arsenic making her the talk of the town.  Decades later, after living a reclusive life, Emily dies, and when the townspeople break open the door to an upstairs room, they discover a man’s “fleshless” corpse on the bed, the remains of him “rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt.” Next to the corpse is a pillow, with “the indentation of a head” and “a long strand of iron-gray hair.” The story’s themes of necrophilia, sin, repression, revenge, and secrecy mark it as Gothic, yet the locale mark it as uniquely Southern Gothic.

American theater of the 1940s and 1950s was infused with a heavy dose of Southern Gothic thanks to the plays of Tennessee Williams. Characters with varying degrees of illness populate his works, and his own sexual orientation (socially unacceptable at the time) found its way into plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   In other plays, Williams created Gothic spaces in which familiar tropes of the Southern Gothic, such as disintegrating southern families, alienation, loneliness, alcoholism, and physical and psychological violence abounded.

Is Southern Gothic here to stay?  You only have to look at your TV guide or movie selection to discover that Southern Gothic has become a staple of the entertainment industry.  Even in music, Southern Gothic has influenced a genre called Dark Country, which is an acoustic-based alternative rock with songs featuring themes of poverty, criminal behavior, religious imagery, death, ghosts, family, lost love, alcohol, murder, the devil and betrayal.

Yes, I would say that American Southern Gothic is here to stay.


When you are satisfied, share your setting with us in the comments below.  We would love to read about the setting of your next Gothic piece. And, if you turn your setting into a full short story, poem, piece of art, screenplay, or novella, don’t forget to submit it to us by visiting darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

A Brief History of Gothic Literature

At THE DARK SIRE we are incredible fans of the Gothic genre.  Our go to author is Edgar Allan Poe.  Who can deny the dark, eerie settings in stories like The Fall of the House of Usher or The Pit and the Pendulum?  His critics at the time accused him of being too heavily influenced by German authors.  But if that were the case, who influenced the German writers?  Now, for me, all of this begs the question: Where did the Gothic genre come from?  Someone had to write the first story, and succeeding authors had to build on that.  So, I did the research (just in case there were other fans of the genre like me out there) and, with the sources of John Mullan, the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the other researchers at the British Library, I discovered:

Gothic fiction began as a sophisticated joke. Horace Walpole first applied the word Gothic in The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story, published in 1764.  When he used the word, it meant something like barbarous, having devolved from a word used in the Middle Ages.  Walpole pretended that the story itself was an antique relic – complete with a preface that claims a translator discovered the tale – and was published in Italian in 1529. According to this origin story, the book was discovered “in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England.” The story itself, “founded on truth,” was written three or four centuries earlier still. Some readers were duly deceived by this fiction and aggrieved when it was revealed to be a modern fake.

The novel itself tells a supernatural tale in which Manfred, the gloomy Prince of Otranto, develops an irresistible passion for the beautiful young woman who was to have married his son and heir. The novel opens memorably with this son being crushed to death by the huge helmet from a statue of a previous Prince of Otranto, and throughout the novel the very fabric of the castle comes to supernatural life until villainy is defeated. Walpole, who made his own house at Strawberry Hill into a mock-Gothic building, had discovered a fictional territory that has been exploited ever since. According to Professor Mullan, Gothic involves the supernatural (or the promise of the supernatural), and it often involves the discovery of mysterious elements of antiquity, and it usually takes its protagonists into strange or frightening old buildings. With this imagery in mind, Walpole was trying to recreate the visual and physicality of the Gothic in real life.

In the 1790s, novelists rediscovered the world that Walpole had imagined. The queen of Gothic novelists at that time was Ann Radcliffe.  Her most famous novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) took its title from the name of a fictional Italian castle where much of the action is set.  Like Walpole, she created a brooding aristocratic villain, Montoni, to threaten her resourceful virgin heroine, Emily, with an unspeakable fate.  All of Radcliffe’s other novels are set in foreign lands, often with lengthy descriptions of sublime scenery.  Udolpho is set amongst the dark and looming Apennine Mountains.  Radcliffe was known to derive her settings from travel books.  While other authors of the time chose Gothic for their subtitle, Radcliffe chose a different word to accompany the title on the front cover: Romance. Around this time, Minerva Press was providing reading material to the eager public who was hungry for this new kind of fiction.

Gothic then soon leaned toward natural, if complicated, explanations.  Gothic truly came alive in the thoughts and anxieties of the characters.  Gothic showcased the fear of the supernatural rather than the supernatural itself.  And some authors, like Matthew Lewis, strove to go to the extreme – experimenting the outrageous of the Gothic tale. In his The Monk (1796), Lewis wrote a plethora of supernatural occurrences, including ghosts, demons, and Satan himself.

A second wave of Gothic novels in the 2nd and 3rd decades of the 19th-Century established new conventions.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) gave a scientific form to the supernatural formula. Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) featured a Byronic anti-hero who had sold his soul for a prolonged life.  And James Hogg’s elaborately titled The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) is the story of a man pursued by his own double.  A character’s sense of encountering a double of him- or herself, also essential to Frankenstein, was established as a powerful new Gothic motif.  Doubles crop up throughout Gothic fiction, the most famous example being the late 19th-Century Gothic novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This motif is one of the reasons why Sigmund Freud’s concept of the uncanny (or unheimlich, as it is in German) is often applied to Gothic fiction. In his 1919 paper “The Uncanny,” Freud drew his examples from the Gothic tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann in order to account for the special feeling of disquiet – the sense of the uncanny – that they aroused. He argued that the making strange of what should be familiar is essential to this, and that it is disturbing and fascinating because it recalls us to our original infantile separation from our origin in the womb.

And this brings us to our favorite author Edgar Allan Poe.  He used many of the standard properties of Gothic (medieval settings, castles and ancient houses, aristocratic corruption) but turned these into an exploration of extreme psychological states. He was attracted to the genre because he was fascinated by fear.  In his hands Gothic was becoming horror, a term properly applied to the most famous late-Victorian example of Gothic, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  The opening section of Dracula uses some familiar Gothic properties: the castle whose chambers contain the mystery that the protagonist must solve; the sublime scenery that emphasizes his isolation. Stoker learned from the vampire stories that had appeared earlier in the 19th century (notably Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu, who was his friend and collaborator) and exploited the narrative methods of Wilkie Collins’s sensation fiction.  Dracula is written in the form of journal entries and letters by various characters, caught up in the horror of events. The fear and uncertainty on which Gothic had always relied is enacted in the narration.

Meanwhile, Gothic had become so influential that we can detect its elements in much mainstream Victorian fiction. Both Emily and Charlotte Bronte included intimations of the supernatural within narratives that were otherwise attentive to the realities of time, place and material constraint.  In the opening episode of Wuthering Heights, the narrator, Lockwood, has to stay the night at Heathcliff’s house because of heavy snow. He finds Cathy’s diary, written as a child, and nods off while reading it. There follows a powerfully narrated nightmare in which an icy hand reaches to him through the window, and the voice of Catherine Linton calls to be let in. The vision seems to prefigure what he will later discover about the history of Cathy and Heathcliff. Half in jest, Lockwood tells Heathcliff that Wuthering Heights is haunted; the novel, centered as it is on a house, seems to exploit in a new way the Gothic idea that entering an old building means entering the stories of those who have lived in it before.

Two of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, Jane Eyre and Villette, feature old buildings that appear to be haunted.  As in the Gothic fiction of Ann Radliffe, the apparition seen by Jane Eyre in Thornfield Hall, where she is a governess, and the ghostly nun glimpsed by Lucy Snowe in the attic of the old Pensionnat where she teaches, have rational explanations.  But Charlotte Brontë likes to raise the fears of her protagonists as to the presence of the supernatural, as if they were Gothic heroines.  Gothic still provides the vocabulary of apprehensiveness.  Similarly, Wilkie Collins may have introduced into fiction, as Henry James said, “those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries which are at our own doors,” but he liked his reminders of traditional Gothic plots.  In The Woman in White, all events turn out to be humanly contrived, yet the sudden appearance to the night-time walker of the figure of “a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments” haunts the reader as it does the narrator.  The Moonstone is a detective story with a scientific explanation, but we never forget the legend that surrounds the diamond of the title, and the curse on those who steal it – a curse that seems to come true.  The final triumph of Gothic is to become, as in these examples, a vital thread within novels that otherwise take pains to convince us of what is probable and rational.

As I pointed out earlier, one really useful term for thinking about Gothic writing is uncanny.  Gothic fiction often strives to reach those uncanny moments in which the reader suddenly recognized somebody who seems unfamiliar and strange or has an identity that the reader already knows but is not quite human. 

Now, this whole concept of the uncanny leads me to examine how American Exceptionalism took the Gothic genre and turned it into something truly unique.  In another blog, I will examine the rise of American Southern Gothic stories.


THE DARK SIRE is always looking for Gothic fiction, art, and screenplays to add to our issues. If you have something that delves into psyche, traverses the dark and twisted, and has the eeriness of Poe, we’re waiting for you to submit to us.

Self-Editing Series: How to Assess World-building

Self-Editing Your Manuscript: How to Assess World-building in short fiction

When most writers hear the term world-building, the first thing that generally comes to mind are sprawling epics, i.e., A Song of Ice and Fire or The Wheel of Time. However, world-building applies to any type of fiction, even contemporary pieces.

Magic and royalty are just as important as knowing how to ride a subway and how an elevator works in others.

Suspension of disbelief is how well you have suspended, portrayed, and consumed the reader with your story. Do they accept the well-written world and its characters as they are, or have small things snuck into the manuscript that makes them pause within their reading and tilt their heads, questioning “but why?”

This is especially true when writing fantastical fiction with supernatural or paranormal elements where the reader needs to accept the implausible as plausible.

Not everyone believes in ghosts, but in your story they need to be real.

Not everyone believes in magic, but in your story it should be as much the truth as breathing.

For the theme, it is perfectly fine to give the reader a reason to think, a thing to dwell on long after the story has ended. That is valid and intentional. A writer should never want the reader to question if something was necessary to include. Questioning the intention can break the suspension of disbelief or seem outright illogical.

These inconsistencies with world-building can make it look as though the writer didn’t quite have the grasp on their world and their characters.

Real World World-building:

Notice, this was not titled Contemporary World-building, and that’s because our world spans so many things and time periods. It is making sure that you aren’t using a type of car before it was made. It is writing real-world places based on actual maps, or even creating a fictional town and remembering where you put city hall.

For example, your 1920s mafia will not have cell phones. If your character is ever on the phone, you will need to know how early landlines and rotary phones work.

What if you have a character with a snake bite and want to inject them with antivenom? The story should take place from the late 1890s to the present day. There are some exceptions, as present-day may not have access to everything. For example, a dystopian short story may have characters that don’t have access to anti-venom.

If your characters have traveled in your manuscript, to help keep your world-building consistent with your Real World stories, you can use basic tools like Google Maps to physically visit places you may not have access to.

If you are editing a form of a historical piece, it can help to jot down relevant notes on a Google Doc, Word file, or even in a physical notebook so that you can keep to the facts of the time. If you are a plotter, someone who writes things down to varying degrees beforehand, you might do the research before you write. However, a panster, someone who likes the freedom to just write as it comes to them, then jotting down this information can be targeted research after the draft has made it onto paper.

Whatever era you have written in, research is going to be your best friend, and if you aren’t entirely sure how to flesh out this research, reach out to fellow writers. The #writingcommunity on Twitter is fabulously supportive!

Secondary World World-Building:

This is most likely what you think of with world-building. Creating an entire world from scratch, or loosely based on our own, is what many fantasy authors love to do. The religion, the culture, the people… events, days of the week, and maybe a touch of conlanging (creating a new language).

Short fiction, unlike those sprawling epic sagas mentioned above, doesn’t have the time to build up the world to the same degree and dive into all the details. While you can still have a beautifully thought out world, sometimes the little details you can slip into longer pieces don’t have a place in your story.

Any secondary world-building detail needs to be as precise as the other elements, completely owned by the characters and the world without leaving unexplained sections. If the reader has to question the inclusion of any part of the story, particularly with short fiction, then you have not held their suspension of disbelief.

  • Was (this element) necessary to this particular story?

Fantasy is a particular beast on its own, given that the worlds can be entirely made up, and with short fiction we may only explore the smallest parts of it at a time.

It may help you keep your world consistent and be extra fun for your future readers if you dabble in map-making. However, you do not have to be a cartographer to put together a basic map (especially if it’s just for you). You can find easy-to-use tools here at inkarnate, which will let you work as small as a city/town. As a bonus, they have both a free and paid version based on your needs.

https://inkarnate.com/

Helpful Tip!
Even if you only have one planned story in a particular secondary world, it never hurts to write down the world-building information either before you’ve penned the story, or after, so that you can revisit it without making mistakes on your own creation.

Magical Systems (if applicable):

In fantasy worlds, be it on our earth or a secondary one, you may have a magical system in place. Whether your character actually casts spells or uses more intuitive skills, there are some rules it would benefit your manuscript for you to know. The best part about those rules is that you create them.

Magic aspects come in many forms and are sometimes spiritual or energy-based. To see the vast differences in magical systems, compare the differences and similarities in Naruto and their chakra energy and Dragon Ball Zs chi. You can also compare the differences and similarities in Elise Kova’s Air Awakens series and the TV show Avatar the Last Airbender.

The rules that you created for your character’s magic system should answer some very basic questions:

  • What can they do with their abilities?
  • What supplies/feeds their ability?
  • What can’t they do with their abilities?
  • Does this differ from person to person, or is it universal?

When you go through your manuscript to self-edit, make sure that you worked these answers in when applicable. For example, did you have your character using multiple high-energy types of magic and forget to add in the corresponding consequence? Shortness of breath, feeling dizzy or potentially needing to rework a battle so that they had the ability for their climactic hit to the antagonist. Understanding your magic system can help you figure out if you’ve created realistic magic, or if you’ve got Mary Sue/Gary Stu magic running around in a *god-mod mode.

*god-mod mode for anyone unfamiliar with the terminology is when you have essentially removed all consequences and obstacles from your character and they have no true opposition. This is the opposite of what readers want. Readers want someone to cheer for, someone whose journey they are excited to see, because they actually have something to overcome, unlike a god-mod mode character.

Bonus Tip on World-building:
Remember, if it hurts your writer’s heart to cut aspects of world-building that you put so much thought into, you are allowed to write another story in that world where that aspect of the world-building is more relevant to the story! You have that freedom. Go forth and create!

Next Week’s Topic:

We’ll dive into the setting and discuss how your self-edits can create a more immersive experience for future readers!

Self-Editing Series: How to Assess Pacing

Pacing is an important part of a functioning manuscript.

Good prose, great characters, even a working plot can all be in place, but if the story is rushed or too slow… readers will lose attention.

There are two ways to check the pacing of your story. To simplify the process, we are going to use the terms Macro Pacing for the large scale pacing on the manuscript as a whole unit and Micro Pacing for the smaller scale page level edits.


NOTE: Part of today’s self-editing topic requires familiarity with plotting techniques that are heavily used in the process for outliners. However, checking the pacing of your novel does not require you to have one. It merely requires the manuscript.

For your convenience, we have provided worksheets that will make this process easier. You will find them below the next section.


Macro Pacing: 

Do you know where the First Pillar of your story should fall? The Midpoint? And what in the world are pinch points?

It is true that some writers don’t like feeling like their story must fit into a ‘write by numbers’ formula, but this is a guide. It’s meant to help you. It does not exist to stifle your creativity.

For example: If you have Critique Partners or Beta Readers telling you that your story is dragging, or moving so fast they simply couldn’t keep up…etc. the structure is the special key to fix that!

These points mainly apply to writers who are using general narrative formats. While there are many, let’s focus on the most popular style guide for short stories (and western fiction in general): Three-Act Structure. (As a graphic you can save for your referencing ease.)

You can use the above points to check your manuscript’s pacing by applying a few percentages. These percentages are not made up but found from delving into screen-writing and literature to mark the perfect places for the above-mentioned points/moments to fall for impactful stories. There is math involved, but I promise you it’s just plugging stuff into a formula, getting the answer, and then scrolling (if you are on a digital device) through your manuscript.

Act One is the first 25%.

Act Two is 26%-75%.

Act Three is 75%-100%

To check your pacing, simply plug your overall page count (or word count) into the following formula.

If my short story is fifteen pages long, and I need to check that my Act One ends in the proper place, all I have to do is the following:

OverallCount x 0.25 = End of Act One

15 x 0.25 = 3.75

That means my Act One should conclude, meaning that I have everything set up and ready to roll into the next act, on/around page 4 of the manuscript.

If by page 4 everything is set up and my two main points are in place, then I know that Act One’s pacing is good. However, if there is an issue, then I will know what needs my attention.

If the section is too long, I can search back over the elements to see if I have included any superfluous information.

If the section is too short, then I will know that I need to make sure that I have included all necessary information.


Here are the worksheets we have created to make this process easier for you:


Micro Pacing:

In what we are going to call “micro pacing,” we are going to cover a few “small” aspects of a manuscript that can hinder the pacing. Hooks, sentence length, and point-of-view.

Hooks:

Tasty points of intrigue that are intended to have the reader salivating. They are unable to put the story down because they have to know what comes next. These are not things that are contrived or made up; they should already be in the story.

Think of these visually. Have you noticed in TV shows that something intentionally vague or surprising happens before the commercial rolls in? Scriptwriters do this on purpose! You should too. Control your readers’ experiences by planting hooks before your scene breaks. If your scene has ended on a note that feels like a present with a prettily tied bow, the manuscript should be ending.

Dwight Swain, an Oklahoma Writing Hall of Fame inductee, screenwriting documentary pioneer, and author explained the format of a scene as follows: Goal, conflict, disaster.

Goal: The character wants something.

Conflict: Something is pushing back against the character from achieving their goal.

Disaster: Something happens to stop the character from achieving their goal.

Disaster does not mean an apocalypse, or death, per se, but it does mean that if the story hasn’t been resolved the character should still have a need.

Ex: Maybe the protagonists succeeded in getting the silver to stop the werewolves, but all that was available was a silver dagger…and now they’ve got to decide who is going to be the lamb that allows the others a chance at escape.

Without a hook, the pacing, tension, and the story overall can drag because the character wasn’t in a state of ‘need’. If your character is always supplied with everything easily and has no hard choices to make, go back to the lesson on Character to better assess the internal and external conflict.

Bonus Tip:
Giving your story a hook does NOT mean that you should be giving the story over-maxed conflict. There are definitely times that a character should be allowed to breathe, or else, your story may come across as angsty and melodramatic.

Sentence Length:

Beware of purple prose, or excessive detail, where you can wax on a bit too long of the seemingly more poetic aspects of your story. Even if more dramatic language might be serviceable in a particular scene, try to contain it. Use it wisely. The writer can easily, and subconsciously, drag on with consecutive long sentences, and these run-ons can slow the pacing down because they simply take forever to read.

In other words, use varying lengths of sentences, not just long, drug out one. Short sentences are okay; short paragraphs are also a nice way to break up consecutive long ones. By varying your sentence length, you create unique pacing and keep reader interest.

The details may seem pretty, but tightening a story can be one of the hardest parts next to actually writing it. Do you need that adjective, adverb, prepositional phrase? Your pacing of the events themselves may be spot on if you cut unnecessary words, which in turn can create varying lengths of sentences – sometimes, quickening the pace where, otherwise, it was too slow.

Point of view:

How can Point of View hinder your pacing? Easily. It’s actually a concept known as ‘navel gazing’. With this pace-hindering element, the manuscript spends too much time in the narrator’s head and thoughts and feelings.

It is easiest to do this in certain deep POVs such as Third Limited, or First.

If you are using a deep POV, make sure each thought and feeling is necessary and fits with the cause and effect, or the action and reaction of the story. If the internal narration does not advance the plot, cut it.

It is also possible to do the exact opposite of this and forget to include enough detail on the character’s thoughts/feelings to rationalize why they are making certain decisions. This lack of detail can lead to a story that reads as plot-plot-plot with no emotional pull to keep your readers grounded in the story.


Here is a worksheet we have created to help you work through the macro and micro pacing elements in your manuscript.


What’s the Next Topic?

World-building is not just for long epics. It’s for any story you write – in any genre. Place, which is setting and thus world, should have an impact on your characters. However, putting too much (or too little!) can be detrimental to the success of your story. We’ll be covering how to make sure that you haven’t put too many details in your descriptions while ensuring you’ve included enough. See you next week!

TDS Turns Two: An Interview with Founder, Bre Stephens

October 31, 2019, The Dark Sire was born! To celebrate our birthday, the new EIC of TDS, J.L. Vampa, sat down for an interview with our founder, Bre Stephens.

Bre has 13 years of experience as a writer, publisher, educator, literary judge, and editor. She has worked as Editor-in-Chief of a TDS and has taught university composition, technical writing, and creative writing. Bre holds an MA in English and Creative Writing, an M.Ed. in ESL, and a BA in Art History. In her spare time, she loves attending Japanese festivals and learning more about world cultures.

“Give a Voice to the Voiceless.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: We’re turning two! Congratulations to you, our founder. Can you tell us a little about what led you to begin a literary magazine, now a journal, especially one such as TDS?

Bre Stephens: While studying for my second masters degree, one of my professors asked the class how we would give back to the writing community. At the time, I didn’t think I could. I mean, I was a graduate student who was a writing professor. I didn’t think there was anything left to do other than write my stories. But then, after searching for publication opportunities, I found a major gap in publishing and became aware of all the censorship that magazines employ. The answer to my professor’s question was clear: Start a magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship. To this day – 2.5 years after its creation, TDS has provided opportunities for writers that have given them a voice, which is our motto: “Give a Voice to the Voiceless.” 

TDS: You’ve poured your heart and soul into this phenomenal literary magazine. What are some of your favorite memories with TDS over the last two years?

Bre Stephens: There are literally too many to list, but I’ll try to highlight a few. By Issue 2, TDS was an international magazine – in readership and in represented creatives. I was honored to publish some works that were rejected elsewhere due to censorship; authors told me that it took them, at times, years before finding TDS and getting their voices back. The 1st Annual TDS Creative Awards is a special memory to me because I was able to give back to all my authors; we all had fun and everyone loved the skull trophies. And, I will never forget the joy of working with my authors, sometimes with content or editing, and other times with creative consultations. Most of all, though, my ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.

“A magazine that specializes in genre fiction and run it without censorship.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: So much has changed for TDS since the inception of your idea and the release of Issue One. Even more has changed recently with a new EIC, a fresh, incredible logo, and more. With a new year and a new era descending upon TDS, what are some of the things you’re looking forward to? 

Bre Stephens: Everything! I know the new EIC is going to be amazing. She’s all about aesthetics and sticking to the original TDS brand. She’s the one who crafted the newest cover and TDS logo. If I had to narrow it down, I’m looking forward to seeing the covers for Issues 10-12, the new TDS Book Boxes, new TDS merchandise (mugs, shirts, mousepads), and a brand-new website that will be for a JOURNAL (not magazine). All of those things are just around the corner.

TDS: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned on this journey as founder and editor of TDS?

Bre Stephens: This journey has taught me so much about publishing, genre, and craft of writing. When I first started TDS, I didn’t really know much about the industry; I learned by doing – and making mistakes. Now, I’m a professional in the publishing industry, a literary agent, and an even better editor. All these skills, and my career growth, is directly influenced by my work at TDS. I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not undergone this wonderful adventure.

TDS: TDS has distinct roots in our founding fathers, but what would you say are the three books that most influenced you personally, as both Founder/EIC and in your life?

Bre Stephens: Instead of books, per se, let’s talk genre and specific pieces. Poe was a heavy influence on me as a child. I remember writing like him when I was just 8 and 10 years old. By the time I was a teen, I was crafting short fiction daily in the vein of Poe. A few of his works that are my favorites, and still influence me today, are Tell Tale Heart, Hop-Frog, Fall of the House of Usher, and, my favorite poem of all time, Annabel Lee. Also as a teen, I loved Anne Rice. Her Vampire Chronicles was my bloodline. I combined my love of Poe with the vampires of Rice to create a writing style all my own. To this day, I use that style; though, now, it’s more sophisticated. Put these together and you have the major influencers of TDS. Just add Tolkien for high fantasy and Dostoevsky for psychological realism, and you have the major players needed to create a magazine (nee journal!). 

“My ultimate memory is creating a family, where creatives come together, get support, and are uplifted because we are all TDS Family.”

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: You are an author yourself. What originally sparked your love of writing and editing as well as the desire to champion other authors? 

Bre Stephens: The championing of others comes naturally with my personality. However, championing writers, specifically, comes from my professor’s questions of how I was going to give back to the writing community. With my education and natural energy, I easily became an advocate for the writing community. My love of writing started when I was 6 years old, which is when I wrote my first stage play (5 whole pages!). My 1st grade class had read a play – or maybe discussed plays, and I immediately was interested in writing one. Writing stuck with me from that point. As for editing, I’ve always loved grammar and after studying it when I was earning my undergrad degree, I just fell in love with the process of editing. Add some courses for my second masters degree (in English & Creative Writing) and it was just destiny. 

TDS: When did you know this was a career you wanted to pursue? Has it always been a dream of yours to start a literary journal?

Bre Stephens: I never considered a career in creative writing. My writing is for myself, no publication really needed. However, after about 1.5 of running TDS, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue more seriously. It led me to founding a small press (bscpublishinggroup.com), where uplifting authors is the number one governing rule, and to becoming a literary agent. I am now in the best position to advocate for and uplift writers, making their career goals a reality. I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did.   

“I didn’t find the career, the career found me – and I’m glad it did. “

-Bre Stephens, TDS Founder

TDS: Since the journal’s inception, you’ve handled everything from submissions, to editing, to publication and event planning. What is your favorite part of working on The Dark Sire?

Bre Stephens: Layout!!! Taking the raw stories and editing them to fit the TDS Style Guide; formatting the pages for consistency; inputting settings; planning the artwork to go with the works accepted for the issue, which includes pairing the artwork with a specific story. All of that would go under publication, of course, but specifically, layout is my favorite – and I’m going to miss it. 

Help TDS celebrate our 2nd birthday by sharing on social media and don’t forget to get your copy of our newest issue, which is Issue 9, and available now!


TDS proudly brings you gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism
from talented creatives. You can order past and current issues
from the TDS Store.

Spirit Photography: Hoax or Reality?

Spirit Photography, or the capturing of a spirit on film, first became known in the 1850’s and 60’s with the rise of photography in general. As more individuals gained access to cameras, as well as the means to sit for photographers, the greater chance there was to witness spirits of the dead or supernatural beings captured on film. At least, that’s what photographers like William H. Mumler would wish us to believe.

Mumler was among the first to see spirits lurking in his freshly developed photos. Allegedly, after sitting for a self portrait and developing the film, Mumler noticed an otherworldly image hovering behind him. Assuming it was merely his inattention to detail and the result of not properly cleaning his lens, Mumler sat for the photo again. After development, the figure appeared once more and Mumler claimed it was the spirit of a deceased cousin of his.

With this newfound ability of his, or his camera, Mumler became the first to turn such a gift into a well-oiled, lucrative business, photographing multitudes of people with the spirits of their loves ones. That is, until P.T. Barnum sat for Mumler just after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Lo and behold, the president’s spirit haunted Barnum’s sitting, appearing behind the circus tycoon in his photo. As it turns out, the self-acclaimed trickster of all tricksters simply enjoyed a good humbug and wanted to see if Mr. William H. Mumler and his medium wife were the real deal.

When Mumler was charged with fraud, Barnum was called as a witness as, according to Oxford University Press papers, an expert on “humbuggery.” Upon reciting his encounter with the spirit photographer, Barnum admitted that he saw the process and even examined the glass himself. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and Lincoln’s ghost appeared as soon as the photo was developed in the dark room. Regardless, Barnum claimed it all to be a hoax. Other spiritualists came forward in Mumler’s defense, claiming their deceased loved ones had truly been there and Mumler had captured them. More skeptics came forward claiming to have seen some of the ghosts in Mumler’s stills walking the streets in living color, alive and well. Ultimately, the court found no true evidence of Mumler’s supposed fraud and he was acquitted. However, his career as a Spirit Photographer was over.

Many skeptics claim that spirit photography is simply a trick of the light, or the result of budding photographic techniques of that day and age. Two methods often blamed for hoodwinking the general public are Double Exposure and Stereoscopic Illusion.

Double Exposure. For an explanation of this technique, we must first understand that in the early days of photography, exposure time was 20-40 minutes at the very least. This means the subject(s) had to remain as perfectly still as possible, lest their image appear blurry. Therefore, if a subject, say, rose from their seat and moved to another, their image would appear twice in the final shot, most assuredly a little blurry at the edges and rather translucent. This effect would also occur if someone shrouded in white linens jumped in the frame for a moment and then jumped back out. This effect can also be achieved post-shooting in the dark room. This is a delicate process, but the layman’s gist is that the photographer essentially sandwiches two negatives together and exposes them for longer than a single-negative image. 

In our day and age, it is commonplace to shoot double exposure, or manipulate it easily within moments using editing software like PhotoShop. To show how easily this can be accomplished, I created this graphic in about five minutes’ time.

Another technique often used was stereoscopic illusion. 

Stereoscopic Illusion creates depth in an image by moving the subject ever so slightly. The brain combines the two (or more) images to create depth. Again, anything recorded with movement during a long exposure time would appear transparent and ethereal.

We can all see where the skeptics are coming from now, yes? But let’s take a journey with the believers…

To delve deeper, we must traverse the difference between Spirit Photography and Ghost Photography. Spirit Photography is when an individual, or individuals, sits for a photo, specifically waiting to see the spirit of one of their loved ones. Ghost Photography occurs when a photo is taken without knowledge of a spirit’s presence and that spirit is only visible on the film or digital camera after the fact.

Here are some of the greatest, inexplicable ghost photographs from the ages between Humbuggery and PhotoShop. 

In 1919 Sir Victor Goddard’s RAF squadron encountered a recently deceased air mechanic, Freddy Jackson, who died two days prior.

In 1963, The Spectre of Newby Church absolutely shattered the conceivable. Reverend K.F. Lord was particularly fond of the altar area of his church and snapped a photograph of it, along with several others detailing the interior of the building. Upon developing the film, the reverend was flabbergasted to find a blurred figure ascending the steps.

Many believe this to be a hoax because the figure is somewhat posed. However, as he claims, the reverend was entirely alone in the church when the photograph was taken. No double exposure was used, and, allegedly, the photos were developed by no one with means to tamper with it. When skeptics came forward, the reverend, guarding his reputation, sent the photo off to scientific experts. The report came back stating that, though the figure in the photo was perfectly poised on the steps and looking at the camera, it was nine feet tall and the photo had not, in any way, been tampered with by any means.

On August 17, 1997, a loving granddaughter, Denice Russell, snapped a photo of her grandmother as they visited that afternoon. Prints were made and almost everyone in the family had the photo of Grandma. It wasn’t until they all sat around one Christmas three years later, looking at old photos, that someone noticed a foggy shape of a man behind her head. The family immediately stated it was the exact representation of their grandfather who had died in 1984.

There is also a distinct case that occurred in Manila in the early 2000’s.  Two young girls in the Philippines posed for a photo, not sensing anything out of the ordinary. When the photo popped up on the screen of their digital camera, the ghostly image of a third person could be seen holding onto one of the young women. They have absolutely no explanation for this occurrence.

There are all kinds of theories and camera tricks, but what do you think? Can film truly capture the spirits of the dead, or is it all a hoax? Leave us a comment with your thoughts.


READERS: Do you have a paranormal true story to share with us? We’d love to read it and maybe even publish it on our blog. Send your non-fiction story to: eic.tds@gmail.com (Subject: Non-Fiction Paranormal Story).

CREATIVES: Did this article inspire your paranormal storytelling? Please write that short story, craft that poem, paint that picture, and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @darksiremag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

TDS Enters a New Era

With TDS’ second birthday just around the corner (Halloween), a new era of all-things THE DARK SIRE has come. With the new look and feel comes a new Editor-in-Chief. But let’s start from the beginning…

If you’re new to TDS, we are a quarterly speculative journal for the unconventional reader, founded in 2019 by Bre Stephens to appeal to those who love the darker-toned fiction, poetry, art, and screenplays. TDS’s founding fathers are the ever-talented and influential Edgar Allan Poe (Gothic), Mary Shelley (Horror), J. R. R. Tolkien (Fantasy), and Fyodor Dostoevsky (Psychological Realism).

Major Changes

First, TDS has updated its branding. The covers, as you might have noticed in the feature image of this post, have completely changed. One of the most notable differences is the name: TDS will no longer be a literary magazine, but a literary journal. This slight difference in verbiage going forward really encompasses the overall feel of TDS and the professionalism we offer to both our readers and writers. That’s because a journal lasts longer than a magazine, seen as a valued piece of writing for years to come. Since we value our creatives, seeing them as family members – and are always thinking of how better to uplift them, being a journal just suits us better. That said, TDS will continue to publish the same great content you’re accustomed to.

Second, we have a great new logo. Simple yet dynamic, the powerful image encompasses TDS’ gothic roots, while also holding onto the traditional black and red coloring.

To go along with the new logo, TDS has a new title design. Though not red, it highlights the gothic and harkens back to Edgar Allan Poe, himself. It’s perfect to usher in this new TDS Era!

The third major change is none other than the introduction of a brand-new Editor-in-Chief, Jane Lenore (J.L.) Vampa.

J.L. Vampa

J.L. Vampa is a published author of Dark Fantasy and Victorian Gothic fiction. She has a background in journalism and in editing, both short and long fiction. J.L. also owns a macabre-style bookish shop and lives in Texas with her musician husband and their two littles who are as peculiar as their parents. 

As the new EIC, J.L.’s main focus is two-fold: To preserve the pillars that have established the TDS brand and to uplift even more creatives for a stronger community.

“I want TDS to be a place where the often-overlooked can
sit at the table and have their craft appreciated, published,
and read by readers who truly thirst for the unconventional.
In addition, I’ll strive to continue to build a strong community
for our authors, poets, and artists, as well as our readers.”

Saying that TDS is changing is an understatement. A better way of putting it is that we’re rebranding, reinventing, and revitalizing ourselves. And you are NOT going to want to miss any part of our new look and feel reveal. More information, updates, and content will be released throughout October, our birthday month.

Look out – The New Era of TDS is now!

Finches: A Review

by Kausambi Patra

Rating: 💀💀💀💀

Release Date: October 1, 2021

AM Muffaz started writing this concise novel 15 years ago to process a different trauma. She is facing difficulty in accepting that the beloved country of her childhood has changed into a problematic place that is not easy to question. The author deals with intergenerational trauma and the danger its poses. She wants to celebrate diversity, inclusiveness and cultural understanding. In the Introduction, she notes that Charles Darwin wanted to be a parson. But after his journey, he altered his and peoples’ thinking “to see change as beautiful.” The author aspires for that. The novel ‘Finches’ is strewn with quotes from Ayats and ‘The Origin of Species.’

Restless spirits flit around within the novel seeking something. Grandmother Jah deeply resents her husband Ghani’s second marriage, which is legal in Malaysia. She hates the couple with vehemence even after their unnatural deaths. She goes back to live in their family’s old home, claiming it as her own. She experiences ‘cold spots’ in the house and the unquiet spirits. She beats up her dead husband’s spirit and is spitefully uncivil to his wife’s spirit. During an exorcism, she stops the bomoh from forcing a ghost out of a room and locks the door.

The story follows a nonlinear narrative. It moves from one character to another and comes back again. In Rahim’s chapter, he faces the spirits in the old house. His meetings are terrifying, and he narrowly escapes violent harm.

From time to time, the story moves back to the past. The author paints beautiful images of a warm and cosy family enjoying themselves in their flowering garden with abundant refreshments and supporting each other. The children of the first wife seem to share relationships of trust and nurture with the second wife. But the fractures get exposed at times. The author stresses that the granddaughter and the new wife, Aisya, are the same age. Aisya is very good-looking and delicate, in sharp contrast to the granddaughter Khatijah. She is beautiful even more after her death.

The author has vivid flowing portrayals of the physical surroundings and poetic descriptions of everyday mundane activities and objects within the house. She goes into minute details and piques the interest of the reader –

There, the jars had clouded over, some bloodied red, the others opaque white. Her eyes were drawn towards a particular jar in the middle of the rack, whose curtain of white cleared when it had her focus. Inside, a milky-coloured mass curdled upon itself like a clot of grubs, wriggling limbs, she thought, as it rotated in place. From the centre of this clot, wrinkles unfurled like a flower, until, in the depths of its heart, it flicked open an eye. (Page 63)

The pickle jars were Grandmother Jah’s precious possession. The ‘cold spots’ manifest there and respond to her hatred. All the characters sense the ‘cold spots’ and the restive spirits as they gradually become violent and malicious. But the surviving family members are not scared. Instead, they grope for answers. They remain calm and composed and try to piece together their broken fragments.

Reading Muffaz’s words, one can almost see and touch the spirits and inhabit that house. But it is what they have left behind that the living is forced to deal with. Even when these people were living happily, there was the case of the chickens metamorphosing. This mirrors the undercurrent that erupts at the end. When Fatimah is forced to visit the house, the bougainvillaea claws her car.

The scratches ran as deep as the awful sound they’d made, making five broken lines from the side mirror to the handle, their ragged path edged with fine silvery powder. (Page 90)

The spirits, too, answer her hate. 

Ghani and many of the characters are unable to accept the change around them, which pushes the gradual unfolding of the incidents. The house and its environment has soaked it all and rushes to its revelation in the climactic ending. The concluding chapters are left open for the reader’s interpretation.

I found the novel unsettling and the ghosts terrifying. I was scared for the family members living in that old haunted cottage. The narrative is about people trying to understand their past and surroundings and the resulting frictions. The author strongly feels that unless one adapts and faces reality, they face destruction. This short novel is wrapped in the author’s emotion.

Finches is available from Vernacular Books and comes out October 1, 2021. Purchase a copy wherever books are sold, including on Amazon.


RATING:  💀
Boring, not dark, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: 💀💀
Fair plot, not too dark, fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: 💀💀💀
Good plot and mild darkness, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀
Great reading experience with heaps of dark tone. Strong recommend.

RATING: 💀💀💀💀💀
Excellent prose, tons of dark tone. A MUST READ!

Reality Meets Fiction: Voodoo Dolls

What do Barnes and Noble, Walmart, and Target have in common? They all sell Voodoo Dolls! And they’re not the only ones. You can buy Voodoo dolls and kits from hundreds of online vendors, and browsing through the many different types of online Voodoo dolls is quite entertaining. There’s the “Mini Office Voodoo Kit” that you can use to put a curse on your boss or co-workers; the “Happy Couple Voodoo Doll Kit” to cast love spells; the “Passion Masters Sex Voodoo Doll” to ‘attain massive, animal-like sex stamina’; and my favorite–the “Photo Revenge Voodoo Doll” where you send a photo of your ex, wait for the doll to arrive, then go to town sticking pins in the doll that has your ex’s face on it.

Those who use dolls in Voodoo-type rituals swear by them, but do they really work? Apparently so. In Connecticut, a Voodoo doll was used to cause the death of two people.

In 2008, John Brightman of New England Paranormal Research was contacted by a woman named Amanda in Westport who was experiencing paranormal activity in her home, such as objects moving on their own, and doors opening and slamming shut. In addition, a deceased family member was reportedly seen in the home.

During the investigation, Brightman learned that three people who had been living in the house had died several months earlier–Amanda’s mother, Esther, her brother, Roger, and her younger sister, Vivian. After the deaths, Amanda inherited the home. When she arrived to clean the house, she discovered a hand-made altar in Roger’s room. Four candles were on its surface, and in the center was a box about eight inches long and four inches wide. Inside was a stuffed doll, and tacked to it were three photographs. One was a photo of Amanda’s younger sister, and the other was of her mother. The third was of a man Amanda did not recognize. Small pins had been inserted into the doll in various positions, and it was charred in several places. The box also contained herbs, and small bottles containing oils and ointments.

Amanda told the investigator that Roger discovered that his sister Vivian had convinced their mother to cut him out of his inheritance. Apparently, he used the doll to put a curse on his mother and sister, and it worked. Esther died shortly after Roger found out about losing his inheritance, and two months later, his sister Vivian died of a ruptured spleen. But it seems that Roger’s scheme backfired because he died a few months later. So, in the end, three people died as the result of using the Voodoo doll.

In order to understand the use of dolls in ritual magic, it’s important to understand the concept of sympathetic magic whereby a magician believes that he can produce any desired physical effect merely by imitating it. In addition, there is the belief that whatever is done to a material object will also be done to the person that it was once in contact with. This is why dolls used in magic rituals are often constructed or decorated with hair, nail-clippings, or pieces of cloth once owned by a person.

The use of dolls in sympathetic magic goes back thousands of years. The melting or burning of ritualistic dolls was written about in great detail in some ancient Greek texts. In ancient Egypt, enemies of Ramses III used wax images of the Pharaoh in rituals to help bring about his death. Greek dolls, known as Kolossoi, were used for various ritual purposes, such as to restrain a ghost, to ward off an evil entity, or as a way to bind lovers together.

Voodoo dolls are the most familiar type of doll used in casting spells and curses, but there are actually a number of different types of dolls used in ritualistic magic and witchcraft. The oldest examples of dolls stuck with pins and used in ritual magic don’t come from Africa or the Carribean, they originated in Britain where during the middle ages, practitioners of magic called ‘cunning folk’–also known as wizards, wise men or women, or conjurers– would make cloth dolls made to resemble a person in the community who was thought to be a witch. The doll would be stuck with pins to do the witch harm, and to help break any magic spells she may have put on anyone. 

If you ever get a chance to visit England, be sure to visit the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall, England. Among the museum’s many interesting artifacts is a curious figure–a small, crudely formed female clay doll stuck with four pins. This type of ritualistic doll is known as a poppet, and this particular one appears to be blackened in places as if it had been charred by fire.

Poppets are made to represent a person and they’re used to cast spells on that person for good or for evil, or to put a curse on the person. They can be made out of a number of different materials such as carved roots, corn husks, a piece of dried fruit, wax, clay, branches, or cloth. Dolls made out of cloth are often stuffed with herbs or other materials thought to have magical properties. Poppets that have a curse on them would be hidden in a home to make sure it is close to its intended victim.

Now let’s get one thing straight, Voodoo has very little to do with so-called Voodoo dolls. In fact, the name Voodoo isn’t even the actual name of the religion. Vodou (the proper spelling and pronounced VOO-dow or VOE-do) originated in the 17th century French colonial empire among enslaved West Africans. An 1685 law required all slaveholders to Christianize slaves within eight days of their arrival, and this was often Catholicism. Over time, the slaves combined elements of their religious beliefs with Roman Catholicism. Because they were forced to adopt Catholic rituals, slaves gave them double meanings and in the process, many of their African spirits became associated with Christian saints.

Vodou is a fascinating and complex religion, and although dolls are used in Vodou, they are usually used for good, or for protection against evil, similar to the use of religious statues in churches and homes. Dolls are used for a variety of purposes such as love, healing, guidance, fertility, and empowerment.

When West African slaves were brought to the United States, they retained their religious practices of using dolls. One type of doll that they made was called a fetish which was thought to be possessed by spirits connected to the doll’s owner. The fetish would be worn for good luck, or to access magical powers. Fetish dolls are also used to create a bond between the physical and spiritual worlds. They are also known by the names ‘juju’ and ‘grisgris’. The term ‘grisgris’ also refers to charm bags filled with magical powders, roots, herbs, bones, spices, stones, feathers, and so on. So, grisgris bags are actually a type of magic potion–a combination of ingredients designed to produce an intended outcome. The bags are usually worn by a person, but they are sometimes tied to fetish dolls as part of a spell.

Psychologists say that Voodoo dolls work only if you believe in them, and that there is a real psychological benefit to getting your frustrations out on another person by sticking pins in their effigy.  But as we’ve seen, you don’t have to believe in a curse to be affected by it. In fact, you don’t even have to be aware that you’ve been cursed for the curse to take its toll.

If you’re interested in experimenting with Voodoo dolls, I would advise you to keep the Wiccan “Rule of Three” in mind. The rule of three states that whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it for good or bad, will be returned to that person three-fold. So, using a doll to help heal or to bring joy and happiness to someone should bring you a handsome reward. But be warned–before you go sticking black pins in a doll made to resemble your worst enemy, keep in mind that, in the end, the person you’ll be hurting the most is yourself.


UPDATE: Due to lack of reader interest, Reality Meets Fiction will be ending in two months. That means, just two more stories will be published (October and November). If you’d like for the series of paranormal investigation stories to continue, please let us hear your voice in the comments.

“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on September 24th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: Have you used voodoo dolls or have heard stories about them? If so, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Voodoo Dolls). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story using voodoo dolls and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through AmazonThe Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio), and now Poe’s New & Used Bookstore (New Berlin, Pennsylvania).

Until we meet again, take care!

The Creative Nook with Corey Nyhus

by Zachary Shiffman

A red-skinned demon. A winged abomination with a curved blade. An insect – wide-eyed and dying – ripped from the pages of Kafka. These are images that can only come from the mind of an artist. I wanted to gain a glimpse into that mind, so I invited Corey Nyhus, an artist currently living in New York, into THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook on YouTube.

We started by discussing some of the images mentioned above — such as Redboy, the demon who acts as a sort of mascot to Nyhus’ works, as well as the blade-wielding Corvian and Nyhus’ Metamorphosis-inspired piece, “Kafkaesque.” We discussed the tools used to create these characters and pieces and how they relate to Nyhus’ vision, along with the relationship between handwriting and art.

Nyhus and I also talked about the dynamic between himself and his art — how the mind can affect the artistic and vice versa. Then we discussed Nyhus’ recommended readings, including the web comic Kill Six Billion Demons by Tom Parkinson-Morgan and surrealist novel The Vorrh by Brian Catling.

I had a blast interviewing Nyhus. If you like horror and gothic art as much as I do, then you’ll love this interview!

https://youtu.be/cxboVaL3JHM

Camelot’s Reckoning: A Review

Rating: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️

If you are fans of the Arthurian legend, you are sure to get a kick out of Caleb Kelly’s CAMELOT’S RECKONING.  It’s a new twist on the legend and the characters will keep you turning the pages.  In fact, when you get to the end, you will be shouting for more.

This is a high fantasy story that doesn’t start off like one.  It starts us off at an archeological dig as Oliver is on his quest to find Excalibur, the fabled magic sword of King Arthur.  In fact, the legend and search for the sword has consumed his life and practically ruined his reputation in the archeological world.  However, this time he is on to something, and he needs his twin brother to help him continue the search.

Which brings us to a small problem:  Oliver’s brother, Roland, is a lawyer in a high-profile law firm who is bucking for partnership, while sleeping with his boss’ trophy wife.  Roland has problems that don’t include his brother, and a life that couldn’t be more different than his archaeologist brother.

In order to get his brother to accompany him to Scotland in pursuit of the sword, Oliver has to sabotage Roland’s life and get him fired from his job.  In Scotland, Oliver finds Excalibur AND its sister sword.  The brothers are swept into an alternate dimension, a magical one set up by Merlin where they learn that the two swords were wielded by Arthur and Sir Kay.  Kay and Arthur were of one mind and accord and worked in tandem with each other.  Oliver and Roland learn from Garrison, a shape-shifting apprentice to Merlin, that for the magic to work, they, too will have to work together.  And that’s a major problem because Oliver and Roland do not think alike, and thus they disturb the swords’ magic.  Things that are supposed to happen don’t, and vice verse, causing all kinds of chaos to ensue.

As I read this story, one thing really caught my attention: Mr. Kelly’s attention to detail. This book is the first in the Primis Vipris Saga (series). I appreciated that the author spent the time needed to really introduce his characters to the readers.  He methodically charted Oliver’s and Roland’s lives in such a way that I understood them, knew them. These characters were real.  We see Oliver working through the puzzle that is an archeological dig:

“Oliver wiped his brow with the back of his gloves, took them off, and
hurled them against the toolbox across from him.  He got up from the
dirt and brushed away the loose soil from his brown khakis and sweat-
stained tee shirt.  He grabbed hold of the edge of the pit and hoisted
himself out and on to the edge…”

We follow Roland on an intricate court case, one that Oliver sabotages in order to get his brother to accompany him:

“Roland flipped through the files in his lap as the lead prosecutor of
his firm marched back and forth at the front of the courtroom.  He
stopped for a moment to listen to what was unfolding.  The room
was drenched in palpable tension as the veteran lawyer paced in
front of the witness stand.  He stopped and thumbed through the
layers of documentation inside the manila folder.  Anticipation of
the trial had left the entire city of Greenville on edge as the
proceeding unfolded.”

I felt like I was right there, witnessing the events unravel firsthand. With this kind of detail, Mr. Kelly takes us into his magical world; into Merlin’s magic books; and into the confrontation against dragons.  Will Oliver and Roland be able to defeat the beasts? Only if they can manage to come together, strengthen their bonds, and act as one – like Arthur and Kay before them. Their adventure, humanity, and brotherly struggles make this book a page turner.

Be forewarned, however! This book ends at a cliffhanger, one that will make you scream for Book 2. That’s not a bad thing, but there is no information for when Book 2 will be released, so try to remain patient as you wait for the Saga to continue.

Because this story is cleverly written and delves into wonderful characterization, with great attention to detail, I give it a four Fleur de Lis.  If you are looking for a different take on the Arthurian legend in a high fantasy story, you will thoroughly enjoy CAMELOT’S RECKONING. I highly recommend it!

You can find Caleb Kelly’s Camelot’s Reckoning on AMAZON.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. For fantasy, the craft of world building and the story’s classification (high, epic) is also of interest. As always, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use Fleur-de-lis (⚜️). An explanation of the Fleur-de-lis system follows.

RATING: ⚜️
Boring, flat fantasy elements, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️
Fair plot, below average fantasy elements but fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️
Good plot and average fantasy elements, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Great reading experience with heaps of wonderful fantasy elements. Strong recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Excellent prose, amazing fantasy elements, well-written. A MUST READ!

The Creative Nook with Dan Stout

by Zachary Shiffman

Dan Stout is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE. He has served as a judge for THE DARK SIRE Awards for two years now, providing us with his invaluable perspective on submissions. So we were excited to get that same perspective into THE DARK SIRE’s Creative Nook on YouTube, where I sat down with Stout to discuss a range of topics surrounding the April release of his latest novel, Titan Song.

Titan Song is the third installment in Stout’s The Carter Archives, a noir-fantasy series that blends magic with mystery, murder, and disco. In the interview Stout and I discussed the series and his various balancing acts within it. How do you write an overarching narrative while maintaining a standalone quality to each book? How do you blend mystery and fantasy? And how did these two concepts come together in The Carter Archives? Stout delved into his interweaving of disparate ideas into the final (immensely entertaining) product.

Further into the interview, Stout talked about The Carter Archives’ social themes, such as the depiction of the working class and how that compares to other fantasy media. We also discussed his take on magic (“manna”), his perspective on research, his own personal process for writing, and Stout’s other passions.

We ended the interview with a brief discussion of Stout’s future works and how to stay up to date with them via the Campfire, Stout’s monthly newsletter that you can join on his website.

You can watch the whole interview on THE DARK SIRE’s YouTube channel!

https://youtu.be/g5du2Cgz-mo

The Psychology of Psychological Realism

Psychological Realism is a narrative genre that explores the internal thought processes and motivations of its characters.  The method of narration in the story explores the characters, both protagonists and antagonists, spiritual, emotional and mental lives in order to put meaning to their behavior.  At THE DARK SIRE we hold the works of Fydor Dostoevsky to be the pinnacle of this genre; however, authors like Henry James, Stendhal, and Knut Hamsun are also to be considered at the top of the list.

The success of a Psychological Realistic novel rests solely on the painstaking detail with which the author describes/examines/dissects the various relationships, desires and struggles of the characters.  Much of it boils down to the whole idea of what is real.  A person’s reality is the product of their individual perception of what is happening around them.  We tend to thing of reality as what we can see, feel, hear or experience in some way.  But in reality, no two people see, feel, hear or experience the same event in the same way.  Each person filters that event through the psychological veil that makes that individual an individual.  It is the classic problem of the accident that is viewed from three different vantage points by three different people.  Each person has seen the event, but that does not necessarily mean that each person will describe the event in the same way.  Kurosawa’s RASHOMON is a perfect example in movie form of this phenomena.

This genre allows authors to explore the gritty underbelly of human nature as a character interacts with their environment whether that environment is the slums of St. Petersburg or the social elite enclaves of the New York 400.  However, one of the most interesting facets of this genre is that it also includes the reader’s response to what he or she is reading.  The author of a psychological piece is also asking for the readers to make an interpretation on the actions, thoughts and emotions of the characters in the story… which leads us to an interesting juxtaposition.

The very nature of a psychological realism story forces the reader to internalize that which they are reading.  Is the character correct in what they are doing?  Or is that character mistaken because of their internal thought process is in error?  Like the witness to the accident in the example above, each reader must decide, based on their own psychological make up, whether or not the character in the story is reacting properly to the basic situation at the story’s core.  Which leads us to the interesting conundrum that readers from different generations will interpret the same story differently.  One generation might find a story amusing and the following generation might take offense at it.  Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN is a prime example of this.

So, what we have in Psychological Realism is a confrontation between the character’s social and environmental realities interpreted by a reader’s social and environmental realities.  Maybe that’s what makes Psychological Realism so fascinating: the author forcing the reader to confront the characters’ psyches through the veil of their own.

Fyodor Dostoevsky is known for delving into the psychology of humanity and wrote that psychology into his work. And that’s what we at THE DARK SIRE love about the psychological realism we publish. The tales delve into the psyche of the characters – their motivation, emotions, reasoning. A good psychological tale – and some would say a crossover from Gothic Literature – conveys the the torment of the character itself, through world building, mood, and tone.

We’re always looking for those stories that examine the psyche of its characters, especially those with dark sensibilities. Issue 4 is our favorite for its psychological realism content. But, we need more!

If you write psychological realism, submit at darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

The Creative Nook with Richard Chizmar

by Zachary Shiffman

Odds are, you’ve heard of Richard Chizmar. The horror giant is the editor of several anthologies, the founder of horror press Cemetery Dance, and the author of multiple works, including the book The Girl on the Porch and the novella Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which Chizmar co-authored with Stephen King). What you may not know is that Chizmar is no stranger to THE DARK SIRE literary magazine; he played a role in THE DARK SIRE Creative Awards Ceremony in February 2021, presenting the award for Best Fiction. And so, it was the natural next step for me to invite him into THE DARK SIRE Creative Nook on YouTube for an interview.

Our first topic of discussion was Chizmar’s next book, which will be released on August 17th, 2021: Chasing the Boogeyman, a small-town thriller surrounding a serial killer. In the interview, Chizmar delves into the backstory of the novel—its inspiration, how it developed, and the intriguing quasi-autobiographical elements to it. Chizmar described the book as a sort of “campfire story” that any reader will be able to have a good time with. And if his previous works are any indication, then he’s correct and you should add Chasing the Boogeyman to your TBR list today.

We moved on to talk about horror and writing in general, from Chizmar’s process to the disparate experiences of writing his various projects (including those conjoined with Stephen King). We also delved into his role at Cemetery Dance and how Chizmar balances writing and publishing. Finally, we closed the interview with Chizmar’s advice to emerging writers and anyone attempting to enter the publishing industry.

This interview is chalk full of great information that will entertain readers and writers alike. You’re not going to want to miss a single second of it!

https://youtu.be/YvQbIBsaWU0

Mother of the King: A Review

Rating: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️

Excellent prose. Amazing fantasy elements. Novelette, 27 pages. A MUST READ.

For those of you who like light fantasy, especially dealing with the Arthurian legend, you will thoroughly enjoy Rami Ungar’s Mother of the King.  When originally presented to me, I thought I would be reviewing a novel.  But Mother of the King is a novelette, making it longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. But let me just say, up front, that regardless of its category, it is a wonderful read, easily consumed in one sitting.

The story takes place in England in an undisclosed future, post-apocalyptic time, in which a new Arthur, that’s right, Arthur, is about to initiate a scientific plan that will protect Great Britain against the world domination assaults of her enemies and keep her as an oasis in what is becoming a dystopian world. 

The story is a confession told from the point of view of Misty Addison, the mother of Arthur Thomas Addison, the Field Marshal of the British Army and future husband to the queen, and the mastermind behind the Camelot System, which will place a protective shield around Great Britain to protect her from those who desire world domination. It is a destiny story that he doesn’t know, and since he is about to become the once and future king, Misty feels he needs to know just how destiny chose her son.

Mr. Ungar does a marvelous job combining history, myth, and fantasy in an easy-flowing story.  He moves us like pieces on a chessboard – from the past to the present to the past, weaving the story of the new Arthur’s rise to a position of prominence. Mr. Ungar deftly separates his Arthur story from the English legend of King Arthur.  According to Misty, much of what the world knows about Arthur is “bollocks;” much of the legend like Merlin, the affair of Lancelot and Guinevere, the evil sorceress Morgan le Fay, the Holy Grail, Excalibur and others were added by later storytellers, many of whom were not even British. But what was true was that “an Arthur” would arise in England’s hour of need.

Mr. Unger also manages to make Arthur’s mother act like a mother, which I found to be a brilliant storytelling touch.  She is down to earth and witty and shows the emotion of a mother protecting her child, yet is also there to give him sage advice in matters of the heart.  In effect, she becomes his Merlin, steering him to become the man who could embody the spirit of the legendary Arthur in England’s time of trouble.

THE MOTHER OF THE KING is a touching story without being maudlin. This novelette is an extremely well-crafted story. There is a sense of foreboding that lurks in the background.  But it is a danger that the lead characters in the story handle or are handling without transferring their dread to the reader.  As a reader, you are swept along by Misty’s optimism in the face of potential doom. The main characters have a confidence that makes one feel that everything will be all right. 

This novelette deserves the five Fleur de Lis. It flows along in such a way that you don’t want to stop reading it. It captures you from its opening line and sweeps you along to its cliff-hanging conclusion. It takes you from the past to the present to a possible future, and in the face of total destruction, it leaves you with hope.

You can find Rami Ungar’s Mother of the King on AMAZON.


RATINGS: TDS rates all books based on the dark content and how well the reading experience lends itself. For fantasy, the craft of world building and the story’s classification (high, epic) is also of interest. As always, author craft, storytelling, and mechanics are considered, as well. For this purpose, we use Fleur-de-lis (⚜️). An explanation of the Fleur-de-lis system follows.

RATING: ⚜️
Boring, flat fantasy elements, not interesting. Do not recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️
Fair plot, below average fantasy elements but fairly interesting. Read at own risk.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️
Good plot and average fantasy elements, good reading experience. Encouraged read.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Great reading experience with heaps of wonderful fantasy elements. Strong recommend.

RATING: ⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️⚜️
Excellent prose, amazing fantasy elements, well-written. A MUST READ!

July and August New Release Books

Time.  There is no getting around it.  It takes time to write a book and put it through the process that eventually gets it into the hands of readers.  And all we can do is wait.  To help pass the time, here are a few of the anticipated books in our favorite genres:

GOTHIC

AUGUST 19

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Perry
Fans of the Perry collaboration should look forward to this tale in which a person’s status cannot evade a fate written in blood. Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.


HORROR

AUGUST 3

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee This is s a twisted, atmospheric thriller about a girls’ boarding school haunted by history and witchcraft.

The Perfect Place to Die by Bryce Moore Jack the Ripper meets the Devil in the White City.  When Zuretta’s youngest sister disappears during the Chicago World’s Fair, she follows in her sister’s footsteps taking a job an hotel called the Castle.  The job turns into more than she bargained for.

AUGUST 5

Long Shadows by Jodi Taylor This is the third in Ms. Taylor’s supernatural series. The identity of Elizabeth Cage has always been a mystery. Even she doesn’t know who she is. But someone has suspicions.

AUGUST 10

Ghost Girl by Ally Malinenko This story follows the adventures of a middle-grade student, who, although she loves ghost stories, never expected to live one.

Mark of the Wicked by Georgia Bowers   A young witch tries to unravel the mystery of who is framing her for dark magic.

AUGUST 17

Chasing the Boogeyman by Richard Chizmar Mr. Chizmar masterfully blends Horror and True Crime.  It’s clever, heartrending, and terrifying in the best tradition of Stephen King. In the summer of 1988, the mutilated bodies of several missing girls begin to turn up in a small Maryland town. The grisly evidence leads police to the terrifying assumption that a serial killer is on the loose in the quiet suburb. But soon a rumor begins to spread that the evil stalking local teens is not entirely human. **Look for the TDS interview of Richard Chizmar on 8/10, where we talk about the release of Chasing the Boogeyman.**

AUGUST 24

Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis   Is a live body worth more than a dead apparition?  I guess you’ll have to read the novel to find out.


FANTASY

AUGUST 3

A Dragonbird in the Fern by Laura Rueckert
When a princess is murdered, her vengeful spirit is doomed to remain with her loved ones until that murder has been avenged.

Monster Hunter Bloodlines by Larry Correia The chaos god Asaq has been quite since the destruction of the City of Monsters, but Monster Hunter International knows that he is still out there, somewhere, plotting for his chance to unravel reality.

August 10

Escape from Puroland by Charles Stross
Bob Howard has been assigned to police the Yokai, traditional magical beings.  A simple assignment turns into a deadly confrontation.

The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino   Tess finds herself working at her boarding school’s library dealing with the intolerable patrons.  The worst of whom is Eliot Birch who is constantly requesting forbidden grimoires.  Together the two of them accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.

The Other Me by Sarah Zachrich Jeng One minute, Kelly is a free-spirited artist in Chicago.  The next, she opens a door and mysteriously emerges in her Michigan hometown.  Suddenly her life is unrecognizable.  She’s got twelve years of the wrong memories and she’s married to a Eric, a man she barely knew in high school.

AUGUST 17

The Endless Skies by Shannon Price  It will be released August 17th.  Shape-shifting warriors are sent on a dangerous mission behind enemy lines to find the fabled cure for a disease that is affecting their children.

AUGUST 19

Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent   For as long as sixteen-year old Adele can remember the village of Oakvale has been surrounded by the dark woods.  It is a forest filled with horrible monsters and that light cannot penetrate.  Adele is one of a long line of guardians, women who are able to change into wolves whose jobs is to protect the village without letting any of the villagers know of their existence.

AUGUST 31

Forestborn by Elayne Audrey Becker
Rora, a shifter with magical powers, uses her abilities to spy for the king.  When a magical illness surfaces in the kingdom, it’s up to Rora to discover the truth.

Fury of a Demon by Brian Naslund This novel is the thrilling conclusion of the Dragons of Terra trilogy. Action-packed and full of fast-paced adventures, the story follows Bershad, the most successful dragon slayer in history—he’s never lost a fight. But now he’s faced with a dangerous conundrum: kill a king or be killed.

Requiem of Silence by L. Penelope This is the fourth book in the Earthsinger Chronicles.  Former assassin Kyara will discover that she is not the only Nethersinger.  She will need to join the others to harness a power that can save or end Elsira.  But time is of the essence and they may not be ready by the time the True Father strikes.


PSYCHOLOGICAL REALISM

AUGUST 3

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson Told through three different points of view, it is the compassionate portrait of a community and a vanishing way of life amid the perils of environmental degradation.

AUGUST 5

The Perfect Life by Nuala Ellwood Vanessa has always found it easy to pretend to be somebody different, somebody better.  When things get tough in her real life, all she has to do is throw on some nicer clothes, adopt a new accent and she can escape.  Until she couldn’t.

AUGUST 24

A Million Things by Emily Spurr This story follows 55-days in the life of a 10-year old after she wakes up one morning and finds her mother gone.  It’s a gut-wrenching tale of abandonment and what it’s like to grow up in a house that doesn’t feel safe.  It’s an astonishing psychological portrait of resilience, mental health and families we make and how they make us.


So much to choose from, so little time to read everything!
Get your TBR lists ready, because you’re not going to
want to miss any of the above new releases.


TO OUR READERS: Do you have a favorite author that you would like THE DARK SIRE to keep track of? Or did we miss a title that came out in July/August that should have been listed? Let us know in the comments. We love to uplift amazing writers. In fact, if you drop the name of an author for us to include, we will add them to our future new release lists – which are now a MONTHLY staple of The Dark Forest. Check back at the end of August for our Fall new releases.

And don’t forget to ORDER TDS’ DARK SUMMER Issue 8, set to release on July 31. More details available at darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Celebrating TDS Issue 8: DARK SUMMER

Let’s celebrate the July 31st release of Issue 8!

To celebrate the release of Issue 8, we’re hosting a TDS Authors Event! The events is this Saturday, July 31st, from 11am – 1pm at The Bibliophile Bookstore in Dover, Ohio. Issue 8 authors will read their work from Issue 8, discuss their writing processes, and sign paperback copies of Issue 8. Come meet John Kiste (Kettering Hall, Issue 2; Tropical Excursion, Issue 8), S. M. Cook (Kyuuketsuki, Issues 1-5; Vampire – Intense, Issue 8), Krista Canterbury Adams (Erebus: Darkness, Issue 4; Nyx Unnested and Phantom Queen, Issue 8), and Rami Ungar (Blood and Paper Skin, Issue 8). And did we mention that literary agent Bre Stepehens (brendaleestephens.com) will be there to talk to any authors? Yep, get your pitches ready because she’s building her list! Anyone attending the event will be eligible for a free giveaway drawing, with prizes including digital and paperback copies of Issue 8, copies of attending author’s books, and other TDS swag.

And now for the Issue 8 reveal of content…

THE DARK SIRE strives to bring you the best in Gothic, Horror, Fantasy and Psychological Realism literature, and Issue 8 doesn’t disappoint. In fact, it’s packed full of original, spine-tingling stories, poems, and artwork by top-notch authors. And this time, we even have a fantasy screenplay! Here’s what you will find inside:

SHORT FICTION

Grave Fools by Maureen Mancini Amaturo — (Gothic) — A vampire’s loyal servant works diligently to find the best resting place for his master.

The Bookworm by Taylor Hood — (Psychological Realism) — A story-starved boy confronts his zealous father in a darkened room lit only by a halo of light. Their struggle, the consequence of a family destroyed, pits two worldviews against each other. Either the boy must go on endlessly reciting his father’s beloved holy text, or he must at last find freedom.

Tropical Excursion by John Kiste — (Horror) — A man finds fun in the sun, but his day out is interrupted when he’s confronted about his crimes.

We by Alyssa Netters — (Psychological Realism) — A relationship gone wrong until one stood strong to overcome the debilitating effects of being held down. This story was inspired by the need for mental health awareness in today’s society.

Hand in Hand, Dear Sister by Connor Pope — (Horror) — A distraught sister must do the unthinkable to save her sister. This piece is a 100-word flash fiction short story.

Thirst by Zachary Toombs — (Gothic) — In the night, Lex must hunt to survive, but he must listen to more than just his fangs to successfully fetch his prey.

Six Feet by Julie Zack — (Dark Fantasy) — As with most things, it was the mother’s fault. She hadn’t seen the harm in letting the boy run around the cemetery on a summer evening. It was socially distant, after all. That was until they came across a man in a hat, and their lives would be forever changed.

POETRY

Skewered Memory by Casey Aimer — A couple must overcome a psychological break, caused by infidelity, if they are to survive. This poem touches on mental health awareness.

Nyx Unnested by Krista Canterbury Adams — The night is not as dangerous as when the Nyx appear, there to hover, haunt, and devour. The moon will not save you this eve, for the Nyx are utter and pure darkness. Nyx Unnested won 1st place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021.

Phantom Queen by Krista Canterbury Adams — The woods glow brightly, hungering for destruction and chaos. Will it ever find peace?

Vampire – Intense by S.M. Cook — A vampire awakens, hungry, and goes out for a bite.

The Beginning by Dee Espinoza — Dracula, a fallen angel who was cast out of heaven after a holy war and banished to Earth, creates an army of undead blood thirsty creatures.

HOMETOWNWOTEMOH by E. M. Roy — A free-verse poem about the familiar becoming strange the longer you look at it. The longer the speaker exists within her hometown, the more places she knows like the back of her hand start to eat her alive. HOMETOWNWOTEMOH won 2nd Place in the TDS Gothic Summer Contest in May 2021. 

ART

Shaun Power’s This Is Fear is our feature cover art for this issue.  The look, even the style of his pictures, vary wildly on his state of mind. Fortunately for us, he was in a dark mood when he created this pastel on A4 paper.  Other artwork by Shaun in this issue include Hand of Fate and Perchance the Dream.

Also featured in this issue are the abstract works of Christian-Rhen Stefani.  Her style, known as COLORISM, is a mix of Abstract Expressionism and mood creation.  In this issue we present her The Land beyond the Surface and River of Consciousness.

SCREENPLAY

Hobgoblins by James Hancock — (Fantasy) — A young woman ends up trapped in an enchanted storybook and must complete the story to escape.

SERIALIZATION

Blood and Paper Skin by Rami Ungar — (Horror) — Several young adults go out to buy drugs one night, only for some of them to be kidnapped and held in a mysterious jail by their would-be dealer. Their captor, whom they call Old Man, lets them know he has a horrible purpose in mind for them. And if they don’t find a way out of the jail, more than just their lives will be lost.


Well, that’s it – like that isn’t enough! We know you’re going to love our delve into DARK SUMMER, our only themed issue of the year. Copies are now available. Order your copy through Bibliophile Bookstore (support indie booksellers!) or by visiting darksiremag.com/issue8.html.

Reality Meets Fiction: The New England Vampire Panic

by Barry Pirro

A century after the 1693 Salem witch trials, citizens of Rhode Island began hearing whispers and rumors of something that frightened them even more than witchcraft. They began to suspect that there were blood sucking vampires in their midst. Even more disturbing, they thought that the vampires were members of their own families, and that they had to be stopped at any cost. But like Stoker’s Van Helsing, these would-be vampire slayers were determined to hunt down each and every one to make sure they stayed where they belonged–in their graves. 

In June of 1784, The Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer published a letter to the editor from a Willington, Connecticut town councilman. In it, he cautioned readers against being influenced by a local doctor who was encouraging families to dig up and burn their relatives’ bodies. The letter said that several children’s bodies had been exhumed at this doctor’s request, and that families were told that the burning of the bodies would stop consumption, now known as tuberculosis, from spreading throughout the family. 

Today, the claims in the letter may sound far-fetched. Even laughable – but they were true. In the late 18th century, people actually were digging up their dead family members’ bodies and burning them because they thought that they were vampires. 

Where did this gruesome practice of exhuming and desecrating dead bodies originate? Many immigrants came to America from Europe, and with them came their traditions, folklore, and superstitions. Throughout Europe, exhuming the bodies of those thought to be vampires was not uncommon. Some corpses were beheaded. Others had their feet bound with thorns to keep them in their graves. If a body was badly decomposed, the skull would be placed facing backwards, and the rest of the bones were carefully rearranged to prevent the vampire from rising. Further methods used to keep the undead down included placing a sickle over the skeleton’s neck, putting a stone in the skull’s mouth, or pinning the skeleton to the ground with a stake. 


The first recorded case of New England vampirism was that of Rachel Harris Burton from Manchester, Vermont. In 1790, Rachel died of tuberculosis less than a year after marrying Captain Isaac Burton. A year later, the Captain married Rachel’s stepsister, Hulda, and soon after she began exhibiting symptoms similar to Rachel’s. 

Around this time, rumors of vampirism had begun spreading across New England, so family and friends began to suspect that Rachel had risen from the grave as a vampire and was making Hulda sick by sucking her blood. The Captain agreed and decided that something must be done about it. So, on a frigid day in February of 1793, three years after Rachel’s death, over 500 Manchester residents gathered at the cemetery to watch as the liver, heart and lungs were removed from Rachel’s exhumed, rotting corpse, placed on a blacksmith’s forge, and set on fire. 

Sadly, Hulga died seven months later. Because the ‘cure’ didn’t work, the townspeople figured that Rachel hadn’t been a vampire after all. Their conclusion? Witchcraft must have been responsible for Hulda’s sickness and death. 


One of the most famous cases of the New England vampire panic occurred in 1799 in Exeter, Rhode Island. One night, a farmer named Stuckley Tillinghast had a disturbing dream in which half of his apple orchard died. A few days later, his daughter Sarah came home complaining that she wasn’t feeling well. She took to bed, and, within a few weeks, died of tuberculosis. 

Several weeks later, the family was still grieving Sarah’s death when her brother James came down to breakfast one morning looking pale and sickly. He complained of feeling very weak, and that it felt as if there was a heavy weight on his chest. Then he said something chilling: Sarah came to him in the middle of the night and sat on his bed. He said that she didn’t speak, but that her pale form sat on the edge of the bed and stared at him all night long. Weeks later, James was dead. 

Shortly after James’ death, two more Tillinghast children died after saying that Sarah had visited them in the night. The family began to suspect that Sarah’s nocturnal visits meant that she was a vampire, and that she was returning from the grave to draw life from the remaining family members. 

A few months later, three more of the Tillinghast children died, then Honour Tillinghast, mother of the deceased children, became ill. She told her husband that all of her dead children kept coming to her in the night, and that she could hear their voices telling her to come with them. 

For Stuckley Tillinghast, this was the last straw. Early one morning he and his farmhand, Caleb, went out to the cemetery where his daughter Sarah was buried. They took with them a long hunting knife, a bottle of lamp oil, and two shovels. As the sun was rising, the two men dug up Sarah’s casket and turned back the creaking lid. 

Even though she had been dead over 18 months, Sarah looked as if she was just asleep. Seeing his daughter’s face looking flushed as if with blood, Stuckley took his hunting knife and thrust it deep into his daughter’s chest. He would later claim that as soon as the knife blade cut into her body, the wound gushed blood. Digging through flesh, muscle and bone, he cut out her heart and lay it on a nearby stone. There, he doused it with lamp oil and set it on fire. He and Caleb watched until the heart was reduced to ashes, then the two of them reburied Sarah. 

In the end, Stuckley Tillinghast’s dream had come true in a symbolic sense. Half of his ‘orchard’ (seven of his fourteen children) had died. After burning Sarah’s heart, Honour Tillinghast recovered from her illness, there were no more deaths in the family, and there were no further reports of Sarah appearing at night. To the Tillinghasts, the vampire curse had finally ended thanks to Stuckley’s intervention; and because the entire town knew how he had saved his family from further deaths, the belief in vampires was strengthened and the word spread near and far.


For the record, although the exhumation of bodies and the burning of hearts and other vital organs were often clandestine, lantern-lit affairs, some were quite public and even had an air of festivity. In 1830, one “vampire heart” was set on fire in front of a large crowd in the Woodstock, Vermont, town green; and in Manchester, up to a thousand people turned up to witness the burning of the heart, liver and lungs of a suspected vampire.    

Mary Brown of Exeter of Rhode Island has the distinction of being known as the last American vampire. George Brown must have felt as if his family was cursed. In 1883, tuberculosis claimed the life of his wife Mary. Six months later, his 20-year old daughter, Mary-Olive, succumbed to the same disease. Then in 1890 George’s only son, Edwin, contracted tuberculosis as well. George watched helplessly as his son struggled to breath, and constantly coughed up blood. While Edwin grew weaker and weaker, his 19-year-old sister Mercy died. 

George Brown was at his wits end. He had to do something to save his son Edwin, the only remaining member of his family. Since medical science failed to help Edwin, residents of Exeter began to suspect that vampires were the real culprit. They thought that either Edwin’s mother or one of his sisters must be one of the undead, and that they were leaving their grave at night to suck the life out of poor Edwin. 

On March 17, 1892, George Brown reluctantly agreed to allow his relatives and neighbors to exhume the bodies of his loved ones interred at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in an effort to stop the disease. George said that he did not believe in vampires, but he was willing to try anything. 

That morning, a small crowd gathered in the graveyard behind the town’s Baptist Church, and the bodies of Mary Brown and Mary-Olive Brown were exhumed. They opened their caskets, but the only thing they found inside were bones–no surprise, since both had been dead and buried for nearly ten years. 

Next, they turned their attention to the casket of Mercy Brown who had been buried just eight weeks earlier. When the lid was lifted off of her coffin, the townspeople gasped in horror. Mercy was lying on her side, and her face was flushed as if she was still alive. Someone quickly took a long knife and thrust it into Mercy’s chest, then cut out her heart and lungs. Mysteriously, there was still blood in her heart and veins.

While he was unable to explain why Mercy was lying on her side in her coffin, Dr. Harold Metcalf, who had raised objections about the exhumations from the very start, said that the preserved state of the body was simply due to the short amount of time Mercy had been dead, and that the cold weather had preserved her body. 

The people of Exeter ignored the doctor’s explanations. They built a fire on a pile of rocks in the churchyard, then took Mercy’s heart and lungs and cremated them. But their job wasn’t done just yet. The group went to Edwin’s house with the ashes of his dead sister’s heart. They mixed the ashes with water, then fed them to him. Disgusting? Yes! But it was thought that this was the only way to prevent Edwin from dying. Sadly, and not unsurprisingly, the “cure” didn’t work, and he died two months later. 

Looking at the timeline of events, it’s baffling how anyone could have suspected that Mercy was responsible for her family’s illness, vampire or no vampire. Her mother and sister had died nearly 10 years earlier than she had, and her brother had become ill two years before she died. But cases of mass hysteria grow out of fear and superstition, and those caught up in the hysteria rarely stop to think whether or not any of it makes sense. 


In 1990, a group of boys playing near a hillside gravel mine in Griswold, Connecticut, found something that they thought was really cool–a skull that was in a grave with other bones. One of the boys ran home and showed his parents. The police were called, and it soon became clear that the bones were more than a century old. Archaeologists were called in to excavate the site, and they discovered that the bones were part of a large family burial plot from the colonial-era. 

A stone crypt was unearthed, and when the slab that covered the coffin was removed, archaeologists were shocked by what they discovered. Some time in the distant past, the bones of the individual buried there had been completely rearranged, and the skeleton had been beheaded. The beheading and other injuries to the bones were thought to have occurred roughly five years after death. The conclusion of all who examined the man’s remains was that he was suspected of being a vampire, and that his heart was removed to prevent him from rising out of his grave. 

The New England Vampire panic died out in the late 1800s after science finally discovered the cause of tuberculosis. But it illustrates what lengths people will go to protect themselves and their families. It’s only a matter of time before some new mass hysteria panic rears its ugly head. Whatever form it may take, historians will surely shake their heads and wonder, “What in the world were they thinking?”


“Reality Meets Fiction” is a series on non-fiction, real-life stories as experienced through personal accounts and investigations conducted by Barry Pirro, a paranormal investigator known as the Connecticut Ghost Hunter. Barry has over a decade of paranormal investigation experience and will share his stories every 4th Friday of the month. Don’t forget to catch his next article on August 27th. To learn more about the Ghost Hunter, visit http://www.connecticutghosthunter.com/.

READERS: What real-life vampire stories do you have? If you have experience with vampirism tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Vampirism Story). Your story may be picked to appear on our blog as a follow up to Barry’s.

WRITERS: Use Barry’s real-life story to inspire your creativity! Write a story on VAMPIRES (as predators!) and then submit it to us for publication consideration: https://www.darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

As always, thanks for supporting THE DARK SIRE! If you’re not following us, please do. We are on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram under @DarkSireMag. And, of course, you can pick up a digital copy of our issues on the TDS website or paperback copies through Amazon and The Bibliophile Bookstore (Dover, Ohio).

Until we meet again, take care!