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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!

Reality Meets Fiction: Psychomanteum and Seeing the Dead in Mirrors

by Barry Pirro

A woman walks into a dark room and sits in a comfortable chair. All around her, the walls are obscured by a black curtain, and in front of her is a mirror set at an angle so she only sees darkness reflected in its surface. The only light comes from a single candle on a table behind her. As she gazes into the mirror, a fog begins to cover its surface. Soon, bright flashes of light are seen dancing around the perimeter of the glass. Suddenly, a figure appears in the mirror. It looks so real that the woman feels as if she can reach out and touch it. The figure is that of the woman’s mother who died several years earlier, and she looks young and alive.

As the woman looks in amazement, the figure of her mother steps out of the mirror and into the room with her. The two embrace and talk, and the woman’s mother tells her that she is fine and that it is beautiful where she is. The vision ends as quickly as it had begun and the woman is left with a sense of peace, happiness, and closure.

The use of mirrors as divination tools has been around for centuries. Scrying is a technique whereby the seer gazes into a mirror, a pool of water, or a crystal ball until images appear. But the real magic of scrying as it relates to seeing dead loved ones lies in something called a psychomanteum: a room designed to induce apparitions through gazing into a mirror. The word comes from the Greek and translates roughly as “theater of the mind”.

A reflective surface is the key to having this type of visual experience. In his book Reunions: Visionary Encounters with Departed Loved Ones, Dr. Raymond Moody tells the story of a woman who saw her deceased husband on the surface of a hotel picture window. He ran right up to her in the window, and the experience was so real that she said that she could actually smell him when he came near her. He smiled at her and said, “Everything is fine here.”

Although visual encounters involving mirrors or other reflective surfaces can occur spontaneously, a true psychomanteum experience needs to be made. Luckily, it’s easier than you might think.

Dr. Moody describes the psychomanteum he made in his home this way:

“A room was set aside for use as an apparition chamber. At one end of the
room, a mirror four feet tall and three and a half feet wide was mounted
on a wall. A comfortable easy-chair was placed about three feet from the
mirror and inclined slightly backward to keep the reflection of the gazer
from being seen in the mirror. In effect, the angle of the chair created a
clear depth view of the mirror, which would reflect only darkness behind
the person who was gazing. The result was a crystal-clear pool of darkness.
This pool of darkness was assured by a black velvet curtain draped all
around the chair from the ceiling (Moody, 1997, p. 82).”

Prior to using a psychomanteum, subjects are asked to look at photographs of the deceased person they wish to communicate with, and to try to recall vivid memories of the time they spent together. They also are encouraged to bring mementos into the room with them such as a piece of clothing or jewelry owned by the person.

The experiences people have in the psychomanteum vary, but most are extremely vivid. The visions they have don’t come across as misty, indistinct images. People report seeing clear, full-body apparitions that look as real as any living person, and some even appear to walk out of the mirror and into the room.

Most people go into the psychomanteum hoping  to make contact with a particular loved one; but interestingly, some end up encountering deceased persons other than the one they were prepared to see. One such example in Dr. Moody’s book comes from a businessman named James who described himself as an ‘interested skeptic.’ He was using the psychomanteum to attempt a visionary reunion with his father who died when James was twelve-years-old. After preparing for the reunion by looking through family photos and pictures of furniture that his father had made, James entered the apparition booth.

After being in the booth for a long time, a man’s image began to form in the mirror and suddenly, the man stepped right out of the mirror and into the apparition room. But it wasn’t James’ father; instead, it was James’ old business partner who had died of a heart attack a few years earlier. Interestingly, the two had been business partners, but they were not very close friends.

The man who stepped out of the mirror looked totally real, and he told James that he was fine where he was. He also gave a message about his daughter who once blamed James for her father’s death. This was all done telepathically, so he did not hear a voice in the booth. When the experience was over, the vision vanished quickly.

Afterward, James said that he felt that he had made peace with his business partner. He insisted that the man he saw in the booth was not an apparition or an hallucination; he said that it was actually his business partner in the room with him.

Visual encounters in the psychomanteum are usually highly emotional experiences. Moody reported that one woman not only saw her deceased grandfather in the apparition booth, but that she also spoke to him and felt his touch. She said, “I was so happy to see him that I began to cry. Through the tears I could still see him in the mirror. Then he seemed to get closer and he must have come out of the mirror because the next thing I knew he was holding me and hugging me. It felt like he said something like, ‘It’s okay, don’t cry’” (Moody, 1997, p. 93).

Another woman was reunited with her deceased grandmother, her aunt, and her great-grandmother in the apparition booth. She said, “I was so overjoyed during this whole meeting. I was so happy. There was no doubt in the world they were there and that I saw them, and it was as real as meeting anyone” (Moody, 1997, p.123).

As we’ve seen, these visual encounters are often so real that people feel as if they can reach out and touch the apparitions, but they are not always able to. One man who used the psychomanteum in an attempt to contact his sister described the experience in this way: “I was sitting in there, and all of a sudden it seemed that these three people stepped right into the room all around me. It looked as if they stepped out of the mirror, but I felt that such a thing couldn’t be, so I was shocked. For a moment I thought it was someone trying to play a joke on me, so I reached up quickly, trying to touch them, and when I did, my hand hit the curtain, but I still saw them. I got a look at all three. My sister, Jill, was there, but two others also, my friend Todd and my grandfather. All of them looked very much alive, just looking at me” (Moody, 1997, p. 135).

Although visual encounters are the most common, some psychomanteum experiences don’t involve vision at all. One man who entered the booth had a purely auditory experience. He said, “After what I guess was no more than five minutes, I began to hear the voice of this friend of mine who was killed in a boating accident. It was just like her speaking to me. I’m not talking here about thoughts or day dreams or imagination. I’ve never heard anything like it. She just talked to me and said it was wonderful where she was. I could hear each word plainly and separately. There was a quality to it, like an echo, I believe, like maybe she was speaking through a tin tube. It was her voice, though, definitely”  (Moody, 1997, p. 144).

Some psychomanteum encounters don’t happen right away. Dr. Moody calls these delayed experiences ‘Take-Out Visions.’ One example of this type of experience comes from a woman who used the apparition booth to make contact with her deceased husband.

While in the booth, the woman saw images of people in the mirror, but they quickly disappeared when she tried to focus on them. After leaving the booth, she went home and had the distinct feeling that someone was with her. A night later, she had a strong sense that her father was in the room with her. The following evening she woke up in the middle of the night and also felt her father’s presence, and she could smell his aftershave lotion. She said, “I looked up, and my father was standing at the door of my bedroom. I had been lying on the bed but I stood up and walked over to him. I was within four steps of him. He looked just like my dad, but not sickly like he had been just before he died. He was a full figure, and he looked more fleshed out than when he died. He looked whole, like everything was wonderful” (Moody, 1997, p. 138). Her father told her that he was fine, and that he didn’t want her to worry.

Some who use the psychomanteum have symbolic visions. These typically occur when a person goes into the booth without the goal of contacting a loved one. In these cases, the apparition booth seems to act as a gateway to the subconscious. One woman reported seeing snakes in the mirror. Some were rising up and hissing at her, but others were smiling and friendly looking. But no matter what type of snake showed itself to her in the mirror, she always felt fearful and she wanted to run away. Afterward, she said that she realized that the snakes represented trust because she has always been afraid that people will appear one way, then turn against her.

Another woman went into the booth just to see what would happen, and she saw a huge peacock with brilliantly colored feathers. The peacock seemed to have a human face. Then she noticed that behind the peacock was what looked to be a sacrificial altar with a person laying on it who appeared to be dead. Suddenly, the woman found herself dancing with Jesus at the last supper! These visions most likely represented the role that religion unconsciously played in this woman’s life.

Are the visual encounters experienced in the psychomanteum proof of life after death, or are they simply projections from our subconscious? As we’ve seen, the people who used the booth claim that the people they saw in the mirror looked as real as any person. They were convinced that they had actually made contact with their deceased loved ones. Dr. Moody himself said, “After conducting a number of mirror-gazing sessions in which apparitions were facilitated, I decided to try to have one myself. The result was a personal encounter that has totally changed my perspective on life” (Moody, 1997, p. 22).

For Moody’s experiment in the psychomanteum, he chose to focus on his maternal grandmother, but instead he made contact with his paternal grandmother. He said, “In no way did she appear “ghostly” or transparent during our reunion. She seemed completely solid in every respect. She appeared no different from any other person… [the experience left me] with an abiding certainty that what we call death is not the end of life” (Moody, p. 27-28).

It may not be a simple question of whether or not people were actually reunited with their loved ones in the psychomanteum. Perhaps mirror gazing puts us in a state of consciousness where we are able to be in two worlds at once, a place where there is no barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Resources
Moody, R. A., Jr. (1997). Reunions: Visionary encounters with departed loved ones. Ballantine Books. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0449001199

Read more on psychomanteum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychomanteum


“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: What scrying or psychomanteum experiences do you have? If you have experience with either, tell us about it in the comments. Better yet, write your non-fiction story and send it to us: darksiremag@gmail.com (subject: Psychomanteum). 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 Psychomanteum or scrying 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!

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

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!

Psychological Realism and the Art of Knowing

I have saved talking about one of THE DARK SIRE’s favorite genres, Psychological Realism, for last, partly because I consider it one of the most difficult genres in which to write.  The genre focuses on the mental processes of the characters, which includes their inner thoughts, feelings, motives and behavior.  In other words, to write in this genre, you have to know people, really know people – and delve deep into characterization. 

Unlike the genres of Fantasy, Horror, or the Gothic, this genre literally deals with how people react to everyday life.  Now, their reactions are predicated on the psychological make up of who they are, which is why a good Psychological Realism writer has to be a student of human nature.  The writer needs to show not only what the characters do but also explain why they are taking those actions.  When you examine Crime and Punishment by the god-father of the genre, Fydor Dostoevsky, you meet characters who are engaged in distasteful and illegal acts motivated by their desperate financial situations.  Dostoevsky uses their motivations to examine the conditions of poverty. 

American writers took a slightly different tack with this genre.  They began to examine the question of the duality of a man’s nature.  Melville has a superlative chapter in Moby Dick on this topic:  Is Ahab, Ahab?  It was a question that even the Native Americans of the Northwest explored with their masks and totems.  Are we really who we think we are or is our external persona merely the mask for our real inner personality?  Other American authors continued with this theme.  The works of Henry James, Arthur Miller and Edith Warton look at the inner workings of their characters and the duality of their motivations.

Therefore the thing that makes Psychological Realism novels different is that their plot revolves around the emotional aspect of the story. The PR novel is internal. It deals with the perceptions of your characters. Is the character disturbed in some way? How does the character perceive reality? Does their emotions get in the way of their perception or does it dictate their perception?

When writing a PR story, you have to create strong characters who have strong emotional issues. Remember, most of the action is going to take place in your characters’ heads. The emphasis in this kind of story is not so much on action as it is on turmoil. You will have to create your suspense in unpredictable ways. This leads to major plot twists. Is one of your characters an unreliable narrator and if so, why? Why does your villain do what he or she or it does? Why does your protagonist respond in the way he, she, or it does? To write a good PR story, you have to be a student of human nature. You have to understand peoples’ flaws and how those flaws make them react.

Here are some things to consider to create a strong PS story:

Characterization. When writing a PR story, you have to create strong characters who have strong emotional issues. Remember, most of the action is going to take place in your characters’ heads. The emphasis in this kind of story is not so much on action as it is on turmoil. You will have to create your suspense in unpredictable ways. This leads to major plot twists. Is one of your characters an unreliable narrator and if so, why? Why does your villain do what he or she or it does? Why does your protagonist respond in the way he, she, or it does? To write a good PR story, you have to be a student of human nature. You have to understand peoples’ flaws and how those flaws make them react.

To understand your character, think of their family structure, who their parents are, what they and their family do for a living. How old are they? What schooling have they had? What struggles have they braved? What relationships have they experience? Married, divorced, kids? Do they like or hate their daily life? What do they do to relax? Simply put: Get to know what your character’s favorite things are, what they like and dislike, and what their deepest, darkest secrets are. Build a character that could live and breathe in the real world – even if their world is fantasy. Meaning: The character, be they hero or villain, should be 3-dimensional and alive, someone readers can relate to and connect with. To do this, you, as the author, need to know every bit about the characters you create.

Inner dialogue. If the character’s thought are to be revealed, inner dialogue is key. Yes, your character can convey their thoughts aloud, but, more often than not, he or she will express them though inner thought – which is called “inner dialogue.” This type of dialogue is written in italics to differentiate the story (action, description) from dialogue. When a reader reads inner dialogue, they need to understand the character’s thoughts. An example of this is:

Sheila runs and never looks back, tears lining her cheeks. Why am I running? I should be standing my ground! Shoving the backs of her hands into her eyes as if to command the rivers to cease, she plants her feet and halts. Her body lunges forward before it whips back, knees tight, core engaged. Enough! I’m not running anymore. It stops here, right here. If not now, then when? She gulps in a lung-full of crisp air and wipes the remnants of wetness from her cheeks. With a shallow sigh, she pauses for a brief moment, only to turn around and walk back the way she came.

Character focused. As the above states, think of your story as being character focused. The story is the character’s motivations, the character’s emotions, the character’s wants and desires. What drives the character? How is the story going to advance on the character’s goals? What will they encounter based on their drive, emotional pull, and flaws? Instead of being story-driven, with a lot of action, your PR story will be character-driven, which is why PR is classed as literary fiction rather than genre fiction. Keep in mind what your character wants, what they’re going through, what they are struggling with emotionally and psychologically. And make the story wrapped securely around the complexity of their human nature.

Explanation and motivation. Your character has to have motivation and a reason for why they are doing what they are… and your reader needs to understand that reasoning. That means you have to explain the reason, answering the magical question of “why.” Though you can explain the reason through other storytelling devices, the most natural way of doing so is through inner dialogue. For example:

“Why are you being so difficult, Sarah?!”

Rubbing her fingers together, Sarah gazed out over her glasses with half-open eyes. Like you don’t know. Last time we met, you demanded I give in to your whim, do what you say or else. And now that you’re not in charge, you expect me to be kind, benevolent, caring. Well, today’s the day you learn humility, Madeleine.

“Company policy is all. You understand. Surely you’d follow protocol if you were in my position.”

Just remember: You should not explain everything all at once. Instead, sprinkle in the explanation throughout the story so that your characterization builds from beginning to end. The reader will continue to learn about your characters and their complexities, making the read all the more sweeter.

Complexity. And speaking of complexities, because the PR story is built on characterization, not action, you should be thinking of your story in layers, like an onion. Once you peel back the surface or superficial aspects of the story – what starts the story, the inciting action, you need to slowly peel back the other layers of the story through exploration of the deeper character traits, motivations, and setbacks. Once the reader knows about the desires of a character, they need to slowly get to know the reasons behind those desires; this is where and why complexities are born, a must in PR. Nothing should be “as is seems” or predictable, and your character can’t be one-dimensional in that they have no depth of character. Thus, the story must then weave together to create complex situations, struggles, near misses, and triumphs. In this way, story then takes center stage to put your characterization to work.

Planning. Psychological Realism requires planning. Though some may be successful at writing a PS story in pantser or planter style, many writers will find planning more suitable for this subgenre due to its required complexities. Creating outlines of chapters, linking plots through notecards, and completing character charts are all ways to help design a complex story that interweaves story, character, and plot beautifully. Use the tools that best help you create the necessary planning you need for your story. You can manually create the tools (documents, notecards, outlines) or use storytelling apps and software (Google: storytelling tools for creative writing).


Since PR is more difficult than other subgenres, I’ve put together some prompts to help you build your skills – and confidence!

Prompt 1: Pick a character flaw and give it to a character (be sure to name the character!). Then create an every day scene; maybe a first date, a conversation with a boss, or a fight with a neighbor. Think of the location, too, say at the library, at the office, or in the park. Now, write the scene focusing on the flaw in two different ways: predictable and unpredictable. What’s the difference between the two scenes? What made the character act unpredictably? How did the flaw help create depth? How much did you need to know the character in order to create the scene? How much deeper do you need to go in order to bring in more complexity?

Prompt 2: Outline the above scene. What are the main points of plot, subpoints? How does plot inform the story? What connections do you see within the scene, between character? Now, create a whole new scene, outlining it first – before writing it. Find ways to connect the scene, story, and characters to create a compelling scene. Once you have an outline you’re happy with, dripping with complexity, write the scene using the outline as your guide.

Prompt 3: Create a character profile by using either the Gotham or Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire. Type your answers in a document or write your answers in a notebook. Ponder the questions before you decide on the final answer. Then, when finished, write a paragraph describing your character. What is the person like?

Prompt 4: Using the character profile, write the plot of a scene that would use the character’s motivations and emotions to progress the story. What does your character want/need? How will they get it? What will stop them? Then, write notes on how you will explain the reasons behind the character’s choices. Now, write the scene, using your notes and planned storytelling devices.


It may be difficult, be I know you can write psychological realism stories! If you’d like some feedback or help in practicing the above, leave a comment for me. I’d be glad to help.

And, if you have a story, poem, or screenplay in this genre, please consider submitting it to THE DARK SIRE.   We would love to read your work, which includes artwork that holds the essence of the psychological and emotional. To submit, visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html.

The Art of Writing Gothic

There is a real art to writing a Gothic story.  A Gothic story is far more complex than horror or fantasy, which I have commented on in earlier blogs.  It takes more creative detail to really bring this genre alive to your reader.  You are not just trying to scare your reader; you are not just trying to immerse your reader in a unique world; you are trying to do both and then some.

Think of the great Gothic writers, especially those that THE DARK SIRE holds up as the ones to be emulated: Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley.  Consider what THEY did.  Their stories consist of moody landscapes, supernatural experiences, and an atmosphere filled with dread.  Poe was a master at creating a gloomy and decaying setting (think Fall of the House of Usher).  Mary Shelley created the ultimate in supernatural beings.  Her Frankenstein monster went beyond nature as it was known then, or now, for that matter.  Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca was set in, for its time, a modern setting, yet her Manderley is as Gothic a setting as you could find this side of Dracula’s castle.

Therefore, when you are planning your Gothic story, you have to consider a gloomy setting; supernatural (strange) beings; curses/prophecies, which include omens, portents and visions; intense emotions; someone in distress; and heroes (the one who solves the mystery or survives the doom).  When you think about it, Gothic, as a genre, merges many elements of Horror.  And because of this, you have to be careful not to fall into horror cliché (e.g., starting a Gothic story with “It was a dark and stormy night…”, or trying to shock readers into being scared). Instead, think about the true meaning of Gothic literature, which has always been about the psychological and mindset of the characters. A good example of this would be Poe’s Tell Tale Heart, Fall of the House of Usher, and The Raven – even Hop Frog. Poe used emotion, psychology, and mood to create his creepy and eerie stories and poems.

Your first step should be to create an eerie atmosphere.  Castle; mansion; old, seemingly haunted house; abandoned theme park… some place that is eerie but not necessarily “spooky”.  There is a fine line between eerie (gloomy, doom) and spooky (scary, shocking).  Someplace too spooky and you have a Horror setting, which you don’t want. That’s why an old graveyard or abandoned building is very Gothic; they are eerie and a little intimidating, giving you chills, but they are making your run in fear. Fear is horror, not Gothic.  Thus, the setting is important because your characters will be forced to react to it. And they can react to it in numerous ways.  They can react to its history.  They can react to its current condition.  They can react to a foreseeable condition.  The mood (e.g., eeriness, creepiness, chilling) of the environment will then dictate how your characters react. 

Your characters are as important as your setting.  Gothic fiction frequently features specific types of characters reacting to the situations in which they have been placed.  You have your hero or anti-hero; hopefully someone that your readers will like.  Then you have your villain.  Think of your villain as the Pied Piper of your story.  He/she/or it is the creature that leads your hero/heroine down their particular dark path.  You can also have a person or thing that needs “saving” (in this case, meaning helped or aided).  Your hero may need to save themselves or their loved one; maybe, they have to save a ghost, a cat, the condemned – their own sanity. And, the saving doesn’t always have to be appreciated.  Maybe the one in distress did not want to be saved.  The action between the hero and the person being saved is the catalyst that allows your reader to feel the pity, sadness, fear and joy of your story.

As a writer of Gothic fiction, you must maintain an atmosphere of gloom, suspense and even terror throughout your story.  This is why writing a good Gothic story is an art.  You have to be a literary juggler within the conventions that define the Gothic.  There is a certain sentimentality in the narration.  Characters are overcome by anger, surprise, and panic, having to cope with raw nerves.   

With that said, be sure not to use the standard clichés of the Gothic.  You will have to think of new ways to describe the howling wind; the blowing rain; doors grating on rusty hinges; sighs, moans, and other eerie sounds.  Gothic is defined by a dark atmosphere that stimulates a reader’s anxiety over the danger in which you have placed your characters, so think of some unique ways – your own ways – to bring that dread to life.


Want to have some fun?  Try this:  Create a Gothic setting (1 paragraph).
Choose a location. It can be a house, castle, whatever. Then, think about what that location looks like, feels like, taking the feel of the location into high consideration. Create the atmosphere into which you will introduce your characters.  Now, brainstorm that feeling by using some adjectives – a list of words is just fine (black, chilly, cold, broken, wet, sweltering). Remember: You are trying to create something mysterious and claustrophobic.  Fill the setting with gloom, mystery and doom.
Choose a time period. What time is it during the story, or what year is it?  Is this a modern location – or not?  Your setting is not just a “backdrop” in which your characters will act.  The setting is a character in and of itself; it influences the characters, actions and thoughts of the story.  Use time as an element to help create the mood of your setting. Now, brainstorm what time of day or year it would be in your story – and add notes as to why and how it would help make the story work. For instance, 12 noon would feel different than, say, 12 midnight; likewise, April 22, 1892 would feel different than October 31, 2001. Adding how time can be used in the story will help you shape the world and mood that your characters reside.
Write a paragraph about your setting. Now that you have brainstormed, collect your thoughts and write one cohesive paragraph about your setting. Where are you? What do your characters see, feel? When are we? What does the time/year look like in this setting. Your paragraph should be concise and flowing, with wonderful imagery so that the reader can imagine it on their own, like viewing a picture. Remember: No cliches. Be original, unique, and yourself.


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.

Do you want more blogs on Gothic writing?
Let us know: darksiremag@gmail.com.

The Creative Nook with Villimey Mist

by Zachary Shiffman

Vampires prowl the night in the Nocturnal series by Villimey Mist; fearsome and glitter-free, just how Bram Stoker envisioned and how we at THE DARK SIRE enjoy them. When I read the first book of the series, Nocturnal Blood, I fell into its world of deadly sharp teeth and complex character dynamics, and I wanted to speak to its author as soon as possible. Enter: The Creative Nook on YouTube with myself and author Villimey Mist!

We began by talking of Mist’s series and her ambitions for it. Mist admitted that it didn’t begin as a series. Nocturnal Blood was supposed to be a standalone novel, but sometimes stories and the worlds within them don’t die easily. There are currently three installments of the Nocturnal series: Nocturnal Blood, Nocturnal Farm, and Nocturnal Salvation, with more to come. We also discussed the intentional absence of romance in the Nocturnal series and how that relates to Dracula, the patriarch of vampiric and gothic texts, as well as the series’ portrayal of mental illness through its protagonist, Leia Walker.

We moved on to discuss Mist’s writing process (which includes a lot of notebooks), as well as her other projects, one of which includes the short story, “The Banquet,” with proceeds from the sale of which go to supporting survivors of sexual assault.

If you have any interest in vampires and gothic literature, which – if you’re a reader of THE DARK SIRE – is likely to be the case, this interview with Villimey Mist is a must-watch!

https://youtu.be/uxiLJw6G5io

World Building and the Art of Fantasy

All of us have our favorite fantasy novels, both High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.  Here at THE DARK SIRE, our favorite, go-to High Fantasy author is J.R.R. Tolkien for his body of work which includes The Lord of the Ring series, the Simarillion, and the Hobbit (just to name a few).  Low Fantasy would definitely include the Harry Potter series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series.  As diverse as all these books are, they have two things in common: 1. Great characterization and 2. Unique worlds in which those characters live.

Characterization deserves a blog all its own and it will get one in the near future.  But, today, I want to delve into the concept of World Building, the chief cornerstone of both High and Low Fantasy.  It’s what makes the genre work.  Without it, your story will crash on the rocks of the readers’ disbelief. 

Simply put, World Building is creating a locale where your story takes place.  A locale that your readers MUST believe in if they are going to believe in your characters. The challenge with World Building is recognizing that your world must function by a specific set of rules.  It is your task, as the author, to establish those rules and map out how your characters will follow them.  The secret is in the details.  Everything – person, animal, or creature – you write about must follow those rules down to the last letter.  This is key in giving your characters a landscape in which to develop. 

Your characters cannot exist in a vacuum.  They have to move, eat, sleep, and perform all the functions that their kind of character must perform to live.  They must have some place real to live.  Not real in our every day existence, but real to them.  And since your story’s world may be different than your readers’ world, it is your job to make the reader understand how your characters can function in a realm that the reader could not.

Think about questions that could guide your world building:

What are the conflicts in your created world?  Does it only rain once every six months?  Are there other species of humanoids and do they require a special environment to survive and if so, can different kinds of humanoids survive in each other’s environments? How do your characters communicate?  Are there different languages?  What do your characters need to do to understand one another?  What is the landscape in which your characters live?  Do different characters need different landscapes? 

Then, set up the boundaries.  Who is in charge?  Do they use magic like in Harry Potter?  And if so, who gets to use the magic, and can others see it?  What is the tone of the atmosphere?  Is this a dark and stormy place or bright and sunny; or is it a landscape covered in ice? 

Define the culture.  What do your characters believe in?  Is there a religion?  Are there several religions? What are the sacred customs?  What is the history of your characters’ interactions? Is there war, peace, tension between peoples? What is the culture’s folklore and mythology?

Don’t forget to use all five of your senses when creating your world.  You need to make your reader feel as if they are right there standing next to your characters – experiencing everything, feeling what they feel, smelling what they smell.  They need to viscerally inhabit your world no matter how fantastical it is.  Your world needs to feel real and functional to someone who could literally not function in it.

Remember, this is a fantasy world created by you, the author.  You need to know how it all functions and be able to pass that knowledge on to the reader without being didactic. Most importantly, you will have to guide the reader seamlessly through your world without breaking the tone or pace of the story. Any note of straying from the story, just to explain an aspect of your world (exposition) will distract the reader – and that’s game over for your story.


Here are a couple of exercises to help you along the creative way:

  1.  Interview your main character.  Ask them questions.  Get to know how they will react to the environment/problem that you have created for them.
  2. Map out your world. What does everything look like? What is where in this new world?
  3. Write a paragraph on each type of being used in your story. List the attributes of the peoples in each group: appearance, language, fighting abilities, magical abilities, spiritual abilities, clothing, food, shelters/lodgings.
  4. Describe the places in your world either to a friend or in a journal. What’s the scenery, weather, animals like? Be detailed in your descriptions so that a person can imagine it in their own thoughts.
  5. How will your story end?  Write the final page.  What are you going to have to do in this created universe of yours to get your main character to that point? Who or what will your character have to face? Are these obstacles part of the world building? Describe them in detail.
  6. Now that you know how your story will end, how will it begin?  What incident starts your main character on his/her/its path of self-discovery? What will your main character reveal on page one that will make your reader want to turn to page two? And most importantly, how will you convey your world building without heavy-loading exposition? For help on this one, read the first few pages of Tolkien’s The Hobit.

We would love to see what you can do.
Show us your world building in the comments!


We’re always looking for good, high-quality fantasy short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays. If you have a piece ready for publication, please submit it. 

Making Vampires Scary Again

Vampires are no longer scary.  In last week’s blog, I traced the path that has led us down this unforgivable (to a horror fanatic) chain of tales to the situation now where a vampire is merely another angst-ridden young adult feeling marginalized by the society around them.  The Cullens (Twilight Saga) are almost the kind of people you would like to have dinner with (as long as you are not the main course).  You feel sorry for Gary Oldman’s Dracula because he is doing everything for LOVE.  Vampires seem to be only dangerous to other vampires.  The Originals was nothing more than a vampire version of Dynasty.

What would it take to make vampires scary, again?  Well, first of all, they would have to lose the “good-guy” image.  From ancient Mesopotamia 6000 years ago, until relatively recently, vampires were monsters.  They were the top of the food chain and humans were their prey.  We need to make vampires monsters again.

Granted, this poses a problem.  It’s going to call for a new mindset, or, rather, a mindset that returns to values held by previous generations.  It calls for a delineation between good and evil, a realization that some things are black and white with no shades of gray.  Evil in any form cannot be explained away.  You need to FEAR evil.  Vampires were once the epitome of evil.  They killed without remorse then desecrated the dead by having imbibed the blood of their victims.  They were a power that the average person could not overcome.  You needed specialized knowledge and specialized weapons to stop the vampire dead in its tracks.  (Pun intended.)

But above all, vampires need to recapture the unpleasant emotions linked to danger: pain and extreme harm.  The people in the stories need to be running away from the vampire and not running to it.  Some of those people will have to die and die horribly in order to get the point across of just how evil a vampire is.  And that will make your vampire hunters all the more heroic, because with a totally evil vampire comes a true definition of heroism (another concept we are short on, in this day and age.)

The hero is as much a folkloric character as is the vampire; in a sense, you can’t have one without the other.  He or she is the person who steps in the gap to fight a battle that they have no chance of winning in order to protect people that they sometimes don’t even know.  They recognize that it is their duty, their calling, their fate, if you will, to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.  I am not talking about some screaming virgin tossed into a volcano to appease an angry god, or a young maiden tied to a stake to be eaten by a dragon or scooped up by the likes of King Kong.  I am talking about someone who walks towards the danger knowing that they might not be walking back. 

A scary vampire story is metaphor for good vs. evil.  Once upon a time, we believed in Evil.  Various religions even gave it a name.  We even celebrate a holiday (Halloween) which began as festival to keep evil at bay.  Now, it’s just a night for children to get candy and dress up.  We have forgotten that people were scared in real life and wanted relief from the horrors of world events.  Horror, then, is an escape from reality.  But what scares us now? 

To make a vampire scary again, an author needs to discover what scares us today, and embody that in the vampire character.  The author needs to make the reader sitting at a table at their favorite coffee shop look over their shoulder and wonder about the person sitting behind them.  Is it safe to leave your table?  Is it safe to walk to your car?  Do you need to look into the backseat before you get in, even though you know it’s empty (or supposed to be)?

With all the social issues of the 21st-Century, it would be easy to play on real-life horror to embody a vampire’s evil nature.  Vampires have, after all, been used as metaphor for drug addiction and substance abuse, physical trauma, the outsider, immigration laws and policies, and so much more. Why not use the vampire to reflect our present-day issues, like human trafficking, opioid addiction, the pandemic, governmental greed, immigration, racism, women empowerment, the dysfunctional family unit, religion or lack of religion, and tolerance? Any one of these topics is a sensitive topic in today’s society, and thus important to us – global humans. By embodying the vampire with the evil traits of these devastating issues, we can reflect society, use vampire as metaphor, and fill the vampire with dread once again, the evil necessary to make vampires scary again.

For anyone interested in writing scary vampire stories, focus on the thought that vampires need to recapture the feeling of dread. Dread: to anticipate with great apprehension or fear.  When you really dread something, you get weak at the knees and there is a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You do not want to confront or have anything to do with what is making you feel that way.  At its very essence, dread makes you want to flee, and as quickly as possible.  Your characters are going to have to dread the presence of the vampire.  Even the people hunting it are going to have to overcome their basic primal fears of being eaten alive just to go up against one. And the most dreadful fact of all is that some won’t survive.

So, what is going to be the new evil?  Here in The Dark Forest, we would love to know.  What do you think needs to happen for vampires to regain their horror and fear factor?  Do you have a favorite vampire character that still gives you chills or goosebumps?  Share your thoughts in the comments below to let your voice be heard. We’re listening!


A challenge to writers, poets, and artists: THE DARK SIRE is looking for vampire tales that bring back the scary vampire. Submit your evilest vampire short stories, novellas, poems, art, and screenplays for inclusion in Issue 9 – our 2nd year anniversary issue! Simply visit darksiremag.com/submissions.html. Together, we can strike fear in our readers, one page at a time.

Dark Chances Contest: Winners Announced

by Bre Stephens

The Dark Sire and Second Chances Lit teamed up to bring the writing community a fun-filled writing contest that held horror close to the chest. The theme was “second chances” in all its interpretations. There were many entries for this swag contest, but only three writers could win.

Among my personal favorites, Juno Dufour’s O, Fortunato struck a gothic cord with a truly unique interpretation of the “second chances” theme; Allison Miehl’s Let Sleeping Dogs Lie pitched an emotional curveball; Marie Kelly’s Bury Me in My Dreams hit a home run in psychological horror and mental health awareness; Connor Pope’s Hand in Hand, Dear Sister conjured chills in all the right places through amazing word choice and description; Matthew Hisbent’s Hearts of Darkness tore into the flesh – literally – to escape with a second chance; and Liam Hogan’s Sirens had a twist not expected.

Though all the stories had a fresh take on the theme and were masterfully written, only three authors could rise to the top. And without further ado, I’d like to congratulate the WINNERS of the Dark Chances Contest:

1st Place
Mario Aliberto III
Rescue Me

The water rushed into her mouth, cold, filling her up. Above, sunshine broke upon the ocean’s surface. The man splashed through, blotting out the light. Handsome, strong, swimming towards her. Reaching.

She fell deeper, but in the ocean, it was not called falling. Diving, yes, the man would call it that. But to lure a man it had to look like falling.

His eyes saying, I will save you.

A strong swimmer. When he grabbed her wrist, she grabbed his back. Then she released the breath she was holding, air bubbling up from her neck gills, before falling—diving—deeper.

Bio: Mario Aliberto III lives in Tampa Bay with his wife and daughters, and yet the dog still runs the house. Twitter: @marioaliberto3.


2nd Place
Jenni Meade
Hang Him High

It has rained for days, drops falling on me from the sky, from branches heavy with rot, from his bloated fingertips. My clothes are as ragged as the hope that led me to replace his noose with a chain. Thunder rumbles; prayers rise. 

I kiss his bare ankle. All I need is one strike. The wind howls in fury at my obstinance. 

The crack rends the night—the tree—his limb sunders, the dead of tree and dead of man falling at my feet. 

Neither of us breathes.

“Wake up,” I whisper. 

His hand convulses, cold and pale and alive, alive, alive—

Bio:   When Jenni Meade isn’t writing, she’s either running a construction company, making pork dumplings, or chasing a feral child. When Jenni Meade is writing, she is the feral child. She can be found on Twitter (@jmeadeski) or online at jennimeade.com.


3rd Place
James Hancock
The Chamber

Had I a tongue, I might beg for mercy.  But I know my fate; there would be no second chance.  My room stinks of blood and sweat, and had I eyes to see, the dancing candlelight would show the shadowy form of my keeper.  He who scrubs the rack clean as I fumble in the darkness.  My waist chained tight, forcing me to stand, and pain stabbing with every shallow breath.  I paw with broken fingers, feeling the cold metal walls of my upright coffin.  Eagerly, he approaches and the door before me slams shut.  I succumb to the maiden.

Bio: James writes stories which are a little bizarre, often dark, and somewhat twisted. He lives in England with his wife and two daughters and their many pets. Follow him on Twiiter: @JimHank13.


CONGRATULATIONS to these amazing writers! I enjoyed your work tremendously. Aliberto grabbed and pulled me under the water; Meade left me wanting more, more more; and Hancock delivered a powerful THUD! that echoed in my mind when the chamber closed. Powerful imagery, great description, and a ride filled with adrenaline – that is what these authors delivered. And I was here for it all!


Are you ready to submit to THE DARK SIRE? We’re always looking for short stories, poetry, art, and now screenplays in the subgenres of gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism. To submit, visit: darksiremag.com.

The Dark Sire presents The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature

New Philadelphia, OH— Tuesday, May 4, 2021 — The Dark Sire Literary Magazine (TDS) has been in search of ways to further uplift writers, poets, and artists. More than just a publish-and-done process, the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Bre Stephens, wishes to do what most magazines do not: go “beyond the page.” This motto has transformed the magazine into a beacon of opportunity for creatives, and thus Stephens continually searches for ways to uplift creatives beyond the black-and-white page.

The next step in going “beyond the page” is creating an opportunity for creative writers, poets, and screenwriters to join a professional writers association by way of winning a major writing contest. Any horror writer who wins a $25 cash prize and publication from a writing contest is eligible to join the Horror Writers Association (HWA; horror.org). Although TDS already runs a small all-encompassing free contest, Stephens wanted to introduce a much bigger contest that would center on one particular genre. The first of four writing contests to be introduced is the Gothic.

After deciding on the Gothic genre, Stephens then searched for the right candidate to be the face of the contest, and by being the face would give the contest its name. “I wanted someone with the respect of his community and preferably an educator with a literary background. The ideal candidate would be able to contribute to the judging of the contest, as well, so a creative writer and/or screenwriter was a must.” According to Stephens, it was not difficult to find the right person with the right heart. “Jon Meyers embodies everything that this contest stands for: equality, inclusion, advancement of literature, the uplifting of creatives, the progression of careers. He is an educator who has the respect and loyalty of his students and colleagues and thus understands the true meaning of selfless giving and leading by example. It was icing on the cake that Jon also had a keen literary sense.” In fact, Jon Meyers not only is a screenwriter but also a US Moderator at Into the Script, UK’s foremost online screenwriting advice/writing craft hub. In addition, he is a screenwriting panelist for LitCon in New York, where he has been named the 2022 Literary Fiction Genre Manager.

The new writing contest will take Jon Meyers name, officially called The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature (The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, for short). Meyers was humbled by his selection as the face of the contest. “What an honor it is to be asked to judge at an annual literary contest named after me. I’m actually amazed we were able to work out an agreement in one day. Bre Stephens handled the entire process smoothly and professionally. It’s an interesting choice to have me judge. Gothic Lit isn’t known for its comedy, but I guess I am. I’m fairly well-known for my upbeat positive energy, not normally traits ascribed to Gothic Lit. Must be all the black I wear.” The humour Meyers touches on comes from the 18th and 19th centuries when Gothic authors crafted literary works by using aspects of the comedic fool and, in greater extent, the art of wit. It is the latter that will be emphasized in the works submitted for the Jon Meyers Gothic Prize.

The Jon Meyers Dark Humour Prize for Gothic Literature will officially open for submissions in September, running the whole month, with the winners announced in October – just in time for Halloween and The Dark Sire’s 2nd Anniversary celebration. Winners will be awarded a cash prize (1st place – $60, 2nd place – $25, and 3rd place $15) and publication by TDS; the top winners will be eligible for HWA membership, a step in advancing their professional writing careers. In-depth submission guidelines will be announced in August. However, writers can begin crafting their gothic tales now. The contest will accept adult short fiction (500-7k words), poetry (1-3 pages), and short scripts (5-12 pages). Works must use dark humour and Gothic storytelling devices/elements and can include monsters, creepy crawlers, werewolves, vampires, supernatural phenomenon, ghosts, and castles; witches, sci-fi, cosmic, or weird elements will not be considered at this time. Those who wish to delve deeper into what dark humour in Gothic literature is can read Amanda Drake’s 2011 dissertation for University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the brainchild for this contest: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1063&context=englishdiss

To stay informed about The Jon Meyers Gothic Prize, follow @DarkSireMag on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as save the TDS contests page. More information coming in August.

The Creative Nook with Barry Pirro

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

The Dark Sire has paired up with Barry Pirro, ghost hunter and paranormal investigator, to bring you a new series of articles, “REALITY MEETS FICTION.” Barry will be sharing his real-life paranormal stories with you every 4th Friday of the month. His first story is on Shadow People, coming this Friday, April 23. But for now, it is our pleasure to introduce you to the man behind the real-life stories, through an interview with the paranormal expert. Sit back and relax as we delve into the investigative world of the paranormal.

TDS: What attracted you to collaborate with The Dark Sire literary magazine?

Barry Pirro: I’m a paranormal investigator, so I’ve been to every type of haunted location you can imagine–private homes, historic buildings, businesses, cemeteries, outdoor locations, you name it. I’ve seen ghosts with my own eyes, seen objects move of their own accord, and I’ve recorded the voices of spirits on my digital recorders. But my experiences pale in comparison to those of the people who actually live in a haunted house. Their experiences are ongoing, and while some of them might sound downright bizarre–they’re true.
            I’m really excited to be collaborating with The Dark Sire because these stranger-than-fiction paranormal experiences that I write about are the perfect source of inspiration for horror fiction writers. Some of the best fiction is based on fact, so I’m sure that horror writers will have a field day incorporating some of the more unusual paranormal phenomena into their works.
            The Japanese, for example, believe that there are different classifications of ghosts. There is the Funayūrei, the ghosts of those who died at sea. These seabound spirits are often depicted as scaly, fish-like humanoid creatures who sometimes resemble mermaids or mermen. Or take the Zashiki-warashi, the mischievous ghosts of children. Just imagine the horror stories that a writer could build around these mysterious entities.

TDS: What does “Reality Meets Fiction” mean to you?

Barry Pirro: Reality meets fiction is obviously not a new style of writing. There are countless examples of authors who have based their main characters on real people. Oscar Wilde based the character Dorian Grey on a real person, John Grey who was a poet, translator, and priest. Truman Capote practically invented the genre of the nonfiction novel when he wrote In Cold Blood. So why should horror fiction be any different?

TDS: How do you think the real experiences you’ve encountered can inspire writers, artists, and photographers?

Barry Pirro: I’m sure that horror writers are hungry for unusual topics, and true paranormal stories can provide an almost endless source of macabre material. People have reported seeing mysterious doppelgangers, inky black shadow people, unspeakably horrific looking demons, and the ghosts of loved ones. They describe seeing floating apparitions, solid looking people who suddenly vanish into thin air, and ghosts who leave a room by walking straight into walls. My clients have reported seeing cryptid creatures skulking in the shadows of their backyards, and black apparitions with red, glowing eyes roaming the hallways of their homes. There are chilling Ouija board stories and tales of haunted objects being brought into homes that end up causing havoc. In the hands of a skilled writer, any one of these topics can be woven into a truly terrifying horror story. I can’t wait to see the horror fiction that contributors to The Dark Sire come up with after reading my true paranormal stories.

TDS: Do you think your experiences with the paranormal are effective examples of “Reality Meets Fiction?”

Barry Pirro:  My own experiences are the perfect example of reality meets fiction. The saying “you can’t make this stuff up” really applies to most of the cases I get involved in.

TDS: What can you share that could help/inspire others to be more receptive to the spiritual world around us?

Barry Pirro: Although I can sense spirits–and I often pick up very specific information while conducting an investigation, such as suddenly blurting out the name of someone who died in the house–I don’t have any special intuitive gifts. Everyone is intuitive, they just don’t know it. Anyone can be more attuned to the spirit world. The secret? Stop blocking it! If you walk into a room and you feel uneasy for no particular reason, don’t push it away. Get in touch with that feeling. Allow yourself to feel it, and allow images to come to you. Don’t consider it as just your imagination. Start to voice your impressions and see if any of them make sense.

TDS: Do you have a sense that more and more people are accepting that the spiritual world is a reality? More believers now than in the past?

Barry Pirro: There are far more believers in the supernatural than there were a decade ago, and people are more open to talking about their experiences. Even celebrities are opening up about their ghostly encounters. These include Keanu Reeves, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Helena Bonham Carter, Kate Hudson, and Matthew McConaughey to name just a few.


We look forward to hearing Barry’s stories unfold in explicit detail. Don’t forget, his first article on Shadow People will be right here in The Dark Sire this Friday, April 23 at 11 AM (EST). Then join us again every 4th Friday of the month for more fun-filled eeriness.

Those inspired to create gothic, horror, fantasy, or psychological realism short stories, poems, and art should consider submitting their work to The Dark Sire for publication. Works based on the “Reality Meets Fiction” series will be given special consideration.

If you have any questions for Barry, please comment them below. But, if you want to learn more about him and his investigations, simply visit his website: ConnecticutGhostHunter.com. Until we meet again, happy hauntings!

Reality Meets Fiction

by Maureen Mancini Amaturo

Introducing REALITY MEETS FICTION, a new addition to The Dark Forest blog.

To kick off our Spring issue (launching April 30) and to honor the lore, legends, and influence of all things gothic, The Dark Sire will spotlight the continuing fascination gothic holds in the contemporary world by sharing experiences from modern life that mirror the haunting nature that defines gothic. To unveil our series of dark, true stories, we are honored to partner with well-established, highly respected paranormal investigator, Barry Pirro.

Ghost hunting since the age of 12, and professionally for almost 20 years, Barry has encountered the unimaginable, unexplainable, and unholy first-hand. “There are particular physical sensations you get when you are in a haunted house, areas that feel off or make you feel ill. Names pop into your head for no reason. You experience sudden pains in parts of your body, or you suddenly feel very hot or cold. The tools I use are for the benefit of the homeowner. They corroborate or expand on what my intuition is telling me.” The tools in his “ghost bag” are remarkably low-tech: digital recorder for EVP (electronic voice phenomena), EMF (electro-magnetic field) recorder, camera, and a vibration sensor, not unlike what pet owners may use to keep a cat off the couch. Barry not only conducts investigations but also does clearings. “A clearing attempts to rid a house of negative energy and encourages spirits to vacate the premises.”

Now, Barry will be sharing true stories from his experiences in all their eerie, mysterious details. Every 4th Friday of the month, one of Barry’s articles will be available to read. He will discuss Shadow People in his first article, out this Friday, and then for May he’ll discuss demons. You’re not going to want to miss it!

Writers and artists: Since truth is stranger than fiction, what Barry has to tell will be as inspirational as it is fascinating. Could reality inspire fiction? We hope so, as that’s the goal of the “Reality Meets Fiction” series. Imagine the stories, poems, and images lurking in the dark waiting for a bite of inspiration. Write a fictional piece based on Barry’s real-life encounters and then submit it to The Dark Sire for special publication consideration. And, if you have a non-fiction story to tell that aligns with Barry’s paranormal series, send it directly to the EIC of TDS by emailing darksiremag@gmail.com. Your story may be published on The Dark Forest blog, too.

Barry’s book on his life as a paranormal investigator that features expanded stories and experiences is forthcoming, and we will keep you posted on when it’s available. Until then, look forward to the articles that Barry will write for The Dark Forest. And if you’re hungry to find out more about this paranormal expert, be sure to visit his website: connecticutghosthunter.com

EXTRA, EXTRA!
As an extra treat, I’ve interviewed Barry about his collaboration with The Dark Sire, which will appear on The Dark Forest blog tomorrow. Watch for The Creative Nook with Barry Pirro beginning at 11 AM (EST).

What supernatural experiences have you had? What subjects do you hope Barry will write about? Have you already written fiction based on reality? Tell us about your stories in the comments below.