Friday, January 4, 2019

[Link] Writing with a day job

by Andrea Judy

Most of the writers I know manage some kind of a day job for at least 40 hours a week, but sometimes a lot more than that, as well as all of their writing projects. It can be really hard to figure out ways to manage that and in my case, I don't even have a spouse or kids to complicate my schedule further. What I want to share today are some tips and tricks I’ve found to help manage my energy while spending my day working.

1. Taking a serious look at what my schedule actually looks like.

I know that it may sound a little silly but actually conceptualizing the times that you are committed to anything related to your day job is vital. If your commute is an hour in the morning then you probably can't try and squeeze in an extra 45 minutes of writing without sacrificing some major sleep. If your job allows for remote working then maybe you can easily fit that in first thing in the morning.

Know the reality of your job: do you actually get to take a lunch break where you could write? It's a really vital part of figuring out what times are even available for you to write. Know when the busy seasons are for your day job. If you work in financials than the end of fiscal year is probably going to be a really stressful time for you. By knowing that, you can try to mitigate the number of projects or external creative due dates you have during that time. Be aware of the most stressful times in your job if it follows a pattern like that and try to work around them.

2. What are your priorities? 

Figuring out what projects are the most important to you can really help make sure that when you do you have time to work on your creative endeavors you actually know what to work on. For a long time, I spent a lot of energy spinning my wheels trying to figure out what project I was even supposed to be working on or wanted to work on next. I lost a lot of time by not having my priority set. Now I know what projects I have coming up and what projects I really want to accomplish. It really helps make sure that the limited time I do have is used well.

Read the full article:

Thursday, January 3, 2019

[Link] It’s All About Writing: Point of View

Authors Kristi Bradley, Pat Sawtelle, and Allan Gilbreath provide insight into the point of view and how it affects your writing with this seminar.

Want to learn more about writing? Check out the other videos on the YouTube Dark Oak Press and Media / It’s All About Writing Channel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Nugget #147-- Big Rock Candy Writer

Any time can be a good time to reinvent yourself
as a writer, but do so only when it's time to grow
into that new you. Change for the sake of change
is like using turpentine instead of sugar in a
recipe for rock candy. Yuck.

Friday, December 28, 2018


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to present “Mark Justice’s The Dead Sheriff – Cannibals & Bloodsuckers.”

Before his death in February 2016, radio personality turned pulp writer, Mark Justice wrote “The Dead Sheriff,” a weird western that merged his love of both horror fiction and cowboy movies. Last year Airship 27 Productions proudly produced a new edition of that one and only book. Later, it was learned that Mark had actually begun a second book featuring the creepy lawman and his Indian companion, Sam. After reading the partial manuscript, fellow pulp scribe Ron Fortier volunteered to complete the tale with Mark’s widow, Norma Kay Justice, giving her approval.

“It’s always intimidating to pick up a story from another writer,” Fortier confesses. “At first I’d thought I would find someone else to take the job and I’d merely edit. Instead, while reading through Mark’s original section, it became all to clear to me that we shared the same kind of quirky black humor. In the end, I knew it would be up to me to finish this over-the-top adventure. Now I leave it to Mark’s fans to say if I got it right.”

Starting only months after the conclusion of their first adventure, Sam and journalist, Richard O’Malley, along with the Dead Sheriff, find themselves battling twisted cannibal brothers, a traveling bordello of vampire prostitutes and a demon from hell. Can even the Dead Sheriff survive this Trio of Terror?  Returning to the series were artists Zachary Brunner (cover) and Art Cooper (interior illustrations) with Art Director Rob Davis on book design. This new book also features a special post-script by Mrs. Norma Kay Justice.

So get ready to saddle up for some truly wild and hair raising adventure, pulp fans, as the Dead Sheriff rides again!


Available now at Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Holiday Re-Runs -- Favorite Holiday Movies

What are your favorite holiday movies? -- Anonymous

This is going to have to be a list. Sorry.

In no particular order...

Die Hard
The Bishop's Wife
Batman Returns
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Trading Places
Christmas in Connecticut
White Christmas
Holiday Inn
Nightmare Before Christmas
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Muppet Christmas Carol
Santa's Slay
Silent Night, Bloody Night
The Hebrew Hammer
A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott)
Die Hard II
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Edward Scissorhands
Home Alone (only the first one)

And the ones topping the list:
Rare Exports
It's A Wonderful Life
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (sue me, it's TV)
The Little Drummer Boy (ditto)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (yep)
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

Merry Christmas, and God bless us, everyone!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Holiday Re-Runs -- Favorite Holiday Stories?

What's your favorite Christmas story? Why?

Well, like in most things I can't pinpoint down to a single favorite, so I'll have to do a list of my top three.

1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess

I tell my family and friends all the time this is the second greatest redemptive story for the holidays. Everything in this story hinges on the moment when every Who down in Whoville (the tall and the small) comes out to sing the joy of Christmas in spite of their missing tinsel and presents. (Which incidently is why I don't like the live-action movie version. It totally changes the mood Ted Geisel was aiming for.)

2. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

One of the most beautiful, most sacrificing love stories every told. Period. The first time I read this I felt sad that the lovers would lose their cherished possession, but each reading since makes me happy for them to have found such love for each other that values the stuff so little ultimately in order to focus on the loved one instead.

3. The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson

There's a tragic beauty to this incredibly sad story. If I can ever capture the pathos of tragedy in a story as well as Anderson does in this tale, I'll not have written a single word in vain.

For more fun Christmas tales, visit:

Friday, December 21, 2018



From out of the Wild West, gun on his hip, song on his lips, returns a historic hero of the silver screen in brand new stories. THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE BUCKAROO is now available in print and digital formats from Pro Se Productions.

Portrayed by singer/actor Herb Jeffries, The Bronze Buckaroo, Bob Blake, appeared on screens in 1939 as the first African American singing cowboy. Cast in the mold of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, The Buckaroos’ films had one major difference. They sported largely African American casts and were produced by African American companies. With four films usually listed as the Buckaroo’s legacy, this truly great moment in cinema history has been largely forgotten, except for film experts and fans of great stories. THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE BUCKAROO features Robert J. Randisi, John Lutz, Gary Phillips, Christopher Alan Chambers, Frankie Y. Bailey, Michael Gonzales, and Percy Spurlark Parker, each giving their own take on the most unique Singing Cowboy to ever ride into a theater! Load your sixguns, saddle up, and get ready to charge into two-fisted matinee movie action with THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE BUCKAROO!

With a rip-roaring cover and logo design by Jeffrey Hayes and print formatting by Marzia Marina and Antonino Lo Iacono, THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE BUCKAROO is available now at Amazon and Pro Se’s own store for 11.99.

This unique anthology celebrating one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets is also available as an Ebook, designed and formatted by Lo Iacono and Marina for only $2.99 for the Kindle. The book is also available on Kindle Unlimited, which means Kindle Unlimited Members can read for free.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions’ Director of Corporate Operations, Kristi King-Morgan at

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Writing Holiday-Themed Fiction: What Works and What Doesn't?

Okay, writerly types, I've decided that in spite of my busy schedule this season, we are NOT going to let the holidays slide by without at least ONE writer's roundtable for the blog. 

It's as open-ended as questions can come...

What makes a holiday story work?

(If you need to be specific, you can tell me whether or not it needs a "moral" or it must be drenched in holiday decor or can be peripherally Christmas -- like Die Hard. Your call.)

I.A. Watson: New Year is probably the most popular specific time of year for pulp fiction. That’s when Honest Jack Action huddles in the corner of a smoky bar, lost in the booze and the past, almost oblivious of the classy dame shimmying towards him. It’s exactly when Dr Destructo intends to set off his Mindworm Devices to conquer the Earth. It’s when Vic Valiant has to chase the villain across the snowy rooftops while Big Ben tolls midnight and the fuses burn down around the Commissioner’s daughter.

Christmas is a competitor too, because it’s fun to juxtapose those warm log fires and yellow-lit interiors with the bleak blizzard outside, and dark deeds seem that much darker against a cosy yuletide backdrop. But even Christmas can’t match the pulpy power of the year ending and a new one starting for good or ill.

Most stories set on Earth either ignore the season or generalise. Maybe the weather had to be bad for plot reasons, or there’s a specific season for a pathetic fallacy; falling leaves are excellent for that, and so is frozen earth (especially round graves). But I’m hard pressed to think of any story that takes place on New Year’s Eve or at Christmas by accident.

That’s because fiction has to be more believable than real life, and because writers need to focus their readers on only those things relevant for the story they have to tell. In the same way that the hero doesn’t bump into a neighbour who’s on his way to the laundry and get into a chat about his maiden aunt’s lumbago unless it fiendishly turns out to be somehow plot-relevant in the end, so remarkable weather and notable times of day distract from the story and are thus omitted.

For example, how would “Farewell, My Lovely” been improved by Christmas trees? In what way would “The Problem at Thor Bridge” have been bettered by occurring at New Year? Any stories accidentally happening at Easter, Hallowe’en, or any solstice or equinox are simply impossible.

That’s because some holidays and some extreme weather forms are so distinctive that they have a narrative pull all of their own. New Year’s Eve can never be a neutral backdrop. The characters simply have to react to it or seem unrealistic. Unless the hero spends a moment with his old regrets or the villain is motivated by a burning resolution to wreak vengeance before the calendar turns, the time seems like a distraction, a nagging plot thread that doesn’t fit. If it’s New Year, or Christmas, or thunder storming, or blizzarding, or a heatwave then it has to either be plot relevant or mood-setting. Literary convention insists on no less.

On the other hand, stories that do avail themselves of readers’ expectations of an intimate family Christmas or of the countdown to the next millennium have a powerful tool. The problem is it’s a much-used tool. If the writer wants to present a Christmas ghost story then the Ghost of Dickens Past peers over his shoulder. Any fictional teens who decide to spend a night making out in the old abandoned mansion on Hallowe’en must beware cliché as much as the mad old groundkeeper. And archvillains about to launch the New World Order as the year turns had better book their place in the rota early, because there’ll be a queue.

As the new year approaches, we ignore the fact that our calendar is somewhat arbitrary and take the opportunity to reflect upon joys, sorrows, and sins past, upon achievements and failures, upon lost friends and precious memories. We’re also drawn to the future, to hopes or fears for the days ahead, to new resolutions, to changes that the coming days must mark. New Year is a birthday that the whole world shares, with similar celebrations and self-analysis. And so it is for our characters, with all the dramatic potential that offers. A writer’s challenge is to use the setting as skilfully as any other pulp trope – the driving rain, the teeming railway platform, the unrelenting desert heat, the funeral of a friend etc – and make that countdown… count.

Let the world tremble. The hour comes!

Sarah Lucy Beach: The holiday needs to be inherent in the story in some fashion. Die Hard works because the setting constantly reminds us of the pending holiday. And spending Christmas with his wife and kids is McClane's driving motivation.

Whereas even though the opening of Jurassic World indicates the movie takes place during the Christmas holiday, there is absolutely nothing in the story that requires it to be that season, not in character motivation or in anything they say or do.

It's not so much that a holiday movie has to have a "moral", but rather that the story ought to reflect the nature of the holiday involved, whether it's Christmas, Halloween, or Arbor Day.

Another story that does a good job of weaving the holiday into the story is Coco (using the Mexican Day of the Dead).

Jennifer M. Contino: I have to feel a little choked up at the end with warm and fuzzies.

Andy Sheehan: I've written two Christmas stories and they both carried the same theme: reconnection with loved ones. Die Hard (the greatest Christmas movie ever) has the same theme. You can't have a Christmas movie with the protagonist riding off alone into the sunset.

Curtis Dumal: I'd say most have a character who doesn't like people or Christmas and is generally misunderstood.

Jamais Jochim: It just needs to be tied to the holiday. Batman Returns happens during Christmas, but nothing really ties it to the holiday. On the other hand, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a holiday not just because of Rudolph's job, but also because it ties into the family aspect of Christmas.

Otherwise, there really is no prerequisite for it...

Ron Fortier: I can't answer that question without first stating, I'm a Christian and I believe with all my heart and soul that Jesus came into this world to save us all. That is why we celebrate that holiday.  Now once anyone understands that narrative, it becomes easy to see how it has so many different elements and each can be the focus of the story.  "A Christmas Carol" is all about redemption and understanding what is important in life.  "A Wonderful Life" is about the value every good person in this world and to never forget that simple fact. "A Christmas Story" is about nostalgia for days when families enjoyed the season with all its hectic activity so that at the end, it was about being gathered together on Christmas morning with those you loved the most.

I'm sure you'll get lots of different answers, but honestly, unless it has to do with Christmas, with children, with Santa, with magic, with love and forgiveness and above all else, hope.  It's not a Christmas story.

Heather A. Titus: To me, there’s always a faint wonder and magic around Christmas time. I get a glowing, joyful feeling every time I see a tastefully decorated tree, or Christmas lights, and when my family gathers for hot drinks and cookies. If a holiday story can successfully capture that joy, it’s a win for me.

Stephanie Osborn: I think there needs to be a core focus on the holiday by at least one of the characters, and if there is angst to be had because of the holiday, that ups the ante.

For instance, one of my Division One books is set at Christmas, and one of the two main characters is torn between anticipation and dread -- Christmas was always important to her family, but around a decade or so before the story, her family was killed (murdered) the day before Christmas Eve. She tries to keep up family traditions (given that she's the only survivor by dint of being targeted by the perp to cause max pain), and in fact jumps into celebrating with both feet, but it's hard, because everything she does therefore reminds her of them, and of her losses. Meanwhile, her partner (it's an SF galactic buddy-cop kind of series) has his own issues with the holiday and his personal losses, and as he puts it, while he observes it, he no longer celebrates it. Which, in turn, leads to additional angst for them both, as their respective approaches to the holiday conflict: she wants him to participate in her celebration, he wants to be left alone to grieve his own losses.

So there are actually three different levels of angst over the holiday, between the two protagonists. And all of that is secondary to the main conflict of the book, which is that there is a mole in the agency, but many of the agents think that mole is the female protagonist.

This all seems to end up causing the reader to seriously empathize with the characters, who have thereby become very human, very real people, to opposed to cardboard characters.

Kessie Carroll: I've written exactly one Christmas story, and it was about reconciliation and healing. I had a reader tell me that it was a wonderful picture of grace. I went for the feels, man. All about the feels.

Tom Groh: A conflict which the reader can identify with which is at odds with the overall *spirit of the season... conflict makes story.

Mary Ann Back: I'd have to agree. A story in which a troubled soul finds truth of some sort in the meaning of the season.

Susan Staneslow Olesen: Egads. The Christmas stories that come through the library make me want to retch. I prefer the Die Hard type -- a regular story that takes place at Christmas. I prefer the Christmas stories of James Herriot. Those ghastly, saccharine, diabetes-inducing "inspirational" Xmas romances make me want to scream. I just want a good story, not Lifetime Channel milk of magnesia. "Accidental" stories that take place during the holidays are far more realistic and inspirational than forced tripe.

Davide Mana: A good holiday story, to me, has to check two different boxes.

First check, it has to acknowledge the shared narrative of the holiday -- like, Thanksgiving/family reunions, Christmas/good will etc. While the common elements of the narrative must be there, they do not necessarily have to be front stage (Die Hard is a good example: John McClane is meeting his wife for the holidays, possibly to try and find a way to solve their differences, hence the good will etc.; in a different genre, in Trains Planes, Automobiles, the main character wants to get home and be with his family.) We've all been there, we all can relate, or at least we know that's what's supposed to be. The status quo.

The second check, the story must subvert or flip somehow the shared narrative, introducing an extraneous element (John McClane is on a goodwill mission to bury the hatchet with his lady, instead he gets a building full of terrorists; Steve Martin in Trains Planes Automobiles is lost, away from home, and saddled with a guy he can't stand, and the clock is ticking). The status quo is questioned, menaced, or just plain ignored.

The trick at this point is weaving the two elements together so that thy play against the other. The story pulls us in because we know what's expected of the season's festivities, and then our expectation is subverted, the goal is no longer the original goal. The traditional narrative can be completely derailed (in Die Hard, we end with John's wife punching a guy in the face - not much in terms of goodwill), or reinforced by the ending (in Trains etc, family is extended, people share the holiday). Both choices run the risk of either resulting cheesy or contrived, or too cynical.

But if the storyteller knows how to play his cards, we'll get hooked, and we'll end up associating that particular story to that particular celebration, even if there's lots of explosions, people killed and not a Santa Claus in sight.

Perry Constantine: Nothing. Holiday stories suck.

Tobias Christopher: I like my holiday stories with a twist. Like writing a Dragonball Z parody, only the search is for the 7 magic orbs that can summon Santa for one Christmas wish. The usual holiday clichés are fine, but you have to have fun with them or turn them on their ear.

Erwin K. Roberts: A good story may be built around the Christmas season without really being about Christmas. Case in point Hal Goodwin's The Egyptian Cat Mystery, one of the Rick Brant Science-Adventure series.

Rick and Scotty, who are high school students, go to Egypt on their holiday break to help troubleshoot a new radio-telescope with weird problems. They get into all kinds of trouble. The mystery partly revolves around the question, "Do Egyptian Post Men work extra hard around Christmas?"

Fine story, but only partly related to any holiday. On the other hand, the film Die Hard is heavily related to Christmas Celebrations. Certainly more so than some of the so-called X-mas songs like the one about a guy who gets dumped by his girl on December 26th. Or the guy who runs into his former love on 12-24, but could just as easily be New Years Day, or Labor Day, etc.

I'm not too likely to try a holiday-themed story without having an idea that could only happen on, or around, that specific part of the calendar.

C.E. Martin: I think Robert has the right idea... to be a holiday story, it needs to be a story that couldn't be told without the holiday -- that is, the holiday, or something commonly associated with it, is central to the theme.

Alex Andrew: It would be, in my opinion, a story about characters who are opposite any other time, but they come together in a way that wasn't before, and may not come again, the holidays make it so.

Nancy Hansen:  I had a holiday story in the December 2011 issue of Pro Se Presents. In Of Saints and Angels, I went with a tale about a notorious road agent in a pseudo-1700s setting who returns to her roots to spread a bit of holiday cheer while dodging the men hunting her down. What makes it work is the sentiment of the holiday became an integral part of the mix. The title tips you off that something reverent is included, though it's a pun of sorts based on character names and nicknames. While there's enough action included to please the pulp fans, it also has that rather heartwarming feel that you expect of a holiday story, as you get the see the whys and wherefores behind what lead the main character into the outlaw life she now embraces. The holiday is the backdrop, and that kind of end-of-year reminiscing and catching-up people do is a big part of the tale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Your Writing Time Shouldn't Just Be Leftovers: 5 Tips for Getting Writing Done During the Holidays!

Family get-togethers... But I just want to write...
by Sean Taylor

If you've been writing for any length of time, you know already how difficult it can be to create those magical blocks of time to commit to the actual task of sitting in front of the keyboard and writing. Particularly if you don't do it full-time, and you have to eke out moments of uninterrupted keyboard (or notepad for you Luddites) time.

But then.


B. A. Freakin' M.

Your writing train gets stopped cold by a herd of reindeer that won't move from the tracks. It's the holidays.

And all that little bit of leftover time for creating worlds and heroes and lovers and dragons and magic and dreams suddenly fills up with family events, shopping for gifts, and what feels like a million other things. And what's worse, it's time taken up by good things, so you can feel guilty about still wanting that time with the imaginary when there are so many, once a year good things that need doing. After all, you can get back the desk after New Year's Day, right? That's what resolutions are for, you know.

Bah humbug.

I choose to get grumpy and sulk (at least inside) about how little time I have to write. But how do I fix that and still make time to do that writing thing that we feel so called to do?

The following are only suggestions, and feel free to love them, ignore them, adapt them, or mix and match them with your own. The important thing is that you write... yes, even during the holidays.

School parties for the kids... But my story needs an ending...
1. Express to your family how important your calling to write is. Explain that regard of how much or how little you make from it, it's not a hobby. It's a drive. It's part of who you are. And just like you wouldn't dare ask your mom to step out of the kitchen and not make date-nut balls for the neighbors, you also wouldn't dare not take the time to do the thing that makes you, well, you.

2. Be portable. If you have to do a lot of traveling, take a laptop. Or get a Bluetooth keyboard for your tablet or smartphone. If you have to, write longhand on a notepad or in a notebook. However you do it, write.

3. Take advantage of mornings and evenings. If the family chooses to sleep in during the holidays, get up early, put on a pot of coffee or tea, and use the alone time to put words to paper. Even if it means you have to change your schedule. If they rise early and go to bed early, then flip that plan over to the darker times of evening. Instead of resting in front of the TV or binging Netflix, get in front of your small screen and tell the stories bottled up inside you.

4. If you don't have an inner ear problem or a queasy stomach, use the traveling office and let your significant other drive. (For the record, the traveling office is the passenger seat in your car.) Those hours driving over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house don't have to be lost.

5. Ask for a "Christmas present" of a block of undisturbed hours as one of your gifts during the holidays. You'll save a loved one some money AND pick up some time to put your characters through their paces.

So that's it. And don't worry about your plot notes getting lost. Just hide 'em under the fruitcake. Nobody will ever find them there.

Sunday, December 16, 2018



Sometimes you run into people who change your life for the best even while at their worst, regardless of what star you are circling. Those people are called Bartenders and Pro Se Productions proudly presents an out of this world universe spanning collection featuring stories of the men, women, and beings that man the taverns and pubs on every backwater world and upscale utopia in outer space and beyond. TALES OF THE INTERSTELLAR BARTENDERS GUILD is now available in print and digital formats.

The Future. Humanity has spread through the galaxy, along with innumerable other races and creatures. In the thousands of solar systems that men have reached you’ll find monarchies, dictatorships, anarchies, utopia, dystopia, and utter chaos. But one slightly stumbling thread weaves through every world, every society– The Interstellar Bartenders Guild. As man took the leap out it seems that bartenders had something to do with it. These are stories of how they provided the shove for said leap. There are fistfights, love and lust, exotic bars, drunks, and a Guild Master with a mystery. Most of all you’ll find people- good, bad, lost, found, and somewhere in the middle. Mankind has grasped the stars but the problems that have been around since a thousand year ago are still with them a thousand years from now. Good thing they have the Bartenders of the Guild to help them solve their problems.

Featuring a terrific cover by Antonino Lo Iacono and print formatting and logo design by Lo Iacono and Marzia Marina, TALES OF THE INTERSTELLAR BARTENDERS GUILD is available in print at and on Pro Se’s own store at for $17.99.

This exciting adventure into mixed drinks and science fiction is also available as an eBook formatted by Antonino Lo Iacono and Marzia Marina for the Kindle at for only $3.99. The book is also available to Kindle Unlimited members for free.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, contact Kristi Morgan, Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, at

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Give my friend John hope for the holidays!

I have a friend with Crohn's who is just trying to stay alive while the rest of us are enjoying the holidays. If you follow John online only by reading his comments on my page, you'd never see it because he's such a joker. But underneath those jokes, he needs our love and help. Crohn's care is near and dear to me, as my mom also has it. Luckily, my mom has my dad and my family and good insurance to help her. My friend John doesn't have that network or safety net.

If it helps you support John, every dollar I make from this ebook during the rest of December and January will be donated to his care fund. Get it for yourself. Give it as a gift. But most of all, help my friend stay alive.

Buy the book:

Or you can skip the book and donate directly:

Please help him out if you can.

Thanks and Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 14, 2018

The forecast calls for SNOW in Hardcover! (New from BEN Books)


BEN Books is proud to announce the hardcover edition of SNOW Series 1., Vol. 1 by award-winning author Bobby Nash is now available for purchase online. SNOW Series 1., Vol. 1 collects the first 3 SNOW stories [SNOW FALLS, SNOW STORM, and SNOW DRIVE] together for the first time in hardcover thanks to a partnership between BEN Books and You can purchase the HC edition here.

SNOW Series 1., Vol. 1 is also available in paperback at Amazon. Read it FREE on Kindle with your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Learn more about SNOW:

Learn more about Bobby Nash:

Learn more about BEN Books:

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Watson Report: The Medieval Final Girl

I.A. Watson
by I.A. Watson 

The slasher horror tradition of a monster preying on young women until the last one somehow manages to destroy him is a lot older than schlock cinema.

I refer you to Child’s Ballads, collected in the 19th century but containing folklore going well back into the Middle Ages. It is from Child’s work that we have the oldest known Robin Hood stories, and ballad #4 is a prime example of the sort of predator vs. girl victim story that was a very popular strand of balladeering.

The song is most often called The Outlandish Knight (literally a knight from the outlands, the debatable and turbulent border between England and Scotland where reavers preyed), but it appears in many other forms across Europe, including the English ballads May Colvin or False Sir John, Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, The Gowans Sae Gae, Pretty Polly, and The Water o’ Wearie's Well. Possibly the oldest version is the Dutch folk tale of Heer Halewijn, dated back at least to the 13th century.

Here is the Child version, with interjected comments from me:

    An Outlandish knight came from the North lands,
    And he came a wooing to me;
    He told me he'd take me unto the North lands,
    And there he would marry me. 

There’s a load of medieval romance stories where a mysterious stranger turns up to sweep a young girl off her feet (and into bed). Quite a lot of them don’t end well (c.f. Little Red Riding Hood)

    'Come, fetch me some of your father's gold,
    And some of your mother's fee;
    And two of the best nags out of the stable,
    Where they stand thirty and three.'
    She fetched him some of her father's gold,
    And some of the mother's fee;
    And two of the best nags out of the stable,
    Where they stood thirty and three.
    She mounted her on her milk-white steed,
    He on the dapple grey;
    They rode till they came unto the sea side,
    Three hours before it was day.

Medieval stories of this kind often had cautionary tales woven in, like “wolves may lurk in many guise”. “Beware strangers who encourage you to elope with them and your parents’ money and goods” is right there in the bullseye.

    'Light off, light off thy milk-white steed,
    And deliver it unto me;
    Six pretty maids have I drowned here,
    And thou the seventh shall be.

Yes, he’s a mass-murderer.

This ballad also strays into Bluebeard-type tropes of a husband or lover who disposes of his partner. There is an undercurrent of sexual violence and sexual marital violence in many old folk stories. Perhaps that’s not surprising since European law allowed a man to have sex with his wife at any time he chose, regardless of her consent (a law which was repealed in the UK in the 1970s!); it was legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife, and it was hard for him to be convicted of assault if he claimed he was simply enforcing his conjugal rights.

    'Pull off, pull off thy silken gown,
    And deliver it unto me,
    Methinks it looks too rich and too gay
    To rot in the salt sea.
    'Pull off, pull of thy silken stays,
    And deliver them unto me;
    Methinks they are too fine and gay
    To rot in the salt sea.
    'Pull off, pull off thy Holland smock,
    And deliver it unto me;
    Methinks it looks too rich and gay,
    To rot in the salt sea.'

The victim having to strip is another common element of ballads. We see it again in the traditional versions of Red Riding Hood, where the wolf commands her to take off her garments one by one and throw them in the fire, since she “won’t need them anymore.”

    'If I must pull off my Holland smock,
    Pray turn thy back unto me,
    For it is not fitting that such a ruffian
    A naked woman should see.'

Perhaps she should relieve him of his "sword."
Now we come to the turning point, the equivalent of those movie scenes where a female protagonist uses her gender against her captor. In some variants of this folktale it is the man who removes his garments so as not to ruin them with bloodstains, and turns his back to do so.

    He turned his back towards her,
    And viewed the leaves so green;
    She catched him round the middle so small,
    And tumbled him into the stream.

It’s interesting that in a culture where the heroes were usually male and the heroines were mostly there to be rescued by them there is a whole subculture of women menaced by men who then rescue themselves.

    He dropped high, and he dropped low,
    Until he came to the side, -
    'Catch hold of my hand, my pretty maiden,
    And I will make you my bride.'

In many of the corpus of medieval tales of unfaithful male spouses, or indifferent lovers who have impregnated a girl and then fled, or greedy conmen who have moved on to richer prey, at the point where the abused heroine finally gets the better of her tormentor he undergoes a change of heart, begs her forgiveness, and amends his ways. Most modern readers would probably prefer the heroine to kick him in the balls.

    'Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man,
    Lie there instead of me;
    Six pretty maids have you drowned here,
    And the seventh has drowned thee.'

Here’s the payoff on this most popular version, though. She wins, he dies. Take that Freddy and Jason!

    She mounted on her milk-white steed,
    And led the dapple grey,
    She rode till she came to her own father's hall,
    Three hours before it was day.

That’s the main action, but now we come to a strange codicil. Sometimes in these stories the heroine heads home and nobody ever realises that she has had an adventure. It is an entirely private matter that she attempted elopement, faced betrayal, survived a murder attempt, and killed her tormentor. There’s something cultural in there, but I can’t quite fathom what.

    The parrot being in the window so high,
    Hearing the lady, did say,
'    I'm afraid that some ruffian has led you astray,
    That you have tarried so long away.'
    'Don't prittle nor prattle, my pretty parrot,
    Nor tell no tales of me;
    Thy cage shall be made of the glittering gold,
    Although it is made of a tree.'

 And then we have the bargaining with some creature to keep the whole ordeal secret.

    The king being in the chamber so high,
    And hearing the parrot, did say,
    'What ails you, what ails you, my pretty parrot,
    That you prattle so long before day?'
    'It's no laughing matter,' the parrot did say,
    'But so loudly I call unto thee;
    For the cats have got into the window so high,
    And I'm afraid they will have me.'
    'Well turned, well turned, my pretty parrot,
    Well turned, well turned for me;
    Thy cage shall be made of the glittering gold,
    And the door of the best ivory.'

There is a whole class of medieval tales about young women overcoming murderous suitors, and another about young women seduced by villains and brought to a bad end. The association we often see in horror films where having sex seems to always lead to dying in some horrible manner leads back to this puritanical idea that the non-virgin is more likely to die and deserve it than the chaste girl. Seduction as a precursor to death manifests in many of the oldest fairy tales (again, Red Riding Hood) and we still see the idea today in vampire movies.

The ‘final girl’ facing down the serial killer is a lot older story than we might think.