Monday Musings: How Horrible Do I Have to Be?

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by Kathleen Valentine

As I am working on The Crazy Old Lady’s Secret, Volume 4 in my Beacon Hill Chronicles, I have been thinking about “Horror” and what that label means for fiction writers. Generally speaking the word “horror” alone means genuinely horrible content – vampires/werewolves/zombies, serial killers, brutal massacres – fun stuff like that. But I call my books “psychological horror” and a few readers have questioned me about that. What exactly defines “psychological horror”? In my stories you won’t find any kind of monsters. I have some ghosts — predatory disembodied folks with bad attitudes. I also have a serial killer though that killer isn’t particularly gruesome – most of the kills are bloodless. If you are a reader who wants blood, gore, monsters, etc. you will most likely find my stories lacking. But to me what goes on in the human head and nerves is far more interesting and fraught with potential for horror than getting mauled to death by a supernatural entity. I want my characters to be fearful and I want them to be fearful because their most cherished beliefs and sense of self are what is at stake.

When I wrote The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, I had no idea it would become as popular as it has become. I actually got the idea for the story from an article in the Marblehead Reporter many years ago. When I finished the story (it was originally intended as a short story but grew to novelette length) I honestly didn’t know how to classify it. It was a crime story – sort of, but the crime happened a long time ago. Then a friend read and said, “Poor Mattie, it’s pretty horrible because of what it does to her.” I looked up the definition of “psychological horror” in movies and novels and it said this:

The elements of psychological horror focuses on the inside of the character’s mind. This includes emotions, personality, mental attitude of individuals, where characters are in a perverse situation that includes high-level immorality, inhumane acts, and conspiracies. Psychological horror aims to create discomfort by exposing common or universal psychological and emotional vulnerabilities and fears, such as the shadowy parts of the human psyche which most people repress or deny.

It seemed a perfect definition for what I was writing because there is no murder, nor supernatural beasts, or blood and gore, there is only Mattie’s growing awareness that the person she most loved in the world had done a horrible thing and that what she, Mattie, had thought was a funny and endearing eccentricity was actually a cover for her own immoral and inhumane act. As the truth is revealed, Mattie’s beliefs about her upbringing disintegrate.

At the time I published The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic, I had no intention of writing more about these characters but, because so many people asked about them, I started thinking and, eventually, my thoughts turned into a plot and then into The Crazy Old Lady’s Revenge. Once again I wrestled with how to categorize it. There is murder – a series of murders. There is mis-direction and who-can-you-trust but eventually I realized that once again, the real bottom line was psychological horror; this time for several characters. Mattie’s growing horror as people close to her life start dying. Viv’s horror as she tries to wrestle with her own demons and, ultimately, with what she is capable of. And the killer’s horror at the truth about the past.

As soon as I finished that story I knew there would be a third. The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed has far more supernatural elements in it – several ghosts. But ultimately there is the horror of the immorality and indecency that built the entire foundation of all three stories. Now, writing the fourth, I have ventured into a whole new realm–in this book the horror comes from the fear people have of being exposed, of having their secrets made public–the fear of disgrace.

So, for me psychological horror seems the perfect category for these books. As one story flows into the next, and as each new awareness is unveiled, more and more we see that all the vampires, werewolves, and zombies in the world, can’t hold a candle to the human psyche when it comes to horror.

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Friday Focus: The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall, by Kathleen Valentine

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Whiskey-Bottle-All-300pxlPatrolman Dean Ginther appeared in the doorway of Chief of Police Henry Werner’s office with a peculiar look on his normally-smiling face.

Henry kept his eyes on his paperwork. “What’s up, Dean? Did one of the nuns out-run you when you tried to pull her over?”

Dean stared at him. “Candy Dippold has a guillotine on the sidewalk in front of his store.”

Henry looked up. “What?”

“I just drove past and I swear to God there’s a guillotine right there on the sidewalk. He was talking to a bunch of kids from St. Walburga’s and they were all asking questions about it.”

Gunther Dippold, known locally as Candy because of the endless variety of penny candy he sold in the small market he owned directly across the street from St. Walburga’s Parochial School, was one of Marienstadt’s most interesting citizens.

“Where would anyone get a guillotine?”

Dean shifted uncomfortably. “That’s just it. One of the kids said he made it.”

“Oh, great,” Henry said, standing up slowly. “I suppose I should go over and have a look before the phone starts ringing.”

“It’s really big. It’s kind of scary looking.”

Henry buttoned the top buttons of his shirt and adjusted his tie. “Did you talk to Candy?”

“No. I…” Dean fumbled for words. “I didn’t know what to say. It’s… Well, it’s not the kind of thing you ever think you’re going to run into, is it?”

Henry chuckled. “No, I don’t suppose it is. I don’t remember hearing anything about dealing with guillotines either in the Marines or the police academy.” He took his hat down from the rack and settled it on his head. “You’ve got to admit, Dean, we face unique weaponry in our little corner of the world.”

“Like The Hole in the Woods Gang’s tank?”

“Precisely.” Henry laughed. “Donna, I’m going to take a run over to Candy Dippold’s store.”

“Checking on his guillotine?” she looked up with a smirk.

“How do you know about that?”

“I just got lunch from the Strudel Shop and old Mrs. Hauber was telling Lola about it. She sounded pretty upset. She said to tell you she was coming over to talk to you once she finishes her strudel.”

“Thanks,” he said. All the more reason to get out of the office.

By the time Henry pulled up in front of Dippold’s Grocery there were at least twenty children gathered around what was very obviously a guillotine towering at least twelve feet above the sidewalk.

“Look what Candy made,” one of them yelled when Henry got out of the cruiser.

“Wonderful,” he said to the kid. He walked around the front of the cruiser looking up at the imposing structure as the kids told him all about it – simultaneously and each in his own words.

 

About the book

The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Secrets of Marienstadt, a novel in eleven stories, is set in the fictional town of Marienstadt, a Pennsylvania Dutch community in the Allegheny Highlands. Marienstadt’s vibrant, versatile characters include Father Nick Bauer, the priest who wants to revive local heritage; handsome, sexy Chief of Police Henry Werner; Gretchen Fritz, owner of The Calico Cuckoo Quilting Fabric and Supplies; lovely, elusive strudel artist Lola Eckert; and the huge but reclusive woodsman, Oliver Eberstark. These stories will charm you with their wit, poignancy, and colorful supporting characters including a dance champion turned pig farmer, a nun who runs a snowplow, a shopkeeper building a guillotine, a 17-foot tall fiberglass woodchuck, moonshiners and hippies, woodhicks and chainsaw artists, ladies fighting over dumpling recipes, the multi-generational Winter family, secret identities and secret loves long hidden. Marienstadt and its citizens will tantalize your senses and warm your heart.

About the author

KV-300pxKathleen Valentine was born and grew up in the Allegheny Highlands of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in The Arts and worked for over twenty years in the art/marketing departments of high-tech corporations. Since 2003 she has run her own design business, Valentine-Design.com. She is the author of “Fry Bacon. Add Onions”, a cookbook/memoir of growing up, Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as 4 novels, several novelettes and short story collections, and knitting instruction books. She has been listed as an Amazon Top 100 Author in Horror. Her novellas, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic and Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter were Amazon Top Ten Best Sellers in Horror and Ghost Stories for over 20 weeks.

Visit Kathleen’s

and follow her on Twitter @Kathleen 01930

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Wordless Wednesday: The Bridge Club by Patricia Sands

How far would you go to help a close friend? Is there a place where you might draw the line and simply have to say no? Eight women. Four decades of friendship. One unimaginable request. Where can you find a story about friendship, laughter and … [Continue reading]

Monday Musings: Building Character(s)

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by Kathleen Valentine Readers tell me all the time how much they like many of my characters. They say that they feel like people they could know and have as friends. I'm a firm believer in Ray Bradbury's sage advice to give readers someone to root … [Continue reading]

Focus Friday: A Silent Prayer, by Samreen Ahsan

As I stare out over the city, a sound catches my attention. It’s music, but not the music from the restaurant. It’s magical-sounding. I try to determine where it’s coming from. There is another building connected to this one, sharing the same wall. … [Continue reading]

Wordy Wednesday II

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What to look forward to from your favorite BestSelling authors Samreen Ahsan, author of A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded, is  writing a story about an angel who is sent to Earth on his vacation with a gift of "free will." Seb Kirby is a busy … [Continue reading]

Monday Musings: Cliffhangers

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by DelSheree Gladden This is a topic of some debate among authors and readers, and I’d like to the pose this very question to readers today. I have taken flack at time for the way I end my books from readers and fellow authors alike. Personally, I … [Continue reading]

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Wordy Wednesday: What your favorite bestselling authors are working on

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BestSelling Reads authors are not the kind of writers to just sit back and admire the work they've done. They're all hard at work on new books. Here are a few examples of what you can look forward to over the next few months. Kathleen Valentine is … [Continue reading]

Putting One Word in Front of the Other

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by Kathleen Valentine “E.L. Doctorow said once said that 'Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have … [Continue reading]