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The Castle Ghost—A Cautionary Short Halloween Story for Writers

Several years ago, my friend Bastet posted a Power Short request on her blog, THE 13TH FLOOR PARADIGM. The prompt? A ghost story in 150 words or less. [Image credit: The Writing Spider]

The Releaser’s chalk scraped the stone floors as she etched the complex runes. While mist solidified into a ghostly man clutching a sheaf of papers, she poured salt to complete the binding circle and intoned the formal Release.

“No, I couldn’t possibly leave until I’m done with my Book,” the ghost moaned. “I’m rewriting Chapter Four, Sixteen needs a complete replacement, and I’m just not at all sure about Thirty-One…”

Ghost Writers. They were the worst. The Releaser sighed and pricked her finger. Reaching for his ghostly manuscript, she wrote two words in blood. “The End.”

The ghost sighed, “Thannnnnkkkk…”

“Is he gone?” The castle’s new owner stood to the side, open laptop ready. “Because I’m on a deadline here and I have to get another twenty-thousand words to my editor.”

The Releaser paused as she was about to wipe off the runes and shrugged. She’d be back.

Trick or Treat anyone?

[NOTE FROM BARB: I hope you have a scary-good Halloween. And to get you properly in the spirit, please take a look at these two book reviews, for a frightful mix of blood, mystery, magic, tricks, and the occasional treat.]

Book Review #1: BLURB

Day for Night by Stacey E. Bryan

“What I wasn’t expecting was to turn the corner and find my thirty-something neighbor Annie, eyes open, silent, encased by a cone of light and suspended in midair just inside the doorway. Nope. Wasn’t expecting that at all.”

Wacky, off-beat, delicious, witty, and insightful — all words used to describe Stacey E. Bryan’s hilarious debut novel, Day for Night.

When reality TV star Rae is dumped by her back-stabbing cast mates, she quickly realizes that revenge fantasies and unemployment are the least of her problems after she witnesses an alien abduction in broad daylight. And it doesn’t help that a vampire knocks on her door soon afterward. All Rae wants to do is buy a condo in Hermosa Beach. How can an unemployed wannabe actress save the world…or at the very least, Los Angeles?

Mix vampires, an alien invasion, and an unemployed actor. Stir with wit and insight to get this wacky and smart science fiction fantasy novel from Stacey E. Bryan. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the West Coast celebrity-set, but with touching vulnerability in the leading lady and sharp insight into 21st Century American culture.

My Review: 4 stars out of 5 for Day for Night by Stacey E. Bryan

“She was mostly immensely relieved to think that virtually everything that anybody had ever told her was wrong.” —Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Book 3, Douglas Adams

Author Stacey E Bryan was raised in the San Fernando Valley but born in San Francisco, where she left part of her heart. She received a BA in English from UCLA, studying under late Irish journalist and novelist Brian Moore. Her work has appeared in several literary magazines in New York and L.A., including Ginosko and The Rag. She is currently working on the sequel to her novel Day for Night and hopefully one day soon the novelization of a sci-fi screenplay. She lives in “beautiful downtown Burbank,” as Johnny Carson used to say, with her husband who is also a writer.

What is it about the manic pixie dream girl? Think Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Zooey Deschanel in… almost anything Zooey Deschanel has ever been in. They are wild, free-spirited women whose main role seems to be to inspire their strong, silent (but secretly vulnerable) leading men to loosen up and embrace life. Unfortunately for Day for Night’s heroine Rae—actually Raine, but she can’t get anybody to call her that—there are two problems with being an MPDG.

First, she has to actually come up with said strong/secretly-vulnerable man in order to define herself. But every time she starts to get close, the universe steps in to end that possibility. Her first love and surfing buddy? Ended with the shark attack (that also took some of her fingers). Her fiance? Went home from proposing and disappeared. Her new crush, the sexy Italian massage therapist? Trained from birth to assassinate those like her. Her home?  She doesn’t just live in Los Angeles (“What’s the difference between L.A. and yogurt? Yogurt has culture.”), she’s a (recently fired) actress on a “reality” TV show where none of the characters are remotely “real”.

And the second problem? She sees aliens. They’re everywhere, usually kidnapping the people around her. Nobody else seems to see them, let alone be able to stop them. And—okay, so maybe I lied, and this is the third problem—the only one who agrees with her is the vampire. And his solution seems so… final.

Rae pinballs from disaster to disaster, desperate to protect those she loves, preferably without further damage to her personal version of Cinderella’s coach: her beloved, no-power-anything pumpkin-colored 280Z. (It is LA after all, where your car gets high ranking among your beloveds.)

Slowly, Rae begins to realize that something else is going on. Yes, aliens—properly SciFi horrors with iconic flying saucers and the whole nine yards—were abducting people right and left. And sure, magic was seriously messing with her life, probably from the time she’d drowned as a baby and been dead for more than fifteen minutes. But the real problem, as creepy cult leader Bob tells her, is that she’s letting her past control her present and thus own her future. “Bob, for all his faults, was right. We were never in the Now. Because the past or the future always had us by the balls.”

The shark, the monster circling below our dangling arms and legs, had seized so much more than my hand. It had seized my mind, my will, my life.

This sounds like seriously heavy stuff. But although it’s dark, it’s also laugh-out-loud, spew-your-coffee, flat out hilarious. Rae’s head is a seductively hysterical nonstop funny commentary on life, relationships, and love. With aliens and vampires, of course.

And the best part? We have a front row seat as our MPDG makes her peace within LaLa land, finds her inner strength, saves the world, and grows up.  Like the best things that LA gives us, Day for Night unapologetically accepts magic, aliens, vampires, and reality TV as the basis for a slightly-developmentally-delayed coming of age story. I loved every minute, even as Day for Night merrily drives over plotholes that should by rights sink even classic Z cars. There are plenty of unexplained bits that scream “SEQUEL” louder than Darth Vader’s escape pod spinning off into the next movie. There’s the obligatory unresolved love triangle, relationship secrets, and what really happened during those fifteen minutes that baby-Rae died.

But I recommend Day for Night without reservations to anyone who loves over-the-top funny, rollercoaster action, SciFi with a damaged, hilarious, irresistible heroine. As someone who grew up in California, I recognized so many of the people and places (and perhaps the odd alien) who race through its pages. As a reader, I’m grateful for the fun and can’t wait for the sequel.


**I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**


I reviewed Rising From the Ashes for Rosie's Book Review Team

I reviewed Day for Night for Rosie’s Book Review Team 


Buy and Contact Links

Amazon  | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads | Author’s Blog | Twitter: @StaceyEBryan

Book Review #2: BLURB


Disenchanted with life after solving her first real case, Jade Blackwell, successful blogger and amateur sleuth, throws herself into a new hobby…until murder rears its ugly head.

But when Jade attempts to ferret out the killer of local pottery teacher, Paula Hexby, she comes up short and suspicion begins to descend on her daughter’s former boyfriend. Evidence and bodies are stacking up, as Jade finds herself caught between an untrustworthy client and her beloved community.

Now at a personal and professional crossroads, Jade must once again jump into the breech, along with partner Gabrielle Langdon, to uncover the truth behind this string of horrific murders. Is she really cut out for this life of sleuthing and danger? Has Jade been defending the real murderer all along? Or is there something much more sinister afoot?

My Review: 3.5  stars out of 5 for A Time to Kiln by Gilian Baker

Who doesn’t love a cozy mystery? With its echoes of Agatha Christie, the premise of A Time to Kiln was irresistible. Amateur sleuth Jade Blackwell is bored. She’s made a successful transition from professor to online entrepreneur, but working from home with an empty nest looming has left her looking for a social and creative outlet. Luckily, a new pottery studio is offering classes.

Gilian Baker is a former English professor who threw in the towel and decided to show ‘em how it’s done. She’s gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger, ghostwriter and cozy mystery author to her C.V. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain murder mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder for her Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggling with her husband watching British TV or discussing literary theory with her daughter.
Since childhood Gillian’s been told she was nosy, though she prefers to think of herself as inquisitive. It’s long been a secret dream of hers to be paid to snoop, but she’s given up on being a real live gumshoe and has happily settled on living vicariously through her protagonist. As a literature professor, Gilian considered her one and only vice to be reading cozy mysteries before bed instead of well-thumbed classics.
Gilian Baker lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She’s the author of Blogging is Murder and A Time to Kiln.

But after witnessing a public fight between the owner of the pottery and her husband, Jade is worried about the future of the pottery classes. When the young potter is found murdered, Jade decides to investigate, much to the annoyance of local deputy Doug. But when a second murder occurs at the same pottery, the stakes go up and Jade has to question her involvement.

For me, reading A Time to Kiln as a cozy mystery didn’t quite work. Sure there’s the obligatory amateur detective, who even comes complete with cats Tommy and Tuppence (named after Agatha Christie’s crime-solving duo). (To Jade’s credit, she does not, however, knit and/or bake cupcakes.) But where Dame Agatha’s amateur sleuths are either reluctantly involved, or involved to help friends/neighbors/family, Jade decides to dig into her neighbors’ personal issues out of… boredom? As with most cozy mysteries, Jade needs to tap into local expertise, in this case long-time friends Sheriff Ross and attorney Gabrielle (who would fit the cozy role of sidekick except that she’s not a gay, fashion-conscious owner of a small dog).

I think that the biggest departure from the standard cozy mystery was that there was really only one mystery. Miss Marple would have unmasked the murderer, but she’d also find the missing brooch and perhaps assist the budding romance between the young under-gardener and the upstairs maid. That transition plays up a familiar setting, while injecting humor into the story. Without it, the amateur detective comes off, as Jade does to me, as simply a busybody digging into her neighbors’ personal business.

In trying to assign a rating, I’m a little torn. On the one hand, I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, the selection of clues and red herrings scattered for Jade (and the reader) to attempt to assemble to solve the mystery. On the other hand, I would have liked to see more interaction with other recurring characters. With possible exception of her elderly friend Phyllis, Jade’s friends and neighbors didn’t develop into fully-rounded personalities. In fact, I can only picture her husband Christian as a disembodied voice floating from behind his newspaper. Of course, this might be due to the fact that this is the second book in the series and all of these characters and relationships were fully formed in the first book, which I have to admit that I haven’t read. But even then, one of the distinct advantages of detective series is that supporting cast members have a chance to develop over time.

The other problem I have is slightly bigger. While I enjoyed sharing Jade’s detective process, I wasn’t so satisfied with the motives for the killings. Without putting in spoilers, I have to say that I was both surprised and slightly disappointed by the resolution. I didn’t see a clear reason for something that had smoldered for years to suddenly drive the murderer to act. Saying that the murderer is insane is easy, but would someone that out of touch with reality have the ability to engage in such meticulously premeditated actions?

Overall, I thought that A Time to Kiln shows a writer with great promise. It’s well-written, relatively free from grammar issues, and well-structured. I’d give it three and a half stars and I’d definitely read more from Gilian Baker. I’d love it if the next book steps out of Christie’s shadow to not only let us get to know Jade’s family and friends, but challenges Jade herself to grow and change in ways Christie’s Poirot and Marple never achieved.

*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Title: A Time to Kiln
Gilian Baker
Cozy Mystery
Length: 152 pages
Publisher: misterio press (July 30, 2017)

Contact and Buy Links:

AmazonBlog | Facebook | email | Twitter: @gilianbaker