Friday, December 14, 2012

Looking into the Abyss: Writing dark fiction by Pamela Turner


Today I welcome author Pamela Turner, whom I've known for a good number of years now, and turn over my blog to her pen...

This year, I published five short dark fiction stories. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m influenced by shows like Night Gallery, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Twilight Zone, Thriller, or any of the other anthology suspense shows prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. Add to that the writings of Shirley Jackson (particularly The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery), Ray Bradbury, HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Algernon Blackwood, Stephen King, August Derleth, and Robert Arthur, among others, and it becomes clear that dark fiction has had a profound influence on me.

Another reason I write dark fiction is because I’m interested in what makes people embrace the shadow side of their natures. My characters are often obsessed with someone or something, which compels them to do things they might not have otherwise. In “Obsession” (Spells – Ten Tales of Magic), Corinne cannot accept the fact her dead boyfriend had another girlfriend, and decides to use necromancy to find out who he loved more. In “Family Heirloom” (Scared – Ten Tales of Horror), John becomes obsessed with stealing a kris, a weapon said to kill on its own, and soon regrets his decision.

Then there are the characters who are unwitting victims, drawn by fate or circumstance into situations often beyond their control. In “It’s in Your Blood” (Bites – Ten Tales of Vampires), Anna struggles against her true nature as she tries to retain the last vestiges of her humanity. And, in “Family Tradition,” artist Rick Stanton finds himself lured to a house with a sinister past.

I read somewhere that horror stories, like fairy tales, can sometimes take the role of morality plays. If you’ve ever read the original Grimm fairy tales, you know they’re filled with violence, including murder and abuse. Of course, in such stories, evil was punished and good rewarded. In my stories, I sometimes like to be ambiguous, simply because good and evil are not always easily delineated. To give an example of an ambiguous ending, in “Mermaid’s Scar,” a horror manga by Rumiko Takahashi, Masato, an eternally youthful eight-year-old boy, murders people without compunction. Although he’s involved in a fiery crash, one has the uncanny feeling that, after surviving 800+ years, Masato isn’t going to die that easily. And anyone who’s read The Haunting of Hill House probably wonders how many more victims the house will claim.

But why read or write stories with unhappy endings? I know some of my fellow romance writers are probably shaking their heads at me. Real life is replete with misery, why drag it into the fictional world?

My answer is simply this: It’s because that’s who I am. Growing up bullied, and emotionally and physically abused, writing dark fiction is a catharsis, a way for me to confront my demons. Even my first stories, written at age 11, were horror and suspense. In middle school, I read Stephen King, John Saul, Poe, and other authors of the macabre. Maybe I related more to the characters in those books, people struggling against their own demons. And now, years later, although the scars remain, the monsters have been vanquished, sent back into the abyss.

But my love of dark fiction remains.

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The Ten Tales anthologies are available from
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Family Tradition is available from
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Coffee Time Romance (40% off through December)

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Family Tradition Blurb

Artist Rick Stanton needs a commission. He faces eviction from his apartment and his latest project is on hiatus. Worse, his muse refuses to cooperate. A recent letter may contain the inspiration he needs. Inside is the photograph of a mysterious woman, her face hidden by an umbrella. But there’s no identification, no way for him to contact her. A month later, another envelope arrives, this time with a phone number. Realizing this may be his last chance, Rick calls her. The woman introduces herself as Elizabeth and tells him she wants him to paint her portrait.

Rick agrees, only to learn there are conditions. Elizabeth is a recluse who lives with her two servants in a Victorian manor. She never allows her face to be seen. Not only must he stay at Elizabeth’s residence while painting her, he can’t leave, nor can he ever tell anyone about the portrait.

Sensing something isn’t right, Rick is even more disturbed by the sinister undercurrent beneath the household’s genteel fa├žade. It’s somehow connected to the family portraits hanging in Elizabeth’s living room. Could they be haunted? And why doesn’t Elizabeth’s housekeeper want Rick to finish the painting?

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Family Tradition Excerpt

The housekeeper waited for me in the corridor. “The mistress requests your presence.” She pressed her hand against a panel and a heretofore-unseen door swung outward to reveal a narrow, dark stairwell. I’d no idea if this hidden room was a common feature of Victorian houses, but given Elizabeth’s mysterious photograph, a secret room seemed to fit.

“Through here, sir, and up those steps. The mistress is in the room at the top.”

Hand pressed against the door, I looked up the narrow stairwell. Once the door closed, I’d be in total darkness. I swallowed, apprehension tracing the back of my neck with icy fingers. Not that I was claustrophobic, but the thought of being surrounded by such gloom unnerved me. I turned to the housekeeper. “Don’t suppose you have a light?”

“You’ll be fine.”

What then? I wanted to ask, but the door had already started to swing shut. I made a grab for it. Too late.

I fumbled for an opening, some notch for my fingers to grasp—a knob, latch, anything. Nothing. Not even a light switch.    

Inside the passage, the musty odor of old wood and stale air assailed my nostrils. Tattered cobwebs brushed against the top of my head. Had this stairwell ever been aired out? Probably not. I guided my hand along the wall as I edged my toe forward until I touched a riser. I stepped up and repeated the process, counting twenty steps until my hands pressed against what felt like wood. I pushed and whatever was in front of me scraped open.

“Welcome, Rick.”

I recognized Elizabeth’s voice, but her head and face were concealed by a hooded cape.

She stepped past me to close the door. I looked back and bile rose in my throat. Grotesque demons, carved in the wood, glared and leered at me in various stages of agony and bestial ecstasy. What the hell had I gotten myself into?

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Author Bio: Pamela Turner drinks too much coffee and wishes she could write perfect first drafts. Writings include reviews, articles, poetry, screenplays, plays, and short fiction. Her 10-minute play “Brides of Deceit” was part of a local performance and “Cemetery” placed second in The Writers Place short/teleplay screenplay competition. Publications include “A Girl Like Alice” (Taproot Literary Review), Death Sword (Lyrical Press), “It’s in Your Blood” (Bites – Ten Tales of Vampires), “Family Heirloom” (Scared – Ten Tales of Horror), “The May Lady Vanishes” (Beltane – Ten Tales of Witchcraft), and “Obsession” (Spells – Ten Tales of Magic). She’s a member of RWA, Sisters in Crime, EPIC, and a supporting member of HWA. Besides coffee, she likes cats, cemeteries, and old abandoned buildings. You can find her at http://pamelaturner.net    

6 comments:

  1. Thank you for letting me stop by. Much appreciated.

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  2. I was distressed to hear about your childhood experiences but thankful that the scars are now buried. Good for you!

    I read dark fiction (a lot of John Saul, Poe, King and Thomas Tyron) in my teen years because I was drawn to the creepy mysterious elements. I still am. Although I read across multiple genres from romances with HEA's and mystery/thrillers among others, I still love a good spooky read now and again. Night Gallery was one of my favorite shows as a kid. And I devoured FAMILY TRADITIONS. Anyone who hasn't read it yet is in for a treat!

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  3. Thanks, Mae. :-) Glad you enjoyed it. I like reading different genres, too, as well as the various nonfiction I read for research.

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  4. This was a really good blog. And I've read all the writers you have as a child too. No physical abuse in my past, thank God, but other things to work through.
    I'm sorry for what you went through.

    I've always been fascinated by what motivates evil.
    What I found interesting about Lovecraft was how his alien creatures had no humanity. Which is rare in how most horror writers approach a story.
    And Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House is the best.
    You might want to check out Ann Rivers Sidon's The House Next Door. Scared the $#!+ out of me.
    Teresa R.

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  5. Thanks, Teresa! Glad you liked it. :-) Apparently, August Derleth was the first to publish Lovecraft. Of course, he also had Wisconsin roots (Derleth, that is). :-) I'll have to check out Sidon's book.

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  6. Hi Pamela: I like what you say about dark writing here and find your story outlines to be very interesting and unusual. I look forward to reading them someday.

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