Friday, March 25, 2016

"A Presence in an Empty Room" by Velda Johnston

Published:  1980
Setting:  Modern Day

Then, as I stood there on the littered floor with my head throbbing, I became aware of something besides sadness and desolation in the atmosphere.  What was it?  I didn't know.  And I only knew that suddenly I had a frightened sense of vulnerability a feeling that I, like this church, could be invaded and destroyed...

Evil.  That was it.  An impression of evil swirling around me, an evil so great that it made Sam Wilsons illegal gin seem innocent.  I had the feeling that some memory was trying to form itself in my mind.  Desperately, aware of my clenched hands and of cold sweat on my forehead, I fought off a sense of invasion, of barriers giving way.

Then it leaped into my consciousness, a memory that could not possibly have been mine, and yet was as vivid as my recollection of the events of half an hour ago.  This little church, filled with the smell of burning wax.  Flicker of candlelight over hooded heads and over the doors barred from the inside.  Voices chanting softly.  Cold smoothness of the altar beneath bare back.  I moaned then, and the scent of candles cleared from my nostrils and their flickering glow from my eyes.  Hands holding my pain-racked head, I ran across the littered floor and out into the gray daylight...

Back Cover Synopsis:

To Susan Hapgood, a shy girl doubtful of her own charms, it had seemed almost miraculous that a rich, attractive man like Martin Summerslee would want to marry her. But even before he brought her as a bride to his native Maine village, Susan was aware that something shadowed the miracle- her own jealousy of a dead woman. Mysteriously killed in the crash of her own small plane, Irene Summerslee had been Martin's beautiful and much beloved first wife. Try and she would, Susan could not escape the fear that Martin was comparing her unfavorably with her predecessor. Within a few hours after Susan entered fine old Maine house, she had the first inkling that more than her own jealousy might cast a shadow on her marriage. And from then on, she felt a growing awareness of an evil force that threatened not only her happiness, but even her sanity and her very life. A surprising series of events take Susan down a dark path, to places Irene had been and to people she had known.
A Presence In An Empty Room is a fascinating story of suspense as well as a chilling tale of supernatural terror.

Susan has just lost her father to a long illness and is preparing for a life alone when she happens to meet Martin Summerslee in a bookstore.  They date for only a short time before they decide to be married.  But as soon as Susan enters her husbands hometown, and the great house where he once resided with his lovely (dead) ex wife, her dream turns into a hellish nightmare.  It seems everywhere she turns, she's met with kind comments and admiration for the dead wife who seemed such a lovely, innocent, selfless and beautiful woman.  Susan feels almost as if she's living in the shadow of a ghost when, without warning, her terrible headaches turn into full-blown possession.  Susan believes her body is being inhabited by the evil spirit of Martin's dead ex wife who, in reality, was a greedy woman who was planning Martin's death when her masquerade went horribly wrong.  Susan sees a psychologist, a priest, and finally confides in Martin...who only believes she's insane.  

I don't want to give away any spoilers by going too much in-depth with the story-line.  However, this was a rather engaging story of one woman's jealous insecurity and another woman's evil.  Of one woman finding the love that another woman selfishly threw away.  It's about greed, selfishness, and betrayal.  The only real fault with this book was how quick and weird the transition from 'normal' to 'possessed.'  I always hate head-jumping inside novels.  However, this is a vintage gothic romance through and through.  Totally recommend.

Best Gothic Elements:  possession, murder, lies, family secrets, untimely death, plotting a murder, plane crash, a lame, mentally challenged housekeepers, an orphan girl whose parents have died

My Rating:
4 Stars

Thursday, March 24, 2016

House of Hollow Wind (Mini-Blog Series Part 13)

As planned, Greg arrived early the following morning for our promised trip into town.  Libby was busy tinkering with breakfast as I tip-toed across the foyer.  I could faintly hear her in the kitchen.  I realized she must be working alone. She hummed jubilantly as she cooked, no other voices were audible.  Luckily, I was able to avoid another run-in with Aunt Helen and I breathed a small sigh of relief as I climbed into the old rusty Chevy pick-up and situated the seatbelt.

The drive into town was scenic.   I hadn’t remembered how remote the area of the old farmhouse until I watched miles upon miles of flatland and heavily wooded wilderness spin by.  I chilled at the thought of ever being lost inside those woods, but resolved I’d put those ideas behind me and enjoy my day away from the dreary old place.  Greg made small talk, but for the most part he appeared distracted, his brows furrowed against silent worries left unsaid.

The town was bustling with activity as we pulled into the cramped little side streets of the historical district.  As Greg scoured the crowded parking lots for a vacant space, I couldn’t help but think to myself that some things never change.  The tall red high rise buildings in the distance seemed to brush the sky a crimson blur.  Men and women in tailored business suits walked with a purpose, their stiff gait a distinct difference than that of the townspeople, who, in common clothing, strolled leisurely past shop windows and food stands. The Sheriff’s office still sat center of Main Street, pillowed snuggly between the hardware store and a thrift shop I used to love exploring, my young hand held firmly in the grasp of Vanessa’s, as we ran from clothing racks to toy shelves, excited and flush-faced.  I frowned at the thought, a dapper drawn across my high spirits.

“Right this way,” Greg guided me by the elbow after the parking toll was paid to an elderly man at the booth window with a haggard looking face and tired eyes. 

“Where are we going,” I inquired as I struggled in my heels to keep pace with his quick stride, not without noticing the intimacy for which we appeared to share as he grasped my elbow and pulled me along.

“Only the most hopping hang-out for smart girls who devour romance novels by day and traipse into the dark of woods on snowy nights,” he winked  at me mischievously.  “And all my treat.”

A few moments later we stepped into what looked to be a pub.  I blinked into the darkness as lava lamps lit each of the four corners of a large dining area.  Contemporary art and slogan posters decorated the walls in psychedelic colors.  A huge wooden sign dangled on chains, suspended from the ceiling at the center of the room, it read in bright hand-scrawl lettering ‘Le Village Café.’

We were met almost immediately by a waiflike blond waitress who ushered us to a table in the far right-hand corner of the room.  The café must have been built sometime after I’d went away to boarding school, for I’d never eaten there.  At a loss with the exasperatingly-full menu, I agreed to a platter of Belgian waffles and mocha espresso at Greg’s recommendation.

As we waited for our food, it seemed Greg was scanning the room almost nervously.  I noticed that from our perch in the corner we had a clear view of the room and its entrances. 

“You seem a little on edge,” I finally said, trying to make conversation.  Perhaps he was just bashful.  Maybe Greg considered this a date.  I blushed at the thought and quickly looked away, hoping he would not notice.

“I’m sorry, I’m not being very good company.  Just a lot of my mind,” he fiddled with his glass of water as if struggling for the right words.  “Look, Aubrey, I don’t want to alarm you but there’s a few things I’d like to get straight.”

“You mean about the house…the farmhouse?”  I asked, thankful that at least someone else found the whole situation bizarre.

“Things just aren’t adding up.  At all.  The whole ordeal with Vanessa running away,”  he stopped short, took a few gulps from his glass and sat back against the soft leather upholstery of the booth seat.  “Her and the old man, your Grandfather, they were close.  Real close.  He adored Vanessa.”

“But Greg, Grandfather is rather strict…”  what could I say?  I hadn’t lived under the same roof with the old man in nearly thirteen years.  People do change.

“Yes, that’s it.  He was strict, had a lot of rules, sure.  But never stern.  Vanessa was a spoiled girl if ever there was one.  And all that talk of something crashing or vases breaking, the old man just wasn’t the sort…”  he shook his head and looked away as his voice trailed off. 

We waited quietly for several minutes as the thin waitress delivered our trays.  I had never tasted Belgium waffles and lost myself momentarily in the rich, syrupy texture.  The food was exceptional, the iced coffee just strong enough to heighten one’s senses.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such a nice breakfast.  The college dorm cafeteria usually only had oatmeal and cereal with an occasional pastry.  I didn’t want to even recall the dingy, overcrowded lunchroom at the convent.

We ate in silence until, satiated, we both leaned back in our seats.  I noticed Greg had taken to looking around the room once again, and twice over his shoulder.  He seemed at a loss for words and, lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t have much to offer by way of conversation.  Except for questions,  I really had no input.

“So were you and Vanessa serious?”  I inquired.  According to Aunt Helen, they were much too close for her liking.  She obviously had found Greg to be a bad influence.

“Close?  You mean as in dating?”  His eyelids shot up in earnest.  “Let’s get one thing straight.  Vanessa and I were good friends.  Childhood friends.  My parents bought the old Richardson farm who, we were told by the property agency, had both passed away years before.  The place sat unoccupied until my father took the mail carrier job.”  He spread his hands out as if for emphasis. 

I nodded my head.  I could remember the Richardsons, but just barely.  I knew Mrs. Richardson was keen on her apple orchard and sold fresh pies to neighboring houses, along with other produce.  Oftentimes you could see both, husband and wife, hard at work in their sprawling garden.  I smiled forlornly at the innocent memory, sad at the news of their passing.

“Anyway,” Greg continued.   “We’ve been neighbors for years.  I’ve gotten your cousin out of more bad situations than I can count, vouched for her with the old man on numerous occasions and usually drove her to school during winter mornings when weather didn’t permit a thirty minute wait at the stop.  But as far as dating, that would have never happened.”

“Hm, that’s odd then,” I said, shaking my head.  “Aunt Helen seems to feel that you were a bad influence on Vanessa.”

“See, that’s what gets me!”  He slammed his open palm against the table, momentarily bringing the attention of fellow patrons who sat nearby.  “Vanessa wasn’t even interested in dating.  And this Keith fellow, he was just another guy who admired your cousin.  Oh, she was a pretty girl, no doubt,  and they went on a date or two but her heart was set on going to some beauty school out West.  That’s just why it doesn’t add up, not at all.”

“So then,”  I said, my hands growing cold and clammy.  “Someone is lying?”

“Exactly.”  He spit out the words, his face turning a light shade of pink.  “Or they are doing some heavy-duty covering up of something.  And I don’t know what yet, but I’m determined to find out!”

Please check in weekly for updates every Thursday as I continue to make this story available!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interview With Gregory Connor, Creator of Bennington Gothique Series

If you haven't yet read my previous post Bennington Gothic Web Series, I urge you to do so.

Creator / Filmmaker Gregory Connor has been kind enough to extend his time for in interview with Gothic Romance Reviews.  Read on as Gregory engages me in discussion about himself and his highly-acclaimed gothic series Bennington Gothique.

Stacy:  As a film maker/ director, can you tell me what motivated you towards the gothic/horror genre?

Gregory:  I love to tell stories that move people whether it's romantic or scary in nature.  The Gothic/Horror genre is ideal to accomplish both of those goals -- old dark house, naïve young girl, brooding hero, all set to a sweeping dramatic soundtrack.  I like the mystery nature of it.  Discovering what's behind that locked door.

Stacy:  I know I've already watched it (and loved it!), but can you give our readers a short summary of the web series' plot?

Gregory:  Bennington Gothique centers around, Bennington House, a private boarding school for girls surrounded by mystery and the supernatural.  The story begins when Angela Wentworth enrolls into the school in search of answers to her parentage.  She is confronted by means girls and is warned of danger by a young ghost girl. There has been a fire at the local all-boys' school, Whitney Prep, and the young men of Whitney Prep are temporarily being housed at Bennington House which means plenty of romantic drama. 

Stacy:   Did you ever read gothic literature/gothic horror?  If so, what are some of your favorite books/authors?

Gregory:  I was a big fan of Stephen King and Anne Rice.  My favorites were "The Shining," "The Night Shift," "Interview with a Vampire," and "The Vampire Lestat."  Of course, I was a huge fan of the TV show, "Dark Shadows."

Stacy:    How about your favorite gothic horror movies and films?

Gregory:  On film,  I loved the Hammer Dracula films ("Taste the Blood of Dracula," "Vampire Circus," etc.), "The Innocents," and "Wuthering Heights."

Stacy:   Tell us a bit about your background, your hobbies and interests?  People who work in the film industry, and in the arts (screenwriters, novelists, etc)  are usually the most interesting!

Gregory:  I'm originally from D.C.  I attended NYU for writing and California Institute of the Arts for Directing.  I love all types of music and have done some songwriting.  I also enjoy taking dance classes like Dancehall, Broadway and Pop Video.

Stacy:  I know I was impressed by the show.  As a movie-goer, this film is every bit as impressive as anything I've viewed in theaters, or made-for-tv movies.  I know you've been accumulating quite a bit of rewards for this web series.  Can you tell us about those?

Gregory:  We are very excited at the reception that we have received.  We were awarded "Outstanding Cinematography in a Soap Opera" at the LA Web Fest.  We were nominated for Best Cinematography at the NYC Web Fest and nominated for "Best Thriller" at the Vancouver Web Fest.  We have also been shown at DC Web Fest, Holly Web Fest, Miami Web Fest and BentCon (a GBL&T comic convention).

Stacy:  And, for those of us who are fans and are eagerly awaiting the next episode, when do you feel you'll have new material for our viewing?

Gregory:  The rest of the season has been written and it's got some real eye-opening moments.  Also, we introduce a certain family with a taste for blood.  We can't wait to get back into production.

Stacy:  I know you mentioned funding for the film.  If any readers are willing to contribute, is there a website for donations, etc?

Gregory:  Yes, we are currently running an Indiegogo Campaign.  It can be reached via our website or  Donations start at $5.00 and go up $5,000 with perks like t-shirts and even a cameo in the series.  We  have set a high standard with the show and want to continue giving our fans the best we can and being an independent production, we have encountered funding issues so we've turned to crowdfunding for contributions.  Every little bit counts.
Stacy:  As a creative person who obviously knows a bit about throwing a compelling story out there, what creative advice would you give other writers in terms of ideas and inspiration?

Gregory:  Figure out the types of entertainment you like, then write what you love.  Watch classic films by directors like Alfred Hitchcock ("Psycho"), Elia Kazan ("Streetcar Named Desire"), Stephen Spielberg ("Jaws"), etc.  Read books and plays from authors like William Shakespeare and Stephen King.  There's a lot of great television especially on cable.  Even music can be inspirational.  Essentially become a sponge. Then, let the creativity flow and don't be afraid to rewrite!

Stacy:.  And, lastly, what is the professional advice you would give to those who may be striving to write that first screenplay, or novel?  What is the best way to gain a good following and make sure your work gets seen?

Gregory:  Writers can take their careers in their hands just by creating a blog, making their presence known on social media like Facebook and Twitter.  Also, do your research and find your audience. There are all sorts of groups on Facebook and Yahoo.  Use the World Wide Web!

I'd like to extend a gracious thanks to Gregory for taking his time to contribute this detailed interview with me!  We can't wait to see the future episodes of Bennington Gothique!  

Please continue to check the official page for information and full episodes!

Bennington Gothique Web Series

Fans of the Gothic Romance genre are going to love the the new web series Bennington Gothique.

Set in a creepy old boarding school, the show begins with a sense of family secrets full with a strange set of characters and the quest to uncover a mystery as lead star Angela Wentworth reads a letter written by her deceased grandmother.

Having watched the first four episodes, myself, I could not help but be highly impressed.  If you added some twisted V.C. Andrews storyline with the vintage Dark Shadows and threw in the soap  Passions, you might just hit the tip of the iceberg in describing this uniquely creepy show.

Don't believe me?  Check out the site for yourself!  Creator Gregory Connor has already earned himself an astounding number of awards and honorary mention for this show.  And that many critics just can't be wrong.

The first few debut episodes have already come in with a bang as Gregory has gained a considerable following.  I can't wait to see what proceeds!