Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

The Remnants of Magic in Our Modern World

While researching the Salem Witch Trials, early English folk magic, and modern psychic practices for my upcoming dark fantasy series, my world has become a lot more… magical. Despite my best efforts, I can’t bring myself to believe wholly in magic (though I envy those of you who can!), but I’ve started to notice how these practices I’m studying survive in our modern, logical, technology-centered world.

The average skeptic would probably define these “modern magic techniques” as superstitions, childhood silliness, or plain idiocy. For the most part, I agree. I’m not arguing that these practices work as the users intend. Rather, I’m sharing my personal connections between the traditional and the modern to show that, though humanity’s belief in magic has nearly evaporated, the shadows of magic (and perhaps even our deep-rooted desire for it to be true) remain.

Divining Love: Egg Whites to Daisies to MASH

divinationAccording to many secondary sources, such as Reverend John Hale’s A Modest Enquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft (1697), young girls from Salem experimented with fortune telling. Supposedly with the help of Tituba (Reverend Samuel Parris’ Native American slave and the first individual accused of witchcraft), the girls used egg whites and a mirror to create a “crystal ball.” The shapes formed would reveal the occupations of their future husbands.

However, when one of the girls saw a coffin, she got spooked. Some traditions hold that this scare caused the girls, specifically Betty Parris and Abigail Williams (Rev. Parris’s daughter and niece), to believe themselves (or to act) bewitched and start the witchcraft hysteria. Though the truth of this story remains unclear, the “white magic” described was practiced throughout colonial America and England during this time.

Young girls today still use playful means to divine information about their love lives. Plucking petals from a daisy, alternating between “He loves me” and “He loves me not,” allows the questioner to discover the “truth” about her crush’s feelings. Back in my day (the early 2000s), we used a pencil-and-paper game called MASH to determine our future husbands, occupations, houses, cars, number of children, and other topics of interest. (Learn how to play it here.) The divination methods may have changed, but the “magical” intent remains the same.

(What both of these practices say about heteronormativity and gender stereotypes is a topic for another day…)

Numerology: What’s Your Lucky Number?

numerologyIn the simplest terms, numerology is the belief that numbers have a divine or magical significance, and that they can reveal truths about the present or future. The most common numerology practice involves your Life Number. By adding the numbers in your birthdate and reducing them to a single digit, you can identify your Life Number. (Example: My birthday is March 11, 1992. So, my Life Number is calculated as 3+1+1+1+9+9+2 = 26 = 2+6 = 8) According to the meaning behind the number 8, my life path will revolve around ambition, goals, and material wealth. (Find your own Life Number here.)

Numerologists can do similar calculations with other dates or words (there are systems that assign numerical values to the letters) to divine the meaning behind them. For instance, if you’re looking for a good day to have a first date with someone, you should pick a date that reduces down to 2 (the number of cooperation, harmony, and love).

Where do we see numerology in everyday life? An obvious example is people who choose their own lottery numbers, based on the number’s significance to them. I’ve noticed a similar pattern on the daytime game show, Let’s Make a Deal. (Yes, I’m an 85-year-old woman in a 25-year-old’s body. Moving on.) At the end of each episode, the big winner is offered a chance to win the Big Deal of the Day by choosing a numbered curtain. Nearly every time, the contestant “justifies” their selection by giving the number meaning. “Curtain 3, because I have three kids.” “Curtain 1, because my birthday is August 1st.”

By assigning meaning to the numbers, and trusting that meaning to perform the magic of helping them win the Big Deal, the contestants participate in the basic tradition of numerology.

Do You Believe in Magic… or Its Remnants?

zodiacFrom magic/religion scholars to humble inquirers like myself, the line between magic and superstition remains blurred and often nonexistent. Though we might not believe in either, we keep both alive by checking our horoscopes (or tweeting about the travesty of Mercury being in retrograde), knocking on wood, playing with Ouija boards, folding “cootie catchers,” and so much more.

Discovering these magical remnants and recognizing them in my own life gives me a strange sense of comfort. The idea that humanity still clings to the hope that we can evoke positive change and control our futures (even if we’re doing it unknowingly) offers a uniquely beautiful form of optimism. And in today’s messed up world – you know what I’m talking about – I’ll take all the magic I can get.

Do you take part in any of these magical or superstitious practices? Do you truly (or want to) believe in magic? Where do you see magic or beauty in your life?

Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

Why We Love Ghost Stories

Katherine crept down the basement stairs, cringing as each step sent a creak throughout the empty room below. While she was allowed to play in the basement, she didn’t want any of the adults to hear her go down there. She needed to escape the half-empty boxes, tearful conversations, and big decisions. Though no one had asked her to participate, she still felt compelled to solve the problems, ones she could only begin to understand.

haunted stairsAs Katherine reached the bottom of the stairs, her sneakers squished into the dingy brown carpet. Despite the warm, 1970s color palette and the bright light bulb hanging over the pool table, the room sent a shiver down her spine. Katherine had visited the house hundreds of times in her 12 years, but this was only her second visit since her great-grandmother had died.

The first had been on the night IT happened. Katherine and her parents had received the phone call during dinner, discarded their unfinished plates, and rushed into town. All the commotion had passed by the time they arrived. So, they stood around the edges of the living room with the rest of the family, each member careful not to disturb the towel in the center of the floor. Katherine almost wished they’d hadn’t covered up the blood. She worried her imagination was worse than the reality.

Alone in the basement, Katherine walked over to her great-grandmother’s pantry closet. Sliding back the door, she surveyed the shelves. They were stacked full with brownie mixes, canned vegetables, and more. Atop each container, her great-grandmother had written the expiration date in thick, black Sharpie. Katherine touched her fingertip to one of the dates, partly sad that her great-grandmother would never reach 11/05, partly comforted by her familiar scrawl.

As Katherine pulled back her hand, goosebumps rose across her arm, and she got the distinct feeling that someone was watching her. She turned around, expecting to see her mom or one of her aunts waiting on the stairs. No one was there.

Just as Katherine started to turn back around, the light bulb above the pool table flickered. Katherine froze and stared. The light bulb flickered again, and that time, the chain swung back and forth, clinking against the glass bulb.

Putting her hand over her mouth to avoid screaming, Katherine turned and bolted up the stairs. As she reached the top, she slammed the door shut and pressed her back against it. Her mom rushed in from the kitchen, her forehead wrinkled in concern. “Are you okay?”

“Mom, the basement is haunted!” Katherine gulped in a deep breath and pressed her hand to her chest, as if that would keep her heart inside her rib cage. “The light bulb over the pool table flickered. And the chain… it was moving like someone had pulled it.”

“Wow.” Mom rubbed her lips together, and her eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment, she gave a small smile. “I bet grandpa was just teasing you. I’m sure he’s happy now that grandma is with him again.”

Katherine wrinkled her nose. “You think?”

Mom nodded. “He was always a trickster. I’m sure he’s having a good laugh at your expense.” Mom’s face softened, and she rubbed Katherine’s shoulder. “But don’t worry. You know he would never hurt you.”

“Of course.” Katherine shifted from foot to foot. She knew her mom was right, but something about the house still felt wrong. Even if the ghost had just been her grandpa saying hi or playing a joke, she needed some fresh air. “I’m going to go outside and see what Daddy is doing.”

No ghosts, not even Grandpa, could bother her with Daddy there to protect her.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that’s the only real-life ghost story I know. Oh, yes. I am not a Katherine. But that Katherine and her story represent me.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the paranormal and supernatural, I’ve never come closer to a ghost or monster. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve rationalized that moment from my childhood to normality (I haven’t asked my mom if she believes in what she said, but since she reads my blog, I bet she’ll tell me…). The light bulb was probably just close to burning out or a large appliance, like the furnace clicking on, caused it to blink. The jolt of electricity (or my wild imagination) could have caused the chain to move. I don’t know. I’m not an electrician. But ghosts can’t be real… right?

ghostEvery October, I remember my near-ghost experience as I bask in the glory of Halloween. This year, as I’ve suffered yet another family death, it got me thinking: why do we love ghost stories? And why, not-so-deep down, do I hope my great-grandpa really was teasing me that day?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious. If ghosts are real, then there’s something after we die. Whether its heaven or hell, purgatory or haunting our old house, we continue to exist. It’s a comforting thought — for our future and all the loved ones who have already passed away.

On the other hand, maybe ghost stories prepare us for the opposite. After all, who wants to turn into an evil specter and harm the living for eternity? Maybe nothing would be better than being a Grade A asshole until Sam and Dean come along and blow us away with rock salt.

And perhaps it’s even a little deeper than that. In a way, ghost stories allow us to “experience” death in the same way that romance stories allow us to “fall in love” through their characters. And by doing so, they also remind us to appreciate life.

We often see the tormented ghost berating the innocent protagonist, until it finally lets go of its lost life and finds peace. As we reject the ghost’s behavior, we commit ourselves to being a better dead person than it is. We will accept our fate with dignity, and as such, we will appreciate our life while we have it, “live life to the fullest,” etc. Thus by entertaining the ghost story, we end up feeling more alive.

Then again, maybe there’s nothing deep to it at all. Maybe some of you twisted souls just like to be scared.

I, for one, do not. So, Grandpa, if you’re still present in the ether and watching over me as I write this… please don’t mess with the lights. At least not until sunrise.

How do you feel about ghost stories? Have you have any encounters with the supernatural? Share your experiences in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Guest Posts

The Theme of Evil in Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I by Charles F. French

Today, I’m excited to introduce my friend and fellow author Charles F. French. Charles is an English professor turned author, who is preparing to launch his debut horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. As you can imagine, the theme of evil features heavily throughout the novel, and that’s exactly what he’s here to discuss. Over to Charles.

maledicus-finalThe existence and nature of evil and the human response to it are central themes in my horror novel Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I. This idea is one with which I have been concerned much of my life. From the first Gothic novels I read as a youngster, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, through the myriad of reading I have done during the course of my life, including works of classical literature such as William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet as well as the contemporary thrillers of John Connelly and Tana French, and the numerous novels of the master Stephen King, evil has been present in a wide variety of forms.

I am deeply concerned not only with the nature and existence of evil, both human and supernatural but also with people’s response to it when confronted by evil. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Unfortunately, it does not take much effort to search human history for occurrences of monstrous evil in the form of too many genocides.  The history of the 20th and 21st centuries is replete with these inhumane situations, and too often, the world turned its collective gaze away from these horrors, often until it was almost too late to do anything about them.

Ordinary people, as well as nations and larger collectives of persons, are also confronted with evil in their existences. When a person witnesses a terrible event, he or she must decide either to do nothing and leave the responsibility of action to others, or they chose to act directly at the potential risk of their safety or lives. They must decide either—“I don’t want to get involved,” or “I must do something.”

This moral and ethical dilemma is what the three older men who form the basis of The Investigative Paranormal Society face.

maledicusteeIn my novel, I posit evil existing in two forms. First, human evil manifests as a man who was a sadistic psychopath—a torturer, spy, pimp, and murderer—who lived during the realm of Caligula in ancient Rome. Supernatural evil also is real in my book.  In death, this man, who goes by the name of Maledicus, is seduced by a mysterious being into becoming a demon. As a new form of existence, Maledicus is able to manifest on Earth and target people for his victims. He causes mayhem, including murder, suicide, insanity, and disease.

While investigating what they believe to be a ghostly haunting, the three men who are the Investigative Paranormal Society—Roosevelt, Sam, and Jeremy—soon realize that this malicious thing that is threatening a five year old girl in their town, is far worse and more dangerous than any ghost.

They must choose either to abandon their investigation and this child or to choose to battle this demon at the risk of their sanities, their lives, and their souls. These men, along with the help of several friends, choose the path of responsibility as they confront the terrible demon Maledicus.

I hope that, in my novel, I deal effectively and thoroughly with this issue of evil and the human response to it.  Only the readers can truly make that judgement.

Thanks so much for sharing Maledicus with us, Charles! If you’d like to read Maledicus, it’s now available on Amazon. You can also learn more about Charles and his work by visiting his website at And be sure to come back to this site on Friday, when I’ll be sharing my review of Maledicus!

Fiction Blog, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, & Geeky Things

My Five Favorite Apocalypses

I love apocalypses. Whether it’s a man-made nuclear wasteland or angels and demons raging their supernatural war on Earth, apocalypses speak to a deep part of me. They bring out that frequently unexercised survival instinct that the comforts of modern living allow to lie dormant. They raise the stakes, heighten emotion, and destroy all the rules.

Despite the grandiose and mayhem of the world itself, in apocalyptic tales, the characters get to shine. Everyday people fight to make it another day, another hour, another minute. They ban together or fall apart. They showcase the truth of human nature — from its bitter greed to its unwavering compassion. They reveal what each of us could become, if the playing field were leveled by destruction.

Choosing a favorite apocalypse would be like choosing a favorite food — a question I’ve always found ridiculous. How can you choose just one when each satisfies a wholly unique craving? So here are a handful of apocalypses that I simply adore…

road warrior1. Mad Max

This apocalypse itself feels real. The old world got too greedy — draining the earth dry of oil, fighting for control of precious resources, playing with its nuclear machines (sound familiar?). The original trilogy shows the progression of economic collapse to total anarchy in the background of Max’s story, something that many apocalypse stories skip over. And let’s face it, the survivors of this apocalypse are fabulous. From the hockey mask-wearing Lord Humungus to Tina Turner’s chainmail one-piece to the Milk Boys’ gleaming chrome smiles, the Mad Max world does chaos in style. And don’t even get me started on the vehicles.

2. The Book of Eli

On the whole, this is a pretty cookie-cutter apocalypse. Nuclear war leads to an American wasteland. Vagabonds haunt the roads and hurt innocent people. Small civilizations pop up and try to rebuild something that only the older citizens remember and the younger ones can never understand. What I like about this story is Eli’s journey. He’s one man, trudging on with a purpose, a greater goal that he believes will help society find itself again. And on the way, he learns that it is just as important to stop and help others. Whether you believe in the book he carries or not, the message he carries is faith and being good to one another — something people in the apocalypse always need to relearn.

3. The Silo Trilogy

Major spoilers ahead. Hugh Howey’s apocalypse is masterful, because the characters don’t even realize they are in an apocalypse at first. Humans destroyed the world, literally hitting the reset button on society, with the hope that the civilizations that emerge in the silos will learn to be better. The trilogy touches on themes of political power, climate change, isolation/containment, and the very essence of human nature. And the lesson? At about 150 pages from the end, I’m fairly certain that the whole project was useless, that humanity will adapt no matter what it is given, but in the end, the same traits that destroyed the world will be the ones that defy the well-intentioned plans.

michael lucifer4. Supernatural

This is where fans of the show roll their eyes and ask which one. For me, the almost apocalypse I most enjoy is the Biblical one, where archangels Lucifer and Michael are meant to battle it out on Earth. Here, humanity doesn’t really matter. The apocalypse is not our fault, and it’s not even about us anymore. We’re caught in between the longest standing family feud in the mythical world, and yet, everything these supernatural beings feel is inextricably human. Betrayal, jealousy, anger, sadness. There’s nothing humanity can do to stop its destruction…and yet, the Winchesters find a way. Because, as weak and feeble as it may be in the eyes of angels, humanity is still a force to be reckoned with.

5. Interstellar

I felt every labored breath through this entire movie, because it felt too real. Seeing that dusty wasteland on Earth, hearing how it would be the last harvest for okra, it’s freaking terrifying. That is the apocalypse of climate change, and as someone who works in a tangentially agricultural field (wine), it’s a serious concern that I read about on a weekly basis. Again, Interstellar is another triumphant tale, whereby insignificant humans rally together to save their species. As a sucker for underdogs (and a total daddy’s girl), you can bet I teared up several times. I just hope the underlying lesson is not forgotten: as of right now, we as humans have no where to run.

As I said before, this is by no means a definitive list, but I think each apocalypse speaks to the themes I like: a probable cause, dusty isolation, and the undefeatable human spirit. Because I know someone will ask, yes, I love me a good zombie apocalypse, too. But, as I’m sure many science fiction fans will agree, those warrant a whole other discussion…

What are your favorite apocalypse stories? How do you feel about the apocalypse genre? Share your thoughts below!

Book Reviews, Fiction Blog

Indie Book Review: Crossings by Ashley Capes

crossingsCrossings by Ashley Capes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This is the second book I have read by Ashley Capes (the first was The Fairy Wren, which I gave 5 stars), and it was every bit as fantastic. Capes’s books straddle the line between genres – they are a unique blend of supernatural and thriller, with a dash of crime mystery. Point blank: readers who enjoy any one of those genres should be reading Ashley’s books.

Crossings follows Lisa, a volunteer wildlife ranger, as she investigates a local farmer’s claim that he saw a giant white kangaroo. As the novel unfolds, the mystery of the white roo grows increasingly more complex and is complicated by other troubling occurrences in Lisa’s life. Mainly, her abusive ex-boyfriend comes back into town, right about the same time as mutilated animal corpses begin showing up outside her house. Lisa must get to the bottom of these brutalities as well as the mystery of the white roo, all while dealing with the declining health of her elderly father.

As I raved in my other book review, Capes has a phenomenal ability to craft realistic, flawed characters. Lisa is not perfect – she sometimes lets her emotions get the best of her, but she has strong redeeming qualities (such as her compassion for animals), too. Likewise, the side characters are well-developed and complex, and they have established, significant relationships with Lisa and each other. One of my favorite qualities in a novel is when characters feel like real people, flaws and all, and Ashley Capes delivers.

I cannot say much more about the plot without revealing spoilers. However, for those plot-oriented readers, I will say this. The plot contains a few twists and turns – nothing comes out of no where, but the journey is still fun and you will be guessing several times. While the ending is satisfying, it does leave some questions unanswered. For me, this isn’t a bad thing, and I’m happy to come to my own conclusions. However, I imagine some readers will find this frustrating and feel a small lack of closure.

Overall, Crossings is a gripping cross-genre novel with the perfect blend of supernatural elements and thriller style. Once again, Capes has crafted realistic, flawed characters that lead the reader through a story with just the right amount of twists and turns. If you love supernatural, thriller, crime, or mystery and you haven’t read Capes’s work yet, you’re missing out.

View all my reviews

crossingsIf you are interested in reading Crossings and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it through my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, nor will the author receive a cent less, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.