I have a guest blogger today. Let me welcome Toni V. Sweeney. Toni is a prolific author of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror. She is here to tell you about her most recently published novel. So I’m just going to turn the blog over to her. Enjoy!
Toni, it’s all yours …
A Bit of the Dark World was the first novel I ever wrote…and the latest to be published. Thirty-nine years elapsed between the time I sat in front of my typewriter to begin “Chapter One,” and the day I submitted it to Class Act Books for consideration. Thirty-nine years, two typewriters, and four computers later… I’m writing a blog about it. Whew! That was a definite struggle…
Almost everyone is familiar with Edgar Allan Poe. At one time or another, we’ve probably read one of his short stories, even if it was in tenth-grade English where “The Pit and the Pendulum” was required reading. How many, however, are familiar with HP Lovecraft, a man who was influenced by Poe and in the Twentieth Century, became his equal in writing tales of mystery and imagination?
I don’t see any other hands raised…except my own. Okay…
Lovecraft was a New Englander, a sickly child who grew into an introspective man. During his lifetime, he kept up a correspondence with several aspiring teenaged authors, most of whom, because of his mentoring, later became well-known themselves. (Do the names Robert Bloch (Psycho) and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) ring bells?)
HPL, as he’s general referred to, authored stories often set in the harsh surrounds of his native New England, specifically the towns of Providence, RI, and Arkham—which some readers may recognize as the name of the Asylum where the Joker and many another criminal pursued by Batman eventually ended incarcerated. The tales concerned the god Cthulu and the other amorphous horror-inspiring“Great Old Ones,” beings older than Time, tossed out of their own dimension into ours where they were bested by enemies and imprisoned on our world. With the aid of human servants, they occasionally escape their bonds and wreak havoc on the unsuspecting New England countryside.
I was introduced to Lovecraft during my teenage years through a single story “The Dunwich Horror” in an anthology entitled Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, which I received as a gift for my twelfth birthday. This story was later made into a movie starring Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell. In it, the heroine is tied to an altar and the monster makes forcible and ritualistic love to her after which she becomes pregnant with his monstrous child. Okay…I admit it…that scene right there triggered the idea for A Bit of the Dark World but I didn’t do anything about it just then. I was a mere college student. What did I know about writing anything? Hah!
Years later, nearly a decade, in fact, I had the privilege of living next door to a Lovecraft scholar. A truly fascinating man who was not only a professor of psychology and a karate black belt, he owned a library consisting of hundreds of books on Lovecraft as well as translations in German, French, even Japanese. He graciously allowed me to borrow some and read them. Initially, I didn’t know what a honor I was being given until his wife commented, “You really rate. He doesn’t let anyone touch those books.”
That’s when I decided to write that story which had been germinating in my little brain all those years.
Of course, being who I am, I wasn’t going to set my story in the far-off Yankeeland of New England and I justified changing the setting this way…Why did the Great Old Ones center themselves only around New England? Lovecraft’s followers placed them in England, the Middle and Far East, in abandoned cities, deep jungle valleys, or high, frozen mountain peaks. Why couldn’t some of them have traveled further South and found disciples among the southern population?
New Orleans would seem the ideal spot but every supernatural in the world heads there. I decided to make my haven for Cthulu and his ilk the islands off the coast of Georgia.
And thus I came up with the idea for A Bit of the Dark World…
…of a young man fighting his heritage while ambiguously reveling in the power it gives him…a foolish young woman falls in love with two men who both know the secrets of Land’s End Island…and a doctor genetically imbued with the truth fights to prevent the disaster he knows is coming…
The sex Lovecraft only hints at is full realized in my story, so I doubt if HPL would wholeheartedly approve, but perhaps he might at least give me an “E for Effort” for the general tone of the novel as well as the way I’ve portrayed his creations.
The island loomed before them and they were on land again, the road narrowing into a snake of a path with a layer of beach soil slithering from under the tires.
Leaving the safety of the bridge, they drove into a dead world. The car was in a tunnel, trees huddling together, overhead branches grasping each other hiding the sky. A low, thin mist hovered, plucking at tatters of Spanish moss. It fluttered in the breeze blowing from the shore.
Lisa looked up through the windshield. Though it was as sticky and humid as only a Southern summer night could be, she felt chilled. Perhaps it was the darkness and the enclosed sensation, as if the trees were creeping closer, slowly entrapping them. The wind blowing through the window onto her damp skin made her shiver. Pressing one of the buttons in the arm rest, she closed the window.
“Cold?” Robin glanced her way. It was the first time he’d spoken since they crossed the bridge.
“A little chilly.” She sounded apologetic, voice loud in the stillness. Rob was already turning away, attention once more on the road. His expression was set and urgent. Combined with the speed at which he was driving, that added to Lisa’s uneasiness.
As a distraction, she turned her attention outside again. It’s too quiet. Where were the familiar night noises…frogs, crickets, an occasional bird? In spite of its haven of trees, the lonely stretch of road held no sounds other than the noise of the motor and the swish of tires. As if beyond the shadows, all life ceased. Through Rob’s open window floated the scent of honeysuckle, thickly sweet and overpowering, mingling with the salt tang on the breeze.
We’re lost. She felt foolishly close to panic. That’s silly. All we have to do is turn around and— “Rob, let’s go back. It’s dark. We can’t see anything.” She touched his arm, afraid without knowing why. “Are we going to drive all night?”
For just a moment, he didn’t answer, just keep staring straight ahead. When he did look at her, his gaze was blank and uncomprehending. As if he were waking in an unfamiliar place and not understanding how he’d gotten there. He shuddered, blinked, and startled recognition flashed.
“Okay, sweetheart. Don’t know what I was thinking. I—” His attention was jerked back to the road. “What the Hell…”
Through a parting of branches, a glowing, swollen moon sprinkled light onto the road. From the corner of her eye, Lisa saw it, too. Something running, dark and man-high but shapeless—are those wings?—darting in front of the car to the safety of the ditch on the far side.
In the next instant, the creature was forgotten and she was fighting to keep her balance as Rob slammed on the brakes and jerked the wheel, swerving to avoid hitting the thing. The sandy soil slid away, the car went into a skid. Rob struggled with the wheel, taking his foot off the brake pedal, trying to regain control. They felt the momentary shudder as a tire struck a rock jutting out of the road’s shoulder. The steering wheel was wrenched from Rob’s hands as the other tire went off the edge of the road.
Lisa’s scream hung briefly in the night air as the Mustang plunged down the slope of the ditch. In spite of their seat belts, she and Rob collided against each other with heart-numbing force as the nose of the car hit bottom and bounced up the other side. With a shattering of metal and glass, it dived into the trunk of a tree, air bags exploding from their compartments.
Something went wrong. The bags stayed flat, wrapping around them like yards of elastic. Encased in a rubberized shroud, Rob smashed against the windshield as his seatbelt ripped apart. Lisa’s body hurtled out of the seat, fear-stiffened legs striking under the dashboard with a loud snap-snap-snap! Fire shot up her right leg. In the aftermath of the impact rocking the car, she bounced back against the seat, and the first of the black clouds descended…
A Bit of the Dark World—the title is a quote from Rudyard Kipling’s The Phantom Rickshaw—will be available from class Act Books on October 15. You can find it here
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