#OctPoWriMo entry #6 — Tantalizing


Tantalizing temptations show a future
that will never materialize
A desirable object that will always
be just out of reach
Promising to quench your thirst, but
leaving you forever parched
Offering delicious fruits that
can never be harvested
Don’t seek the tantalizing,
it is a cruel mirage
Look for the achievable, the attainable,
rewards that can be verified
Or suffer the fate of Tantalus,
forever tormented by goals beyond his grasp

c. 10/6/2016 Betsy A. Riley

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#OctPoWriMo entry #5 — Sharp


The pain starts with pins and needles.
That sounds so harmless, cute even,
like what folks say about waiting for a surprise.
It is not. Not harmless. Not cute.
Pins and needles are distinctly different.
Needles are sharper and go in easier, deeper.
Pins take more force to puncture the skin,
and they are thick enough to feel while still embedded.
So the pin pains stay mostly stable, stationary–
while the needles jab more quickly,
there and gone in bursts,
stabbing deeply when least expected.
Flinching doesn’t help, but it is involuntary,
as are the small gasps of pain.
As the aching numbness spreads,
the widespread dull weight is surpassed
by sudden pangs, each sharper than the last.
It is almost a relief to have it localized,
to have a place to point to,
to say, “the pain is there”
hoping a location will lead to a cause,
and cause to a cure.
A cure before the small gasps become
a constant keening, off-key, sharp,
a wincing soundtrack to despair.

c. 10/5/2016 Betsy A. Riley


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#OctPoWriMo entry #4 — Purple


Where are the purple people?
The red states and blue states united
across party lines to do what is best
for the nation as a whole?
I know they are out there.

Purple prose floods the internet,
trading insults for the sake of insults,
ignoring facts, inflating errors,
barely stopping to take a breath–
wait, that’s not what I meant
by purple people. Oops.

c. 10/4/16 Betsy A. Riley

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#OctPoWriMo entry #3 — Sparkling


She is a sprite, a glowing dot,
daughter of a spark from the burgeoning fire.
She dances just outside reality,
watching her mother ignite the flames.
She is learning her future job,
seeing how to turn up the heat.
She studies the timber,
looking for the spots that will catch.
She dances among the billowing smoke,
waiting with endless patience.
She knows the winds will come, gusting,
carrying her to new prey,
when she becomes more than just
a Spark-ling.

c. 10/4/2016 Betsy A. Riley

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#OctPoWriMo entry #2 — The Void

The Void

When we mess up writing a check,
we scrawl “Void” across it,
and it becomes uncashable.
When we cannot come to agreement
on a contract, we stamp it “Void”,
and it becomes unenforceable.
What about our other bad decisions?
Is there a void button
for regretful parts of our lives?
Can we wipe away the bad years,
bad relationships, bad investments
with a giant “VOID”?
Or must we rely on our past flops
to let us know what futures to aVOID.

c. Betsy A. Riley 10/4/16

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#OctPoWriMo entry #1 — Time


Events float in space,
distinct, independent,
until we force a connection–
an order—based on time.
In doing so, we restrict our vision,
seeing only events we define as Past.
We think them gone, immutable,
and deny ourselves views
of events we define as Future.
Leaving us stuck in the present,
prisoners of Time.

c. 10/4/16 Betsy A. Riley

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Beyond Forgiveness

In “Finding Forgiveness” we discussed techniques to make it easier to forgive, and how forgiving others can benefit you. If we consider a world view that is different from most Western religions (but central to some Eastern religions), there is a step beyond forgiveness: gratitude and blessing. Usually this step can only be accomplished later in life, when you have seen the blessings and talents that are the results of your earlier traumas.

One world view is that the Earth is a school for our souls. We go through many lifetimes, seeking to advance our enlightenment to higher levels. Our experience on Earth is a contract we select in the time between lives. Before being born, we select which challenges we want to overcome, which lessons we want to learn. With each challenge/lesson come talents and blessings we can achieve if we meet those challenges.

Many of the challenges are physical hardships. That means that someone in our life is tasked with the challenge of providing those hardships to us. In providing trials and tribulations to us, they have provided fodder for our spiritual growth. But, in doing so, they have also sacrificed the life time they could have spent on their own challenges.

Consider the spiritual growth you have had, the blessings or talents you have gained — are they worth the trauma you went through? Are you happy with the person you have become? If so, then what is there to forgive? You can release any residual resentment and go beyond forgiveness to send thanks and blessings to your abuser for their role as your teacher. There is a belief that the soul of that person is in limbo, unable to reincarnate, until you can release them with gratitude and blessings. Otherwise you both carry the karmic burden into future incarnations. Do you really want to go through your troubles a second time?

While forgiveness can lift a weight from you and improve your health, expressing gratitude and blessings can be transformative. Embrace the opportunity, so your suffering is not wasted — you’ll be glad you did.

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Finding Forgiveness

We are given many reasons to forgive those who have wronged us. Advocates may cite scripture, Karma, personal health, psychology, or family unity. Forgiveness is not easy — sometimes it can take a lifetime to be able to accomplish that task.

Most religions order us to forgive — in Christianity we are told to “turn the other cheek”. This can be hard to reconcile with psychiatric advice to “stand up for yourself” — but forgiveness can be a hidden blessing to you. Refusing to forgive creates a burden on the one who was wronged. It means you are carrying a connection to that abuse, strengthening your memory of being a victim. Know that forgiving someone does NOT mean you condone their actions, just that you are ready to move on with your own life and release the connection to that past pain. Doing this may help reduce current pain you carry.

Sometimes the person who wronged you will not accept forgiveness. They are adamant that they did nothing wrong (or even that they did nothing at all). It can be very hard to forgive when others deny that your trauma even happened. But forgiveness is for YOU, not for them. You can forgive someone in your heart, even after they have died or you have had to cut off all contact for your own safety. You can write a letter that you do not send, or include your forgiveness in a prayer. If you are sincere, it will be as if a burden is lifted from your shoulders.

Sometimes finding reasons or explanation (NOT excuses, NOT justifications) for the other person’s bad behavior can help you find a way to forgive:

  • The person didn’t realize they were harming you
  • The person suffered similar harm and thought such behavior was normal
  • The person had no role model to teach them proper behavior
  • The person was sent to teach you a karmic lesson
  • The person has a mental disorder or impulse control illness
  • The person was projecting their hatred of someone else onto you
  • Carrying the memory is hurting you more than them

Know that forgiveness can be a private thing. You have no obligation to tell others that you have forgiven someone. Also know that in most cases the abuse is not personal, not because of something you did — you were just there, so you became the target. As an adult, you can walk away. You can remove toxic people from your life by cutting off any physical or verbal contact. To cut the final spiritual connection, find it in yourself to forgive.


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Get Your Scare On (Monster Fest 2013 panel on Writing Horror)

Rough History of Horror Fiction

H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous quote about the genre is that: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The first horror story was probably told around a fire by a caveman.

The roots of horror lie in folklore and religion — for Europeans in the Middle Ages that covered death, the afterlife, evil (represented by witches, vampires, ghosts, and demons). Greek mythology had a bit more diversity: giants, monsters, curses, and magical creatures and objects.

The 18th century spawned Gothic Horror, which drew on the supernatural over realism–typically represented by a female menaced in a gloomy castle. This trope was so pervasive, it spawned the sub-genre of Gothic Romance.

The 19th century brought the “classic” monsters: Frankenstein, Jekyll/Hyde, Dorian Gray, Dracula, etc. It also brought us the body of work by Poe.

The 20th century added new twists: Weird Tales, madness/cruelty, cosmic horror (Cthulhu), the antequarian ghost story (discovering a book or object that triggers evil), slasher films, splatter films, Tales from the Crypt, I am Legend (apocalyptic zombie like Romero’s) , Daphne de Maurier’s “The Birds” (eco-disaster)

Contemporary horror has enlarged the genre, with new tropes and revivals of older styles. With writers such as Stephen King, Laurell K. Hamilton, Dean Koontz, contemporary horror includes were-animals, urban fantasy, erotic gothic (vampires and more), alternate history, mashups, and grindhouse revivals .

Why Write/Read Horror?

Robert McCammon, one of the founders of HWA (Horror Writers of America), said, “Horror fiction upsets apple carts, burns old buildings, and stampedes the horses; it questions and yearns for answers, and it takes nothing for granted. It’s not safe, and it probably rots your teeth, too. Horror fiction can be a guide through a nightmare world, entered freely and by the reader’s own will. And since horror can be many, many things and go in many, many directions, that guided nightmare ride can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose.”

Technically “horror” is revulsion AFTER an event, while terror is dread BEFORE an event — but in fiction we lump the two together. The “shark music” helped ramp up the terror level in Jaws, while the victims’ bodies create the revulsion.

People read horror for many reasons. Horror can satisfy the need for a thrill (like a roller coaster). The monster/villain/menace can be a metaphor for real life events — like Godzilla and all those giant spiders/ants from 1950s films as metaphors for nuclear war.

Examples (ones that scare ME)

• Cujo and Jaws both rely on the unexpected monster — attacks out of the blue on victims trapped in the dubious safety of a vehicle.
• The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby use old school religious evil — the devil.
• There are several varieties of group devolution: Lord of the Flies, The Lottery, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984 — where the society itself is the threat.
• Fear of the crazy person next door, or the random stranger are used in The Collector, Misery, Silence of the Lambs, and The Illustrated Man.
• “Science gone wrong” got its start with Frankenstein, but lives on in movies like Jurassic Park.
• The Haunting of Hill House (the book) explores the boundaries between supernatural and insanity.
• The Amityville Horror (the book) shares with Jaws (the book) a financial subplot — the victims can’t afford to flee the villain.

What readers want: suspense, unexpected or shocking ending, believable characters, believable setting, unrelenting pace, something left to the imagination (especially when it comes to gore) — like the way we never get a good look at the monster in the first Alien movie.

What readers DON’T want: too much detail, giving away the ending, gore for no purpose, illogical actions — like the teenager who goes down in the dark basement after they know a murderer/monster is on the loose.

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Blood in Southern Waters (Capclave 2013: why set vampire stories in the South?)

I don’t usually write vampire stores, but I set my urban fantasy stories in the South — New Orleans (NOLA) specifically, for several reasons — so I can see why it would be a top choice for setting a vampire story (except of course for Mr. King, who sets everything in New England).

• NOLA is a 24-hour city–it’s not unusual for folk to be wandering the streets at all hours.
• Costumes are common–not just during Mardi Gras–so strangely dressed folks won’t get a second look from locals.
• Most of the tourists are drunk–making them easy targets
• Lots of spooky locations: the Quarter, old plantation houses, swamps
• There is a history of belief in the supernatural–voodoo, zombies, witches
• Many readers are familiar with the location–I’ve been there several times myself.

To me, Louisiana is the ultimate setting for horror–especially vampires. It has such dramatic contrasts, from fancy hotels to seedy bars. There is great music, even in the alleys; and distinctive food in five star restaurants and tiny stands. Where else can you find voodoo shops on every corner, and window displays that put sex toys next to statues of the Virgin Mary? The opening montage of True Blood captures so much of the culture–showing how easy it is to find a creepy factor in some Southern traditions.

Many best-selling vampire novels are set in NOLA. Anne Rice took vampires out of the coffin to be interviewed. Charlaine Harris took them mainstream and made them fun (and sexy). Laurell K. Hamilton made them sexy (and kinky).


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