10 Badass Women Of History

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Powerful women should be celebrated all year round, but this International Women’s Day is especially important to highlight them. Though history books are filled with the deeds of powerful men, women rarely get the same shine. That’s why I’ve put together this list of ten women whose deeds deserve to be more widely recognized.

 

Enheduanna – The First Published Author

This Akkadian woman is considered the first author to be known by name. She was the daughter of Sargan of Akkad and was the first woman to serve as the high priestess of the temple of Sumer.  Enheduanna is credited with developing the “paradigms of poetry, psalms, and prayers,” which are still in use today. Her three hymns, Inninsagurra, Ninmesarra, and Inninmehusa, are thought to have instrumental in providing context to the Akkadian gods under Sargon’s rule and helped “provide religious homogeneity.” Enheduanna’s passionate and original work has made her a remarkable woman of history. 

 

Hatshepsut – Power In The Ancient World

Hatshepsut ruled as Pharoah from 1479 – 1458 B.C. She was the sixth ruler of the eighteenth dynasty. Though she was not the only female ruler, she is often considered the most successful. Her reign was marked by a period of prosperity and artistic renaissance. However, the way Hatshepsut acquired power has been considered controversial by some over the years. After her husband, Pharoah Thutmose II died, she was named regent, holding down the throne for her stepson, Thutmose III. After seven years of dutifully performing these duties, Hatshepsut declared herself Pharoah and began having all artwork depict her as a man. Though some scholars (mostly men) viewed her actions as that of a conniving, shrewish woman, others contend that Hatshepsut’s move was done to protect the throne After a long and successful reign, not unmarked by controversy, Hatshepsut died in 1458. Thutmose III, either as an act of personal revenge or a misogynistic political move, had virtually all records of his stepmother removed. Thankfully, many of the monuments Hatshepsut had erected still stand.

 

Boudica – The Celtic Savior
The Romans conquered Britain in 43 AD, and when they did, most Celtic tribes had to swear fealty. But the Iceni tribe, led by King Prasutagas and Queen Boudica, was initially left alone as a (forced) ally for the Empire until Prasutaga’s death in 60 AD. Since there was no male heir to the throne, the Romans took over. They publicly humiliated Boudica, flogging her and raping her daughters. When Gaius Suetonius Paulinus (the provincial governor at the time) marched into Wales, Boudica and an army of Celts defeated the Roman Ninth Legion. Boudica’s army ravaged Roman strongholds, destroying the Roman capital of Britain and marching to London. Though her final battle with the Romans ended in defeat, Boudica is still hailed as a national heroine.

 

Tomoe Gozen – A Warrior Worth A Thousand
Born circa 1157, she was one of the Onna Musha, part of the female warrior class. She was an accomplished archer and a master of the long sword who fought in the Genpei War. The Genpei war, which was a Game of Thrones-style fight for the throne between the Taira family and the Minamoto family, raged from 1180-1185. During the war, Tomoe established herself as such a badass, that Lord Kiso no Yoshinaka named her as the commander of his army. This probably because Tomoe led a group of 300 soldiers in a battle against the Taira army (which numbered in the thousands) and emerging as one of five survivors. Or possibly it was that she collected the heads of seven Taira mounted soldiers in one battle.

 

Florence Nightengale – The Lady With the Lamp
Florence knew from a young age that she wanted to be a nurse. Despite her family’s staunch disapproval, Florence left England to study at the Kaiserswerth hospital in Dusseldorf, Germany. She became a nurse and was promoted to Head Nurse after only a year. She was known for her work to improve sanitation processes, so Florence was contacted to help with the harsh conditions of the Crimean War. Florence saw that more soldiers were dying from disease and infection than injuries sustained in battle. She got to work cleaning the hospital, procuring clean linens, and nurturing the patients. Her work reduced the mortality rate by two-thirds. During the Civil War, she was consulted on how to improve sanitation conditions on the war front.

 

Harriet Tubman – The Conductor
Harriet was born into slavery in 1820. When her owner died in 1849, Harriet escaped slavery and fled to Philadelphia. Instead of remaining safely in the free state of Pennsylvania, Harriet helped her family make the journey to Philadelphia, starting with her niece, Kessiah, and her family. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, making an escape from slavery more perilous for black Americans. As a result, Tubman routed the Underground Railroad to Canada. She helped hundreds of slaves escape to freedom, and during the Civil War, she acted as a spy for the Union Army.  

 

Claudette Colvin – The Trailblazer
Before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, there was Claudette Colvin. Claudette was born in 1939 in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1955, at just 16, Claudette refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. She was arrested and served as one of four plaintiffs in the case Browder vs Gayle, a case that ruled Montgomery’s segregated bus system unconstitutional in 1956. Though Claudette was instrumental in changing this law, her contribution to the start of the Civil Rights Movement is little known. After she had her first child, Claudette and her son moved to New York, where she served as a nurse until retiring in 2014.

 

Shirley Chisholm – The Game Changer
In 1968, Shirley became the first black American congresswoman. Prior to serving in Congress, she received a Master’s degree from Columbia, served as director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, and as an educational consultant for New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare. She made history in 1968 when she began the first of many terms in the House of Representatives, serving New York. Shirley also helped form the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969 and also ran for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. Though it was George McGovern who ultimately received the nomination, Shirley’s run made history once again.

 

Billie Jean King – All She Does Is Win

Billie Jean was a tennis star, an advocate for pay equity, and one of the first openly gay athletes. From an early age, Billie Jean had a love of sports. She played softball until age 11 when she took up the tennis racket. In 1966, she won her first major championship at Wimbledon. By 1968 she became the world’s No.1 female player. Her 1973 match with player Bobby Riggs, a talented but sexist player, secured her place in history. The match was dubbed the Battle of the Sexes, and Billie Jean beat Bobby before an estimated 90 million viewers. In 1981, after being sued by a former assistant and lover, Billie Jean came out. She divorced her husband and settled down with her longtime partner, Ilana Kloss.

 

Ruth Bader Ginsberg – The Notorious R.B.G.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the second female appointed to Supreme Court Justice. Born in Brooklyn in 1933, Ruth went on to graduate from Cornell University and then Columbia, where she earned her degree in law. In 1980, Ruth was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals and served until 1993, when former President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Supreme Court. In her role as Supreme Court Justice, Ruth has established herself as a staunch feminist and advocate for social justice. She was a key decider in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. RBG passed away in October 2020, leaving a long and wonderful legacy behind.

 

History is filled with so many more amazing women. What women do you look up to?

My Favorite Podcasts

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Let’s get this out of the way now: 2020 has mostly been trash. 

 

Getting through this pandemic has been tough for a lot of reasons, and even though there have been bright spots for me, this year has been so tough mentally, emotionally, and physically. There are only a few things that have gotten me through the year – baking, my writing community, publishing my first book, Megan Thee Stallion, and podcasts.

 

I’ve got an endless library of shows to listen to, but there are a few that are in heavy rotation each week for me. They’ve helped me get through 2020, and they might just help you as we crawl through these last few weeks of 2020.

 

The Read

Hosted by two of the funniest people ever, Kid Fury and Crissle, The Read dissects all things Black culture and current news, from Nene Leakes to Beyonce to the next Versuz battle. The hosts then read and respond to listener lessons where people write in questions from their personal lives and the hosts give advice. Finally, the shows end with the hosts “Reading” something or someone, and no one is safe. They’ve read Missy Elliot, Eva Longoria, flying cockroaches in NYC, the police, etc. This show truly offers a needed perspective, and as a Black woman, it feels like sitting at a cookout with my siblings talking shit and partying.

 

Last Podcast on the Left

I mentioned this podcast in another blog. It’s made my list again because it’s that good – show hosts Henry Zebrowski, Ben Kissel, and Marcus Parks cover all horrors, real and imaginary. Every episode is extensively researched and the chemistry between the show hosts creates a funny and intense dynamic. Some of my favorite topics are Jonestown, Jodie Arias, Adolpho Constanzo, and lobotomies

 

Sibling Rivalry

If you’re even a passing RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, you know who Bob The Drag Queen and Monét X Change are. Their podcast, Sibling Rivalry, is basically two friends talking about everything, from villains to death to social media. All the while, they are ragging on each other as only a pair of siblings could. I’m a big fan of shows where I feel like I’m getting a look inside the creator’s lives, and Sibling Rivalry is the perfect option.

 

You’re Wrong About

Helmed by hosts Michael Hobbs and Sarah Marshall, this podcast seeks to set the record straight on some of the most memorable events in the American zeitgeist, including the Satanic Panic, Lorena Bobbitt, the Challenger explosion, OJ Simpson, and more. This is the perfect podcast for anyone who loves learning about the events that shaped our politics, culture, and world views. The hosts are funny and insightful, and it’s easy to binge-listen to episode after episode. 

 

Dreaming In The Dark

Developed by two Black fantasy lovers and authors, Dreaming In The Dark addresses the roles of Black people in fantasy. Each episode dissects these things, like how loving fantasy as a Black person often meant loving a genre that offered little to no representation. The show featured guests like Roseanne Brown, author of A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, and Tracey Deonn, author of Legendborn

 

Scam Goddess

Hosted by the hilarious Laci Mosley, Scam Goddess feels like sitting in the living room with your best friend and talking about all manner of chicanery, or rather “scams, fraud, robberies, and cons.” Each week you’ll learn more about crimes of passion, of power, and of the internet as Laci chats with guests like Nicole Byer, Trixie Mattel, Jameela Jamil, and Conan O’Brien. This is a fun podcast to listen to when you need a laugh and want to learn something along the way. 

 

Affirmative Murder

This is the first true-crime podcast I’ve come across hosted by two Black men. Alvin and Fran are life-long friends who talk about murder, especially those committed by BIPOC. They are very frank about the things they don’t know, and always make it a point to hold themselves and others accountable. Their chemistry and the way they relay the crimes adds some levity to often very gruesome topics. Some of my favorite episodes are Amerikill Idol, Doo Doo Brown Vendetta, Room 1046, and Horror at Harvard.

 

Hollywood Crime Scene

Listening to the ladies at Hollywood Crime Scene is like hanging out with your best friends, talking about true crime, and eating your favorite comfort foods. Long-time friends and hosts Desi Jedeikin and Rachel Fisher talk about crime specifically related to Tinsel Town – everything from Bing Crosby to Judy Garland to the Red Lipstick Murder. Their chemistry is amazing and they don’t hold back with their commentary about the crimes, food, sex, or other celebrities. 

 

Keep It 

This is the perfect show for all you pop culture and news junkies. Hosted by journalists/ screenwriters Ira Madison III, Aida Osman, and Louis Vertel, Keep It breaks down the latest news in Hollywood and beyond, discussing everything from the coronavirus to Pose to Brittney Spears. They also have a weekly guest, and some of my favorites have been Angelica Ross, Gabrielle Union, Eugene Levy and Kathrine O’Hara, and more.

 

What Did You Do?!

There are a ton of true crime podcasts out there, but very few are helmed by Black hosts. Charneil and Dee examine crimes, both famous and lesser-known, using their respective backgrounds in forensic psychology and social work. Their unique perspectives and humor make this podcast feel like you’re launching into deep conversation with your best friends about the correlation between mental health and crime. Some of my favorite episodes include Andrea Yates, The Hart Family, and Andrew Cunanan

 

90’s Crime Time 

This show focuses on crimes that take place in the ’90s, the best (or worst) decade. The host, Simone Taylor, has the most relaxing and calming voice. She recounts each tale with mounting tension, like the episode about James Byrd Jr., and at the end gives her opinion on the case. Most episodes are thirty minutes or less, so they are before for when you need something quick to listen to.

 

Bruh Issa Murder

Hosted by the hilarious and chill duo of Andre and Battle, Bruh Issa Murder is another true crime podcast hosted by Black men who primarily discuss crimes against and involving BIPOC. They each bring a tale to the table and at the end include a cut of some music as somewhat of a palate cleanser. Their chemistry and passion for cases like The Grim Sleeper and Kenneka Jenkins make this podcast a must-listen, especially for Black true crime lovers. 

 

Lore

If you ever find yourself in the mood for something spooky, Lore is the podcast to go to. Hosted by Aaron Mahnke, each episode talks about something supernatural like the undead or some part of our grim history, like H.H. Holmes. Episodes are short, about 40 minutes, and they are easy to binge to get your fix of the macabre.

 

Hopefully one or all of these podcasts will help you get through the rest of this year and the next (let’s be real, no one knows what fresh hell or heaven is waiting for us next year). I’m always looking for new podcasts to add to my already long list – what podcasts do you listen to? 

13 Musical Artists You Should Know

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Music is the great salve for all your writing woes – it can help you get over writer’s block, set the tone for your writing session, and get the creative juices flowing. I know your playlists are probably sacrosanct, but if you’re looking for a little more power, check out these thirteen artists below.

 

Tank and The Bangas – this soul group lead by Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Tank and The Bangas are a New Orleans band that blew up after winning the 2017 NPR Tiny Desk concert. Their music is an eclectic mix of slam poetry, neo-soul, and chill beach vibes. When writing early aughts comedy, pieces with political activism, and YA drama, listen to Tank and The Bangas. Suggested Songs: Self Care, To Be Real, Spaceships, and Ants. 

 

Nightwish – this Finnish symphonic metal band paved the way for Epica and Within Temptation. But there’s something special about Nightwish, and part of that is their ability to keep churning out fantastic tunes after 20 years. For epic world-building, cyberpunk, or magical realism check them out. Suggested songs: Gethsemane, Ghost Love Score, Shudder Before the Beautiful, and The Greatest Show on Earth.

 

Glass Animals – originally from Oxford, Glass Animals has a sound so unique I can only classify it as psychedelic indie with hip hop influences. Their smooth tone is easy to get lost in, which is why their music aids with focus. When your writing modern romance, unreliable narrators, and pithy dialogue, tune in to Glass Animals. Suggested songs: Dreamland, Heatwaves, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, and Gooey.

 

Flo Milli – though she’s only 20, Flo Milli raps with the expertise and agency of an MC twice her age. She’s got a unique style that makes her stand out from the crowd, and her flows are empowering. When writing female-led capers, YA set in the big city, or satire Flo Milli is your girl. Suggested songs: May I, Not Friendly, In The Party, and Mean. 

 

Trevor Something – don’t hate on synth-wave, especially since it’s making a comeback. Trevor Something is an anonymous musician who makes dazzling synth songs with catchy lyrics about love, sex, and summer. If you’re working on sci-fi, YA, or an 80’s period piece, Trevor Something is your man. Suggested songs: Fade Away, Summer Lover, All Night, Your Sex is a Dream, and Enjoy the Silence.

 

Childish Gambino – if you’ve watched the shows Community or Atlanta, then you know who Donald Glover is. He’s a brilliant writer both behind the screen and behind the mic, so his music is wonderful to soak up during your creative endeavors. If you’re writing YA, intense family drama, and humorous heroes, check out Childish Gambino. Suggested songs: 3005, Freaks and Geeks, Outside, Redbone, and This Is America.

 

Jidenna – if you’re a fan of Janelle Monáe, then you know her production label, Wondaland. Jidenna is one of many great artists on it, and for good reason. His style is eclectic, and he always cuts a dapper figure in a full-on suit. For writing diverse characters, settings in bustling metropolis’, or romance, Jidenna is your man. Suggested songs: Classic Man, Long Live the Chief, Bambi, Boomerang, and Little Bit More.

 

Empire of the Sun – this Australian duo has been making music for ten years. Their rich electropop sound is just as dazzling as their costumes. With three albums worth of music to get lost in, their music is best for writing fantasy, sci-fi, romance, and magical realism. Suggested songs: Walking on a dream, DNA, We Are the People, On The Way Home, and There’s No Need.

 

Jamiroquai – this British funk band was big in the 90s, and they’ve had a steady following ever since. Perhaps their most notable hit, Virtual Insanity, was released in 1996 and is that iconic video of a guy with a big velvet hat and a shifting room. When writing about dancing, 90s nostalgia, and witty detectives, take a trip with Jamiroquai. Suggested songs: Virtual Insanity, Cosmic Girl, Canned Heat, Space Cowboy, and Cloud 9.

 

Air – this French duo is responsible for the soundtrack of Virgin Suicides and contributed the song “Sexy Boy” to everyone’s favorite teen drama, 10 Things I Hate About You. They have a very eclectic sound, which will go well with magical realism, fantasy, and romance. Suggested songs: Sexy Boy, Highschool Lover, Ce Matin La, Kelly Watch the Stars, and Le Femme d’argent.

 

2Cellos – this Slovenian/Croatian duo has toured with Elton John, toured the world, and established themselves as a musical force. Their cover of Smooth Criminal is what helped gain them recognition, but their talent and harmony with each other has made them a fan favorite. This music is so perfect for writing just about anything, including romantic interludes, dystopian realities, and psychological thrillers. Suggested songs: Orient Express, Thunderstruck, Celloverse, Moon River, and Resistance.

 

Ólafur Arnalds – for those looking for something epic, look no further than Ólafur Arnalds. Each song this Icelander creates is beautiful and perfect for those moments of catharsis. For any emotional powerhouse scene, tragic love story, or slow-burning horror, check Ólafur out. Suggested songs: 3055, Reminiscence, For Now I Am Winter, Reminiscence, and Doria.

 

Anderson .Paak – if you’re in the mood for neo-soul, look no further than Anderson .Paak. His raspy voice and soulful beats feel like a throwback, and the gritty subject matter of his songs makes it all the more binge-able. Anderson .Paak’s music is perfect for writing Southern noir family dramas, 70’s period pieces, and suburban horror. Suggested songs: Brother’s Keeper, Tints, Make It Better, and Lockdown.

 

Who’s your favorite artist to write to? Let me know in the comments below!

Five Fantasy Shows You May Not Remember

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It’s no secret that a love of mythology and fantasy was ingrained in me from a young age.

 

My father loved dragons and Magic the Gathering and told me stories about a girl who lived in the forest and could talk to animals. My mother loved African mythology, specifically Egyptian. She was also a painter and so images of Pharaohs and a bust of Nefertiti set the atmosphere. She also loved to read about vampires and witches and werewolves. When I was finally allowed to channel surf, I discovered fantastical shows that continued to feed my love of the genre. 

 

Fantasy and sci-fi are ubiquitous now, but it wasn’t always this way. There are some shows that were so good but aired too early to reach the right audiences. Or they did, but have been forgotten by time. Here are five fantasy shows you may not remember. 

 

Blood Ties

This short-lived show featured a vampire/PI/detective love triangle and I was here for all of it. Blood Ties follows Vicky, a former detective turned PI who teams up with a sexy vampire, Henry, to solve supernatural cases for her clients. Occasionally, she’ll enlist the help of her former partner and lover, Mike, who is still on the force. Vicky is torn between them – Henry is powerful, cultured, and immortal. Mike is loyal, clever, and familiar. As the show goes on and the cases get weirder, you root for the three of them to succeed. 

 

Moonlight

Another PI + vampire tale is Moonlight. The show follows Mick, a vampire and PI, who solves cases in Los Angeles. He falls in love with a reporter named Beth, as they begin to investigate a case together. Beth introduces him to her friend Morgan, and Mick gags when he realizes that it’s his estranged wife and sire, Coraline. Things only get more interesting from there. This is another short lived but bingeable show. 

 

Dead Like Me 

This show gave us grim reapers who are less like the reapers in Supernatural and more like the characters of The Office. It follows 18-year-old Georgia who, after dying, is informed that she’s in charge of removing the souls of people after they die from accidents. We get to know her and the rest of the reapers in the External Influence Division as they go about their reaper jobs and day jobs. 

 

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

Before Kiernan Shipka took on Sabrina in a dark retelling, there was the quirky Melissa Joan Hart, who played the teenage witch with all the pluck and angst of a 90s teen. Sabrina the Teenage Witch follows Sabrina Spellman after she discovers her powers when he turns 16. She lives with her two 600-year old aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and their magical talking cat, Salem. Sabrina struggles to master her powers and get through high school in one piece. This was a staple in my house especially because it was part of the TGIF lineup on ABC. 

 

Being Human

There are two versions of this show, but like most things, the original is better. It follows three roommates – a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost as they live together and try to make sense of their lives in modern-day Bristol. A big part of the first season is them dealing with their central conflicts – John is trying desperately not to feed, George struggles to maintain his transformations, and Annie tries to find out how she died. I loved the relationship between these characters and how they are truly a found family. 

 

What are your favorite fantasy shows? Let me know!

Five Horror Novels That Aren’t By Stephen King

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I am a horror whore.

I inhale books that keep me awake at night and watch horror movies with my Saturday morning coffee. Even as a young kid I gravitated toward the macabre; when my brother forced me to watch Child’s Play I said I was scared but really, I was fascinated. It’s October, my favorite month, and horror movies and shows and books abound. This is the month for lists of urban legends and “best horror movie” lineups. I’ve got a lot of horror novels that are near and dear to my heart, so I thought I’d share this list with you. The best part is, none of these books were written by Stephen King. Don’t get me wrong—the man is a horror genius since his name is synonymous with horror fiction, but I wanted to shed light on novels you may not have heard of. So, here it goes…

 

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg (1824)

Set in Scotland in the early 1700s, this tale of two brothers takes several creepy turns. George and Robert weren’t raised together but when they meet, Robert becomes obsessed with George. He begins stalking him, mocking him, and nearly pushing him off a cliff. When George is stabbed to death, Robert is the prime suspect—but before he can be arrested, he disappears. As we read more about Robert’s life in the “Sinner” section of the book, we learn of his strict upbringing by his mother and the Reverend Wringhim, and of Gil-Martin, Robert’s mysterious companion. As Gil-Martin’s influence over his life becomes stronger, Robert slips into madness and even loses track of time, leaving the reader to wonder if Robert’s actions were his own or the work of something more sinister.

 

This book was published in the 1800s, so the language can be a bit difficult to read. But the escalation of Robert’s behavior and George’s increasing fear of him makes it worth the read. And, of course, the “is he or isn’t he possessed” debate adds to the creep factor. Fans of slow burners, psychological horror, and possession tales will enjoy this novel.

 

Summer of Night, Dan Simmons (1991)

It’s 1960 and the last day of school at Old Central, an eighty-four-year-old relic with dingy walls and a bell that no longer works. For six preteens, Dale, Mike, Duane, Kevin, Harlen, and Lawrence, this means two months of freedom to ride their bikes and play baseball and watch old movies in the park. But then their classmate, Tubby Cooke, disappears, and so begins their Summer of Night. Soon, their idyllic summer is haunted by a silent World War I soldier, a rendering truck with seemingly no driver, the corpse of an old schoolteacher, and more. An ancient evil is desperate to be reborn, and it’s up to the boys, with the help of Tubby’s sister Cordie, to stop it.

 

Since I really like IT, I was drawn to this book, as the whole “group of kids faces an ancient evil but also still manage to have fun times” premise is very similar. This book did not disappoint. It’s equal parts childhood nostalgia and creep-you-out horror. This book delves into the history of the school and the bell (which is pretty significant) and the founding of their town, Elm Haven, which I also found fascinating.

 

Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn (2015)

 Lucas Graham is offered the story of a lifetime—an interview with death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, a Manson-meets-Jones cult leader who’s never spoken to the press. His career and marriage are over, and his teenage daughter, Violet, hates him. Lucas jumps at the offer, but it comes at a price—  for Lucas to even see Halcomb, he’s got to stay in the house where Halcomb’s crimes were committed. Lucas agrees and moves across the country to the split-level, Washington home where Halcomb and his wayward followers first lured then murdered a woman named Audra Snow and then killed themselves. The book is told from Lucas, Violet, and Audra’s points of view. We learn how Audra was drawn to the group and the terror she felt as the group’s actions escalated. We see Lucas and Violet, now living in the murder house (which Violet is clueless about at first), confronting mysterious sounds and shadows in the middle of the night. Is it their imagination, or do Halcomb’s followers still linger within these walls?

 

This book was stunningly written and creeped me out so much I slept with the light on for a few days (my fiancé was not happy about this). For fans of cults, multiple POVs, and the supernatural.

 

The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon (2014)

Ruthie and Fawn wake up one morning to discover their mother is missing. As they begin their frantic search, Ruthie discovers the diary of the home’s previous owner, Sarah Harrison Shea. Ruthie gradually gets sucked into Sarah’s diary, which details her anguish over her daughter’s death and her gradual issues with her husband. Sarah died in 1908, but even months after her death, some people in the town swear they see Sarah walking through town at night. As Ruthie and her sister go further down the rabbit hole to find their mother and as Ruthie delves further into Sarah’s diary, they realize that some things don’t stay buried.

 

This is the first book of Jennifer McMahon’s that I read, and I immediately fell in love. This book is atmospheric; fans of gory horror will want to pass on this. This is another novel that left me with a general creeped-out feeling long after I stopped reading it. If you love missing-person mysteries, people coming back from beyond the grave, and creepy older houses, this book is for you.

 

A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay (2015)

Fourteen-year-old Marjorie Barrett shows signs of schizophrenia. When medical care proves ineffectual, Marjorie’s parents turn toward the Catholic church, and to Father Wanderly, who is convinced of the girl’s possession. Wanderly contacts a production company who, after hearing about Marjorie’s plight, wants to film the family and the exorcism. With the bills piling up, the Barretts agree to be filmed for the show, The Possession. The book is split between two points of view—Merry, Marjorie’s younger sister, who is now twenty-three and is recounting her experience to a writer, and Karen, a horror blogger who’s doing a review of The Possession fifteen years later. Equally heartbreaking and spooky, A Head Full of Ghosts makes you wonder if possession is really possible, or if mental illness is to blame for Marjorie’s behavior.

 

I’ve both read the book and listened to the audiobook of this novel. Both are excellent. I don’t typically enjoy novels that rely on ambiguity, but this book is an exception. I was engrossed with this, not just for the spooky “what if” moments, but for the relationship between Marjorie and Merry. As a younger sibling, I can relate to their complex relationship. Fans of possession stories, mysteries, and books rife with social commentary will love this novel.

 

Of course, there are many more horror novels worth reading, but these are a few of my favorites. What’s your favorite horror novel? Let me know in the comment section below!

The Birthday Blog – 31 Facts

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I’m 31 today. It’s a surreal feeling especially with everything happening in the world right now. These last few days I’ve struggled with deciding whether or not to celebrate or post anything, but then I remembered that — as Black women — our existence is resistance. I am determined to find moments of joy and love and happiness while still keeping my foot on the gas doing what I can for the movement. So, I sat down to put this list of 31 random facts about myself together so you can get to know me better and I can share my #blackgirlmagic. 

Biggest Pet Peeve
People not wearing masks in public. Ms. ‘Rona is still out there, y’all. 

Best piece of advice I’ve gotten
Own your position — when you doubt yourself professionally, just remember that you have the expertise and knowledge to succeed. 

Favorite place in the world
San Francisco.

Most courageous thing I’ve done
In 2014, I moved across the country from Fresno to Atlanta in less than a month. I was 25 and ready for a change, so I took a chance. It paid off in more ways than one — not only did I meet my spouse, but I also discovered myself in the process. 

What do I do to feel better after a bad day
My go-to for when I need a pick me up is Disco. Usually, I’m blasting Donna Summer, Sylvesters, or Chic. I love to workout, but I  struggle with sacroiliitis. So when I am feeling up to it, I also workout to feel better. 

Great book I’ve read recently
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

What fictional character do I most want to meet
Kay Fierch from The Folk of The Air trilogy by Holly Black

The soundtrack to my life – five songs
U And Dat Booty – E-40
I Want Your Love – Chic
Greatest Show On Earth – Nightwish
Through the Wire – Chaka Khan
The Nutcracker, OP. 71 Coffee – Tchaikovsky

Five of my favorite movies
A Low Down Dirty Shame
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of The Desert
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers
Steel Magnolias
Black Panther

Good childhood memory
When I was young my sister, Sara, had to watch me. She was in high school and wasn’t happy to spend her days with her bratty little sister. But, we ended up bonding one summer. We watched movies like Sixth Sense, Ever After, Low Down Dirty Shame, etc. We did Taebo and ate salads and drank root beer floats. It was a great way to spend time with my big sister. 

My three wishes
Become a successful full-time author
Remove my husband’s cancer
Dismantling Systemic racism 

Biggest kitchen fail
In college I dropped a whole pan of peach cobbler on the floor while taking it out of the oven. 

What power would I want most
Teleportation

What am I writing now
I’m starting the second book in the Witchkind series. 
A blog about why you can’t be “color blind” while writing Black characters. 

What’s the topic of a novel/ story I’ll write one day?
Three best friends, a murder, Reddit message boards, and the true origin of the black-eyed kids.  

Five favorite rappers
E-40
Megan Thee Stallion
Kendrick Lamar
Missy Elliot
Tupac

My Favorite era of rock music
60s/ 70s. Some of my favorite bands are Pink Floyd, The Velvet Underground, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

What would my animal familiar be?
A Great Dane named Sable

Favorite food?
Tacos!

Scariest movie?
The Exorcist

What got me into fantasy?
My father’s bedtime stories 

What’s my family like?
I have five siblings — three sisters and two brothers. All of us are loud and opinionated. We are extremely outspoken and our love language is teasing. Me being the youngest, they are all really protective of me. However, I have so many fun memories with them, including my wedding, and this past Christmas. 

Where do I see myself in 5 years?
If the world hasn’t burned down, I’ll be a full-time author. I’ll be living in a nice home or apartment by the beach with my spouse and a dog named Rigatoni. 

What instrument would I most like to play?
Drums 

Two favorite birthday memories?
 In 2013, my siblings surprised me by taking me to see Mo’Nique. Afterward, we went to dinner and then a club that used to be in downtown San Jose called Freddie J’s. The next day, we went to the movies and saw The End of The World. 
In 2015, my spouse and I went to St. Augustine, Florida. We booked a hotel right on the beach and it was so magical. 

Worst memory? 
In 2008, my father passed away. There was a lot of tension between my siblings and myself and my mom. The day after my birthday in 2009, my mother fell down a flight of stairs at work. It was so horrible because I’d gone through the loss of my father, an immense amount of family drama, a car accident, and then my mother’s injury.  

Favorite genres to read?
Urban fantasy
Horror
Non-fiction about the black experience

Witch or a vampire?
Witch, obviously. 

What do I enjoy outside of writing?
Baking
Drawing
Lifting

Place I most want to travel to?
Turks and Caicos 

What do I want to accomplish before my next birthday?
Release book two in the Witchkind series
Hug my mother
Read 20 books
Bake a Gateau St. Honore
Get to the beach 

World Building 101: Reality

Last updated on: Published by: Amanda Ross 1

I love world-building.

It might sound weird, but anyone who’s ever written a book or a screenplay or a skit for their Barbies to act out knows the importance of creating a robust world. When I started writing To Astera, With Love, I wanted to create a world that was similar to ours, and I believe I achieved that.

The world of Astera has all the politicking, shady cops, and bitchy sorority sisters but with badass witches and an over-abundance of vampires. Since there are a few plot points happening at once (known as the “A” and “B” stories in screenwriting), I had to have every detail down, or else my readers wouldn’t buy the world that my main character (MC) Mercury and his friends were navigating. 

Creating a whole new world can be exciting, exhausting, and nerve-wracking. How can you put together so many moving parts to create a world as solid as Middle Earth or Wakanda or Sunnydale? Here’s your first step: 

Decide if your world is rooted in this reality

Are you writing a book set in our present reality or will you create your own? If you’re opting for our current (and unfortunate) reality, you must think about what time period you’re writing about and what events of that period you will include. Will you include the gains of the Civil Rights Movement if your book is set in the past? If it’s in the future, will you include the impact of Black Lives Matter or Trump or the coronavirus? 

Astera is set in this reality, and though I’ve treated the world as if most of the past events occurred, I threaded magic and vampires into the fabric as though they’d always been there. There are witches and vampires in government. Your favorite and least favorite world leaders were magical or had a bloodlust (literally). 

There are more things to account for when creating your own reality. It’s even more important that you make this world believable because your reader has nothing to anchor them with a reality they aren’t familiar with.

What’s The Approximate Time Frame?

Is your world centuries in the future or centuries past? Then, you’ll want to decide if it is taking place on Earth, in space, or another planet. In Children of Blood and Bone, for example, the action takes place in the kingdom of Orisha.

This kingdom feels like a time from ages passed, without modern technology and modern dress. The author accounted for the way people dress, the kind of food they eat, and what people do for a living — and you’ll want to do the same in your book. 

When I started writing Astera, I found this list of questions to think through when world-building. While there is a lot to consider, some questions that stand out to me are:  

  • What is the climate? 
  • What is the geography? 
  • Are there different seasons?
  • What is transportation like? 

Once you answered the question of what reality your piece is set in and answer the above questions you’re ready to move on to the next step — what are the rules of your world? 

I’ll cover this and more in the next blog of my world-building series. Find this tip useful? Sign up for my newsletter to get more tips.

Dracula: The Making of a Legend

Last updated on: Published by: Amanda Ross 0

Vampires are perhaps the most iconic (and some might say overdone) villains in modern entertainment. Despite the best efforts of Stephanie Meyer, Anne Rice, and Sesame Street, there’s no other vampire more iconic than Dracula. First, brought into the world by Irish writer Bram Stoker in 1897, Dracula’s influence has infected the cultural zeitgeist for over 100 years. If it wasn’t for him, Edward Cullen wouldn’t be able to dazzle his way into the hearts of tweens everywhere and the tales of Lestat and Louis wouldn’t have been portrayed on the big screen by 90’s heartthrobs and mega actors Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, respectively.

But the truth about this novel is stranger than fiction – when Dracula was released it wasn’t that popular. It was only after the genteel Count was played on the silver screen in the early 1900’s that Dracula assumed the position as horror movie icon. Here’s how it all went down. 

Bram Stoker takes 7 years to write it

Between 1879 and 1897, Stoker spent his days managing the Lyceum Theatre and writing Dracula. Though his exact inspirations are unclear, many historians believe that he took his influence from multiple sources including European folklore, The Vampyre by John Polidori, Carmilla by J.S. Le Fanu, and Varney the Vampire by James Malcolm Rymer. Though Stoker named his title character, after the infamous Vlad Dracula, there’s little evidence that Stoker believed Vlad Dracula to be a blood-sucking vampire. Dracula’s personality and grandiose mannerisms were inspired by Stoker’s frenemy, Henry Irving, the head actor of the Lyceum Theatre.

Dracula was released to moderate fanfare

Despite the novel’s success in modern times, Dracula was not as much of a critical success upon its publication. However, the novel was lauded by critics who found Stoker’s writing prowess to be superior to Edgar Allen Poe or Mary Shelley. Stoker did not make much money from the book’s publication, and he had to request a grant in the last year of his life. Stoker died in 1912, leaving his wife, Florence, penniless. In 1913, she sold his notes and outlines for Dracula for 2 pounds, which is roughly $300 in today’s USD. 

Nosferatu and the impact of silent film

Dracula may well have faded into obscurity, if not for a 1922 German silent film directed by F.W. Murnau and produced by the short-lived Prana Film. Nosferatu brought the vampire to the silver screen, played by Max Schreck,who is all long nails and pointy ears and wide-open eyes. But the film was created without securing the rights to the story or crediting Stoker. Though attempts were made to contact Florence to obtain her permission for the film, the writer and filmmakers did not receive a response. Despite changing the location of the film and most of the names (Count Dracula became Count Orlok, Jonathan Harker became Thomas Hutter, etc.), the basis of the story was still very much the same. 

Florence Balcombe secures the bag 

Stoker’s widow was not happy with the unauthorized adaptation of her husband’s novel, and so the estate sued Prana Film for copyright infringement. To avoid the legal battle that would no doubt ensue, the studio declared bankruptcy. Nevertheless, the court ordered all copies of the film destroyed. By that time, though, a copy of the film had already been made and distributed. This paired with the fact that it was Prana’s one and only film added to Nosferatu’s cult following. 

Dracula goes to Broadway

After the debacle with Prana Film, Florence granted production rights to playwright Hamilton Deane, who debuted an adaptation of Dracula on the stage. The play was a hit, and toured the UK for years before catching the attention of American taste makers. A version of the UK play premiered in New York, with the iconic Bela Lugosi playing Dracula. In 1931, Lugosi reprised his role for the film, where he brought the quite possibly the most popular version of Dracula ever to the big screen. His widow’s peak, slicked back hair, and Eastern European accent has inspired vampire lore and costumes the world over. 

After the success of the film, Dracula’s legacy was secure. To date, the book has never been out of print. It has continued to inspire adaptations, some great (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula: Undead and Loving It), and some questionable (Dracula 2000 and Dracula Untold). More than anything, the character has lived in the minds of people as the very definition of a vampire. 

What do you think about Dracula? Leave a comment below. 

The Pendle Witch Trial

Last updated on: Published by: Amanda Ross 0

Jennet Device was just nine-years-old when she took the witness stand and accused her mother, grandmother, and ten other people of witchcraft, sending them to their deaths


A time of change and superstition

The year was 1612 and it was a time of change in England. King James reigned over England, Ireland, and Scotland. He was a Protestant, though his wife was a Catholic. He was also a scholar, having written several books, most notably Daemonologie in 1597. The book addresses witches and other supernatural beings including werewolves and vampires. Like the Malleus Maleficarum before it, Daemonologie was written by people who legitimately thought that witches and other supernatural beings walk among us and wish us harm. 


A group of cunning women

This was the environment that Jennet, the youngest child in the Device family, grew up in. She lived with her mother Elizabeth, her grandmother, Demdike, and her siblings, Alizon and James in a small home near Pendle Hill in Lancashire. They were poor, each of the Device children spending their time as beggars while Demdike was what was known as a “cunning woman.” At this time, a cunning woman was somewhat of a Jane of all trades – she served as counselor, doctor, and healer. Despite this, the Devices and other residents of Lancashire were considered “trouble-makers and subversives.” 


An unfortunate curse

The fate of the Devices turned one day in March 1612. While walking along a road and begging passersby, Alizon asked a pedlar for money. When he walked passed her she cursed him, and the man immediately fell to the ground. Now, modern medicine points to the pedlar having had a stroke, but in the 17th century, there could have been no other explanation than witchcraft. The pedlar’s son reported Alizon to Roger Nowell, the local magistrate. He interviewed her and Alizon confessed to the deed, but not before she named-dropped her neighbors, Anne “Chattox” Whittle and her daughter Anne Redferne. The women had a feud with the Devices, so Chattox and her daughter pointed the finger right back at them, especially Demdike. 

It didn’t help that those who lived near Pendle hill were poor and considered trouble-makers. It especially didn’t help that Elizabeth hosted a party on Good Friday, at a time where everyone should have been in church. The magistrate heard of this and arrested all those present, including Alice Nutter, the daughter of a respected land-owner.

A child used as a pawn

With the guidance of the Malleus Maleficarum and King James’ Daemonologie, those looking to persecute witches had all the supplemental material they needed. For the magistrate, there was one passage that seemingly justified his decision to leverage Jennett as a witness: “Children, women and liars can be witnesses over high treason against God.” 

When Elizabeth saw her nine-year-old daughter enter the courtroom, she screamed for her removal. Jennett did the same for her mother but shortly after accused her of being a witch.

“My mother is a witch and that I know to be true. I have seen her spirit in the likeness of a brown dog, which she called Ball. The dog did ask what she would have him do and she answered that she would have him help her to kill. At 12 noon about 20 people came to our house – my mother told me they were all witches.”

She pointed to several others in addition to her mother and her brother James. Two days later, the entire group was found guilty, and the next day they were hung at Gallows Hill. 

The aftermath

The case of Jennett Device and her family became a use-case for how to use children as witnesses in a trial, particularly where there are witches involved. Before Jennett took the stand, children under the age of 14 were not allowed to be witnesses or take the stand in a court case. After her testimony, the rules changed to where the deciding factor of whether or not to feature a child as a witness is whether they could understand the questions being asked of them. 

Unfortunately, Jennett Device shared nearly the same fate as her family. In 1633, a 10-year-old boy named Edmund Robinson accused her of witchcraft, along with 16 others. Though they were found guilty, England was under the rule of a new king, one who was a lot more skeptical of witchcraft. The boy admitted that he had lied and that it was the very tales of the Pendle witch case that he drew from. She was acquitted, but at that time prisoners had to pay for their time in jail. It is likely that Jennett Device, though an innocent woman, languished in prison for years if not for the rest of her days. 

The last known record of her was in 1636.