It’s been a great two weeks since Pitcher Plant launched! I truly appreciate all the good wishes and support, especially from those of you who attended our online release party, made it to a book event, spread the word, left a book review, or bought the book. You may not realize it, but you did a good deed. Not only did you support this indie author, but a portion of proceeds from sales went to support students seeking a college education through the Lives in Transition Program at Clatsop Community College. I can’t thank you enough.
I can, however, share more about Pitcher Plant. Here’s another excerpt. I hope you enjoy it.
Climbing up the back steps of the house, we faced our first sign the house required more fixing than Mr. Peterson indicated. The back porch looked like it had once been enclosed, but was now a shell of two-by-fours containing the battered remains of a powder room. The exposed toilet was covered in rust stains and mold, and a spider web stretched over the bowl of the sink. Large black flies hovered around the bottom of the toilet stool and crawled through a crack between the floorboards.
“Guess we can add bathroom to the list of repairs,” I said, frowning as I snapped a photo.
“Deadbolt and doorknob too,” Mark muttered.
I glanced over to see him dialing in the combination. Sure enough, there was a round hole where the doorknob should’ve been and the deadbolt mechanism was missing. Mark slid the combination lock into his pocket and wrenched the door open with both hands. It squealed on rusted hinges, which looked as though they might crack in two at any moment. The wood on the door looked warped. “Maybe a new door as well,” I added.
Mark scowled at it, and then stepped inside the house. The crease between his eyebrows deepened as he took in the kitchen.
In a word, it was a nightmare. Like the back porch, some of the cabinets were hollow shells, with broken shelves and no doors. One of the upper cabinets listed so badly I was convinced it might fall. I turned in a slow circle, taking photos to document what would need to be repaired. The countertop was splintered plywood. There was a stove, and surprisingly, a dishwasher, but no refrigerator. The floor looked like it’d once been tiled but someone chipped it away, leaving only curving lines of dark mortar. I chanced a look at the sink and immediately wished I hadn’t. The skeletal remains of some rodent lay on the dirty porcelain bottom, surrounded by a halo of wiry brown hair and chunks of decaying flesh. I started to retch, and covered my nose and mouth.
“What?” Mark asked. He’d peaked at the electrical outlets behind the stove, directing the beam from his Maglite between the appliance and the wall.
“Rat,” I managed, and pointed at the sink. I backed away and gulped in air that didn’t hold the stench of death.
Mark crossed the kitchen. “Lovely.” He looked as disgusted as I felt.
“One would think, if you were selling a house, you might at least clean it up,” I said, eyeing the sink from a safe distance.
“One would think,” he agreed. He sauntered over to what looked to be a pantry or broom closet, and yanked open the door. It came off in his hands, leaving him holding the knob and struggling to brace the door before it slipped from his grip. He clucked his tongue and carefully leaned the door against the wall beside the tiny closet. Judging by the look on his face, this house wasn’t winning him over.
It was a look I knew well—he’d give me the same expression of disapproval whenever I suggested we break from our routine and do something novel, like try the new pizzeria in town or drive down to Cannon Beach to check out a new art gallery. Mark wasn’t a fan of change. I thrived on it. I told myself it was just one of those things between people who’d been married a long time. One partner wants to try something new, the other doesn’t understand why things can’t stay the same way they’ve always been. I’d learned long ago when Mark got that look on his face, the best thing to do was to give him space, let him stew awhile. He’d come around.
Leaving the kitchen, I stepped into a large room that seemed to be a combined living room and dining area, and took more photos. Beautiful windows were set into walls paneled in Douglas fir. I remembered the description of the paneling from Mr. Peterson’s ad—he’d described it as a rare feature, and said it added to the beauty of the house. He was right. The paneling gave the room a warm, welcoming feel, which was a nice change from the horrors I’d encountered in the kitchen. I imagined the ramshackle house not as it was, but as it could be—a vintage beach cottage with airy furnishings and maybe even an outdoor shower to wash the sand from our feet.
Along one of the living room walls it looked like there’d once been a fireplace—what if we restored it? I envisioned a hearth made of river rock, and smiled. Maybe the place had potential. The kitchen was a mess, but we could gut it and turn it into exactly what we wanted. It was a blank slate.
I glanced toward the kitchen, where Mark inspected the pipes under the sink. They were rusty and he looked annoyed, muttering under his breath. I sighed. I couldn’t fall in love with this house yet. Not before my husband rendered judgment.
That was another problem with us. I was a glass-half-full kind of girl and he was a perpetual skeptic. He thought I got too swept up by romantic notions, and I wished he’d live a little, and not be so maddeningly practical all the time. Still, he was here, playing along at least. Perhaps this time we’d meet each other halfway. I could stand to be a little more reserved, and maybe he’d get inspired by the house’s potential—maybe.
I returned my gaze to the large living-slash-dining room—the great room, as I’d started calling it in my head. An arched door with dirty glass panels seemed to lead to a hallway, and a set of French doors led to another room. The light fixtures in the ceilings were removed, and scary-looking wires poked willy-nilly from the ceiling. The electrical system in the house definitely seemed to have issues, as Mr. Peterson had mentioned. I walked over to a smaller door next to the one leading to the hallway and opened it.
It was a closet under the stairs, the bottom of the risers draped with cobwebs. Gross. The floor of the closet was worse though. It was covered in junk—trash, discarded clothes, toys, and even a collapsed umbrella stroller for a toddler. I wondered who lived here before, and why Mr. Peterson hadn’t taken the time to throw out this stuff before putting the house up for sale.
A thump startled me. I scanned the trash on the closet floor and spotted droppings. There was probably another rat, a live one this time. Shuddering, I shut the closet door. There was another thump—too heavy to be a rodent. The thumps continued, and I realized they sounded like footsteps.
We weren’t alone in the house.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Release Day for Pitcher Plant is finally here! Come help us celebrate launch day at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win a ton of amazing prizes from Filles Vertes Publishing and yours truly, including signed books, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more. Wondering where to get your copy of Pitcher Plant? Click right here to get it from FVP. It’s also available on Amazon in paperback and as an eBook.
I have three things to share with you today–a Q&A about the book, an excerpt, and a nifty bookmark that you can print and put into service. Enjoy!
(Tip for printing the bookmark: right click on the image, click “copy image”, and then paste it into a Word document. Tada! Your bookmark is ready to print.)
Q: Pitcher Plant is about a couple who buy a house on the Oregon coast, intending to fix it up, only to find out it is haunted and may be connected to a killer. What inspired the story?
A: It was inspired by a real house I visited when my husband and I were house hunting. It was a cool old house, and as we toured the property, I wondered what had happened to the people who lived there before. Of course, being a horror fan, my mind took a dark turn. It wasn’t much of a leap after seeing the spooky basement and a dead rat in the kitchen sink.
We’ve done renovations on houses before, so it was also easy to imagine a couple restoring the house. What I didn’t know, between house repairs and forensics (like how fast bodies decompose in various environments), I researched. My browser history is pretty scary. I’m not planning on killing anyone, I swear.
Q: Plotter or pantser?
A: Given that there’s a mystery in Pitcher Plant, I had to know who my villains were and plant clues along the way. But it’s also a suspense novel, and writing by the seat of my pants works well for creating unexpected twists, especially those that blur the line between the supernatural and the psychological. When I write, I usually start out with a basic idea of how the story will go, and then let my characters drive the action. I find the stories are more genuine that way, rather than adhering to a strict plot. It also helps to ground a story with realistic details that provide a sense of authenticity.
I also wrote from first-person limited, which is conducive to a suspense novel because readers only know what the main character knows and experiences. The plot unfolds for the protagonist and readers at the same time.
Q: Pitcher Plant is your fifth book. What else have you written?
A: Earlier this year I released Sunset Empire, a young adult fantasy set in Astoria, Oregon, which is close to Seaside, where Pitcher Plant is set. (If you like the Pacific Northwest, these books will certainly give you a tour of the north coast of Oregon.) The book debuted in the best selling Secrets and Shadows boxed set. Sunset Empire blends local lore and history with a paranormal twist. There’s a ghost in that one too, lurking in the tunnels under Astoria’s streets.
The supernatural is definitely a theme in my books. I also wrote The Solas Beir Trilogy, a young adult series which plays on boogeyman myths, combining legends in a contemporary fantasy with magic, old Spanish Colonial mansions, and parallel worlds.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m collaborating with a friend on a novel about a small town on the Oregon coast that comes under siege by an extremist group after a natural disaster. It’s my first time writing fiction with someone, so that’s been a fun challenge. I look forward to focusing on that this summer.
Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: I just finished reading a great book by Hester Young called The Shimmering Road. It’s the sequel to her Southern Gothic, The Gates of Evangeline. I loved the characters, twists, and supernatural elements. I also like Jim Butcher, Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, Terry Brooks, Kendare Blake, Chelsea Cain, and many other fantasy and horror authors. Stephen King is my absolute favorite. I’ve been reading his work since middle school, and he’s had a tremendous influence on my writing.
I also love horror movies, and they have taught me a lot about pacing and suspense. Some favorites are Pan’s Labyrinth and The Cabin in the Woods. Guillermo del Toro and Joss Whedon are masterful story-tellers.
Q: Horror and ghosts are a theme here. Have you ever seen a ghost?
A: Yup. Several years ago, my husband and I lived in a house where a number of things happened that we couldn’t explain rationally. It was a plain ranch house built in the 80s—not what comes to mind when you think haunted house. One night, I stayed up writing and my husband went to bed. I was sitting at the dining table, working on my laptop. The house had an open floor plan connecting the living room to the dining area, and the combined room and hallway were well-lit—nothing creepy about the interior of the house.
It was late—probably close to midnight—when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a tall man standing in the hallway. At first, I thought my husband had woken up and come out of our bedroom to remind me to go to bed, so I wouldn’t be exhausted for work the next day. I turned my head and saw a black, shadowy figure, with no distinguishing features other than a sense I had that the thing was male and not friendly. We watched each other for a few seconds, and then the shadow man disappeared. I was more shocked than scared, and felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge what I’d just seen, because doing so would give it power. So, I turned back to my laptop and kept writing. I never saw the thing again, but I sometimes had the sense of being watched. I was glad when we moved out of that house.
I do love ghost stories though, and I’m always game for hearing them. And I don’t think all ghosts are malicious—I’ve heard some great stories about benevolent ghosts. My grandma once told me she lived with the ghost of an old woman and the ghost would repair things around the house, like sewing buttons back on to clothing. I don’t know if that’s a true story, but it’s a cool idea.
I think that’s why I’m attracted to writing about the supernatural. I don’t know if ghosts or cryptozoids are real, but I like the idea that they exist, the sense of possibility that even though we’ve discovered so much about our world, there are still mysteries to be solved.
In the middle of the night, I woke to the sound of someone singing. After Mark’s rough day, I didn’t dare disturb him. I got up and quietly pulled the door shut behind me as I left our bedroom. Sara’s bedside lamp was on. I went in her room to find her sitting on the floor next to her doll, singing and coloring. “Sara, honey? What’re you doing?”
She looked up at me. “Playing with Tara.”
I didn’t realize she’d named her doll. “Well, it’s two in the morning. You and Tara need to go back to bed.” I felt grumpy about having to leave the warmth of my bed to tell her that, but I tried to temper my annoyance. “There’s school tomorrow, sweetie.”
She nodded, and started picking up her crayons. I knelt down to help her. The drawing was of her and another little girl, holding hands. The girl had hair in braids. “Aw, were you drawing a picture of you and Sophie?”
Sara shook her head. “No. That’s Tara. She comes to play with me at night.”
A chill ran down my spine, though I wasn’t sure why—not right then. I tucked my daughter and her doll back in bed, and gave Sara a kiss on her forehead.
I moved to turn off the lamp when Sara whispered, “Tara wants a goodnight kiss too.” I smiled and kissed the doll’s forehead. Then Sara said, “No, not the doll, Mom. Tara.”
I stared at her, puzzled. It occurred to me Tara might be the name of an imaginary friend. It wouldn’t be the first time Sara had one. “Okay…where’s Tara?”
“Don’t be silly, Mom. She’s right here.” Sara patted the place next to her—there was a slight indentation on the pillow next to her head. “Can’t you see her?”
I shook my head. “I’m sorry, honey. I can’t.” Sara’s brow furrowed in disappointment, so I added, “How ‘bout I blow her a kiss? Think that would be okay?”
Sara smiled, nodding. I puckered up, kissed my own hand, and blew it at the spot next to my daughter. Then I turned off the light. “Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams, Mama,” Sara said. I couldn’t see her in the dark, but the blankets rustled as she burrowed into them.
It wasn’t until I was back in my own bed that I remembered the photo we’d found before we moved in. The little girl who’d lived here before—Tara.
Thanks for reading!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017