I love scary stories. I read them, I write them, and I probably watch more horror than is healthy for the psyche. When I stumble upon a great horror book or film (I’m looking at you, Babadook), I want to shout about it from the rooftops. My poor book club has been bombarded with my suggestions for spooky reads, and I can’t blame them for backing away slowly, reminding me that my tastes run a bit darker than most. Having said that, I completely understand if you’d rather not spend an evening or two with me, talking about the supernatural.
If you’re feeling brave, however, join me on Friday, August 4, at 5pm at Book Warehouse (1111 N. Roosevelt Dr. in Seaside, OR) for a book talk on the paranormal. I’ll tell you some ghost stories (including something crazy that happened to me last week–shudder), and I’ll be signing my novels, Sunset Empire and Pitcher Plant, both of which are set on the north coast of Oregon and feature murder and restless spirits.
Then, on Friday, August 11, at 5pm, come back to Book Warehouse for a workshop on writing spooky and suspenseful scenes. I’ll share my secrets for scaring the socks off readers. You might not sleep that night, but you’ll learn how to write an engaging story.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
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
It’s cover reveal day for Pitcher Plant!
I love, love, LOVE this gorgeous cover from Filles Vertes Publishing. They are a wonderful publishing team.
a plant (especially family Sarraceniaceae, the pitcher-plant family) with pitcher-shaped leaves in which insects are trapped and digested by means of a fluid secreted by the leaves
Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants and are used throughout the book as a metaphor to represent the idea of being lured into a situation you thought would be good, but is actually a trap. Like buying a charming old house with the idea of renovating it, only to realize it’s a money pit. Or falling in love with the wrong person.
For the cover of Pitcher Plant, we were thinking about Victorian curiosity cabinets, and how they were both sophisticated and macbre in displaying botanicals like carnivorous plants, insects pinned under glass, and taxidermy. That was our guiding vision, and I think we pulled it off with a cover that is both elegant and subtly creepy. I’m proud to work with FVP, and so grateful for their hard work on this book. You can preorder it here.
I hope you’ll celebrate our launch day on May 12 by joining us at our release day party on Facebook. Stop by from 6-10pm EDT, and enter to win all kinds of amazing prizes, including a signed copy of Pitcher Plant, a Seaside-themed gift pack, a $10 Amazon gift card, manuscript critiques (for those of you who have novels in progress), and more.
In the meantime, let me whet your appetite with a description and an excerpt from the book.
When Tawny Ellis spots a fixer-upper on the Oregon coast, she and her husband jump at the chance to own a cottage near the beach. But as expensive repairs turn their dream home into a nightmare, their marriage unravels. And worse…the house is not quite vacant. Something in the house’s dark past remains.
Tawny’s daughter has a new imaginary friend, and she bears a striking resemblance to a little girl who squatted in the cottage with her drug-addicted mother. After breaking in and camping out, they vanished, and have been missing for years.
Now the house’s previous owner is enraged with Tawny. As he stalks her family, Tawny suspects she knows what happened to the last people who slept in the house. Her family might be next.
I was falling in love with this fixer-upper, but before we made an offer on the house, I had to check out the basement. I clicked on the light and stepped over the threshold, into darkness. Floating dust motes filled the air, dancing in the flashlight’s beam.
The room before me was expansive, running the length and width of the house. On one end was a wooden stall for firewood, still stacked with logs. They’d come in handy if we restored the fireplace, though I didn’t look forward to cleaning off the cobwebs covering them. The other end of the basement was stacked with junk and garbage, similar to what we’d encountered upstairs.
Everything was blanketed with a thick layer of dust. My nose was stuffy—all the dust triggering my allergies. I made a mental note to take an antihistamine when I got back to the car. Otherwise I’d be paying for this excursion tonight, when my sinuses were too clogged to let me sleep. I just hoped there wasn’t any mold down here. I’d heard horror stories from my neighbor about getting mold removed from her home. The procedure had been costly, and if we got this house, it’d cost us enough as it was.
I ventured a little deeper into the basement, shining my flashlight on the pile of junk. I could make out an old wooden trunk. Did that come with the house? Maybe I’d clean it up and use it for a coffee table.
The beam of my flashlight fell on a tattered ragdoll. The doll’s fabric face and its light brown yarn hair looked dingy. Its flower print dress was dotted with rust colored stains and black flecks. The flecks looked like rodent feces.
There was a rustle to my right, and I startled, swinging my light toward the sound. Given the state of the doll’s dress, I thought it might be a rat.
Suddenly the air was thick with flies. I clamped my mouth shut as they flew toward my face, waving my arms madly to keep them away. They crawled in my hair and buzzed in my ears, and I bit back a shriek. The beam of my flashlight flickered as I used it to swat the flies. I shuddered at the thought of it going out and having to find my way back to the stairs in the dark.
I stumbled back toward the corridor that led to the door of the basement, trying to see through squinted eyes, the cloud of flies, and the dying light of the Maglite. As I reached the passage, the buzzing sound eased, and the flies began to drift back to whatever attracted them to the basement.
I dared one last look, directing my beam to the offending corner of the basement. The dirt floor was carpeted with insects. Flies and other crawling things, though I was too far away to tell what they were. There seemed to be a small lump on the floor that attracted their interest. A dead rat, most likely, but there was no way I was going back to find out.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017
Who’s got a publishing contract? This girl! I’m thrilled to share that my suspense novel, Pitcher Plant, will be published this spring by Filles Vertes Publishing. FVP is a press with awesome staff, contagious creative energy, and great industry knowledge. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with them.
What’s Pitcher Plant about? It is set on the northern Oregon coast. Here’s a description:
When thirty-year-old Tawny Ellis spots a weathered fixer-upper for sale in Seaside, Oregon, she jumps at the chance to own a house near the beach. She and her husband Mark are tired of sinking money into a high-priced rental, and hope by investing in the house, they can supplement their income by opening a bed and breakfast. Their marriage begins to unravel as repairs cost more than expected, budget cuts threaten Mark’s job, and Mark grows jealous over Tawny’s budding friendship with an attractive handyman. Tensions rise as Nicholas Stroud, the house’s former owner, begins stalking Tawny and her two young daughters. Tawny learns that Stroud lost his childhood home through foreclosure, and believes he may still be angry over the loss.
Then one of Tawny’s daughters starts talking about a new friend, one who might be imaginary. This friend bears a striking resemblance to a former resident, a little girl who squatted in the house with her drug-addicted mother during the foreclosure. Now the girl and her mother are missing, and Tawny suspects Stroud may be responsible for their disappearances. After finding evidence of foul play in the house, Tawny fears she and her daughters may become Stroud’s next victims.
Join us on January 28 for the FVP launch party on Facebook, 7:30pm-10:30pm EST. Connect with publishing industry professionals and enter to win prizes! Giveaways include two full manuscript critiques, partial and submission package critiques, Amazon gift cards, and more!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2017