Happy One Year Anniversary to Flower Among the Ashes

Ashes Anniversary BannerOn this day one year ago, I published my debut novel, Flower Among the Ashes. It’s been one year since Arshé met Rekki. In the three sequels published between now and then twenty years have passed in the series’ timeline. Here’s to another ogre filled year.

 

Advertisements

TGIF NFSW: Carmilla Rewritten as Trashy Kindle FF Romance Blurb

This post is not safe for work. Please enjoy responsibly.

Happy Halloween. To celebrate the end of the October season of frights and scares, I chose the laziest target a for parody blurb. Carmilla, a gothic vampire novella, predates Dracula by about twenty years and it is all about repressed lesbianism. Usually I have to twist the story into pretzel knots, viewing it through the lens of a funhouse mirror, to turn it into overly eroticized Kindle schlock.

Not Carmilla! With all the kissing, stroking and passionate declarations of love and devotion, you’d have to be blind to see that this is a metaphor for homoerotic girl love.

Carmilla

The obsession began with a chance meeting. Laura would never be the same after a carriage accident in front of her home sees her family hosting the mysterious Carmilla as a houseguest. Desperately lonely and aching for friendship from someone her own age, Laura finds a kindred spirit in the hauntingly beautiful Carmilla and they quickly become inseparable. However, Carmilla’s friendship is rather… intense with her constant petting and kissing. But Laura is lonely…ever so lonely… and she keeps dreaming about Carmilla stealing into her bedroom and climbing under the blankets with her each night. But the hickeys that she finds on her chest belie that their erotic encounters are no dream!

Attractive peasant girls start dying in a nearby village. Each claims shortly before their deaths they were visited at night by a ghostly yet gorgeous woman who sucked at their necks and… other parts. A series of coincidences including the discovery of an old painting of Countess Mircalla, a long dead noble, who is a dead ringer for Carmilla lends evidence to the idea that Laura’s ‘special’ friend is an undead vampire. But Laura is steadfast in her belief that Carmilla isn’t a bloodsucking fiend. She’s just a lesbian whose girlfriends keep dying. I mean, have you seen the life expectancy stats for pre-industrial era peasant woman? How far with Laura go to protect her lover from the superstitious quack Dr. Hesselius and the homophobic General Spielsdorf?

 

Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 18- Papa Don’t Preach

 

Spoilers ahead! Need to catch up? Visit the archive for prior installments of this manga read along.

When we last left off, Yuri had just received word that the Egyptians were on their way to Ugarit, a kingdom on the Hittite border that they believed was their ally. Rusafa informs Yuri that they need reinforcements to hold off an enemy army the size of the one coming at them. The Egyptians arrive in two days. It will take five to get more men from the nearest Hittite fortress town. Yuri is deeply worried because with Ramses acting as general, he will see through any cheap trick she uses to buy time.

Yuri and Rusafa run around the castle as the King of Ugarit shouts insults at them, trying to convince all civilians to flee the area. A group of prostitutes refuse to leave. They count soldiers as their best customers and plan to stick around no matter what so they can work in the aftermath of the battle. As Yuri speaks with their leader, she has moment were she realizes that she was very lucky to meet Kail. If she hadn’t, she might have had to turn tricks to keep herself fed.

Later as they chew over tactics to use to slow the Egyptian advance, the prostitutes interrupt the meeting to offer to help them. They will put out a call to every ‘ho within fifty miles to descend on the Egyptian camp and distract them with the mother of all orgies. Yuri wants to disguise herself as one of the prostitutes and go undercover in their camp. Her plan is to release their horses during the night so they are forced to travel on foot. This is probably the worst plan she could have dreamed up considering that Ramses has given the order to have captured alive for his…uh… personal gratification. Not to mention as the Gal Meshedi and the king’s concubine, she is a valuable hostage the Egyptians can use against the Hittites.

Ugh! I can tell this going to be one of those volumes were Yuri’s intelligence swings like a pendulum. For every moment of brilliant, there is an equal yet opposite moment of shear bone-headed stupidity.

When the Hittites arrive in the town of Beida, Yuri and prostitutes are waiting. They descend on the soldiers and a ton of naughty stuff starts happening off screen. All we get a bunch of sound effects rising off the city.

Yuri, the sisters and Rusafa use the distraction to go to the pens were they’re keeping their horses. They open the gates and let them run off. Yuri splits away from the group so they can work faster and hit more pens scattered around the town.

Ramses notices that this town has a staggering number of prostitutes. There seems to be a woman for every one of his soldiers. He suspects a trap and goes to check on the supplies, fearing sabotage. That’s when he runs, quite literally, into Yuri. She’s wrapped up in a cloak but he recognizes her voice. She tries to run but she doesn’t get far. He catches her and tears the cloak off. He complements the fine dress she’s wearing beneath it before forcibly kissing her. After binding her up with her own cloak so she can’t move, he carries her off.

Ramses tells her that if she’ll be his wife, he won’t attack Ugarit. He isn’t interested a remote little kingdom when he believes Yuri is the key to winning the Egyptian throne. He believes she has queenly qualities and is the perfect woman to rule at his side when he claims the title of Pharaoh. Rusafa and the sisters appear with swords drawn to rescue their mistress. Rusafa loses his head when he sees Ramses manhandling her and duels with him.

Ramses raises the alarm and marshals the Egyptians against them. Yuri orders Hadi to grab Rusafa and force him to retreat with them before the soldiers pin them in. She believes that she will not be killed as long as she’s in Ramses’s custody. Sure enough, as soon as he drags her back to his tent he tries to rape her for the second time.

Ramses really has no redeeming qualities and from this point onward we start to see more and more of him. He is insensitive, arrogant and doesn’t give a flying fig about Yuri’s desires or boundaries. He is a villain but I kind of get the impression that Shinohara doesn’t fully believe that. He isn’t a potential rival for Yuri in that bad boy I-shouldn’t-want-this-but-I-do or a someone who plans to use Yuri for his own purposes only to fall for her in earnest. If he was either of those things he might be a more tolerable character. He’s just a walking rape-threat that refuses to go away. Even Prince Mattiwaza, the other rapist villain who tried to physically separate Yuri and Kail, was a more complex and sympathetic character.

Yuri resists but Ramses interprets her shudders of disgust as sexual response and taunts her that since she must have given it up to Kail, she’s become a little nympho. The exact line is, “Your body has become more sensitive hasn’t it? I guess I had that scoundrel King Mursili to thank for that.” What a vile pig. Two sentences and you could write a dissertation on the ugly assumptions packed in within. The thought that we will be seeing Ramses a lot in this section of the story makes me ill. It also makes Yuri sick and he stops tearing her dress off when she rolls over to barf.

The puke totally kills his boner. When Yuri says that she’s been retching up a lot and food tastes weird to her, Ramses tells her that she’s pregnant. Yuri seems totally shocked by this. Aside from her fainting on Kail in the last volume, this is the first we’ve seen her acting like her rabbit died. But you’d think that the possibility would have constantly weighed on her mind as a thing that was bound to happen. If ye olde timey birth control was even an option for her, Yuri never made any mention of it.

Kail shows up in Ugarit with the rest of the army. He is eager to see Yuri only to be greeted with the news that Yuri went out on a mission that went horribly wrong. When Rusafa breaks the news that Ramses has her, Kail gets furious like he’s never been.

Yuri is hopeful that Ramses will release her now that she’s got a bun in her oven. He’s not moved in the slightest. He promises he will be a good father to her and Kail’s child and all of her babies after that will be his. Ramses orders to troops to withdrawal. He is taking Yuri back to Egypt.

Luckily, Kail guesses his moves and orders the Hittites to keep the Egyptians from reaching the Nile with Yuri. They catch the Egyptians by surprise and Kail manages to steal Yuri back. He knows that he should retreat once he has Yuri but he has the perfect opportunity to fight Ramses as he is alone. The two men draw sword and prepare to fight. But before they can, a chariot rolls up and Ramses jumps in just as Kail’s men show up to back him up. Kail decides it is too dangerous to keep pursuing Ramses when they had met their objective and the Hittites retreat.

Back at the Hittite command post, Yuri frets over what to tell Kail about the baby. She has no idea how he’ll react but she suspects her may not be happy about it. She couldn’t be pregnant at a worse time since she won’t be able to fulfill her duties as Gal Meshedi. If she can’t met the terms the Senate set before her, she won’t become queen. She stutters and stammers about needing time away from the army and Kail guesses before she says it outright that she’s with child.

Kail couldn’t be happier. He instantly becomes uncharacteristically overprotective and orders that Rusafa take her place as head general. Then he call for his servants to bring all the special pregnant lady food they can find that is high in nutrients since Yuri’s eating for two. Yuri and Kail’s crew congratulate them on their first child, but Kail tells them to keep it a secret. Nakia will be hot to harm Yuri and their baby because a son and heir could make it more difficult for her to install Juda as king.

They make arrangements to send Yuri far from the front lines so she will be safe from the fighting and Nakia’s henchmen. Kail becomes almost comically obsessed with her health, fretting every time she lifts her luggage. Hadi tells him to cool it. Slowly, Kail begins cutting her off from military matters by not telling her about how the campaign fairs so she doesn’t fret and worry about anything but the baby.

Yuri confesses that while she wants nothing more to have this baby, she feels guilty that they couldn’t fulfill the deal they made with the Senate. Kail is hopeful that they can marry once the baby is born. He thinks that after he puts the Egyptians down, he can pressure the Senate to let their marriage go forward. He will have a stronger hand to play once Yuri provides him an heir to secure the throne.

Meanwhile, the twins go to a temple to offer prayers that Yuri has a safe pregnancy and an easy delivery. They don’t reveal the name of their mistress to the priest, but they don’t have to. The priest who accepts their sacrificial offerings is Urhi in disguise and he knows the twins are Yuri’s shadows. He spreads the word. Kail finds out the jig is up when nobles and ambassadors start bringing gifts to the palace. Since everyone will know soon and Yuri is beloved by the masses, he allows her to hold a reception before she leaves the city.

People cram into the city from the nearby villages. They are all eager to express their joy to their Ishtar. Yuri waves at them from the balcony. Urhi plans to use the crowds as cover to try to harm her before she gets out the city. When her litter is carried through the streets, his henchmen attack it. But when they knock it over, they find it was full of rocks. Kail thought it was a possibility so he used it as decoy. Yuri is actually preparing to sail out town on a ship as Urhi discovers the ruse.

As her ship casts off, Rusafa jumps onto the deck, giving up his chance to fight alongside Kail so he can accompany his mistress. Kail isn’t too angry as he knows Rusafa will guard her with his life. Unfortunately, they didn’t really outwit Urhi. He lurks about the docks, watching the boat get further down the river and ominously implies that an assassin is on board with her.

TGIF NSFW: Outlander Rewritten as Trashy Kindle Scotsmen Romance

This post is not safe for work. Please enjoy responsibly.

Romance readers love their Scotsmen. When humanity is extinct and the intelligent bug people that take our place on this Earth begin to dig through the ruins to piece together what our dysfunctional societies were like, they will most likely encounter piles and piles of historicals about Scotsmen. From these texts they will infer that Scotland was home to a race of kilt-wearing, caber-tossing supermen with brogues that caused women’s undergarments to combust.

Diana Gabaldon managed to pull off a really neat trick. She created a Scottish historical romance – with time travel no less!- and managed to make it so classy that it is a the ultimate romance novel for people who wouldn’t be caught dead reading romance. The first novel, Outlander, sparked a multi-volume epic about time-traveling bigamist Claire Randall-Fraser  and her adventures with in the 18th century with a hot young Scotsmen that she marries while having a husband back in the 20th century. Her dilemma in the book is does she remain with Jaimie, who might just be the love of her life, or return to the relative safety of the modern age and her husband Frank? Seeing as Frank is subtly coded as an obvious Mr. Wrong (he doesn’t want to adopt any war orphans because he hates the thought of raising a child not biologically his own) and the series villain Jack Randall is his ancestor and a dead-ringer for him, any one with the smarts of a tree stump should see that boring, old Frank doesn’t stand a chance.

I think a large reason for Gabaldon’s success in making a romance novel ‘respectable’ literature is that she doesn’t spend a lot of time of syrupy descriptions of Jaimie’s Scottish hotness. She lets the character’s interactions speak for themselves. Though to be fair, a lot of the critical praise is coming from people who are comparing Outlander against a parody of a dreadful 70’s style bodice ripper that only exists in their imagination. In that spirit, this is what the Outlander blurb might have sounded like if it were one of those ‘schlock’ romances that litter the Kindle platform.

Outlander (Scottish Passion Conquers Time Book 1)

Claire Randall, a British World War II nurse, is vacationing with her husband Frank in the Scottish highlands after spending many years apart. Despite their attempts to rekindle their marriage, Claire can’t help shake the feeling after being separated by war they have become strangers. After touching the mysterious standing stones in the woods behind their inn, Claire is catapulted through time to 18th century Scotland. At first her only thought is get back to the standing stones and return to Frank’s side, but then she meets Scottish outlaw and freedom fighter, Jaimie Fraser. His manly arms and washboard abs soon make her thoughts of stodgy Frank all too infrequent.

Claire tries to remain true her marriage vows as she navigates the complicated internal politics of the Scottish clan that has taken her in. They don’t fully trust the English woman in their midst and Jaimie’s offer of friendship while she’s in this friendless place as a balm to her solace even as her wandering eye can’t help but notice his brawny thighs. When the villainous Capt. Black Jack Randall, a British officer out to break the Scottish independence movement, takes an interest in Claire, Jaimie offers to save her the only way he can – by offering marriage.

With no other way out and Claire tempted beyond reason to swap Frank out for a younger, hotter model with a bone melting brogue, she and Jaimie say ‘I do.’ It’s not bigamy if the husband you left behind hasn’t been born yet, right? But while Claire is busy discovering what Scotsmen keep under their kilts, the Scots and English are on a collision course for war. Will Claire reveal the truth about her origins and risk changing history to stop her Scottish allies from being massacred?

But the Scotts’ desperate struggle for freedom is not the only thing threatening to destroy Claire’s blissful new marriage. Claire has an unexpected rival. Someone else has taken notice of Jaimie’s broad shoulders and shapely, rock-hard buttocks. For the only person whose love for Jaimie is more passionate than her own is the brutal Jack Randal and the Captain’s love is even crueler than his hate.

 

October Frights #3: Fatal Frame Series

This series of Playstation 2 games is a nostalgic blast from the past. It is definitely my favorite of the 3D survival horror franchises that appeared on the first two iterations of the Playstation system. I can’t say that I cared for Resident Evil (before the fourth game) and Silent Hill, mostly because of the tank controls that made moving difficult. Fatal Frame still moves clunky and a little too slow, but at least the character moves in the direction you want it to. Since you aren’t fighting with the controls, you can better appreciate the foreboding atmosphere as you explore the series’ haunted locales.

The Fatal Frame series is inspired by J-Horror cinema with its sense of isolation and preoccupation with pale-faced, lank haired ghostly women out to reap retribution on the living. In each of the games, a young Japanese girl is unfortunate to enter and become trapped in one of these haunting grounds and can only pacify the spirits out to get her by discovering the horrible history of what transpired there. The only way to do this is to survive long enough to piece together the evidence in old documents and strange visions about horrific rituals that can only be spoken about in hushed innuendo.

The only weapon capable of taking on these supernatural malefactors is the Camera Obscura. When the ghosts come out, the camera goes up and you can damage any specter that wanders into your viewfinder. The closer they get to you, the more damage you do, but if you wait til just the right moment, the viewfinder flashes red. If you press the shutter then, you’ll score a fatal frame for massive damage that will temporarily drive the ghost back. This is a good thing as you’ll often be facing down malicious spirits in tight quarters.

The first game starts out strong. Teenager Miku’s brother, a supernatural researcher, has gone missing. She sets out to find him by going to the Himuro Mansion, a rotting shell of an abandoned estate that is said to be haunted. When she arrives, she gets more than she bargained for when she quickly discovers that the members of her brother’s research team are dead and have become part of the mansion’s army of spooks. To make matters worse, she has an encounter with Kirie, the most wicked ghost of them all, who curses her so that rope burns start appearing on Miku’s extremities. Miku only had a few nights before the curse kills her.

The Himuro Mansion is three stories and an underground chamber of scares. You’ll never forget the first time you walk in and find ropes dangling from the ceiling of the entryway. The effect is almost enough to make you want to turn back.

The sequel, Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, is my favorite of the Playstation trilogy. It takes the original concept and polishes it further to make a brilliantly terrifying experience. In this installment, twin sisters Mio and Mayu become trapped in village that dropped off the map after Mayu, in a mesmerized state, follows a red butterfly through the forest. The isolated All God’s Village has for centuries been the site of a terrible secret ritual involving twins. Something went awry during the last ritual and it wasn’t properly completed causing the village to be swallowed up by darkness and the residents to become ghosts.

Now that twins have arrived in town, the ghosts are determined to complete their ritual no matter what. Now Mio, the player character, not only has to find a way out, she has to find a way to break the hold the village has her twin. Mayu has become possessed by Sae, a homicidal ghost in a bloody kimono that is determined to play out the drama she had with her twin sister using the bodies of the twins.

Crimson Butterfly is a bigger game than its predecessor. You have a whole village to explore rather than the grounds of one mansion. While most of the time you’ll be exploring spooky abandoned houses, you do have some unique locations like fog shrouded graveyards and abandoned shrines even if you’ll be seeing them briefly. This somewhat backfires in that you’ll be going back and forth between the large houses throughout the game and the misty, dark streets are often empty, devoid of enemy specters to fight or evade and the harmless ghosts that appear and serve as both guideposts to your next location and jump scares.

Its true brilliance lies in the relationship between the twins. Mayu has an unhealthy co-dependence on Mio that echoes the similar dysfunctional relationship between Sae and her twin. With Mayu under the town’s evil influence, there is a definite sense that saving your increasingly creepy sister may be irreconcilable with your desire to save yourself. The story climaxes in two endings – which are determined by which difficulty mode you play the game on – but I always felt that the easy/normal ending (considered the bad ending) had more impact. The hard/nightmare mode ending is a ‘happier’ ending but just lacks the pure shock value of the bad end.

The final game of the Playstation 2 era is Fatal Frame III: The Tormented. I did not like this game. They tried to make it bigger and just made it bloated. There is more of everything. Instead of one playable character, there are three – one of which is a spiritual dunce and takes forever to dispatch ghosts with the camera. But he can move heavy objects. The short, punchy documents from the first two games are replaced by journals that go on forever. The haunted location of The Tormented exists in a dreamworld. The Manor of Sleep is large by itself but made larger because it starts to graft on sections of All God’s Village and the Himuro Mansion from the earlier games.

The Tormented is about a young Japanese photographer whose boyfriend was killed during a car crash. The protagonist, Rei, was driving that night and escaped the accident without injury. As such, she is ‘tormented’ over her guilt. At night, Rei starts to dream about the Manor of Sleep and encounters a ghost known at the Tattooed Priestess. The Tattooed Priestess draws in people grieving over loved ones and makes a tattoo appear on their body. It grows each time they dream about the house until it gets to a point that they fade from existence and leave only a smear behind them. Rei must explore the mansion with help from Miku from the first game and Mio’s (from Crimson Butterfly) uncle, Kei, who have also fallen under the curse.

In addition to the other things I don’t like about The Tormented, I feel like this one was just out of ideas. Instead of having the look and feel of a J-Horror film, The Tormented starts to rip off iconic movie moments. When Rei witnesses a curse victim turn into a smear on the wall and carpet it’s a direct reference to the movie Pulse. Rei goes to investigate a sound coming from the crawlspace above her closet and it’s an almost exact replication of the opening scene from The Grudge. I suspect some of the effective moments, like when Rei spots the Priestess through the steam in her shower, are actually pulled from movies I just haven’t seen.

Since you are divided between the creepy world of the Manor of Sleep and the waking world of Rei’s apartment, the relentless terror of having no escape is gone. Rei’s apartment is bright and safe in the early part of the game so the scares don’t begin until you go to bed at night and get pulled into the dream world. However, you aren’t stuck there. If things get to hairy, you can walk out the front of the mansion and return to the waking world until you are ready to go back in. This ability to retreat undermines the sense of isolation and helplessness. To give the game credit, Rei’s apartment does get corrupted the closer she gets to cracking the mystery behind the Priestess but you only see those set piece specters that don’t actually harm you. They are just there for scares and to photograph for bonus points.

It was all downhill for Fatal Frame in North America after the Playstation era. The fourth game was made for the Wii and stayed in Japan. We did get a spin-off for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system called Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir, a game that was aimed at showing off the AR function on that system. AR cards are basically cardboard slats that the 3DS’s camera can read and turn into moving 3DS images on the screen. Spirit Camera’s main idea isn’t bad. The player receives a mysterious notebook that draws spirits to their house. You use the handheld as the camera obscura as the game creates evil ghosts that only appear in the handheld’s camera viewfinder. It’s a neat idea, trying to create an immersive first person experience, but it falls short for one reason. The 3DS needs copious amounts of light (natural light works best) for it to work properly. Nothing ruins the oppressive atmosphere like a sunny living room.

It’s not all bad though. After the property sat dormant for a while, it was revived a few years back with Fatal Frame V. This did get an international release for the Switch as a digital only game. Unfortunately, I don’t have a Switch and have no desire to buy one. Still the franchise managed to produce two excellent horror experiences and I would count that as a win.

 

Manga Read Along: Red River Vol. 17 – Killer Queen

Spoilers! Spoilers! Oh my stars and garters there are spoilers! Visit the archives to catch up on prior summaries.

Yuri is now Gal Meshedi, commander of the Hittite armies. As part of her agreement with the Senate she can only marry Kail and become queen if successfully leads a campaign against the Egyptians, the other major power in the region. As they prepare the troops, Kail asks Yuri to come with him so they can speak in private. She hopes that he is going to say that Rusafa has been pardoned and will be reinstated as commander of the archery unit. However Kail does her one better. He appoints Rusafa as deputy commander, Yuri’s aide and direct subordinate, because he knows he can trust him to guard Yuri with his life.

Continue reading

TGIF NSFW: Clue Rewritten as Trashy Kindle Erotica Blurb

This post is not safe for work. Please enjoy responsibly.

Clue or Cluedo as its known in Britain is best known as a board game, but it also spawned a movie and series of books. In the books, an idiot named Mr. Boddy keeps inviting over the six characters from the game – Mrs. White, Ms. Scarlet, Mr. Green, Col. Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, and Prof. Plum – who can’t stop from committing crimes on his property. Like the board game, you must use clues scattered through the short story case files to figure out who did what with what weapon in which room in the house.

I just the insane idea whatever if it wasn’t murder going down in the Body Manor but boinking. Copious amounts of boinking. I told you this one was going to be trashy and I really meant it this time. Lots of dirty puns ahead.

Continue reading

October Frights #2: Uzumaki Manga Omnibus

Here is a spine tingling horror comic perfect for the Halloween season. I nearly put Red River on hiatus to do Uzumaki as a Halloween read along, but decided against it. Uzumaki is simply best experienced without each eerie vignette being spoiled. This handsome hardcover omnibus containing the three trade paperback volumes of Uzumaki on nice sturdy paper. Uzumaki follows Kirie Goshima and her paranoid boyfriend Shuichi, two teens living an isolated town in Japan, as they witness strange phenomenon concerning spirals.

At first it is small things, like little whirlwinds becoming common as they blow through the streets, but then people become obsessed with the shape. They start to act strangely, by hoarding spiral shaped objects or going into a panic when they see a spiral, but soon the residents of the town afflicted by the obsession start dying. The deaths are usually accompanied by a terrifying physical transformation as humans are twisted into a noodly loops or become large snails (complete with spiral shell). The smoke of their cremation fires form spiraling clouds in the sky and the ashes always fall into the pond at the center of the town. Shuichi’s parents are among the first victims and he is the first person to figure out what is going on, but as he is helpless to do more than protect Kirie, who always finds herself at the center of each strange incident.

And bizarre the incidents are. Some of the chapters are almost comical. Such as the one where Kirie’s hair is possessed by the spiral and begins to turn into flamboyant curls that hypnotize her classmates. But even at its most absurd, Uzumaki still manages to be very unsettling. Each chapter is self contained but the narrative slowly builds to its horrifying, apocalyptic climax. Junji Itoh relies heavily on body horror. Bodies are turned into grotesque mockeries of the human form. If you are squeamish and the idea of watching an eyeball get sucked into a spiral shaped void in the middle of where a face should be, Uzumaki is probably going to be more than you can handle.