I like a marina bar. Water. Piers and docks. But also, there’s often a sense of community. A vacation vibe even in winter.

Pyramid Acres Marina Bar features a Bloody Mary bar. Did I take advantage of it? No, readers, I did not. I got an attack of shyness and didn’t want to inquire how one approached the bar. I mean, you get the vodka part of it at the bar, or…? So I had vodka and soda instead. I think there’s a name for that drink, but I didn’t order it by any cool name, just by ingredients.

The book is Revenant, by the late Melanie Tem. Revenant is a ghost town. It’s a last chance place for the dead and those who mourn them to make peace with death. It’s a very dark book, and I read a lot of dark books. It’s also hopeful, in the way the sun behind storm clouds is hopeful—the kind of gold rim that makes the dark more ominous but also reveals that the sun is still there.

I brought John Dies at the End by David Wong, the identity assumed by Jason Pargin for that book and the serial story that preceded it, to Nessie’s the marina bar at Lithia Springs on Lake Shelbyville. Turns out Jason Pargin is an alum of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where I have my day job. My signed copy is from Confluence Books, our indie used (and some new) book store.

That book is a wild ride. Sci-fi /cosmic horror, humor black as night, and truly likeable characters. The drink is a Midori-based spring-themed house cocktail. It was as yummy as it looks.

A cool thing about Nessie’s—a lake monster hangs out there. Not really, I wish though. It’s a marina sign. Still fun though.

Keep reading!


I’m still in the afterglow of AuthorCon / Scares That Care! March 31-April 2 in Williamsburg, Virginia—my first horror writing conference. I met so many cool people, attended some readings that made me grateful for this new golden age of horror, learned a ton at various panels, lost my glasses, had my glasses returned to me, and bought a ton of books! By many people’s standards, my haul was modest, but for me, more than a dozen books at anything other than a library sale is a lot of books!

I can’t drive through mountains without stopping. So I built in time for some hiking. Not enough time! But better than no time. I drove the Newfound Gap through the Smokies, and part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Also, I visited my very good friend Pam Schmalenberger in Raleigh! We stayed up until 5 a.m. and could easily have kept going with the catching up another all-day and all-night.  Pam is a reader, too. She and I and fellow Hogwarts supporter Ashley Wiehle-Framm waited in line, wands in hand, for the release of the last of the Harry Potter books, then slunk off home to begin a reading marathon. Pam finished first, as I recall.

But the trip also gave me a chance for some fun Nerd in a Bar with a Book places to read! #nerdinabarwithabook

The Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz is a high-octane story that features several kinds of hauntings—a house, a river, a man’s past. I picked it for the trip because it’s set right down there in Virginia in AuthorCon territory.

I read it at Gatlinburg Brewing Company (where I should have bought one of their cool shirts or something!) and paired it with a guest tap from the Gypsy Circus Cider Company, the Lotus Dream Orange Blossom Cider.

I picked up Crescendo by L. Marie Wood at AuthorCon. So cool to get to meet Lisa! Seriously, everyone was gracious at AuthorCon, kind, and encouraging—it was a pleasure! This is another haunted house, haunted man, haunted family story, but very different from the Janz book. This one takes a deep dive into the role of a person’s mental state in a haunting, and how brushes with malevolence can take a toll on a person’s sanity.

This one was at Blowing Rock Brewing Company, and let me just say I’ll be back to Blowing Rock some day. I ordered a flight. We have here: Kölsch, Chai Kölsch, Long Moon wheat beer, Honey Amber—all of them Blowing Rock beers. I bought some Kölsch to go.

Happy reading, y’all!

Used to be, I couldn’t sleep with my back to a room. I had to have my bed shoved up against the wall, and my back had to be to that wall—touching it, even. I’m a little easier about that now. I’ll roll over in the night without waking up in full freak-out mode.

But I still must have a blanket on, no matter how hot it is. Over my ankles, at least. My knees. Because monsters. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about—at least some of you have a similar fear.

I don’t know the rules monsters follow. And I don’t know why some people aren’t now or never were afraid of breaking monster rules. Reckless. Because monsters remember. They might not get you right away, the moment you transgress. They might wait years. The breaking of the rules gives then an in—even if you only slipped up just the one time.

Just the One Time by Epiphany Ferrell

I read this story on a boulder in the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River. Some of the footage is from trails either in the Smokies or Blue Ridge Mountains. Just the One Time first appeared in Ghost Parachute.

I apologize for the snap, crackle and pop. I couldn’t bear not to use this reading even though there are some sound issues. Working on it!


I’m one of those people who sometimes causes computers to malfunction just by walking into the room. It happens with other machines, too. Motorcycles, snowmobiles, wave runners. So I’m on the fence a little bit about technology being the nemesis of the manitou in The Manitou by Graham Masterton, a classic in the horror genre. (Also, I did not realize the book was the first in a series until I pulled it up on Amazon to share the link.) At the same time, it makes good sense, and is right in line with what I’ve learned from old fairytales and folklore—some of our friends from the other side of the veil do even less well with technology than I do.

That drink is a fancy cocktail enjoyed at Walker’s Bluff – Tasting Room. I can’t remember what was in it, but it the garnish was an edible flower. I ate a petal. Because of course I did. It was called a flower child. Pretty.

Used book stores are the bomb. I love to buy new books hot off the presses, help out a writer in the process. But finding gems at used book stores is such a dang thrill, isn’t it? I knew I was going to Owl Creek Winery. So it’s only natural to read a book by Owl Goingback! Darker Than Night was published in 1999, but it has all the very best features of a 1970s horror movie. I’m reading it and all but shouting “Tell him!” “Believe her!” “Why are you doing that?” Also, if you move into a house overloaded with kachina dolls… don’t.

The drink is a blueberry basil cider. Owl Creek makes some of my favorite summer wines, but when I go there, I always wind up seduced by the cider.

I always say I don’t want to start in a book in a series. It’s intimidating, picking up that first book and knowing there are six more to go. I mean, I got things to read, how can I commit to your series? And then I wind up captivated and reading the series. Countless times. This time, it’s the Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott mysteries by Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling. I read Career of Evil at Pheasant Hollow Winery with a Catawba wine. Catawba is a bit sweeter a wine than I typically drink, but it’s not an icky sweet—it’s got a nice earthiness to it, too. There are maybe three wineries I’ve been to that I really love the Catawba, and Pheasant Hollow is one!

Also, friends, please don’t worry. I have a backlog of these, I’m ok, really! 😉

What I’m reading and where I’m reading it. And what I’m drinking for part of the time I’m reading it.

So, this first one is a book about a woman driving alone in the mountains on her way to a horror convention, and encountering the Mothman or something like it and assorted other baddies along the way. For reasons I’ll explain in mid-April, that one skeered me. Below by Laurel Hightower is genuinely scary but it’s also empowering.

I enjoyed that book at Ebb & Flow Fermentations in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Ebb & Flow has got just the best vibe. Inside it’s eclectic funky, and outside it’s herb garden magic. It’s February, so we’re inside. They have a series of beers named after goddesses and made by their women brewers. This one is Arduinna, which they describe as a dark saison ale with chocolate malt and roasted hickory bark. It was a perfect match.

Into the Forest and All the Way Through by Cynthia Pelayo is a collection of poems based on real life / true crime stories of murdered and missing American women and girls. It is heartbreaking. It’s one thing to read or write fiction that has murders — even if you are drawing from your own experience, you know the story itself is fiction. It’s another to write true crime — most of that is written in a clinical, research-forward way. Cina Pelayo goes into the heart and all the way through to your soul. I’ve not read anything quite like it.

So after all that seriousness, it seems almost stupid to talk about reading it in a bar during Valentine’s week. Johnson Bar in Paducah, Kentucky was all done up for the holiday, in reds and blacks and pinks and hearts and arrows and naughtiness and snarkiness and a nod to the heartbroken. The red lighting made the pictures kinda cool. That’s a Paloma I’m drinking — they do complex cocktails very well, but that night I was more traditional.

I am honored to call Meg Pokrass my friend. She has been my flash fiction mentor, a source of encouragement and inspiration, and a supporter when I needed a hug followed by a kick in the ass (all virtual). She lives now in Inverness, Scotland, the gateway to Loch Ness, and if Nessie is going to show herself to anyone, it’ll be Meg. They are two of a kind — mysterious, shy, beautiful and playful. Kissing the Monster Hunter is a series of flash fiction stories about a monster hunter. And love.

I was at Hill Prairie Winery upstate in Oakford, Illinois. They have historic pictures of horses on the wall — Morgans, a Percheron stallion, mules, work horses, all of them previously associated with the place in days of yore — so you know I loved it. The wine in this picture is Fireside Cran-Apple Spice, which tastes like a mulled wine.


What I’m reading, and where I’m reading it.

I forgot to include this one in the last round.

Sour Candy, by Kealan Patrick Burke, a novella that had me cringing with every page. Not gross-out cringing, but “this is a nightmare and I want to wake up but also see what’s going to happen” dread cringe. In the very best way. Tragic, occasionally funny, always scary.

This picture is a little bit of a cheat because I’m not in a bar. I do occasionally read other places! This one is a lunchtime read at Harbaugh’s Cafe. Great cover, eh?

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu is—and I don’t say this lightly—the most important book to come out about pandemics during the Covid pandemic years. Though he started writing it well before most people in the world had ever heard of a coronavirus, this book, which begins with the discovery of a centuries-old little girl who was killed by a virus, which is soon unleashed on the modern world, is relevant in a way a book deliberately about the real pandemic probably could not be. It’s about grieving and living, about family and purpose, it’s sad, and funny, and mysterious, and philosophical. I’m blown away. Also, I get to interview the author for the SIU Alumni Magazine. Cuz he went to SIU. Where I work.

I’m at Shotgun Eddy’s in Eddyville. The outdoor stage—which, in January, is not where Tim played—features a tie-line for horses. Eddyville bills itself as the Trail Riding Capitol of Illinois, and I’m pretty sure they own that claim. And yeah, that’s a good ol’ Stag beer.

Stay tuned. I’m reading now about the Mothman.

What I’m Reading. And Where I’m Reading It.

Since my husband is a gigging singer-songwriter, I get to bars and wineries and micro-brews a whole lot. And I’m the nerd who brings a book for the occasion. Here’s what I’ve started reading this new year.

Reading now: Ragman by JG Faherty. First off, what a great title for mummy horror! At The Liquor Hut, in McLeansboro.

And earlier this year, Road of Bones by Christopher Golden at 618 Taphouse drinking a hard cider brewed in St. Louis.

And the first book of the year was The Best Horror of the Year, vol. 14 edited by Ellen Datlow. Blue Sky Vineyard, Cabernet Franc.

I also read The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix. Barnes & Noble is hosting Grady Hendrix in a Zoom event tomorrow. Sign up. It’s free.

What I’m Reading. And Where I’m Reading It. November 2022

Of course I always take a book on vacation. Usually two, in fact. Even if I’m pretty sure I won’t have time to read. So, here’s what I brought on the honeymoon at Gulf Shores — a horror novel set in the Gulf Shores. Of course. And I did not have time to read it. Instead of chilling with a book on the beach, I prowled the beach, up and down, from the condo across the Gulf Shores State Park and beyond, at least once a day. I finished the book back home in Southern Illinois. At a winery. Because of course that’s where I would read.

The Elementals by Michael McDowell. Big ol’ 5 stars. I may never look at a sand dune the same way again.

The wine is Peachbarn Winery‘s rosé. I often drink their Old School Peach, which is a dry peach. It’s like biting into a peach right off the tree, but not an overripe one. So freaking good. But their rosé is a real treat too.