Tag Archives: Horror Fiction

How Not to End Up Like My Characters

self defense

Why I Know This Stuff: 

Because of the genre I write in, I spend a lot of time thinking about what can go wrong. What terrible things can happen, and what events lead up to them.

Mostly, these are fictional things. Every once in a while, I’ll have a scene inspired by something that has happened to me. My writing is never taken straight from my life, but once in a while, there is a resemblance. This has led me to modify my own behaviors in order to avoid ending up like the people I write about.

Like Liam Neeson in Taken, I have developed an unusual (if slightly less lethal, and less extensive) skill set.

I know kicks and strikes, tactical holds and weapons takeaways. I know where to hit a person to disable him temporarily, where to hit him to injure him permanently, and where to hit him to kill him. I’m thankful that so far I haven’t needed to utilize these.

I also know observation techniques. My dad is a detective.  Awareness of his environment is a matter of safety, and even survival, on a daily basis.

While we were growing up, my siblings and I were constantly hearing, “Look around! Pay attention! Be observant!” It was kinda like Psych with less pineapple.


I’m a daydreamer by nature, so this was a difficult skill for me to master.

I’m glad I did.

Why I Think It’s So Important:

I used to ride the bus down Division Street to and from the Plaza each day on my way to college.

spokanebus plaza

For those of you who don’t live in Spokane or don’t ride the bus, the Plaza is the Twilight Zone concentrated into the space of a mid-size department store. There was at least one fight almost every day. The local news ran stories about people getting stabbed there despite the fact that there was always at least one security guard on duty. The Plaza made me realize that perhaps my father was not quite the paranoid hard-ass I’d thought him to be.

plaza stabbing

When a guy sat down behind me on the bus one afternoon, I got goosebumps. I don’t know what it was about the man. He looked like he’d been in a fight, but so did lots of people there. He wasn’t very old. Early thirties, late twenties. I felt like he was watching me. Like an itch I couldn’t reach, being near this guy was making me antsy.

He asked me for a nickel and I gave him one. (Bus riders gotta stick together, ya know?) His gaze as he took it struck me as too intense. I wanted to change seats, but the bus was full. I thought about talking to the driver at the next stop, but what would I say? It’s not like he’d been rude or unpleasant. He was just creeping me out something fierce.

Well, I thought, it’s possible this is all in my head. Maybe I’m (God forbid) turning into my father. Besides, what’s the worst this guy could do on a bus? Stare at me? But when I got off the bus… That thought got my adrenaline flowing again.

My stop was the Hastings Lot. The end of the line. This time of day, I was often the only one in the parking lot. There were a few businesses around, but not close enough that I was sure anyone would hear me scream. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Dead battery. I might be in some deep shit.

I considered my options. I could go about my day as usual, and hope he wouldn’t follow me to my stop. We weren’t very far down Division. I decided if he was still there when the bus reached the Northtown Mall, I’d get off. The mall was always packed. I could yell for help if he came after me, maybe even lose him in the crowd.

He talked to me, off and on. Asking me questions. I don’t remember what they were. Normal things. Small talk. I didn’t tell him much about myself. My answers were vague, but polite. I didn’t want to be rude in case I was being paranoid. In case he was a nice, normal guy. Didn’t want to hurt his feelings for no reason. We reached the stop before the mall. He was still there. Still talking to me. I got out of my seat as the bus pulled up to the curb near the mall. I pushed my way to the front, and was the first one out the door. He got up, and followed. I was running the minute my sneakers hit the sidewalk. I jumped a short concrete wall around the mall parking lot, and sprinted for the nearest entrance. Better to be paranoid and alive than risk being tossed in a panneled van and driven to a basement somewhere.

I risked looking back once, and felt both vindicated and terrified to see him running after me.

Yay, I’m not crazy afterall!

Holy shit, this dude is really after me!

I beat him to the mall, and ducked in the Barnes & Nobel. I stayed near other people. Stayed behind the bookshelves. I could hear him cursing. I didn’t move for fear he’d see me looking around the shelves. After a short time, he left. My heart was still pounding. I was drenched in sweat, but I was safe. I kept an eye out for him as I left the mall, as I got on the next Division Street bus, and as I got off the bus at the Hastings Lot. He never reappeared.

I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed on the first bus. I do know beyond a reasonable doubt that it wouldn’t have been anything good. I hadn’t dropped my wallet. If he had wanted my phone number, that was a hell of a creepy way to try to get it. There just wasn’t any legitimate reason for him to be running after me. Traumatic and life altering? Not really. Scary? You bet your ass it was.

The end result was that I decided to educate myself. I went to self-defense classes, read books and studies on the subject, and bought pepper spray.

Now that I’m over twenty-one, I have a concealed carry permit, a Glock with night sights, and (thanks to my dad) a skill level with a handgun that falls somewhere between that of Clarice Starling and Stephanie Plum. (I’m not a marksman, but the gun doesn’t sit at home in my cookie jar either.) I have never shot anyone, and would greatly prefer not to do so in the future, but I firmly believe it’s better to have my gun and not need it than need it and not have it. My goal is to have a schema* for every scenario. If some wanna-be gangster rapist comes at me with a gun, I have the luxury of knowing my gun is bigger, and, frankly, that’s a load off my mind.

stephanie plum


 I constantly plan and re-plan what to do in various worst-case scenarios. I always, always looked at the people around me. Not because I expect bad things to happen, but because it makes me less vulnerable in case they did. Despite a few bad experiences, and the crap on the nightly news, I still believe most people aren’t going to hurt me. But now, I remember they have the potential to. And I trust my instincts.

*This is a cop word. It means a plan of action. Not sure if that’s common knowledge.

 Things for Beginners to Consider:

  • What are the laws in your state concerning self-defense, gun ownership, and concealed carry?
  • What local classes are available to you?
  • What are your personal values/beliefs, and what level of force are you comfortable using to defend yourself and the people you love?*  ** ***
  • How secure is your home? Your car? Your work place? Are there steps you can take to make these places safer?
  • What are your current personal strengths? (Are you a runner? Do you lift weights? Are you persuasive?) Develope the skills you already possess to your best advantage.
  • What are your current limitations? (Out of shape, freeze under stress, uncomfortable with confrontation even in extreme circumstances.)
  • Can you improve yourself in these areas?
  • Under what circumstances is it in your best interest to escape/evade?
  • Under what circumstances should you fight back?

* Do not purchase a weapon you are not willing to use. It’s not worth the risk of an attacker using it against you.

** Practice often with any weapons you do choose to purchase so you can use them effectively.

*** This includes things like car keys! I carried my keys a certain way in dark parking lots for years before practicing strikes on a dummy with them in a self defense class and realizing that the way I’d been holding them was totally ineffective.

Further Reading:


A summary of things to do (and things not to do) to decrease your odds of being attacked, based on an in-prison survey of rapists and date rapists:



An online tutorial on how to escape and evade in an urban environment:




Fightlike a girl&win

Fight Like a Girl… and Win by Lori Hartman Gervasi

Local Resources:

(I know there are many other classes in the area, but these are some I have been to and would personally recommend.)

Classes in the Spokane Area:

These are free, and they’re amazing!

Spokane Police Academy

2302 N. Waterworks

Spokane, WA, 99212

Phone: (509)742-8100

survival mindset

  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 1 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Enhancing the Survival Mindset 2 (Women over the age of 16 only)
  • Violence Prevention in the Workplace (Men and Women)
  • Personal Safety and Awareness (Men and Women)
  • De-escalation Training (Men and Women)

To register, visit:


Classes in Cheney, WA:

These are great for all the striking practice they give you, and the atmosphere is fun and empowering. Everyone cheers each other on as you learn.

West Plains Karate &

Self-Protection Connection

422 First Street

Cheney, WA, 99004

Phone: (509)559-5432

Women’s Self Defense


  • 5-hour Intro
  • 24-hour Advanced

For times, prices, and registration forms, visit:



Filed under Education

5 Infectiously Good Books: Fiction

As many of you know, I’m writing a novel that has to do with an epidemic. (Those of you who don’t know, go read https://theoccasionalmeatcleaver.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/my-novel-giving-an-old-disease-new-life/)

That being the case, I thought I’d share some books on the subject of infectious disease that I found inspiring:


1.) Blindness by Jose Saramago

This is one of my favorite books of all time. His characters hardly ever have names, there are no dialogue attributions… Truth be told, his novels look like Gertrude Stein’s poetry, but that is said with affection because I love them both. If I tried to mimic their style, it would look like something written by a not-too-bright second grader. When they do it, somehow it’s brilliant. Still, it can be disorienting, so if you don’t feel up to the book, there is a movie version.


 In my opinion, both are modern classics and not to be missed.


[Be advised, both are very graphic, and not to be watched or read with children. And, really, that goes for everything on this post.]


2.) The Stand by Stephen King

Apocalypse by government engineered flu virus, and that’s not a spoiler. That’s the first chapter. Does it get any better? This book is regarded by many as Stephen King’s best work. I’d certainly call it one of his best, but I find it difficult to play favorites with his books. This one is also a movie, but I can’t vouch for it as I haven’t seen it yet.


3.) Contagion by Robin Cook

Robin Cook’s mind is so twisted, his books make me shudder. Ah, how I envy him his disturbing imagination. Envy aside, this book will have you reading late into the night and avoiding hospitals. I guess that goes for all of his books, but this one in particular involves the 1918 flu, so it was of special interest to me.


The reader should note that the movie Contagion has nothing to do with this book, and is a completely different story.


4.) The First Horseman by John Case

I can’t stress enough how much I like this guy’s style. No frills, no self indulging tangents, just pure, edge-of-your-seat story. I love all of his books, but this one involved a cult trying to start a Spanish Flu epidemic, so it was good market research for me as well as a good read.


5.) The Cobra Event by Richard Preston

Interesting villain? Check. Terrifying biological terrorism? Check. Images you wish you could get rid of, but can’t? Sooo many, but that’s part of a successful horror/thriller book. You know it’s good because it kinda makes you sick. Great, suspense-filled book.


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Warning Signs


There is something perverse about horror fiction, whether you’re writing it, or voluntarily picking it up off a bookshelf. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s anything extreme enough to qualify as a mental illness. (So you just tell those men in the white coats to stay back!) It’s just… slightly less than socially acceptable in some circles.

Most people like pleasant things. Pleasant smells, pleasant sounds, pleasant books… you get the picture. Whatever else you could call my writing, it isn’t pleasant. That’s not what I’m going for, but apparently because I gave up the black trench coat and eyeliner that were my go-to fashion accessories in high school, people are sometimes surprised when I start reading my novel and nothing about it is pretty, sweet, or nice. Many times, someone comes up to me after a reading and says, “I didn’t expect to hear something like that from someone who looks like you.” It has never been presented as a criticism, but I get the feeling the other person and I both leave a little bit confused about what just happened. It seems so funny to me, the thought of having some visual aide on my person to warn potential readers about the graphic nature of my writing. Like a poison dart frog warning away would be predators with its bright, poisonous skin. What should I look like, then? Should I start wearing my Mrs. Lovett Halloween costume every time I read at Auntie’s? Brandish my plastic meat cleaver as I step up to the podium, so anyone who is uncomfortable with disease and decapitation, can go to the bathroom, or browse, and then come back when I finish reading? Perhaps a sign. Or something printed on a tee-shirt. “Warning: contains homicidal fiction?” I think I could have fun with this…

For a while, when this first started happening, I did go back to my old way of dressing. Black on black on black with heavy eye make up and boots, but that doesn’t really feel like me anymore. Well, not most days. And anyway, I’m not sure that’s really what’s tripping people up. I’m still relatively young, and I’m female, and I can write fight scenes that make grown men say, “Oh, man! That is so gross!” Maybe this is unusual. Being from Deer Park, where lots of high school girls go hunting,* and help butcher livestock, it’s sometimes hard for me to say what’s normal. In any case, if I can give my dad, a police detective, or my brother, a fellow horror movie connoisseur, the heebie-jeebies, I feel like I’ve done my job.


* I don’t mean just tagging along. I mean they have the gun, they do the shooting, and they do the field dressing.


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The Occasional Meatcleaver


The first time I tried to write a horror story, I was in the second grade and I put my class to sleep by reading it out loud. Fortunately, I’ve gotten much better since then.  By fifth grade I was making people speechless rather than tired, and by college I actually started writing things people thought were exciting and scary.

After years of writing, I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share with anyone who is interested:

5 Ingrediants For A Successful Horror/Thriller Novel

  1. A willingness to read a wide range of published authors. It’s easier to know if your writing is working if you know what has worked for other writers. What did you like about their work? What didn’t you like? 
  2. Make it your own. Make sure your story has something unsual: A strange setting, an object used in an attack that isn’t typically a weapon. Something memorable. Throw in the occasional meatcleaver.
  3. Start with a ‘what if’ scenario. Even if you have great characters, they need something to do. This is the case with any genre, but what you should do next is more unique to horror writing.
  4. Imagine the worst case scenario, then try to take it a step further. Everyone thinks, “What if my car breaks down?”  so your job is to think,  “What if my car breaks down and my child is having an asthma attack in the back seat?”
  5. Make yourself and your readers uncomfortable. Everyone has topics they naturally shy away from, but the tension and discomfort these subjects can cause is what will make your readers stay interested and emotionally invested in your story.

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