Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Funny Fantasy and Silly Scifi

Santa’s Creepy Little Spy

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 17•14
It's watching you.

It’s watching you.

This sounds like the premise of a horror movie: It watches you when you sleep, and reports back to it’s superiors.  It has a creepy little manequin head, and people aren’t supposed to touch it.  It never moves when you are watching it, but every morning, it’s in a different position.

I’m not talking about some kind of monster that’s just waiting to attack you in your sleep, I’m talking about Elf on the Shelf.

Now that Little Miss is 2, Christmas is Serious Business.  So Hubby and I are looking to start our own family traditions.   A few years ago, a friend introduced me to Elf on the Shelf.  Basically I came over to their house and saw this creepy plastic cousin-of-Chucky peeking out of their Christmas tree.

“We have to move the elf,” my friend reminded her husband.  He rolled his eyes, then promptly pulled the thing out of their tree and put it on their mantle.

“What is that thing?” I asked.  What I meant was: “How do you sleep at night with that in your house?”

“My kids love it,” she said.  “They tell it what they want Santa to bring them for Christmas.”

Sure, they say they love it.  If they didn’t, Santa might not come.

But now that I’m a parent, I can’t help but wonder what’s the deal with that thing. After an extensive investigation (Ok, I asked wikipedia), I discovered that the elf comes with a book that explains things to kids.  Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a “scout elf” from Santa shows up to watch your kid and report back to Santa on your good behavior.

Parents who get into the game will move the elf every night.  Some parents get really elaborate, making up little signs that the elf has been playing around in the house while their kids sleep.  Others, like my friends just move it around a lot.

I’m a little torn by the idea of the elf.  On one hand, it sounds like a cute Christmas tradition.  On the other. . . . creepy.

But there seem to be some alternatives to Elf on the Shelf.  The company that makes that thing also makes a cuter, plushy version.  As well as a reindeer version.  And a birthday elf.  You know, so that your kids can be traumatized more than just once yearly.

So will I participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition?  I’m on the fence about it.  Do they make an Elf on the Fence?

History, Yall: That Time the French King was Cannibalized

Written By: Tracy - Nov• 08•14
Louis_XIV_of_France

The King who outlived everyone.

I’ve been known to make up bizarre stories on occasion, but I couldn’t make this one up.  It takes the cake.  Probably the cake that Marie Antoinette wanted the peasants to eat when they ran out of bread.

It starts with Louis the XIV.  He’s not the one who got his head cut off.  That one is a few Louis later.  This King Louis was the Sun King.  And quite possibly people called him “the immortal” behind his back, given his penchant for outliving most of his heirs. But that’s just my speculation.

Anyway, when Louis died the French removed his heart, preserved it and buried it in it’s own special tomb.  No, they weren’t trying to make sure that he wouldn’t rise from his grave to stalk the night.  The French just liked to stage separate elaborate funerals and burials for the internal organs of their monarchs. As you do.

Skip forward in time a few Louis, and you have the revolution.  The one where most everyone in France got their heads cut off.  In all that chaos, who was going to miss one king’s heart?  Money probably changed hands, and by the Victorian era the heart was in England. In the hands of Lord Harcourt. Who’s name is perfect for this story.

I wonder how he acquired the heart.  It’s not like you stroll into a garage sale, see a little silver casket with a heart in it and offer the lady with the cigarette box of money a quarter for it.

Shouldn’t he have returned it to France, or something? Isn’t there some kind of treaty that states that you can’t keep the remains of a rival nation’s ruler?  “Thou shalt not keep royal hearts in boxes on thine mantel.” Or something like that?

Instead, he kept this little cracked-dot-com article waiting to happen and passed it around at dinner parties. Because? Reasons.  Maybe the Victorians liked looking at mummified royal hearts while eating.

There are several versions of what happened next.  My favorite is the version in which the heart gets passed to William Buckland.  Probably at a dinner party, but maybe Lord Harcourt was just showing it off In a trophy room or something.  And then it gets passed to William Buckland.

Record scratch.  Back up. Let’s talk about Buckland a bit.

The thing is, Buckland shouldn’t have been anywhere in a two mile radius of the heart. Everyone knew he was crazycakes.  He liked to do things like go fossil hunting in his academic robes, and he wanted to eat one of every animal type in the world.  He served his guests field mice on toast.  And puppies.  Because everything is awful.

Does it move?  I'll eat it. Possibly with fava beans and a nice chianti.

Does it move? I’ll eat it. Possibly with fava beans and a nice chianti.

That second fact should have been reason enough for people to give him the side-eye as he reached for the king’s heart.  But maybe Harcourt was one of those curious types who likes to throw rocks at a hornet’s nest just to see what happens.  One version of the story even suggests that Harcourt asked Buckland to taste it.  After all, if Buckland will eat a puppy, maybe he’ll eat a 100 year old mumified heart.  Kind of like a Victorian aristocrat’s version of licking a flagpole in winter.  Then he no doubt double-dog-dared him.

And you can’t back down from a double dog dare.  So of course, he eats it.  Maybe accidentally.  Probably not. After all, he ate puppies.

Anyway,  legend goes that after eating the heart Buckland said “I have eaten a lot of strange things, but I’ve never eaten the heart of a king.”

At which point, if there was a Lady Harcourt (and I don’t know if there was or not), she probably said: see! This is why we can’t have nice things! Why did we even invite him?

Is this story true?  Who knows.  My source is a fellow writer and storyteller named Augustus Hare.  And we all know that Storytellers love to make things up.

 

 

 

Halloween has sure changed!

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 28•14

This year is The first year that Little Miss is old enough to Trick or Treat. So I’m actually looking at costumes and giving this some thought.

What is up with the whole sexy/sassy costume trend in girls costumes?  Halloween is cold! I would personally choose a costume that is:

A. More creative.

B. Looks good with a coat.

For example, This year I’m going as the Charlie Brown ghost. Yes, I will take pictures.

At any rate, my sister tells me that her oldest  wants to be Wonder Woman this year. Which got me thinking about how costumes have changed.

This was a Wonder Woman costume when I was a kid. image

 

It’s basically just a plastic printed trash bag and a cheap plastic mask. You can’t even eat with it on. There’s basically a tiny slit where the mouth should go. You couldn’t even get a straw into it. Kids walked around sweating in these costumes because they didn’t breathe(the costumes, not the kids) and wearing the masks as hats unless they were ringing someone’s doorbell and shouting Trick Or Treat.

That’s what I remember about Halloween, cheap candy corn and kid sweat.

Today, this is what a kid’s costume looks like, at least the non sassy version.  image I’m not even sure that “sassy” and Wonder Woman should even be in the same sentence. But I digress again.

This costume is cute, and probably not some kind of safety hazard. You can’t really show it off if you are wearing a coat. But I’m told that most little kids don’t go door-to-door anymore. Instead they go to church sponsored programs.

Anyone other than me see the irony in this with the way some folks have a conniption over happy holidays vs. Merry Christmas? Like maybe some pagan mother’s group somewhere is getting ready to pocket with signs that say “put the Sam back in Samhain?” No? Maybe it’s just the chocolate talking. And here I degrees again.

My point is, kids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it. Now get off my lawn! And take your fancy chocolate bars with you!

Time flies when you’re changing diapers

Written By: Tracy - Oct• 20•14

Holy bones!  I haven’t updated this blog since . . . June 2?  What have I been doing since then?

 

Oh yeah, that’s right. I had a baby.

Amazing how that will fill the hours. There are dirty diapers to change, cuddles and kisses to give out.  I’m becoming something of a domestic misfit.  Something that looks like a pintrest mom if you squint.  Only everything I make is really lopsided in that “it’s close enough” kind of way. Do they have a name for those?

And now October is halfway over.  There is so much left to do.  I have to finish my Halloween costume (I’m going as the Charlie Brown version of a ghost. He had a little trouble with the scissors. So did I.)  And I need to go to the pumpkin patch, and watch the Johnny Depp version of Sleepy Hollow.  And rake all the leaves so I can jump into the pile and roll in them over and over again.

Despite my incredibly active social life (ha!), I have actually found time to write, and I have some news.

51AtQTeFzaL._SL250_One of my Celeste Ingram stories is going to be a part of the Vampire-Themed humor anthology Vampire Suck (Alternate Hilarities 2)

The book is available for preorder right now for Kindle. It will be released on October 31 for all your Halloween vampire snarking needs.

If you don’t remember who Celeste Ingram was, she’s the star of several short stories that I’ve written. One of which was in Strip Mauled.  You can read that story on Baen’s Website here, for some idea of what you are in for.

In other news, I’m a featured author today on the website Arkansas Authors.  Please swing by there and check out my interview.

___



 

Blame it on Nancy Drew

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 02•14

20140601-224351-81831838.jpgWe had some kind of reading challenge in second grade, so I picked an easy reader from the library. One of those thin books with lots of pictures. I don’t even remember what it was.  Clifford?  The Berenstain Bears?  Anyhoo, My teacher suggested that I put it back.  She told me that I ought to pick something harder.  I agreed, but didn’t know what to choose.  So she steered me to a shelf of  Nancy Drew mysteries instead.

Faced with a shelf of these inch-thick books, I picked out one that might hold my interest.   The Moonstone Castle Mystery. Mostly I thought it might be about castles. I had a thing for reading fantasy, even then.

What I got instead was a book about a girl detective unlike anything that I saw on TV at the time. She had adventures on her own. She wasn’t some tag-along girl being tolerated by this band of boys (*cough*cough*Buck Rogers *cough*cough*)  or the girl of the week with the problem she needed solved (I’m looking at you, The A-Team, Knight Rider and Magnum P.I.). She saved herself instead of wringing her hands off to the side while someone else rescued her. I could imagine myself in her place.

I was hooked, to the detriment of any future social standing at my little school. While to the rest of the world I became the bookworm, in my own little universe I became the girl detective/adventurer/hero of every book I picked up after that. And there were many, many books after that. Works by Tara K. Harper, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon to name just a few.

Eventually I started to write. First badly aped pastiches of the adventures I read. Then as I found my voice and gained confidence and skill as a writer, I gravitated back to mysteries (albeit with a strong fantasy element).

I suppose a little bit of me still wants to grow up to be Nancy Drew.

 

Free Book!

Written By: Tracy - Apr• 09•14

The website Arkansas Book Reviewer has a featured review of my new book Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects.  Today the website also has an interview that I conducted with the website manager Tammy Snyder, in which I talk about my influences and what i’m working on next.

The website is also sponsoring a giveaway of my book, so one reader could get their very own copy of Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects for free.

The address for all this is http://arkansasbookreviewer.com/

I’m The Slayer, Ask Me How!

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 24•14

20140320-210255.jpg

I decided not to delete my Livejournal account.  It’s not like I’m paying for it anyway, and apparently some people out there read it.  Then again, I never got around to deleting my Myspace account either.

But that’s not what I want to write about today.  Instead, file this under “things I really should have known all along,”. Or possibly “well, Duh!”

One of the many things my husband and I do in our little bit of extra time is that we are business mentors.  Now I’m not about to slap on a badge that says “I’m the slayer, ask me how.” This isn’t about that. I bring it up because through doing that I learned that one of the things that most businesses have among their assets is a client list.  I’ll digress a little bit, then come back to this notion.

About 4 years ago I attended a convention alongside Dave Wolverton/David Farland. He mentioned that the most important tool he used to market his books was his newsletter. In short, he’s developed a client list. (Told you I’d come back.)

I’ve known this abstractly, yet I’ve relied on Facebook and my blog to keep my fans and friends up to date on my publishing schedule. And lately, I’ve not always been thrilled with the results for several reasons:

1. Facebook picks who sees my news on my regular page, and my fan page.  Although I have a number of “Likes” for the Facebook Tracy S. Morris page, whenever I post something, less than 1/16th of my fans ever see it.  If you haven’t sacrificed an avocado under the last full moon, you might not know that Medieval Misfits: Renaissance Rejects launched last month, even if we are friends on Facebook.

2. Twitter:  Am I doing it wrong? I feel like Twitter is the social media equivalent of being in a party where everyone is talking at once. The problem is, how can anyone hear you? It takes more than sacrificing an avocado for your news to get heard. This one might take a watermelon.

3. Blogging: at one point I was a dedicated blogger. Three times a week people could check back here and find new content.  Then I had kids.  These days, I try to actually write fiction in my limited computer time. So why should anyone check in with my blog on a regular basis when it just sits there . . .sitting there . . .

4. Newer platforms:  I write ficiton, which typically isn’t picture intense.  Newer platforms like Instagram and Tumblr seem to be visually oriented.  I’m not quite sure how to approach them.

To that end, I’m going old school and starting a “let me know” list.  (Technically, it’s a newsletter.  In the same sense that my Christmas card is a newsletter.  But I think of newsletters as being sent out monthly, with lots of all caps and multiple exclamation points. That’s not what I have in mind.)

Fans of my books and short stories who want to know when the next one is out can subscribe. I post only when I have news (which for me is once or twice a year.  So not spammy).  Facebook can’t decide for you that my news is not worthy of your time.

Friends who want to hear how the writing is going can also seek me out, so it’s not like I’m shouting into the crowded twitter aviary along with every other writer out there.  And if my fans and friends decide that once or twice a year is more than they want to get an email from me they can opt out.

I’ve always had a notification sign up form on my page, and I’ve never done anything with it.   I think it’s time to change that.

I plan to maintain my current activity level on twitter, Facebook and my blog (which mostly consists of posting cute pictures of my kids, and the occasional “this is a thing I wrote that is now a thing that is published.”  But now I will also have the this option.

So if you want to know when the next Tranquility comes out, or if I have another Medieval Misfits or Celeste Ingram or Dennis and Betsy short story published, then subscribe to my not-a-newsletter (which will be devoid of cute-kid-pics, for those who are annoyed by that kind of thing). Whenever I have publishing news to share (usually once or twice a year) I’ll send you a note.

I hate spam (outside of my Bubbas of the Apocalypse stories) so I promise not to share this information with anyone else.  I’m maintaining this list through MailChimp, so you can be sure that I’m handling it professionally.

Or, you know, just keep checking in on Facebook, etc.

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I’m seriously thinking of Deleting my LiveJournal Account

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 21•14

A while back when Kickstarter got hacked, I changed all of my passwords.  It wasn’t smart to have the same password on everything.  Even if it was a random letter and number sequence that I made up in college.

The problem is that Livejournal has not allowed me to use the spiffy new password I generated just for it.  My blog can crosspost from here fine.  But every time I try to log in, I wind up locked out of LJ for hours.  I’m wondering how useful even having a LJ is anymore, given that a lot of people seem to have migrated away in favor of Twitter or Tumblr.

I am usually pretty easy going, and I put up with a lot.  But I feel like LJ is a broken tool these days.

Thoughts?

Curse You, Jim Hines!

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 18•14

I just had about the shortest MS rejection of my life! I sent a short story in to Unidentified Funny Objects. Within a few hours, it was sent back to me.

They liked it. Unfortunately, it’s similar to something Jim Hines is writing for them.

*sigh*

Oh well, if I’m going to get passed over, at least it was by someone really good. And I’ve already got the MS off to another publisher for consideration. So there is that.

Weird World: James Dean and the Curse of the Little Bastard

Written By: Tracy - Mar• 10•14

This article was originally written for Firefox News.  Since their content seems to be gone I’m republishing it here.  I find it funny that people took this article to be some kind of “proof” of what happened to the car, and for me to be some kind of wannabe James Dean authority.  For the record, I’m just a retired reporter who was doing some fun writing for an internet website.  I don’t claim to be an expert on James Dean, or his car. I just thought it made for a cool story. 

In writing this article I actually generated a short story.  Sometimes inspiration comes from the oddest of places.  Incidentally, if any editors out there would like to buy a story about hobos, the devil and James Dean’s car, I still haven’t sold it yet.  

 

It was like a silver bullet: Shiny, fast and rare. James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder was only one of 90 made. And on September 30, 1955, with Dean behind the wheel, the customized racing machine that he named Little Bastardproved to be just as deadly when it carried Dean into a collision that took the movie star’s life.

Then, inexplicably, the wreckage went on to cause property damage, injury, and even death wherever it went, before disappearing altogether.

Dean acquired the Porsche 550 during filming of Rebel Without a Cause for use when he raced. The car was a temporary solution. He’d purchased a Lotus Mk. X, but it wouldn’t be delivered in time for an upcoming race in Salinas that he planned to compete in. (A few months prior, he blew the engine out of a Porsche 356 Super Speedster while racing in Santa Monica.)

Immediately, Dean hired legendary car customizer George Barris, the “King of Kustomizers”, to work on the car. Barris is known for his design of the Batmobile for the 60’s era Batman TV show. The customizer painted Dean’s racing number 130 on the front, sides and back. Along with red racing stripes and the name Little Bastard on the back. The car’s name had been taken from a nickname that Dean had been given while filming the move Giant.

Though Dean had been contractually unable to race while filming Giant, once he had finished the movie, he started making plans to race again.

And while the actor was excited to show off his newest race car, his friends weren’t happy about the purchase. In the time leading up to Dean’s death, friends of the actor – including Barris, Eartha Kitt and Dean’s former girlfriend Ursula Andress – said that they felt that the vehicle had a malevolent presence about it.

“James, I don’t like this car; it’s going to kill you,” Kitt is reported to have said to Dean while the two were out for a drive the week before Dean’s crash.

Around the same time, Dean introduced himself to Alec Guinness and asked the actor’s opinion of the car. Upon seeing it, Guinness stated that the car was sinister, and said that if Dean got in it, he would be dead within the week.

Perhaps Dean himself sensed that he was headed for destruction. Prior to his death, he gave away a kitten that Liz Taylor gave to him on the set of Giant. His reasoning for doing so was that “some day I may go out and not come back.”

And while filming a commercial for the National Safety Council, Dean ad-libbed the words of the script from “Please Drive Safely. The life you save may your own,” to “The life you save may be mine.”

The anticipated road race was to take place on October 1. On September 30, Dean and his entourage consisting of his mechanic Rolf Wütherich and stunt driver Bill Hickman, both of whom would serve as Dean’s racing crew. Also traveling with the group was Life magazine photographer Stanford Rolf, who planned on doing a photo story of Dean at the races.

Dean originally planned to trailer the Porsche behind his station wagon, but at the last minute decided to drive the car to the race in order to familiarize himself with it. Wütherich would ride with Dean while Hickman and Rolf would take the station wagon.

During one of the stops along the way, Hickman cautioned Dean to watch his speed (both drivers had already received tickets that day, Dean for going 10 miles over the speed limit. Since Hickman was pulling a trailer, his ticket was for 20 over.) Hickman cautioned that Dean was still getting used to the car. He said that Dean’s silver Porsche was difficult to see, thanks to its low profile and silver color. He was concerned that it might blend too easily into the pavement.

At approximately 5:30, Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 near Cholame, California, when a 1950 black and white Ford Tudor cut across his path. The driver of the Ford was a college student named Donald Turnupseed, who was on the way home to visit his family. Turnupseed had been driving in the oncoming lane and was attempting to make a left-hand turn on to Highway 41.

The sun had just dipped below the nearby hills, and dusk was quickly falling. Just as Hickman predicted, Turnupseed failed to see Dean.

Though legends say that Dean was driving in excess of 100 miles per hour when his vehicle struck Turnupseed’s, responding officers say that Dean was in all likelihood only driving 55 miles per hour when the accident happened. According to Wütherich, Dean’s last words were: “That guy’s gotta stop. . . He’ll see us.”

Neither Dean nor Wütherich were wearing their seat belts a the time of the accident. The mechanic was thrown from the automobile, and suffered a broken jaw and leg. Dean remained trapped in the vehicle, which was crushed like a piece of used tinfoil. He was taken by ambulance to nearby Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 5:59 PM. Cause of death: broken neck, multiple fractures of the upper and lower jaw, severe head trauma and massive internal bleeding.

What happened next fueled speculation that Dean’s car was cursed, or at the very least, led a cursed afterlife.
Barris immediately paid $2,500 for the wreckage with the intent of parting it out. However, a string of bizarre tragedies immediately struck.

  • As soon as the vehicle was delivered to Barris’ garage, it slipped off its trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.
  • Shortly thereafter, Barris sold the engine to Troy McHenry and the drive train to William Eschrid. Both were physicians and racing hobbyists. While racing at the Pomona fairgrounds on October 24, 1956, McHenry was killed when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree. Eschrid’s race car rolled several times while taking a curve, seriously injuring him. He later said that the vehicle ‘just locked up’ on him.
  • Two tires that Barris sold malfunctioned simultaneously, causing the car they were on to go off the road.
  • A young man who was attempting to steal the steering wheel had his arm gashed open on a piece of jagged metal.
  • Another man was hurt while trying to steal one of the bloodstained seats.

At this point, Barris decided that the car would be safer in storage. But before long, the California Highway Patrol persuaded him to loan them the car for a traveling exhibition.

  • The mangled remains of Little Bastard were taken to a garage in Fresno, and stored there. Then, in March 1959, a fire broke out in the garage. The garage itself, and everything stored within, were incinerated. All except for the wreckage of James Dean’s car.
  • Further tragedy followed. At a display at Sacramento High School on the anniversary of Dean’s accident, the bolts holding the car in place snapped. The car plowed off its display and broke the hip of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been looking at the wreckage.
  • En route to Salinas, the truck hauling the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out of the cab. Although the fall from the vehicle didn’t kill him, the Porsche fell off the truck bed and landed on top of him, ending his life.
  • Reportedly, while being displayed in New Orleans, the wreckage spontaneously broke apart in five separate pieces.
  • The car came off of a truck two other times. Once while on a freeway, and a second time in Oregon.

In 1960, the car’s tour ended. Barris had the vehicle loaded onto a box car in Florida and sealed shut. Then it was transported via train back to California. When the train arrived in L.A., the seal was still intact, yet the car had vanished, and has not been seen since.

So was the car cursed? Did it house a malevolent spirit that thirsted for blood? Or were the string of accidents that touched many who came near Little Bastard just bizarre coincidences?

While some folks believe that there is no curse. Others aren’t so sure.

For one thing, many people believe that Dean would die young, no matter what. George Stephens, Dean’s director on the movie Giant, told his co-star Liz Taylor that with the way Dean drove, it was no surprise to him that the actor died in a car crash.

It has also been speculated that Dean simply couldn’t handle the Little Bastard. The car’s specs were different from Dean’s 356 Super Speedster. The 356 had a lower center of gravity. Additionally, the 550 had higher pivot angles, so it was easier to oversteer a turn and spin out. The 356 was easily the more forgiving of novice mistakes. In the days leading up to the crash, Little Bastard showed evidence of minor fender benders, including a busted signal light, and a dent on the right rear fender. This is partially why Dean chose to drive the Porsche rather than haul it to the race: to give himself time to learn the car’s quirks.  Some fans speculate that, had Dean made it to Salinas, he may have caused himself injury or death while racing.

Others aren’t so sure.

Some fans have suggested that Dean himself was the one cursed. And the one who placed the curse? Maila Nurmi, who hosted horror films as television’s Vampira. Supposedly Nurmi, who was connected with the occult, was upset when Dean broke off their friendship, and cursed him. Others say that Dean’s own interest in the occult lead to the actor bringing a curse down on himself.

If Dean was cursed, some fans speculate that the bad luck may have extended to most of his close friends. Rebel Without a Cause costars Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Nick Adams, who Dean once called his only true friends, also died under tragic circumstances. Wütherich, who survived the crash, went on to die in a motor vehicle accident in Germany.

Perhaps all of this is coincidence. Perhaps, as skeptics say, the idea of a curse is simply wishful thinking and our own need to venerate stars like Dean who live fast and die young and pretty. Perhaps the highly-charged atmosphere surrounding the well-publicized accident imbued the wreckage with a residual imprint that continued to follow it. Or perhaps the car was just evil.

In any case, the Little Bastard has not been seen since its disappearance in 1960. Rewards for its return, no questions asked, were posted on the 50th anniversary of Dean’s death; however no one came forward to claim them. Unless the car is found, the answer may never be known.