Casa Loma 2018 “Legends of Horror” on one last nerve…

For Halloween, my husband and I took the kids to Casa Loma for the Legends of Horror theatrical experience. Legends of Horror includes a 2 km walk through a castle’s grounds and out-buildings during which actors in costume try to frighten those foolishly seeking excitement. The experience has its basis in film and television and classic literature, so we were sure to see some creatures from the past horror films, but I didn’t realize the experience would be reaching back all the way to the 1940s and Lon Chaney Jr’s Wolfman. I also didn’t realize I’d be such a scaredy cat! After all, I write horror.

the wolfman2We stood for 30 mins in line as the sleety rain dripped down, but the impending excitement kept us warm. Our first scare was a racoon that came upon us at eye-level, racing along the gothic fence line that bordered the property we were lined up beside. The poor creature probably hoped to outrun the screams and masses who had converged upon its habitat only a few hours before midnight.

The line-up was soon forgotten once we crested the open mouth of a gigantic fog breathing skeleton and entered the grounds, and from that moment on the action was constant. We were thrown into a  combination of horrifying animatronics, spooky-themed settings, oversized outdoor stone stairs and winding corridors of underground tunnels crawling with projected, scurrying rats, and sensory heightened rubbery things that took away our sense of space and belief in air. And then, to top it all off, live actors hid amongst the shrubbery, stalking the fearful (that would be me) trying to induce a premature stroke in their victims.
boys casa loma2After about 20 minutes of constant frights, my already overactive nerves were frayed. The jump-scares were plentiful, but it was the actors that really made it fabulous. For example, one man was hanging in this bizarre murder scene room that we could not enter. The girls ahead of us stared at him for the longest time and determined that he was not real. But overhearing them didn’t bring the pieces together for me. I stepped up expecting everything to be fake. When I went up, I too stared at the man who was dressed as a cross between the Highwayman and Phantom of the Opera. As I was staring and thinking there was something off about this character’s mouth, he jumped at me. I presented him to a deep, personal view of my rapidly vibrating uvula as I screamed into his face and fell back to stumble into the next hall.

boys casa lomaThe maze of mirrors faced us next, the fog rolling along with our steps as we clutched and stepped around each sharp-edged wall of reflective material. After a few turns, it seemed I had a breather from the beasts, and began to pay attention to our reflections as we moved. Then, I thought I saw someone in the cloud of the mirror, but my husband Chris was marching on and I was latched onto him so I kept going, unsure if I had seen anything, after all. We turned a few more corners and this time I was sure I saw a man with white goggles…a kind of Steampunk looking character, but again the lighting wasn’t clear, and the fog rolled on. The exit was ahead and Chris was determined, but I experienced that tingle at the back of my neck, and as we crested the doorway, leaving the walls of mirrors behind, I turned to look over my shoulder, my teeth clenched into a grimace that had become my expression.

He was there, standing and looking through those white-rimmed circular goggles just as he had been before. I soothed myself with logical thoughts, “They’ve got some sort of cardboard in behind the mirror so we keep seeing the same thing,” for how could he have been here, and there, and further back. But as I thought that, his arm lifted and he swiftly hammered the mirror with his hand. I dissolved into screams as Chris walked us out the door.

But, the worst was yet to come. At 20 minutes in, I was a babbling idiot, asking “why?” When clearly the entire event had been my idea. I can’t tell you how many times I said “Jesus”, but it was enough to know he wasn’t coming to help me. wolfman 2

Worse still, the actors would see my state and make a beeline for me because they knew they could push me even further towards whatever crevasse or canyon awaited the last shreds of my sanity. On and on they drove us, the creatures chasing… pushing the air behind, dipping their heads into my space, appearing in front when I was furtively glancing to the sides.

And then the worst happened ….I found myself face-to-face with Lon Chaney Jr.’s “Wolfman”. His ghastly masked face gruesome above a white business shirt ….the dichotomy of civilization versus the wild, a chilling reminder of the black and white film that scared me so badly in my childhood.

You can’t hear the end of my video I was taking when I saw the wolfman… I said something inane like “Oh no.. No! The wolfman”, which may have been a direct quote from the film. I’m not sure, but in my mind, terror took over, and I grabbed my husband, Chris, and danced around him trying to keep him as the shield between me and the Wolfman… Yes, I sacrificed the father of my children to save myself.

I was hoping to use the entire experience for my writing, but what I succeeded in doing was to push my already overactive startle response into a nerve-shredded state of terror that had me “whooping” like an elderly nanny trying to make her way through a bar full of fat-fingered, butt-cheek pinchers.

All that remains, now that Halloween is over, is to calm myself, think good thoughts and avoid any further spooky activities until I stop leaping and screeching when wood pops in the fireplace. And I must remember, if I’m going to take the wolfman on the rocks, I’ll need a good man at my side to throw to the dogs.


One Night at a Women’s Shelter – What’s it really like? Poems for Women: The Poetry and Story of HER


Undo Instagram

Did I ever tell you I worked for two years as a crisis counsellor in a women’s shelter? The job burned me right out of Social Work, and the experience changed me forever.

Women’s shelters operate within our communities like valiant forts protecting and housing, those who have been treated like enemies in their own homes.

Some of the shelters, like the one I worked in, are outfitted with an incredible array of protective and defensive architectural features, like motion sensors, cameras, timed locking doors, safe spots, direct alarms to the police station and more! There’s a reason for such defenses. Many abusers come looking for their partners.

In Undo, my poetry and short story collection, I share an experience I can only call “The Knight Shift”, and yes, it plays out like a movie. And yes, it’s pretty close to what I could experience on any night working there.

Reviewers, contact me for a free copy at AuthorCherylCowtan(at sign) Or pick it up at Amazon.

Continue reading One Night at a Women’s Shelter – What’s it really like? Poems for Women: The Poetry and Story of HER

How Love Letters from the 1600s help me write my Vampire, Count Gräfen

f0305b95-3cd8-4ee4-838d-d36bbc6f89b5.jpgAbove is a love letter from Philip Williams to Elizabeth Nalson circa 1680. It’s a fine example of Renaissance correspondence and a perfect research document for my writing of The Fergus She #2.

Master of Madhouse Print BookCover Gothic Vampire Series Cowtan
In Master of Madhouse, Count Gräfen is away from Rachel, whom he torments and desires to possess. Rachel, eludes him as best she can, but while prisoner in his madhouse, escaping the Count for long will not be a possibility.
I love taking the Count and making him the “lover”, and then switching him to the “villain”, just keep Rachel on her toes.
His letter, will be from the “lover”. And their reunion? The “Villain”!

Master of Madhouse
Novel Excerpt

When next I woke, the light coming in my window was not as bright. I slowly became aware of the envelope clutched in my sweaty palm. Frustrated at my snail’s pace, I scratched at the wax with my fingernail, trying to break the seal. It was thick, and like Gräfen, not so easy to peel away. I used my teeth to free the Count’s message.

Chewing on the wax bits, I slipped the letter from its case. Bold, black handwriting swirled across the paper with long daring strokes and dramatic dots and crosses. His writing was beautiful and precise, just like the man himself.

To my most coveted, Rachel.
Please assure yourself, this absence from you has only strengthened my desires, and if my travels were not unavoidable in their necessity, I would not willingly deny myself your presence.
It is with great pride I soon hope to share you with my dearest and oldest friends. Please make yourself presentable. We will greet them together, in three days’ time.
I am now, as at all times, your most devoted, Gräfen.

I slowly folded the letter in shaking hands.

Share me?

As in a snack?

In three days?

A sheen of sweat dampened my forehead. What was I doing lying here, slipping in and out of dreamland? When had I become so complacent? I only had three days to get out of Dodge.

Want to see more research for my Vampire Gothic series? Or do you want to just skip to reading this “enthralling”, “gut-wrenching” gothic? Go to


Why YA Gothic Fiction is Booming and Why that Makes me a Happy Writer!


Why YA Gothic Fiction is Booming – and Girl Monsters are on the Rise

According to Professor Michelle Smith, “the Gothic, and its newer sub-genres like paranormal romance, have a unique resonance with teenagers. They are poised in a transitional space between childhood and adulthood, neither quite embodying the stage they are leaving behind nor fully the thing that they are in the process of becoming. It is unsurprising, then, that they have eagerly embraced the Gothic’s themes of the liminal and the monstrous, as well as its fixation on romance and sex.”


If you grew up in my time (70s and 80s), you’ll remember how the gothic “Flowers in the Attic” burst upon the reading scene among young girls. I had been devouring the 60s gothic romance novels prior to this, reading authors like Victoria Holt and Dorothy Eden, enthralled by images of young women rushing from dark castles under dangerous looking skies. Then someone handed me “Flowers in the Attic” which broke a whole rang of social taboos. The series wasn’t my favourite as it was pretty freaky, but one that did stand out as a ‘keeper’ was “We have always Lived in the Attic” by Shirley Jackson.

“In earlier manifestations of the “female Gothic”, first published in the 18th century by women writers, female protagonists were often courageous, but simultaneously passive and victimised.”

Like Michelle Smith says, in her block post “why YA gothic fiction is booming – and girl monsters are on the rise“, I was intrigued by “the plots of the female Gothic [that] reflected the comparative powerlessness of women at the time and [my] fears about [my] vulnerability and entrapment within domestic roles and patriarchal society.” 

Believe me, I was thinking about this stuff. My mother worked in construction with my father, and could dress up to stunning and appropriate and act like a white-gloved lady when needed. My father had no more compunction about handing me an axe, than he did about handing me a spatula. Genders roles were on my mind, and I was not confirming to societal expectations of the 70s.

Generally, society had two names for the type of girl I was–“Tom Boy” and the derogatory “Lesbian” for those men who were threatened by the fact that I was not a wilting flower. Television had two names as well–“Wonder Woman” and “The Bionic Woman”. I personally just wanted to be myself–active, female, heterosexual, strong, intelligent, funny and effective. That’s all. But there seemed to be little room for the girl I was in my reality. But somewhere in “Jane Eyre” and “Little Women”, and in the Gothic Romance genre, I found myself reflected, just a bit.

Fast forward a few decades and we are knee dip in gender discussions and find the words for girls who don’t fit into gender roles have expanded, and in literature and film, have even slipped into the realm of “monster”.

Another significant element of the current YA Gothic revival is the emergence of the girl monster.”

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Social norms have expanded, gender roles are more tolerant and accepting, and as an adult, the pressure to conform is not as daunting.

However, I have not forgotten what it is like for the girl who doesn’t fit in during adolescence. As a mature woman, I have my chance now to talk back and I’m doing that through writing Gothics, with a twist of supernatural that “disrupt the plotline of male monster and female victim”. (Professor Michelle Smith, Monash University)

In my vampire book series “The Fergus She”, my main character is eighteen-year-old Rachel, who is a danger to herself and others. She’s living in Guelph, ON in the 1980s, her mother is institutionalized in the local asylum, and Rachel drinks to supress her alternate personality, Scarlett.

I love writing this atmospheric gothic fiction, and especially enjoy powering up my protagonist with some special skills to help her escape her victimization.

The Gothic genre (which some dub Dark Fantasy and Supernatural Psychological Thriller) is still a joy for me to read and to write. I just can’t get enough of taking an irregular girl and putting her in adventurous situations she has to survive. Maybe, I owe my writing award and prolific imagination to Victoria Holt, Charlotte Bronte and Shirley Jackson, or perhaps to my early years when I stepped outside of the social sphere. Whichever, I’m overjoyed that Gothic is making a comeback and happy to keep writing my girl monster, Rachel, into the thick of it.

Master of Madhouse Print BookCover Gothic Vampire Series Cowtan.jpg

Looking for a seductive, suspenseful #halloweenread? Try “The Fergus She” Gothic vampire book series.

Outback Survival “Cargo” really about making humane choices. Would you?

AC15-May-Cargo-pic-1.jpgDid you ever click a film on Netflix without really knowing what you were about to watch? Well that’s what happened with Cargo. We skimmed over the details, but basically selected it because Dr. Watson was in it and it was set in Australia – so, bam! (as my son would say), let’s watch it.
The film starts out with a husband and wife traveling down a river in a houseboat. They have a young child, who is adorable, and though all seems normal, the expressions of stress and alertness on Martin Freeman’s face as he maneuvers the calm waters is the first clue we need to pay attention.
The second clue is the birthday party on the shore. Waving balloons and laughing children are offset by a father standing guard, who lifts his shirt at Freeman as the boat passes showing a handgun tucked into his jeans.
“What is going on?” I ask my husband. And we soon find out as the action picks up, the stakes get higher, and soon Freeman is on a journey to find someone to take his daughter before his time runs out.
This movie isn’t so much about Zombie’s or an apocalyptic setting, though there is enough of that to keep you entertained if you enjoy the genre. The film is about people, and the choices they make under duress. It’s about finding a spark of humanity among desperation.
I enjoyed the unlikely heroes, the relationships, the situations, the cinematography of the setting, and the social questions in Cargo. I definitely recommend it.

A Return to Epic Fantasy – A Rift in the Deep

08 1 2018 Rift in the Deep Janelle GarrettI love Epic Fantasy! My first book, The Precious Quest, is an epic. But where is it, you ask? Still waiting for me to complete it. I put it aside once written and started The Fergus She series, but after reading Janelle Garrett’s Rift in the Deep, I think it’s time to go back to the journey…

A Coven of witches are tasked with gathering together four prophesied Stewards–People born with complimentary gifts that could potentially heal the Rift (an opening through which evil leeches) in the Deep (the power of all life) in their world.

Garrett creates four distinct characters, each who leave behind a life and begin a journey with their assigned Covenwitch. Along the way, the characters encounter external and internal challenges that hamper their progress and make it difficult for the witches to gather the four together at the Coven lodge to begin their training–A mad-king Warlock who has his own agenda to stop them, the witch-vow to not harm other, the addictive draw of the Deep, and the release of beasts from the Rift.

Garret succeeded in making me care about the characters, drew me into her world, engaged my interest in the creatures, and spooked me a bit with descriptions of the beasts. The King is definitely a chilling villain and Covenwitches worthy of cheering on.

If you enjoy Epic Fantasy, Rift in the Deep is worth the read.

Beauty and the Beast: The magic returns

MV5BMTUwNjUxMTM4NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODExMDQzMTI@._V1_.jpgIf you haven’t seen the latest “Beauty and the Beast”, let me point you to it. I saw the play performed at Toronto’s Ed Mirvish Theatre, and I was astounded. It was the first live performance I’d seen, and my young girl’s mind was infused with the magic of the story and the quality of the performance… with Belle’s voice, and Gaston’s dangerous and tempting charisma.

After that exposure to live theatre (Thank you, Kris Rabe), I attended “Phantom of the Opera”, “Saigon Suzy” or somesuch, and the “Lion King”, but none of those performances ever tempted that wishful, magic-seeking child from my inner core.

In a desire to be so touched again, I went to see “Beauty and the Beast” on ice, and returned home with a fake rose–an appropriate symbol of my disappointment. And later,  I watched “Beauty and the Beast” on screen, but still, I could not seem to regain the same magical feelings of delight.

Was it because I was too old? Too damaged from a life that didn’t quite make the fairy tale grade? Or was it because I had worked in a women’s shelter and had been exposed to the theories behind “taming the beast” and the social impact of stories that encourage young girls to stay with “monsters” in an effort to find and save the man beneath? Or maybe it was because I could never experience life theatre for the first time again. That first time feeling, can it ever be recaptured?

And so, I gave up on the search for magic when it came to this story. And years ticked by.

Tick, tick, tock – Lumiere!!

In boredom one night, I flicked through Netflix and voila! The magic returned when I decided to give this Disney version of the old tale one last chance!

The actors are bang-on, the music, the effects… almost as good as that first experience. My inner-child was curling her toes in bliss as the hilarious and talented cast joined giddy and dizzying special effects to make this “Beauty and the Beast” the astounding experience I had remembered from my past.

Give it a try! You’re sure to be thrilled.

$3.99 US to rent

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