I was going to wait until I got an update from my publisher* or until Tuesday, one month from when Rose is released, but I got impatient.

So as you probably know by now, my upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose is on target to be published June 21st, 2019 by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yes, that trippy subject is what the novel’s about. Yes, I sold that to a publisher. And yes, it is coming out in a little over a month.

Obviously, I’m over the moon with excitement. I’m also dealing with a lot of nervousness and a touch of anxiety, but I’m working a multi-pronged approached to make sure the novel is a success. One of those prongs is through advanced readers, people who receive electronic copies prior to the book’s official release with the hopes they’ll read it, like it, and maybe help spread the word by telling friends or writing reviews online (encouraged, but not required).

And you know what? I’m still looking for more advanced readers.

I’ve managed to build up a pretty big list of advanced readers, but I could always use a few more. So from now until June 7th, if you or someone you know would like to get on the advanced reader list, all you have to do is send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. Once I have that, I’ll add your name to the list and then we just have to wait. Once I know the advanced copies are being sent out, I’ll notify you via email to give you a heads-up.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you all.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I should have more updates on Rose as we get closer and closer to the release date. You may even get a little annoyed with me talking about the book so much (but can you blame me?). But of course, it’s all in the name of making sure plenty of people get to read the book, so why not?

Until next time (which, for all I know, might be anytime between today and Tuesday), happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

*Speaking of which, Castrum Press has just released a new anthology, Alien Days, featuring a variety of authors writing about what our first contact with extraterrestrials might be like. A terrifying subject, even if it’s not horror. Please make sure to check it out on Amazon. I’ll be downloading a copy very soon, and I can’t wait.

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week. But as you know from my last post, this past week has been predictably crazy for me.

I heard about Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five and was immediately interested. The book retraces the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly and proposes to shed a new light on them. I’m no Ripperologist (someone who studies the Ripper murders), not even an amateur one, but I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject and am always interested if someone has discovered something new about the case. And the lives of the five women who made the Ripper famous finally being told? I’m in.

I dove in as soon as I got my copy from the library…and the resulting read blew my mind. You see, for over a hundred and thirty years, the consensus–the one thing that every Ripperologist agrees on–is that the victims were confirmed prostitutes. But is that really the case? Diving into historical records and her understanding of the nineteenth century’s social beliefs around women and barely mentioning the Ripper at all, Ms. Rubenhold provides a convincing case to support that we may have been looking at the “Canonical Five”–and thus the Ripper–all wrong.  In fact, only the final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was confirmed to make a living through prostitution, and there’s evidence she may have been trafficked at some point.

In fact, Polly Nichols was a wife and mother whose family gained lodging in public housing reserved for families with high moral standing; Annie Chapman was upper-middle class with an upwardly-mobile husband; Elisabeth Stride was a Swedish immigrant from a religious background who ran a coffeehouse with her husband; and Catherine Eddowes was educated for most of her younger life and often made life choices on what would allow her the most freedom. Mary Jane Kelly, we don’t know, as many of the details she gave of her life were contradictory and possibly fabricated, but she could’ve come from a respectable background, as she started out as a high-end courtesan, and they don’t let just anyone into those circles.

How did these women end up as prostitutes in the popular mind?

Well, in the eyes of nineteenth-century society, any woman who wasn’t, by all appearances anyway, a successful wife and mother with the temperance of the saint, a clean and happy household, and only had a sexual side when her husband desired sex, she was a failure as a woman. She was “broken.” Which often was equated as a “fallen woman,” which was often equated with prostitution. Often, women in these positions had to take up with men who were either not their husbands or had common-law marriages, which was also considered a sort of prostitution.

And for a number of these women, circumstances in their lives forced them to leave families and husbands and often take lives on the streets, without husbands or homes, which meant in society’s eyes they were fallen, and therefore likely prostitutes. The newspapers at the time, more concerned with selling than telling the truth, did little or nothing to dissuade that notion, even when friends and acquaintances for the victims came forward and swore in inquests the victims did not resort to prostitution. Thus a belief, and the theory shaped around it, was formed.

This is significant for a number of reasons. From the perspective of history and Ripperology, it totally changes everything we know. Ms. Rubenhold presents a good case that the Canonical Five were actually incapacitated or sleeping and not in any state of mind to fend off an attacker, rather than attacked while soliciting. This changes the entire MO of the Ripper, the field of study around the murders, and over a century’s worth of media on the subject (though some of the latter we can still find entertaining, as long as we remind ourselves how much of it is fiction).

But more importantly, this is a feminist triumph in history. For a hundred and thirty years, The Five have been dismissed and looked over except in the context of their deaths and whoever killed them. Even my copy of The Complete Jack the Ripper doesn’t go into much detail on their lives. But this book and its author, through hard work and looking over every scrap of documentation available out there, reminds us these women were just women, more often at mercy to forces beyond their control and the double-standard Victorian women faced than willful participants in the world’s oldest profession. At least three suffered from alcoholism. One got pregnant out of wedlock and developed syphilis, and was demonized for it. They did everything they could to stay out of the workhouses, which could forever ruin someone who was forced to enter them. They tried to find love and happiness. They tried to get by in an age and place where women on their own had it very hard.

Imagine if AA had been available to the Five and sobriety was understood to be not a choice but hard work. Imagine if, instead of being demonized for leaving their husbands or getting pregnant/diseases out of wedlock, the authorities looked at the men in their lives. Imagine if they were allowed to pursue lives they wanted, rather than what was expected of them, and not shamed for not fulfilling expectations.

This is especially relevant in today’s age. Despite a lot of progress, women still have their sexuality used against them socially and legally. Since I finished reading The Five, I’ve seen several articles and tweets about men getting little or no jail time for rape, simply because there was only one victim and they were unlikely to reoffend. Here in my home state of Ohio, a minor who was raped and impregnated can’t get an abortion because of a new restrictive abortion law. Clearly, on some level, society still feels women should be punished for being anything other than the ideal wife and mother, and it’s their own fault if they’re not.

This is why you should be reading Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: not only does it present convincing new evidence on a century-old case and force us to reevaluate everything we knew, but it’s a call to remind us just how much has stayed the same since 1888, and what we can do to improve that in the future. And in the future, if I ever write my own Ripper-themed story, I’ll call back to The Five as I write the story, and keep in mind the lives of these women.

So please, check out The Five‘s page on Amazon, and consider reading it. You’ll find it a revelation as much as I did.

I’ve been waiting all day–since yesterday, when Castrum made known to me their intentions–to announce this. Through a long work day, social media posts and devouring a pizza to celebrate/get out of cooking tonight, I’ve been waiting for the moment where I can make this announcement. After fifteen months of edits and quiet planning and not-so-quiet planning, my novel Rose, being released by Castrum Press, has a release date.

Now, if you’re new here and you don’t know what Rose is, first off, hello! Welcome to the Followers of Fear! Second, Rose is a fantasy-horror novel that follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). I wrote the first draft as a thesis project for college. Four years after finishing the first draft, the book is finally getting ready to be released. After so many changes and numerous rewrites, it’s finally coming out.

But Rami, I hear you all thinking, when is it coming out?

Well, Castrum has quoted to me a target date for June 21st, 2019. At any rate, we’re going to try to get the book out right around then, with the advanced copies being sent a couple of weeks prior. So yeah, it’ll be a little over a month and a half till Rose hits the digital and (hopefully) physical bookstores. And between now and then, I’ll be doing marketing work and doing final edits for the manuscript. At some point in the next couple of weeks the cover art will be finalized, and we’ll put everything together in an awesome little package.

Honestly, I’m both excited and nervous, and my anxiety is trying to bite and tell me all the things that could go wrong. I’m keeping it in its place and letting it know those things won’t happen in all likelihood, and just trying to remind myself all the big things ahead to get excited for. A dream I’ve held for almost twenty years is finally coming to fruition. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to alternate between celebrating and working hard to ensure it goes well.

With that in mind, Castrum says the last date to get on the advanced readers list is June 7th. So if you’d like to get an early electronic copy of Rose before anyone else, send your email now to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. In exchange, all I ask is you read the book and then consider posting a review after the book comes out. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’m off to start a Rube Goldberg machine of marketing. Thanks again for supporting me through these many years of work. It’s been a crazy ride, but I’m about to reach a huge goal I’ve longed dreamed of. And I don’t think I could’ve gotten this far without you. I hope when Rose comes out, you’ll all consider checking it out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

The other day I watched the movie As Above, So Below (which I highly recommend, by the way. Underrated horror movie). For those of you who haven’t seen it, As Above, So Below is a found footage film that follows an archaeologist and her crew into the bowels of the Paris catacombs to find a mythical treasure. As they make their way down, however, they end up finding a passage that leads straight into Hell. And Hell in this movie isn’t a fiery pit. It’s so much, much more.

As well as terrifying me again and making me remember why I liked this film to begin with, As Above, So Below also made me consider that our portrayal of Hell has changed immensely over the years. If you look throughout the media we create, you’re going to find more than just the traditional fire-and-brimstone images of Hell, but as many as there are writers out there looking for unique twists on old concepts and stories. And that in and of itself is pretty interesting. I mean, how many different versions are there? And why are they showing up so much, especially today?

Well, Hell has always been a concept in human theology. While some early religions–Mesopotamian, Greek, and traditional Judaism–have a general afterlife for all the dead, usually a gloomy place with maybe some nicer perks for those who behaved themselves in life, others had very defined afterlives for sinners and saints. Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple afterlives where various treatments or punishments may be applied to your soul prior to reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians were the earliest to use a lake of fire. The Ainu of Japan, meanwhile, saw Hell as a wet place underground, and the Serer people of Senegal saw Hell as rejection by ancestor spirits, forcing you to become a wandering ghost.

And that’s just a small survey of the various kinds of Hell in religious beliefs.*

The most iconic version, of course, is the underground lake of fire ruled over by Satan from mainstream Christianity, which was adapted from the Egyptian concept and then spread as Christianity took root in the Roman Empire and then was spread by missionaries. But even that has had variations over the years. Some have involved just a cave full of flames, while others have involved individual sections where demons perform different punishments in cauldrons full of boiling water and fire. Some involved a dumb, animalistic Satan, and others portray him as a calculating, powerful evil.

In the Renaissance, we received some of our most famous variations of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote Inferno, where he travels with the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell’s nine circles, with each circle containing different punishments for different sins. John Milton featured a Hell featuring a great castle, Pandemonium, created by Satan and the fallen angels to be their seat of power in Hell.

Lucifer’s version of Hell, featuring customized punishments for every person there. It’s a great and adaptable concept.

Further variations have appeared since those landmark works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play, No Exit, describes Hell as other people. Luis Brunel further took this theme along in his movie The Exterminating Angel, where guests at a dinner party hate each other but are unable to leave. Stephen King has defined Hell has endless repetition, and has added that to many of his stories. Some creators have shown Hell as a city or a distorted version of our own world. The Hellraiser movies have shown Hell as a place mixing BDSM with your own sins and life choices. As Above, So Below portrays Hell as a series of tunnels in the Paris catacombs that configures itself, adding elements and figures to fully terrify and punish any who are forced to enter it, going so far to become an alchemical/spiritual puzzle to test the main characters. And increasingly, we see Hell as setting itself up for each individual sinner. The TV show Lucifer utilizes this very effectively, especially in Season 3’s episode “Off the Record,” in which a man is forced to replay the last two years of his life over and over in Hell, because his obsession with the titular character caused him to commit murder.**

But what does all this really mean? Well, at the heart of all these portrayals is the idea of torment. Whether you realize or not you’re in it, Hell is meant to fill you with despair. That may be through pain, psychological torture, or terror. It can vary depending on the needs of the storyteller or the person being tormented, but the point is, it can change for any purpose. And that is why we’re seeing so many variations of Hell in our media.

And I’m sure with the passage of time, we’ll see even more portrayals, matching new ideas and situations we face in our lives, giving us all new reasons to be afraid. I find that kind of exciting. Hell, don’t you?

What are some versions of Hell you’ve come across or created? Why do you think it was so effective or terrible?

*There are also faiths that don’t have any belief or reject beliefs about a punishment-themed afterlife, but I think we’ll skip over those for this article.

**By the way, so excited for Lucifer season 4! Thank you Netflix, for saving one of the best shows on TV right now. I’m working my way through rewatching the show and can’t wait to see what’s been served up. #LuciferSaved

I listened to The Stranger Beside Me by true crime writer Ann Rule, who actually knew Ted Bundy, on audio book to prepare for this movie (and that’s the extent to my knowledge of Bundy). In the days leading up to this film’s release on Netflix, I was excited to see this adaptation. Nearly thirty years after the man’s death, would this film, along with the Netflix documentary (I know, I need to watch it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), introduce a new generation to the shocking murders of Ted Bundy?

Well, I went in expecting a different kind of movie, but I came out satisfied with what I got.

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by his real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (known as Liz Kendall in the film and Meg Anders in The Stranger Beside Me), Extremely Wicked follows the romance of Bundy and Kloepfer, how they got together, how Bundy’s arrest in Utah, his two escape attempts in Colorado, his final trial in Florida, during which he marries one of his groupies but (seemingly) still has feelings for Liz, and finally his execution in Florida.

I think what I like the most about this film is its star-studded cast. Everyone embodies their characters so well. Zac Efron as Bundy comes across as a sympathetic, lovestruck man who finds his life falling to pieces around him and the one good thing in it drifting away, while Lily Collins as Liz Kendall does a great job as a woman who put so much into her relationship with this seemingly-perfect man, only to grapple with his crimes. John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart did the man an honor, combining the judge’s Southern gentility with his own deadpan acting method (finally, a film from this year that doesn’t waste the guy’s talent). And Jim Parsons made me forget at certain moments that I was watching Sheldon Cooper. I actually had to watch the scene where he delivers his opening remarks as prosecutor Larry Simpson twice, it was so chilling. Parsons could lead a legal drama now that The Big Bang Theory is done.

I also like how the film balances a romantic storyline with what is mostly a courtroom drama. Unlike other films, Extremely Wicked doesn’t go to great lengths to show Bundy’s depravity or murders, but instead hints and flits around it until the final scene of the film. Its focus is showing how the ongoing legal saga affects Bundy and Kloepfer’s relationship and vice versa, as well as the psychological toll on Bundy. The director knew what they were going for with this film, and in that aspect it succeeded.

If I have one gripe with this film, it’s that romanticizes Bundy a little too much. Bundy’s always had a number of female fans who find him attractive despite what he’s done.* Even actors portraying him have awakened the wrong kind of fascination in teenage and young women (Ann Rule relates some of the phone calls she got after The Deliberate Stranger with Mark Harmon aired in 1986 in her book). Zac Efron is a very handsome actor, no doubt of that, and in the interest of focusing on his romance and courtroom battles, Extremely Wicked glosses over the evil in its title and makes Bundy out to be more of a sweet, hurt man than a calculating serial killer. And I’m not sure that was the best decision.

I also would’ve liked to see Ann Rule make an appearance in the film, but I think I can live without that.

On the whole, I give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a score of 4 out of 5. While its POV Is slightly skewed, its an entrancing thriller that draws you into the story and the bloodless battle occurring on screen. Take a look, and prepare yourself for a ride.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have one or two more posts out before the weekend is done.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel, Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the release. Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*The scientific name for attraction to dangerous partners, by the way, is called hybristophilia. Theories to how it arises range from evolutionary desires for strong and capable partners to romantic notions of wanting to change/help a damaged partner to wanting fame or even just knowing the partner is stuck in a jail cell and won’t go anywhere. The more you know.

Yesterday I came out of Avengers: Endgame, in awe of the movie I’d just seen. I pull out my phone, and see a message from a friend. The same friend, might I add, who informed me of the shooting in Pittsburgh. Six months to the day of the Pittsburgh shooting, in fact. This time, it was a Hasidic synagogue in Poway in California. Thankfully, the casualties were much fewer: several people were injured, but only one person died, and she died saving the rabbi, who despite his injuries allegedly finished his Passover sermon and told his congregants that they were strong and would get through this.

Despite all these stories of strength and heroism, however, the fact that this happened again, on an anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, is horrifying. It reopens old wounds and reminds us all, but especially the Jewish people, of how vulnerable we can be.

As many of you know, I am Jewish, and I feel deeply connected to my heritage. And twice, my people and my heritage has been openly attacked in America, a country where people are theoretically supposed to be able to live free of persecution.

Reading about this, it’s tempting to think nothing can change in this country, that hate and gun violence can never change. However, remember what that rabbi was supposed to have said? Well, I found a quote by him, and while I can’t verify if he said it at the end of his sermon, I can verify it’s from what I consider a reliable source. He said,

I guarantee you, we will not be intimidated or deterred by this terror. Terror will not win. As Americans, we can’t cower in the face of senseless hate that is anti-Semitism.

Amen. There is an upsurge of open strains of hatred in the US, from all walks of life and all sides of the political spectrum. Not just anti-Semitism, but racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and so many more. We can’t let this become the norm anymore than it has. Take a stand against hate and fear. Reach out to the people around you when you see them in trouble, if you’re able to. Fight for popular platforms to ban hatred. Facebook’s taken a stand against white nationalist and other groups, and there’s a campaign on Twitter to get similar groups auto-banned from the platform using the hashtag #JackStopTheHate, which is directed to Jack Dorsey (username @jack), the CEO of Twitter. Speak out if someone is posting or saying hateful things, because if you stand up to them, you’re letting them know their views aren’t tolerated.

Together, we can fight for tolerance and love.

At the same time, fight for initiatives to end gun violence. John Earnest, the shooter in Poway, used an AR-15, a military-grade weapon. What is a military-grade weapon doing in the hands of a 19-year-old civilian?! We can’t keep letting people get their hands on military weaponry so easily. If we do, we’re only ensuring that this cycle of violence continues. Vote for bills or leaders who will fight to keep these weapons from being used in shootings over and over.

Together, we can ensure people don’t have to worry about being shot every time they step outside.

This weekend should’ve only been about positive events: Endgame having a billion-dollar opening; She-Ra season 2 hitting Netflix; the end of Passover and plenty of pizza parties! Not this. Nothing like what happened. And it’s up to us to make sure it never happens again.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who supports me and thinks about me every time something like this happens. I can’t allow myself to be scared into submission by monsters like this. Just know that your love and kindness bolsters me and keeps me from retreating when I need to speak out on issues like this. Thanks.

My car, the Unholy Roller.

This past weekend was a busy one for me, all due to it being the Jewish holiday of Passover (which, if you’re unfamiliar, is us celebrating the events movies like Ten Commandments and Prince of Egypt are based on). Among other things, I somehow ended up tying the musical Hamilton to two different dinners, played a prank on my stepmom that I posted on YouTube (you can watch it here), ate more food lacking in yeast and drank more wine than is probably recommended, and watched a lot of anime and Lucifer.

However, what feels for me like the highlight of my weekend was something quite different. As some of you know, I only got my driver’s license this past July after nearly ten years of on-and-off instruction and practice, and my car, the Unholy Roller, this past October. Since then, I’ve had a number of firsts: driving to work, driving to the movie theater, driving on the highway without anyone else beside me, driving at night, driving in the rain, driving in the rain at night, driving at night in the rain on the highway (not something I’m ready to repeat anytime soon). And this past weekend, I racked up another first: my first road trip.

You see, I live in Columbus, Ohio and my dad lives in Cleveland, which meant I had to drive up to Cleveland to attend his Seder (Passover ritual meal), and then drive back the next day. And I was driving up by myself.

Honestly, I was more than a little nervous. I’ve never driven that long or that far on my own, and while I’ve gotten comfortable driving on highways, I’ll never like doing so. But I got some good advice before I embarked, and I made sure to have caffeine and snacks, as well as a full tank of gas, before setting out. And you know what? It went well. Very well. In fact, the ride back home was almost enjoyable. I listened to an audio book both ways, Red Rising by Pierce Brown,* which is one of my favorite science-fiction stories and which kept me calm in the absence of music. This allowed me to enjoy the passing scenery (Ohio has some lovely mountains and farmlands) and keep an eye on the road without getting antsy.

It was fine. Even better, it was fine. And dare I say it…it was fun at times. Lots of fun.

I guess this makes sense for Passover. The ancient Israelites had never been outside Egypt prior to the Exodus, and had no idea of what to expect, though they had been prepared for the trip for a while now. But they left, crossed the Red Sea, and…found numerous instances to complain and want to go back to Egypt, which eventually led to no Israelites entering Israel until all the generation who had known Egypt died off forty years later. But if they hadn’t freaked out and tried to turn around anytime they faced a small inconvenience, they would’ve enjoyed life in the Holy Land instead of dying in the desert.

And I went on a trip, with only a vague idea of what to expect. But I didn’t freak out every time a driver cut in front of me without signaling and tried to turn off and go home. And in the end, I got to my hotel in one piece, enjoyed dinner with my family, and somehow ended up rapping a mini-medley of Hamilton songs with the lyrics changed to reflect Passover (yeah, that was a thing. And it is something only heavy demand will make me repeat). And the next day I got home, easy as pie, with enough time afterwards to relax before cooking dinner.

I would love to revisit the Reformatory and reconnect with the ghosts there someday soon.

And perhaps I’ll do the trip again. I’ve applied for some vacation time at work, and I’d like to spend a few days in Cleveland with my dad and see some of the city’s sites, including the cemetery where James Garfield is buried (yes, I’m bringing the dowsing rods), as well as go back to the Ohio State Reformatory and check out some other haunted locations in Ohio. Now that I know I can, it should be a breeze.

Oh, and before I forget, on the way up I made a pit stop in the village of Bellville, Ohio, which I found to be quintessential small-town Ohio at its best. The Waze app on my phone had me drive around the place a little bit in order to get back on the interstate, and I was charmed by what I saw. Bellville feels like the perfect place to set a novel, and I even have an idea for one cooking in my head. I’ll have to visit again at some point so I can write it and make it feel real. Maybe after visiting my dad and the Reformatory?

I just hope nobody in Bellville minds their town being the setting of a horror novel. Otherwise, I might never be able to return!

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to have dinner and then do some writing. In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose, being released by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the book is released. If interested, please email me at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*They’re slight, but there are some parallels between Moses and Darrow, the main character of Red Rising, which is why I listened to it. Totally recommend the book, by the way. If you want a science-fiction story about a revolution of the have-nots against the haves in a dystopian world but want it to be much more immersive and smarter than Hunger Games, the Red Rising series might just be for you.