I recently was able to watch the new Netflix true-crime docuseries “The Sons of Sam.” For those of you who haven’t seen it, the docuseries follows how a man named Maury Terry became convinced in the wake of the arrest, conviction, and incarceration of David Berkowitz, AKA the Son of Sam Killer, that Berkowitz didn’t commit all the murders and was in fact part of a Satanic cult. Berkowitz himself claimed to be part of such a cult, naming the sons of Sam Carr, the man who owned the demon dog (and who, by the way, were both dead and unable to defend themselves at the time of the allegations), as members.

Now, I’m not here to argue whether or not Berkowitz was the lone killer. Most historians and investigators agree anyway that the claims of a cult are unlikely for a number of reasons. Berkowitz himself has been diagnosed as antisocial and seems to enjoy the attention, so he would say anything to stay in the spotlight/keep up the image he’s built for himself since first getting arrested.

What I’m here to talk about is the true horror of the docuseries. It’s not how terrifying Berkowitz and his crimes were, though that is scary too. Nor is it the idea of a nationwide Satanic cult that Berkowitz may have been part of (and which, given how often it keeps cropping up in American history, feels more silly than scary nowadays). It’s the price of obsession. Of becoming so sure of an idea or a hidden truth, that you look for anything that could be considered evidence and end up linking things that might not be evidence at all. You may even lose sight of objective reality and the truth, as well as the respect of your peers and relationships with your loved ones, just to find what you are looking for.

The doucseries revolves around the conspiracy theory that David Berkowitz did not commit the Son of Sam murders alone.

And quite often, what you’ve been looking for has been right in front of you all along. You just refused to see it.

We see this play out with Maurice Terry in “Sons of Sam.” After Berkowitz is arrested and sent to jail, Terry believes that Berkowitz may not have committed all the murders or acted alone because most of the police sketches don’t resemble him or because one or two people saw Berkowitz far from the site of a Son of Sam murder minutes before it happened. Rather than chalking it up to disguises, the noted unreliability of police sketches, or that all these sightings took place at night under low visibility settings, Terry believes there may have been multiple people involved in the shootings.

This leads to him looking into Berkowitz’s hometown and alleged Satanic rituals occurring near Berkowitz’s home, which leads to conversations with people who claim to have belonged to the cult or know people who were, including the Carr brothers mentioned above. He goes on to link the Manson murders, the murder of a woman at Stanford University, and the deaths of a billionaire and a filmmaker to the cult, the last two being members who were allegedly killed to silence them.

And sometimes it seems convincing. Mutilated German shepherds were found in the park near Berkowitz’s home, as well as Satanic graffiti. Charles Manson was likely influenced by belief systems such as Christianity, Satanism, and Scientology, just to name a few. Some of the people who knew or met the Carr brothers say they were interested in the occult and at least one of them was afraid of being followed. And Berkowitz, as we stated above, has said he was part of a cult, though he refuses to name names other than the dead.

The problem is, none of these can be definitively proven as being Satanic. Yes, dogs were mutilated near the park, but there’s no way to prove that it was Satanic or Berkowitz was linked. Satanic graffiti can be found all over the place (I saw plenty in the college bathrooms at Ohio State), and doesn’t mean Satanists are at work. Manson and his followers never claimed to be linked to any other group, though they’ve at times claimed that Manson was God, Jesus and the Devil all at once. The Carr brothers aren’t around to defend themselves, and we don’t have enough information to know if they suffered from mental illness or if their alleged interest in the occult was serious. A couple of the murdered people Terry linked to the cult have since been solved and have mundane, if horrible, explanations.

And Berkowitz, as noted, is likely a psychopath who enjoys the attention. He would say anything if it keeps him in the spotlight.

The horror of consipracy theories is that, while they seem plausible and preferable, they hide the truth and can destroy so much in the lives of believers.

We especially see this in the interviews Terry has with Berkowitz. A lot of the questions Terry asks Berkowitz seem leading, and he seems less concerned with getting to the truth than with confirming what he already believes. Berkowitz himself doesn’t give any new information that can be investigated, like a name for an active member of the cult or where proof like member logs or photographs can be found. But Terry believes it, because he wants to believe.

And that’s the horror. Terry has woven a spider web of possible links and maybe connections around himself. And it’s so tightly and thickly woven with “facts” that he’s unable to see anything that might disprove this theories. He, and those who believe like him, only see the idea of the cult that they say committed the Son of Sam murders. In the process, Terry drives away many people close to him, ruins his credibility as a journalist, and suffers from health issues while searching for his truth. And in the end, he dies still pursuing his truth.

It’s unfortunately an all-too common story. Since time immemorial, mankind has spun spiderwebs of conspiracy theories around themselves and others, refusing to see the truth because it doesn’t fit with their worldview or beliefs. In the US alone, we’ve seen it time and time again with a variety of boogeymen and alleged cover ups. Since 1692, the idea of Satanists operating in the US has been especially prevalent, most recently gaining new life in the 1980s with the Satanic Panic (which Terry unintentionally contributed to trying to convince people of his beliefs) and with today’s QAnon conspiracy.

The result is not just the actual truth being ignored or denied by many people. It can lead to lost relationships, ordinary people being misled, the ruination of reputations, laws being broken, and day-to-day life being severely disrupted. Occasionally, lives are even lost.

And all because someone sees something, may not like or understand what it means, and an alternative presents itself that seems to make more sense. To an outsider, it can seem impossible and extraordinary when so many different and unrelated people, events or things are connected or enlisted to “support” the central idea of the theory. But to the believer, it’s all so simple, and if the connections out of left field help to make the core idea make sense or more believable, or if powerful figures back it up for whatever reason, all the better.

It’s preferable to admitting that a sick and twisted individual work alone and takes lives for their own sheer pleasure. Or that some people have never liked a former President because of what he said/stood for and enough came out and voted against him to keep him from a second term. Or that horrible stuff happens, and there isn’t some grand, simple, good-vs-evil reason behind it.

And to admitting you might’ve been fooled and gone through so much just to be wrong.


If you want to check out “The Sons of Sam” docuseries on Netflix, by all means go ahead. I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Just go in with quite a bit of salt. It may make what you’re watching feel more psychologically difficult, because it’ll feel like you’re watching someone fall down a bottomless pit of conspiracy and experiencing the fallout of it. But it’s a fascinating watch nonetheless, and it might deepen your understanding of the allure and journey into conspiracy.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading through my entire TED talk. I just wanted to discuss what I’d watched and how it made me feel. I had no idea it would get this long. Hopefully, I made it interesting enough.

Anyway, I plan to have a shorter but just as exciting post out before too long. Until then, you know me. I’ll be busy writing stories and trying to find them homes, as well as experiencing (and in some cases, causing) all the terrifying phenomena I can. Should be fun.

Also, ParaPsyCon is only two weeks away. This is the biggest convention of authors, ghost hunters, mediums, psychics and more around, and it’ll be held on May 22nd and 23rd at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH. Cost of admission is just purchasing a self-guided tour of the former prison, about $25. I’ll be there as well, so I hope you’ll stop by and say hi. You can get more information by checking out the website here.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, stay safe, have a good weekend, and pleasant nightmares.

Yep, I’m doing this again. But I gotta make sure people know. Otherwise, how will people know to come?

So, if you’re unaware, I’m doing some events as an author this spring and summer. And, in the hopes that some of my Followers of Fear might join me at one or two of them, I’m updating you on the details of each.

First off, we have ParaPsyCon 2021, which I’m glad to say is happening! ParaPsyCon is a convention hosting plenty of ghost hunters, psychics and mediums, and authors (including yours truly), among other things. The convention takes place this May 22nd and 23rd at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH. If you recognize this building, it’s the former prison where they filmed Shawshank Redemption, and is one of the most famous haunted prisons in America. Cost of admission is just one ticket for a self-guided tour of the prison, so you can see where they filmed famous scenes from the movie and then check out the convention.

I’ll be there selling copies of my books, including chapbooks of “Mother of the King” and “Agoraphobia,” as well as doing Tarot readings and selling a few other odds and ends. And who knows? Maybe I’ll catch a ghost on camera. You never know. Anyway, hope to see you there. And if you want more information, please click on the link here.

The other event I’m currently scheduled to be at (assuming I don’t sell out at ParaPsyCon), is the Indie Author Book Expo, or IABE, in Chicago on June 19th. And as you can see, I’ve included the posters above.

IABE Chicago is from the same group who hosted the expo I was at in Des Moines last year (you can read all about that here). It’s got a very eclectic mix of authors coming by the Quarry Chi in Chicago. So, if any of my Followers of Fear, or anyone who would be interested, happen to be in Chicago (or Illinois in general), please feel free to stop by. And for more information on IABE’s events, click this link here.

Anyway, that’s all I got going on right now, my Followers of Fear. I’m trying to set up more events for summer and fall, particularly around the Halloween season, so I’ll let you know if any of that turns out to be successful. In the meantime, I hope some of you are able to stop by the events. And if you’re not able to, then maybe consider alleviating your boredom and supporting me at the same time by checking out some of my stories.

Yes, I’m doing another plug for my books, but can you blame me? Gotta get them into readers’ hands somehow!

Anyway, I’ll leave the links to my work below. And if you like what you read, please consider leaving a review online. Reviews not only help me out, but they also help other readers decide whether or not a story is worth their time.

That’s all for now. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

Agoraphobia: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

Mother of the King: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

Snake: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

The Quiet Game: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooksSmashwords, and Kobo.

Well, this was a great day. I got out of work early (long story, don’t ask), which allowed me to finish the third draft of The Pure World Comes around 5:30 PM. And that was great, because by coincidence I was going to meet some friends who had also had their vaccinations for dinner and drinks. So I had the opportunity to turn a good night out with friends into a celebration.

Of course, then I had to wait till I was good to drive before coming home. And then I had to take a shower and check my email and whatnot. Hence why I’m writing this so damn late. Sorry about that. But hey, sometimes that’s life.

So, if you’re not aware, The Pure World Comes is a Victorian Gothic novel I wrote last year revolving around a maid who goes to work for a man who could be charitably called a mad scientist. I did a second draft a few months ago and sent them off to some beta readers for feedback. After getting their feedback and finishing the latest draft of River of Wrath, I started on the third draft. And after only a week or so, the third draft is completed!

Now, this story has always been a lot of fun for me to work on. I’m a huge fan of the Victorian era of British history (see my reasons here), and this novel was a love letter to that era. But this draft was especially fun because I got to read my beta readers’ comments while I worked. They really enjoyed the story and had a lot of good suggestions to improve the story. It’s great hearing what people think of your story (which is why it’s so important to leave reviews after reading an author’s story, by the by). But getting such positive feedback while the story’s still being refined was especially nice and made me hopeful for the story’s future.

Speaking of which, what is the future of this story? Well, it’s late, so I’m not going to do anything further with it tonight. However, tomorrow I’m going to try to submit it. As I said when I finished River of Wrath, I usually start shopping novels after the third draft. And based on the feedback I got on the second draft and the improvements I’ve made, I think this draft has a good chance of finding a home pretty quickly.

As for my next writing project…tough to say. I’ve been mulling a few ideas for short stories, especially ones I could write for specific anthologies. On the other hand, I recently had an idea for another story set in Victorian England, and I at least want to develop it a bit more. Problem is, that story has a good chance of becoming a longer project, maybe another novel if I’m not careful (and I’m not always too careful about word length). So, I might have to mull it a few days.

Whatever I choose, so long as I’m having fun with it, it’ll be okay.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m heading to bed so I’m not a wreck at work tomorrow. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and please consider getting vaccinated if you’re able to. It’ll protect your health, the health of others, and maybe allow us to move out of this insanity of a pandemic sooner.

As many of you know, I recently read and reviewed Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman (read my review here). And now, I’m very happy to let you know that I recently was able to connect with Mr. Chapman and pick his brain a bit. So you know what happens next, Followers of Fear: it’s a brand new author interview!

So, without further ado, let me introduce Clay McLeod Chapman!

Rami Ungar: Clay, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you. Please tell us about yourself and a bit about what you do.

Clay McLeod Chapman: First off, just to say it, thanks for having me out… I really appreciate you inviting me to answer some questions and chat about Whisper Down the Lane.

So. My name’s Clay. I was born at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Roanoke, Virginia, and eventually raised in Richmond. I lived in Virginia for pretty much all my childhood, with a year in North Carolina, before moving up to New York. That’s been home for over twenty years now.

As far as my work is concerned, I’ve been pretty damn fortunate to live a humble existence writing and telling stories in a few different mediums… I get to write fiction, both short stories and novels for readers both young and old, while also writing for comics, film and television, theater and podcasting. It’s been a master-of-none kind of life.

RU: Tell us about Whisper Down the Lane. What is it about, how did you come up with it, and what was it like writing it?

CMC: Whisper Down the Lane is a story told in two different time-lines—one set in 1983 and the other in 2013—and how the moral mania of the Satanic Panic period of the 80s continues to echo out into our contemporary culture. The basic premise is: Sean, five years old, tells a little white lie to his mother. That lie ripples out and effects his family, his friends and classmates at school, the teachers and the administration, on to the community at large and then consuming the rest of the country…

Now, imagine thirty years later, meeting a man named Richard. He’s a newly-married teacher with a stepson. Life is good, until one day, the lies that Sean told decades ago somehow seem to manifest themselves within Richard’s life. The stories Sean made up as a boy are becoming true for Richard.

The past is never quite through with us, I guess you could say, no matter how hard you try to run away.

The idea for Whisper Down the Lane came about when I had a dinnertime conversation with my mother about a particular moment that I remembered from my childhood… that she insisted wasn’t true. It was unnerving to me because the two of us couldn’t reach a consensus point on this specific event that I would’ve sworn was true, but she was pretty emphatic was not. If she was right and this memory wasn’t real, what else about my childhood was I wrong about? What else could I have made up in my imagination? This led me to think a lot about false memory syndrome or repressed memory therapy, which was one of the foundational aspects to the Satanic Panic period… planting the seed for Whisper.

Writing the novel was pretty terrifying, to be honest. I’m not an author who comes to the table with a lot of confidence, and this project in particular always threatened to get away from me. I had very little self-esteem while writing it, essentially working in a constant state of panic… which I think, to a certain extent, actually aided in the paranoia that runs rampant throughout the narrative. Not that I personally recommend writing anything under those conditions.

RU: The story is heavily influenced by the Satanic Panic and the McMartin preschool trials of the 1980s. Do you have any memories of those events and did they have any influence on the book?

CMC: As a child of the 80s, essentially living in a Spielbergian lens flare, I do remember the vaguest hints of Satanic Panic. I definitely didn’t know about the McMartin preschool, but I was certainly entrenched in stranger danger and the vocabulary of the devil… As children, my friends and I were told to always watch out for the white van with no windows that prowled our neighborhood. I vividly remember seeing with my own eyes a spray-painted pentagram on the walls of our neighborhood swimming pool. It was a wild time to be a kid, because our parents essentially let us loose after school to Schwinn throughout the neighborhood with zero supervision… It was amazing we didn’t break our necks or get run over. And yet, there were these warnings from our parents about some ethereal threat: Men we didn’t know who would lure us into their cars with promises of candy or long-haired teens smoking cigarettes and spray-painting pentagrams while listening to heavy metal music. Our parents made boogeymen out the things they were scared of, in order to frighten us into complicity, but I think in an odd way it just made these potential risks feel all the more mythic. This all rooted the writing the novel in a pretty personal place… I got to write about what scared me as a kid. Ozzy Osbourne or the razor blade in the chocolate bar. 

RU: I found the characters and the paranoia that spread among those characters to be very believable. How did you accomplish making these characters and their terror feel so real?

CMC: Well… whew. Thanks for saying that. It’s a huge relief to hear. I’m a big fan of Poe and the unreliable narrator, so for Richard in particular, I wanted to map out the mental trajectory of a narrator losing his mind. You have to start with a sturdy foundation before you can really chisel away at the bedrock below a character like that… so I found myself really having to exercise restraint before going batshit. This book needed to be a slow burn. Lay down the mental/emotional landscape first, then destroy it.

For Sean, which was a more difficult section to write, everything had to be filtered through the perspective of a five-year-old and somehow still feel believable. Writing through a child’s eyes, I feel, can be the kiss of death for a lot of books because the prose itself seems to talk down to the reader, as if they were a child themselves. It’s a tough balance to get the innocence and naiveté to ring true, while also keeping a toe-hold of a narrative that extends beyond the purview of a child… Third person certainly helps.

But here’s the truth: For both Richard and Sean, I’m just writing about things that scare me. I was—to an extent—that kid growing up, so I simply chose to write from a perspective of what frightened me as a boy. Now I’m a dad who’s utterly petrified of sending my sons into this dangerous, terrifying world… so I get to write about that newfound fear of mine. When the horror is personal, when the horror comes home, I think it simply rings true in a way it wouldn’t otherwise.

RU: What was research for the novel like? Did you learn anything that you didn’t already know that surprised you?

CMC: This book was a complete joy to research. I say ‘joy’ and I don’t mean to sound glib. I find the whole period utterly fascinating. I got to read so many amazing books on the subject… I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my most favorite: We Believe the Children by Richard Beck. It’s an absolute must for anyone who’s curious about the Satanic Panic period.

RU: You also have experience in the comics and film industries, among others. Can we maybe look forward to a graphic novel or movie adaptation of Whisper?

CMC: Well… I’d be lying if I didn’t say I would happily sell my soul to the devil for a film (or television) adaptation.

RU: Wouldn’t we all. Now, I know you had a novel accepted by the same publisher as Whisper. Can you tell us anything about that book?

CMC: I can’t say much about the next book quite yet… It’s a ghost story, though, which I’m really excited about. I wanted to write a haunted house story and essentially spent most of my quarantine imbibing as much gothic literature as I could. We’ll see how much of it seeps into the next book, but I’ve got high hopes.

RU: Finally, data to back up my claim that people would be reading/producing a lot of Gothic and haunted house stories during this pandemic (see my initial prediction here).

Anyway, when you’re not writing, what are you doing with your time?

CMC: Those damn kids, man… I’m telling you. Raising children during these uncertain times. I’m just keeping their lung tissue as clean as humanly possible.

RU: For which I wish you the best of luck. I have enough trouble with my own lungs and people not wearing masks around me. Now, what advice would you give other writers, regardless of background or experience?

CMC: It’s an old saw, but it’s honestly the best advice—the only advice—anyone should ever give or follow: You got to put in the time. You got to write. I’ve written so much junk, and I still do… But I have to get it out of my system. I need to exercise the muscle of my imagination in order to exorcise these stories. If I don’t write them out, they just get clogged in my head. Are they all worth reading? Absolutely not. But they won’t be haunting me any longer. I’m free.

RU: I hear that. Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could bring only three books with you for entertainment, which ones would you bring?

CMC: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Vice by Ai (or The Collected Poems of Ai). The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass.

Thanks so much for chatting with me! This was a total blast… Looking forward to chatting some more!

RU: Thank you for stopping by. Please let us know when your next book comes out and we’ll get you back on the show!

If you enjoyed this interview, you can check out Clay McLeod Chapman on his website, as well as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Make sure to also check out Whisper Down the Lane (after reading my review, of course). And if you’re an author with something coming out soon and would like to be interviewed, consider sending me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. If I’m able, we’ll make some magic happen.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to take a walk before I get to work on dinner and watch a movie. Until next time, happy reading, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

An article I read last year listed this novel as one of the most anticipated horror novels of 2021. Along with the cover and the two-sentence synopsis, I got intrigued and requested my library order copies. They ordered, I was among the first to get a copy from the library, and started reading as soon as possible. Today, I finished the novel, so obviously I’m letting you know what I think.

Based partially on the McMartin preschool trials and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s,* Whisper Down the Lane takes place in 1983 and 2013. In 1983, young Sean Crenshaw finds himself in the spotlight when he tells his mother that his kindergarten teacher has been abusing him and his classmates, as well as is part of a Satanic cult. As the local community and the country at large is swept up in terror, nobody realizes Sean is holding in a much more explosive secret.

Meanwhile, in 2013, Richard Bellamy is teaching art at a prestigious elementary school. However, strange incidents are occurring in the school and in town, and they all seem to link back to Sean’s past. What most don’t realize, however, is that Sean and Richard have a connection. And the events of one are influencing the other.

I had a lot of fun with this novel. Chapman does an excellent job of showing the mindsets of the young, naïve Sean, who views what’s going on as playing a game (Tell the Adults What They Want to Hear), and Richard, who initially narrates with plenty of sarcasm and levity but slowly starts incorporating darker, more serious language into his sections of the story. You not only start to believe in these characters, but really feel for them as they go through various troubles.

I also liked how Chapman taps into the birth and spread of paranoia while still telling a story. Again, it’s so believable reading how paranoia spreads among the characters in the 1980s and how they start to become convinced of Satanists abusing their children. Adding to this sense of believability are sections written as transcripts between Sean and Kinderman, a psychologist who is interviewing victims. Those sections really reflect how things likely happened during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, and shows how much research Chapman did.

Richard’s own dark feelings, including paranoia, are also written very realistically. It was powerful and heartbreaking getting into his head and seeing how events were affecting his mental state.

The only problems I really had with the story were that certain plot elements were predictable, at least for me. That being said, there were plenty of surprises throughout the story, and I can forgive a little predictability (a lot is where i draw the line).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I award Whisper Down the Lane by Clay McLeod Chapman a 4.3. Written with strong characterization and emotion, you’ll believe you’re reading about actual people with actual fears. Grab a copy, put on your favorite 80s music, and settle in. Once you start, you’ll find it hard to put the book down.

*Which, by the way, kicked off way too early. I wasn’t born till the 1990s and the insidious network of devoted acolytes to my evil didn’t crop up till the mid-2010s.

I only like one kind of cocktail, but I haven’t mixed it in years. Recently, I found all the ingredients at the grocery store and decided to pick them up. You mix vodka, sweet n’ sour mix, and blue curacao. I call it an Electrified Lemonade (though it may have another name I am unaware of). Why do I mention it? Because I mixed it this evening in celebration of finishing the third draft of River of Wrath. Woo-hoo!

So, if you’re unfamiliar with this novel, River of Wrath is a novel I wrote on-and-off between October 2017 and October 2018 (which is hilarious, because the main events of the novel take place during Halloween 1961). The novel follows a young couple who find themselves trapped in a small town in Mississippi when a river full of living, violent corpses floods the town. Turns out the river is actually the River Styx as described in Dante’s Inferno, the fifth circle of Hell and the punishment for the wrathful. Trapped in a church in the town, internal tensions rise as the town’s racial differences are brought to light. And believe me when I say, the danger within has an effect on the trouble within and vice versa.

So yeah, you can guess what sort of themes the novel encompasses. I started coming up with the story back in 2017 after reading the book The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson, about the infamous murder of a young African-American boy from Chicago in the Mississippi Delta, and the trial of his murderers (spoiler alert, they got off and then admitted they murdered him). I had just learned about Dante’s Inferno and was thinking of where various people and groups in the book might have ended up in Hell according to Dante. That was the impetus for the novel, which originally I didn’t think would be more than twenty-thousand words. A year later, and it was over sixty-thousand words, and I was like, “I gotta stop turning short stories and novelettes into novels.”

Yeah, I have not kept that promise to myself at all.

The Fifth Circle of Hell, as illustrated by Stradanus.

Anywho, I usually try to shop my novels around after three drafts (the third draft of Rose was the one that was accepted for publication, after all). And since this is the third draft, I’ve already sent it off to a publisher. I’ll hopefully get an acceptance somewhere, but we’ll see what happens. It’s not perfect, but I’ve gotten a lot of kinks out of the book and I think it’s a good story. Should be enough to interest someone.

If it does get accepted, however, I’m going to ask for a sensitivity reader. Let’s face it, I’m white, and given the subject matter, I don’t want to accidentally cause offense.

Well, River of Wrath is off. What’s next for me? Well, tomorrow I’ll be getting my second COVID-19 shot, so I might not do anything, creative or otherwise, depending on whether or not I suffer any side effects. That being said, my next project will be the third draft of The Pure World Comes, my Victorian horror novel. After that, I’ll try submitting that for publication. And then…well, who knows? Maybe I’ll work on a new story, or I’ll be editing older stories. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m off to bed, because I have a big day tomorrow. Until next time, goodnight and pleasant nightmares.

I can’t remember who first said that to me, or whether it was said to me in a tweet or a Zoom chat. I also can’t remember if I’ve been saying it to others who have been dealing with rejections (my memory can be like a sieve some days). Nevertheless, it’s been on my mind a lot lately, as I’ve had a few rejections lately, and I thought I would share it.

“If you’re getting rejections, then you’re probably doing something right.”

It’s true, you know. Yeah, nobody likes getting rejections. We would rather just have things come to us, including story acceptances. We don’t like to hear that these stories we’ve thrown our sweat, blood and tears into aren’t wanted or acceptable or good enough for the publication or publisher in question. Enough that you want to stop submitting.

Which, I guarantee, every author has gone through at least once.

However, you know what you could be doing? Not submitting at all, which would mean no chance to get accepted OR rejected. You’d be cutting yourself off from any chance to get that story out there. Sure, you’d be free from rejections, but what’s the chance someone would discover your stories another way and ensure that it reached a wide audience who might love it? Probably not very high.

So, keep submitting, because that ensures you’re getting your work out there. Even if you get rejections, consider it discovering just one place that isn’t right for your story. You just have to try the next place, and keep writing, polishing, submitting and hopefully someday you’ll get that publication.

That’s what I tell myself. And it works.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I just wanted to get this off my chest and share it with you. If you need me, I’m about sixty pages away from finishing the latest draft of River of Wrath and submitting it. Hopefully it won’t be rejected (though if it is, at least I know that publisher wasn’t the right place for the book).

And while I still have your attention, this is a reminder that ParaPsyCon 2021 is just over a month away. This is a convention of ghost hunters, purported mediums, and authors taking place at the historic Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio (filming location of The Shawshank Redemption). This year, it’ll be May 22nd-23rd, 2021 and the cost of admission is the same as entry to the prison, about $25. I’ll be among the vendors there, so I hope you’ll stop by if you’re able. You can find more information about the convention HERE.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

It’s been a double-dose of Anthony Mackie today. I watched the latest episode of Falcon & Winter Soldier on Disney+, and then I got to see this film on Netflix. I would have seen it when it came out, but the pandemic kind of screwed with those plans. Anyway, better late than never.

Taking place in New Orleans,* Synchronic stars Anthony Mackie as Steve Denube, a paramedic who starts encountering some strange cases while out on the job. People are being found, injured, dying or dead with mysterious injuries and causes, and Steve traces it to a new street drug called Synchronic. Turns out Synchronic is a drug that allows people to travel through time. And when someone important to Steve goes missing, he decides to use Synchronic to do some good.

So before I tell you what I thought of this film, let me just state that this film is by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the team behind the body-horror romance Spring and the Lovecraftian horror film The Endless. And I’ve started to notice a pattern with the films they make: while strange shit is part of their films, it’s not the focus like strange shit is the focus of mine. Really, the strange in their stories is a tool to tell very human stories. Stories of love, identity, loss, belonging, and purpose, among other things. Synchronic is no different.

All that being said, I really enjoyed this film.

First off, it’s a really well-told story. if at times really difficult to watch. At first things are really trippy, but then you start watching and things start making sense. From there, things go from just trippy to being a very human story about purpose in life. And as the story unfolds and you start to understand more what’s happening, it not only enhances the story, but enhances what our protagonist is going through.

Of course, the cast does a great job at giving this story its weight. Anthony Mackie is a great dramatic actor who can really pull off these weighty roles, and it’s his prowess as an actor that, at times, makes Synchronic such a hard film to watch at times. Like I said, human story with strange shit as a tool to drive the story.

Finally, the special effects and the sets were really well done. Because it’s a movie involving a literal time travel drug, it leads to some interesting locales, and each one is brought to life so well. You find yourself totally believing that the science-y bits could happen, helped by the fact that some of the theoretical physics stuff employed in the story sounds real, or real enough to give the strange stuff an air of credibility. And the attention to detail for the historical settings really makes you think you’re looking at real places in the past (sometimes uncomfortably so).

There were a couple of things I didn’t care for, however. One is that there’s occasional flashbacks to what should be a traumatic moment for Steve, but it’s so sparingly used and Steve seems so unaffected by it, I wonder if it was worth having in the final film. That, and there were a few moments focusing on Steve’s best friend Dennis and his wife that I felt could have been cut. It’s illustrative for their characters, but they don’t really add that much to the story or to Dennis or Steve’s journey.

All in all, though, Synchronic is a brilliantly told science horror film that brings an emotional punch to its timey-wimey concept. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.8. If you have Netflix, get on there and give it a watch. You’ll likely find it time well spent.

*Which I will be visiting later this year if all goes well.

I think this fits the theme of the post very well, don’t you? Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

In my last post, I mentioned that I would soon be tackling editing River of Wrath and The Pure World Comes, two novels that each have gone through some edits and which I would like to try submitting this year. As promised, I have started editing River of Wrath, which is about one of the nine circles of Hell appearing in a small town in 1960s Mississippi (you can guess what sort of themes are included with that description).

And so far, the biggest obstacle I’m dealing with is my narrator’s voice.

For a bit of background, my narrator, Audrey Falley, is writing down her experiences as she remembers them. She’s a character I thoroughly enjoy. She’s an Army wife in the 1960s, but she’s not demure like you would expect from that sort of character in that time period. She’s brash, street smart, she admits she drinks, swears, and has sex with her husband. In other words, she’s unladylike, and proud of it, and I tried to make that show in how she tells her story.

Which is challenging. In addition to all that above, Audrey is also not your typical narrator. By which I mean, this is her first time really telling a story, as her life hasn’t had many opportunities for her to practice creative writing. She also breaks the fourth wall a lot in a way Deadpool might approve, pointing out things about her word choice and how at certain times she sounds like she’s writing a romance novel.

And yet she’s very much aware what sort of story she’s telling.

And here I am, on the computer, trying to tell this story through this character’s unique perspective, while also balancing that perspective with the needs and tone of the story. Not only that, but I have to make the language used sound both like they were written by Audrey and by me, a writer who has a few published books and stories under his belt. And I have to ensure it reads like a horror story.

All told, it’s a bit of a juggling act. And I’m feeling the struggle. There are plenty of points where I’ve wondered to myself, “Does this sound good? Or does it sound totally amateur-ish?” It can affect how I look at the project at times.

That being said, there are moments where I look at the changes I’ve made and I’m like, “Yeah, I got this.” I had one of those moments when I was editing the scene the novel goes from period piece with strong romantic overtones to full-on horror story. Here’s the passage in the previous draft:

Before either of us could answer, there was a scream from the edge of the park. It was followed by several other screams, not just women, but men and children. Dogs barked, and birds flew into the air and away from the park entrance. Around the park, and in Little Angola as well, people stopped what they were doing, stood up if they were sitting down, and looked in the direction of the screams.

And then there’s the section from the current draft (asterisks are to prevent spoilers):

From the edge of the park came a woman’s scream.

Everyone, including Gordon and me, froze before turning in the direction of the scream, which was the same direction we’d come from. We could hear more people screaming, not just women, but men and children too. And that wasn’t all: dogs were barking, birds were flying in every direction, and everyone in the park, from the folks in ********, to the families at their picnic benches, to the children on the playsets, and to the couples in the flower garden, stiffened.

Later on, it occurred to me that we were all feeling the same thing. We weren’t just afraid. We were dreading whatever was causing those people to scream and making the animals go crazy. We dreaded it in our very bones.

Busy editing. Hopefully by the time I’m done, this novel will look a whole lot better and I’ll have a better idea if it’s ready to be submitted anywhere.

How was that? It’s not perfect, but it is better written than the previous version. Feels more like something you might read in a professionally-published horror novel. And that difference really made me feel like I could balance all those things I mentioned above. I don’t know if by the end of the draft, the novel will be ready to submit to publishers as I’d hoped, but if the new passage is anything to go by, I’ll at least get a bit closer.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I think, as the draft continues, I’ll hopefully not only get a better idea of where the story is in its development, but maybe even be able to go back to the beginning and do a better job of polishing up the story. We’ll see what the rest of the draft holds.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll check in again soon, though I’m not sure when or what I’ll be talking about. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Be careful. Not every mermaid sings about being part of our world.

I’ve been teasing for a couple of posts now that I’m working on a mermaid horror story. Yes, a horror story involving mermaids. You read that right. And I’m happy to say that as of this afternoon this story, which I’m calling “Cressida,” is finished!

“Cressida” follows a young man who goes out to his uncle’s beach house after a very strange phone call makes him worry about his uncle’s mental state. What transpires, however, is that the uncle has a mermaid in his basement! And that’s not the strangest thing of all, because the mermaid’s presence brings up uncomfortable memories for both men. And it’s going to have an irreversible effect on them as well.

I’ve had the base idea for this story–a guy keeping a mermaid in his basement–for quite a while. But then I saw a submissions call for an anthology dealing with deep water horror with an unusually high word count. Since I’m such an expansive writer,* I was excited. Rarely do submission calls give me such an opportunity to breathe and really go all out. I checked my story ideas, saw something that fit the theme, and got to work.

A few weeks later, and the story is finished at about 10,200 words, or about 33 pages. And I’m quite proud of the story. I don’t think it’s some of my best work, as I stated in some posts on my Facebook and Twitter pages. But I was able to really work in some themes of trauma, regret, and the power of desire and I think it makes for a good read.

Of course, I’m not the best judge and will look into having a beta reader go over the story before sending it off to the anthology. As long as I get the notes of “Cressida” back by the end of the month, I should be able to edit and submit it before the deadline. And if not…well, there’s likely another market to send it to. I’m always keeping my eyes open for this sort of thing.

Going to be a lot of writing and editing in the near future. I’m looking forward to it.

In the meantime, however, I’ll be doing the second draft of “Window Audience Blues,” the story about Robert Johnson I wrote. After that, I’ll likely be editing my novels River of Wrath and The Pure World Comes before submitting them anywhere. Depending on how things transpire in the coming weeks and months, I’ll hopefully get those all edited by June and submitted by July. Should be exciting.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to read a bit and then hit the hay. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and how do I have a basement in my home to store the trophies I take from my victims? I live in an apartment on the third floor!

*Seriously, I once had a teacher in a creative writing class comment that my work tends to involve a lot of character development and world building, even though I tried to keep the stories I turned in under ten thousand words. I summed it up as “yeah, I’m an expansive writer.” She wholeheartedly agreed.