Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

I have not been blogging much in the last week or so, though I’ve read just about every blog post that shows up in my inbox. This is partly because I haven’t had anything I’ve felt passionate enough to blog about and because of time constraints, but it’s mostly because of the story I’ve been working on lately. You see, this story is challenging me as a writer, and the challenge has me engrossed, more so than a test engrosses Hermione Granger around exam time (oh Harry Potter, you always give me something when I ask). It’s so engrossing, that it’s taking up all my creative energies, leaving me unable to blog or even come up with new ideas for stories (though I already have more ideas than I know what to do with, so that’s not a huge problem).

Some of you may remember that I started working on a story I thought might become a novelette or novella in between drafts of Rose back in October or November. After finishing the short story Do-Over the other day, I started working on this story again, and as I said, it’s been challenging. On a number of levels, actually: for one thing, there’s an anthology I’ve heard about that’s looking for stories of a certain word length, so I’m trying to write this story to keep it within the anthology’s word limits. Yeah, I know I should let the story be whatever length it’s meant to be, but after expanding Rose to twice its word length last year because it was suggested I do just that, I feel like I can aim for a certain word count and still get a good story out of it.

Another reason it’s challenging is because of the narrator. Like Rose, I’m telling this story through the eyes of a first-person narrator, which means I’m reliant on her as a narrator to tell the story and to create a good horror ambiance. But at the same time, she’s got a history, a personality, and observations that she’s putting into her story. It’s less like I’m writing the story and I’m channeling my narrator as she’s telling the story, though I do have the power to go in and make changes as needed. And creating that horror ambiance while balancing my narrator’s voice and what she feels is necessary to put into her story, such as her interactions with her husband, isn’t that easy.

Did I mention that this story also takes place over thirty years before I was born, in a state I’ve only visited once? Well, it does, so in addition to being a horror story, it’s also historical fiction, and I’m working hard to recreate an age and place I’ve never experienced, with all the fashions, technology, and attitudes in place. It’s a lot of work, to say the least.

And on top of that, you have all the normal challenges of storytelling: making a story interesting, pacing, showing vs. telling, dialogue, word choice, et cetera, et cetera. I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But honestly, I think it’s all worth it. Because in my experience, if a novel challenges the writer, it’s going to be a better story in the end. Look at Rose: that novel challenged me every time I worked on it. The first draft alone, I had to go back to the very beginning and start over again because I had to totally reroute the path the story was taking. During the third draft, I added forty-thousand words, a whole new plot line, and even a character or two just to make the story not only longer, but better. And in the end, I created one hell of a story that I feel has a great chance of publication. Hopefully with this story I can get a similar outcome.

Stories can be challenging to write sometimes. It may be difficult to get the words on the page, but in the end, with a lot of work, I think it can lead to a really compelling story. And I’m looking forward to seeing if, after a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I can wrangle out a good story here.


I did not finish watching the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why, owing to how depressing it was (I like dark stuff, but that show just took the joy out of living!). But in recent weeks, one scene from that show, a surprisingly not-sad scene, has been coming back to me. In a flashback, the main character Clay is critiquing another kid’s essay, and notices the latter uses the word “unique” several times. When the other kid asks why that’s an issue, Clay says that if everything is unique, it means nothing is unique. And on the surface I agreed with that sentiment, but I didn’t realize how it applied to my own writing until almost a year later.

As many of you know, I recently finished a fourth draft of my college thesis Rose, and that I had the novel beta read by a couple of people, including my colleague and good friend Joleene Naylor. One of the things she pointed out was a problem throughout the novel, and which I’ve been trying to avoid in subsequent stories, is repeating words, especially adjectives. Apparently I’ve been using the word “unique” several times in a single chapter or paragraph, though “unique” wasn’t usually the word I used.

Actually, it tended to look something like this (not an actual line from the novel, but I think you’ll get the idea):

Rose stood in place, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Akira placed the book on the table.

See how I used “place” twice? A better way to write this might have been:

Rose held her ground, refusing to show her fear. Angrily, Akira placed the book on the table.

See the difference? And I had to do this throughout the fourth draft, identifying where I repeated words in close proximity to one another, and then coming up with a better way to say it.

And I feel like this is a really common issue that writers have to deal with at some point, or possibly at several points, in their careers. Despite our reputations for loving really big words (verbose, callipygian, penultimate, etc), when it comes to fiction, we tend to just use everyday words. After all, we’re normally writing for everyday people, not for a small niche of scholars or people associated with a small religious movement. So if a simple word, like “unique” or “place,” fits the bill for telling the story, we’re likely going to use it. And we’ll use it again and again, if it’s the first word that comes to mind.

But as the above points show, you have to vary what words you use in order to tell a story and not distract the reader. And that’s something I’m trying to learn how to do as a writer. You know, along with learning how to write good short stories. And writing good stories in general. Again, I leave that up to the feedback of my readers. But this is getting a lot of emphasis as well. Because as great as a story is, the language it’s told through can determine how successful it may be. Imagine if Harry Potter had been published and it read like a sixth grader had written it. I guarantee it wouldn’t be the phenomenon it is today and I might not have been inspired to be a writer (unless JK Rowling was in the sixth grade when it was published. Then she’d be the Mozart of literature).

So while I may never actually need to know twelve different ways to say “unique,” hopefully in the future I can avoid making mistakes like the ones above. And if I do (because let’s face it, no author is perfect), I hope I have a good group of editors and beta readers around me to point out those mistakes.

And if you’re an author who makes this mistake, the only way I can think of to avoid it is to do what you’re already doing: think about the words you use. Just do it a bit harder when it comes to the individual words themselves. At least, that’s what I’ve been doing. And I think it’s been working.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Expect another post from me (or maybe even two) very soon. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Last year, I saw my first ballet, Romeo & Juliet, performed live on stage here in Columbus. Since then, I’ve gone to see a production of Swan Lake, watched a video online of Fall River Legend, based on the Lizzie Borden case (no need to guess why I looked up that one), and last night I went with my mother to see Giselle live on stage. And I have to say, after a year of watching/attending performances, I’m pretty much a committed ballet fan.

So if you’re keeping count at home, I’m a Jewish horror writer who’s openly bisexual, who enjoys nerdy things like superhero movies and anime/manga, reads plenty of scary stories, collects dolls and figurines, enjoys Buckeye football, has attended heavy metal concerts and listens to a lot of 80’s music, is on the autism spectrum and advocates for disabilities, knows how to cook and bake and enjoys it, and also enjoys going to the ballet. If there’s a stereotype I fit neatly into, I don’t know what it is!

But back to ballet. How did I get into it? Well besides possibly having a thing for tutus (but come on, who doesn’t?), I’m not sure when my interest in the medium first arose. I think it might’ve been from an episode of Sailor Moon I saw when I was a kid back where the episode revolved around a ballet teacher (Sailor Moon, how many ways do you continue to influence me?). Before that, I’d dismissed ballet as for girls, but after that episode, I started to wonder if there was something to like.

And then of course, the desire to check it out went dormant, because the only filters I had for experiencing ballet were through my sisters and their direct-to-video ballet movies and specials. But I think the desire awoke again in college. I’m not sure what the catalyst was, but by senior year, I wanted to go see a production from BalletMet, Columbus’s premiere ballet company, and ballerinas started appearing in some of my story ideas (one of these days I’ll hopefully write most of those ideas). However, I could only really afford to see a show after I was employed long enough that paying for tickets wouldn’t break my bank account (turns out they’re actually pretty affordable compared to other forms of live entertainment, but I didn’t know that until recently).

Thus last April I saw Romeo & Juliet, and absolutely loved it. The combination of music, acting, costume and choreography to tell a story was beautiful and mesmerizing, and at the end, actually a little heartbreaking. I even had an idea for a ballet a day or two after seeing the show (BalletMet, email me! We’ll make an original production people will love!). It’s no surprise I’ve made a point to see more shows since then. And after watching a few shows, I’ve noticed some interesting things about the medium:

  1. It’s not just an art form, it’s also a sport. Ballet requires feats of the body that are similar to what athletes go through. They train for several hours a day, several days a week; some dancers need to build their upper body strength, especially for lifting other dancers; some leaps and dance moves look right out of a gymnastics or track and field competition; and dancers get some of the same injuries professional sports players get. It’s definitely a lot more involved than just twirling around on a stage and looking pretty, as some people might think.
  2. The stories are often simple. Not to say they’re stupid or without depth, but the stories in ballet are often a lot easier to understand than something like Game of Thrones, which is based a lot in various histories, plots, intrigues, mythologies, etc and would be difficult to convey through dance alone. They’re more often based in love stories or fairy tales, things everyone can get without much difficulty. And that’s good, in my opinion. After all, despite being considered “cultured,” ballet is supposed to be an art form for the masses to enjoy (ironic, given that the form first arose as a way to instruct Italian noble children on how to act in court). It makes sense that the stories would be aimed at the masses, rather than at only a tiny segment.

    The Willis at the end of Giselle last night.

  3. Ballet is a lot like watching a silent film. Because ballet is entirely without dialogue (with a few exceptions, like the first act of Fall River Legend), facial and body language is almost as important as being able to dance. Joy, rage or anguish, it’s important to convey how the character feels in any situation. In that sense, dancers are very much like modern silent film actors (without the make-up that makes them look like serial killers, of course).
  4. Filler moments. This is what I call moments when ballet extends certain scenes with dance routines not necessarily connected to the plot. As I said, ballet is sans dialogue, which would be used to lengthen plays or musicals. So instead they have longer dance sequences that may not be connected to the plot. In Swan Lake, there’s a sequence where Odette and Siegfried are offstage and the other swan dancers do a dance for a few minutes before the protagonists arrive back on stage, for example. It doesn’t really have much to do with the actual conflict of the story, but it’s very well done and extends the ballet so we feel like we got our money’s worth.
    Not that this is just something done to extend the show’s runtime. At times, it makes sense to have these filler moments. For example, Giselle takes place during a fall harvest festival. During the production I saw last night, there were various dance sequences in the first act where only male dancers would dance, then female dancers, then children, then lovers, etc. And this feels like something that would happen during a village harvest festival, various dances that different groups of people would take part in. This makes the illusion of the show feel more real and not just a performance.

    The main characters of Giselle.

    And at other times, filler moments allow for some amazing creativity and storytelling: in Romeo & Juliet, when Juliet is deciding whether or not to take the potion to fake her death, they actually show her struggling with whether or not to go through with her choice, and then is confronted by the ghosts of Petruchio and Tybalt, as if to remind her of what she’ll be apart of if she doesn’t take the potion. That’s not something you’d see in the original stageplay, and is something that could only be born from a performance without dialogue. Similarly, during the second act of Giselle, when we meet the supernatural spirits the Willis, we get some interesting dance moves that intimate to the audience that these are ghosts that act as one on a mission. It is really amazing.

As you can tell, I’ve gotten a lot out of going to the ballet. And with more shows out there to find and watch, I hope I can see them and get even more from them. The creativity, blending of music, dance and storytelling, and the devotion and work put into productions is why ballet has endured for so many years, and why it will continue to endure and evolve over time. And if you get the chance, I highly encourage you to go take in a show. You never know what you may experience.

Well, it’s been a year since I last had a Lovecraft binge (see Parts 1, 2, and 3 for my previous binges). And while I didn’t read any actual Lovecraft stories in the year (holy cow, that long?) since my last binge, he was certainly never far from my mind. I read a lot of fiction influenced or modeled after his work, including the Lovecraft/YA novel Awoken* (read my review here), shopped around my own Lovecraft-themed story The Red Bursts (still working on that), and wrote an article about why there’s not more adaptations or even a cinematic universe based on his work. No, surprise, after all that I was ready for another dive into his work. And boy, did I enjoy the eldritch swim.

So if you’re not familiar with HP Lovecraft (and I’d bet good money that you’re not), he was an early 20th-century author whose ideas and stories proved very influential on storytellers like Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and Allan Moore, among others. He’s considered the father of cosmic horror, the idea that humans are basically ants in our universe, that there are beings and truths so great and terrible that even glimpsing them can cause madness and death. It’s pretty bleak stuff, if you think about too much about it (which I have).

So this time around, I read “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Lovecraft’s only finished novel, “The Colour Out of Space,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “History of the Neconomicon” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” as well as several fragments, one letter excerpt, and one parody story, but I won’t go over those. And I got to say, these were definitely some of the most enjoyable of Lovecraft’s stories. They were consistently creepy and kept me engrossed in the story, as well as with the most accessible language (dude liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Poe, rather than a contemporary of Ernest Hemingway). Or am I just used to his style now?

The interesting thing about these highlighted stories is, they also mark Lovecraft’s shift from pure horror to science-horror. Sure, he’s done that before–“Herbert West: Reanimator” is the story of two men trying to discover the key to bringing back the dead using science, a theme also explored in “Charles Dexter Ward,” but more thriller and magical than science-fiction–but here there was definitely a more sci-fi element in his work. “The Colour Out of Space” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” both involved aliens, with the former involving a sort of alien infection and the latter involving aliens that have been visiting Earth for centuries.

Why did Lovecraft make this shift? Well, around the time these stories were written–late 1920’s and early 1930’s–was also the birth of science fiction as a proper genre. Pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories were huge sellers, and since pulp rags like these were where Lovecraft normally published his work, he would’ve been aware of the young genre and its exploration of humanity’s possibilities through space exploration, technology, and aliens. It’s no surprise that he’d take elements from those stories and give them a freaky twist. And lo and behold, it led to Lovecraft writing some of my favorite works by him (especially “Colour Out of Space.” God, that was freaky, considering that what happened in that story could maybe happen in real life).

Honestly, I’m glad I decided to check out HP Lovecraft two-and-a-half years ago. Sure, his early works can be hit-and-miss, but as time went on, he got better. And by this point in his bibliography, he was very good at writing stories that stayed in your mind. It’s a shame he didn’t achieve more of a following during this time, because maybe then we’d have more works by him (sadly, he died in 1937 at barely forty years of age), and he’d be more well-known today.

And while I’m done with my latest binge, I’m looking forward to my next one, whenever that is. Especially if the stories from this point on are as good as the ones I read this time around. And seeing as At the Mountain of Madness is the next story in my collection, I’d say that’s a definite possibility.

Have you read these stories or others by Lovecraft? What are your thoughts on them?

*Funny story about Awoken: so I follow this woman named Lindsay Ellis on YouTube (check out her channel here) who does a lot of videos on our media and culture. Yesterday she uploaded a video about whether or not the hate over the Twilight franchise was warranted. During said video, she mentions she and friend/frequent collaborator Antonella “Nella” Inserra wrote Awoken as a parody of Twilight, only with Lovecraft characters instead of vampires. My mouth hit the floor. I had no idea that the novel was a parody of Twilight, let alone written by those two women under a pen name. Though now that I think about it, it explains quite a bit.

I reached out to both women on YouTube and Twitter, letting them know that I read the novel, my ignorance of its authorship, how much I actually liked it, and that I reviewed it on this blog. They asked for a link, and I sent it to them. Since then, I’ve gotten hundreds of views from their readers/viewers on that one review, and the number of reads is still growing. Wow. Didn’t expect that. Pretty cool. Probably won’t last a week, but it’s still cool.

Also, I learned about Poe’s Rule: if you write a parody of something, unless you ad a healthy dose of comedy, people will think it’s serious fiction in a particular style. Which is apparently what happened to me, as these readers are telling me. Good to know.

I’m far from perfect. And there are lots of areas I can be better (especially my impulse control when it comes to sweets). However, this post will be focused on the writing aspects I can improve upon.

There are a couple of reasons why I want to talk about that here. One is that for personal things I want to improve upon (damn you, sweet tooth! Damn you to hell!), I only talk about those sort of things here when it’s really important. Like if I’m really struggling with my choices in life, or if I want to talk about being on the spectrum. And at the moment, there’s nothing in my life I feel like talking about here at the moment. Second, this is a blog for a writer, so it makes sense that if I’m going to talk about improving stuff, it’ll be about improving my writing. And finally, while a lot of people I know in real life and even a few people online treat me as THE writing expert, especially when it comes to fiction writing, I’m far from an expert. If I were an expert, I’m pretty sure I’d have several bestsellers out by now, a few of them would have been made into movies already, and I’d be writing full-time in a nice three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house (I have goals that I aim for).

Point is, as a writer there are areas I’d like to improve in, so I thought I’d list some of those and ask for your feedback. Many of you who follow this blog are writers, and have much more experience than I do. Perhaps you’ve dealt with some of the issues I’ve dealt with, and have some tips on how to deal with them. Anything’s possible, right?

1. I’m addicted to adverbs and gerunds. Now if you don’t remember most of the fancy terms from grammar class, adverbs are words that end in “ly” (wildly, musically, horribly) and gerunds are words ending in “ing” (ending, writing, killing). And I overuse them in my writing (see? Did it right there). One of the biggest criticisms I got from Rose, truth be told, is that I overuse them. In fact, I almost used “actually” instead of “truth be told” in that last sentence. And in the one before this, I started writing “nearly” before I switched to “almost.” And in that last one, “I switched” started as “switching.” And before that–oh, you get the idea!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how I had a similar problem with semicolons. I overused them, especially when they weren’t needed. Once I recognized the problem, I was able to correct it. But I have a feeling correcting these issues won’t come so naturally (see?). For one thing, while the semicolon issue was about fixing incorrect uses of punctuation, what I’m doing here isn’t technically wrong. These are speech patterns used everyday, you just don’t see them in a lot of fiction to the extent I use them. At least, not really good fiction. So one thing I’d like to do is know when to use adverbs and gerunds, and when not to use them.

2. Passive vs. active voice. I have a lot of trouble telling those two apart. Which is bad, because editors and publishers tend to prefer active voices in fiction, and I somehow always end up writing in passive voice. What’s the difference? Is there a video I need to watch or something that explains this? Help!

3. Writing snappier action. This is something I’ve taken steps to improve, but it’s still a work in progress. I tend to write these long sentences that illustrate a character taking a certain action. Example: “She stood, walked to the kitchen, and placed the glass in the dishwasher.” It’s a good sentence, but for fiction, this is better: “She put the glass in the dishwasher.” Boom! And if I’ve already established that the character is on the couch, it works even better. It shows the same amount of action with less words.

I’m trying to implement this sort of snappy action into my stories. Editors and publishers seem to like it, and when there are limits to how many words a submitted story can have, it’s helpful in reducing the word count. Still, it’s going to take some work. This, like the adverbs and gerunds and possibly the passive voice thing, are deeply ingrained habits.

No reason to add this photo. I just want to show you my new author profile pic.

4. Short story writing. I’ve written novels or works meant to be novels for most of my life. That’s what I mostly read, so that’s what I mostly wrote. I’ve learned how to write short stories and read plenty of them since high school and college, but I’m still not as good at them as I am at novels. Which is sad, because I’ve had many, many ideas for short stories and novelettes over the years. And since I’ve spent most of my time on novels, I’ve written only a few short stories, and not many of those have been published.

What I want to do is write more short stories and novelettes, get better at writing them, and get a few of those published. Is it necessary, especially since I prefer novels? No, but a lot of authors I like do great short fiction, so I’d like to do great short fiction too. Good news is, I’ve been reading a lot of anthologies lately, and I should have a bit of time after I finish the fourth draft of Rose. That should give me time to practice.

5. Not listening to my anxieties. All writers deal with anxieties, especially with how their work will be received. Sometimes I let them have too much control of my mind, and I start freaking out Just yesterday, I got panicky over whether certain characters in Rose might be called tacky stereotypes. After a lot of discussion online with friends and colleagues, I don’t believe they are, but the worry ate at me for a while.

The important thing for me is just to be a bit more confident in myself, and the stories I write. And I should work on techniques to combat those anxieties when they try to tear at me. Because at the end of the day, I’ve still written some decent fiction. And I won’t let doubt or fear keep me from improving it and making it into possibly publishable fiction.


Well, those are the things I want to improve on with my writing. What are your suggestions on fixing those issues? Let me know in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve only six chapters of Rose left to edit, so I’ll hopefully get started on the next one tonight. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Go to any slasher movie. I guarantee someone will do something stupid. And I also guarantee there’s a reason behind why they did it.

So yesterday I was doing some edits on Rose* and one of the points in the beta reader notes stood out to me. In that particular point, my friend/colleague/beta reader Joleene Naylor pointed out that it was taking the titular character Rose a lot longer to figure something out about the scene that Joleene had figured out much earlier. My immediate first thought was, “Well, it’s horror. Everyone’s a bit slower in horror.” And that thought really stuck with me. Yeah, the characters in horror aren’t always the brightest bulbs in the closet, are they? People in slasher films take too long to realize there’s a killer hunting them around a lake notorious for murders and disappearances, the family stays in their haunted house and might even pretend things are normal even if it’s obvious there’s demonic possession at work, dumb teenagers run upstairs when they should run out the door. They either realize something well after the audience has realized something, or they make really dumb decisions. And it’s such a well-known trope, it gets parodied quite a bit in our media, like in this Geico commercial.

This got me thinking: is this intentional on the part of horror writers? If so, why?

Well, I thought about this throughout the day (couldn’t write this before because I had to go to bed and then to work), and I think that what’s happening is intentional. However, I don’t think the intention is to make the characters stupid idiots.

First, let’s consider something: we’re the audience, and the characters are characters. In our daily lives we’re not keyed up, checking to see if horror-movie circumstances everywhere we go (and if we are, we’re usually recommended to see a doctor about that). It’s only when we sit down for a horror story that we start looking for signs of horror, because that’s what our brains are trained to do. Similarly, unless they’re enjoying a horror story or think they’re in one, characters won’t typically see all the signs of something evil around them unless that evil chooses to make itself known.

There’s also the fact that authors have to tell a story, and often the stories they tell have to be of a certain length. For example, I classify a novel as sixty-thousand words or more, so I have to figure out how to keep a novel going for that long. One of the ways to do that is to make the characters figure things out much slower than the audience, either by only giving them clues slowly or later in the story, or by actually making it so they can’t connect the dots until it’s convenient for the story. And considering that part of the appeal of horror, the thrill of the mystery and the unknown as well as our reactions to it once exposed, this is a sound strategy.

Okay, so making characters slow on the uptake is part imitating people in the real world, part storytelling tool. But what about stupid decisions?

Well, that’s actually pretty easy to answer: they’re under stress. When a character is being chased by a killer or trying to get away from a ghost, they’re under unimaginable pressures. So unless they’ve been trained to think under pressure, like in the Army, they’re not going to make a rational decision. They’re going to make split-second decisions that they hope will ensure their survival, and because it’s a horror story, they’ll likely make the wrong decision. Unless the author says otherwise, of course.

And even if they’re not in a stressful, life-or-death situation, the need for survival can cause us to do very stupid things sometimes, as well as our characters. Polly Chalmers, one of the protagonists of Stephen King’s Needful Things, keeps a charm around her neck, despite suspecting that there’s something alive in it and it’s twisting her personality somehow, because the thing is easing the debilitating pain of her arthritis. In other words, fulfilling a need to help her live.

Sometimes a character acts a certain way either because they’re imitating real people, or the author needs them to be that way.

So it’s not that characters in horror stories are dumb or slow. They’re victims of imitating people in the real world as well as the author’s discretion in storytelling. And we the audience, free of those issues, are able to pick up on things they can’t or won’t for a little while longer.

Of course, we will continue to call characters stupid and wonder how they could not do the smart thing. That just comes with the territory. But perhaps the next time we sit down for a scary movie, we’ll also consider what the characters are going through, as well as what the storytellers behind them decided was best for the characters and their story.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hope this gave you plenty to think about. I had fun just thinking of it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*Speaking of which, the editing on Rose is going very well. Yesterday I got through four chapters, bringing me halfway through the fourth draft. At the rate I’m going, I could be done before the end of the month. And after that, hopefully it’s a short wait till I find a publisher. God-willing, anyway.

Aokigahara forest.

On December 31st, YouTube star Logan Paul visited Aokigahara, a forest in Japan that is visited by thousands of tourists, families, and school trips, but has a dark side. Aokigahara is a popular suicide spot, to the point that its nickname is Suicide Forest. The Japanese government has even posted signs throughout the forest encouraging visitors to choose life rather than take their own lives. While there, Paul and his friends came across a hanging body, filmed it, and posted the video on YouTube (the body’s face was blurred out). The video quickly went viral, garnering a lot of negative controversy. Within a day, Paul took down the video, and issued an apology over Twitter, but people are still very upset and there has been a lot of talk online about his actions.

Before I get into the main thrust of what I wanted to talk about with this post. Firstly, I am about to talk about a sensitive subject, and I am going to approach this with as much care and respect as possible. Still, I am an imperfect being and I make mistakes, like everyone. So if I say something that offends you or that you disagree with, please understand that is not what I intended. I’m just trying to make sense of a difficult topic in a world that doesn’t make sense that often, and sometimes I miss things that cause misunderstanding between others and myself without meaning to. So please bear with me as I try and explore a topic that a lot of people have strong opinions about.

Second, there are two things about me I would like to tell you all. One is that I have experienced depression before, and a couple of times it made me think of suicide. Those times when I considered suicide, it was because I had toxic people in my life who made me miserable. I still remember the crushing despair, the feeling that things were never going to get better, and the thought that I could just make it all better by leaving this life and falling into–I don’t know. Something better. It took the extraction of these toxic people in my life, as well as the help of a lot of good friends and family to help me find happiness and hope again.

The Yahrtzeit candle I lit at Sachsenhausen.

The other thing I would like you to know is that back in 2014, I visited Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp twenty-two miles north of Berlin as part of my study-abroad trip. Around thirty-thousand people died at that camp while it was operational. When I arrived, it struck me as a very tranquil place. There was lots of grass and trees, the sun was shining, and there were only a few buildings left from when the camp was operational. But you spend enough time there, and this pall of despair settled over me. It was like the prisoners had felt over seventy years ago had seeped into my very body. An hour there, and it was just hard to even breathe there. I lit a Yahrtzeit candle, a ritual candle in Judaism for memorializing the dead, at a wall used by firing squads. And when I left, I was glad to get out of that anguish-infected place, even as I was glad to have visited a place connected to the history of my people.

Now to the point of why I’m writing this blog post. You see, a month before I went to Sachsenhausen, I wrote a blog post about haunted locations I wanted to visit, and Aokigahara was on that list (even before it became a suicide hotspot, the forest was well-known as a place for hauntings, hence why it was on the list). Given that, I feel like I have a responsibility to talk about this controversy, as well as my desire then, and now, to visit Aokigahara.

Obviously, what Logan Paul did was extremely disrespectful, the equivalent of taking a photo of the corpse at a funeral, or a selfie at Auschwitz or at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. It shows total disregard for the deceased and their loved ones in favor of quick-lived social media attention, and should be discouraged at every opportunity.

However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to visit Aokigahara in itself (hold your comments, let me finish). As I pointed out above. Aokigahara is visited every year for totally innocent reasons. However, no matter what reason you go to visit the forest, it should be done with respect. Any death is horrible, and suicides are especially tragic. We can never know what is going through someone’s mind or what is happening in their lives, let alone someone dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Not unless we’ve been there ourselves, and sometimes not even then. But in every case, it is terrible, and shouldn’t be treated lightly.

With that in mind, anyone who visits the forest should do so with respect and cognizance for what has happened there, the same same way I approached visiting Sachsenhausen. Be respectful of what has happened and is happening there, understand that depression, suicide, and the forest itself has affected a lot of people in horrible ways, and if God forbid you do come across a body, leave it alone and notify the authorities. Only take photographs or footage if it is to help the authorities find the deceased, not for views or likes or whatever. Other photographs can be taken of the forest, or of the tourist attractions there such as the Narusawa Ice Cave and Fugaku Wind Cave, but definitely not of the bodies.

Remember, 1-800-273-TALK.

This is how, if I am ever lucky enough to visit Japan and I end up visiting Aokigahara, I will approach the forest. Not for ghosts, not for likes, and definitely not for suicide, but to pay respects to the dead and to draw attention to the ongoing struggle of suicide the world over. I may even bring a Yahrtzeit candle or some incense to burn, provided I can make sure it won’t cause a forest fire or injuries. Because what happens in this forest is a tragedy, and should be treated as such, no matter who you are or what your background is. Even as I enjoy the beauty of the forest and the tourist sites, I will remember these people, and hope they find rest, even as I hope others find the will to continue on and live.

And if you’re dealing with depression or suicidal thoughts, please know that things do get better. There were times when I thought my life couldn’t get better, but it did, and now, my life is great. And if you keep living, there’s always a chance your life could get better too. Every day is an opportunity for improvement. All it takes is the will to continue on. I support you, I’m there for you, and I hope you take this message to heart.

And again, if I said something wrong or caused offense, I beg your forgiveness. It is not my intention to cause any hurt feelings. I only want to make sense of something horrible and help those in troubled times. Thank you for reading.

If you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts, please also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The counselors there will help you through this crisis, and help you find the light to fight off the darkness.