Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

This past week at work, I’ve been taking a class on giving an effective presentation, with and without PowerPoint. As part of that class, we were to give a seven to ten minute presentation on any subject of our choosing. You can guess what I did mine about. That’s right, I did mine on horror. Specifically, on what makes for a good horror story.

Don’t you just love it when life hands you opportunities tailor-made for you?

And while working on my presentation, I realized that I could record it and maybe post it on YouTube. After all, I don’t get many opportunities off the blog to expound on what makes for good horror, and wouldn’t I want to make sure as many people as possible were able to see it? So I gave one of my classmates my phone right before I began, and he started recording. The result is below. The video does cut out before the presentation is finished, but you get the gist of it.

If you’re wondering what my example of a bad horror story was, it was 2016’s The Boy, which I hate. I would’ve used the Friday the 13th remake, but I thought doing an original film would drive the point across better. Afterwards, while the lights were out, I went to the next slide, which was all black, and gave a quote from Kill Creek, the Gothic novel I mentioned in the video (and which I really do recommend):

If I were to lead you into a dark room, and someone were to leap out and shout, “Boo,” you’d be startled for maybe a moment. If, however, I were to lead you to that dark room and tell you that someone died in that room, that their spirit haunts it, and that they sometimes reach out and touch people, and then I left you locked in that room, for hours on end, in the dark…that is horror.

That’s about as exact a quote I can give when I only have my memory of the audio book and no hard copy to look up the quote prior to the presentation.

I finished by thanking everyone for coming to my TED talk (apparently that’s something people say when trying to be academic nowadays, so I thought I’d use it), and wished the all pleasant nightmares before asking if anyone had any questions (someone asked me what my favorite horror movie is. I couldn’t think of one). And after the presentation, I got some really great feedback from my classmates. One or two even told me they’d never thought of horror like that before, and it was really eye-opening.

To which I bowed and said, “My job here is done.”

When I got home, I immediately went to upload the video onto YouTube. Took about an hour, as it was nearly two gigs worth of data, but it’s up there, and it’s not half-bad. So if you do get a chance, I’d really appreciate you checking it out and letting me know what you think. Was my argument convincing? Were there counter-points you’d like to make? And will I get sued by any companies for using their images, specifically Warner Bros. for using footage from the trailer for The Nun? Let’s discuss!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be going to see Glass this weekend, so you should hear from me again then. Until next time, thanks for reading/watching and pleasant nightmares!

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It took me nearly three and a half years of on-and-off reading, but I’ve finally done it. Through wordy paragraphs full of outdated language, enough racism to make me want to punch a dude, and an increasing amount of multi-sided shapes and magical angles, I have finished reading the copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. And of course, after such a momentous occasion, there’s only three things I want to do: drink a beer; peruse hard copies of the same book; and blog about my thoughts on Lovecraft’s later work and its influence on the horror genre, as well as on my own writing. This is that last thing on my list.

So if you are unfamiliar with who Lovecraft is (and I find most people are), he was an early-20th century writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. While not very well-known during his lifetime, his creation of the sub-genre of cosmic horror has ensured that his work has lived on and influenced other horror creators and enthusiasts such as Stephen King, Alan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and myself. What really appeals about this genre is the idea that the universe is a dark and uncaring place full of forces that have no care for humanity or other minor species in the cosmos and can destroy lives and civilizations (as well as usually having a vaguely fishy smell).

When you consider the dude was a sickly bundle of nerves who dealt with anxiety and depression his whole life, had a classist-type of racism where skin-color and social background were very important, was frustrated over his inability to finish his education, and felt more comfortable letter writing and staying in Providence than actually interacting with people and going to crowded places, it makes sense. And while his stories have each aged differently, there’s plenty you can get out of them, especially when it comes to the mechanics of cosmic horror.

This time around diving into his work, I finished out reading his work with some of the most famous of his latest work, which included At the Mountains of Madness (which was also the nickname for the summer camp I went to), The Shadow over Innsmouth, and The Shadow out of Time. By this point, Lovecraft was consciously trying to add scientific concepts to his work wherever he could, especially in Mountains of Madness and Shadow out of Time. Sometimes that works very well, such as in Mountains, but other times, like Through the Gates of the Silver Key, I just found myself scratching my head in confusion (not sure angles work like that, dude). You can also see that by this point, he’d really gotten a grasp over this fictional world of his, throwing casual references to numerous recurring elements in the course of a single story. For once in his life, he was comfortable with something.

Also, while the racism is still evident, it’s kind of mellowed out at this point. Not much, but enough that I don’t feel so uncomfortable reading during certain passages of his work. Progress, I guess.

So were any of these stories any good? Well, old HP’s work has always been hit and miss with me, but there were some good things here. At the Mountains of Madness, while not my favorite, did have a great premise and kept me engrossed for most of the story (he probably could’ve cut parts about the Elder Things’ history and city, though. That went on forever). And Shadow over Innsmouth is probably my new favorite Lovecraft story: it’s this freaky Gothic tale of a town whose citizens have basically sold their souls and their humanity for prosperity and long lives, and the one person who ends up upsetting that arrangement. I’d totally check it out if you’re interested in a different sort of Gothic horror story.

Elder Things from “The Mountains of Madness!” They’re not pleasant!

That being said, I was not a fan of Shadow out of Time. I know that one’s pretty beloved by his fans, but I just thought it was too wordy, to the point where I would look over entire sections and forget most of what I’d just read. The Thing on the Doorstep had an interesting premise, but I felt it wasn’t as scary as some of his other works. Dreams in the Witch House also had a great idea, but I think a couple of changes could’ve been made to improve it. And I’m never going to get back the hour I spent reading Through The Gates of the Silver Key. Seriously, only real enthusiasts should try that one, and only if they’re really sure about it.

Still, it was all worth the dive, in my opinion. I’ve learned a lot by reading the work of HP Lovecraft over these few years, and getting a grasp of why people still read him and write cosmic horror today. And I think over time, it could lead to me writing better stories. Hopefully. I’ll let you be the judges of that, though.

In the meantime though, I’m going to continue working on my own stories and start reading some work by an author who’s older than Lovecraft but somehow easier to understand. Who is that, you ask? The Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare.

That’s for all now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully have a new review for you guys soon. Until then, Hail Cthulhu and pleasant nightmares.

 

For my other examinations of HP Lovecraft’s work, check out Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Also, I highly recommend this video from the YouTube Channel Overly Sarcastic Productions. They look over Lovecraft and five of his most famous works with fun illustrations and hilarious commentary. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

Anyone else notice 2018 was…kind of rough on a global scale? Like, oh my God why was this year so full of nastiness and pain?

Yeah, this year has been hard. Horrific shootings, assassinations of journalists, global warming, the Tide Pod challenge, racist incidents like at that Starbucks, data hacks and leaks, denial of truths and facts in favor of beliefs, hurricanes, bomb threats, the election of far-right demagogues, the Campfire in California, the deaths of beloved and influential people like John McCain and Stan Lee. I could go on and on.

But despite all the bad things, there has been some good things this year. Black Panther became a billion-dollar franchise and caused all sorts of social waves; more women and minorities were elected to political office than ever before; more youths in America became involved in the electoral process than ever before; Ireland repealed restrictions on abortion; Australia legalized gay marriage and India decriminalized homosexuality; Jodie Whitaker proved that a woman could be the Doctor and kicked ass doing it; authors of all stripes came together to stop people like Faleena Hopkins after Cockygate to stop creative freedoms from being restricted by trademarking common words; several popular TV shows, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine and my own Lucifer were saved from early cancellation by the efforts of fans; Michael Myers was revitalized with Halloween; and so much else.

Remember, positive things did happen in 2018.

2018 had its bad moments, but it also has some good moments.

I wanted to remind you of that before we go any further. These past couple of years, I’ve seen so many people say that each year was worse than the last. And while at times I agree, I think it’s important to remember the good too. Otherwise, our worldviews start to grow dim and sad. and we lose the ability to be happy. So let’s do our best not to be jaded, shall we? Remember the good.

On a more personal level, 2018 was a pretty good year for me. Actually, that’s not true. It was an excellent year for me! Let me tell you why:

  • My novel Rose was accepted for publication by Castrum Press, the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for years. Since then, it’s been in deep editing stages, and I’ll hopefully have some news to share by the end of January. In addition, my short story Car Chasers was accepted for publication by The Binge-Watching Cure II from Claren Books, hopefully out sometime in early 2019. Another short story has been accepted by another anthology, but I’m waiting for a bit more news before I elaborate.
    I also wrote several new works, and finished a new novel, River of Wrath, which I hope to also get accepted for publication. It’s been a good year in terms of writing.
  • My blog grew past a thousand followers this year! At the beginning of January, Rami Ungar the Writer was close to hitting that number, like under fifty followers away. In June, it surpassed that hallowed milestone, and at the time I’m writing this it continues to grow. I’m so happy that so many of you became Followers of Fear over the past year, and I hope you’ll continue to support me as I work on my dreams.
    This was also my best year on the blog. This year I had over sixteen-thousand reads on the blog, or an average of thirteen-hundred and sixty-seven a month. Holy crap! I still have vivid memories of when I was lucky to get twenty people to read my posts a month, so thank you all for reading my work here and making it worth all the effort.
  • Work’s been going very well. I got a big pay raise, and coordinated several successful projects, including an observance for National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.
  • I got my driver’s license in July after nine and a half years of on-and-off practicing, and I bought my first car, which I call the Unholy Roller, in October. Let me tell you, I LOVE the independence of finally having my own car, and accomplishing so many firsts with it. I’m looking forward to doing book tours and visiting haunted locations now that I have a set of wheels to do so.
  • Despite developing anxiety in December 2017, I managed to get help for myself and have managed to keep it from ruling/ruining my life.

My car, the Unholy Roller.

This is only a fraction of all the good things that happened to me this year, but they’re the highlights. 2018 was a good year for me, despite all the horrible things that occurred, and I hope I’ll be able to have a similar experience in 2019. Though hopefully 2019 will be filled with more good events than 2018, am I right?

Speaking of which, let’s talk 2019. Like everyone, I’ve got goals for the coming year, and most of them won’t surprise you. This year, I’d like to:

  • Make sure Rose gets published and does well in sales. I also want to see Car Chasers and that other short story I mentioned published, and I want to get more stories written and accepted for publication. And of course, I want to see this audience I’ve managed to grow to continue growing and fill with people interested in what I have to say and what I write.
  • To continue doing well in work and in my personal life, including being a good driver, taking care of my health, paying bills and building up a savings account, among other things.
  • Have plenty of awesome experiences to make memories with.
  • Hopefully make a positive difference in the world however I can.

We’ll see what the next 364 or so days bring, shall we?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m heading to bed, so I’ll see you in the morning, where I’ll spend most of it lounging in bed and hopefully getting plenty of writing done (either that or just reading and watching Netflix). Until next time, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

What were the highlights of your 2018? What do you hope to accomplish for 2019?

You ever read a story and it’s very clear that there’s a deeper meaning to a story? That it’s making a statement on society, or urging you to maybe reexamine your life choices? Chances are you have. Plenty of authors write stories like that. And a few say that’s the only story you should write. The question is, should you?

This is the subject of my latest post on the other site I write for, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors: Does Your Story Need a Deeper Meaning? I thought it’d be a good post to round out the year on that site, And perhaps it’ll be helpful to people. That’s what I aim for with the articles on that site, anyway.

So if you get a chance, do check out the article. And while you’re there, consider checking out the other articles there. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site by authors for authors to help them write, edit, publish and market as best as they can. If you give it a chance, you’ll find it very helpful.

That’s all for now. Hope to have a new review or out soon, so keep an eye out for those. Until then, have a good night, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

This is kind of how I imagine fighting my anxiety. Only, you know, I’m actually wearing something when I do.

It was around this time last year that I started recognizing the symptoms of what would be diagnosed later as a generalized anxiety disorder. I was feeling dread when I was by myself or in a crowd, sure that anything I said or did might come back to haunt me. I was paying extra attention to what i posted online or what stories I wrote because I was sure it would lead to me becoming a pariah. If I was around people, I was afraid something I’d say or do would be misinterpreted and would lead to consequences.

There was also a touch of pessimism in the state of the world, and the possibility of a soulless universe that would cease to exist in a couple billion-billion years started rolling around in my skull a bit more. That happened.

I saw my psychiatrist, who gave me a prescription which has helped me with the majority of my symptoms. I’ve started recognizing triggers for my anxiety and situations where it was more likely to manifest. And I developed coping mechanisms to stave off or dull the anxiety, even enlisting the help of a counselor at work for further advice. All this came together to make sure 2018 didn’t get riddled with anxiety for me.

Still, it hasn’t been all wine and roses for me. There were times when I still felt really anxious, especially when it came to what I was writing or trying to make a name for myself as a writer. And sometimes, especially in the evenings, I still feel a bit of dread, and it makes me reluctant to write or do anything productive. Just the other night, I had to listen to a whole lot of my favorite music and some hypnosis just so I could put some words on paper. I ended up getting a little over a thousand words in a new short story down, but for a while it looked doubtful I could get a sentence or two down.

Yeah, having anxiety is far from easy.* No matter the coping mechanisms and the medications, my brain’s overproduction of one neurochemical or another is a constant problem, and I have to fight it everyday. That’s how I see it, as fighting. I imagine myself dressing up in armor and going to fight with a sword shield a many-headed monster which spawns rats that it directs to bite me (the rats, if it’s not obvious, represent my out-of-control thoughts). It’s the one-time I’m not thrilled to fight a demonic creature!

Thankfully, this is a battle that I’ve won almost every time. Sure, there are days where the beast gets the upper hand for a little while, but with the weapons I’ve been developing and adding to my arsenal over the past year, those moments don’t last very long. I know I’m stronger than the beast created by my brain chemicals, and I know how to fight it when I need to. And I know I have so many of you supporting me today, giving me the strength to fight even on my worse days.

And know that if you have an anxiety disorder, I’m supporting you. You’re not alone: approximately forty million people in the United States deal with anxiety every year. We’re all connected by this disorder, and we’re all in this fight together. By recognizing what we have and not giving into the stigma of mental illness, we can fight off the many-headed beast and regain control of our lives. Together, we can be happy.

Thanks for the all the support, everyone. It means a lot to me. And if you’re struggling with anxiety and need some strategies, I list some in this article from when I first came out about my anxiety. Who knows? You might find some of the tips helpful.

Well, I’ve got dinner to make and a scary story to write. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Along with autism, ADHD, allergies, partial albinism, and back pain. Yeah, I’m a hot mess. But at least I’m humorous about it and try not to let it get me down.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.