Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

I had a revelation recently. No, not the kind that inspires texts that are the basis for entire religions. I had that already, and you do not want to know what information was imparted to me. No, it’s about Lovecraftian fiction.

Now, the common image among people, readers and writers, of Lovecraftian fiction is Cthulhu or any other Great Old One/Elder God/giant terrifying monster from the deep sea/outer space/alternate dimension. And that’s not wrong. From stories like The Dunwich Horror to the recent science-horror film Underwater, big monsters are a major part of the story and, along with the mind-bending insanity and dark truths they represent, are the main source of horror.

But it’s recently come to my attention that Lovecraftian horror stories are about more than just the monsters. Sometimes, it’s about psychological horror. Sometimes, you can have an effective scary story by not showing the monster, but by instead relegating the monsters to mere glimpses or suggestions and focusing on the characters’ reactions. And if done right, it can lead to some compelling horror.

There are actually plenty of stories like this. And if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably run into plenty of them. The Call of Cthulhu, for example. Being by Howard Phillips himself, it’s obviously Lovecraftian, but have you ever noticed that we never really see Cthulhu? Think about it. The closest we ever get to seeing the High Priest of the Great Old Ones himself is through the eyes of a Scandinavian sailor’s diary. The narrator only sees drawings and statues of him.

And yet we’re scared, because the very idea of what we glean from these diary recordings is of a worldwide cult, one devoted to a very real god. One that will use humans as its pawns so that, when it finally arises, it’s in prime condition to take over our world. And the cult will do away with anyone who gets in their master’s way.

And while that’s a great example, there’s plenty more where that came from. Last year’s film The Lighthouse (see my review here) was Lovecraftian with a capital L, but we barely saw any of the marine monstrosities supposedly behind the horrors occurring on the island. And what we did see, we weren’t sure if they were real (within the film, anyway). Are they monsters, or are they just the manifestations of two men on an isolated island having a breakdown? Or maybe it’s a bit of both. It’s hard to tell.

A great example of this Lovecraftian psychological horror, 2019’s The Lighthouse.

And not just The Lighthouse. Stephen King’s novella N is told from the POV of people who all claim to be guardians of a circle of stones. If they don’t perform certain rituals, the stones will become a portal for terrible monsters. We never see these monsters though, and it’s possible that all the characters are suffering from a shared delusion. Or is it something more?

And in the novel I’m reading now (I hope to finish it and have the review up tomorrow or Thursday), there’s a Lovecraftian undertone, but the focus is on the characters and how they’re dealing with all the lies and hidden secrets swirling around them.

Or maybe that’s not a Lovecraftian undertone, but some other supernatural undertone. I’ll let you know when I finish the novel.

Anyway, it’s a good thing I’ve noticed that. The story I’m trying to write next is going to be heading into that psychological/Lovecraftian territory, so hopefully I can do a good job of it. And even if I don’t, it’ll at least be good practice.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to bed. I hope you’re not going stir-crazy while social distancing yourselves. If you want, we can talk in the comments for a bit.

Anyway, until next time, pleasant nightmares!

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of tag, so I saw this on my friend Kat Impossible’s blog and I was like, “Sounds like fun.” And while I’m not sure I believe in “perfection,” I tried to come up with stories that come close to that in my personal opinion. Most of these titles are from the horror genre, but I do add some from other genres and even a few other mediums (I can be a rule breaker when I want to be). With that in mind, let us begin the Perfect Book Tag.

THE PERFECT GENRE

(pick a book that perfectly represents the genre)

I had a hard time choosing on this, between what could be considered a quintessential horror novel, and what could be the most terrifying novel (AKA the “perfect” horror novel). In the end, I wanted to include the quintessential novel elsewhere, and I hate repeating myself, so I decided on the most terrifying novel I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Honestly, this novel’s show of brutality, the ease in which regular people can be persuaded to commit acts of evil and the graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty were enough to make me put the book down at times just so I could process what I was reading and get control of my dread. If you want perfect horror, this might be close enough.

Just don’t blame me if this gives you an upset stomach or nightmares. Trust me, it’s a tough one to get through.

THE PERFECT SETTING

(pick a book that takes place in a perfect place)

Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything considered “perfect” in entertainment, let alone a perfect setting. However, as far as I’m concerned, this might come damn close. The Doctor Who universe has every sort of setting imaginable. From futuristic cityscapes, to the distant past, and even our own modern times, you can find aliens, historical personages, gods and demons, magic (sort of) and science, friends and enemies, and even new universes or pocket universes! It’s an endlessly adaptable setting, and that’s why it’s my choice for perfect setting.

Also, I know it’s a TV show and the books are expanded universe and semi-canonical at best, but like I said, I like to break the rules.

 

THE PERFECT MAIN CHARACTER

(pick the perfect main character)

For this one, I didn’t pick perfect as in “they’re the best at everything and never have to improve. The story is just a way for the reader to fawn over how amazing the characters are.” Those are known as Mary Sues and Gary Sues, and most writers learn to stop creating them when trying to write compelling stories. Instead, I picked examples of characters I like to work with the most: women/girls who don’t start out as protagonist material, but as time goes on they grow into their heroine roles. Sailor Moon and Buffy are two great examples of those characters, as well as the reason I love that character type.

Neither Buffy Summers nor Sailor Moon started out as heroes who were thrilled with their roles. They just wanted to be normal girls, not burdened down with these destinies to save humanity from evil. But over time, as they get stronger and build their support networks, they become stronger, able to defy evil and inspire everyone around them and everyone watching them, regardless of age or gender. It’s part of the reason why these characters have endured over thirty years after their debuts, and part of the reason why I am who I am today.

 

THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND

(loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever)

 

This one was easy. She’s smart, kind, brave, and is willing to point out when you’re wrong or doing something stupid. And she’s willing to stand up for the oppressed when no one else will, including many of the oppressed. She can be a bit stubborn, and at times she loses sight of reality when it comes to studies or other things she deems important. But honestly, Hermione Granger would make a great best bud.

 

THE PERFECT LOVE INTEREST

(pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner)

Let me level with you all. I may be bisexual, but I’m aromantic, so I don’t really feel romantic attraction to anyone. Sexual, definitely, but I have trouble imagining myself wanting to be tied to someone like a partner or lover. And since I don’t feel like telling the world about a character I may find sexy, I’ll just leave this one blank. Sorry if you really wanted to know what my type was or wanted to set me up with someone you know. You can’t change someone’s nature that easily.

 

THE PERFECT VILLAIN

(pick a character with the most sinister mind)

Remember that quintessential horror novel I mentioned as a contender for Perfect Genre? Yeah, IT was the runner-up. But in terms of villains, Pennywise is the ultimate, hence why he’s here. Honestly, he’s a perfect mix of both the human villain and the supernatural. He understands human fears and motivations, is a master manipulator and knows just how to get under our skin and either terrify us into a stupor or make us his pawn. At the same time, he’s this giant cosmic entity from beyond the universe, a thing we can only grasp as orange lights known as The Deadlights. His motivations aren’t born from hatred or greed or any human desire, but from the need to feed and eventually the need to procreate. It’s just another show of his Otherworldly nature.

And let’s face it, he’s devious! It takes a special sort of evil to enjoy being an evil clown 24/7, and Pennywise does it better than the Joker. Yeah, you read that right. What are you going to do about it?

 

THE PERFECT FAMILY

(pick the perfect bookish family)

Well, they’re not from any books, at least not originally, but the Addams Family would be my perfect fictional family. You can guess why.

 

THE PERFECT ANIMAL OR PET

(pick a pet or fantastic animal you need to see on a book)

Although I’m against the breeding of white tigers (they’re a genetic abnormality and breeding them leaves the tigers with all sorts of genetic problems), White Blaze from the anime Ronin Warriors is a creature I always wanted. He’s a tiger and deadly towards his enemies, but he’s smart, kind and good with people. You could honestly have him babysit your kids, he’s that good. And in a fight against evil, you couldn’t ask for a better animal partner.

In fact, White Blaze might be part of the reason why tigers are my favorite animal. And it’s not hard to see why.

 

THE PERFECT PLOT TWIST

(pick a book with the best plot twist)

I won’t say what it was. But it left me reeling. Took me half the next chapter to realize the author was serious and wasn’t pulling my leg. Still the hardest a twist in a novel has ever hit me.

 

THE PERFECT TROPE

(pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking)

Let’s face it, I love a cosmic horror twist. The idea of an entity that defies human conception, to the point it can drive us mad, excites me as a horror writer to no end.

 

THE PERFECT COVER

(pick a cover you would want on your own book)

I want a cover similar to this on one of my books someday. Either that, or something that disturbs just to look at it.

 

THE PERFECT ENDING

(pick a book that has the perfect ending)

My favorite endings in horror have the horror continuing on long after the heroes appear to have won. So if I have to pick one that’s a good example, I think I’ll go with Needful Things by Stephen King. Great book with an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist. If you haven’t read it yet and you have a stomach for horror, you might want to change that sooner rather than later.

 

I TAG THEE:

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • YOU!!! (If you want to)

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Tomorrow, I finally start that essay, and then I start on a new short story. But in the meantime, what did you think of my choices? Any of them resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

2020 has gotten off to a rocky start, to put it mildly. Threat of war with Iran, fires in Australia, and now the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has gone from an abstract threat we nervously made jokes about to a terrifying pandemic. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and terrified reactions, with people rushing to the store to grab supplies, turning to every supposed cure or preventive measure out there, and being afraid to go outside their homes.

And I know, the last thing you want to see is me talking about the virus. But you have to understand: I’m doing this for me. As many of you know, I have an anxiety disorder. And as much as I keep an upbeat attitude, wonder what everyone needs that much toilet paper for, and what we’re going to get for April (I’m hoping Cthulhu rises up from the Pacific), I have been feeling anxious over this virus. So anxious, in fact, that last night, instead of editing a short story like I’d meant to, I ended up binge-watching an entire series of anime till two in the morning. Escapism!

So what’s a guy to do? Well, in my case, I have to exorcise myself. Not literally, that’s a Friday night thing. No, I need to get my feelings out on COVID-19. Because I conquer what scares me, and in this case, this is how I do it.

Strap in, kids. This might be a long one.

My thoughts

What are my thoughts on this pandemic? Well, it’s almost Lovecraftian in how it’s inserted itself into our lives. First it’s this abstract and undefinable threat that we can’t imagine touching our lives. We even laugh at it. But pretty quickly, it becomes this thing that could not only affect us, but kill us. And our own species–loved ones, coworkers, the passerby on the street–are how it extends its invisible tentacles into the world.

The only thing to do is isolate ourselves, but that’s scary in and of itself. Even our most curmudgeonly need human contact of some sort. Can we survive without that human contact? And then there’s the economic toll, as people who rely on their jobs find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet, relying on their dwindling savings to get by. It’ll be worse in more expensive cities to live in.

This pandemic can be likened to a Lovecraftian entity. And it’s just as ugly.

And depending on where you live, your leaders may be doing a great job at fending off the horror, or an inept one.

This may be the closest we get to actually experiencing a Great Old One invading our reality. And God, is it terrifying.

Good thing I have my collection of HP Lovecraft stories, plus four or five cosmic horror films on DVD and Blu-Ray in my collection. They’ll make great therapy. I should also see the movie Contagion again. It practically predicted this entire pandemic, so it’s worth another watch.

Anyway, there is a silver lining (and no, not the silver solution that con artist preacher is selling! That’s more likely to lead to heavy metal poisoning, the prick). Unlike Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, there is a way to fight against this monster. As hard as it is, social distancing can limit infection and prevent further cases. So does extensive handwashing (no duh!) and other hygiene practices. And to avoid fake cures, keep this in mind: make sure to check with reputable sources like the CDC or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if you don’t trust bureaucrats, remember this rule: if it sounds miraculous or too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!!!! Any fix to a medical problem always required hard work to achieve. Even aspirin took forty years to get from the labs to the pharmacy. Don’t go for the quick “cure” just because it seems Heaven-sent.

This virus is going to change things, and possibly have lasting effects on society. I hope that it teaches people to at least be more considerate of others. Because right now, that’s what we need to do in order to make it out of this pandemic with a minimal death toll.

Speaking of considerate…

Support your authors if possible

As I said, this pandemic is effecting a lot of people’s jobs and livelihoods. This includes authors. They rely on bookstores, conventions and in-person events to sell their books and support themselves. Those places are either closing down or cancelling, which is huge slash in revenue. I’m extremely lucky, even if I don’t write full-time: my job allows me to make a good living and put away savings. Other writers aren’t so lucky. This virus is going to bite into them pretty deeply.

Care about authors? Consider supporting their work during these difficult times, if you’re able.

Now, I’m aware not everyone can do this, and I completely understand and sympathize. However, if you are in a position to help your fellow writers, please do so. Buy copies of their books in your favorite format, tell people about their work in reviews or tweets or whatever. Especially if you enjoy their work. It might be small gestures, but for the writers you’ll be helping, it’ll mean the moon and stars.

And it will give us time to come up with some decent stories involving COVID-19. I’ve already had one or two.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading this post. I needed to get this off my chest. And I think, once I’ve taken care of myself a bit, I’ll be able to get back to writing and scaring people like I normally do. As for the rest of you, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. They’re as scared as you, but they can also be as brave as you. And if you’re a Follower of Fear, you’re likely very brave.

This too shall pass. And we’ll make it pass faster by keeping each other safe.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to set up and test my at-home workstation. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and REMEMBER, SWALLOWING OR GARGLING BLEACH IS GOING TO KILL YOU! Why would you think it would help you? It’s corrosive!

On Sunday, I posted about finishing my first short story of 2020, a science-horror story called “Primordial Nuclear Soup” (what a title, right?). I mentioned in that post I wanted to find a beta reader to take a look at the story before I edited it and tried to send it anywhere. Thankfully, I found someone very quickly who turned out to be the right sort of reader for this story. They gave me some excellent feedback on ways the story could be improved, but there’s one point that I wanted to focus on.

With “Primordial Nuclear Soup,” I was going for an ambiguous ending to the story. You know, the kind where things are left kind of open, leading to readers wondering what happened after “The End”? Yeah, apparently I confused my beta reader with that. They actually asked me if I’d cut it off early.

Now, this may have been because I simply forgot to put the words “The End” at the end of the story. But it got me thinking: when is an ambiguous ending good for a story, and when does it actually get in the way of telling the story?

As usual, when faced with a writing quandary that I can’t reason out on my own, I go to Facebook groups for writers. I got a variety of opinions on the subject, some of which felt more on the mark than others, but one response in particular resonated with me. The writer in question said that ambiguous endings work best with ambiguous stories.

What do I mean by ambiguous stories? Well, these are stories where so much is up in the air, that an ending where things are up in the air makes sense. A story with an unreliable narrator fits this description, or a story like The Haunting of Hill House, where we’re not sure if the house is really haunted and we feel the psychological strain on the characters. By the end of the latter, we’re still not sure whether the house is haunted, so an ending that still leaves us questioning what the hell just happened fits nicely.

Of course, some more “definitive” stories may benefit from an ambiguous ending, especially if it ramps up the tension. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” a Stephen King short story about a traveling salesman contemplating suicide, has an ambiguous ending dependent on whether the protagonist sees a light from a farmhouse through a snowstorm.* It’s a great way to top off a story revolving around a troubled man wondering whether or not he should kill himself or live to write a book about his encounters on his travels.

As for my own story…well, it’s science horror. And science/science fiction tends to deal with exactness. Even though the Xenomorph from the pinnacle of science horror, Alien, has an unclear origin,** everything else in that film is clear as crystal. So perhaps I need to give my own story a clearer ending.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give the story an edit before I start that essay (yes, I’m going to write it) and see what I can do with it. Hopefully, I’ll make something a magazine won’t want to throw in the trash after the first page.

A dramatic shot of “Rose” I couldn’t help but take.

Oh, and while I have your attention still, did you know today is the two-year anniversary of when I announced Rose was accepted for publication? Yeah, it happened on this day in 2017, and a lot’s happened since then. A year of edits and rewrites, the release and all the marketing, the audio book, and so much more. More and more, people have been telling me they’ve enjoyed the story, and hearing that is the most gratifying feeling ever. Makes me want to keep writing.

If you haven’t read the Kafkaesque story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), and you’d like to check it out, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read it, please let me know what you think. I love feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

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

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

*It’s been 19 years since it first came out, so I’m not sorry I didn’t include a spoiler warning.

**I like to pretend Prometheus and Alien: Covenant never happened. They take all the mystery out of the franchise.

You ever read a book that came out well before you were born, or a book that came out a few years ago but set well before you were born, and throughout the book a character or even the author expresses viewpoints that, if expressed today, would not go over well? The sort of views that would make you go, “Anyone who says that today would only be applauded by the lowest dregs of society. The rest would villify them.”

It’s an unfortunate part of the writing process, but sometimes writers will have to write stories where those sorts of views are expressed, even if not their own. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my writing career, usually from the POV of a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. It’s necessary, but it’s always a trial to do it. God help me if I ever have to read something like that out loud.

I bring this up because as I said in a previous post, I’m busy doing research for a story to go into the short story collection I’ve been putting together. That story is set in Victorian England, an age that, as many of you know, I’m a big fan of. You guessed it, I bought a bunch of new books to better understand that age. And this week, while I was reading one book and seeing information I’d previously learned in another volume repeated here, I realized that, to a certain extent, I will be putting these attitudes of the age into the story.

Including the ones I find reprehensible.

There are generally four ways writers include these sorts of ideas and beliefs into their stories. An author may include a character who’s already very forward-thinking or contrarian, taking on viewpoints which their peers will not get or abhor, but the audience will sympathize with and allow them to pity the characters who don’t think like that (think Wonder Woman’s attitudes regarding WWI-era norms and gender roles in her movie). Other times, characters may start with one attitude and then evolve to a different one over the course of the story as part of a character arc (Villetta Nu’s arc in the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion towards non-Britannians). There are characters whose whole point in existing are to present a contrasting view, usually as something for a protagonist to work off of or a driver of the plot (think Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome).

And then there are times when the author says, “Screw it, there’s no way around this,” and just portrays those attitudes as authentically as possible. I have a feeling with this story, I’m going to have to go with this route.

The books I’m using as research. I think they’ll be quite helpful in creating the level of detail I’m looking for.

I still haven’t worked out the details of this story, other than the time period and certain elements/characters. I don’t know how much of the Victorians’ beliefs and attitudes will make it into the story, or which ones for that matter.* Still, they’ll be there throughout the story for the sake of authenticity. It’ll be weird writing them into a story when they may go against everything I stand for. But for the characters, they’ll be the norm, and as true as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The cognitive dissonance will be a mind-fuck.

But if the dedication to authenticity helps make the story good, then I won’t have any complaints. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it? Even if I have to write in a discussion on how chloroform subverts God’s commands on childbirth.**

What are your thoughts on including attitudes and beliefs that you don’t agree with in your story? Any fun reminiscences on the subject?

*Did you know that it was considered dangerous to give children fruit while they were young? It was believed the sweet taste would excite them and lead to delinquent behaviors. Also, while germ theory was starting to enter public consciousness, it was a slow process. In 1865, the Female Medical Society published statements asking doctors to take more steps to decrease death in women by childbirth. The medical journal The Lancet responded by calling their suggestions for cleanliness “erroneous,” and asserted that these deaths were caused by women leading immoral lives, which could mean anything from engaging in prostitution, feeling sexual desire, or enjoying pickles too much.

**Yeah, that was a debate in the 19th century. Did chloroform, when used in childbirth, prevent women from feeling the pain God ordained for women? What an age!

Fiction writers tell two types of lies. There are the more obvious ones, our stories, those big stories of a thousand words or more that readers (hopefully) come just because we wrote them to entertain them. And then there are the smaller lies that usually go unnoticed. The ones where we gloss over or totally ignore reality so our stories can continue in peace. Not big things, like the existence of shapeshifting clowns or the ability to turn a human woman into a plant creature with a magic book. I’m talking about the small stuff. Things so small, people usually don’t question them or their viability.

A common example: you ever see an action film and someone with a machine gun lets off hundreds of bullets at their enemies without pause? Maybe they’ll switch guns at some point, but each of those guns still seem to have millions of bullets inside their cartridges and can go shooting for several minutes at a time.

The reality is a lot more boring: a machine gun may shoot off bullets for stretches of four seconds at a time, after which you probably will have to reload the gun. Not to mention that if your machine gun actually did go for shooting sprees for the entire length of a fight scene, the barrel would probably explode into flames.

Another famous example are silencers. Don’t want your gun to be heard by nosy civilians? A silencer will turn that gunshot into a mouse fart! Not really. In reality, a gunshot is not easy to quiet. Even the best silencer will only turn a gun into a loud crack, which you can still hear from quite a distance.

And you know those scenes in cop and comedy movies where a cop gets tasered in the chest and then their body and limbs shake like mad? Okay, stun guns only work about sixty percent of the time at best, and you never want to aim for someone’s chest, because while they’re considered “less lethal” than guns, they can still cause some heart trouble if aimed at the chest. Most cops aim for someone’s back, and then if they’re lucky, the electric shock will paralyze the target. By lucky, I mean the lines hit home and most of the electricity penetrates further than the skin.

Action movies are huge offenders at this stuff. Still love most of the Terminator and Die Hard films, though.

And these are just a small list. Cop movies involving shoot outs and explosions rarely feature the staggering amount of paperwork those shoot outs and explosions require officers to fill out. Medical dramas going for crazy or risky procedures? Not without talking to the insurance company or finding a safer method first. Bulletproof vests? They don’t stop bullets, just catch them, and it’s still going to hurt like hell. Not to mention getting shot by a machine gun, even if you wear a vest, is probably going to leave you dead (sorry, Back to the Future fans).

I actually used one of these last night in the latest chapter of my novel-in-progress Toyland (for obvious reasons, I won’t spoil which one).* I had to do some quick research to make sure one of the above was being written right. And then when I realized there was no way to do that authentically, I was like, “Screw it. Who’s going to know? Even if they do, they’ll either forget or suspend their disbelief.” And then I wrote it how people would imagine the scene.

Why do writers do this? Simply because they can get away with it. The details are small, and even those in the know will usually just let it slide for the sake of enjoyment of the story. Rarely does it actually bug someone to the point they put the book down/stop the movie. Usually when they’re glossing over giant details do people in the know stop enjoying the story (happened to me with Criminal Minds after I found out what FBI profilers actually do on a daily basis).

So forget the little lies, and ignore the minor deviations from reality. You’ll enjoy the story more. Or you’ll stop watching Criminal Minds and move onto other shows. Either way, other people will still enjoy the story you’re telling.

Authors, what little lies in your stories have you told lately? Any you laugh about now?

*Speaking of which, Toyland‘s coming along well. I split some upcoming chapters in two for pacing, which means more chapters to write, but I’m still making progress. I may have to push the deadline back again, this time to the end of February, but it’s still going well. Also, the novel is over eighty-thousand words right now (for context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is around seventy-seven thousand words). I have the feeling by the time I finish this book, it’s going to be close to one hundred thousand words. Not a whopper, but quite the literary feat.

Today’s guest is an author who’s book, A Cosmology of Monsters, has been blowing up the horror scene since its release in September. I finished it last month, and found it to be an amazing read (see my review here). And I’m not the only one who liked it, because Cosmology ended up becoming a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror (and yes, I am jealous). So, I’m very excited to have the author today. Hailing all the way from across the Internet, I bring you Shaun Hamill!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Shaun. Tell everyone here a bit about yourself and about your novel, A Cosmology of Monsters.

Shaun Hamill: I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, and got my bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. In my early 30s I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and got my MFA. I wrote most of A Cosmology of Monsters there.

A Cosmology of Monsters is a literary horror novel about a family running a haunted house attraction in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Narrated by the youngest child, Noah, the novel tracks the family’s fortunes across 50 years, and explores the monsters—both metaphorical and literal—that haunt them. It’s a generational saga, an homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, and most importantly, a story about the ways love can either save or damn us.

RU: How did the idea for Cosmology come into being?

SH: This novel was born out of the wreckage of a couple of projects. The first was a sprawling tragi-comic saga in the style of John Irving or Meg Wolitzer, about a family operating a youth hostel in Taos, New Mexico. The second was a short story about a married couple breaking up as they tour a haunted house attraction. Neither piece quite worked, but one day while I was walking my dog, the two ideas put themselves together and I realized that my epic family business novel should be about a haunted house, not a youth hostel. It would give me a chance to merge my taste for character-driven literary fiction with my love for the darker, more eerie tones of the horror genre. Noah’s voice came to me right away, as did Eunice’s suicide notes and the romance that opens the book. The rest of it came organically, as I followed the story where it led, exploring my characters and their ever-darkening world. I was perpetually surprised by what I found. I would never have been able to plan a book like this, and I hope some of that dark joy of discovery carries over for the reader.

RU: What was the research and writing process like for Cosmology? And what challenges did you face in writing the book?

SH: Research was a big part of the process of writing Cosmology. When I started the book I had only read a few Lovecraft stories, and I hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes of a haunted house. I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction, and also spent time reading scholarship about his life and writing. For the haunted house parts of the book I relied on my own knowledge as a patron of the attractions, and a tour of an out-of-season haunted house that I took in my late twenties. I also watched documentaries about haunted attractions, listened to podcasts, lurked on message boards, and so on.

The biggest challenge of writing this book was the revision process. My first draft weighed in at 220,000 words, and the published version is just over 100,000 (my agent insisted that the book would be tough to sell at its initial length). Figuring out which threads of story could be condensed or severed altogether took a long time, as did rewriting the entire ending to make it smaller and more meaningful to the characters. It forced me to carefully consider my characters and themes, and brought them into sharp focus by the end of the editorial process. I’m very pleased with the result, and humbled by how much better my agent and editors made my book.

RU: Haunted houses, both literal attractions and metaphorical haunted homes, are a big part of the book. Are you a fan of haunted houses yourself?

SH: I’m a big coward when it comes to haunted houses. I used to have a group of friends that I went with when I still lived in Texas, in my mid-to-late 20s, but I would never go to one by myself, and haven’t been to one since 2012 or 2013. I’ve always been fascinated by them from a distance, though. I’ve wondered about the people who work there, what it’s like to have the scenes of your life play out against such a fantastical backdrop.

RU: If you could design a haunted house attraction, what would it be like?

SH: The attraction in the book, The Wandering Dark, is exactly my idea of the sort of haunted house I would like to run. If money and practicality were no object, I would love to do a haunted hotel—something more immersive and stranger than the typical spook-a-blast attractions in the genre.

RU: Do you see yourself revisiting the world and characters of Cosmology someday in a future story?

SH: I go back and forth on this question. Some days I think it would be fun to continue the story of the Turner family, and I have done some brainstorming for a sequel. Other days I think that a sequel would lessen the impact of the book’s final pages and cheapen it. I guess I’ll wait and see if there’s a market for a sequel and then decide. Even if I never write a direct sequel, I will probably find ways to weave elements of that world into future stories.

RU: What is it about horror in general that attracts you to it?

SH: I have a melancholy outlook on life, so horror fits my disposition. I’m not attracted to the gore or violence, but rather the atmosphere of dread and dark wonder that I find in my favorite horror stories. I don’t like being terrorized. I like being creeped out. I love the idea that there is something beyond the known world, dark secrets to discover. It’s the sort of thing that Lovecraft does in his best work, as does Thomas Ligotti. I also love character-based horror, like Stephen King writes. I love stories about good people struggling against supernatural threats. It’s an effective way to illuminate the strength of the human spirit, what’s most noble and wonderful about people.

RU: Are you working on anything now? Do you have any future writing plans?

SH: I recently finished a rough (and I mean very rough) first draft of a new novel. I have an outline for another, different novel with my agent. We’re trying to decide which project to pursue first. My hope long-term is to keep doing what I’m doing now—writing books and publishing them and (hopefully) getting paid to do so. Fingers crossed COSMOLOGY won’t be the only thing I get to publish!

RU: What advice would you give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

SH: Write a lot and read a lot. Read deeply in your own genre, but also outside of it. Join a writing group or take a writing class if you can afford it. If you’re able, get on the reading committee for a journal or prize—I learned more from reading the slush pile for Carve magazine and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize than I ever learned in a classroom or working alone at my own desk.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, what would you bring?

SH: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore, and Three Novels by Stephen King (an omnibus of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining).

RU: Good choices. Thank you for joining us, Shaun. I hope we can do it again someday.

If you’d like to find out more about Shaun Hamill, you can find him on his website and on Twitter. You can also find A Cosmology of Monsters on Amazon if you’d like to read the book (which I highly recommend). And if you are an author with a book coming out soon and are possibly interested in having an interview, hit me up on ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see what magic we can conjure.

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