Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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!

You can thank this book for this latest post.

Back in August, fresh off the heels of Rose‘s release, I wrote a post about marketing a freshly released book in this crowded market. And now that my short story “Car Chasers” has been released in The Binge-Watching Cure II, as well as the audio book for Rose coming out recently, it’s high-time I got around to doing Part 2. As I said in the last post, it’s important to have a marketing plan in place and not expect your book will snowball into popularity. Books rarely just snowball into bestsellers, so a detailed marketing plan, one you actually act on, is essential.

And this time, I will be getting into practical tips, rather than just some food for thought to get you in the marketing mindset.

Of course, I will be plugging Rose and The Binge-Watching Cure II in this post, and including links at the end. Gotta get those stories in people’s hands, am I right?

First off, put together an ARC list. ARC stands for “advanced reader copies,” and ARC lists are lists of readers, usually volunteers, who are interested in reading an advanced copy of your book (usually digital, though sometimes physical or audio). Why would you want to give people an ARC? Because ARC readers will read your book, sometimes well ahead of the release, and drum up interest via word of mouth. Sometimes they’ll leave reviews on review sites or on their blogs, other times they’ll say something on social media. Either way, they tell people about your book, and that means more potential readers.

That being said, when you have ARC readers, there are a couple things you’ll want to do when compiling your list, besides getting their contact info, of course (gotta get them that ARC somehow, right?):

  • This is an act of volunteering and you want honest opinions. Don’t ask people to give you good reviews, don’t pay for good reviews, and don’t pay for reviews (this does not apply to blog tours though, which we will talk about later). ARC readers are doing you a favor, so don’t expect them to say nice things just for you. And if someone wants to be paid for a review, run the hell away!
  • Don’t ask family or close friends to be ARC readers. Sites like Amazon, from which most authors get their sales, can get suspicious if someone who might be a relative or a close friend leaves a review. This is because some authors have used their friend groups to boost their books, even if the friends haven’t read the book. Amazon is aware of this, and has developed countermeasures to combat this practice, which sometimes go overboard.
    So even if your mother is going to leave an honest review of your book, perhaps ask her to leave reviews only on Facebook. Sites like Amazon will strike down reviews and mess with your royalties if they suspect a fake or paid review.
  • Not everyone who volunteers to be an ARC reader will follow through reading and/or reviewing. This could be for a variety of reasons, but in the end, sometimes life happens, and they can’t follow through on the commitment. What to do about this? Well first, don’t get abusive towards people who can’t follow through on being an ARC reader. Believe me, sending them an email calling them lazy shits won’t get you anywhere, and can actually ruin careers before they start.
    Second, gather as many interested ARC readers as you can. I gathered over fifty interested people for Rose, and about nineteen left reviews on various sites in the first two months, close to twice the average number. So a large ARC list of people genuinely interested in your book is a good thing to have.
  • Finally, save your ARC readers when they follow through. If you have an ARC reader who read your book and talked about it, chances are they’ll do it again, so remember them and ask if they’ll be interested when the next one is nearing publication. Hopefully after a few books, you’ll have a decent list of ARC readers you can message when you’re ready to publish something.

Also put together a list of places to send your book to/advertise your book with. You’d be surprised how many sites exist to promote certain genres, and which give reviews of books in those genres. Start compiling a list of these sites and publications, as well as what sort of stories they look for and how to contact them. When the book is published, keep an eye out and see which are accepting books at the moment. If you’re lucky, they may fit you into their reviewing schedule.

Look into the possibility of a blog tour. A blog tour is exactly what it sounds like: you go around different blogs to give interviews, write guest articles, or let them review your book. These are a great way to highlight your work among a huge audience, and if the blogs featuring you are in the same genre as you, it means the readers of that blog are more likely to want to check out your book.

I did a couple blog tours for Rose, and found them very helpful.

There are two ways to do a blog tour. One way is to organize one yourself by asking for bloggers to participate. The other is to work with a blog tour company, who act as a middleman to help you find blogs that’ll work with you for a small fee. This doesn’t count as paying for reviews, but instead is more like having an advertising department who help you get people to notice your book. Only these folks are contractors.

If you decide to go with the former option, put out an open call on your blog and social media for a blog tour, and see who responds. Also contact bloggers who may not be following you but may be interested in hosting you. For the latter, check with other authors to see if they have any recommendations, or see if there any that come highly rated on a website like Yelp or equivalent. If there’s a recommended one, see if they have any availability for you and start talking rates.

 

Well, that’s all for Part 2. I hope you found these methods to marketing your book helpful and may even share some methods you find helpful in the comments below. I’m not sure when I’ll do Part 3 or what I’ll focus on when I do, but I hope you’ll keep an eye out for it and give your two cents when you do.

In the meantime, if you would like to check out Rose or The Binge-Watching Cure II, I’ll leave the links below. Rose is my first novel with a publisher, and is a fantasy-horror story following a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The Binge-Watching Cure II is an anthology from Claren Books containing several short stories and novelettes from a variety of authors, each one longer than the last. My own short story, “Car Chasers,” which is like Fast & Furious-style car races with ghosts in the mix, occupies the eight-thousand word spot. Either one would be a great addition to your bookshelf, if I may be so bold.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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

The Binge-Watching Cure II: Paperback, Kindle

Before I start this post, I just want to let everyone who read that title and got concerned, thinking I was going to talk about something negative like giving up on my dreams or whatnot, that that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually a happy post.

Anyway, as many of you are aware, I’ve been making tremendous progress with the novel I started last month, Toyland. If you are unaware, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. Yes, I’m writing a story with a premise that bonkers. Bonkers premises tend to work for me (click here for further proof). And as I said, I’ve been making tremendous progress on it. Or as my Grandma told me on the phone last night, “You’re just zipping along with it!”

(If she reads this post, she’s going to plotz over seeing herself mentioned here.)

I’ve noticed that zipping along myself, and I’ve wondered about it. Past novels I’ve worked on, as well as some short stories and novelettes, have taken months at a time to write. Occasionally, they’ve taken years (especially if I find myself stuck and have to take a break from the story). What’s so different about this one? A dark premise and some weird things occurring is not unusual for me, so it’s not the plot. And I’ve done National Novel Writing Month before, so that this novel started out as a project for that probably hasn’t affected much.

If I had to guess, I think it might be that I’m fooling myself by underestimating how long the chapters are going to be. Let me explain:

Although I’ve been writing this novel since January, I’ve been planning and researching it far longer than that. Going back months, or years, if you count when I started learning what constituted Gothic literature. Consequently, I’ve had some scenes in this story in my head for a while, and they always seem very short when I play it in my head.

What’s short in your head doesn’t necessarily translate as short once you put it down on paper. In fact, you can spend about twelve-hundred words or more describing a new setting, especially if it’s fantastical. Add in dialogue, action, exploring the characters’ emotions, etc. and what you’re imagining will be maybe sixteen-hundred words at most turns out to be nearly twice that! And yet, I still think to myself as I write, “Just a few hundred words more. Can’t be more than three hundred. Almost at the end.” Over and over, until the chapter ends, and it’s a lot more words than I expected.

Given that I’ve figured that out, however, there’s a chance that strategy won’t work for me after a while. I’ll know what to expect now and the spell won’t work. On that other hand, these past two months has been illuminating as to how much I can get done when I apply myself, so that may make up for it. At this time, I’m over halfway through the book, and on my way to two-thirds. A couple of years ago, this sort of progress in a few months would be confined to the realms of the imagination.

Now I know what’s in my imagination can exist in the real world.

If you need me, this is a great representation of what I’m up to these days.

In the meantime, I’ll use that knowledge, and keep fooling myself until I can’t anymore, and eventually, finish this book. As well as any story that comes after.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully post something again before December 31st, but if I don’t, thank you for everything this fantastic 2019!* Have a fantastic New Year, and I’ll see you next week/month/year/decade.** I’m off to go finish a chapter.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fantastic on a personal level, anyway. On a national and global level, while there were signs of improvement (looking at you, Greta Thunberg), this year has been a bit of a dumpster fire.

**Yeah, let that sink in. After Tuesday next week, not only will it be a new month, but a new year and a new decade. Crazy, right?

I normally don’t do introspective posts like this. You know me, if it’s not something horror or writing-related, there’s a good chance it’s related to an issue near and dear to my heart, such as disability rights and awareness. But I found out today that there’s only 45 days left of the year, and it’ll be even less once you’re reading this post. And that’s significant, because it’s not just the end of 2019 that’s approaching, but the end of the 2010’s. And that’s crazy to think about. An entire decade is ending in just over a month and a half.

So I’d like to take a bit of time and write about my thoughts concerning the ending of 2019 and the 2010’s.*

And a lot can be said about either subject. For 2019, I’m going to argue that the best things about this year were in terms of entertainment. Think about it: Avengers Endgame, The Lighthouse, Us and the fourth season of Lucifer. They were all amazing! And the rest was pretty much cringe-inducing (I won’t say anymore on that lest I break my rule about commenting on politics and certain current events).

But it’s hard to deny that it’s been a tough year, and a tough decade to boot. Depending on who you ask, things either started out good and got worse over the years, or things started out bad and got better. Or a couple other answers, but those are the main ones, I think. However you saw the 2010’s, it’s been a decade of profound change. Technology became faster and more efficient, more ubiquitous and necessary to our lives. Many peoples became more divided because of beliefs, or backgrounds, or a hundred other reasons. Leaders have changed, and with them the policies of various nations. The need to protect the environment has become stronger, and we’ve taken steps forward and backward to address that. Pop culture took radical shifts too, with horror gaining a new, hard-won respect it previously never enjoyed, and Marvel became the movie powerhouse that DC has always been. Streaming has become the new frontier. And more media is being created every day to reflect our increasingly diverse society, with much of it making into the mainstream. All along lots more remakes and reboots and sequels than anyone wanted or needed.

In short, lots and lots of change.

The 2010’s were a decade of change for me as well. Quite literally. I started the decade as a high school student who thought I had a cushy after-school job selling basketball tickets and that I was going to be a bestselling author by the time I was 25. I graduated high school, went to college and dealt with all the growth and crazy and learning that comes with it. I went on a study abroad trip, moved to my first apartment, and graduated again. I went to Germany for an internship, and then came home for the nadir of the decade, where I dealt with a horrific job search and back pain. I finally got my job and my old place. My health improved, though at some point I did develop a nasty anxiety disorder. I visited haunted locations I’d always dreamed of visiting. I got my driver’s license and my car.

At some point, I stopped being a kid and started being an adult. And along the way, I found this amazing community of writers and bloggers and readers and published books and short stories along the way, including Rose this past summer. It’s been kind of crazy.

And for the most part, the decade was good. Yeah, there were some bad times, but the good are what I remember the most. Mostly because the good was the result of my own hard work and perseverance.

And as the new Roaring Twenties approach (hopefully they’ll be roaring because they’re fun, and not because of nuclear missiles being launched everywhere), there’s something we should all keep in mind. I know the future seems bleak and scary. Believe me, all I have to do is look at the news to be reminded of that fact. But we have the power to make good things happen. I’ve seen amazing things happen just through sheer effort. And when you take a step towards what you want to see in the world, you’ll see the world come together to help you along.

So as we end this year 44 days from now and enter a new decade, just remember to keep your chin up. You have the power to make the changes you want to see. And when you take those steps, you’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.

Well, this post is getting super long. I’ll cut off here and say see you Thursday at the latest. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Normally I’d reserve this sort of post for New Year’s. However, I’ve noticed that, probably because of the holidays, those posts don’t get that many readers. So I figure I might as well get my thoughts out now before we’re all caught up in our personal lives and can’t spare any time to read blog posts.

As many of you are aware, I am a member of the disabled community, having autism, ADHD, anxiety, and more things than I can name. What many of you might not be aware is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM for short) in the United States. And this year’s theme (which I think is decided by the Department of Labor) is, “The Right Talent, Right Now.”

And at work today, we had an observance of NDEAM which included a panel of employees with disabilities and a video showing the audition of this year’s winner of America’s Got Talent, Kodie Lee, who is blind and autistic. You can watch the video down below.

I am crying, and so are you. You can’t help it.

And what this video demonstrates is that, despite certain issues and centuries worth of stigma, people with disabilities do have plenty to contribute to the world. In fact, they contribute every day. At my workplace, my main job duties involve helping employees with disabilities get accommodations so they can continue their jobs. This doesn’t just include disabilities from genetics and brain chemistry, like mine, but people who gain health problems like back issues or vision problems as they grow older, among others. And despite their disabilities–or sometimes because–they do amazing things at their workstations. They just need a few accommodations and an accepting environment to do so.

And you know what? This isn’t a new phenomena: people with disabilities have been contributing to the world for years. Beethoven, like Kodie Lee, made the world a better place with his music. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein changed our understanding of the universe in their lifetimes. Harriet Tubman had a head injury that caused headaches, seizures and hypersomnia. John F. Kennedy may have had Addison’s or a similar condition.

Despite all these famous examples though, there are still a lot of barriers to people with disabilities getting work and living full lives. A recent article from Phys.org showed that many blind people face unemployment or underemployment, even though they can be just as capable as able-bodied people of doing job-related tasks. And it wouldn’t surprise me to see similar numbers to that quoted in the article from other groups in the disabled community.

So let me take a moment to address anyone in a position to hire someone with disabilities: we are capable of basic tasks. Hell, sometimes we do very complex tasks too, like write programs or design skyscrapers or perform surgeries or defend clients in court. I’ve even been known to write a decent story from time to time, and that’s not the easiest task. All we need to do our jobs is a few accommodations, which usually don’t cost that much, and an accepting atmosphere.

And remember, this is a group anyone can join at any time. Including maybe you, if you’re not already there. Life has a way of making that possible. So in a way, by encouraging hiring peoples with disabilities, you’re not only helping them, you’re helping yourself.

As well as your employer by ensuring they get the most talented people from the most diverse workforce. Let’s not forget that.

So this October, while we’re all enjoying the season of fear and screams, let’s also remember that there is an entire pool of untapped talent out there. One that has been subjected to and overcome stigmas multiple times to prove us wrong. So why not let them show you what they’re made of?

Around November, stores across the world start putting out tinsel and cute little bulbs and emphasize snow and sleighs and candy canes.* At the same time, Christmas music is played from most loudspeakers and many radio stations, one of those songs being “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams (yeah, I didn’t know who sang that until today, either). And many people would agree. The two months leading up to Christmas, especially December, is the most wonderful time of the year.

However, there is a segment of the population who disagrees with that sentiment. Among that segment are people, and whatever I am, who say Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. And since I don’t have a singing voice to advocate our views, I’ll do what I do best and write out why the Halloween season, starting anywhere from late August to early September and ending when October becomes November, should be considered the most wonderful time of the year.**

1. Halloween isn’t as cold. Okay, that’s probably not true south of the equator, but at least October isn’t as freezing in most places as it is in November. In fact, in Central Ohio, it can range from the 40’s to the 60’s (we have weird-ass weather). Whereas in December, it’s usually between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s in a good year.

2. A stalker isn’t part of the central theme of Halloween. No, I’m not talking about Michael Myers. I’m talking about Santa Claus. I mean, think about it. You have an old guy in a red tracksuit watching you 24/7, but especially right before Christmas, and is judging your behavior. If you “behave,” you get gifts, but if you don’t, you get fossil fuels. Also, he can break into anyone’s home and we have no idea how well his workforce is treated. If this was any other person, they would be hit with investigations and possible criminal charges.

At least with Halloween, a little naughtiness is okay. It’s even encouraged. “Trick or treat,” after all.

3. There’s no need to be “perfect,” “well off,” or “good.” For a lot of people, Christmas is a time to show just how perfect your family is, or how pretty you can make your house look, or how deserving of gifts you are. A lot of people spend more money than they should just to show people they can have the “perfect” Christmas, or suck up their dislike of a disagreeable family member so as not to “ruin” Christmas, or give more to charity because “tis the season.” Shouldn’t the season to help the needy be all year? Not just when gifts are on the horizon?

Though if you are giving to charity during the Christmas season, good on you. Thanks for helping out the less fortunate.

At least with Halloween, you don’t have to go all out. A simple bedsheet with eye holes is a wonderful costume. A bag of penny candy is just fine. And if you gather donations to UNICEF, it’s not because “tis the season,” but just a nice thing to do.

Speaking of costumes…

4. Be whoever you want to be. Halloween is about changing who you are into who you want to be for a day. A princess, a vampire, a soldier, a superhero, it’s all up to you and what costume you buy or create. Or don’t. That’s valid as well. There’s no pressure, just as long as you’re having fun. Want to be a little macabre? Go right ahead. Want to just emphasize the pagan roots of the holiday? Perfectly fine. Just want to have a wild costume party to celebrate fun and monsters and changing your identity for one day? Go get ’em, cowboy! It’s your holiday, and as long as nobody’s getting hurt, you’re answerable to no one.

Again, during Christmas, a lot of people feel like they need to project a certain image of “perfection” or “being good.” Otherwise, your or others might believe you’ve done something wrong, or the season is ruined. I think of the mother from the movie Krampus a lot with this point. She’s dead-set on everything being “perfect” to the point she invites relatives over whom she and her own family don’t really like and comes up with all these complicated foods that nobody really asked for, just to maintain this image of a “perfect” Christmas in her mind.

Has that ever happened with Halloween? As long as you have fun, that’s all that matters.

Jack Skellington had one thing right: Santa Claus is scarier than at first glance.

5. So many reasons to get scared! Of course, for those like me, this is one of the biggest reasons. Horror movies, horror novels, haunted houses, music, costumes, parties and games. At Halloween, there’s so many reasons to get scared and have fun with it. The number of scary things to do at this time of year is endless. Whereas at Christmas, beyond either Black Christmas film, Gremlins and Krampus, there aren’t that many horror-related things associated with the holiday. Maybe a Christmas episode for a horror show, but beyond that, it’ not a holiday to indulge in anything scarier than fossil fuels from everyone’s tracksuit-wearing stalker. And to me, that’s a damn shame.

 

Now, this is just a small fraction of reasons why I prefer the Halloween season to the Christmas season. There’s probably a part two or three that could be written. But tell me, which season do you prefer? Why? Are there are any reasons I missed? Let’s discuss.

Just keep it civil in the comments, folks. Or I will delete your comment and then write you into a story.

*I think. I have no idea what Christmas looks like below the equator beyond the fact that it’s summer down there in December.

**That being said, I’m not trying to put down anyone who thinks Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I’m not trying to wage war on Christmas or anything like that. I’m just representing an opposing opinion. That’s not the sign of moral decay or an anti-American or anti-Christian persecution. Having a spirited but civil disagreement where both parties respect each other’s views is the sign of a healthy and thriving society. If you feel Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, that’s okay with me. Just let me continue feeling that the Halloween season is the most wonderful time of the year in the meantime.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading The Best Horror of the Year, Volume VIII, an anthology of horror short stories and novelettes compiled by one of horror’s premier editors, Ellen Datlow (I’ll be taking a break from it to read The Institute by Stephen King, though). As you’d expect from any anthology, some you like, some you don’t, and some you just don’t get. But of those that I like, I’ve been noticing a trend that I’m not sure I’ve noticed before.

These stories are not outright terrifying in a way that’ll leave you screaming or having nightmares for a week or so. But they do make you feel uneasy. Like a voice in the back of your mind is whispering, “Imagine if this scenario were real,” or “Imagine if this happened to you.” And then you shiver at the thought of what is occurring in the story occurring in real life. In your life.

That feeling upsets the zen in your soul, and can put you off your day. It can make you afraid to think of certain places or names because you associate them with something evil and horrible. It leaves you afraid to be in dark places, or alone, or with people, or even in well-lit areas. Because who knows what’s hidden in your blind spot? Who knows what evil is bubbling in your coworker’s heart?

What you are feeling is disquiet. And that feeling drives a lot of shorter horror stories. Understandable: short stories and novelettes don’t have the word-counts to build epic worlds or have intricate plots involving five or six mind-blowing revelations. They’re short for a reason, and meant to be digestible as a way to save time and money. Or to quote Stephen King, “A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”

I actually know what that’s like (don’t ask), and I’m not really surprised that King does, either. So I kind of get it: what the story does to you should be unexpected, but leave a powerful impression. The kind of impression where you look back years later and you’re like, “Wait, did that actually happen?” And in short stories, with horror, you do it with fear. You do it with disquiet.

So how does one create disquiet in their story? Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can answer that. It’s like how do you put horror in a story? You already know a monster is necessary, but what more is there? Not an easy question to answer. In fact, I’ve been writing horror since I was a tween, or trying to, and I’m still trying to figure it out. It doesn’t help that I’m better at novels and short stories are still something I’m figuring out how to do well (ironic, considering how many short story ideas I have lying around).

junji Ito will shake you every time.

In the end, all I can recommend is the old writer adage: read a lot and write a lot. In this case, read a ton of shorter works by a variety of different horror authors. Note how they make the story memorable, punchy, disturbing. Is it a specific twist? Is it in the scenario they set up? How do they set it up? Is it in a particular sentence or a paragraph? An element they included? The ending? Then try writing your own works and incorporating what you learned.

It seems obvious, but I guess we reiterate it for a reason.

Anyway, if you’re looking for recommendations, any of the volumes in the Best Horror of the Year series should work, as well as collections by most horror writers. I also recommend story collections from manga artist Junji Ito, if you want a more visual medium. And while it’s not literary, The Twilight Zone is usually pretty good at telling disquieting stories (or so I’ve heard. I really have to get on watching that show).

But tell me, how do you make your short stories memorable and disquieting? What are your thoughts on the subject? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Happy Friday the 13th, and if you see  guy wearing an old-fashioned goalie mask, RUN THE OTHER FUCKING WAY!!!