Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

Writers deal with a lot of tenses, and I don’t mean the ones associated when we hunch over our computers so we can better bang out stories.* No, I mean tenses like past tense and present tense, the tenses authors use to tell a story. Like first and third person POV, the use of either can vary from story to story (future tense and second person POV are rare, for reasons I’m sure people reading this blog can understand). And although I feel like I know plenty on the subject of using tenses sometimes, occasionally I find I still have something to learn.

Earlier today, I received an email from a magazine I submitted a short story to a couple months back. They rejected it. Which, honestly, I wasn’t broken up about. I figured out there were changes to this particular story while it was in consideration at the publication, so I thought this was for the best. However, they did include some notes on what worked and didn’t work with the story. Among those was one that really struck me.

They said that narrating in past tense, while giving the narration strength, also made it clear that the story took place in the past, and therefore made the story overall weaker, as it kind of gave away the ending. Namely, that the protagonist survives.

Now sometimes in a horror story, that’s fine. Part of the thrill is seeing how things turn out when you already have some idea of the ending. Interview with the Vampire is framed just as its title suggests, a vampire getting interviewed about his life. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is told by the narrator when he’s an adult remembering his childhood traumas (still the scariest novel I’ve ever read). And Salem’s Lot by Stephen King begins with two of the main cast in Mexico after escaping the town, then rewinds to the beginning of the events, and then afterwards shows those two characters burning the town down.

But apparently, with this story, that should not have been the case, as it took away some of the tension. And a horror story without tension is like a hamburger without a bun. It’s missing something essential.

Food metaphors aside, this shows an issue not only with the story, but a lesson I can learn from. With stories, it often seems instinctual, at least to me, about what tense to write in. Perhaps in future, I should weigh options and think about what the pros and cons of writing a story in past versus present tense. Perhaps then I’ll be able to write my stories and make them more effective in scaring the pants out of people.

And that goes especially with the story I got the rejection for today. I feel like this one could be one of my best if I can polish it a bit more and maybe get some more feedback on it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when I try changing the tense (and maybe the POV. I feel like that could also be an effective strategy for this story).

At least I know there’s still room for me to improve and become a better writer. I hear perfection gets boring pretty quickly.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to do battle with some exorcists who believe I’m an ancient entity here to usher in the end of the world (they’re right on one count, at least), and then do some writing. Thankfully with this story I’m working on now, I’m sure I have the right tense and POV for what I’m trying to do. That should make things easier further down the line.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*In all seriousness though, take care of your backs, fellow writers. That will come back to haunt you if you don’t practice better posture. Believe me, I know. Brought to you by a writer giving a shit.

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As much as we make jokes about it, young adult fiction, or YA, is a massive and popular genre. Over ten-thousand YA books were released in 2012, read by both the targeted demographic, teens, and by an increasing number of adults. And among horror, there are writers who specialize in YA horror. But that leaves a question: when is a horror story a YA horror story? Does it have to star a teen or teens? Or is there something more to it?

I ask this because I have a project for National Novel Writing Month in November where nearly the whole cast are teenagers. And while I have nothing against YA or those who write/enjoy it (the amount of anime and manga I consume is primarily aimed at teens, which says something), it’s not a label I think this story should be given.

If you ask most authors and fans (and believe me, I have), YA fiction is usually defined as having teen protagonists and including themes prevalent around the teen years: first love, friendship, identity, and growing up. By that definition, many horror novels could be considered YA, even though they’ve traditionally been aimed at adults. A good example is Carrie by Stephen King. It fits both requirements–teens are prominent in the novel, and themes such as bullying and inclusion, first love, and becoming an adult are all present in the novel.

I even asked in one of my Facebook groups if other authors considered Carrie YA. I got over fifty responses in the course of a week, and it was divided almost evenly down the line. And while the opinion was split, many people admitted they or their children read it as teenagers. I myself read Carrie as a teen. So is it YA fiction then, like the Cirque du Freak books and last year’s bestseller The Sawkill Girls? And are other novels with teens in the lead role to be considered YA?

Well, here’s the thing: the above definition doesn’t include something very important that has to come into consideration. What is that? Marketing. Who is the book being marketed to? Marketing has always played a part in categorizing what is called YA and what isn’t. In fact, the demographic of YA fiction (it’s not a genre, no matter how much we think of it as one), was first defined by librarians in the early half of the 20th century who wanted to know which books were being read by the newly-defined teen demographic and why. It was later picked up by publishers when they realized how they could increase their sales by marketing certain stories to the 12-18 age group.*

So while Carrie has always been popular among teens, it was and has always been marketed at adults, as have all of King’s books. And that’s because King wrote it for adults, not for teens. Meanwhile, books like the Cirque du Freak series were always aimed at the teen demographic, from early writing stages to their eventual publication and marketing.

And that’s what we need to answer my earlier question: if my NaNoWriMo project has a teen cast and incorporates certain themes relevant to teens, is it YA? While I’m sure, if it gets published, some will categorize it as YA horror, I write for an adult audience. Everything from what I include in the story (including possible sex scenes) to just the word choices and the explorations of characters’ thoughts and feelings is through an adult lens.  YA, it is not.

So while a story may include teens prominently in the cast and feature themes and content relevant to teenagers, unless it’s written and later marketed for teens, it can’t necessarily be called YA fiction. Many may still slap the label “YA” on a story given its content, and they have every right to do so, if they feel that story fits their definition of YA fiction. But the intention of the story’s author will be the ultimate decisive requirement, whether in horror or any other genre.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for reading this little piece I wrote just to get my thoughts out on this subject before I started writing in November. But tell me, what are you thoughts on the subject? What makes a story, horror or otherwise, YA? Let’s discuss.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

And look, I went an entire post without once mentioning Rose. I consider that an accomplishment–oh dammit!

*Thank you Lindsay Ellis for helping me research this article with a great YouTube video.

Last night, I did some writing. And while that statement on its own might not be the most groundbreaking thing I’ve ever written on this blog, it was important for me. As you know, since early June, I’ve been consumed with the editing, publishing and marketing of Rose, as well as editing some other stories (but I won’t go into that right now). In fact, I’m still working on that last bit! I’ve been doing a lot every day to make sure people are reading the book. Just today, I’ve probably sent about ten emails related to the novel!*

Add in my day job, taking care of myself, sleeping and making sure I’m relaxed enough in the evenings not to go on a killing spree the next day, and I’ve had very little time to devote to new projects. I tried a week or two ago to do some work on a new short story, but it didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. I blame that on the story being existential horror, and I’m in too bright a state of mind these days to write that sort of horror well.

But last night, I was able to get back into the swing of things and get a significant number of words down on paper on a novelette I’ve been wanting to rewrite since 2015 but haven’t done since then (yeah, I can go for years without working on a story if I think I need more time before I work on it again). And I think part of the reason I was able to get so much of the story written in a single sitting, other than a glass of beer, was that I was able to put myself back in the mood to write after such a long hiatus.

The first thing I did while writing last night was make sure my writing space–aka my desk and where I take most of my meals–had everything I normally used to write. I had my laptop in front of me, with the story and the outline for it in front of me. I had something to drink–usually tea with honey but last night beer–and some mints nearby, as well as whatever music I’m in the mood for playing on iTunes (these days, it’s classical). And I had some incense burning by the Cthulhu statue. That helped me really get me in the mood for writing, because those are all things I associate with and use while writing. Just having them all there, especially after such a long break from doing any real writing, made a huge difference.

There’s a perverse pleasure in lighting incense in front of a Cthulhu statue that makes you want to write horror, don’t you think?

Another thing that really helped was that I had the right story to work on. I think this story, which I expect to end up being a novelette between ten and twenty-thousand words, was perfect because it was simple and easy to work on. I won’t go into details at this point about it’s plot (though I will tell you this YouTube video I’ve linked to is a hint as to the subject matter), but it’s not a complicated story. It’s not dealing with any deep themes like the fragility of the human mind, or requires extensive research. It’s just a simple story about a supernatural force affecting the lives of a bunch of teenagers.

But that’s the beauty of it. By not giving myself a really challenging story, I’m easing myself back into writing. I’m getting back the motivation to write after so long away. And it works. Because the last thing you need after getting one of the most challenging stories you’ve ever written published and then doing everything to market it is something just as hard or maybe even more so, right? No, you need an easy story to get back into it.

With both of these factors working for me, I was able to get a ton of writing done, and maybe even get some more done this week. And after that? I don’t know. I have a few ideas. But at least I know I’ll have an easier time writing now that I’ve eased myself back into it.

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll probably have a new post about effective horror writing out in the next week or so, so keep an eye out for it. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*And speaking of Rose, I think all that marketing work is…well, working. Amazon finally got both pages for the ebook and paperback linked, and the page lists the novel as a 4.5 out of 5 based on six reviews. In addition, Amazon Canada has the book rated as a 5-star and Amazon UK has it rated as a 4-star (both based on only one review each, but it’s a start. They also list the American reviews, but don’t list them for whatever reason). And on Goodreads, Rose is rocking a rating of 4.2 out of 5 based on 5 ratings and 4 reviews, and has nearly thirty people listed as having the book on their TBR list.

Not trying to brag, I’m just stating this is really good news and possibly bodes at more good things to come. Fingers crossed!

Short post today, folks. Yeah, I know it’s not about Rose, but hopefully I’ll have something on that very soon. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to be a featured guest on Kendall Reviews, a website dedicating to reviewing and promoting works of horror and the horror genre. A while back, they were soliciting authors to submit essays on why they write horror, with the goal of having at least one essay a week to publish. You know me, I wrote one as soon as I could get on the computer, and I sent it in, requesting that they only publish it when I had a release date for Rose.

Well, given today is the 20th of June, and Rose is supposed to come out tomorrow, you can guess how that request went. Anyway, that essay, Why Do I Write Horror?, is live now, and if you’ve ever been curious as to why I write horror (and trust me, it’s a lot more complex than you’d think), you can read it by clicking this link.

Thanks again to Gavin Kendall and the team at Kendall Reviews for featuring me. I’m happy to have contributed to your site and I hope we get to work again together someday. Maybe they’ll review Rose?

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

My friend Matt Williams, who introduced me to Castrum Press nearly eighteen months ago as a prospective client, has published two books with Castrum. One of them, The Cronian Incident, has recently been released as an audio book. I’d previously read the book when it was released, so I was curious as to what it would be like as an audio book. Would my opinion of the book change because I read it with my ears instead of my eyes? Would the narrator totally ruin the story?

I started listening on the ride home from Mansfield on June 2nd, and finished it up today. And I have to say, I have some thoughts. Not on The Cronian Incident, though if you like hard science fiction and you enjoy a little mystery as well, I recommend it. No, on the experience of listening to a friend’s book on audio.

I’ve long held the opinion that authors have two or three different voices. There’s the one we use in our day-to-day conversations; the ones we use in our social media and blog posts; and our writing voices, the ones we use for storytelling. Our blogging voices may share similarities with our speaking voices, but our writing voices are another animal entirely. That voice is separating itself from us, the writers, to note details, describe point-of-views, and philosophize through the eyes of various characters. It’s storytelling, in other words, and that may have nothing to do to whichever writer that voice belongs to.

So here I am. I’m used to Matt’s blogging and social media voice. We often talk on Messenger and occasionally on each other’s blog posts. And his writing voice sounds nothing like that voice. It sounds instead like a lot of the sci-fi novels I read in high school and college, building this world for me involving space travel and cybernetic implants and robotic doctors and so much else. There’s a diverse vocabulary, incorporating more words than used in daily conversation. The characters see things differently than Matt might in a similar situation. It’s a bit of a change. One I’ve done more than a few times (comes with having so many writer friends) but still a change.

And then there’s the audio book. You recognize the scenes and the words, but it’s a voice different than what you read the book with. It’s someone independent of the author, your friend, telling you the story anew, giving their own takes on how the characters sound, deciding whether a specific passage should sound tense or humorous, etc. It’s kind of like if, in a creative writing class, your best friend shares their work with the class, and then instead of your friend’s voice, Neil Gaiman’s voice slipped out! It’s a bit of a shocker.

The good thing is, it’s a shocker you can get used to. Most of the shock comes from knowing the author, so once you get used to having someone other than your friend (unless your friend narrated their own audio book, that is), it’s an enjoyable experience. You can dive in and become immersed in the story. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what every writer wants to happen when people read their books.

But tell me, have you ever listened to an audio book based on a friend’s novel? What was it like? Let’s discuss.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if Rose will ever make it into audio book format, let’s just say my publisher and I have talked a bit about it, but it’s waaay too early to even get excited about it. Let’s just focus on making sure the paperback/ebook release goes well before we start planning anything else.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If this post got you curious about The Cronian Incident, you can find it on Amazon and Audible. And remember, Rose comes out this Friday, June 21st. I’ll hopefully be posting preorder link tomorrow, so keep an eye out for that post. And until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a week. But as you know from my last post, this past week has been predictably crazy for me.

I heard about Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five and was immediately interested. The book retraces the lives of the five victims of Jack the Ripper: Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elisabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly and proposes to shed a new light on them. I’m no Ripperologist (someone who studies the Ripper murders), not even an amateur one, but I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject and am always interested if someone has discovered something new about the case. And the lives of the five women who made the Ripper famous finally being told? I’m in.

I dove in as soon as I got my copy from the library…and the resulting read blew my mind. You see, for over a hundred and thirty years, the consensus–the one thing that every Ripperologist agrees on–is that the victims were confirmed prostitutes. But is that really the case? Diving into historical records and her understanding of the nineteenth century’s social beliefs around women and barely mentioning the Ripper at all, Ms. Rubenhold provides a convincing case to support that we may have been looking at the “Canonical Five”–and thus the Ripper–all wrong.  In fact, only the final victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was confirmed to make a living through prostitution, and there’s evidence she may have been trafficked at some point.

In fact, Polly Nichols was a wife and mother whose family gained lodging in public housing reserved for families with high moral standing; Annie Chapman was upper-middle class with an upwardly-mobile husband; Elisabeth Stride was a Swedish immigrant from a religious background who ran a coffeehouse with her husband; and Catherine Eddowes was educated for most of her younger life and often made life choices on what would allow her the most freedom. Mary Jane Kelly, we don’t know, as many of the details she gave of her life were contradictory and possibly fabricated, but she could’ve come from a respectable background, as she started out as a high-end courtesan, and they don’t let just anyone into those circles.

How did these women end up as prostitutes in the popular mind?

Well, in the eyes of nineteenth-century society, any woman who wasn’t, by all appearances anyway, a successful wife and mother with the temperance of the saint, a clean and happy household, and only had a sexual side when her husband desired sex, she was a failure as a woman. She was “broken.” Which often was equated as a “fallen woman,” which was often equated with prostitution. Often, women in these positions had to take up with men who were either not their husbands or had common-law marriages, which was also considered a sort of prostitution.

And for a number of these women, circumstances in their lives forced them to leave families and husbands and often take lives on the streets, without husbands or homes, which meant in society’s eyes they were fallen, and therefore likely prostitutes. The newspapers at the time, more concerned with selling than telling the truth, did little or nothing to dissuade that notion, even when friends and acquaintances for the victims came forward and swore in inquests the victims did not resort to prostitution. Thus a belief, and the theory shaped around it, was formed.

This is significant for a number of reasons. From the perspective of history and Ripperology, it totally changes everything we know. Ms. Rubenhold presents a good case that the Canonical Five were actually incapacitated or sleeping and not in any state of mind to fend off an attacker, rather than attacked while soliciting. This changes the entire MO of the Ripper, the field of study around the murders, and over a century’s worth of media on the subject (though some of the latter we can still find entertaining, as long as we remind ourselves how much of it is fiction).

But more importantly, this is a feminist triumph in history. For a hundred and thirty years, The Five have been dismissed and looked over except in the context of their deaths and whoever killed them. Even my copy of The Complete Jack the Ripper doesn’t go into much detail on their lives. But this book and its author, through hard work and looking over every scrap of documentation available out there, reminds us these women were just women, more often at mercy to forces beyond their control and the double-standard Victorian women faced than willful participants in the world’s oldest profession. At least three suffered from alcoholism. One got pregnant out of wedlock and developed syphilis, and was demonized for it. They did everything they could to stay out of the workhouses, which could forever ruin someone who was forced to enter them. They tried to find love and happiness. They tried to get by in an age and place where women on their own had it very hard.

Imagine if AA had been available to the Five and sobriety was understood to be not a choice but hard work. Imagine if, instead of being demonized for leaving their husbands or getting pregnant/diseases out of wedlock, the authorities looked at the men in their lives. Imagine if they were allowed to pursue lives they wanted, rather than what was expected of them, and not shamed for not fulfilling expectations.

This is especially relevant in today’s age. Despite a lot of progress, women still have their sexuality used against them socially and legally. Since I finished reading The Five, I’ve seen several articles and tweets about men getting little or no jail time for rape, simply because there was only one victim and they were unlikely to reoffend. Here in my home state of Ohio, a minor who was raped and impregnated can’t get an abortion because of a new restrictive abortion law. Clearly, on some level, society still feels women should be punished for being anything other than the ideal wife and mother, and it’s their own fault if they’re not.

This is why you should be reading Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: not only does it present convincing new evidence on a century-old case and force us to reevaluate everything we knew, but it’s a call to remind us just how much has stayed the same since 1888, and what we can do to improve that in the future. And in the future, if I ever write my own Ripper-themed story, I’ll call back to The Five as I write the story, and keep in mind the lives of these women.

So please, check out The Five‘s page on Amazon, and consider reading it. You’ll find it a revelation as much as I did.

The other day I watched the movie As Above, So Below (which I highly recommend, by the way. Underrated horror movie). For those of you who haven’t seen it, As Above, So Below is a found footage film that follows an archaeologist and her crew into the bowels of the Paris catacombs to find a mythical treasure. As they make their way down, however, they end up finding a passage that leads straight into Hell. And Hell in this movie isn’t a fiery pit. It’s so much, much more.

As well as terrifying me again and making me remember why I liked this film to begin with, As Above, So Below also made me consider that our portrayal of Hell has changed immensely over the years. If you look throughout the media we create, you’re going to find more than just the traditional fire-and-brimstone images of Hell, but as many as there are writers out there looking for unique twists on old concepts and stories. And that in and of itself is pretty interesting. I mean, how many different versions are there? And why are they showing up so much, especially today?

Well, Hell has always been a concept in human theology. While some early religions–Mesopotamian, Greek, and traditional Judaism–have a general afterlife for all the dead, usually a gloomy place with maybe some nicer perks for those who behaved themselves in life, others had very defined afterlives for sinners and saints. Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple afterlives where various treatments or punishments may be applied to your soul prior to reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians were the earliest to use a lake of fire. The Ainu of Japan, meanwhile, saw Hell as a wet place underground, and the Serer people of Senegal saw Hell as rejection by ancestor spirits, forcing you to become a wandering ghost.

And that’s just a small survey of the various kinds of Hell in religious beliefs.*

The most iconic version, of course, is the underground lake of fire ruled over by Satan from mainstream Christianity, which was adapted from the Egyptian concept and then spread as Christianity took root in the Roman Empire and then was spread by missionaries. But even that has had variations over the years. Some have involved just a cave full of flames, while others have involved individual sections where demons perform different punishments in cauldrons full of boiling water and fire. Some involved a dumb, animalistic Satan, and others portray him as a calculating, powerful evil.

In the Renaissance, we received some of our most famous variations of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote Inferno, where he travels with the spirit of the poet Virgil through Hell’s nine circles, with each circle containing different punishments for different sins. John Milton featured a Hell featuring a great castle, Pandemonium, created by Satan and the fallen angels to be their seat of power in Hell.

Lucifer’s version of Hell, featuring customized punishments for every person there. It’s a great and adaptable concept.

Further variations have appeared since those landmark works. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous play, No Exit, describes Hell as other people. Luis Brunel further took this theme along in his movie The Exterminating Angel, where guests at a dinner party hate each other but are unable to leave. Stephen King has defined Hell has endless repetition, and has added that to many of his stories. Some creators have shown Hell as a city or a distorted version of our own world. The Hellraiser movies have shown Hell as a place mixing BDSM with your own sins and life choices. As Above, So Below portrays Hell as a series of tunnels in the Paris catacombs that configures itself, adding elements and figures to fully terrify and punish any who are forced to enter it, going so far to become an alchemical/spiritual puzzle to test the main characters. And increasingly, we see Hell as setting itself up for each individual sinner. The TV show Lucifer utilizes this very effectively, especially in Season 3’s episode “Off the Record,” in which a man is forced to replay the last two years of his life over and over in Hell, because his obsession with the titular character caused him to commit murder.**

But what does all this really mean? Well, at the heart of all these portrayals is the idea of torment. Whether you realize or not you’re in it, Hell is meant to fill you with despair. That may be through pain, psychological torture, or terror. It can vary depending on the needs of the storyteller or the person being tormented, but the point is, it can change for any purpose. And that is why we’re seeing so many variations of Hell in our media.

And I’m sure with the passage of time, we’ll see even more portrayals, matching new ideas and situations we face in our lives, giving us all new reasons to be afraid. I find that kind of exciting. Hell, don’t you?

What are some versions of Hell you’ve come across or created? Why do you think it was so effective or terrible?

*There are also faiths that don’t have any belief or reject beliefs about a punishment-themed afterlife, but I think we’ll skip over those for this article.

**By the way, so excited for Lucifer season 4! Thank you Netflix, for saving one of the best shows on TV right now. I’m working my way through rewatching the show and can’t wait to see what’s been served up. #LuciferSaved