Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

I’ve talked a bit about “The Pure World Comes,” the story I’m writing set in Victorian England. And yes, at this point I’m pretty sure it’s going to be another novel. But that’s beside the point. With the completion of the latest chapter, I’m two-thirds of the way through the story, so I figured I’d talk about something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while: what it’s like writing a story set in Victorian England.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Victorian era. It’s an era of contradictions: one of vast British expansion and industrialization, of great achievements in science and literature, as well as one of the most glittery ages of British history (at least in our popular memories). However, it was also an age of deep poverty for many, an age of exploitation and horror, and one where some of the most horrific crimes of the 19th century occurred, from Jack the Ripper to the British government’s reaction to the Irish Potato Famine (and yes, I’m counting that as a crime).

I’ve been trying to channel all that love, as well as all the information I’ve gathered through years of research, to make this story of mine, about a young maid who goes to work in the home of a mad scientist, feel authentic. Like you actually stepped into the Victorian era when you read this story.

What’s been the hardest part so far? Well, the language. I’ve been trying to make the dialogue sound like that fancy Queen’s English we see in movies and on TV, and the narration sound something like Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot (a prequel to his novel, Salem’s Lot), which reads like a Victorian novel or something by HP Lovecraft, who likes to pretend he’s a Victorian. It’s harder than it looks, and at times, I find myself worrying if my characters sound more like modern Americans than 19th century Brits.

I’ll admit, it’s gotten easier to make the story and the characters sound Victorian as time has gone on, but it’s still far from perfect. And I have no doubt that later drafts will focus a lot on language.

I could also focus a bit more on describing the clothing. That’s a big part of the Victorian appeal.

However, other aspects have been easy. Going into the minutiae of Victorian life, from mourning clothes and practices (which the Victorians made an entire production of), to food and garden parties has been a treat. I had a lot of fun describing both the daily lives of maids in that age and just how dirty that age could be. And, of course, I had a blast working my theory of who Jack the Ripper is into the story.

And of course, adding those little weird details of life back then has been fun. Did you know that, according to the beliefs of the time, whom a pregnant woman interacted with could influence the baby’s health and appearance? Yeah, so if she met a drunk on the street, she might spend the rest of her pregnancy fearing her kid would come out looking and eventually acting like that drunk.

I also spent a good chunk of Chapter Eleven describing Victorian bath rituals (believe me, it’s relevant). Did you know public baths were a big phenomenon back then? How much you could pay for those baths, always sex-segregated, could determine what sort of bath you could take. And showers? They were known as shower-baths, or more formally as douche-baths. Yes, douche-baths. And no, not like we mean it today.

In the end, I think what I’m dealing with are all the usual struggles of writing a sort of historical fiction (Or is it more a homage to Gothic literature and gaslamp fantasy?). Balancing the level of detail with the need to tell the story, attempting to bring the age to life for even the most unfamiliar of readers. It’s a challenge, no matter your experience or how much research you’ve done.

Trying to bring to life the age when this sort of dress was fashionable.

Still, it’s a challenge I think I’m up to, as well as a challenge I’m glad I took up. I’m enjoying working on this story, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Hopefully at the end of this story, it’ll show.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I was going to watch a movie after this post was done, but it’s past midnight, so I think I’ll hit the hay.

And in the meantime, remember that you can still participate in next month’s YouTube Q&A in honor of the 1-year publishing anniversary of Rose. Just send your name, where you’re from, and question for me to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and your question might appear in the video (and you could win a download code for the audio book). You can also order a signed copy of Rose with that address, or head to Amazon and Audible to get copies.

Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares, and remember, face masks are inconvenient, but ventilators are far worse.

Hi everyone. I know it’s been a while since I last posted something (eight days, actually), but I didn’t have anything lately I felt passionate posting about. Until now, that is. You see, just a little while ago, the Ohio chapter of the Horror Writers Association finished a chapter meeting. Not only that, but it was our first Zoom meeting, and we had a pretty decent turnout. We’d been discussing doing things virtually for a while now, but COVID-19 really pushed us to do things online.

And that probably had a big part in our discussion during the meeting. We got onto talking about how COVID-19 has been affecting the writing industry, from the stories we tell to the events we go to. And it has been changing. Or at the very least, it’s in a state of flux.

If you’re part of the writing community as well, you know how it is. A lot of events had to be canceled because of the virus. StokerCon, the biggest horror convention in the world, was canceled, as was ParaPsyCon in Mansfield, OH, which I was supposed to attend. More than a few authors I’ve spoken to have said that their summer travel plans have been canceled and they’ll be spending more time at home than expected. And there’s a good chance my summer plans will be canceled by the end of next month, if not sooner.

Some events have moved online. A writer friend of mine told us during the meeting that he was supposed to give a talk in London around April, but it was moved online. According to him, it had probably more attendees than if he’d been there in person. And there are more events moving online. Hell, some people prefer it that way. Sure, you miss the personal touch that comes from doing cons and panels and readings face-to-face, and maybe lose a little business. But it can be easier on our schedules and wallets and, at least these days, health.

Perhaps some of our events will move online permanently.

Then there are the stories we write. A lot of discussion has gone on about how coronavirus is affecting what we weave together with words. Many of you already know that I’ve written a story, What Errour Awoke, which includes the virus for most of the story as part of the setting. And since then, I’ve had a few more ideas that take place during this current crisis, after this crisis, or uses imagery from the crisis to enhance the terror.

This virus is changing so much of our industry.

For others though, this pandemic has put a crimp in their writing plans. More than a few people have said their planned pandemic or zombie stories have been put on hold or readjusted due to COVID-19. One of my fellow writers mentioned how her students turned in a story about zombies created from the COVID-19 vaccine, and how she told said student that it wouldn’t be published (sounds too much like I Am Legend, for one thing). Others have mentioned how a lot of their stories have become period pieces, because they’ve had to move their stories to pre-COVID days. Or how they don’t think they can use COVID-19 in their work right now because they’re going through the pandemic right now, and don’t have the right mindset right now for those sort of stories.

I mentioned how I expected a lot of people to write Gothic stories about evil homes, inspired by being cooped up in their homes and the stress caused by that. Others mentioned how themes of isolation, fear of touch, of each other, might show up more in our fiction.

And this is likely only a few changes that will occur in the industry. Probably, we will see more changes to stories, publishing, marketing and event planning. What they will be, I can’t say for certain. I can only guess. But I think, at some point, we can expect plenty of writing about them.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully have a new post out very soon. Remember, you can still get a signed copy of Rose from yours truly. Send me an email for details. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski are a prime example of dark fantasy.

You’ve probably heard the term “dark fantasy” thrown around to describe different kinds of stories, and the simple definition given when asked what constitutes dark fantasy is “fantasy but darker or grimmer.” And yet, that doesn’t seem to fully encompass the subgenre or quell debate on what dark fantasy is. I’ve heard people say all horror that has to do with the supernatural as a kind of dark fantasy, or that the line between the two is very thin. Even authors who are known as dark fantasy writers have trouble pinning down a definition.

So while I’m no expert myself, I thought I would ask, “What is dark fantasy?” Especially since depending on the definition, my stories could fall into this genre on occasion.

And in the course of my research, I did come across some things. While an exact definition isn’t agreed upon, there are some things that fans and writers can agree upon. For example, both TV Tropes.org and Fantasy Book Fanatic.com agree that dark fantasy is fantasy (no duh), but unlike high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery fantasy, there is a much grimmer, more ominous tone to the stories. While in other subgenres of fantasy, gods can be clearly defined as good or evil or maybe just neutral, gods can be very evil or at best cruelly ambivalent to humans. If they show up in the story at all, that is.

Likewise, magic is a neutral force at best, unlike magic in Harry Potter or the Force in Star Wars (which is a fantasy element in science fiction). Magic may even be the source of corruption that creates the villains in the stories, and could be considered a necessary evil or even the source of evil itself, needing to be rid from the world. As for heroes, there are a distinct lack of heroes in the world, and at best you get anti-heroes or mercenaries. Anyone who could be defined as a “hero” may be filling the role reluctantly. They’re doing this not for some noble goal like saving the world or defeating an evil warlord, but for revenge, their own goals, for profit or because they haven’t been given a choice in the matter and are really bitter about that.

Based on these definitions, the Overlord novels by Kugane Maruyama and their adaptations (which I recommend) count as dark fantasy as well as isekai fantasy.

And finally, there’s a good chance evil can win. Bad politicians can stay in power while good ones may lose their heads. The Demon King can take over the continent and establish an empire. The witch may kill the princess and release the plague upon the land before getting slaughtered by the princess’s lover. Things may just go to shit.

Yeah, bleak. And under these parameters, series like The Witcher novels or some of my favorite isekai fantasy series from Japan, such as Overlord, The Rising of the Shield Hero, or Arifureta,* count as dark fantasy.

But given those parameters, doesn’t that make supernatural horror dark fantasy after all? Not necessarily. While some might prefer to use the term “dark fantasy” for their stories to avoid horror’s negative connotations in society, and the two genres do overlap, there are key differences. Namely, dark fantasy focuses on the monster and fantasy elements while horror uses the monster and fantasy elements.

Look at my own novel Rose, for example. The protagonist Rose Taggert is transformed into a plant/human hybrid by a magical book given to mortals by a nature god. Sounds very fantasy-esque. And if Rose was a dark fantasy story, it would follow Rose Taggert’s attempts to live a life and understand her place in the world now that she’s changed, as well as to understand this new magic dimension in the world around her. But it doesn’t. Instead, the magic is a means by which to place Rose in the power of the antagonist, Paris Kuyper. It’s a means to create the terror of not knowing how dangerous Paris is, nor knowing what he’ll do to her if she doesn’t respond to his desires as he wants her to. That’s why Rose is a fantasy-horror novel rather than a dark fantasy novel.

Similarly, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles can be considered dark fantasy because they use the state of vampirism to explore psychological and philosophical truths and beliefs among the characters. If they were full-on horror, the vampires would be the means to terrify the readers. You know, like Salem’s Lot (which I need to reread, with a new adaptation on the way and all).

While some might categorize “Rose” as dark fantasy, how those fantasy elements are used distinguishes it as a horror novel.

And while we’re distinguishing between genres and subgenres, let’s talk about the difference between dark fantasy and grimdark. Grimdark is another subgenre of fantasy, characterized by apocalyptic, dystopian or hellish settings and a very bleak atmosphere, but still containing all those fantasy elements. So, what makes it different from dark fantasy, when both can contain those settings and atmosphere? According to Fantasy Book Fanatic.com, the difference is in hope:

“The concept of hope seems to be the primary differentiating factor between dark fantasy and grimdark. Hope is still able to be an integral theme in dark fantasy narratives. In contrast, the central theme of grimdark almost never entertains the possibility of hope. The central theme revolves around cynicism instead. This differentiation is vague at best, which is why many of the works of dark fantasy and grimdark are so easily confused.”

So what is dark fantasy? Well, by this definition, it is fantasy with darker or horror overtones. However, it distinguishes itself from horror by using the fantasy elements as a means to tell the story, rather than as a means to terrify the reader. Think vampires as tortured souls rather than vampires as supernatural man-eating monsters. And, unlike grimdark, there is still an element of hope in the story. Things may go to shit, but people are still allowed to hope.

My name is Rami Ungar, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Which, unlike the other two I just mentioned, will not appear on any of my anime recommendations lists. The anime did the original novels a poor service, which is a shame, because I devoured the first four books in a week, they’re that good. Check them out if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re interested, I’m still taking orders for signed copies of Rose. Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for details. Or you can check it out on Amazon and Audible. And if you do check the book out, let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be neck deep in Victorian England again, but I hope to put out another post very soon.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Sometimes, when working on a story, we find that it might be a bit longer than you had originally anticipated. And then you find out it’s going to be much longer. Perhaps even the length of a novel.

I may be on the verge of one such story. There’s a good chance after I begin writing this story set in Victorian England, it may not end as a novella, as I expected, but a full novel. And after finishing Toyland less than two months ago, plus River of Wrath to edit still (which I plan to do very soon, believe me), it feels too soon. And it’s hard to judge how big these stories can get just based on the outline I wrote up these past couple of days. Perhaps it just feels like a novel based on what I wrote up and will still be under sixty-thousand words, the threshold I establish for novels.

Then again, River of Wrath was originally supposed to be a novelette, but ended up being somewhere over sixty-thousand words. Not to mention there are two or three other stories I’ve written that I plan to someday expand into longer stories. This might be another sort of story like that.

Well, I always knew my plans for this year might change, depending on how things develop. And I am dying to get into this story, so one way or another, I’m going to write it and see where it goes. I just hope that when it’s done, no matter its length, it’ll be one hell of a story.

I also hope that when it’s finished, I’ve come up with a good title for it. I hear those are essential for telling a good story.

Well, that’s all I wanted to say. Just wanted to get all that off my chest before the writing process began. I’m off to board a carriage drawn by four demonic horses and driven by a skeletal figure in a top hat to take me to a fear-infested past. Wish me luck on my journey.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares.

Those of you who don’t follow me on my other social media platforms may not know this, but at least once a week, usually Saturday, I post links to my novel Rose. The hope is, with enough regular mentions, people will notice the book and be tempted to read the book. If they see it often, it will worm under their skin and the possibility of entertainment they’re missing out on will nag at them. Perhaps they’ll even check it out just to see if they really are missing out.

It’s a simple strategy, but it does work. Not to the point where I’m getting dozens of new readers or reviews every week, but it does get results. For example, just this past week or so, Rose received two new ratings on Goodreads. And not too long ago, Rose received a bunch of new ratings on Amazon Canada and Amazon UK. And I think these consistent ads may have played a role in all of these new ratings.

And as I write this, I wonder if these new ratings are just a fraction of the new people reading Rose. They just haven’t let me know what they think as of yet.

This is why I keep posting about Rose. I want people to find the book. Someone like Stephen King may only need to post a couple of times about their upcoming book, and they’ll have thousands of pre-orders within hours. Less well-known but very established horror authors will post regular ads just to remind people that their book is coming out or that it’s already out or that it’s been out for a while. My philosophy is that I have to do ten times the work in order to get half of what I want. What I want is to have as many people as possible read my stories. So obviously, I’ll do what I can to get people to notice Rose.

I just can’t post everyday, because it would cost way too much money or because people would get sick of seeing Rose mentioned on my timeline. Or both.

In any case, I have a feeling that all my efforts are going to pay off even more than usual. Because COVID-19 has a lot of people isolating in their homes, they’re looking for new sources of entertainment, including books. Perhaps they’ll see Rose mentioned somewhere and think, “Hmm, that might pass the time for me. I’ll give it a read.”

Not the ideal way for someone to notice my work, but there you go.

And no matter the situation, I’ll keep writing and posting about my stories, with the hope that more people will notice and maybe want to read it. With any luck, they’ll find their new favorite horror story, and I’ll have another reader interested in my next book or publication, whenever that comes out.

And if this post has got you at all interested in Rose, I’ll post the links below. Yeah, of course I would insert an ad into this post, what did you expect? Anyway, if you’re not familiar, Rose is the story of a young woman who wakes up with no memories of the past two years. Pretty quickly, her body undergoes a startling transformation, becoming a human/plant hybrid. As those around her react to her transformation, she soon realizes they’re not all they seem, leading to a desperate fight for survival.

It’s some dark, creepy shit and you can check it out by clicking on the links below. And if you do end up reading Rose, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love feedback from readers, and they help me out in the long run.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If, like me, you’re celebrating Passover, then Happy Passover (and next year in person). If you’re celebrating Easter this weekend, Happy Easter. And no matter what you believe or don’t believe, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares to you all.

Rose: Available from the links below.

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

For the past week, I’ve been working hard on a new story, the majority of which takes place during our current crisis. You know the one I’m talking about. And you know what? It’s been cathartic to write about.

I’ve said before that writing can be very good for your mental health. Recently, I posted my thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic and it made me feel a hundred times better about the whole situation. In fact, lately I’ve felt like a million bucks. Still, I do feel the occasional twinge of worry or other negative emotions when I consider all we’re going through.

So these past two nights, when I’ve written my protagonist’s reactions to the pandemic and how it’s affecting him mentally and emotionally, as well as recounting how he and others treat the crisis, it was kind of freeing. Like I was channeling not just my own feelings, but the feelings of other people in this situation.

I’ve heard a lot of people, both in and outside of the horror genre, as well as people who don’t write, saying that there’s going to be a lot of new fiction based on this crisis. If I’m any indication, we’ll be seeing that fiction coming out sooner rather than later. Maybe within the next few months. And I think we’re going to see that, for the majority of these authors, setting a story during the COVID-19 crisis is their way of processing their feelings and what they or others were going through.

What sort of stories we’ll get from this crisis, I’m not sure. I feel like a lot of them will just use the crisis as a backdrop, similar to how The Deep by Alma Katsu uses the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic as backdrops for a ghost story (see my review here of that book here). In my case, I’m writing a Lovecraftian horror story, which makes sense because I see the virus as almost a Lovecraftian antagonist a la Nyarlathotep, and the pandemic acts as a sort of base for the terror and paranoia that my characters will feel later in the story.

I have a few other predictions. In terms of romance stories, we’ll see stories about people falling in love from afar due to social distancing, or falling in love due to being stuck in the same area together. We may also get a lot of new Gothic horror stories. Why do I say that? Because since people started sequestering themselves in their home, my article on Gothic horror has been seeing huge spikes in views. Makes sense, I suppose: as much as people love their homes, even being cooped up 24/7 in the best homes can be taxing. And since Gothic horror stories tend to focus mainly on houses as the source of the horror, people are either reminding themselves that their home isn’t so bad as being stuck in The Overlook, or they’re planning on channeling their frustration into stories about homes as a source of horror.

Perhaps writing about this virus can help relieve stress over it as well.

Whatever stories result, I highly encourage authors to write their stories about the coronavirus. Especially if the story helps you process what you’re going through right now. Even if you’re not an author, writing your feelings down can be therapeutic, so go ahead and write whatever you feel. Doesn’t have to be deep or poetic, just as long as it gets your feelings out in a healthy way.

Doing so may not alleviate the crisis or all the problems the crisis is causing to pop up, but at least you’ll feel better for the activity.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy and are doing well. And if you need a pick-me-up, here’s the link to a cute video of foxes laughing and getting cuddles to make you smile.

Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and pleasant nightmares!

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!