Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

I’ll give 2021 this, it went by fast. A lot faster than 2020 did, thank God! And, despite how the year started (*cough* treasonous rebellion against the US government *cough*), it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be when I posted back in late 2020.

Okay, real talk. While 2021 wasn’t as difficult as 2020 was, it still had its fair share of troubles. A lot of people still can’t or won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19, leading to the spread and emergence of new variants. Climate change is still an ongoing problem. There’s a big job and housing crisis happening in the country right now. And there’s still a ton of political and social unrest in the US and around the world, among other things.

That being said, 2021 did have some improvements. A lot of people are still alive because of masking and vaccination. In many places, we’re able to eat in restaurants, go to school and work, and even see movies and shows in theaters again (my mom, sister and I are going to the ballet for the first time in nearly two years! We’re so excited). The US didn’t collapse, despite how much we feared it would one way or another back in January. There are new treatments for other diseases alongside COVID-19 being discovered and developed, and new initiatives to protect the environment, combat homelessness, and so much more!

Oh, and we got one hell of a two-part movie adaptation of the Sailor Moon Dream arc back in June. Can’t forget that.

On a personal level, 2021 was mostly very good. I got vaccinated (and boosted as of two weeks). I moved into a bigger apartment. I got to visit some cities I’ve always wanted to visit for my vacation (and learned I’m not a Vegas person in the process). My efforts to save for a home are on track (for the most part; a lot of that savings account went into my vacation). And…what else? Oh yeah. I had my best year of writing and publishing ever!

Very excited about this (and whatever is created as the cover).

Seriously, The Pure World Comes was released and has been getting rave reviews; I published several short stories, novelettes and articles in anthologies and magazines; my collection, Hannah and Other Stories, was accepted for publication; I got to attend a couple of awesome conventions and meet some readers and writers; I wrote and edited so, so much; my friends and I created a small publishing press and are crowdfunding our first anthology (more on that below); and the number of Followers of Fear grew on this blog and my other social media platforms. This has been my most successful year of writing since I first started keeping track!

All that being said, I had my difficult moments this year. Things I didn’t talk about on my blog or other social media. I couldn’t keep my cats due to reasons outside my control and had to return them to the shelter soon after I got them; a driver ran a red light, causing us to get into a crash and forcing me to replace my car (at least the insurance company helped me get a new one); and there were plenty of times I felt frustrated, restless, or lonely because of the isolation we’ve all been going through these past two years. Yeah, all that happened. And it sucked. At least they helped me grow as a person (I think).

So yeah, 2021 was full of good and bad. At least the good outweighed the bad. And that’s making me somewhat hopeful for 2022.

Yeah, there’s still a lot of shit in the world that’s likely going to bring down my opinion of humanity and the world in general. But as I said above, things have gotten better in certain areas and may continue to go that way. And I have a lot of projects on the horizon, like Hannah and the paperback and ebook editions of The Pure World Comes (and maybe an audio book); I’m already signed up for a couple of conventions and expos; I have at least one short story being released next year, and hopefully more on the way; I might be working on an anthology next year (more on that below); and so many ideas I can’t wait to write!

I may even get to work on Crawler, like I planned to.

Speaking of the paperback/ebook for The Pure World Comes, how does this look for cover art.

And who knows what else might happen in 2022? I don’t think I’ll be able to buy a house or get a movie adaptation of my work (though I would love it if either happened), but a lot happened in 2021 that I didn’t expect. Sky’s the limit, and I plan to head there.

Yes, 2021 was difficult in some ways and on many levels, but it was also happy and rewarding, too. And while I know that a lot of problems will continue through to 2022, I’m hopeful for the new year as well. So much more than I was at this time last year.

And I hope that whatever happened in 2021, you’re feeling the same way too.

How did 2021 go for you? How are you feeling about 2022? Anything happen that made you smile or feel helpful? Let’s discuss in the comments below.


On the subject of the small press my friends and I created and our anthology, That Which Cannot Be Undone, the crowdfunding campaign is going quite well. In just six days, we’ve reached 17% of our goal and are working to get the rest. If we make our funding goal, we’ll be able to release a great anthology of horror set in Ohio and written by our fellow Ohio authors. You can learn more about the anthology and the campaign by clicking on the link below.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to keep the hope alive for the week (and maybe the rest of the year). Until next time, good night, Happy Hanukkah and Krampusnacht (yes, that’s a thing), and pleasant nightmares!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Recently on Twitter, another author I’m acquainted with tweeted that she didn’t think she would ever reach the levels of the authors she admired. She then went on to say that while she aspired to “champagne quality” writing, her stories usually ended up being “boxed wine” quality.

First off, what’s wrong with boxed wine? The first sips of wine I liked came from boxes. And price, prestige, method of preparation, or recommendation of experts is no guarantee of quality or tastefulness. Just check out this hilarious video on the subject.

And second, just because you think your work isn’t as good as your heroes or as prestigious as other stories doesn’t mean it’s bad. For starters, you think the writers you aspire to be don’t have their bad days? Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert probably bemoaned that they would never come up with stories as influential as those of Mary Shelley, HG Wells and Jules Verne. Every professional manga artist, including those who have made the most famous series like Eiichiro Oda, Rumiko Takahashi, and Naoko Takeuchi, have lamented they’ll never be as good as their favorite artists despite all proof to the contrary. And God knows HP Lovecraft, one of the most influential and controversial writers in horror, worried that he would never measure up to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Chambers and Arthur Manchen.

(And if I’m being honest, between his prejudices and his hyper-Victorian style of writing, he never did.)

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because another work is considered “prestigious” doesn’t mean it’s good. In fact, the word prestige comes from the Latin word for “illusion.” And that’s what prestige is: an illusion. A bunch of critics or purveyors or publishers came together and agreed that because a work of art has certain qualities or is being sold in a certain place (like a fancy, pretentious art gallery), it’s considered “good” and worthy of being worshipped. But beyond making sure that it’s been edited well, that’s no guarantee of quality.

An example of a bestseller whose quality is questionable.

Neither is being a bestseller, honestly. The way a bestseller is defined is often based on how much a publisher thinks a story will do and how much marketing is done for the book. Most bestseller lists can be gamed for profit, such as happened with Lani Sarem’s YA novel a few years ago. And many bestsellers fade into obscurity after a few years, rather than having staying power. It has nothing to do with quality of the story itself (just look at my review of Nothing But Blackened Teeth, which has attained bestseller status, if you don’t believe me).

You know what is an indicator of quality (beyond editing and not having anything offensive in the content)? An audience’s reaction. Fiction is often an escape and helps audiences heal from our awful reality, or at the very least bring joy and give readers a feeling that their interests are shared by others. So if your work brings people joy, then that’s a great sign of its quality. Doesn’t matter if it involves college professors and literati types scheming and having sex with one another; fighting aliens in another solar system; or having a love affair with a powerful man in a universe where humanity is divided into castes based on supposed wolf pack heirarchy.* Just as long as your audience gets joy from reading it, then it’s quality.

You especially see this in the horror genre. You have your Gothic and ghost stories with flowery language; serial killer thrillers that gush blood and gore; Nazi zombies that bite your face off as they propagate a toxic and deadly ideology; and even stories around killer cows or living poop monsters or other ridiculous ideas. All those are stories in the horror genre, and very few within the genre will judge you for it.

Plenty outside the genre will, though. Horror as a whole is still looked down upon as a genre, even as it proves more profitable and popular every year. But that’s another thing: tastes and what is considered prestigious changes all the time. Shakespeare, opera and even lobster used to be considered low-class. Now they’re fancy and high-falutin. Perhaps in a hundred years, your “boxed wine” fiction will be taught in high school and college classes, working on horror and superhero movies is a highly sought-after privilege, and a restaurant is considered luxury if it serves real bacon. You never know.

All that being said, this might not make you feel any better about your stories. These feelings might come from stress, anxiety, depression, or dating a demon fairy who scares people with a twitch of the face rather than trying to write stories. But if learning all this helps you feel like your work is champagne quality, then mission accomplished. Because no matter what your story is about, how flowery the writing is, or who’s hyping it up or buying it, if your work is enjoyed by someone, that’s what matters most.

Better have an editor check it over first. They catch stuff you’ll never see in a million years before you get to the publishing phase.

You may think your story is a boxed wine, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or low-class. The exact opposite, in fact.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back Monday for something special (you probably know what already). Until next time, good night, Happy Thanksgiving, and pleasant nightmares!

*This is an actual subgenre of romance, and it is apparently very popular. I won’t judge anyone who likes it, but I will say that wolf packs aren’t actually based around alphas, betas and omegas. Research has shown that wolf packs are really alliances of small, nuclear families and lone wolves adopted into the pack. The more you know.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Lately, I’ve been deep into two very different books of horror. The first, which I finished last night, is What One Wouldn’t Do, an anthology of horror stories around the idea of “what wouldn’t you do for…what? Power? Revenge? Love? Etc?” The other is Ghoul by Brian Keene, a coming-of-age horror novel about three boys who discover a ghoul living in the graveyard near their homes. They’re both very good, very different from one another, and both deal in emotional horror.

Emotional horror is horror that relies more on the feelings the story provokes in the reader than a supernatural/paranormal entity or a serial killer or anything like that. And yes, I’m aware that all horror tries to provoke an emotional response in readers. Namely terror and fear. But this is a much more subtle kind of horror. Emotional horror scares you with the situation the characters are in and their responses, particularly their emotional responses, to the situation.

A good example of this is the 2015 movie The Witch. You may have noticed, but the titular witch is actually pretty peripheral to the story. She doesn’t show up except to maybe push events in the story. In total, I think she’s maybe only in the film for three whole minutes, if even that. Rather, the horror of the story is how each character reacts to the witch’s interference in their lives. It starts with the baby being kidnaped, then with the older son disappearing into the woods and then coming back horrifically changed. The kid has an ecstatic vision before dying, which leads to the family to believe they’re being victimized by a witch, who could possibly be one of them. And you’re terrified not by the witch or what could be her supernatural influence on the characters. You’re scared by their paranoia, their heartbreak and distrust, and how quickly things devolve from here, leading to an awful, irreversible decision on the part of the protagonist.

The true horror of this story may not be from the titular monster

This is the kind of horror both What One Wouldn’t Do and Ghoul deal in. Many of the stories in the former deal with supernatural elements, but the horror itself is what drives the characters to commit heinous acts or to make deals with the devil or go through insane challenges, and then seeing the fallout from those decisions. And for the latter, while the titular monster is scary in its way, it’s no Pennywise. Rather, a lot of the horror we experience is through the main characters, twelve-year-old boys who are becoming disillusioned by the world around them through the adults in their lives. It’s honestly heartbreaking to see the adults around them fail them so spectacularly, and one scene in particular was so upsetting, I had to post about it on Facebook and Twitter just to get my emotions out.

So, how do you write these scenes? Honestly, it’s not easy. I’m not sure you can set out to write a story that deliberately tugs at your heartstrings and fills you with the emotions the characters are feeling. It’s kind of like how you can’t write a story around a theme. Instead, you take a story and the theme evolves naturally from your working on it. Only when that theme has revealed itself can you play with it and the story together to bring out the best in both.

That was certainly the case with Cressida, the story I wrote that was published in Into the Deep (click here to check it out if you haven’t yet). While it’s a horror story and a mermaid story, it’s not a horror story about mermaids, though they aren’t the pretty fishtailed supermodels Disney animated, either. Rather, the mermaid is in herself a catalyst for the true horror, which is what the characters do upon encountering a mermaid who shares an uncanny resemblance to a deceased family member of theirs.

But when I set out to write that story, I never intended that the horror would come from the characters’ emotional and psychological reactions. I wrote the story because it sounded like a lot of fun to work on and I made changes to the storyline along the way to better bring out the horror I was discovering. The result is Cressida, which I feel is some of the best work I’ve written yet.

You know, that makes me realize something: in emotional horror, whatever is happening in the plot, be it mermaids, ghouls, necromancy, witches, etc., is often not the main focus of the story (even if it’s in the story’s title). Rather, they’re plot devices, tools to draw out the horror hidden within the characters’ emotional responses.

My story in this anthology didn’t start out as an emotionally-driven horror story. It just ended up that way.

I guess that makes emotional horror a kind of psychological horror.

Anyway, that’s what’s going through my mind at this time. The fact that I was getting into all these stories with similar kinds of horror at the same time got my brain working, so I decided to write it out. I’d love to hear what your thoughts on this subject are. Let’s talk in the comments below.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I leave for my trip tomorrow, so I likely won’t be around as much as I would otherwise be. However, I’ll be around on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so check there for updates if you start to miss me.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares, and there’s only a week till Halloween. Prepare to give yourselves to the dance of terror and to raise the old gods so we can all enjoy their infernal gifts. If you do not, I suggest you run.

Bye!

From now on, this blog will be an art criticism blog. Expect me to go to a lot of art galleries, praise or criticize local artists, and talk about the history of Impressionist art.

Kidding. I know very little about art, except for my own preferences, that is.

Okay, real talk. The thing is, life is getting busier. The amount of time I spend sleeping and the amount of time I work at my day job aren’t changing, and for all the obvious reasons, I can’t exactly decrease either. Add in the usual obligations of adulthood and finding time to eat, and it leaves only a little time to write.

And unfortunately, the time I spend writing is increasingly being taken up with administrative and marketing work. Plus I’ve got projects to edit and whatnot. It takes up time and means very little actual writing happens. This past week, I maybe found time to write for two nights out of six or seven.

Not good for a guy who considers writing his raison d’etre. Especially one who’s doing particularly well these days and trying to keep that going for as long as possible.

So, I’m trying to manage my time better. Can’t be a writer unless you can find time to write, and I’m a big believer in carving out the time to write. With that, some things will be sacrificed. And one of those sacrifices will likely be less time spent blogging here.

Look, I love this blog. I love sharing my thoughts here, and I love interacting with all the cool Followers of Fear I’ve met through this blog. But I get full of stress when I can’t create (or attempt to create) terrifying stories and I haven’t been able to do that. So, one way I’m finding time to write is to spend less time on this blog.

That being said, I’ll keep posting regularly. Probably once a week rather than once every four or five days. And I’ll likely be cutting back on reviews. Again, I like reviews, but they take up time. I’ll probably instead do just book reviews and only put those out when I finish a book worth reviewing.* You know, instead of like how I review every new horror movie.

Oh, but I promise I won’t turn this blog into just a constant stream of updates on what events I’m going to or what stories are releasing when. I’ll still be putting out posts with musings on writing and horror, as well as any big news or anything I feel like sharing. Maybe the occasional rant or ghost-hunting expedition. You know, more of what you love with this blog and why you probably followed me for.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. I’m not sure what other changes I’ll be making in my life to maximize writing time. All I know is, I will be doing most of them after my vacation. And hopefully, out of those changes, comes some great stories worth reading.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m hitting the hay so I can get my full eight hours and be productive tomorrow. Maybe after I run an errand, I’ll finish this story I’m working on. We’ll see what happens.

Good night, pleasant nightmares, and the latest Halloween movie was okay. Yeah, that’s the review. It’s okay. The bloody kills are good, but the filmmakers spend so much time on building the myth and fear of Michael Myers in Haddonfield that they neglect actually showing Michael Myers and why we should be afraid of him. And the final scene just did not sit right with me. 3 out of 5. It’s not awful, but it could have better.

Not bad for my last film review for the immediate future, is it?

*That’s another thing. Finding time to read has become scarce. Audio books help, but getting through the ones that aren’t on audio book is taking longer than it should. It’s a drag.

Let’s face it, every creative out there (especially those who weave stories together) has put themselves into their work. Often, they do it more than once, and the resemblance to themselves, accurate or in their own heads, varies from self-insert to self-insert.* HP Lovecraft loved to put himself through cosmic horror and dreamlike ordeals as Randolph Carter (does that count as masochism?), and Stephen King’s The Dark Half is obviously him having fun with a fictional version of himself and his pen name Richard Bachman.

And don’t forget, Dante Alighieri made himself the star of The Divine Comedy, where the poet Virgil and later Beatrice, the dead girl he crept on when she was alive, led him through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.

You know, now that I’m typing this, I realize that a lot of self-insert characters get to go on the biggest, most grandiose adventures. I mean, Dante traversed the afterlife and recorded it in detail! And remember Lani Sarem, the lady who conned her way to the top of the New York Times bestseller list? Her novel’s protagonist, who from the cover art is basically her under a different name, was a witch who basically became the delight of the Las Vegas entertainment scene using her abilities.

There’s an article to be found in this, I’m just not in the mood to research and write it right now.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Self-inserts. I’m no exception to the rule. Throughout my writing career, I’ve included different versions of myself in my stories. One or two have even been included in published stories (I’ll let you guess which ones those are). And once more, I’m inserting myself into the story I’m currently working on. Only this time, this might be the most obvious and blatant self-insert since Dante!

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But it feels like it! My character is basically what I hope will be me in a few years: a full-time writer with his own home, hosting costume parties in his living room and able to focus on creepy tales as a living. His last name is an anagram of my own and his first name also begins with an “R.” So yeah, pretty obvious self-insert.

Still, I’m having fun with it. The story’s focus isn’t on my character, he’s just a good way to get this story going. And since I can focus on telling the story and not making my self-insert seem like the bee’s knees to readers, I can get a little ridiculous and have a ton of fun with it. Whether that will lead to a decent ghost story (because of course I would put myself into a ghost story!) remains to be seen. But perhaps with some edits…well, we’ll see.

Anyway, I’ll get back to this story soon. And I’ll likely have a post or two for you all very soon, so keep an eye out. And in the meantime, check out this book trailer for The Jewish Book of Horror that was uploaded to YouTube last night. It’s really cool, and you can even see my name listed beside my story, “The Divorce from God,” at one point. Give it a watch and consider getting a copy of the book when it releases.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares.

*That’s the preferred term, as I understand it.

So, for the past several days, I’ve been working on the outline for Crawler, the mummy novel I’ll write after my upcoming vacation. And it’s coming along very well. I think I could be done with the outline by the middle of the week. That being said, more fun than writing this outline (and believe me, it is fun), is the characters themselves.

Some of my favorite Stephen King novels are those that have, along with a kick-ass premise, a really memorable cast of characters. IT has the Losers Club, as well as bullies, a mother with Munchausen’s by proxy, a budding serial killer teen, plenty more nasty parents and a few horrible lovers, and so many more. Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears, his girlfriend Susan, the professor, the priest, the teen boy with a fondness for horror, the real estate agent, Susan’s controlling mother, Susan’s asshole ex-boyfriend that her mother loves for some reason, the teen mom who takes her rage out on her baby, her lousy husband, the woman having an affair, her husband and her lover, the hunchbacked man and so many more. Not to mention the vampire Barlow and his familiar Richard Straker.

And I could write a whole blog post about the characters of Needful Things, one of my favorite King novels ever. There’s Leland Gaunt himself, as well as Sheriff Pangborn, his girlfriend Polly Chalmers, the town drunk, the crazy first selectman, the preteen boy obsessed with baseball and his speech therapy teacher, his mom and her best friend who think they’re having affairs with Elvis, Ace Merrill, Polly’s housekeeper Nettie, local angry bitch Wilma Jerzyck (what else would you call her?), the various members of the Catholic and Baptist churches who hate each other’s guts, etc. They’re all part of the fun that make this and the previous two novels, which wouldn’t be as impactful without them.

And I’m willing to bet that for King, a lot of the fun he had writing those novels probably came from these characters. Maybe even moreso than the stories themselves, let alone the horrors within.

By the by, I’m pretty sure Salem’s Lot will be especially influential on Crawler. I’ll have to work hard not to let that influence make the novel read like a King ripoff or pastiche.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, I’m having a ball with this outline, and a lot of the fun comes from the characters. Remember my blog post about wanting to include Jewish characters? Well, I made my leads Jewish. And while I didn’t need to, it actually adds an interesting dimension to the struggle of the novel. After all, they’re facing an Egyptian-style mummy. Play the Prince of Egypt soundtrack! Plus, they each have aspects to them that people will like or identify with.

It’ll probably help that I modeled their appearances after Rei Hino/Sailor Mars from Sailor Moon and Dean Winchester from Supernatural (if there’s a movie version someday, can we get Jensen Ackles as the male lead?).

I would love to have a novel with a cast compared favorably to either of these novels.

I’ve also been able to add a bunch of characters that I think will be fun to write. For instance, there’s my antagonist, whom I think people are going to find terrifying and yet relatable. There’s also a troublesome mother who thinks she’s entitled to things when she’s not; a police dispatcher with a very big secret; a drug dealer; a preteen with a heart of gold who ends up caught up in the meshuggas around town; a true crime blogger who’s kind of awful; and more. They’re going to be great to write.

Of course, there’s a good chance I could screw it up by not writing them well enough before they reach their final fates, whatever that might be. Still, I gotta try. And I’m sure if I focus on making these characters memorable and somewhat likable while also making sure they play the parts needed for the novel…maybe the cast will turn out as well as the casts of the above novels. Or close enough to it. Balancing acts in writing like this are often a matter of practice, trial and error.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I look forward to giving you further updates on this novel and the other projects I’ll be working on in the near future. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares, and it’s 42 days till Halloween. Have you decided on your costume yet? I have. It’s going to be a killer.

What would happen if I featured my faith more in my stories? Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on Jews in the media I consume.

As you probably know, in addition to being an eldritch abomination from another universe in human form, I’m Jewish (we need faith too, you know). I’m not super-religious, but I follow many rituals and feel close to my heritage and my definition of God. But except for a couple of stories, my religion doesn’t really show in my writing. Or at least, characters who share my faith don’t show up in my stories a lot.

There could be a lot of reasons for that. Part of it could be that horror, the genre I’m drawn to and find most exciting, doesn’t necessarily need religion. Horror may draw on religious beliefs a lot, but that doesn’t mean the stories are religious. Religious elements are just tools for telling a good horror story. Also, Judaism itself isn’t really a scary religion. We don’t have a Devil or Hell, and demons and evil spirits are still subservient to God’s Will and Plan. Beyond golems and dybbuks, the biggest sources of horror for us is our history of being oppressed. And finally, I may have never felt a real need to emphasize the beliefs of my characters. It just doesn’t matter that much. Unless I need to state it, their religion is, “Whatever.”

But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about that. It started with an essay on Variety about Jews in Hollywood and how we’re represented that brought up some good points. I’ll let you read the article yourself, but it made me aware that I don’t see many members of my faith in the media I consume. And that includes in horror. Yeah, there are some: Stan Uris in IT; Yakov Ronen in The Vigil (one of the best horror films I’ve seen yet this year); Tzadok in The Possession (played by musician Matisyahu, believe it or not); and then some.

But still, it’s a small number. And in an age with resurgent anti-Semitism, I feel like that’s something that needs to change.

Besides, I want to challenge myself. What kind of stories can I tell with a Jewish character as a lead? And not just any kind of Jew, but an amalgamation of the Jews I’ve known throughout my life, from secular to religious and old to young, from all walks of life and all types of spirituality? What if I decided, for a few stories, not to make their religions “whatever?”

Well, I actually already know the answer to that. As you probably are aware, my short story “The Divorce from God” is to appear in The Jewish Book of Horror this holiday season, and a short story in this collection I’m working on has two Jewish men as the leads. And I like to think both stories are good (I only have confirmation of one).

But what if I expand that? What if I tell more tales–not all of them, but some of them–with my fellow members of the Tribe? What if their faith is both an aspect of themselves, though not the only one, and a source of strength? What if the lead is that amalgamation I mentioned?

Well, perhaps I’ll find out sooner rather than later. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m thinking of working on another novel after I’ve finished editing this collection and a couple more stories. And while I don’t think it’s necessary for the lead, I can also see them being Jewish. It could actually fit them very well.

We’ll see what the future holds.

I look forward to the stories I write in this vein.

You know, it’s funny. At one point when I was young, a grown up tried telling me I should write less horror and more of what I know. Which at the time was mainly going to a Jewish day school, having rabbis for parents and being annoyed by my sisters. I absolutely refused, telling this well-meaning grown up “that would be boring.” I think they were worried I was going to turn out to be some psychopath who murdered people in basements and then wrote about it (we horror lovers and creators are so misunderstood!). Still, I wasn’t going to write something I wasn’t attracted to or found boring. Stories are an escape from reality, not a regurgitation!

Now I want to incorporate what I know into a horror story. I guess it’s true what they say, when people “write what they know,” they’re writing it in a completely different way than expected. I wonder that well-meaning adult would make of this now? Hopefully they’d be intrigued enough to read it (and realize I grew up much more well-adjusted than they anticipated).

Anyway, it’s late and this post has gotten insanely long. I’m going to sign off and say Shabbat Shalom, an early Happy New Year (Rosh Hashanah starts Monday evening, it’s our New Year), pleasant nightmares, and a good night. See you next time, my Followers of Fear!

Have you ever written part of or an entire novel, and then nothing has happened to it? Maybe you edited the hell out of it and tried to find a publisher. Maybe you got some feedback from a beta reader that made you hesitate to put it out in the world. Or maybe you realized that, as much as you loved it and as much work as you put into it, it’s not very good and you’re better off moving on. So this project you’ve worked months or even years on gets put away, stored in a box or on a shelf or in a file drive to gather dust and likely never see the light of day.

If you have one of these novels, you have a “trunk novel.”

What are trunk novels, you may be asking? Well, trunk novels are as I said above: novels that were put away because, for one reason or another, they weren’t suitable to be released or marketed. Prior to computer storage, you might literally put them in a trunk so nobody ever saw them but you. Hence the name.

At least, I think that’s how it got its name. Tracking down the origin of the term was kind of impossible.

In any case, it happens more than we like to admit. We write a story and no matter how hard we try, it doesn’t get past the first draft or never leaves our computers. We may have thought it was the next big thing, or something that could have been published and been a small success, or at least could have gotten a publisher or agent interested. But in the end, it just doesn’t cut the mustard in one way or another, so it gets stowed away somewhere. You may say you’ll work on it again someday, but rarely does that happen.

And it happens to all of us. Really. Even Stephen King has them. He wrote four novels before Carrie was published. Only one of the previous three, Rage, was ever published (and King kind of regrets that). I did a poll in one or two horror writing groups I belong to, and all of the people who answered have trunk novels somewhere in their pasts.

I have several from my younger years, finished and unfinished, that are trunk novels. And one of the novels I wrote in college, Laura Horn, which I am still really proud of, is pretty much a trunk novel now. Why? Several reasons, but the fact that some of the events in the book resemble events that occurred in recent years might have something to do with it. Putting the book out given what’s happened in the last five years just feels wrong.

And I guess you could consider the Reborn City books trunk novels, even though I previously self-published them before taking them out of circulation.

And you know what? That’s alright. Yeah, our feelings towards our trunk novels may sometimes be complex. And we may regret at times that the stories never saw the light of day. But they are still important milestones in our career. They are the results learning to become writers, to learn what works in writing fiction and in learning the discipline of writing. They are the foundation of becoming us. Of becoming the authors we were meant to be.

So, as much as it sucks when a novel goes into the trunk, don’t regret it or feel too bad. It’s just another foundation stone in what is becoming your career.

Do you think I should get one of these and put literal manuscripts inside?

All that being said, I hope none of my completed, as of yet unpublished novels go into the trunk. I’m still shopping around River of Wrath with the hopes of finding a publisher for it, and I plan to work on Toyland again someday soon in the hopes of shopping that around too. What will happen to them? I honestly don’t know. But if they do end up in the trunk? Well, at least I had a hell of a time working on them and honing my skills with them.

Do you have any trunk novels? Would you mind talking about them with me? How do you feel about them? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I still have time left in the evening and I have only one story left in the collection I’ve been editing, so I’m going to get to work on that. Afterwards, I have a couple more short stories to edit (including one with dragon bats in it), and then…well, I’m not sure. A couple of new short stories? Perhaps a new novel? I’ve certainly been itching to get into something longer. And now that The Pure World Comes is out (check it out on the Readict app), I think I can afford to put together another sixty thousand-plus word story of terror and woe. We’ll see what happens.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares and–OH NO! MY TRUNK NOVELS, AS WELL AS MY TRUNK NOVELLAS, TRUNK NOVELETTES, AND TRUNK SHORT STORIES, HAVE BEEN COMBINED TO FORM A GIANT MONSTER MADE OF PAPER! Excuse me while I get the boom stick and fight it off. Ta ta!

Lately, I’ve been contemplating word counts. Not mine personally, at least not only mine, but in general. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the difference between a novella and a novel.

Now, ask any publisher, agent, or writers advocacy group (go Horror Writers Association!), and they’ll have their own guidelines on what designation to give a story based on its length. Even other authors have their own ideas about when a short story becomes a novelette, a novelette becomes a novella, and a novella becomes a novel.*

For several years, I went with the following classification guide:

  • Flash fiction: 1-1000 words
  • Short stories: 1,001-10,000 words
  • Novelettes: 10,001-20,000 words
  • Novellas: 20,001-59,999 words
  • Novels: 60,000 words and up

But for the past couple of years, I’ve used the one used by the Horror Writers Association:

  • Flash fiction: 1-1000 words
  • Short stories: 1,001-7,500 words
  • Novelettes: 7,501-17,500 words
  • Novellas: 17,501-39,999 words
  • Novels: 40,000 words and up

While I use the system, however, I still find parts of this system odd. The changeover from short story to novelette and novelette to novella, I’m fine with. After all, it’s only a difference of 2,500 words from my old system. That’s not much in terms of fiction writing (especially when I write). And most publications set their short story limits at about five or seven thousand words, so it makes sense.

But the difference between novella and novel bothers me. It’s a difference of twenty thousand words, which is a lot no matter who’s writing. And perhaps because of that, forty thousand feels a bit short for me to be comfortable calling any story at forty to sixty thousand words a novel.

Especially when you consider some famous novellas are well above forty thousand words. My favorite novella by Stephen King, The Library Policeman, is over 77,000 words! That’s as long as the first Harry Potter novel, which is a novel by any definition. Other novellas by King, such as The Mist and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, are well over forty thousand words. Believe me, I checked.

Still not sure how this counts as a novella. At least by HWA standards.

I was so curious about this, I actually asked my followers on Twitter and the other members on the HWA Facebook page what they thought. And while I wouldn’t call this a scientific study by any means, the responses I’ve gotten so far have been illuminating. Over on Twitter, about 77% of respondents said a novella became a novel at fifty or sixty thousand words. Meanwhile, on the HWA Facebook page, the majority of my comrades said they felt a novella became a novel at forty thousand words. Sixty thousand was the minority opinion.

What does this all say? I don’t know. Maybe that these designations are pretty arbitrary and that calling a story a novel, a novella, or even a short novel, doesn’t really matter much. Unless you want to give editors, agents and the like an idea of what they’re getting into, or what category you’re submitting a story to for an award.

Or, if you’re like me, you want to cut a short novel to novella length:

One of the stories in the collection I was shopping around is actually technically a short novel. I wasn’t planning on editing it, but I decided to edit all the stories,** and I realized that this one not only needed another pass, but a big reduction in word count. I think it would be better off as part of a collection rather than as a standalone novel.

Problem is, it’s a lot of words to get through. And while I’ve reduced it by a lot already, it’s still got a long way till it’s novella length.

Then again, if King can put together a bunch of short and not-so-short novels and call them novellas, I guess I could put one short novel in a collection of short stories, novelettes and novellas.

Though I’ll still try to get it under forty thousand words while still being a good story. And believe me, there were places where the word count could be cut to make a better and more succinct flow.

Me trying to edit this story and get its word count down.

Anyway, thanks for reading, my Followers of Fear. I was trying to get my thoughts off my chest, so this post kind of turned into a ramble. And given how crazy this subject is, I’d love your thought on the subject. Where do novellas become novels? And does it really need to be defined? Or is it better for the story to be defined so you know what to do with it?

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

*Not that the guidelines really make that big a difference. Even if there was some uniformity on the matter, magazines and publishers decide what word counts they’ll accept, such as “Only short stories under 2,000 words” or “novellas between 20,000 and 25,000 words.” Still, for contests and awards like the Bram Stoker Awards, it’s useful for figuring out which stories go into which categories.

**Good thing too. I realized one story needed to be edited a lot more till it was ready, and another was just crap. I’m taking them out and only shopping the first one once I know it’s of a better quality.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve been shopping around a collection of original short stories and not been having much success. After the last rejection, I decided that I might as well take another look and do another round of editing, in case that had anything to do with it. There are nine stories in the collection, and I thought I’d give at least four or five a good run through. Now though, I’m planning on giving all but two (those that have been edited to death already) another pass.

I didn’t think what I would find would be so bad. Most of these stories were written in the past five or six years, so they should be fine. Right? Right?!

*Sigh*

I looked at the first story. I was horrified that it wasn’t as I remembered it. There were several mistakes that I needed to fix. Not just grammar/spelling/punctuation. but just plot issues that I should’ve fixed or excised in earlier drafts. And if the other stories are like this, I’m not surprised I kept getting rejected!

Well, can’t change the past. I’m taking another look at these stories now, that’s what’s important. I’m already over halfway through the first story, and it’s shown remarkable improvement. If I see similar improvement in the other stories, then…well, I can’t really say what’ll happen then, let alone if the collection will be published.

I even asked my Tarot cards if the collection would find a publisher after all the edits. When I pulled the future card, I got The Moon, which represents uncertainty. Which says it all, really. The writing and publishing game is full of uncertainty. You never know if you’ll find a home for your story when you send it out. Let alone collections!

Still, we play the game, because we love what we do. And I’ll continue working on these stories in the hope that I can improve them enough that someone will want to publish them in a collection.

Or, if things are going well for me, I have the cash to spend, and I think they’re edited enough, I could self-publish. It’d be quite a bit of work all on my own, for certain, but it would likely be worth it. I hope.

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to try to finish up one story tonight, then perform a surgery on a ghost, then start editing the next story. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!


One more reminder: in honor of my ten-year blogging anniversary on Monday, I’m having an Ask Me Anything, or AMA, to celebrate. All readers are encouraged to participate, and one lucky person will receive a prize! Just send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com before tomorrow night, July 28th, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST. I look forward to reading your questions!

And no, I won’t be sending the winner a dragon bat. Not even a baby one. I’m sorry, but the adults are ferocious, the babies need too much care to be separated from their parent, and the laws regarding transporting them are too much a pain in the ass to deal with. Sorry, but thems the breaks.