Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ Category

So today after work, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things. As I was leaving, I spotted one of my teachers from elementary school and her husband getting out of their car to do a little shopping of their own. We recognized each other right away, and while I’ve grown from the scrawny kid I was, she hasn’t seemed to age a day in the fifteen years since I last saw her, and neither has her husband. Normally I would attribute that to witchcraft, but given that they’re Orthodox Jews, I think it’s far more likely they’re using the not at all diabolical but still very impressive power of Kabbalah.

Why do I tell you this story when the subject of this post is Rose? Well, it feels like the basis of a story, and honestly, I felt like sharing it. Do I need better reasons?

But back on subject: Rose will be published in a month from today, on Friday, June 21st. And since my last post on Saturday, I’ve had some updates. My publisher Castrum Press and I have been going back and forth a lot, discussing the editing process and the things we still need to do to get the book out on time.

First, there’s the final edits. According to Castrum, I should be getting the first round of final edits probably near the end of next week. From there, it’ll be a race against time to get the edits done before too long so we can reach the target date for the release. Luckily, I’ll be on vacation during that time, and all my traveling during that vacation time will be wrapping up around that time, so it works out for me. I’ll still have to put my nose to the grindstone so I can get those edits done, but I think I’ll be able to make the deadline. I might not be able to hang out with family and friends during that time, but I’ll make it.

It beats disappointing potential readers and having to order new business cards with amended release dates, anyway (the costs of those pile up if you have to change them frequently, you know!).

In the meantime, I’ve been working on some other stuff that doesn’t get considered until we’re this far along in the process. Last night, I wrote a dedication for the book, an acknowledgements section, and a preliminary blurb for the back cover. That last part may get changed around a bit between now and release day, but I think what I wrote last night gives a good idea of what the novel is about while withholding enough information to get people to actually read.

Here’s what I sent my publisher:

When Rose Taggert wakes up in a greenhouse, the past two years missing from her memory, she has no idea what is in store for her. Her body changes, transfigured into a new, plant-like form by Paris Kuyper, a student and her self-proclaimed lover who used an ancient family grimoire to save Rose’s life. While Rose is at first willing to trust Paris and work with him to recover her memories and the supposed love they shared, it soon becomes clear her lover is not all he seems. In a short time, she decides to put love and memories aside in favor of survival.

But a rose may be defenseless when a storm surrounds it. And Rose may only be able to stand for so long against the forces swirling around her.

Like I said, this may change a lot over the next month, but I think it’s not a bad start.

As for other updates, I’ll be keeping those under wraps for a while. But I think I’ve got enough brewing in my proverbial cauldron that at the very least, I can guarantee that A LOT of people will hear about Rose and may consider giving it a read.

Speaking of which, as I said in my last post, I’m still looking for advanced readers for Rose. If you’d like to receive an early, electronic copy of the novel from my publisher prior to release, all you have to do is send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask in return is that you read the book and consider posting a review after it’s released. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have more updates soon, maybe even a shot of the cover. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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I was going to wait until I got an update from my publisher* or until Tuesday, one month from when Rose is released, but I got impatient.

So as you probably know by now, my upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose is on target to be published June 21st, 2019 by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yes, that trippy subject is what the novel’s about. Yes, I sold that to a publisher. And yes, it is coming out in a little over a month.

Obviously, I’m over the moon with excitement. I’m also dealing with a lot of nervousness and a touch of anxiety, but I’m working a multi-pronged approached to make sure the novel is a success. One of those prongs is through advanced readers, people who receive electronic copies prior to the book’s official release with the hopes they’ll read it, like it, and maybe help spread the word by telling friends or writing reviews online (encouraged, but not required).

And you know what? I’m still looking for more advanced readers.

I’ve managed to build up a pretty big list of advanced readers, but I could always use a few more. So from now until June 7th, if you or someone you know would like to get on the advanced reader list, all you have to do is send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. Once I have that, I’ll add your name to the list and then we just have to wait. Once I know the advanced copies are being sent out, I’ll notify you via email to give you a heads-up.

Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you all.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I should have more updates on Rose as we get closer and closer to the release date. You may even get a little annoyed with me talking about the book so much (but can you blame me?). But of course, it’s all in the name of making sure plenty of people get to read the book, so why not?

Until next time (which, for all I know, might be anytime between today and Tuesday), happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

*Speaking of which, Castrum Press has just released a new anthology, Alien Days, featuring a variety of authors writing about what our first contact with extraterrestrials might be like. A terrifying subject, even if it’s not horror. Please make sure to check it out on Amazon. I’ll be downloading a copy very soon, and I can’t wait.

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.

I’ve been waiting all day–since yesterday, when Castrum made known to me their intentions–to announce this. Through a long work day, social media posts and devouring a pizza to celebrate/get out of cooking tonight, I’ve been waiting for the moment where I can make this announcement. After fifteen months of edits and quiet planning and not-so-quiet planning, my novel Rose, being released by Castrum Press, has a release date.

Now, if you’re new here and you don’t know what Rose is, first off, hello! Welcome to the Followers of Fear! Second, Rose is a fantasy-horror novel that follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). I wrote the first draft as a thesis project for college. Four years after finishing the first draft, the book is finally getting ready to be released. After so many changes and numerous rewrites, it’s finally coming out.

But Rami, I hear you all thinking, when is it coming out?

Well, Castrum has quoted to me a target date for June 21st, 2019. At any rate, we’re going to try to get the book out right around then, with the advanced copies being sent a couple of weeks prior. So yeah, it’ll be a little over a month and a half till Rose hits the digital and (hopefully) physical bookstores. And between now and then, I’ll be doing marketing work and doing final edits for the manuscript. At some point in the next couple of weeks the cover art will be finalized, and we’ll put everything together in an awesome little package.

Honestly, I’m both excited and nervous, and my anxiety is trying to bite and tell me all the things that could go wrong. I’m keeping it in its place and letting it know those things won’t happen in all likelihood, and just trying to remind myself all the big things ahead to get excited for. A dream I’ve held for almost twenty years is finally coming to fruition. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to alternate between celebrating and working hard to ensure it goes well.

With that in mind, Castrum says the last date to get on the advanced readers list is June 7th. So if you’d like to get an early electronic copy of Rose before anyone else, send your email now to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. In exchange, all I ask is you read the book and then consider posting a review after the book comes out. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’m off to start a Rube Goldberg machine of marketing. Thanks again for supporting me through these many years of work. It’s been a crazy ride, but I’m about to reach a huge goal I’ve longed dreamed of. And I don’t think I could’ve gotten this far without you. I hope when Rose comes out, you’ll all consider checking it out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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

I listened to The Stranger Beside Me by true crime writer Ann Rule, who actually knew Ted Bundy, on audio book to prepare for this movie (and that’s the extent to my knowledge of Bundy). In the days leading up to this film’s release on Netflix, I was excited to see this adaptation. Nearly thirty years after the man’s death, would this film, along with the Netflix documentary (I know, I need to watch it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), introduce a new generation to the shocking murders of Ted Bundy?

Well, I went in expecting a different kind of movie, but I came out satisfied with what I got.

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by his real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (known as Liz Kendall in the film and Meg Anders in The Stranger Beside Me), Extremely Wicked follows the romance of Bundy and Kloepfer, how they got together, how Bundy’s arrest in Utah, his two escape attempts in Colorado, his final trial in Florida, during which he marries one of his groupies but (seemingly) still has feelings for Liz, and finally his execution in Florida.

I think what I like the most about this film is its star-studded cast. Everyone embodies their characters so well. Zac Efron as Bundy comes across as a sympathetic, lovestruck man who finds his life falling to pieces around him and the one good thing in it drifting away, while Lily Collins as Liz Kendall does a great job as a woman who put so much into her relationship with this seemingly-perfect man, only to grapple with his crimes. John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart did the man an honor, combining the judge’s Southern gentility with his own deadpan acting method (finally, a film from this year that doesn’t waste the guy’s talent). And Jim Parsons made me forget at certain moments that I was watching Sheldon Cooper. I actually had to watch the scene where he delivers his opening remarks as prosecutor Larry Simpson twice, it was so chilling. Parsons could lead a legal drama now that The Big Bang Theory is done.

I also like how the film balances a romantic storyline with what is mostly a courtroom drama. Unlike other films, Extremely Wicked doesn’t go to great lengths to show Bundy’s depravity or murders, but instead hints and flits around it until the final scene of the film. Its focus is showing how the ongoing legal saga affects Bundy and Kloepfer’s relationship and vice versa, as well as the psychological toll on Bundy. The director knew what they were going for with this film, and in that aspect it succeeded.

If I have one gripe with this film, it’s that romanticizes Bundy a little too much. Bundy’s always had a number of female fans who find him attractive despite what he’s done.* Even actors portraying him have awakened the wrong kind of fascination in teenage and young women (Ann Rule relates some of the phone calls she got after The Deliberate Stranger with Mark Harmon aired in 1986 in her book). Zac Efron is a very handsome actor, no doubt of that, and in the interest of focusing on his romance and courtroom battles, Extremely Wicked glosses over the evil in its title and makes Bundy out to be more of a sweet, hurt man than a calculating serial killer. And I’m not sure that was the best decision.

I also would’ve liked to see Ann Rule make an appearance in the film, but I think I can live without that.

On the whole, I give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a score of 4 out of 5. While its POV Is slightly skewed, its an entrancing thriller that draws you into the story and the bloodless battle occurring on screen. Take a look, and prepare yourself for a ride.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have one or two more posts out before the weekend is done.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel, Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the release. Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*The scientific name for attraction to dangerous partners, by the way, is called hybristophilia. Theories to how it arises range from evolutionary desires for strong and capable partners to romantic notions of wanting to change/help a damaged partner to wanting fame or even just knowing the partner is stuck in a jail cell and won’t go anywhere. The more you know.

I’ve known of the legend of La Llorona, aka The Woman in White or The Weeping Woman, for a while before I heard of this film. A woman drowned her children after her lover was unfaithful to her. Horrified by what she’d done, she either dies of grief or commits suicide, her spirit returning to search for errant children in the vain hope of trading them for her own lost darlings. So when I heard the upcoming film about her would be part of The Conjuring universe, I had to wonder, how would they treat the story? Would she be rewritten as a demon? Or would the filmmakers learn some new tricks and add a bit more to The Conjuring universe as more and more people started to find it formulaic and over-reliant on the jumpscares? I went in today to see it myself.

The Curse of La Llorona follows Anna Garcia, a single mom and social worker whose children become the target of the titular spirit after it takes the lives of two children whose mother she previously worked with. With the church’s process to approve exorcisms taking too long, Anna turns to a local faith healer and former priest. But will it be enough to stop a being driven by an unending grief and obsession?

And I’m sorry to say, this film didn’t really do anything for me. Oh yeah, it had some effective jumpscares and moments of atmosphere. There were quite a few moments where I jumped in my seat. There’s a reverence for the source material here, and you can tell they’re really trying to make this tragic ghostly figure intimidating.

Unfortunately, the formula The Conjuring set up has gotten stale almost five years later. We’ve gotten used to someone experiencing a haunting in their home, calling in an expert, and then a final battle where there’s either triumph or someone loses their soul. And predictability, along with jumpscares that we know to look for, just doesn’t do it anymore. And while the film does flirt with the idea of adding something new–La Llorona herself is not a demon, as past antagonists in the series have been, but a ghost whose obsession has turned her into a dark spirit, and there’s a twist during the climax that I was surprised by–but not enough to add new life to the franchise.

As of the writing of this review, The Conjuring universe has the third (and probably final) Annabelle film, Annabelle Comes Home, coming out in June. After that, everything else is in various stages of development (The Conjuring 3 has a release date but so far hasn’t begun filming yet). If Warner Bros and New Line Cinema want this franchise to continue past Annabelle Comes Home, they’ll have to come up with some new tricks to keep audiences coming back (and no, I don’t mean going to space. Sorry Jason X, you’re a lot of fun, but there’s a silliness about you that can’t be denied. At least you’re not the Friday the 13th remake, though. Beyond Jared Padalecki and the guy playing Jason Voorhees, there’s nothing redeemable about that film. Yeah, I took another shot at that film, and I’m glad I did!).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Curse of La Llorona a dismal 2. Has ideas, but needed to buck the formula more in order to be anything other than below average.

But you know what (probably) won’t disappoint? My upcoming fantasy-horror novel Rose, being released later this year by Castrum Press. And at the moment, I’m looking for advanced readers for the book, which follows a young woman as she starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is that you read the book and consider posting a review on or after the release date. If you’re interested, please send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

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