Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

junji Ito will shake you every time.

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

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

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

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

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

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Some of you may remember that back in June, I attended a reading with fellow members of the Ohio chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It was a lot of fun, we had a few laughs, probably a few nightmares, plenty of guests, and maybe even a new fan or two. It probably helped that we were at a bar too, and there were plenty of drinks.

And now Ohio HWA is getting together again not once, but twice for the month of October! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year (and don’t worry, I will write a blog post before too long about why the Halloween season is the true most wonderful time of the year). And in the spirit of this time of year, I thought it might be a good idea to spread the word in case any of you are able to make it to either event. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

The first event is Evil at the Overlook Lodge in Cincinnati. This is being held at the Overlook Lodge, a bar modeled after the bar in the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Now, as much as I dislike that movie (His Royal Scariness and I both agree on that), I have to admit, that sounds awesome. Not to mention, there will likely be a number of Shining-inspired drinks to be had.

The second event will be taking a bit closer to home: A Night of Horror with the Horror Writers Association, hosted by the Bexley Public Library (yes, the same location we did that book fair last month). Obviously this won’t have alcohol, but it will be held at a beautiful location in the suburb of Bexley, Ohio. I’ve been working closely with the Bexley Library’s staff to get this off the ground, and I can’t tell who’s more enthusiastic, them or us! Anyway, the artwork above is what they created, and it’s absolutely stunning. I’m so happy we have such great hosts to partner with.

Anyway, I hope you’re able to check at least one of the events out. And if not, I’ll hope you’ll be there to cheer us on in spirit. We have lots of talented writers within our ranks, and we’re always ready to terrify you with our tales.

That’s all for now. I’m going to get dinner on the table and then do some editing (though I might try to put out a blog post tomorrow if I’m in the mood). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

I meant to write this earlier but, like my last post, the day got busy. Consequently why I’m writing this now.

But to get to my point, earlier today I finished a new short story, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” And yes, that is a Disney reference, which may mean the title and some of the final lines in the story may need to be reworked somewhere down the line (is anyone here an entertainment lawyer or at least extremely knowledgeable about this subject?). The story follows a young woman who gets roped into attending a party in the Paris catacombs, and the unexpected guest who arrives at the party to throw things into chaos.

I really enjoyed writing this story. I’ve had the idea for it rolling around in my head since around college, but I only got around to writing it now. Which, in hindsight, was probably for the best. It probably would not have come out as well as it did unless I wrote it now, and having waited this long allowed me the time to educate myself on the issues of the community of the main character, one which happens to be of a minority both in society and in horror. That time spent educating myself allowed me to make the character rounded, sympathetic, and hopefully a good fictional representative for her people.

So at a little under six-thousand words, the story could be sent out to magazines or other publications. However, I think Ill keep this one for that upcoming collection of short stories I mentioned a couple of posts ago. I think it would be a good story to end the collection on, as well as the one I name the collection after (though again, that depends on if I can legally do that without invoking the cosmic monstrosity that is the Walt Disney Company). At the very least, I’ve made good progress on getting this collection finished. Though it’s still waaaay far away from being ready for release, let alone me sharing details about it.

In any case, I’ll be editing that Arthurian legend story I wrote for an upcoming anthology for my publisher, and then maybe edit another short story. After that…well, we’ll see. I’m still waiting on my beta reader to finish River of Wrath, so how that goes will affect a lot. Still, looking forward for everything that’s coming up. It should make for a fun autumn season.

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

Do I really need to say anything? No, we all knew I was going to see this movie opening weekend, and that I would post a review soon afterwards. The only question is, besides what did I think of the movie, is why the review is being posted so late at night. Answer: I went with a couple of friends to Oktoberfest Columbus for drinks and only just got back a little while ago. Now onto the review.

IT: Chapter Two picks up the story twenty-seven years after the ending of Chapter One. A violent gay-bashing reawakens It, who begins another reign of terror upon the people of Derry. Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club still in Derry, calls back his friends, who have forgotten most of their memories and need to recall what they’ve forgotten in order to stop It once and for all. Unfortunately, It wants them to come back. It enjoys having enemies. And It wants to finish what they all started twenty-seven years ago.

I’ll be honest with you: I was disappointed with this movie.

There’s stuff here to enjoy, don’t get me wrong. The adult versions of the characters not only look like grown up versions of the kids we met two years ago (who show up a lot in this movie, and I really can’t tell they’ve been digitally de-aged, even though that’s what happened), but they put their all into the characters and do it so well. Bill Hader as the adult Richie Tozier, for all his inexperience in the horror genre, does scared very well, and steals just about every scene he’s in. Bill Denbrough is given a decent character arc tackling his ongoing guilt regarding his brother’s death. They actually do the giant spider form some justice in this film, as well as the scene with Adrian Mellon being beaten to death by homophobes.

Stephen King himself has a great cameo in the movie, and they managed to work in an in-joke about King’s writing (namely that he doesn’t know how to end a book)* by having people say Bill doesn’t know how to finish a novel. And I approved of some of the changes to the story for the film, especially one involving a secret of Richie’s and putting Stan Uris’s suicide in a new light.

However, there was a lot I didn’t care for in this film. One thing I didn’t like was how everything just seemed to be spelled out for our protagonists. In the first film, you watched the characters figure out everything–It’s 27-year cycle, how all seven of them need to be together to fight It, how It has many different forms, including a clown–and that was great. People who knew the source material got to see them figure out the puzzle (I’m told this is called dramatic irony) and those who weren’t pieced things together with the characters. But in Chapter Two, EVERYTHING gets spelled out, mostly by Mike. He’s practically one big info-dump, which takes away some of the sense of mystery.**

Not only that, but It’s power in Derry seems to be downplayed in this film. In the first film, they do a great job conveying how much power It has over Derry and its inhabitants, but I did not get that sense as much during this film. I could’ve also used further exploration of It’s origins. I’m not asking for Maturin and the Macroverse (I’m not unreasonable), but I would’ve loved to see a bit more otherwordliness and maybe a scene going into how the form of Pennywise arose (fans were teased a scene like that after the first film). Kind of made Pennywise less threatening to me, actually.

We also get a lot of CGI in this film, which is ugly and comes with enough flashing lights that I left the theater with a strong headache. And while the final battle was awesome at times, the way it ended left me feeling less than impressed (really? That’s the final shot of Pennywise you went with?).

Oh, and before I forget: the tone. One criticism of the first film is that the tone’s a little inconsistent at times. However, it’s worse in the second film, with jokes and music that doesn’t fit popping up every other minute. I mean, can we leave the joking to Bill Hader and just keep things consistent? I want to be scared, not giggling at one-liners.

There are other things I could say, but I’m going to just leave it at that. On a scale of 1 to 5, I think I’ll give IT: Chapter Two a 2.5 out of 5. Perhaps I psyched myself up too much for this film, but it did not fulfill my expectations. Also, don’t see this film if you have any sort of photosensitivity.

I bought this Pennywise doll after the movie. No matter what you think of the second movie, this is the best version of Pennywise, and I wanted something to celebrate that.

On the bright side, Chapter One still holds up, and will for years to come. We may never get an adaptation of IT in any format that will satisfy everyone, but at least Chapter One will always be the closest to doing so. And of course, Joker and Doctor Sleep come out next month. Those should settle our scary clown and Stephen King itches, respectively.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Goodnight, and pleasant nightmares.

*Which I don’t agree with. I can count the number of his books I’ve been disappointed with the ending with on one hand, but that’s just me.

**Also, wasn’t he supposed to be a recovering addict in this film? I mean, they kept saying in promotional interviews that he was, but the only evidence I saw of that was an empty beer bottle and one Native American vision journey. He comes off more as obsessed to me: obsessed with Pennywise and his childhood friends. Worrisome, but not evidence of a recovering addict.

It’s hard to believe we’re in the second half of August, and October (AKA the Halloween season, AKA the most wonderful time of the year), is right around the corner. Soon, we’re going to have to get ready for witches and goblins and more candy than is probably healthy. But before we go into all that (as well as some of what I have planned for that month), I have to mark a milestone. That’s right, my novel Rose has been out for two whole months!

So for those of you who know, Rose is a fantasy-horror novel I wrote as a college thesis project. The novel follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who awakens with the past two years missing from her memories. She quickly undergoes a terrifying transformation into a plant-like creature, which begins a saga to ensure her survival as she realizes people in her life are hiding dark secrets from her.

It took a lot of work, about seven drafts, and more than a few anxiety attacks, but after five years, Rose was released on June 21st, 2019. And I’m proud to say that it’s been doing well. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s read it seems to like it, or at the very least, not hate it. Just this past Sunday, for example, I received two new reviews of Rose, each from very different reviewers. For example, The first came from Angela Yuriko Smith, editor of S’pace and Time Magazine, who shared her thoughts on her personal website (which apparently she read the same week she put in a garden. Now that’s synergy!). The other came from Elle Turnpitt of Dead Head Reviews, who found it terrifying and gave the novel as a whole a 4 out of 5.  Nice stuff.

Me at the reading on Sunday. Yes, I am wearing a black cloak. Does that surprise you at all?

Also on Sunday, I had my very first solo author reading* at Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus. I’ve loved that place since my college years, and I was super excited to have my reading there (plus, the mead!). A small but very enthusiastic crowd showed up for the reading, only three of whom were related to me, and they liked what they heard. After the reading, they asked me a lot of questions (my favorite was if I’m a LARPer–I wish I had the time for that!) and a few people even bought signed copies. It was an amazing experience, one I hope to do again with them someday.

Did I mention the owners of Brothers Drake messaged me on Instagram today to let me know they’re reading it? I’m really excited to hear what they think.

Anyway, if any of this has made you curious about Rose, I’ll leave the links below so you can check it out, read some of the other reviews people have left, and then decide to get a copy. And if you do get one, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, email or online review, I love feedback and it helps me out in the long run.

The table featuring the copies of “Rose,” which I enjoyed signing books and talking to people at.

Oh, and before I forget, I’ll be at the Bexley Local Author Festival at the Bexley Public Library on Sunday, August 25th, in Bexley, Ohio. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Rose, taking photographs, and probably not sacrificing the lives of the innocent in order to start a terrifying plague. Hope to see you there if you can make it. And if you can’t, I’ll likely be blogging about it, so you can read that. Should be a good time.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have to torture the souls of famous personages from history who were secretly serial killers (you’ll never guess which American Founding Father is among that group) and then work on a possession story before heading to bed. Until next time, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

*Sort of. I had one in college in my dorm, but given that I bribed or blackmailed most of the five people who showed up and it didn’t really result in any sales of The Quiet Game, I’m not sure it counts anymore.

Someone on Twitter mentioned this film and I thought it sounded interesting. That’s it. I have nothing else to add, beyond the wait at the library took way longer than I expected. Oh well. Let’s get into it.

The Witch in the Window follows a man and his son who go to Vermont to flip an old farmhouse. However, they’re not long before they find out the house is already occupied. And this occupant is very intent on them staying. Whether they want to or not.

Well, this was a surprisingly decent Gothic horror film with a lot of heart.

The best part of this film is the relationship between dad Simon and his son Finn. The filmmakers could’ve gone with some generic story about a moody kid and his dad coming together through adversity, but instead we get a relationship that’s touching and feels organic. You get the sense that they see this trip as getting away from all the toxic influences in their lives and are reconnecting in a way that would make many parents and kids jealous. It’s this relationship that drives the film, and makes you want to root for the characters.

I also like the story for the most part. While there is a jump scare or two, there’s a lot more importance placed on atmosphere and disturbing imagery. There are a number of scenes that make your skin crawl, all without any cringy CGI or loud noises. One scene when Finn wakes up had me in awe because of how clever and creepy it was. Coupled with a plot that goes in unexpected directions, it makes the movie difficult to look away from. You just want to see where it goes and what will happen next.

That being said, the third act does feel rushed, which made the ending feel slightly hollow rather than psychologically terrifying but ultimately sweet. If maybe another ten to twenty minutes had been added to the film, it would’ve been much scarier and maybe the ending might have a more emotional punch.

All told, The Witch in the Window is an engaging and different kind of horror film than what we’re used to. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. Pop it in if you get a chance because, like the characters, you’ll be staying for a while.

A sketch of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft, and an embodiment of cosmic horror.

Earlier today, I read a very interesting article about how cosmic horror is evolving from the state it was in when HP Lovecraft pioneered the genre, courtesy of Bloody Disgusting (you can read the article here). To sum the article up, the author states that cosmic horror originally had little room for emotions other than fear. The idea was to explore a vast cosmos filled with powerful entities and secrets that humanity can’t begin to grasp. Humanity, and our ideas and emotions, are inconsequential to these beings, and they are too much for us to fathom. However, lately the genre has been used to explore emotional themes such as closure of grief or to overcome childhood schisms and trauma.

I thought it was an interesting article, so I shared it among my fellow horror writers (as well as reserved some of the films mentioned in the article from my local library). And the responses I’ve gotten so far have been rather telling. One author I’m friends with mentioned that horror, including cosmic horror, has always been used to explore themes of emotions and the human experience. Sure, that sometimes involves things so outside the human experience our mind can’t comprehend them, but in the end, they deal with every day human fears of how much we matter, whether we’re alone in the universe.

Look at IT, for example (and yes, I am excited for Chapter Two. My sister and I are even trying to arrange to see it opening weekend). While it is about a shape-shifting being fond of the form of a clown and the people who stand up to him, it’s also about dealing with the change from childhood to adulthood, how reality hardens you and destroys your sense of wonderment. Very relevant to the human experience, underneath the clown make-up.

Another person in that discussion also mentioned how, in the age of the Internet, Twitter, and all the human-made horrors, some people doubted the need for cosmic horror. I mean, isn’t everyday news bad enough? Who needs alien gods with tentacles when you have mass shootings and human rights violations?

Well, not necessarily. Think about how, despite all the “connections,” we live more hermit-like and isolated existences these days. We live very much alone. And seeing all these awful things in the world, one can feel powerless. The world is just too much to handle, it seems, let alone take on.

And that’s cosmic horror in a nutshell. Humanity feeling small, our lives not ours to control, but at the mercy of forces that don’t care one way or the other about our well-being. It was a common enough feeling for many after WWI when HP Lovecraft was building the genre, having experienced the trenches, the gas, and the flamethrowers. And it’s still a common feeling today.

And so long as that feeling of hopelessness and isolation in the face of a seemingly senseless, uncaring world is part of people’s lives, there will be an audience for cosmic horror. The genre will evolve and change, but the swirling darkness that birthed Cthulhu and other monstrosities will always be at its core.

But what do you think? Is cosmic horror evolving? What direction do you think the genre will head? Are you, like me, actually an entity from beyond this planet or realm whose true form induces all who see it to madness? Let’s discuss.

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