Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

You ever read a book that came out well before you were born, or a book that came out a few years ago but set well before you were born, and throughout the book a character or even the author expresses viewpoints that, if expressed today, would not go over well? The sort of views that would make you go, “Anyone who says that today would only be applauded by the lowest dregs of society. The rest would villify them.”

It’s an unfortunate part of the writing process, but sometimes writers will have to write stories where those sorts of views are expressed, even if not their own. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my writing career, usually from the POV of a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. It’s necessary, but it’s always a trial to do it. God help me if I ever have to read something like that out loud.

I bring this up because as I said in a previous post, I’m busy doing research for a story to go into the short story collection I’ve been putting together. That story is set in Victorian England, an age that, as many of you know, I’m a big fan of. You guessed it, I bought a bunch of new books to better understand that age. And this week, while I was reading one book and seeing information I’d previously learned in another volume repeated here, I realized that, to a certain extent, I will be putting these attitudes of the age into the story.

Including the ones I find reprehensible.

There are generally four ways writers include these sorts of ideas and beliefs into their stories. An author may include a character who’s already very forward-thinking or contrarian, taking on viewpoints which their peers will not get or abhor, but the audience will sympathize with and allow them to pity the characters who don’t think like that (think Wonder Woman’s attitudes regarding WWI-era norms and gender roles in her movie). Other times, characters may start with one attitude and then evolve to a different one over the course of the story as part of a character arc (Villetta Nu’s arc in the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion towards non-Britannians). There are characters whose whole point in existing are to present a contrasting view, usually as something for a protagonist to work off of or a driver of the plot (think Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome).

And then there are times when the author says, “Screw it, there’s no way around this,” and just portrays those attitudes as authentically as possible. I have a feeling with this story, I’m going to have to go with this route.

The books I’m using as research. I think they’ll be quite helpful in creating the level of detail I’m looking for.

I still haven’t worked out the details of this story, other than the time period and certain elements/characters. I don’t know how much of the Victorians’ beliefs and attitudes will make it into the story, or which ones for that matter.* Still, they’ll be there throughout the story for the sake of authenticity. It’ll be weird writing them into a story when they may go against everything I stand for. But for the characters, they’ll be the norm, and as true as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The cognitive dissonance will be a mind-fuck.

But if the dedication to authenticity helps make the story good, then I won’t have any complaints. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it? Even if I have to write in a discussion on how chloroform subverts God’s commands on childbirth.**

What are your thoughts on including attitudes and beliefs that you don’t agree with in your story? Any fun reminiscences on the subject?

*Did you know that it was considered dangerous to give children fruit while they were young? It was believed the sweet taste would excite them and lead to delinquent behaviors. Also, while germ theory was starting to enter public consciousness, it was a slow process. In 1865, the Female Medical Society published statements asking doctors to take more steps to decrease death in women by childbirth. The medical journal The Lancet responded by calling their suggestions for cleanliness “erroneous,” and asserted that these deaths were caused by women leading immoral lives, which could mean anything from engaging in prostitution, feeling sexual desire, or enjoying pickles too much.

**Yeah, that was a debate in the 19th century. Did chloroform, when used in childbirth, prevent women from feeling the pain God ordained for women? What an age!

You know, I feel like I should’ve written a post like this a while ago. Like, at least a month ago. Oh well, better late than never. I’ve been thinking for a while of what I want to do in terms of writing for 2020. Which is unusual, because while I’m a huge plotter for my stories, I don’t usually plan out goals for an entire year. But I feel like, with a book published and a short story included in an anthology last year, I feel like I should try some new strategies to keep the momentum going. So without further ado, let’s talk my writing goals of 2020.

Finish Toyland

Of course, this was on here. Luckily, I’m already on my way there: as of a few days ago, I’m only six chapters away from finishing Toyland, the Gothic horror novel I’ve been working on since November. Depending on how things play out this year, I’ll probably edit it at some point. After that, perhaps I’ll find a publisher for it. Fingers crossed it goes well (and that a novel approaching ninety thousand words doesn’t intimidate anyone).

Complete the short story collection

Before November and NaNoWriMo, I was putting together a collection of short stories. As of now, there are twelve stories in the as-yet unnamed collection. Being a horror writer though, I want thirteen stories. Good thing I’m already making strides on that goal: I’ve been doing a lot of research for a story I want to write after Toyland‘s done. I think it’ll be somewhere between the length of a novelette and a novella, or ten thousand to sixty thousand words. Hopefully writing it goes well, once I hammer out the plot details.

After that, I’ll hopefully be able to find a publisher who can help me get the stories in tip-top shape. Or maybe I’ll self-publish again. We’ll see how things develop.

Write at least ten short(er) stories

Including the last story for the collection, I want to write at minimum ten stories shorter than a novel. Preferably, they’ll all be short stories, but I know that a few of them will be novelette or novella length (depends on the story, obviously). I would also like to edit most of them within a year, and get at least three or four published in some form or another. Getting a short story in The Binge-Watching Cure II last year was an amazing experience, so I want to see if I can do it again.

And of course, it’s always a good idea to polish your short fiction-writing skills.

Maybe start a new novel

I’ve known for a while what novel I’d like to write after Toyland. However, I think I’ll wait a good while until I write it. Novels are a huge commitment of time and energy, so I want to make sure I’m ready before I try my hand at a new one (and maybe get one or two others edited and/or published).

Grow my audience

I’ve been lucky to grow an audience over 8.5 years of blogging, Facebooking, tweeting, Instagramming, and occasional YouTube videos. But I’m always hoping to grow my audience just a bit more. And while I don’t have any particular numbers I want to reach, I want to draw more people in and maybe get them hooked on my particular brand of weirdness. Especially my fiction.

 

Well, those are my writing goals. Here’s to them going well in the 11.5 months we have left of 2020. I hope you’ll continue to support me during that time, and maybe even read/review my published work if you can.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares and WHO LET THE MONSTER KNOWN AS THE DEAD MAN’S STRUGGLE INTO MY BUILDING?! Now I have to either kill it or seal it away. Either way, the cleanup’s going to be exhausting.

What are your writing goals for 2020? Have you made any progress with them so far?

Over the past couple of months, people in the horror-themed Facebook groups I belong to have been raving about this particular book. I looked it up and it sounded up my alley, so when I had an Audible credit, I downloaded the audio book. But before I started it, I found out the book was written by the same guy who wrote the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as well as wrote/directed its movie adaptation. Really? Isn’t that a sweet, YA rom-com? How do you jump from that to horror? (looks up what that book is really about.) Oh. That’s pretty dark. Yeah, I can see how the dude transitioned to horror.

Imaginary Friend follows Kate Reese and her son Christopher as they leave Kate’s abusive boyfriend and move to a small town in Pennsylvania. However, soon after they move there, Christopher disappears in the woods near his school. He reappears a week later, unable to remember what happened to him, except being led out of the woods and back to civilization by someone called “The Nice Man.” While Kate is happy to have her son back, and things start to improve after he returns, Christopher has changed. He’s smarter now, unable to sleep, and suffers from headaches a lot. And he’s in contact with the Nice Man, an invisible being who instructs him to build a treehouse in the woods he disappeared in, and to do it before Christmas. If he doesn’t, something bad will happen. To the town, to his mother, and to him.

This one was hard to put down. I normally only listen to audio books while at work, but the story was so intriguing and out there that I listened to it while checking email and cooking dinner. Imaginary Friend feels a lot like Stephen King novels like It or Needful Things, these huge stories based around weird concepts that are both scary and hard to put down. I mean, you got a kid who goes missing in the woods, and then when he comes back, has to build a treehouse to save the world from the Apocalypse. And that’s just what I feel I can tell you without spoiling too much.

I also have to give Chbosky credit: I had a hard time predicting what was going to happen as we got further into the story. Every little piece of the puzzle had the potential to surprise me, and quite a few did. During the “darkest hour” of the book, when things are at their most pessimistic, you felt the misery and the tension as the situation deteriorated. And that climax! Woo-boy, that was epic. Like, the final battle of an Avengers movie epic.

Not only that, but the characters are very well-developed. Also like some of King’s books, especially earlier ones, just about every character is well-developed. I felt like I’d known some of these characters my whole life, from Kate and Christopher Reese to the two or three old ladies suddenly regaining their faculties after years of dementia.

I do have one major gripe about the book: as the story goes further on, the novel takes on an…evangelistic air. It’s not like the Left Behind books, where it’s trying to get people to become born-again, but the story leans more in that direction than in the direction of The Stand or Supernatural. I don’t think the goal is to convert me: rather, I think Chbosky is using his Catholic upbringing to give the story a particular authenticity and philosophy other non-evangelistic Ultimate-Good-versus-Ultimate-Evil stories don’t have. There are some interesting ideas on the nature of guilt, our relationship to God, and how to find different kinds of salvation presented in the story.

Still, there were times when I was like, “Dude, scale it back a bit. I’m starting to get how people feel when I start ranking villains in horror, and they’re not horror fans.” That’s happened before, and it’s gotten awkward.

On the whole though, Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is an engrossing horror novel that’s weird in the best of ways and full of terror and twists. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.4. Pick it up and see for yourself. You’ll never look at treehouses and deer the same way again, but you’ll have a hell of a ride thanks to it.

Fiction writers tell two types of lies. There are the more obvious ones, our stories, those big stories of a thousand words or more that readers (hopefully) come just because we wrote them to entertain them. And then there are the smaller lies that usually go unnoticed. The ones where we gloss over or totally ignore reality so our stories can continue in peace. Not big things, like the existence of shapeshifting clowns or the ability to turn a human woman into a plant creature with a magic book. I’m talking about the small stuff. Things so small, people usually don’t question them or their viability.

A common example: you ever see an action film and someone with a machine gun lets off hundreds of bullets at their enemies without pause? Maybe they’ll switch guns at some point, but each of those guns still seem to have millions of bullets inside their cartridges and can go shooting for several minutes at a time.

The reality is a lot more boring: a machine gun may shoot off bullets for stretches of four seconds at a time, after which you probably will have to reload the gun. Not to mention that if your machine gun actually did go for shooting sprees for the entire length of a fight scene, the barrel would probably explode into flames.

Another famous example are silencers. Don’t want your gun to be heard by nosy civilians? A silencer will turn that gunshot into a mouse fart! Not really. In reality, a gunshot is not easy to quiet. Even the best silencer will only turn a gun into a loud crack, which you can still hear from quite a distance.

And you know those scenes in cop and comedy movies where a cop gets tasered in the chest and then their body and limbs shake like mad? Okay, stun guns only work about sixty percent of the time at best, and you never want to aim for someone’s chest, because while they’re considered “less lethal” than guns, they can still cause some heart trouble if aimed at the chest. Most cops aim for someone’s back, and then if they’re lucky, the electric shock will paralyze the target. By lucky, I mean the lines hit home and most of the electricity penetrates further than the skin.

Action movies are huge offenders at this stuff. Still love most of the Terminator and Die Hard films, though.

And these are just a small list. Cop movies involving shoot outs and explosions rarely feature the staggering amount of paperwork those shoot outs and explosions require officers to fill out. Medical dramas going for crazy or risky procedures? Not without talking to the insurance company or finding a safer method first. Bulletproof vests? They don’t stop bullets, just catch them, and it’s still going to hurt like hell. Not to mention getting shot by a machine gun, even if you wear a vest, is probably going to leave you dead (sorry, Back to the Future fans).

I actually used one of these last night in the latest chapter of my novel-in-progress Toyland (for obvious reasons, I won’t spoil which one).* I had to do some quick research to make sure one of the above was being written right. And then when I realized there was no way to do that authentically, I was like, “Screw it. Who’s going to know? Even if they do, they’ll either forget or suspend their disbelief.” And then I wrote it how people would imagine the scene.

Why do writers do this? Simply because they can get away with it. The details are small, and even those in the know will usually just let it slide for the sake of enjoyment of the story. Rarely does it actually bug someone to the point they put the book down/stop the movie. Usually when they’re glossing over giant details do people in the know stop enjoying the story (happened to me with Criminal Minds after I found out what FBI profilers actually do on a daily basis).

So forget the little lies, and ignore the minor deviations from reality. You’ll enjoy the story more. Or you’ll stop watching Criminal Minds and move onto other shows. Either way, other people will still enjoy the story you’re telling.

Authors, what little lies in your stories have you told lately? Any you laugh about now?

*Speaking of which, Toyland‘s coming along well. I split some upcoming chapters in two for pacing, which means more chapters to write, but I’m still making progress. I may have to push the deadline back again, this time to the end of February, but it’s still going well. Also, the novel is over eighty-thousand words right now (for context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is around seventy-seven thousand words). I have the feeling by the time I finish this book, it’s going to be close to one hundred thousand words. Not a whopper, but quite the literary feat.

Today’s guest is an author who’s book, A Cosmology of Monsters, has been blowing up the horror scene since its release in September. I finished it last month, and found it to be an amazing read (see my review here). And I’m not the only one who liked it, because Cosmology ended up becoming a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror (and yes, I am jealous). So, I’m very excited to have the author today. Hailing all the way from across the Internet, I bring you Shaun Hamill!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Shaun. Tell everyone here a bit about yourself and about your novel, A Cosmology of Monsters.

Shaun Hamill: I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, and got my bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. In my early 30s I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and got my MFA. I wrote most of A Cosmology of Monsters there.

A Cosmology of Monsters is a literary horror novel about a family running a haunted house attraction in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Narrated by the youngest child, Noah, the novel tracks the family’s fortunes across 50 years, and explores the monsters—both metaphorical and literal—that haunt them. It’s a generational saga, an homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, and most importantly, a story about the ways love can either save or damn us.

RU: How did the idea for Cosmology come into being?

SH: This novel was born out of the wreckage of a couple of projects. The first was a sprawling tragi-comic saga in the style of John Irving or Meg Wolitzer, about a family operating a youth hostel in Taos, New Mexico. The second was a short story about a married couple breaking up as they tour a haunted house attraction. Neither piece quite worked, but one day while I was walking my dog, the two ideas put themselves together and I realized that my epic family business novel should be about a haunted house, not a youth hostel. It would give me a chance to merge my taste for character-driven literary fiction with my love for the darker, more eerie tones of the horror genre. Noah’s voice came to me right away, as did Eunice’s suicide notes and the romance that opens the book. The rest of it came organically, as I followed the story where it led, exploring my characters and their ever-darkening world. I was perpetually surprised by what I found. I would never have been able to plan a book like this, and I hope some of that dark joy of discovery carries over for the reader.

RU: What was the research and writing process like for Cosmology? And what challenges did you face in writing the book?

SH: Research was a big part of the process of writing Cosmology. When I started the book I had only read a few Lovecraft stories, and I hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes of a haunted house. I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction, and also spent time reading scholarship about his life and writing. For the haunted house parts of the book I relied on my own knowledge as a patron of the attractions, and a tour of an out-of-season haunted house that I took in my late twenties. I also watched documentaries about haunted attractions, listened to podcasts, lurked on message boards, and so on.

The biggest challenge of writing this book was the revision process. My first draft weighed in at 220,000 words, and the published version is just over 100,000 (my agent insisted that the book would be tough to sell at its initial length). Figuring out which threads of story could be condensed or severed altogether took a long time, as did rewriting the entire ending to make it smaller and more meaningful to the characters. It forced me to carefully consider my characters and themes, and brought them into sharp focus by the end of the editorial process. I’m very pleased with the result, and humbled by how much better my agent and editors made my book.

RU: Haunted houses, both literal attractions and metaphorical haunted homes, are a big part of the book. Are you a fan of haunted houses yourself?

SH: I’m a big coward when it comes to haunted houses. I used to have a group of friends that I went with when I still lived in Texas, in my mid-to-late 20s, but I would never go to one by myself, and haven’t been to one since 2012 or 2013. I’ve always been fascinated by them from a distance, though. I’ve wondered about the people who work there, what it’s like to have the scenes of your life play out against such a fantastical backdrop.

RU: If you could design a haunted house attraction, what would it be like?

SH: The attraction in the book, The Wandering Dark, is exactly my idea of the sort of haunted house I would like to run. If money and practicality were no object, I would love to do a haunted hotel—something more immersive and stranger than the typical spook-a-blast attractions in the genre.

RU: Do you see yourself revisiting the world and characters of Cosmology someday in a future story?

SH: I go back and forth on this question. Some days I think it would be fun to continue the story of the Turner family, and I have done some brainstorming for a sequel. Other days I think that a sequel would lessen the impact of the book’s final pages and cheapen it. I guess I’ll wait and see if there’s a market for a sequel and then decide. Even if I never write a direct sequel, I will probably find ways to weave elements of that world into future stories.

RU: What is it about horror in general that attracts you to it?

SH: I have a melancholy outlook on life, so horror fits my disposition. I’m not attracted to the gore or violence, but rather the atmosphere of dread and dark wonder that I find in my favorite horror stories. I don’t like being terrorized. I like being creeped out. I love the idea that there is something beyond the known world, dark secrets to discover. It’s the sort of thing that Lovecraft does in his best work, as does Thomas Ligotti. I also love character-based horror, like Stephen King writes. I love stories about good people struggling against supernatural threats. It’s an effective way to illuminate the strength of the human spirit, what’s most noble and wonderful about people.

RU: Are you working on anything now? Do you have any future writing plans?

SH: I recently finished a rough (and I mean very rough) first draft of a new novel. I have an outline for another, different novel with my agent. We’re trying to decide which project to pursue first. My hope long-term is to keep doing what I’m doing now—writing books and publishing them and (hopefully) getting paid to do so. Fingers crossed COSMOLOGY won’t be the only thing I get to publish!

RU: What advice would you give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

SH: Write a lot and read a lot. Read deeply in your own genre, but also outside of it. Join a writing group or take a writing class if you can afford it. If you’re able, get on the reading committee for a journal or prize—I learned more from reading the slush pile for Carve magazine and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize than I ever learned in a classroom or working alone at my own desk.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, what would you bring?

SH: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore, and Three Novels by Stephen King (an omnibus of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining).

RU: Good choices. Thank you for joining us, Shaun. I hope we can do it again someday.

If you’d like to find out more about Shaun Hamill, you can find him on his website and on Twitter. You can also find A Cosmology of Monsters on Amazon if you’d like to read the book (which I highly recommend). And if you are an author with a book coming out soon and are possibly interested in having an interview, hit me up on ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see what magic we can conjure.

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

How are you, Followers of Fear? I’m…I’ve been better.

Okay, it’s not as if things have been horrible lately. I’ve still got a roof over my head, a great job, a car I love (we’re monsters meant to be), and plenty going for me. It’s just that for the past couple years, the first full week after January, as well as the next couple of weeks afterwards, can get pretty hectic. And that’s been no exception this year. Last week, I often came home from work feeling exhausted, to the point where writing was a bit more difficult than it usually is.

It doesn’t help that this past weekend, I came down with a very nasty stomach virus that had me laid up all weekend. Yeah, that sucked. I’m over it for the most part, and I woke up this morning feeling pretty good. But today really drained me, and I spent a few hours this afternoon feeling a little less than ideal. To the point that eating did not seem like the best of ideas.

All this and then some has affected the progress of my novel Toyland. I’d hoped to have it done by the end of January, but we’re about two weeks into the new year and I only just started Chapter Twenty last night. And this novel is thirty chapters long. And this is turning out to be a long-ass book.

So I have to delay my deadline for finishing up Toyland. I had hoped I could get it done in three months, which would have been a record. But sometimes life throws you curve balls (or gastroenteritis), and you gotta adjust. The new date will be August 15th.

Just kidding! Man, you should have seen your faces. Yes, I can see your faces, and your disbelief mixed with your horror is rather amusing.

No, the real new date will be February 15th. So it’ll still be somewhat of a record, just not the one I’d hoped for originally. And hopefully by the time February 15th has rolled around, life will have eased up a bit and I’ll have already finished the book. After that…well, I’ll save that for another post.

For now though, you’re not going to get anything more out of me other than this blog post tonight. I’m going to try to eat something and then hit the hay, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, be careful, because apparently there are some nasty viruses floating around out there right now, and pleasant nightmares.

I’m glad I made the decision to only do these posts every now and then. They’re more special when I do, especially after I actually manage to publish something.

Anyway, welcome back to #FirstLineFriday, where I post the first one or two lines of a story I either might write, am writing, or have finished writing (and in some cases have published). As always, let me list the rules of this meme. On Fridays, you,

  1. Create a post on your blog titled #FirstLineFriday, hashtag and all.
  2. Explain the rules like I’m doing now.
  3. Post the first one or two lines of a potential story, a story-in-progress, or a completed/published story.
  4. Ask your readers for feedback and try to get them to try #FirstLineFriday on their own blogs (tagging is encouraged but not necessary).

If it’s not obvious, I’ll be posting the first two lines of “Car Chasers,” the story that was featured in the recently-released anthology The Binge-Watching Cure II. I’m really proud of this story, so I’m going to do everything in my power to get people to read it. Enjoy:

There are many tales that come out of Shan Woods. Nearly all of them have to do with Chasers’ Run.

Thoughts? Did that opening grab you? Did you find it creepy? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

And if you’d like to read the full story, check out The Binge-Watching Cure II. It’s a great anthology containing horror stories from a variety of authors, each one longer than the last (mine occupies the eight-thousand word spot). I’ll include the links below in case you want to check it out.

And in the meantime, I think I’ll tag thee, Priscilla Bettis! That’s right, YOU have to do this post next Friday for something you’re planning to write/are writing/have written. And there’s no getting out of it. Mwa ha ha ha!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll try to have something out again soon. Until then, have a good weekend and pleasant nightmares!

The Binge-Watching Cure II: Paperback, Kindle