Anyone else notice 2018 was…kind of rough on a global scale? Like, oh my God why was this year so full of nastiness and pain?

Yeah, this year has been hard. Horrific shootings, assassinations of journalists, global warming, the Tide Pod challenge, racist incidents like at that Starbucks, data hacks and leaks, denial of truths and facts in favor of beliefs, hurricanes, bomb threats, the election of far-right demagogues, the Campfire in California, the deaths of beloved and influential people like John McCain and Stan Lee. I could go on and on.

But despite all the bad things, there has been some good things this year. Black Panther became a billion-dollar franchise and caused all sorts of social waves; more women and minorities were elected to political office than ever before; more youths in America became involved in the electoral process than ever before; Ireland repealed restrictions on abortion; Australia legalized gay marriage and India decriminalized homosexuality; Jodie Whitaker proved that a woman could be the Doctor and kicked ass doing it; authors of all stripes came together to stop people like Faleena Hopkins after Cockygate to stop creative freedoms from being restricted by trademarking common words; several popular TV shows, including Brooklyn Nine-Nine and my own Lucifer were saved from early cancellation by the efforts of fans; Michael Myers was revitalized with Halloween; and so much else.

Remember, positive things did happen in 2018.

2018 had its bad moments, but it also has some good moments.

I wanted to remind you of that before we go any further. These past couple of years, I’ve seen so many people say that each year was worse than the last. And while at times I agree, I think it’s important to remember the good too. Otherwise, our worldviews start to grow dim and sad. and we lose the ability to be happy. So let’s do our best not to be jaded, shall we? Remember the good.

On a more personal level, 2018 was a pretty good year for me. Actually, that’s not true. It was an excellent year for me! Let me tell you why:

  • My novel Rose was accepted for publication by Castrum Press, the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for years. Since then, it’s been in deep editing stages, and I’ll hopefully have some news to share by the end of January. In addition, my short story Car Chasers was accepted for publication by The Binge-Watching Cure II from Claren Books, hopefully out sometime in early 2019. Another short story has been accepted by another anthology, but I’m waiting for a bit more news before I elaborate.
    I also wrote several new works, and finished a new novel, River of Wrath, which I hope to also get accepted for publication. It’s been a good year in terms of writing.
  • My blog grew past a thousand followers this year! At the beginning of January, Rami Ungar the Writer was close to hitting that number, like under fifty followers away. In June, it surpassed that hallowed milestone, and at the time I’m writing this it continues to grow. I’m so happy that so many of you became Followers of Fear over the past year, and I hope you’ll continue to support me as I work on my dreams.
    This was also my best year on the blog. This year I had over sixteen-thousand reads on the blog, or an average of thirteen-hundred and sixty-seven a month. Holy crap! I still have vivid memories of when I was lucky to get twenty people to read my posts a month, so thank you all for reading my work here and making it worth all the effort.
  • Work’s been going very well. I got a big pay raise, and coordinated several successful projects, including an observance for National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October.
  • I got my driver’s license in July after nine and a half years of on-and-off practicing, and I bought my first car, which I call the Unholy Roller, in October. Let me tell you, I LOVE the independence of finally having my own car, and accomplishing so many firsts with it. I’m looking forward to doing book tours and visiting haunted locations now that I have a set of wheels to do so.
  • Despite developing anxiety in December 2017, I managed to get help for myself and have managed to keep it from ruling/ruining my life.

My car, the Unholy Roller.

This is only a fraction of all the good things that happened to me this year, but they’re the highlights. 2018 was a good year for me, despite all the horrible things that occurred, and I hope I’ll be able to have a similar experience in 2019. Though hopefully 2019 will be filled with more good events than 2018, am I right?

Speaking of which, let’s talk 2019. Like everyone, I’ve got goals for the coming year, and most of them won’t surprise you. This year, I’d like to:

  • Make sure Rose gets published and does well in sales. I also want to see Car Chasers and that other short story I mentioned published, and I want to get more stories written and accepted for publication. And of course, I want to see this audience I’ve managed to grow to continue growing and fill with people interested in what I have to say and what I write.
  • To continue doing well in work and in my personal life, including being a good driver, taking care of my health, paying bills and building up a savings account, among other things.
  • Have plenty of awesome experiences to make memories with.
  • Hopefully make a positive difference in the world however I can.

We’ll see what the next 364 or so days bring, shall we?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m heading to bed, so I’ll see you in the morning, where I’ll spend most of it lounging in bed and hopefully getting plenty of writing done (either that or just reading and watching Netflix). Until next time, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

What were the highlights of your 2018? What do you hope to accomplish for 2019?

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As you know, I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to Lizzie Borden, the woman who allegedly murdered her stepmother and father, in that order, was acquitted at trial due to prosecutorial bungling as well as societal attitudes about women at the time, and who allegedly haunts the house where those same murders happened. I’ve stayed overnight at the Borden House, now a bed and breakfast; I’ve read a book or two about it, including See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt; and I’ve watched more than a few adaptations about the murders, including the famous 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

So when I heard a new movie was being made on Lizzie and the murders, I was intrigued. It had some big names attached, including Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. And the trailer made it seem like this was going to be a really tense thriller film. I was willing to see it in theaters, but the film was only given a limited theatrical run and it wasn’t playing anywhere near me (or in Ohio, as far as I can tell). So when my library’s copy came in for me today, I actually rushed over to pick it up with the goal to watch it tonight.

I can see why this was given a limited release.

Lizzie retells the story of Lizzie Borden and the 1892 murders of her parents, using the theory that Lizzie and the maid Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan were lovers and committed the murders after Mr. Borden discovered their affair. That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not sure what exactly the filmmakers were going for, because this was nothing like the trailer. For the most part, the film goes at a slow crawl, making it feel like three hours rather than an hour and forty-five minutes. Everything takes it time, which in what is supposed to be a tense murder thriller can really take you out of the story. And you know how people accuse Kristen Stewart of having no emotional range in her films? Weirdly enough, it seems reversed here: Stewart has some emotional range, and everyone else seems like they only know how to mimic emotion, rather than show it!

On top of that, Lizzie didn’t include some things that one might expect from any story on Lizzie Borden. The turbulent relationship between Lizzie and her stepmother is glossed over; Lizzie is shown suffering from seizures, which is something I don’t remember ever hearing about her; elder sister Emma Borden is barely in the film; and a few other things beside.

Oh, and there’s this thing with the soundtrack. Namely, it doesn’t show up that much, and when it does it disappears really quickly. There’s one scene where you’d expect lots of soft music to highlight the emotion of the scene, only for it to cut in and out every three seconds. Um, why?

Was there anything about this film that I liked? Well, the attention to detail is decent when it comes to clothes and furnishings. The house’s first floor is laid out like the real house in Fall River, Massachusetts, which I approve of. And the development of the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget is given the time and development needed to really make you believe in it. And there are some real talents in this film, including Jeff Perry, Denis O’Hare, and Fiona Shaw.

But other than that, Lizzie was really not worth the wait. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 2. If you want a Lizzie Borden film that keeps the tension up even though you already know how it ends, I recommend 1975’s The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring the incomparable Elizabeth Montgomery in the titular role. Fun fact, Montgomery found out Lizzie was her sixth cousin once removed after completing the film. Imagine if she’d known that when she was playing the character!

Now if only I could see  productions of Fall River Legend, the ballet based on the murders, and the rock musical Lizzie. Yes, those exist, and I want to see them live. Someone pleeeeeease make those happen for me!

When trailers for Bird Box first hit the net, people were immediately intrigued. Not only because Sandra Bullock was in it, but the film, like A Quiet Place, drew its tension and challenge through avoiding a monster by denying an important sense or human function. I was also intrigued when it was pointed out to me that the film shares similarities with a story I wrote (not enough to get lawsuit thankfully). So this evening, I sat down and checked it out.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box follows Mallory, a woman with two young children who is trying to get to a compound downriver while she and the children is blindfolded. The story then switches to five years previously, when a pregnant Mallory becomes trapped inside a large house after invisible monsters start causing anyone who gazes upon them to either commit suicide or try to make other people look at them. Switching between past and present, the movie follows Mallory’s journey of survival, both then and now, as she tries to keep those close to her alive.

This was a really good horror film. It takes a simple concept and executes it very well, creating this gripping tension. Even when characters are indoors, there’s this feeling of dread as you see them struggle with their various survival needs–food and water, two very pregnant women, anyone outside might be dangerous, etc.–and the possibility of having to expose themselves to the outside. In those moments, you see these characters really having to work to keep themselves alive, using everything in their environments to both get around and keep themselves from seeing something they shouldn’t. It really makes you believe in the scenario occurring, and that these would be the steps people would take if such a situation would occur.

I also liked how the movie handles the monsters. You never see them, you only see their effects on the environment and anyone who sees them, and that adds this powerful sense of mystery to them, compounding the terror they create.

And for those wondering, Sandra Bullock in the lead was awesome. I mean, all of the principal cast is really good, but especially Bullock. You really do see this woman who has grown up being very guarded and afraid of bonds with people new to her having to really change herself in order to adjust to the situation she’s in. Yeah, at times she does seem a little emotionless, but I think that is just her character trying to stay guarded. I know some people have said that annoyed them or made it harder to sympathize with the character, and I have a feeling that’s going to be a point of contention though with a lot of people. Hopefully the debates stay civil, especially online.

I also liked John Malkovich as Douglas, a character whose survival drive at times makes him gravitate between asshole and murderer. Yeah, I hated the character, but God was it hard to look away whenever he was on the screen. And he does a great impression of Donald Trump at a rally during one scene. That alone is worth checking out the film.

If there was anything I didn’t like, it was that a few characters didn’t get more screen time. You have Sarah freaking Paulson and BD Wong in this film, but their roles were relatively small, and that’s just a damn shame (though since they were both on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, that might have had something to do with it). And Lil Rei Howery as Charlie, a grocery store employee and aspiring author writing a novel about the end of the world (a man after my own heart) should’ve been given more screen time. He stole the show every time he was on screen. I wish that guy could have his own film.

All in all, Bird Box is a tense apocalyptic thriller with great characters and an engrossing story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 4.5. Go in, and go in with eyes wide open. You’ll see how beautiful it is.

You ever read a story and it’s very clear that there’s a deeper meaning to a story? That it’s making a statement on society, or urging you to maybe reexamine your life choices? Chances are you have. Plenty of authors write stories like that. And a few say that’s the only story you should write. The question is, should you?

This is the subject of my latest post on the other site I write for, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors: Does Your Story Need a Deeper Meaning? I thought it’d be a good post to round out the year on that site, And perhaps it’ll be helpful to people. That’s what I aim for with the articles on that site, anyway.

So if you get a chance, do check out the article. And while you’re there, consider checking out the other articles there. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site by authors for authors to help them write, edit, publish and market as best as they can. If you give it a chance, you’ll find it very helpful.

That’s all for now. Hope to have a new review or out soon, so keep an eye out for those. Until then, have a good night, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

If you’ve been with me a while, you remember a few years ago I read this awesome horror manga called Uzumaki by Junji Ito (and if you don’t or weren’t around then, here’s the link) Since then I managed to get my hands on the movie adaptation of Uzumaki (you can read that review here), read plenty more of his works (his stories can be hit or miss, but generally I like them), and watched a couple episodes of an anime adaptation of his various short stories (which, by the way, sucked. I didn’t even bother to review it, it was sooo bad). And most recently, Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the United States, along with eight previously untranslated short stories, six of which are interconnected. All in one big volume.

How could I not read and review that?

Obviously Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, the tale of one scientist’s journey to create a living being through science and the disastrous series of events that follows, along with elements from some of the movie adaptations out there.* And honestly, Ito’s art is perfect for this story. I’ve heard he spends upwards of ten hours on illustrating a single page or frame, using ink and shadow, as well as his disinterest in making his art pretty or visually appealing in the normal sense of the phrase. I mean, look at the reveal of the Monster.

Um, yikes!

Seriously, this guy has to do more Gothic horror. His style is a natural for it. And it’s a natural fit here, really allowing you to feel the horror that early audiences felt of the original novel, especially in bringing the monster to life. There’s also some decent changes from the original text in order to make the story more compelling for the style of manga, such as when it comes to the creation of the Monster’s Bride.

Still, there are some things that could’ve been improved. A couple of Ito’s changes do make the story a bit slower near the end, and the translated text might be a little too close to the actual novel for a modern audience (if I wanted old-timey speak like that, I’d read Lovecraft). And honestly, I would’ve liked to see Ito take more liberties with the story, make it his own. His stories can be really unnerving, and I’d love to see him bring more of his style to the Frankenstein story.

The short stories added to bulk up the book (because of course they are) are decent, for the most part. Six of them follow Toru Oshikiri, a teenager living in a giant mansion by himself who starts to have a strange series of experiences, gradually leading to him making a shocking discovery about his home. Some of these stories work really well, but sometimes the build-up in them seems to lead to a letdown.

The real problems though are the unconnected stories. They don’t really add anything, and one of them is definitely from the bottom of Ito’s portfolio.

By itself, I give Ito’s adaptation of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. If you want a really creepy visual adaptation of the original Frankenstein story, this is definitely worth a read. With the addition of the other stories, I’d give it a 3.5. Not what I’d recommend for anyone coming to Ito’s work for the first time (for that, I’d point to Uzumaki or his collection Shiver, which came out in December 2017), but for anyone familiar with his work already, this collection is probably worth checking out.

Speaking of which, Ito’s got another collection, Smashed, coming out in April. I might have to check that one out and give that a review as well. Hopefully his stories Hellstar Remina and The Bully are included. I hear those are reeeeally freaky.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t post anything within the next couple of days, then I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May Cthulhu bless us, every one (because of course I would go there). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Highly recommend the 1994 adaptation with Kenneth Branagh. It’s not just the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, it’s got the best “bringing-the-monster-to-life” scene I’ve ever seen.

This is kind of how I imagine fighting my anxiety. Only, you know, I’m actually wearing something when I do.

It was around this time last year that I started recognizing the symptoms of what would be diagnosed later as a generalized anxiety disorder. I was feeling dread when I was by myself or in a crowd, sure that anything I said or did might come back to haunt me. I was paying extra attention to what i posted online or what stories I wrote because I was sure it would lead to me becoming a pariah. If I was around people, I was afraid something I’d say or do would be misinterpreted and would lead to consequences.

There was also a touch of pessimism in the state of the world, and the possibility of a soulless universe that would cease to exist in a couple billion-billion years started rolling around in my skull a bit more. That happened.

I saw my psychiatrist, who gave me a prescription which has helped me with the majority of my symptoms. I’ve started recognizing triggers for my anxiety and situations where it was more likely to manifest. And I developed coping mechanisms to stave off or dull the anxiety, even enlisting the help of a counselor at work for further advice. All this came together to make sure 2018 didn’t get riddled with anxiety for me.

Still, it hasn’t been all wine and roses for me. There were times when I still felt really anxious, especially when it came to what I was writing or trying to make a name for myself as a writer. And sometimes, especially in the evenings, I still feel a bit of dread, and it makes me reluctant to write or do anything productive. Just the other night, I had to listen to a whole lot of my favorite music and some hypnosis just so I could put some words on paper. I ended up getting a little over a thousand words in a new short story down, but for a while it looked doubtful I could get a sentence or two down.

Yeah, having anxiety is far from easy.* No matter the coping mechanisms and the medications, my brain’s overproduction of one neurochemical or another is a constant problem, and I have to fight it everyday. That’s how I see it, as fighting. I imagine myself dressing up in armor and going to fight with a sword shield a many-headed monster which spawns rats that it directs to bite me (the rats, if it’s not obvious, represent my out-of-control thoughts). It’s the one-time I’m not thrilled to fight a demonic creature!

Thankfully, this is a battle that I’ve won almost every time. Sure, there are days where the beast gets the upper hand for a little while, but with the weapons I’ve been developing and adding to my arsenal over the past year, those moments don’t last very long. I know I’m stronger than the beast created by my brain chemicals, and I know how to fight it when I need to. And I know I have so many of you supporting me today, giving me the strength to fight even on my worse days.

And know that if you have an anxiety disorder, I’m supporting you. You’re not alone: approximately forty million people in the United States deal with anxiety every year. We’re all connected by this disorder, and we’re all in this fight together. By recognizing what we have and not giving into the stigma of mental illness, we can fight off the many-headed beast and regain control of our lives. Together, we can be happy.

Thanks for the all the support, everyone. It means a lot to me. And if you’re struggling with anxiety and need some strategies, I list some in this article from when I first came out about my anxiety. Who knows? You might find some of the tips helpful.

Well, I’ve got dinner to make and a scary story to write. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Along with autism, ADHD, allergies, partial albinism, and back pain. Yeah, I’m a hot mess. But at least I’m humorous about it and try not to let it get me down.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?