I’ve been hearing about this film for a few months now, and the earliest whispers I heard was that it was going to be scary. Some event went so far as to call it an instant classic in the horror genre. Well, with rumors like that, I had to see this one myself. So today I went to the theater, trying to go in without preconceived expectations so as to give it a fair rating.

God, Hereditary is unsettling. And I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Hereditary follows the Graham family: father Steve, mother Annie, teenage son Peter, and 13-year-old daughter Charlie. The film begins with the funeral of Annie’s mother Ellen Leigh, who had a very complicated relationship to her daughter. What follows is a strange and twisting journey as the family experiences tragedy, psychosis, and the strange, all in two terrifying hours.

Where to begin? Well, for one thing, the film is excellent at creating atmosphere. It’s a slow burn story that doesn’t pile on the scary stuff all at once or starts small and then continues to escalate. Instead, it features small instances of horrifying and/or possibly supernatural occurrences, followed by big scary moments that stay with you for ages (one early-ish in the film left my mouth hanging with my hand covering it for several minutes) before retreating back to low levels. It’s a method that I don’t usually see in horror, but it’s quite effective. And when paired with odd camera movements and a soundtrack that’s quiet for nearly half of the film and only utilizes music during the most necessary scenes, the unsettled feeling you get while watching is doubled.

And on top of all that, you don’t really know if what’s happening is actually caused by supernatural forces or is taking place in the characters’ heads. Annie admits that her family has a very dark history of mental illness, and it’s hinted that daughter Charlie possibly has some mental/learning disabilities as well. So is what’s happening on screen actually the work of malevolent, supernatural forces, or is it some sort of shared delusion manifeting in a family under stress? Hereditary makes you ask that question throughout the movie, and you may not be able to answer by the end. All these elements come together to create this really freaky atmosphere that where it feels like nothing is stable, and anything can shift under your feet at a moment’s notice. Heck, the camerawork for this film, like sliding one person to the next and then backing up all in one shot or revealing a character’s reaction to a scare before showing us what’s so scary, feels like something right out of The Shining.

Actually, one wouldn’t be wrong in calling Hereditary a modern-day Shining, as its ability to unsettle and make audiences question the characters’ sanity, along with the excellent tricks of music and camera, are reminiscent of the Kubrick film. Of course, knowing my feelings on The Shining, it won’t surprise many of you to know I like this film better.

Of course, none of this would work so well without a brilliant cast to back it up. There are a number of excellent actors in this film, like Toni Colette as Annie, Alex Wolff as Peter and Gabriel Byrne as Steve, and they all do an amazing job in their roles. But the prize definitely goes to young break-out star Milly Shapiro as Charlie, who embodies the strange, creepy kid almost too well. You watch her, and you can’t help but be mesmerized and afraid. I hope she appears in more horror films (or films in general), because if her performance in Hereditary is anything to go by, she’s going to have quite the career in the future.

If there’s one problem the film had, it was the last couple minutes. I mean, they were passable, but I expected more after everything that came before. Other than that, great film.

All in all, I think the moniker “instant classic” is an excellent one for Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.5. An unsettling, gripping addition to the horror pantheon that you won’t be able to disengage from and will stay with you long after the credits roll. Check it out, and be prepared for scares.

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I’ve got another article from Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors for your perusal. This one is “The Elevator Pitch: Telling People About Your Book in One Sentence.” And that’s really what it’s all about: how to get people interested in reading your books with a single sentence. I learned how to use elevator pitches when I was searching for a job, and it’s actually pretty handy in a number of other situations, including book promotion. You’d be surprised how many people have shown an interest in Rose after hearing my elevator pitch for the book.

If you have a chance to check out the article, please do and let me know what you think. And if you like what you read, make sure to read the other articles on the site. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great resource for authors looking to write, edit, publish, and market their stories efficiently and economically. I should know, I’m not just a contributor, I’m also a reader.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. And I hope it’s the last post for a while. I’ve got a lot of editing to do, so I’m going to get on that. And as much as I love you guys, I really need to focus on that. Don’t worry though; I’m planning on having a new review out on Saturday at the latest.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

For my earlier posts on Cockygate from May 5th and May 28, click here and here, respectively.

I’m just going to skip over all the preliminary stuff and just get to the good news: the Romance Writers Association and the Authors Guild won a court ruling on Friday against Faleena Hopkins, the notorious romance author who put a trademark on the word “cocky” and then sent letters to authors who had books with “cocky” in their titles, threatening legal action if they didn’t take their books off Amazon or change their books’ titles.

Now, if you read my post from last week, you may remember that Hopkins’s lawyer had sent Kevin Kneupper, the novelist and retired lawyer who’s leading the fight against Hopkins, along with author Tara Crescent and publicist Jennifer Watson, a letter with intention to sue them, as well as filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Petition of Cancellation for the trademark. Since then, it’s also come out that Hopkins was asking for another TRO against the publication of a collection of stories called Cocktales: The Cocky Collective, which was named as an obvious protest against her trademark (Jennifer Watson was incorrectly named by Hopkins as the publisher of the book in the papers filed for the TRO).

On Friday June 1st, several things happened:

  1. Kneupper was dismissed as a party to the lawsuit Hopkins’ lawyer filed, meaning he’s free to continue fighting against the trademark.
  2. Hopkins did not get her restraining order, so the petition and all the other legal battles against her can continue.
  3. Finally and most importantly, for the moment books with the word “cocky” in the title can be published, including the Cocktales anthology.

In other words, Hopkins lost, and she lost big. And while there’s another court date in September, and presumably this is when the decision on her trademark will be decided once and for all, it’s still not looking very good for Hopkins. As stated in the article the Authors Guild put on their website:

In ruling against the author Faleena Hopkins, who claimed exclusive rights to “cocky” for romance titles, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York, stated that he did not believe that Hopkins was likely to succeed on the merits.

In other words, the judge says that Hopkins’s trademark is on pretty weak legs.

Now, there’s still a lot of work to do. For one thing, while people can still publish their books with the word “cocky” in the title, the final decision won’t be made till September at the earliest. That gives Hopkins, her lawyers, and her supporters (yeah, there are some out there) to come up with legal strategies for the trial and for any potential appeals, both from her side and the other side. And unfortunately, there are a number of copycats out there trying to get trademarks on common words used in titles. It’s a hot mess.

But this is a bright spot in the ongoing saga of #Cockygate. I’ve heard from many authors who have expressed fear over the outcome of this controversy, and what it could mean for them if they couldn’t write because they could incur legal repercussions for using an everyday word in their story’s title. Hopkins’s defeat on Friday gives us all a little bit of hope that we can continue to not only write our stories, but give them almost any title imaginable and not have to worry about getting sued for it.

So with the trial not till September, what can we do now as authors? Well, we can continue to show our support for Kneupper and the legal team fighting Hopkins, as well as the RWA and all of the authors who’ve been affected by Cockygate (remember, if you’ve received a letter from Hopkins, contact carol.ritter@rwa.org for assistance and guidance). This can be something as casual as sympathetic messages online, or buying, reading, and reviewing the books of those involved/affected (a single sale and review can do an author a ton of good, believe me), or even donating your time and skills to the legal battle.*

You can also spread the word on Cockygate and any developments in the scandal. The more people who know what Hopkins is doing, the more we can rally against her or anyone else trying to copy her. The louder our voices, the stronger we are, and the better positioned we are to affect positive change.

And finally, if you’re a writer, continue writing. Don’t let fear get in the way of telling the stories you were born to tell. Like the people behind Cocktales, when we decide to put something out in defiance of bullies, we make a statement that we’re not going to take this sitting down.

That’s all for now, everyone. If there are any other significant developments, I’ll post about them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

UPDATE 6/3/18 @ 7:18 PM EST: Erica Unsophisticated Blood Thirsty Wolf Fisher (@monet5280) informed me over Twitter that both Ms. Crescent and Ms. Watson’s lawyers are working on a motion to dismiss, which will be due in on June 22nd. In addition, Ms. Hopkins has to respond to the Petition of Cancellation from Mr. Kneupper no later than June 23rd. So it looks like things will be heating up longer before it starts to get cold again. Here’s hoping the end of June brings more good news like what we saw on Friday.

*Just be careful before you donate to any legal fund for those affected or claiming to be for any legal teams against Hopkins. There are a ton of people out there who have no qualms against taking advantage of those suffering in order to make an easy buck.

My latest article from Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors has just been released. This particular post is called The Inner Dialogue: A Method for Figuring Out Your Stories. This details the method I used to figure out how to rewrite Rose after two-thirds of the story had to be thrown out. It’s a rather unconventional method, but it works really well. So if you’re curious or you’re looking for a new way to break writer’s block, this artile might be helpful to you.

And after you read the article, if you like what you see, consider checking out the rest of the articles on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors. This site has plenty of helpful articles on writing, editing, publishing and marketing all by yourself, no matter what your budget, as well as articles on keeping your spirits up during difficult times and not getting bogged down by negative trends in the writing world or by rejections or a lot of work. And it’s done by self-published and hybrid authors for self-published and hybrid authors. Give it a chance and see what it can do for you.

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

Video Rage, Book 2 of the Reborn City series

So as I promised in my last post, I have another post out today. And this one is a special one. Two years ago today, I published Video Rage, the second book in my Reborn City series.

If you’re not familiar with the Reborn City series, it’s a science fiction trilogy that I started writing back in high school. The story follows street gangs living in a dystopian future, in particular a gang called the Hydras whose leaders have very unique abilities. The novels explore themes such as prejudice and self-fulfilling prophecies, gang violence and drug addiction, and overcoming the expectations of others and of yourself. I published the first book, Reborn City, back in November 2013, and the second book, Video Rage, came out on June 1st, 2016, right before I started working in my current position.

While the books only have a very small following, those who’ve read them have had very enthusiastic things to say. Here’s are some of the reviews for Reborn City:

It’s a neat exercise in trying to see through the eyes of someone different from oneself. It incorporated a lot of fly comic-book-esque tropes. A good beginning effort of an up an coming new author who has some cool ideas to explore.

–Amazon Customer

This is not a genre I typically delve into, but I took this book on vacation and couldn’t put it down. The plot had me turning pages at quite the clip. The characters were unique and interesting and the imagery had me creating my own visual of what Rami’s interpretation of the future looked like. For first time novelist, Rami Ungar, this was an outstanding showing of talent and commitment to his passion of writing. Looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next!
–MU
This was really a page-turner; I was hooked from the start and read it in a day. While not perfect, this is an auspicious debut novel from a good author. I look forward to reading the rest of the books in this series when they come out!
–Josh M
And while it doesn’t have as many reviews, Video Rage has also received a warm reception:

From what I understand, this is book 2 in a series. That being said, I had expected a cliffhanger of an ending. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, but in this particular book, I think the author did an excellent job of finding the balance between making the story stand complete within itself while ending the story on a note that let you know another book was coming. Personally, the ending was one of the most intriguing ones I’d read in a long time. It didn’t leave you to figure it out for yourself (which is something I hate). The author let you know what was happening and why while leaving enough to be answered in a future book.

That all being said, the overall book was an enjoyable read. I especially liked that a former bad guy turned things around and redeemed himself. Those types of characters are one of my favorites. I had hoped in Reborn City (Reborn City series Book 1) that he would, and it was very satisfying to see that fulfilled. I also liked the underlying theme in the novel that what the media tells people through the major outlets is slanted by government agendas. In this book, it was up to the main characters to find an alternative way of getting the truth out.

I think this book is best read after reading Reborn City (Book 1) because it really helped to have the background on the characters, and I think this book is far more effective if you have the foundation Book 1 gives you. The science fiction geek in me really loves the genetic aspect. And so that I don’t spoil anything, I will say the real bad guy in this series does a nice twist in this book along that line.

–Ruth
I was really looking forward to the continued journey of the Hydras and Rami was able to produce. Zahara is my favorite character and her development from an insecure girl into a strong woman came out clearly in this book. Some other character development was really unexpected but the book moves at such a fast pace that it didn’t hold me up at all. The story line is quite imaginative and, as usual, there isn’t much predictability there. I think that is what draws the reader in – you just need to keep going to find out what weird twists and turns happen next! Looking forward to continuing this journey with Rami and the Hydras.
–Michele

Reborn City, Book 1 of the Reborn City series.

If any of this has piqued your curiosity, I’ll post the links for the books below. Please check them out if you’re interested. And if you do end up reading them, please let me know what you think. Email, blog comment, review online, I’d love to hear your feedback, positive or negative.
That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll probably have another post out tomorrow. Until next time, happy reading and pleasant nightmares.
Reborn City: 

Available on Amazon, Createspace, Barnes & NobleiBooksSmashwords, and Kobo

Video Rage:

Available from Amazon, Kindle, CreatespaceBarnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, and Kobo

Before I give you the news I hope you’re all eager to hear–the latest on my novel Rose, which is to be published by Castrum Press–I want to first share something I was told recently. Now, I’m not sure if this is true and I haven’t been able to find any corroborating evidence, but according to someone I talked to online, in the first draft of Carrie by Stephen King, Carrie actually grew horns and sent bolts of electricity from her eyes at some point in the story. This was later dropped during the revision process of the novel.

Okay first off, I kind of want to see that version of Carrie, not just in book form but in movie form as well (I still maintain that the 2013 film is the superior adaptation, and you know the horns and lightning bolts would’ve looked awesome in that film). Second, it shows that even King’s works, including one of his greatest, require extensive revisions. And that made me feel a whole lot better about the revisions I have to do for my own story.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Rose, it’s a novel I’ve been working on since my senior year of college, when I wrote it as my thesis project. It follows a young woman who finds herself turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

I’ve mentioned before that my publisher asked me to do nix the many flashback sequences in Rose, essentially throwing out one-third of the book, and another third that was dependent on that first third. Although I was understandably more than a little disappointed about that, and it even brought my mood down quite a bit at times, I decided to try and find a new direction for the story that didn’t rely so heavily on flashbacks. Somehow, after a lot of head-scratching and extensive use of a method of brainstorming I’ve been wanting to try for a while (I’ll write an article about it for Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors soon enough), I managed to find a new direction and plot for Rose that I thought made for a good supernatural thriller.

I sent a new outline for the story to my publisher, and just today they got back to me. I was really worried that they might not like the new direction, but the tone of the email was really enthusiastic. They just asked me to keep in mind some things about chapter length and a few other things, and wished me luck.

I can’t tell you what reading that feedback did for my confidence. The closest I can get to is by saying that it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.

And since I’m on vacation for the first third of June (not going anywhere, I’m just having a relaxing stay-cation at home), now is the perfect time for me to get back to work on Rose. I plan on getting through at least the first seven chapters of the novel, and then start on the new material for the novel. All that, along with more than a few blog posts I’ve been wanting/meaning to write for a while, and of course the normal stuff one does while on vacation (sleep, watch TV & movies, read, hang out with family and friends, run errands, have tea and scones with a succubus you’ve been seeing on another plane of reality, etc.), should keep me pleasantly occupied during my vacation.

So as you can see, Rose is still coming along. It may take some time, but I still think we can get the book out before it starts to turn chilly again (though in my state, that can happen even in summer). And I think when I get it done and on the shelves, it’ll surprise more than a few people. Especially those who’ve read earlier versions of the story.

That’s all until morning, my Followers of Fear (got another post I need to work on after I’ve gotten my much-needed sleep). Until then, pleasant nightmares. I’ll see you soon.

My copy of “The Creepypasta Collection,” as edited by MrCreepyPasta

A couple of years ago while I was in Germany, I became acquainted with a growing genre of horror known as creepypasta. Creepypasta, for those of you who are unfamiliar, are horror stories, images, videos, music and games that originate on the Internet and are meant to be spread around as memes. Sort of like viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories (see my original post from 2015 if you’d like a more in-depth explanation).

While I had to end my acquaintance with the genre rather abruptly (job searching and then landing a busy full-time job, as well as trying to write my own stories, doesn’t leave that much time for perusing the Internet for horror stories), I never forgot about this strange world of creators making and sharing these scary stories, sharing characters and creating entire mythologies out of some of them (Slender Man, anyone?). So when I found out there was actually a couple of anthologies of creepypasta available in book format, which meant I could read them on my lunch break, I decided to get a copy and dive in to see back in.

What did I find?

Well, like every anthology I’ve ever read, there were some stories that spoke to me more than others. A few I didn’t find that scary at all, but others definitely filled me with that feeling I get from good horror, and even set my imagination alight at times. There are writers in that anthology who would and have done well writing commercial fiction (in fact, some of the contributors listed in the back of the book have published or self-published stories). My favorites in the collection were “When Dusk Falls on Hadley Township” by TW Grim, which reminded me of a Stephen King short story; “Smile.Montana” by Aaron Shotwell, featuring the infamous creepypasta character Smile Dog; “Bedtime” by Michael Whitehouse, a classic of creepypasta fiction that really got my imagination going; and my top favorite, “She Beneath the Tree” by Michael Marks, a Lovecraftian tale that I loved from start to finish.

So yeah, if you’re curious, you should give the collection a read. 4.5 out of 5. As the cover promises, these are stories you can’t unread. And I’m not sure you’d want to.

But I found more than just stories in this collection. I also noticed some things about the genre, especially the pieces in the anthology, that showed me just how different they were from more “mainstream” horror stories. For one thing, the narration in the stories struck me as being more…realist in nature. Not like Realist fiction, which is set entirely around stories that happen in the real world, but like they really believed that the things they depicted in their stories could actually happen. In a lot of horror fiction, even by the greatest writers out there, you get the sense that, except for maybe stories involving serial killers, the authors don’t really believe that what they’re writing about could happen. But creepypasta writers seem to feel the opposite. I got the sense, even with some of the more supernatural or strange stories, that the authors really believed that what was happening in their stories could happen in the real world, and treated it as such. And this shown through especially with the first-person narrators.

When something like Smile Dog can be treated as if it’s real, you know you’re reading something different.

This is something I really admire in creepypasta, because it just gives these stories another layer and gives them the power to really make you wonder if some of what happens in these creepypastas could happen. Some of my own stories are based on my own beliefs of what could be out there, and I like to think that gives them this quality of strange realism to them. Seeing that quality brought out so well with these stories is a great guide for me personally as a writer, so I’m glad I exposed myself to them.

Another thing about this anthology is that it made me realize something: the creators of creepypasta are not too different from self-published and hybrid authors. The latter try to recreate the quality and success of books published by traditional presses without having to go through all the hoops that come with the traditional method and presses. They’re trying a new way to achieve an old goal. And a major component of this is through the Internet to reach readers and advertise. Basically, to spread the word.

Similarly, creepypasta creators are trying to recreate something as well. When I called creepypasta viral Internet-born campfire ghost stories, that was a really apt description. They’re recreating the feeling of telling scary stories around a campfire, and spread it farther than any campfire could. And their chosen medium, the Internet, is perfect for that. Spoken word can be used on the Internet, but so can the written word, images, video, music and so much more. They use the Internet to advertise terror as well as any self-published/hybrid author can to advertise their books. Is it any wonder that one can so transition easily into the other?

Overall, I’m glad I took this dive back into the world of creepypasta. It opened my eyes to things that I’d never realized before, gave me ideas for stories, and caused my respect for creepypasta creators to grow immensely. And while I may never write true creepypasta, I can see creepypasta-esque stories or ideas infiltrating my future work. Just like creepypasta, you never know until it happens. And by then, it’s likely too late.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’d love to talk a bit more on the subject, but a hole in the fabric of reality has appeared in the fabric of my carpet, so that either means something really pleasant, or something really bad. I’m going to go find out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!