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.

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So today marks the 13th anniversary of my bnei mitzvah, when my sister Adi and I were called to the Torah in official recognition of reaching adulthood in Judaism.* According to the Gregorian calendar, anyway: August 19th, 2006. The anniversary date on the Hebrew calendar falls on August 26th this year, and the Torah portion my sister and I read from, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17), will be read in synagogues on August 31st. It’s a whole lot of complicated, I know.

The point is, the date I pay attention to, August 19th, 2006, has its anniversary today. Thirteen years ago. A full half of my lifetime ago, and close to half my own sister’s life ago.

I’m not doing anything to mark the occasion. The thirteen-year anniversary isn’t really that significant in Judaism, and I’m not in the mood to do anything special beyond maybe some ice cream and wine (the celebratory foods of the exhausted working grown ups). I barely remember that weekend’s festivities, truth be told, beyond going off-script and laughing like a lunatic during my speech (but it was poorly written, so it was probably an improvement). Still, I thought I’d at least talk about it.

Because honestly, I feel more like an adult now than I ever did at thirteen.

I don’t know when it happened. Becoming an adult became a gradual process, not just something that happened overnight. It started in college, while I was paying rent and bills while also balancing homework and trying not to stress out about my grades. And then I started looking for a job, had an internship abroad (which gave new lessons to the art of budgeting), came back and had the existential dread of living on my dad’s couch for eight months looking for a job. I found a job, started paying rent again, paid more bills, worked forty hours a week. I got a license and a car, I learned to balance fun and asserting my independence with work and learning to submit when necessary.

And I began to understand how the world works. How insane and nasty it can be, and how much we have to do to make it seem pleasant for more than a millisecond or two.

What did I know at thirteen? I was still wrapping my head around the idea that other people will never like horror or anime no matter how much I talked about it. I was sure I would be a famous author by age twenty and living in Beverly Hills by twenty-five. And I was sure the world was a mostly-good place where good eventually triumphs over evil, and the nastiness I saw everyday would eventually balance itself out.

Look how well that turned out.

Not to say I was completely clueless or naive back then. I did know one thing back then, and that I wasn’t an adult, no matter how well I read from the Torah or what my rabbis (aka my parents) said. I knew I couldn’t survive on my own. I had only so much understanding of my own finances, of how to take care of myself. I knew I would be dependent on my parents and others for at least the next five years. No matter what, I wasn’t ready for adulthood (though, like every teen, I couldn’t wait for the freedoms of adulthood).

I guess I can sum this up by saying I’m glad it took as long as it did for me to reach adulthood. I was able to enjoy being young while it lasted, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near as competent as I am now without all those years to learn and mature. At the same time, that slow change from kid to adult helps me be a better writer, and understand those younger than me (even if I have no idea what the kids are listening to these days or what video games are popular).

So I guess it took another thirteen years, but I can finally say, I’m a grown up now. And I think I’m doing alright.

*Just a note for those not familiar with Judaism and/or the Hebrew language: a bar mitzvah is for a single 13-year-old boy. A bat mtzvah is for a single 12-year-old girl. A bnei mitzvah is for multiple boys or a mixed-gender group. And a b’not mitzvah is for multiple girls. Also, many adults have bnei mitzvahs, especially if they converted in adulthood or otherwise were unable to have a ceremony in their teens. Just thought I’d mention it.

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.

I don’t remember much of the Scary Stories series from my childhood days, but what I do remember terrified me shitless (thank you, Mrs. Paulowicz, for scaring your entire third grade class with the story of the grave digger who stole silver coins from over the eyes of a dead woman). So when it came out that a movie based on the stories was in the works, people were excited, skeptical, curious, and terrified (of their beloved childhood memories being tarnished). And then we saw those initial trailers on Super Bowl weekend. And we were like, “Ooh, this should be good.”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark takes place in a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968. Several teens, led by aspiring writer Stella Nichols, go to visit the old Bellows mansion, an abandoned house supposedly haunted by the spirit of a murderess who was kept hidden in a basement from the world, poisoned kids who came to hear her scary stories through the wall, and hung herself. They end up finding the book of Sarah Bellows, which is still being written, with the teenagers as the main characters. Now they have to find a way to stop Sarah before the antagonists of the stories take them and kill them all.

I’ll admit, the story has a predictable structure, and the third act could have been a lot scarier and less reliant on CGI monsters. Still, Scary Stories is a decent horror film. Much better than some other films I’ve seen lately (looking at you, Midsommar!).

For those wondering, this film does contain a lot of favorite monsters and references to other stories. Jangly Man, the Pale Lady, the girl who had spiders birthed from her cheek. They even make several references to The Hearse Song, which many people were first exposed to through the book series (and which is one of the inspirations for my short story Pinochle on Your Snout).

The best part of this movie is its scares and atmosphere. While there are jump scares, they’re not overused and for the most part are pretty effective. The filmmakers used a combination of settings, such as the house, a cornfield, or a hospital wing,* along with lighting (or lack of it) and practical/make-up effects to create a claustrophobic and suspenseful atmosphere that will make you curl in on yourself in terror. I swear, the scene in the cornfield with the scarecrow had me genuinely freaked out. Especially when it moved!

The actors also do a good job with these characters. I really empathized with Stella, played by Zoe Colletti, who loves horror and writes, but at times has trouble interacting with others and has to deal with bullies (girl, I’ve been there). And Ramon Morales, played by Michael Garza, came off as truly kind and sympathetic.

Also of note is the theme of persecution in the film. There’s a reason that this film takes place in 1968, when the first book was released in 1981. Sarah Bellows, whom we only really see at the end, is revealed to be born with a disability, and is treated horribly by her family for it. Several of the main characters have dealt with bullying for being different, and Ramon is persecuted mainly because he’s Hispanic. The Vietnam War and the 1968 election also comes up quite a bit in the story. All this comes together to give this film a rather poignant undertone that one could find ways to apply to our current political climate (just saying), and that never hits you over the head to get the message across.

But as I said, the story is kind of predictable and the third act has some issues. Specifically, there’s too much attention paid to making Sarah Bellows a sympathetic villain, along with wrapping things up with a nice bow, that the fear kind of dissipates by the end of the climax. Doesn’t help that they chose a monster requiring lots of CGI to bring to life in that act.

But all in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will delight fans of the series and should satisfy regular horror fans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Scary Stories a 4.2. Atmospheric and creepy, you’ll be drawn in and learn to be afraid of the power of stories. Go and check it out.

*By the way, one of the locations in the film is the Pennhurst State School, one of the haunted locations I want to visit! Not the real one, but a great recreation. Way to tie in a real haunted location with a sordid past into a horror film, filmmakers. I’m impressed.

Quite recently, Rose received its sixteenth review on Amazon’s US site. This is a big deal for me, because the only other book I’ve published with that many reviews is the first book I ever published, The Quiet Game: Five Tales to Chill Your Bones. Guess how long it took for that one to get that many reviews?

Six years.

Why did it take so long for The Quiet Game to get that many reviews, when Rose was able to do it in less than two months? There are a number of factors at play, in my opinion. My writing has vastly improved since 2013, and my audience across different platforms has grown as well. But the big difference, if I’m being honest, is my marketing plan. Unlike my previous works, I had an actual marketing plan in place when I published Rose. And it seems to have worked pretty well so far.

Given that, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from having an actual plan in place. And given all the lessons to impart, it’ll probably take a few posts (hence the “Part 1” in the post’s title). Hell, sponsoring a YouTube video will probably take up its own post. But if it helps a promising author with a new book coming out from making the same mistakes as I did, then it’ll be worth it.

So without further ado, let’s go over some essentials for having a marketing plan.

Rose wouldn’t be doing as well as it is without a marketing plan.

First, don’t expect your book to just take off without putting in any work. I know it’s tempting, after all the writing and editing and either finding a publisher to work with or putting in the time, effort and even cash, to just sit back and hope that word of mouth will be enough. You may do a couple of blog posts, some boosted Facebook ads, and a friend’s podcast, but in your mind, the reviews and good word of your friends, family and some blog followers will be enough. Eventually, more and more people will discover your story and things will snowball from there and your book is doing a steady business with a few new reviews on your month and you suddenly have a little extra spending money.

In my experience, that doesn’t work. I used that approach for the first four of my books, and three of those still have less than ten reviews on Amazon. Books rarely, if ever, snowball like we dream. These days, you need a detailed plan to get people interested in your book, and that requires work. It requires research, identifying places to send your book for reviews or promotion, talking to people and places (e.g. bookstores) that might be interested in what you’re published, maybe even making new business cards or bookmarks. Anything that can get your book noticed and get reades interested.

In other words, expect the work to keep on going long after your book is released to the public. If you want the public to give a damn about your book, that is.

Second, know your niche. Companies like Coca-Cola, no matter how they market, can afford to market it to thousands of random people. They’re Coca-Cola, they can afford it. You, however, can’t afford it. After all, your book is a particular type of story. So what do you do? You figure what audience you’re aiming to get reading your books, and you try to stick to that. Know what language in an ad or in a description would entice for them. What kind of mood are you trying to convey? Are they more likely to be pulled in by mentions of the grotesque and macabre, or by descriptions of beautiful men and women and scenic locales?

This seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget. More than once I’ve tried to interest people in my stories who are more fans of Parks & Rec or Ten Things I Hate About You than serial killers or the demonic. Sure, occasionally you find people who step out of their comfort zones and will read your story, but they’re a minority.

So, identify your niche and what’s likely to get them interested. You’ll save yourself a lot of trouble (and a few business cards) if you do.

And third, talk to your network. I’m not saying ask every Facebook friend to read your book. That doesn’t work, believe me. But most likely you know other authors whom you can ask for tips. They probably know quite a bit about finding your audience and getting them interested, or where to send your book for a possible review, or a hundred other ways to market your story.

And even if you don’t know other authors, there’s likely someone in your circle who knows a bit about business or marketing. After Rose was accepted for publication, I actually called up and met with a friend who’s been involved with a number of successful start-ups. He gave me some solid advice for reaching readers which I tried to keep in mind when I started the marketing machine for Rose.

No matter who you work with though, make sure to take down notes so you can refer back to them later. After all, it may take a long time between when you ask and when the book gets out there. Believe me, I know (fifteen months between acceptance and release).

Write advice down, or there’s a chance what you’ll learn will be forgotten later on.

So now this post is getting a bit long, I think I’ll cut it off here. Suffice to say, before you even start the marketing, there’s a lot of things to keep in mind and to work on. However, they’re part of a successful start to getting your book noticed by more people than your mother and a few friends. And once you have those down, you’ll have the start to your marketing plan.

That’s all for Part 1 of this series. Next time I’ll talk about more concrete tactics. In the meantime, you have until October 16th to submit questions to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for an AMA in honor of this blog’s eighth anniversary. Ask me (almost) anything about writing, horror, Rose, or myself and if I get enough responses, I’ll be happy to answer them in a special blog post.

And if any of this gets you interested in reading Rose, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read the book, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love reviews and it helps me in the long run.

Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

I’m very excited to announce that I will be doing my very first professional solo author reading on August 18th at Brothers Drake Meadery! And of course, one of the stories I’ll be reading from is Rose.

Now I think I’ve mentioned them on this blog before, but if you’re unfamiliar with Brothers Drake, they’re a local maker and purveyor of mead, or honeywine. I’ve loved their mead since college, and celebrated both finishing up the third draft and the publication of Rose with their product and posting pictures and videos of said celebration on my Instagram.

This has led to the owners of Brothers Drake and I building a relationship, and earlier this week, they agreed to host a reading for me at their bar in the Short North area of Columbus.*

Anyway, I’m so grateful to Brothers Drake for having me. I can’t wait to be there on the 18th and I hope it’s a wonderful experience for all.

And if you happen to be in the Columbus area on the 18th, head on down to the trendy Short North area and arrive at Brothers Drake a little before 5 PM (parking in the Short North area is a cutthroat competition). You can buy some wine unlike anything you’ve likely ever had before, and then sit back as I read from not just Rose, but other stories that are either coming out soon or I hope will come out someday. Afterwards there will likely be a Q&A and then I’ll be selling and signing copies of Rose. And after that…who knows? I’m no fortune teller, despite my many other supernatural talents.

Anyway, if you’d like to RSVP, you can hit up the event page on Facebook by clicking this link. I hope I’ll see you there. It’ll be a spine-chilling good time.

And speaking of Q&A, there’s still time to participate in this blog’s Q&A (or would AMA be more accurate?). In honor of my blog’s eighth anniversary, between now and August 16th, you can send me any questions regarding writing, horror, my stories or myself and, unless I have a good reason not to, I will answer them. Just send your questions to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and if I get enough questions, you might see yours.

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

*This is why you support local businesses, because you can end up building incredible relationships sometimes, and it can lead to extraordinary things happening.