Look at this cover! It’s freaking beautiful!

If any of you checked my Facebook page or my Twitter feed after my last post, I hinted that I might have some good news I would be sharing today or tomorrow. Three years ago, I wrote a story called Car Chasers, which I describe as a mash up of Fast & Furious-style races with a ghost story. About a year and a half ago, I announced that the story had been accepted into an anthology. And last night, that anthology, The Binge-Watching Cure II, was released by Claren Books on Amazon!

I’m very excited to let you know this horror anthology has been released. It’s a rather unique anthology, as every successive story is longer than the one preceding it. In fact, during the submission process, we had to submit our stories based on a certain word length and how close we were to fifteen percent of that word count. I was lucky enough to be considered for the eight thousand word spot, and after some deliberation, Car Chasers was selected as the story!

And after having Rose accepted by Castrum Press a few months previously, seeing this story accepted by Claren Books was a really big deal for me. I was still having some anxiety over the amount of editing I needed to do for Rose, so this was a boost to my confidence.

Where was I? Oh right. The Binge-Watching Cure II‘s stories range from 140 characters (just over the original size of a tweet), to twenty-five thousand words. So if you’re looking for something quick to digest, or something long to chew on, you’ll find it here. And there are some great authors here: Amanda Crum, Nick Youncker, Lana Cooper, Robert E. Stahl, and Armand Rosamilia, among many others.

Also this guy named Rami Ungar. Have you heard of him? Neither have I, but I hear he’s a bit of a weirdo. Hopefully the good kind of weirdo, right?

The only version available right now is the ebook, but the paperback will be out soon enough, so keep checking back to the Amazon page if paperback is more your jam. I’ll include the links below. And if you do get the book and read it, please consider leaving a review online where you can. Not just because we love to hear your feedback, but because reviews help more people find the anthology and get them to read it, which keeps the cycle going, as well as encourages Claren Books to put together and release more anthologies like this one.

Also, I’m hoping director James Wan, known for both Furious 7 and the Conjuring movies, will somehow come across the anthology, read Car Chasers, and want to adapt it. I doubt it will happen, but I can dream and encourage, right?

Anyway, thank you to Bill Adler Jr. and Sarah Doebereiner, as well as the rest of the team at Claren Books, for letting me be part of this anthology. And thank you to the other authors whose company I find myself with in The Binge-Watching Cure II. It’s an honor to join you.

And thank you, Followers of Fear. I hope you check out the book, and let me know what you think. And thank you for your continued support. One of the reasons I keep writing is because you keep supporting me, and I’m so grateful for that.

That’s all for now. I’m off to start a new chapter of Toyland, make dinner, bring in Shabbat and the latest night of Hanukkah, and chill out with some TV. Not necessarily in that order. Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and pleasant nightmares.

Link for The Binge-Watching Cure II.

Before I start this post, I just want to let everyone who read that title and got concerned, thinking I was going to talk about something negative like giving up on my dreams or whatnot, that that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually a happy post.

Anyway, as many of you are aware, I’ve been making tremendous progress with the novel I started last month, Toyland. If you are unaware, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. Yes, I’m writing a story with a premise that bonkers. Bonkers premises tend to work for me (click here for further proof). And as I said, I’ve been making tremendous progress on it. Or as my Grandma told me on the phone last night, “You’re just zipping along with it!”

(If she reads this post, she’s going to plotz over seeing herself mentioned here.)

I’ve noticed that zipping along myself, and I’ve wondered about it. Past novels I’ve worked on, as well as some short stories and novelettes, have taken months at a time to write. Occasionally, they’ve taken years (especially if I find myself stuck and have to take a break from the story). What’s so different about this one? A dark premise and some weird things occurring is not unusual for me, so it’s not the plot. And I’ve done National Novel Writing Month before, so that this novel started out as a project for that probably hasn’t affected much.

If I had to guess, I think it might be that I’m fooling myself by underestimating how long the chapters are going to be. Let me explain:

Although I’ve been writing this novel since January, I’ve been planning and researching it far longer than that. Going back months, or years, if you count when I started learning what constituted Gothic literature. Consequently, I’ve had some scenes in this story in my head for a while, and they always seem very short when I play it in my head.

What’s short in your head doesn’t necessarily translate as short once you put it down on paper. In fact, you can spend about twelve-hundred words or more describing a new setting, especially if it’s fantastical. Add in dialogue, action, exploring the characters’ emotions, etc. and what you’re imagining will be maybe sixteen-hundred words at most turns out to be nearly twice that! And yet, I still think to myself as I write, “Just a few hundred words more. Can’t be more than three hundred. Almost at the end.” Over and over, until the chapter ends, and it’s a lot more words than I expected.

Given that I’ve figured that out, however, there’s a chance that strategy won’t work for me after a while. I’ll know what to expect now and the spell won’t work. On that other hand, these past two months has been illuminating as to how much I can get done when I apply myself, so that may make up for it. At this time, I’m over halfway through the book, and on my way to two-thirds. A couple of years ago, this sort of progress in a few months would be confined to the realms of the imagination.

Now I know what’s in my imagination can exist in the real world.

If you need me, this is a great representation of what I’m up to these days.

In the meantime, I’ll use that knowledge, and keep fooling myself until I can’t anymore, and eventually, finish this book. As well as any story that comes after.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully post something again before December 31st, but if I don’t, thank you for everything this fantastic 2019!* Have a fantastic New Year, and I’ll see you next week/month/year/decade.** I’m off to go finish a chapter.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fantastic on a personal level, anyway. On a national and global level, while there were signs of improvement (looking at you, Greta Thunberg), this year has been a bit of a dumpster fire.

**Yeah, let that sink in. After Tuesday next week, not only will it be a new month, but a new year and a new decade. Crazy, right?

I heard first heard of Mr. Hamill and his novel after I came across his article on contending with the legacy of HP Lovecraft as a writer. The idea of his book interested me, so I put it on my reading list. Took a few books to get to it and a few weeks to get through it, but I read A Cosmology of Monsters from front to back. And with that out of the way, it is my pleasure and duty to review the book.

A Cosmology of Monsters follows the Turners, a family living in North Texas and running their own haunted house, The Wandering Dark. Told by the youngest member of the family Noah, the story begins with the meeting of his parents in 1968 and follows them as various tragedies befall the family throughout the decades, as well as the threat following the family through the years and generations.

Cosmology is literary horror at its finest.

Told in the style of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (which I’m told was a major influence on Cosmology and which I recommend as a read on its own) Noah Turner narrates how his family began, and through the decades the many hardships his family endures. It’s an engrossing way to tell the story, because every decision has far-reaching consequences on the Turner family. You also get a deep understanding of each character through this storytelling method, what their motivations and their troubles are, and how those play into the events of this story.

Noah himself is a fantastic narrator. He’s talking from the perspective of a grown-up looking back over fifty years of history, but he does a good job of calling up his childhood feelings of loneliness and isolation, of feeling alienated and not understanding why the people around him do what they do.

I also like how weird it can be sometimes (makes sense, since it’s me). The supernatural aspect of the story is very slight at the beginning and only gains prominence as you move deeper into the novel, and as you do, you find yourself with more questions than answers. Conventional monsters do play a part, so to speak, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and it gets weirder with every layer revealed. It took me a while after I finished the book to really understand what all these revelations meant, and even now as I write this, I’m only half-certain I understand what everything meant.

All that said, there were things that I had issues with. There’s a section in the book where, instead of black letters against a white page, it’s white letters printed on a black page, and for some people, especially for people with certain eye issues, that might make things difficult to read (and why I don’t use my blog’s original theme anymore). And if you’re looking for a more typical horror story, with monsters popping out every five seconds or the supernatural aspect a constant presence in the story, this won’t be your kind of novel.

That being said, A Cosmology of Monsters is a mesmerizing read and one of the best books I’ve read this year. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Grab your flashlight, and prepare to walk through a house haunted by the tragedies of the family. You won’t want to leave till you get to the very end.

And then you’ll want to think about both the deeper meaning of the book as well as what it’d be like to create your own haunted house attraction. Or is that just me?

So, I’m sick again. I didn’t want to be sick today, especially because I had some things I wanted to do today during and after work. Now, the only things I can really do is binge-watch anime and write. Thankfully, I didn’t let my lazy side take over too much and finished Chapter Fifteen of Toyland, putting me halfway through the first draft.

So if you’re not aware, Toyland is my latest novel, and started out as my project for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a Gothic novel about a boarding school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. Or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be. As predicted, it’s going from a Gothic horror story into weird territory the farther in I get. Not sure if that’s a good thing or bad at this juncture, but I’m sure if it’s bad, I can fix it in subsequent drafts.

As I was saying, I’m halfway through Toyland. Chapter-wise, anyway: I’m fifteen out of thirty (it was twenty-nine, but I split Chapter Thirteen in two for better narrative flow). So I think I’m still on track to finish the book by the end of January. Maybe a little longer if things get crazy between now and January 31st. Always a possibility when you’re trying to be an adult in today’s insane world.

I’m rambling, aren’t I? Blame it on the sickness.

Anyway, as of the completion of Chapter Fifteen, Toyland is 46,776 words long (for context, the first Harry Potter novel is seventy-seven thousand words or so). So my prediction that this first draft will be eighty-thousand or more words seems to be spot-on so far. I hope by the time it’s over, it’ll be a good first draft. Bonkers, but good too.

But until then, it’s time to call it a night. I’m going to work tomorrow, come heck or high water. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

The audiobook cover for Rose. Available now from Audible and Amazon.

Oh, one last thing before I forget. As you know, the audio book for my previous novel, Rose, was just released Tuesday. It’s the Kafkaesque horror story of a young woman named Rose Taggert who wakes up in a greenhouse with no memory of how she got there or why. Soon after, her life and her body undergoes a strange transformation. One that can’t be undone.

You can check it out by using the links below. Available in e-book, paperback and, of course, audio book.

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

And I thought the news story of today would be the fact that I’m sick. Yes, I’m sick. I even had to leave work early because of it. Don’t worry, I’m drinking tea and taking it easy. And this news definitely improves my mood and health.

So unless I’m delirious (which would go a long way to explaining why there’s a Swedish man named Hampus claiming to be my uncle in my apartment), the Rose audio book just went live on Audible and Amazon a little while ago! I have been so excited for this to happen, and now it’s finally here. I’ve already downloaded it onto my phone and plan to listen to it while I work on my dinner tonight.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Rose, this is my first novel with a publisher, and follows a young woman named Rose Taggert. Rose awakes in a greenhouse with no memory of how she got there or why she’s there in the first place. She soon discovers her life, and her body, have been irrevocably changed. It’s a dark, Kafkaesque horror story and I’m so excited to listen to the audio book, as well as for all of you to listen to it as well.

Also, great timing on the release. Friday marks the six-month anniversary of the paperback and ebook’s release. One could almost call that synergy.

Oh, and funny story: I found out about the release by accident! I went to Rose‘s Amazon listing while working on another blog post. When I logged on, I found a new listing under “formats.” You guessed it, it was the audio book version. Right away, I filed the first blog post away as a draft to work on later, posted on most of my social media platforms (several times on Facebook) about the good news, and started work on this blog post. I also emailed my publisher, who I might be as surprised as I was when all is said and done.

Anyway, if you want to check out the audio book for Rose, I’ll leave the link below. I’ll also leave the links for the Amazon webpages, so if you’re more interested in the paperback or ebook, you can check those out as well. And if you do check them out, please do let me know what you think once you’re done reading/listening to them. Positive or negative, I love reader feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

Also, thanks to Sara Parlier for giving Rose a chilling narration, and to Castrum Press, the company who took a chance on me and published this book in the first place. What you do means a great deal to me, and I can’t thank you enough for what you do.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to make phone calls, make dinner, and either write or just chill with Disney+. Depends on what Uncle Hampus and I are in the mood for. Also, is that a bicorn and a chichevache? Dammit, these delusions make it hard to tell what’s my mind and what are actual supernatural occurrences in my life!

Oh well, until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

The original Black Christmas from 1974 is a beloved, if kind of weird, early member of the slasher subgenre. The senseless nature of the killer “Billy,” for whom we never get any sort of explanation, as well as the helplessness of the characters, still makes it terrifying forty-five years later. A 2006 remake tried to capture that terror, but it failed miserably, mired in too much exposition and cliches. So, of course, everyone was skeptical when Blumhouse decided to make another remake. But the trailers promised a new angle, so who knows? It could be good.

2019’s Black Christmas again follows sorority sisters trapped on campus and in their sorority house with a killer who appears to taunt them through messaging apps. But there’s more at play here, and it all leads back to a particular fraternity on campus and the university’s controversial founder.

Um…how do I even talk about this one?

As far as storytelling and scares go, this is pretty run of the mill for a slasher, especially ones where a lot of stuff is given away in trailers. Granted, a couple members of the audience did get freaked (one audience member did yell out “that ****er is smart!” when an antagonist did something pretty sneaky), but if you’re familiar with slashers, it all feels standard and a little pulpy. A bit more exciting near the late middle and the last third, but still pretty standard.

The one thing that sets this movie apart is its incorporation of feminism into the plot. And this is where I have to really think about what I type, lest readers get the wrong idea.

Now, let me say this outright. I identify as a feminist. I get upset when I read stories in the news where women are subjected to harassment and misogyny and they are the ones blamed or called into question rather than the men attacking them. I also work in an office whose job is partly to deal with harassment, misogyny, and assault in our organization’s workforce. So I support women breaking barriers and creating more equal places for them in society.

Black Christmas tries to explore these issues in what, considering some of our current events, could be considered timely. And unlike Countdown, which felt gimmicky with its use of the #MeToo movement (see my review here), there was no gimmick here. The film’s handling of feminist issues is well-done at times. There is a lot of discussion of campus rape culture and how we as a society should approach it. Two characters have opposing views on the subject: one says everything must be done to stop the systemic problem, including by survivors, while the other says that not every survivor is willing to be a warrior and may just want to move on. And both bring up good points.

Another scene where the theme is handled well is when one of the protagonists goes to report her friend missing, and the male cop is apathetic, even acting dismissive. Like he thinks the protagonist is making a huge fuss because she’s a woman, not because there might be an actual problem.

Still, there were some moments where I wondered if the inclusion of these themes, as well as some exaggerated aspects, were meant to check some boxes and make this a “woke” sort of film, not really explore the subject matter and allow for enlightening discussion. But then, as I got home, I remembered something that put the film in a new light.

Back in 2018, Jason Blum, owner of Blumhouse Productions which produced the film, made comments about women directors, especially in horror, that drew a lot of ire from the horror community. Blum apologized for the comments and promised to do better. Fast-forward to 2019, and Black Christmas is the company’s first film with a female director, Sophia Takal. Takal also served as a writer with another woman, April Wolfe.

So this film could’ve been Blum’s way of apologizing for his comments and showing that he’s progressive. Or, and I like this scenario more, Takal and Wolfe were given the freedom to make their own horror movie, they were very much aware of what Blum said and they made a film not just to talk about their own issues with the film industry, but also to remind Blum that he, along with a lot of other people and segments in society have to go to really make things equal between men and women. And if that’s true, I can imagine how much Blum squirmed in his seat.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving 2019’s Black Christmas an even 3. While not as bad as the 2006 remake and a nice comeback to Blum’s comments, it still has areas that could’ve been better.

Thus ends the horror films of 2019, which, with a few exceptions, were either average or just bad. Here’s hoping 2020 is A LOT better. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Last year’s premiere of Castle Rock on streaming service Hulu garnered lots of attention and love from critics and from viewers, both longtime Constant Readers and folks unfamiliar with King’s work. When word of a second season reached fans’ ears, we got excited. Which Stephen King stories would they draw on? Would the showrunners make every season different, like early American Horror Story? Would the different stories be connected by more than just a common location, like later American Horror Story? Or would it be a continuing story with the same actors and characters, like every other TV series out there?

We sat down and watched ten episodes over the course of eight weeks. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of the fandom, I can say this season far surpassed season one.

Season 2 follows Annie Wilkes–yes, that Annie Wilkes–as she and her teen daughter Joy find themselves stranded in Castle Rock after a horrific car accident. They’ve come at an interesting time, as Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot–yes, that Jerusalem’s Lot–are about to celebrate the latter’s four-hundredth anniversary, and the Lot’s growing Somali population are facing discrimination and threats of violence from the likes of Ace Merrill, nephew of pawnbroker and loan shark Reginald “Pop” Merrill. Annie just wants to have her car repaired and leave town before her past comes for her and Joy. But when someone finds out about who she used to be, events are set in motion that will bring not just Annie, but the whole town to the edge of sanity.

While Season 1 was more influenced by newer, weirder Stephen King, Season 2 was definitely more old-school King: visceral, terrifying, and at times very explosive. Drawing on elements from mainly Misery and Salem’s Lot, the storytelling is mixed with terrifying scares and fun twists (episode 7, am I right?). And even the things you see coming from a mile away (and there are a few) are told in such a way that you don’t mind seeing them coming. And you gotta love all the homages to and Easter eggs referencing King’s works, including a heartfelt tribute to The Body (aka Stand by Me) in episode 3.

Probably the best episode was episode 5, “The Laughing Place,” which gives Annie a new backstory. Honestly, I was a little unsure at first, but as the episode goes on, it just hits you with the weight of the story and the emotion behind it as Annie becomes the person she meets. Sure, Annie is changed from a metaphor for toxic fandom to a painful example of what untreated mental illness can do to a person, but here it works.

“The Laughing Place;” best episode this season.

The actors were also great. Lizzy Caplan’s Annie Wilkes is a wonderful forerunner to the character we meet in Misery, a woman trying to do right by her daughter even as she wrestles with demons that not even medication can fully contain. Tim Robbins (aka Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption) gives the character of Pop Merrill, in the books a greedy and scheming man, a human side with guilt and a history he’s trying to make amends for. Yusra Warsama is excellent as Dr. Nadia Omar, Pop’s adoptive daughter dealing with her world basically imploding due to what’s going on around her. And Barkhad Abdi and Elsie Fisher as Nadia’s brother Abdi Omar and Annie’s daughter Joy, respectively, give great performances as people trying to deal with their upbringing and at the same time move away from it towards something positive.

If there’s one thing I’m going to ntipick, it’s that I wanted to see more of John “Ace” Merrill. It’s not easy to explain this without spoiling anything, but basically we only get to see one side of the character for a single episode, and then it’s a different side for the next nine. And I kind of wanted to see more of that first side (though the second side is an excellent villain). Did that make sense? I hope it does.

Overall though, Castle Rock season 2 is a scary and tense thrill ride drawing from some of the best of King’s earlier works and then some. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the season a 4.8. Sit down and buckle up, you’re going places you never imagined going before.

And while no season 3 has been announced, I feel it’s only a matter of time before we get word on that, so let’s start speculating. Which characters will come back? What stories will be drawn on?* And can I please get a commission to write an episode for the show? Only time will tell.

*I’m hoping The Library Policeman, Needful Things and maybe Apt Pupil.

What did you think of Season 2? What do you hope to see in Season 3?