Posts Tagged ‘Anne Rice’

Hello, Followers of Fear. There are sixty days till Halloween. What have you done to prepare?

Artwork produced by artificial intelligence, or AI art, has become kind of a thing as the technology has advanced. In fact, some months back, there was an app that became a fad for horror writers to generate images and even book covers. And earlier this week, John Oliver featured it on his TV show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Here’s the video, if you’re interested. It’s hysterical.

John Oliver’s wife and children must have such a blast telling people who don’t know who he is what he does for a living. “Oh, my husband/dad? He sexually harasses Adam Driver and marries cabbages on TV once a week.”

Anyway, it got me interested enough to want to play around with AI art, so I made an account with one of the recommended companies, Midjourney, and went to work. The results were not only fascinating, but gave me some thoughts on the nascent AI art industry.

First, here are some of my successes. As it turns out, Midjourney’s AI program does very well with Lovecraftian/cosmic horror entities. For example, here’s Cthulhu destroying Las Vegas because I’m not a big Vegas fan (though under the right circumstances I’d visit again).

Then, in order, we have Yog-Sothoth, Shub-niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, two pictures of the Deep Ones, the Color from Outer Space, and the King in Yellow.

And portraits of famous people tended to go well with the program. Here are Stephen King, Anne Rice, and HP Lovecraft, three of my biggest influences as a writer, as well as one of Lizzie Borden with an axe. Because why not?

And because I love ballet and try to put dancers in my stories when I can, I made a series of ballet posts, with their titles in the captions.

Dancer and Wolf on the lake
The Little Ballerina Ghost
Dancer in the Egyptian Temple
Dancers on a Moonlit Beach
Little Dancers Running from Lava
Little Dancer and Anubis

Pretty cool, right? Most of them look really good. However, those were success stories, like I said. Here’s what happened when I tried to create Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films.

Yeah, I know. None of those come close to looking like Jason! He’s arguably more famous than Cthulhu, but these were the results. And then there was my attempt at Freddy Kreuger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Oy freaking vey!

Yeah, who is that? Not Freddy Kreuger, who is definitely more famous than Cthulhu! Honestly, it looks more like my conception of Leland Gaunt, the antagonist from Needful Things by Stephen King. How could the AI get our favorite subconscious serial killer so wrong?

And those are just a few examples. I went through several failures trying to get anywhere close to a specific idea or image, only to give up when I realized the program just couldn’t create it. I couldn’t even create a decent Sailor Moon or an accurate tiger image, and both those prompts have enough references out there that they should have been easy to create something accurate.

Even some of the successes took a lot of work and experimentation, such as The King in Yellow or Little Dancer and Anubis. I won’t even go into detail about how hard it was to get a good Alice in Wonderland pic that wasn’t too trippy. I mean, I know the source material is plenty weird, but not all art based on it has to be super-surreal!

And while I call some of them successes, they aren’t perfect. You can especially see it in the ballerina series, where features like the head and limbs look odd or bent in ways you wouldn’t see on a normal dancer or a Degas painting. Only the tutus and bodices come out well. The rest of their bodies can be a mixed bag.

It kind of reminds me of that scene in 1986’s The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum puts steak through the teleporter and it comes out tasting weird. He figures out that the computer hasn’t learned how to move organic materials, and is instead creating an interpretation or bad imitation of what it thinks steak is. That’s what we have here: the AI has learned how to mimic and create, but it’s still leagues away from making certain things.

And honestly, I’m glad. Art is art because there’s someone behind it with a vision or a passion. You can program a computer to recreate famous art pieces or original pieces, including Batman comics and scripts or horror screenplays. And the computer might even do a good job at times. But there won’t be any passion or soul behind it. Art is art because we’re putting our love and soul into our creations.

And getting to work with a creator? That’s even more special. Believe me, I’ve done it before, and it’s amazing to see your vision come to life with their help. Especially when working on art pieces like book covers. That truly is something special.

That being said, I can see AI-generated art being used for cheap book covers as the technology improves, and the services of artists becoming more expensive. This could especially apply for small presses or independent publishers who need to lower costs while maximizing profits. The only time publishers may use a real artist is if the author is big enough to warrant it.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, because it would mean we wouldn’t get to see some really amazing collaborations. So, for the meantime, I’ll stop with the AI art (I’ve scratched that itch and I don’t want to pay a subscription for Midjourney, anyway), and continue supporting the artists who create amazing art. Especially horror art.

And now, here are some more pieces I created. Except for a few I’m waiting to reveal till the time is right, here are my other successes. You can ask what was going through my mind when I created these in the comments below. Enjoy, and until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Vampire Mothers and Child
Jump Rope with a Ghost
Jack the Ripper in an Alley
Flaming Giraffe #1
Flaming Giraffe #2
The Necronomicon
Bunny Girl and Hammer
Spooky Alice in Wonderland
Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

I’ve heard this term thrown about a few times since January, first in the new Scream movie and most recently in an analysis of a horror film on YouTube. “Elevated horror.” And the speakers, whether in in the Scream movie or in the YouTube video, made it sound like it’s a recognized subgenre of horror with its own staple of tropes and trappings. Like slasher and its killers and gore, or Gothic with its ancient, diseased settings and corrupting influence.

The thing is, it isn’t. Elevated horror isn’t an actual subgenre of horror. I’ve consulted with dozens of writers on this (thank you, Twitter and the Horror Writers Association Facebook group) and it’s not a subgenre. It seems like a subgenre of horror at first glance when you look at works referred to elevated horror. In movies, films referred to as elevated horror include The Witch, Babadook, It Follows and Get Out, among others: they’re horror stories that focus more on probing psychological drama, characters and metaphor than blood and gore or supernatural horrors. Often, there’s a powerful social commentary being presented through the narrative, such as Get Out‘s commentary on race.

In terms of literature, “elevated horror” might have all of these as well as flowery language. It might be almost called “literary horror,” because there’s an emphasis on wording the story nicely and making it just too dark to be called “literary fiction.” Examples include The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, The Deep by Alma Katsu, and A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill.

And, most importantly, “elevated horror” can sometimes cross over into other genres, such as thriller, literary, or even comedy.

Can you really say The Witch and Get Out belong in the same subgenre?

Sounds like a subgenre, doesn’t it? But it’s not. The works called elevated horror are all as different from each other as roses are to tulips are to primulas. All flowers, but all different kinds of flowers. Let me explain: The King in Yellow and The Deep are cosmic horror mixed with deep psychological themes, The Witch is some cross between folk, religious and historical horror, and Get Out‘s searing satire makes it borderline horror-comedy. In fact, it was nominated at the Golden Globes under categories for comedies or musicals!

Yet all of them are given the designation of elevated horror. So, if it isn’t a subgenre, what is it?

The conclusion I’ve come to after speaking to numerous other writers is that elevated horror is actually horror films taking place in elevators.

Just kidding, that’s elevator horror, and the only example of that I can think of is 2010’s Devil.

No, “elevated horror” is a marketing term. And like all marketing terms, it’s directed towards a specific audience. Who is this target audience? It’s people who normally wouldn’t check out horror because they fear it’s low class, dangerous, or degenerate. They may want to check out horror or be curious, but the stigma still attached to the genre keeps them from doing so. Either that, or they won’t check it out unless a work is given a specific designation.

Calling something “elevated horror” is basically saying, “This isn’t like other horror stories, where half-naked teens are voyeuristically killed with tons of blood and gore, or where supernatural entities menace children in sewers. No, it has nuance and social commentary! There’s psychology and drama and fleshed out characters! You can be respectable while enjoying this!”

In other words, it’s another way of something is high-brow. “There are no explosions and superheroes here. No aliens or elves. No star-crossed lovers up against the odds. Only real people having real life situations, or real people in situations that are absurd but it’s okay, because it says something important about society.”

I almost wish it was a subgenre. I might have found a home for my ballerina-meets-the-King-in-Yellow story already (still working on that, give it time).

Pinhead may not be from an elevated franchise, but that doesn’t make him or Hellraiser any less awesome.

And the problem with this marketing term is it’s misleading. By calling certain movies or books “elevated horror,” it’s labeling all other horror as “trash,” or at the very least “common.” Either way, the designation puts other horror stories down. And that’s a shame, because there’s such good horror out there. Dark Harvest, Kill Creek and Salem’s Lot aren’t high brow, but they’re great stories that thrill and can leave their readers up late into the night. Same with The Thing or the Hellraiser franchise: they may never win Oscars, but goddamn are they scary, and the latter has led to one of the most memorable characters in the slasher genre.

I’m not trying to put down the term. I’m just saying we should understand what it means, both for works designated as such and those that aren’t. And if it lets you enjoy horror, great. Just make sure to check out works that aren’t “elevated” and whose creators don’t really think or care if their work is called that.

Personally, I can see some of my work being called elevated, but I’ll just say that I was trying to write a fun story and wanted others to enjoy it as well.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. After getting my thoughts on this topic out, I’m off to dream of beasties and ghosts. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares.

A handy graphic for understanding the three act structure, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The other day, I was talking with some other writers about how to write a decent short story (an eternal question among writers, including the ones who’ve gotten them published). And I noticed that, with a lot of my recent short stories, most of them fall into a decent three act structure. And then I said, “I know the existence of the three act structure is dubious, but it’s the truth.”

And, like many odd things, that little exchange has stuck in my head.

So for those of you who don’t know, the theory of the three act structure states that all stories, especially longer ones, can be divided into three separate acts or sections: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. The acts may then be divided into smaller scenes or subsections, but they all fit into those categories. Some examples given of stories with the three act structure are Star Wars, Die Hard, and Avengers: Endgame (though I sometimes think everything before the five-year jump is its own separate act or prologue).

While many of us are taught this structure in school, most of our teachers will let us know that not everyone believes in the three act structure, let alone say they use it. Some prefer using a five act structure. Others say storytelling is too complicated and diverse to say a story can be divided into a formulaic structure. And nearly all playwrights will agree that if it can’t be told in one act, tell it in two.

Good example of a story in three acts (supposedly).

That last one might be a joke.

I’m usually of the camp that believes storytelling is too complicated and diverse to boil down into a structure. Look at Stephen King stories. Most of his shorts, like Graveyard Shift, Night Surf or The Boogeyman, are simple one-scene stories with maybe a twist at the end, and I dare you to try to fit books like IT or Salem’s Lot into three acts. Then there are stories like Kill Creek by Scott Thomas or Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, which feel like they fit into four acts.

As for my own books, Snake is in multiple sections, much like the books I was reading up to and during the writing process, and I see Rose as in-the-apartment and after-leaving-the-apartment (if you read the book, you know what I mean). I can’t see the stories in The Quiet Game as anything but a progression of events. And I wouldn’t even know where to start with The Pure World Comes or the stories in Hannah.

So, is the three act structure a real thing? Well, yes and no. I feel like it’s more of a framework for people to examine fiction, both others and their own. You don’t have to use it if you feel it doesn’t work for you or if you feel a story has too much happening in it to divide the plot into three separate sections.

But if you do find it helpful, use it to your heart’s content. I’m sure many writers, especially plotters like myself, find the three act structure helpful for planning their stories. And as I said above, many of my recent short stories, including the ones that have been published, fall into three acts. Though I think of them less as acts and more like beats, scenes, settings, or occurrences. And if I’m trying to keep a story within a certain word count, I can see using this structure to my advantage.

So what is the three act structure? It’s a prism to understand some fiction stories through, as well as an actual tool for writing. It’s not perfect, and most stories don’t fit into it that well, but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t useful. Hell, it might even help you hone your craft and get a few more short stories out there. And that is never a bad thing.

Unless you’re trying to write an award-winning musical. Then you might want to keep it to two or maybe just one act.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. March has just started and it’s already looking a lot better than January and February is (world events notwithstanding). I hope I can update you on exciting developments in the near future. And until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Anne Rice. She may be gone, but she is still definitely with us.

You know, I’ve actually had the opportunity to interact with Anne Rice a few times. Not in person, mind you, but over email and social media.

In high school, I sent her an email after reading her novel Angel Time (she had an email that was known to the public back then). I liked the novel for the most part, but I was upset as a Jew that one of her Jewish characters became a Catholic nun just to be closer to her father. She actually emailed me back, saying that I had a fair point and would try to be more sensitive to such matters. It was a crazy cool moment. A few years later, about a year into writing this blog, I wrote a review of The Wolf Gift (which you can read here), her first werewolf novel, where I compared her work to various kinds of food (I had just eaten lunch). Somehow she caught wind of my review and posted it on her social media. It’s still one of my most viewed posts, and it’s been nine years since then!

I had a few more interactions with her through email and social media up until 2016 or 2017, but I was happy with what I got. And as she kept writing, I hoped I would be able to actually meet her in person someday.

Yesterday, December 11th, 2021, Anne Rice passed away due to complications due to a stroke. She was 80.

Like many, I am heartbroken. I first discovered Anne Rice as a preteen with Interview with the Vampire. As I’m sure many of you can agree, it was a revelation. For me, I hadn’t read any story whose world felt as immersive as the world of Louis and Lestat since reading Harry Potter years earlier. I could almost smell New Orleans, here the sounds of 19th century Paris! The language was so beautiful too! Poetry without being poetry, filling my mind and painting extraordinary images. It made me realize just how powerful language could be, more than any other novel I had read up till then. And finally, I empathized with and grew to truly love the characters. While a lot of their emotional and philosophical turmoil went over my head at that age, I understood that they were going through a lot and felt for them.

This would only increase as I continued to read her works throughout my teens and twenties as I read her new work. Reading her works often felt like meeting old friends, and at the same time, Anne Rice, who put so much of herself in her books, began to feel like a friend and a mentor. Often, her writing would influence mine as much as Stephen King’s did, especially as I’ve gotten older. That impression deepened when I got on social media, where Rice was active with her fan community, whom she affectionately called the People of the Page.*

I may have to read this again very soon. I haven’t read it since I was 11 or 12. I wonder how it will affect me now.

It pains me, and so many others, that we won’t be able to read new stories by her or see her social media posts anymore. That next year’s Ramses the Damned novel, if it releases on time, will be her final novel. That she won’t be able to see the TV adaptations of The Vampire Chronicles or Mayfair Witches trilogy being developed at AMC when they premiere. That one of the greatest horror writers of the 20th century, as well as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century period, is now gone from this world.

Luckily, even though Ms. Rice has left the Savage Garden and is probably now getting all her spiritual, philosophical and cosmological questions answered, her works remain. She has, like many of her characters, achieved a form of immortality, but this one won’t cut her off from the world of humans. Instead, she’ll always be with us, a spiritual force beyond matter and body living in our minds and our souls. So, even though many of us will never have the chance to meet her in person, she will still be able to influence and touch us with her powerful Gothic epics.

Next year, there’s supposed to be a public memorial in New Orleans for her, one year after her family lays her to rest. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go, but if not, I’ll at least be able to raise a glass of wine to her tonight. A sweet red, which I’m sure she would have appreciated. And when those TV shows premiere, I, and probably many others, will raise a glass again and think of her. Anne Rice, the true Queen of the Vampires, and someone who will be with us long after she’s joined the spiritual plane.

What influence did Anne Rice have on you? What were your favorite books by her? Do you have any stories you want to tell about her? Let’s discuss.

*See where I got the idea to name you all the Followers of Fear?

My friend and fellow blogger whose tastes are way different than mine, Kat Impossible, tagged anyone who was interested in doing this tag. It sounded fun and informative, so I thought I would give it a try. It took me a while to get around to writing my own version and answering the questions–Kat’s post came out right after I got back from my trip, and I had a few posts to write before this one–but it’s finally out.

All credit goes to The Long Voyage for the original version of this tag. You can read it here.

NEVER HAVE I EVER…

…started a novel that I did not finish.

Before age 12 or 13? All the time. I wrote maybe five or six novels (which probably had word counts of short stories or novelettes at most) that didn’t get finished. There was a pirate story, a Frankenstein story, a caveman story, and a few zombie stories. Finally started getting some vampire stories to completion in middle school. I think it was a problem of focus and interest, rather than the story themselves. Then again, I was so young. Youngsters aren’t very good at staying focused on goals without seeing immediate gains from all their hard work.

More recently, I have some short stories and novelettes that I started in the past two years and stopped working on after awhile. Still figuring out why, but I think they may have leaned a little too far from horror and into dark fantasy to keep my interest. It’s sad, but what are you going to do?

…written a story completely by hand.

I did once! And it wasn’t one of those cute, two or three-page school assignments, either. One of my teenage attempts at novel-writing, a vampire novel called Mahiro, was written entirely by hand for its first draft. I had, like, seven notebooks filled with vampire fighting. And subconscious exploration of my sexuality through homage to Anne Rice and the movie Van Helsing, but that only occurred to me after I realized my sexuality.

…changed tenses in the middle of a story.

I think the first couple of attempts at Rose were in the past tense. But on advice from my thesis advisor, I changed to present tense. It worked out in the end.

…not researched anything before starting a story.

Most of my earliest stories started out that way. It wasn’t until maybe high school that I started to do research, and I only got good at it around college, when research became important for passing classes and getting my degree.

…changed a protagonist’s name halfway through a draft.

I don’t think I have, actually. Maybe the surname of a minor character, but never a protagonist’s name, personal or surname.

…written a story in less than a month.

Several times. Especially this past year or so.

…fallen asleep while writing.

Never. When I get tired, I’ll just go to bed.

…corrected someone’s grammar in real life or online.

Too many times to count. It’s a bad habit of mine.

…yelled in all caps at myself in the middle of a novel.

Um…I don’t think so. Is that something people do?

…used “I’m writing” as an excuse.

I think so. I didn’t want to go somewhere with my dad and sisters, even though a friend of mine would’ve been there to play. I just had to write that day. I hope the friend didn’t take it personally!

…killed a character based on someone I know in real life.

More than once. In fact, it’s something I warn people I’ll do if they get on my bad side. In fact, there are two people on there now. I just have to find the right stories to place them in…

Don’t ever mess with me.

…used pop culture references in a story.

Oh, all the time! Game of Thrones was mentioned once or twice in Rose, the 1960s Batman TV show gets a mention in River of Wrath, and I include so many references to some of my favorite anime in Toyland. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

…written between 1 AM and 6 AM.

Plenty of times. I’m actually thinking of changing my sleep schedule so I could do it more often (like Franz Kafka did), but I worry about the effects on my health should I need to get back on a normal schedule.

…drank an entire pot of coffee while writing.

I hate coffee, so that’s a no. I’ll usually have tea or, if it’s a weekend, beer or wine.

German wheat beers are my favorite kind of beer.

…written down dreams to use in potential plots.

Yes. One early story from college, Daisy, was inspired by a dream. And I think a couple more have been, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

…published an unedited story online/Wattpad/blog.

Oh hell no! I know the importance of editing. It can literally save a story from being thrown into the trash.

…procrastinated on homework because I wanted to write.

I don’t think so. I’m pretty good about getting that stuff done so I have time to write later. Besides, that stuff can creep up on you if you’re not careful.

…typed so long my wrists hurt.

Only if I’m wearing my watch. Which is why I normally type with it off.

…spilled a drink on my laptop while writing.

Not while writing, but once. I aim to never let it happen again.

…forgot to save my work/draft.

Never! How dare you insinuate I have!

…laughed like an evil villain while writing a scene.

Um, yeah! All the time! And sometimes when I’m not writing. It’s me, come on!

…cried while writing a scene.

Not my thing.

…created maps of my fictional worlds.

No, because more often than not, my stories take place in this world. All I need is a Google search and I’m good.

FOLLOWERS OF FEAR, I TAG YOU!!!

If you want to try this, go right ahead. Just make sure to link back to me and to The Long Voyage. And, as always, have fun with it!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’re having a good weekend so far. If I got at least twelve hours of sleep, I know I did. If you need me, I’ll be doing what I do best on weekends…whatever that is. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski are a prime example of dark fantasy.

You’ve probably heard the term “dark fantasy” thrown around to describe different kinds of stories, and the simple definition given when asked what constitutes dark fantasy is “fantasy but darker or grimmer.” And yet, that doesn’t seem to fully encompass the subgenre or quell debate on what dark fantasy is. I’ve heard people say all horror that has to do with the supernatural as a kind of dark fantasy, or that the line between the two is very thin. Even authors who are known as dark fantasy writers have trouble pinning down a definition.

So while I’m no expert myself, I thought I would ask, “What is dark fantasy?” Especially since depending on the definition, my stories could fall into this genre on occasion.

And in the course of my research, I did come across some things. While an exact definition isn’t agreed upon, there are some things that fans and writers can agree upon. For example, both TV Tropes.org and Fantasy Book Fanatic.com agree that dark fantasy is fantasy (no duh), but unlike high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery fantasy, there is a much grimmer, more ominous tone to the stories. While in other subgenres of fantasy, gods can be clearly defined as good or evil or maybe just neutral, gods can be very evil or at best cruelly ambivalent to humans. If they show up in the story at all, that is.

Likewise, magic is a neutral force at best, unlike magic in Harry Potter or the Force in Star Wars (which is a fantasy element in science fiction). Magic may even be the source of corruption that creates the villains in the stories, and could be considered a necessary evil or even the source of evil itself, needing to be rid from the world. As for heroes, there are a distinct lack of heroes in the world, and at best you get anti-heroes or mercenaries. Anyone who could be defined as a “hero” may be filling the role reluctantly. They’re doing this not for some noble goal like saving the world or defeating an evil warlord, but for revenge, their own goals, for profit or because they haven’t been given a choice in the matter and are really bitter about that.

Based on these definitions, the Overlord novels by Kugane Maruyama and their adaptations (which I recommend) count as dark fantasy as well as isekai fantasy.

And finally, there’s a good chance evil can win. Bad politicians can stay in power while good ones may lose their heads. The Demon King can take over the continent and establish an empire. The witch may kill the princess and release the plague upon the land before getting slaughtered by the princess’s lover. Things may just go to shit.

Yeah, bleak. And under these parameters, series like The Witcher novels or some of my favorite isekai fantasy series from Japan, such as Overlord, The Rising of the Shield Hero, or Arifureta,* count as dark fantasy.

But given those parameters, doesn’t that make supernatural horror dark fantasy after all? Not necessarily. While some might prefer to use the term “dark fantasy” for their stories to avoid horror’s negative connotations in society, and the two genres do overlap, there are key differences. Namely, dark fantasy focuses on the monster and fantasy elements while horror uses the monster and fantasy elements.

Look at my own novel Rose, for example. The protagonist Rose Taggert is transformed into a plant/human hybrid by a magical book given to mortals by a nature god. Sounds very fantasy-esque. And if Rose was a dark fantasy story, it would follow Rose Taggert’s attempts to live a life and understand her place in the world now that she’s changed, as well as to understand this new magic dimension in the world around her. But it doesn’t. Instead, the magic is a means by which to place Rose in the power of the antagonist, Paris Kuyper. It’s a means to create the terror of not knowing how dangerous Paris is, nor knowing what he’ll do to her if she doesn’t respond to his desires as he wants her to. That’s why Rose is a fantasy-horror novel rather than a dark fantasy novel.

Similarly, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles can be considered dark fantasy because they use the state of vampirism to explore psychological and philosophical truths and beliefs among the characters. If they were full-on horror, the vampires would be the means to terrify the readers. You know, like Salem’s Lot (which I need to reread, with a new adaptation on the way and all).

While some might categorize “Rose” as dark fantasy, how those fantasy elements are used distinguishes it as a horror novel.

And while we’re distinguishing between genres and subgenres, let’s talk about the difference between dark fantasy and grimdark. Grimdark is another subgenre of fantasy, characterized by apocalyptic, dystopian or hellish settings and a very bleak atmosphere, but still containing all those fantasy elements. So, what makes it different from dark fantasy, when both can contain those settings and atmosphere? According to Fantasy Book Fanatic.com, the difference is in hope:

“The concept of hope seems to be the primary differentiating factor between dark fantasy and grimdark. Hope is still able to be an integral theme in dark fantasy narratives. In contrast, the central theme of grimdark almost never entertains the possibility of hope. The central theme revolves around cynicism instead. This differentiation is vague at best, which is why many of the works of dark fantasy and grimdark are so easily confused.”

So what is dark fantasy? Well, by this definition, it is fantasy with darker or horror overtones. However, it distinguishes itself from horror by using the fantasy elements as a means to tell the story, rather than as a means to terrify the reader. Think vampires as tortured souls rather than vampires as supernatural man-eating monsters. And, unlike grimdark, there is still an element of hope in the story. Things may go to shit, but people are still allowed to hope.

My name is Rami Ungar, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Which, unlike the other two I just mentioned, will not appear on any of my anime recommendations lists. The anime did the original novels a poor service, which is a shame, because I devoured the first four books in a week, they’re that good. Check them out if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re interested, I’m still taking orders for signed copies of Rose. Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for details. Or you can check it out on Amazon and Audible. And if you do check the book out, let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be neck deep in Victorian England again, but I hope to put out another post very soon.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

February is Women in Horror Month. Since women writers are a big influence on my writing–JK Rowling got me into storytelling in the first place, and Anne Rice helped pave the way for me to write darker fiction–I thought I’d recommend some stories for those who want to help support the month. You’ll see some familiar names here, but also some you may not be familiar with. Either way, I hope you’ll consider giving them a read.

Tiny Teeth by Sarah Hans. This is actually a short story by a friend and colleague of mine, but it is a scary one. Imagine a world where a virus turns children into dangerous, gnawing animals, and one woman’s experience in that world. You can find it on Pseudopod.org, a website where scary short stories are read by narrators and released as a podcast. Give it a listen. Guarantee you, it’ll be 45 minutes not wasted. Here’s the link.

Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy A. Snyder. This is also by a friend and colleague of mine, but it’s also a great collection of scary stories. The majority of them feature cosmic horror themes and entities, which I love, as well as intriguing characters and plots. A couple of the stories also incorporate sci-fi and fantasy themes, and feature a diverse cast, which is something I love to see. If you pick up Garden of Eldritch Delights, you will find it worth your time. Here’s the Amazon link.

The Amaranthine Books by Joleene Naylor. You’ve probably seen Joleene’s name around this blog before, but did you know she’s written an entire book series? She has, a vampire series called the Amaranthine books, and they all come highly rated. Even better, some of the books are free or under a dollar under the Kindle edition, so why not take the opportunity to read them? You can find all the Amaranthine books, and then some, on Joleene’s Amazon page.

In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. Technically, these are mysteries, but they have horror themes about them, so I’ll count them here. In a Dark, Dark Wood follows a mystery writer invited out to a bachelorette party by a friend she hasn’t seen in years, unaware of the forces conspiring against her. The Death of Mrs. Westaway stars a Tarot reader on hard times who finds out she’s received an inheritance from a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and what that inheritance entails for her. Both are terrifying and keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense. You can check out both further on the author’s Amazon page (and I need to check out more of her work).

Kept me on the edge of my seat the whole audio book.

Within These Walls and The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn. No joke, Ania Ahlborn is one of the scariest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and I really need to read more of her work, as should you. Within These Walls follows a true crime writer as he and his daughter stay in the home of a Manson-like cult leader, and what happens while they’re there (I actually reviewed it a few years ago). The Shuddering follows a group of young adults as they go skiing at a mountain resort, only to discover the area has come under siege from a rather hungry enemy. Either one will leave you shaking in your boots! Here’s the Amazon page if you want it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Come on, you know I had to include this. Even if I’m not a fan of this book, it’s undeniable that Jackson’s most well-known novel, and one of the most influential horror stories of the 20th century. Following a group of paranormal researchers as they explore the titular house and the effect the house has on them, this book is still a well-known classic in the genre, and some consider it required reading for fans and authors. It’s so well known, I won’t include any links for it (surprise!).

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Again, can you blame me? Whatever you think of the many sequels, it’s undeniable that Anne Rice’s debut novel has remained a classic for a reason. A journalist interviews a 200-year-old vampire named Louis, who recounts his creation in French New Orleans and his travels around the world looking for meaning and for more of his kind. It’s a haunting tale, the horror coming more from Louis’s psychological journey and despair rather than from the supernatural. As I said earlier, this novel also paved the way for my eventual turn to horror, so I can’t recommend it enough (and I’ll have to reread it someday). Again, no need for links. It’s that well-known.

 

What recommendations do you have for Women in Horror Month? Are you reading anything for it? Are you familiar with any of these books? What was your opinion of them?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you find something good to read based on this list. I’ll be listening to The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates this month on audio book, so maybe I’ll add it to a future list someday. I better get started soon!

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Writers deal with a lot of tenses, and I don’t mean the ones associated when we hunch over our computers so we can better bang out stories.* No, I mean tenses like past tense and present tense, the tenses authors use to tell a story. Like first and third person POV, the use of either can vary from story to story (future tense and second person POV are rare, for reasons I’m sure people reading this blog can understand). And although I feel like I know plenty on the subject of using tenses sometimes, occasionally I find I still have something to learn.

Earlier today, I received an email from a magazine I submitted a short story to a couple months back. They rejected it. Which, honestly, I wasn’t broken up about. I figured out there were changes to this particular story while it was in consideration at the publication, so I thought this was for the best. However, they did include some notes on what worked and didn’t work with the story. Among those was one that really struck me.

They said that narrating in past tense, while giving the narration strength, also made it clear that the story took place in the past, and therefore made the story overall weaker, as it kind of gave away the ending. Namely, that the protagonist survives.

Now sometimes in a horror story, that’s fine. Part of the thrill is seeing how things turn out when you already have some idea of the ending. Interview with the Vampire is framed just as its title suggests, a vampire getting interviewed about his life. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is told by the narrator when he’s an adult remembering his childhood traumas (still the scariest novel I’ve ever read). And Salem’s Lot by Stephen King begins with two of the main cast in Mexico after escaping the town, then rewinds to the beginning of the events, and then afterwards shows those two characters burning the town down.

But apparently, with this story, that should not have been the case, as it took away some of the tension. And a horror story without tension is like a hamburger without a bun. It’s missing something essential.

Food metaphors aside, this shows an issue not only with the story, but a lesson I can learn from. With stories, it often seems instinctual, at least to me, about what tense to write in. Perhaps in future, I should weigh options and think about what the pros and cons of writing a story in past versus present tense. Perhaps then I’ll be able to write my stories and make them more effective in scaring the pants out of people.

And that goes especially with the story I got the rejection for today. I feel like this one could be one of my best if I can polish it a bit more and maybe get some more feedback on it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when I try changing the tense (and maybe the POV. I feel like that could also be an effective strategy for this story).

At least I know there’s still room for me to improve and become a better writer. I hear perfection gets boring pretty quickly.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to do battle with some exorcists who believe I’m an ancient entity here to usher in the end of the world (they’re right on one count, at least), and then do some writing. Thankfully with this story I’m working on now, I’m sure I have the right tense and POV for what I’m trying to do. That should make things easier further down the line.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*In all seriousness though, take care of your backs, fellow writers. That will come back to haunt you if you don’t practice better posture. Believe me, I know. Brought to you by a writer giving a shit.

As it gets colder and the nights grow longer, you can count on two things: my dark powers get stronger, and Anne Rice releases a new novel. This year it’s Blood Communion, the latest chapter in the new additions to her Vampire Chronicles that started with Prince Lestat in 2014. I was first at my library to get a copy, and I couldn’t wait to dive in. And despite a busy October (three words: work is insane!), I’ve been steadily making my way through the book. And this evening, I managed to finish the story. As is my self-imposed duty, I will review it. Even if it does mean staying up later than I meant to.

What can I say? I’m a bear for work. At least the kind I do for fun.

Blood Communion follows Lestat as his Court is finally beginning to look like an actual royal court. However, at times he finds his own desires and morals standing opposed to what those in his council desire or believe. As the Brat Prince tries to reconcile what he believes with what he must do as Prince of the Vampires, new threats to the Court arise. Old and new enemies resurface, threatening all he loves. And if he wants any of it to survive, Lestat will have to make some very hard decisions. What he decides to do will determine not just what will happen to the Court, but to vampires everywhere.

I feel like this novel, more than many of the others in the Chronicles, would make a great arc for a future season of the upcoming Vampire Chronicles TV series.* The story feels oddly suited to an arc for a show based off these books and characters.

But as a novel, I liked it. Written with Rice’s usual focus on beauty, sensuality, spirituality, and emotion and with that detail to language that makes her style so unique, it’s not hard to get drawn in. And as the central conflict of the story becomes apparent, you really get caught up in Lestat’s battle not only for his friends and family, but for the very soul of the vampire community. At the same time, seeing Lestat trying to figure out what is the right path for him and his new Kingdom of the Night is compelling. It’s a conflict we haven’t seen this famous vampire have to go through yet (and he’s met the Devil), and I’m glad that Rice decided to explore this new facet of Lestat and the issues that arise from what he’s trying to do.

My one criticism is that I wish that some of the new characters introduced could’ve been given bigger roles and perhaps allowed to surprise us more. I know that there was only so much room and there had to be focus on the main conflict, but I felt that these new characters could’ve been a lot more interesting if they’d maybe shown up with different purposes and goals in mind.

All in all though, this was a satisfying addition to the Vampire Chronicles and I’m sure that if the show gets far enough, it’ll make for a great season of television. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Blood Communion by Anne Rice a solid 4. Pick it up, and drink in the majesty of the beginning of a new era of the Children of the Blood. I’m looking forward to seeing the next book in the series has Lestat and the Court doing.

Though if the next book Ms. Rice produces involves werewolves, angels, or mummies, I’ll also be excited to read that. What can I say? I’m flexible.

*Yeah, in case you missed it, Hulu’s developing a TV series based off Anne Rice’s books and starting with a pilot penned by her son and fellow writer Christopher Rice. As you can imagine, I can’t wait to see it. And is it too much to hope that Tom Mison or Christopher Eccleston can get roles on the show?

It’s been a rough day. Let’s talk the intricacies and difficulties of writing fiction!

I often like to talk like a know-it-all on this blog, but let’s face it, there’s still things I could be better at. Or that I think I could be better at. One of those things is themes. Most stories have them: Harry Potter has destiny vs. fate, prejudice, and our relationship with death; The Shawshank Redemption is about finding hope in a hopeless place, learning to survive and even find ways to thrive in harsh conditions, and, of course, redemption; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is about how the inevitability of change crafted by thousands of years of evolution and the incessant need to feed to support the process.

Okay, that last one is a huge stretch, but you get the idea. Plenty of stories have deeper meanings and commentaries wrapped into them, like several candle wicks wrapped together to form a new and beautiful candle. Some of these stories are written with the theme in mind, while others arise during the writing of the story. And depending on the kind of story, it can seem odd if a story does or doesn’t have a theme (I wouldn’t expect one from any variation of The Three Little Pigs, but I would expect plenty of thematic elements in an Anne Rice novel).

But how well you carry the theme can vary sometimes. It’s like carrying a tune: sometimes you’re able to do it well, sometimes it varies depending on the tune, and some people, like me, can’t carry a tune that well at all (though that never stops me when there’s a karaoke party going on). With some of the stories I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how well I carry the themes written into them. And after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the realization that authors are probably not the best people to judge their own work.

Which is probably why we have beta readers and editors, now that I think about it.

With Rose, there’s a big theme of toxic masculinity, especially in the latest draft, that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. That theme kind of arose on its own while I wrote and edited and re-edited the story, and I like to think I carry it very well in the book,* though at times I wonder if I’m being a little too obvious with it. Meanwhile, in this novella I’m working on now, there’s a pretty obvious theme about the perils of racism. I’m not too sure how I’m carrying it, if maybe the angle I’m going for or just the way I carry it is the problem.

Then again, some really good stories do go about exploring racism without being subtle at all. Heck, sometimes that’s the point. A Raisin in the Sun┬ámakes no attempt to hide what it’s about. And the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been criticized about how it portrays and explores race relations (as well as who’s writing it), but it still gets its point across very well. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Despite my own uncertainties about how well I carry themes, I still write and try to carry them as best I can. What else am I supposed to do? I’m not going to give up writing anytime soon just because I’m unsure of how well an idea or a deeper meaning in one of my stories is presented. Hell, I should keep writing, because that’s how I’m going to get better at carrying them. And if I make a few mistakes along the way, I’ll just pick myself up and try again, either by editing the story or trying to write a new one. It beats beating myself up over it, right?

Besides, I may be my own worst judge. What I see as clumsy carrying, others might see as pretty damn good. And that’s reason enough for me to continue writing in the first place.

*Which I hope to have more news on soon. Thank you, as always, for your continued patience as my publisher Castrum Press and I make sure that Rose is up to snuff before publishing.