Posts Tagged ‘Anne Rice’

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 makes 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.

I’ve had quite a few songs stuck in my head lately, most of them from the 1980’s: “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher and “Love Walks In” by Van Halen are frequent guests in my head. I’ve also had “Come Sail Away” by Styx and most of the soundtrack of Wicked playing in my head. No reason to tell you that. I just wanted to see if I could get any of those songs stuck in your head. I’m evil that way. You’re welcome.

Onto Day Three of the Ten Day Book Challenge, as nominated by my cousin Matthew. Let’s go over the rules one more time, shall we?

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

So for today’s book, I thought I’d talk about another important book in my development as a writer, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

Interview was another revelation in the power of words for me. I already knew how words could bring worlds and the people in them to life, but this book (and its sequels) not only painted them into being, but their thoughts and their outlooks on life. It was psychological storytelling before I even knew what psychological storytelling was. Interview, in particular. The novel follows Louis, a young man in the midst of depression and grief, become a vampire and then reluctantly going through his immortality, encountering companionship, pain and loss over the centuries.

Not to mention, these were vampires well before they were sparkly and insipid. They were human, in their way, but they were also dark creatures. And they’re still hugely popular today, whereas Twilight has come and gone. Hell, Anne Rice is still writing books in the series, with its thirteenth book on the way out in November. And now there’s a TV series in development based on the books over at Hulu! I can’t wait to see it. That says something not only of the characters and the author, but of the power of the stories being told. Of the words bringing them to life.

And if you haven’t encountered Anne Rice’s vampires, give yourself the Dark Gift (so to speak) and check them out.

And now to tag someone. Today I’m tagging my friend Ruth Ann Nordin. Hope you’re able to do this, Ruth. I look forward to seeing what books you choose if you are able to do this.

I’ve mentioned it before, but short stories are often hard for me. And one aspect of writing those that I often have trouble with is the very first part of any short story. Openings. They give me grief.

With novels, I have a lot of room to maneuver around. After all, even a short novel is around sixty-thousand words (and mine are never that short). With all those words, I can take a lot of time and space just setting up the scenario of the story. Take my novel Rose, for example: if we count Chapter One as the opening, that’s sixteen pages and nearly five-thousand words just devoted to setting up the story. And I’m very used to writing this way. I like long, expansive stories. I grew up on a diet of Harry Potter, and in my teens delved into the novels of Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Dan Brown. No one could accuse those guys of being short.

But if I’m writing a short story, the highest word count to still count as a short story is ten-thousand. And if I want to get published in most magazines, the limit is usually around six-thousand. So while I’m used to opening a story with about five-thousand words, or half the length of the longest short story, I now have to try to contain my openings into a much shorter length.

The struggle is real.

Because of this need for brevity, one of the things I sometimes end up doing when I write a short story, at least in the beginning, is to use a lot of exposition. And in some stories, exposition is good. It helps fill in essential information. But in other cases, exposition is just…bad. Instead of actually presenting the story,  the author is just explaining things. Telling you stuff. It’d be like if instead of actually showing Harry Potter growing up, learning about his heritage, and going to Hogwarts, it’d be like JK Rowling wrote, “There was a boy named Harry Potter. One day he found out he was a wizard, his parents died saving him from an evil wizard, who disappeared and gave him a scar in a process, and then he went off to wizard school.”

I often worry that when I do exposition in short stories, it’s the latter kind. Which probably means it is the latter kind. That may be cynicism on my part, but when you’re still inexperienced at something, you’re prone to making mistakes. So perhaps I really am using exposition, and in all the wrong ways too.

Luckily, there are a few things I’m trying to remedy that. One is that I’m keeping in mind something important: I’m writing first drafts. And first drafts are always terrible. Even if they contain intriguing stories, they’re rife with issues that require lots of fixing. This is why we writers edit, multiple times if necessary, before we publish. Heck, Rose had to go through four drafts before I felt it was ready to be sent out to a publisher. And likely if a publisher does like it, they’ll probably have me do a fifth or even a sixth draft before they’re ready to publish.

So if I feel an opening needs work, I can edit it in the next draft, and remove any bad exposition or other problems with the opening I spot.

Hopefully I can improve this part of short stories.

And sometimes, I don’t even need to wait (and this is my second method, by the way). Sometimes a way to fix a short story’s opening comes to you just while you’re writing it. On Friday, I started a new short story that I think has potential. I think I got four hundred words in before I stopped, but then I was like, “Is this really the opening I want?” And as I thought about it, it wasn’t. But how to fix it? And yesterday at some point–I think it was right before I saw Winchester–a way to change the opening occurred to me.  I think this is the right way to open the story without going into exposition. So the next time I work on the story, I’m going go back and rewrite the opening, see if this produces better results. And if it doesn’t, there’s always something new to try. Or I can go back to my original opening. After all, it’s a first draft. I can make as many adjustments as needed.

And finally, I’m reading a lot more short stories than I’m used to. I learned how to write novels partly from reading novels, so reading short stories should help me get an idea on how to write them. I’ve already listened to two anthologies on audio book, and I just started reading the Stephen King collection Night Shift on Friday. So far, they’ve been very helpful, but I’ll need to read a lot more to get a better sense of short story writing.

And finally, I just need more practice. After all, you become a writer by writing in the first place, and continuing to write no matter what. With any luck, more practice with short stories will lead to better ones. Hopefully, anyway.

I’m still trying to be a better short story writer, and openings are still hard for me. But with practice and exposure to good ones, I can hopefully make some progress on that. And who knows? Maybe even produce some stories that a magazine will be proud to publish. Anything’s possible, right?

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve been looking at a screen for most of the day, so I’m going to take a break and read something. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I haven’t read the original Ramses the Damned novel since I was bar mitzvah age, but I remembered enough of the details (and remembered more during the reading of the book) to be very excited upon learning earlier this year that Anne Rice had written a sequel twenty-eight years after the original with her son, author Christopher Rice (whose books I need to put on my reading list one of these days). And now that I’ve read the Rices’ first collaboration, what do I think?

Well, you know how George Miller revisited the Mad Max franchise with Fury Road several years after the last entry, with a new cast and crew to help shape his vision, and the results were pretty awesome? It’s kind of like that.

 Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra revisit Ramses and Julie Stratford shortly after the events of the last novel, preparing for their engagement party and their lives as globe-trotting immortals. However, news that Cleopatra is still alive reaches their ears, and there’s a chance she still holds a grudge against them. And as if that weren’t enough, new forces threaten the immortal couple, including an ancient queen whose very existence will turn the immortals’ world upside down.

Honestly, I could not tell this was a collaborative work. This may be because I’m unfamiliar with Christopher Rice’s work, but it’s more than likely he’s very good at imitating his mother’s style. Whatever the reason, the novel has a great story and moves along at a nice pace. The expansion of this fictional world to include new elements and characters didn’t feel forced or weird, and the twists and dramatic moments really allowed you to feel the surprise and attention when they occurred. You can’t complain about that.

And let’s talk about the new characters, because they were great! Bektaten’s addition to the cast was a real shake up, as was her companions Enamon and Aktamu (I hope I didn’t butcher those names trying to spell them). There’s a gravitas to them that leaps off the page and commands respect not just from characters, but from readers. It’s as if their many centuries have allowed them to transcend many human flaws and become something more. Imagine what they could be like in our modern world! It’d be truly something to see.

But of course my favorite new character (and possibly my new favorite character) is the aptly named Sybil Parker, an American author whose dreams cause her to be roped into this strange and magical world.* From the moment she appears on the page, she is just so interesting to follow, as her part in the story is so full of mystery and a bit of intrigue. And her arc, going from this timid homebody to this brave young woman who doesn’t bat an eye at immortals, was masterfully written. 

I don’t have any real problems to point out with this story. Possibly a bit more of Elliot Savarell would have been nice, but that is probably nitpicking on my part.

All in all, Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra is a great return for a story we had thought finished long ago. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the novel a 4.8. Pick it up, and get wrapped up in the story (been waiting a week to make that pun, and it was worth it).

But tell me, what did you think of this novel? What immortal creatures will we get from Anne (and possibly Christopher) Rice next year (I’m hoping angels)? And which Christopher Rice novel should I put on my reading list? Let’s discuss.

*Sounds like my dream life right there. Well, hopefully the former will be achieved someday soon.

 

Authors, who are usually as human as the rest of us, are as prone to mistakes and insecurity as the rest of us. That said, sometimes authors worry about creative decisions when it comes to their stories. We’ll look at a scene, or a character, or even a whole plot, and think to ourselves, “Is that the right thing to do here? Should maybe we change it?”

We end up second-guessing ourselves.

Actually, some pretty famous names have second-guessed their creative decisions in the past. JK Rowling went back on her decision to have Hermione end up with Ron in Harry Potter, and that Harry might’ve been a better match for her, which still has the fandom in a tizzy (personally, I still ship Harry and Cho and wonder what could’ve happened if they’d actually gone to the Yule Ball together). Stephen King has expressed regret of ever writing the novel Rage, which has been connected with several incidents of gun violence (I’d still like to read it someday). And Anne Rice has actually said she’s not proud of the crossover novels she’s written with her vampires and witches.

And they’re just a few among many.

I’ve been having this problem at a lot of points in Rose, including last night. I’d just finished editing the latest chapter (only nine more to go!), adding over a thousand words of material while I’m at it, and I find myself thinking, “Wow, there’s a lot of just high-tension moments here. Very little time where the readers and the protagonist can just take a moment and breathe. This whole chapter, it’s just boom! Boom! Boom! One thing after another. I wonder if that’s maybe too much excitement in the story. Maybe I should add some more quiet moments, where we can explore the characters?” And then I find myself arguing back that plenty of great horror movies and novels, such as Annabelle: Creation and Gerald’s Game, that are like this, where there’s very little breathing room and just one thing after another of scares and high-tension scenes. And there are scenes that are “quieter:” they are usually exploring the protagonist’s past, which is a mystery to even her. They’re not moments like in It, where the main characters are just building a dam or something, but they’re slightly calmer and do develop the characters a bit more when they happen.

This argument went back and forth in my head even after I went to sleep, making for some interesting dreams.

But it’s not just this whole “are things too exciting?” issue that’s got me second-guessing. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are scenes in Rose that I would like to expand. Most of these are in the final third of the book, and one particular scene, a flashback scene, has me wondering if I’m making the right decision in what I want to do with it. On the one hand, there are about a hundred ways I can push the envelope with it, and I’ve already set up in previous chapters clues that point to the importance of this scene. But at the same time, if I were to push the envelope on this scene in some ways, it might be indulging in certain cliches I prefer to use sparingly at best. Also, I worry that if I were to go in those directions, it might actually take away from the main reason for this scene rather than reinforce it for the audience. It’s something I’ve been worrying about since well before I started this draft of the novel.

So yeah, authors do a lot of second-guessing. And it can cause a lot of headaches, anxiety, confusion, and the occasional burst of anger. Is there any solution for when this happens?

Not really. Yeah, I usually have solutions for stuff like this, but I think it varies on situations and stories and authors. I think every author will second-guess themselves at several points in their careers, sometimes during the writing, sometimes before, a few times after. And sometimes solutions will present themselves. While writing this post, I’ve figured out one of the problems I’ve been second-guessing in this post, which I honestly didn’t expect.

Honestly, I guess the best advice I can give is to try one way. If you don’t like it, try another if the opportunity is available. If you’re still unsure, let beta readers give you some much needed feedback. That’s what they’re there for.

Honestly, I’m probably going to encounter this issue throughout my writing career. I’m second-guessing some possible routes for a novel I haven’t even written yet, if you can believe it. And if you’re a writer, you’ll probably going to deal with it too throughout your career. All I can say is, you may argue with yourself plenty. You may have to try more than one way to write the same story so as to see what works. But eventually, hopefully, you’ll work through it, and come up with something great.

And if not, there’s always a chance that people will still like who the characters end up with (I hear Harry and Ginny are great spouses and parents. Especially if you don’t read/see the play. Also, Ron and Hermione’s storyline actually mirrors a lot of anime couples, so I guess if it works in those shows, why not?).

What are your experiences with second guessing? Any tips for fixing this problem?