Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about this film. It’s from the same director as the Happy Death Day films and has a talented cast. Plus, the trailer looked great. Even my dad, who is never interested in horror that I haven’t personally written, was interested in it! So, while the theaters are still open, I went to go and see it.

A horror-comedy mashup of Freaky Friday and the Friday the 13th films, Freaky follows Millie Kessler, a quiet teenage girl whose life was already difficult. But then the Blissfield Butcher, a local serial killer, goes after her. What happens next causes Millie to magically switch bodies with the Butcher. So now, while stuck in the body of a middle-aged murderer, she must figure out a way to get her body back before the Butcher uses it to massacre everyone she knows and loves.

This film is bloody bonkers fun!

I think the film’s strongest point are its main players. Vince Vaughn has a history with comedies, and he does a great job pretending to be teenage girl stuck in the body of a serial killer. It’s crazy how believable he is! Kathryn Newton, who’s had roles in Supernatural and Detective Pikachu, is essentially playing three different girls: shy girl, serial killer pretending to be a shy girl, and badass girl. It’s really cool to see her with that range.

In fact, the whole cast is great. They all have a great chemistry and even the least developed characters are quite likable thanks to their actors. Though I enjoyed seeing some of the assholes get their just desserts.

And from that, let’s move onto the horror. Well, I wasn’t exactly terrified. There’s not much atmosphere, and most of the scares come from jumpscares. That being said, there are quite a few inventive kills that I liked, and the more slasher-y bits of the film were a lot of fun. And in the slasher genre, if you can’t be scary, then being fun is a good second.

As for the comedy, it was kind of hit-or-miss. Most of the misses came from swearing and dirty humor, which I’ve come to think of as scraping the bottom of the barrel. “Ooh, we’re saying bad words and making references to a natural part of the human experience that society gets really uptight about! We’re so funny and edgy!”

Moments like this, where Vaughn makes the most of the premise, are where the humor shines.

The really funny parts come from Vince Vaughn making the most of his character’s situation. The theater was in hysterics whenever Vaughn was commenting on the oddities of being a man, or getting into situations where, out of context, would look totally crazy. There’s a scene involving Vaughn and the love interest in the back of the car that had me laughing so hard, my glasses fogged up (I was wearing a mask)!

Of course, Freaky isn’t perfect. As I said, the film has some misses in the humor department. Also, the method by which the characters magically switch bodies is oddly specific and leaves a lot of questions. Maybe they’re planning on answering those in a theoretical sequel (because of course that’s always a consideration with movies these days), but with just one film, it makes me raise an eyebrow.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Freaky a 4.5. It’s a fun slasher film that makes the most out of its concept and has some good laughs. Even those who don’t like horror-comedies or horror in general should enjoy themselves.

Speaking of which, Abba: if you go see this film, give me a call afterwards and let me know what you think. I’m very curious to hear what you think.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to sleep and then work on my various projects. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

“The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” by John Quidor, 1858

Recently, I rewatched a movie inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that I first saw a teen. The movie was better in my memory, but it did get me interested in the original Washington Irving short story. Which, I realized, I’d never actually read. The closest I ever came was a version that had been updated for the 21st century and dumbed down for kids. As it was America’s first ghost story and I’m a horror writer from America, I figured I should correct that.

So, I read the short story. And then I did some research into the story’s background and influences, as well as some of the other adaptations (I will maintain to my death that the best version is the TV series Sleepy Hollow, and not the Disney cartoon or the Tim Burton film). And once again, following my interests has led me both down a rabbit hole and to an idea for a new story.

Still my preferred adaptation.

But first, let me tell you some things about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that may surprise you. Turns out, there’s a lot about this story than most realize.

For instance, there really were two historical figures named Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel. Yeah, they were real people. Washington Irving liked to name characters after people he met. For Katrina Van Tassel, she was the daughter of a family Irving stayed overnight with, and was charmed enough by her to immortalize her in fiction. I wonder how she felt about her character being a flirty MacGuffin whose father’s fortunes and lands were more relevant than her appearance or lack of a personality.

As for Ichabod Crane, he was a colonel in the US Army who served for nearly five decades (yes, I believe that’s where the TV show got the idea to make him a Revolutionary soldier as well). However, his character was likely based on an actual schoolteacher, Jesse Merwin, who taught in Kinderhook, New York and came from Connecticut, like the fictional Crane did. So…yay for namesakes?

Speaking of Washington Irving, he’s buried in the real town of Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, that’s true. They even worked that into the movie I mentioned at the top of the post (though they left a lot of questions in their wake).

But the biggest surprise I found out about America’s first ghost story? It’s not a ghost story.

Now I know what you’re thinking. But hear me out: while it’s regarded as a ghost story by many, this is mostly because the Headless Horseman and his midnight chase of Crane has entered the public consciousness more than any other aspect of the story. In reality, the Horseman plays only a minor role until the story’s climax.

Disney’s Headless Horseman. Traumatizing children and contributing to the confusion over the story since 1949.

So what is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, if not a ghost story? Why, it’s a somewhat comedic tale of two self-centered men vying for the hand of the local squire’s daughter and the cunning trick one uses to get ahead of the other.

In one corner, you have Ichabod Crane, the educated but superstitious outsider who uses his learning and guile to ingratiate himself into the town, feed his gluttonous appetite and maybe marry into a wealthy lifestyle. In the other, you have Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, the local tough who is more brawny than intelligent but is stubborn and cunning, and may be just as interested in Katrina Van Tassel as he is in her inheritance. Neither one is exactly likable, but it’s fun to see these two go to extremes just to marry Katrina.

And while most adaptations paint the Horseman as a supernatural entity, the original story strongly hints that Brom was dressed up as the Horseman to scare the superstitious Ichabod out of town, which is why the latter disappeared from Sleepy Hollow. In fact, the first feature film adaptation of the story, the 1922 silent film The Headless Horseman, explicitly shows Brom taking off the costume after Ichabod runs for his life for New York City.

As I said though, the Horseman, which is likely based on the Irish myth of the dullahan and other European myths of headless horsemen (trust me, there are a few, though the dullahan’s the most famous), is what made it into pop culture more than anything else, and may play a key role in why the story is still famous today. That, and the Disney cartoon, but mostly the Horseman.

In any case, all this has given me my own ideas for a sequel story to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And while I’m working hard on that, I thought I’d mention this all now. Because let’s face it, it’s all so fascinating. Also, I probably won’t have time to mention it in the post announcing the completion of the first draft. Might as well do it here.

But tell me, what’s your take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Did you know any of this stuff? What’s your favorite adaptation? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now. I’ll be at work on the story if you need me. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

October is usually associated with Halloween, and obviously I’m doing everything I can to make sure you don’t forget that. But it is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, when the United States recognizes how peoples with disabilities have contributed to the country and to our various industries over the years. This year especially, we are marking both the 75th anniversary of NDEAM, as it’s often abbreviated, and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) becoming a law.

And it’s good we have this month, because there are so many people with disabilities throughout the world and history who have contributed to our society. Harriet Tubman led dozens of slaves to freedom and acted as an armed scout and nurse for the Union Army, suffered from neurological issues due to a childhood traumatic brain injury; Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States and led the US through some of its toughest crises, all while dealing with the aftereffects of polio from a childhood condition; Albert Einstein had a learning disability; and author Flannery O’Connor wrote enduring fiction while suffering from lupus.

Not to mention there’s a growing list of entertainers and athletes with disabilities inspiring us everyday. Magic Johnson, the basketball player, has dyslexia; Gaten Matarazzo and Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things have cleidocranial dysplasia and deafness in one ear, respectively; and Elton John has fought bulimia and epilepsy for years. And more amazing people with disabilities are emerging every day. Check out this video of a dance company, half of whose members have disabilities.

I point out all these people because, as Ms. Hamamoto points out in the video above, one in five people have a disability of some sort. Yet, despite the passage of the ADA and the many opportunities this law opened up for Americans with disabilities, this country isn’t always very inclusive. In fact, opportunities and services available for people with disabilities can vary greatly from place to place.

This astonishes me, because becoming disabled is something that can happen to anyone regardless of sex, race, nationality, class, religion, political leanings, ethnicity or age. In fact, the likelihood of getting a disability grows as you get older. It can happen because of genetics, because of an accident, a side effect of an illness, or other causes. Lately, I’ve heard of people who get over COVID-19, but have side effects such as still being unable to taste or suffering from multiple headaches a week. These can, and likely will, be considered disabilities in the years to come.

And many members of the American military come back or discharge with disabilities. These can range from physical, such as war injuries, to mental or psychological, such as PTSD.

You might not even realize that someone near you has a disability. The majority of them are invisible. You may only see their struggles, if anything.

And yet, so many people don’t want to think about the disabled. Services for the disabled can be underfunded. Many homes aren’t always built with the disabled in mind. Education in general is often not given the funding it needs, and when it comes to budget cuts, special education is often on the chopping block. And there’s so little education on disability in general, that people may hold a stigma regarding disability for years: that disability is contagious; that they’re useless; that they brought it upon themselves; that the best thing to do with disability is to ignore it or hide it away or treat it as an annoyance.

As a person with several disabilities–some congenital, others acquired in adulthood–I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been. I’m gainfully employed at an organization where close to twenty percent of the workforce has some form of disability (as well as accommodations for them). And throughout my life, I’ve been able to receive services that help me with my disabilities. So I feel it is important to not only make disability more visible, but also to advocate and help out when I can.

Which is why I’d like to close out this post with some links to help my fellow peoples with disabilities. The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has numerous resources for the disabled, and many states have programs or offices for the disabled, such as Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities in my state. If you are or know a college student or recent graduate with disabilities, then might I recommend the Workforce Recruitment Program, or WRP, a great program that pairs students and graduates with disabilities with internships in the federal government, and which sometimes turn into jobs (please use Firefox when operating on the site). And the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, has numerous listings of individual disabilities and what accommodations exist out there. My office uses this site all the time, and we find it quite helpful.

And these are just a small sample of resources for the disabled, a group that should never be discounted or forgotten. Because not only can you become disabled at any time in your life, but because no matter the disability, you matter. You contribute. You make the world a better place. And if people forget that, then it’s up to you and to the rest of us to remind them.

What resources for people with disabilities are you aware of? What has your disability experience been like?

It’s been a rough week, so I was looking forward to ending it with a horror movie that’s been on quite a few people’s radars since the first trailer dropped. I mean, it has the producers of Get Out and Us on board! Even if Jordan Peele wasn’t part of the project (yeah, I know, I thought that meant he was too, but he’s not), it looked like it was going to be uber-scary and tackle difficult issues that have been plaguing America for centuries. How could I not watch?

Antebellum begins in what appears to be a Civil War-era plantation, and follows a slave called Eden. Suffering from the worst brutalities from her captors, she must find some way out of the nightmare she’s in. But not all is as it seems. What does what’s happening have to do with a woman in the modern era and an almost identical face named Veronica Henley? In the answer lies an evil dating back to America’s bygone days, one built on power, race and cruelty.

I think the film’s biggest issue is that, because of the creative decisions of the filmmakers, its plot is confusing. We start out on the plantation, then it changes to the modern day without any warning, then back again. It’s like two different movies have been edited together, one a historical horror film, the other a slightly supernatural horror film involving contemporary racism. It’s confusing.

And when the big twist of the story is revealed, it took me two or three minutes to wrap my head around it. And I’m the kind of guy who can usually guess a major plot point in a horror movie or at the very least wrap my head around a difficult concept rather quickly. If I’m having trouble, imagine what the casual viewer is going to have.

That being said, the rest of the film is decent. The sections on the plantation during the first third were especially horrifying for their brutality, and the second third had an uncanny, creepy feeling that balanced psychological and supernatural horror. The climax is exciting enough, and the actors are great at portraying pain, terror, hatred, sadistic joy and grief when called upon. Props especially to star Janelle Monae as the lead. The costumes and sets are also amazing, with everything looking like it might on an actual plantation in the mid-19th century. Except for the outdoor furnace, which gave me Holocaust vibes and scared me down to the core of my Jewish soul.

And like Get Out, Antebellum explores its main theme of racism and slavery in an angle that wasn’t expected and made me think. Especially after seeing the documentary 13th and learning how the modern prison system is very much a form of slavery.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Antebellum a 3.5. How it tells its story does bring down the score, but there’s plenty there to keep you invested in the film. And if you need some new horror right now, this will scratch the itch for you. Just don’t expect Get Out or Us levels of terror or deep-thinking.

 

One more thing before I sign off, my Followers of Fear. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community prays for our past sins to be forgiven, seek to forgive and be forgiven by our peers, and hopefully have a sweet new year. I have no idea what made this past year such a horror, but I’m hoping the next one will be better, and that the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death is the last in a year’s worth of horrors.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shana Tovah (that basically means Happy New Year) to you, my Followers of Fear. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may the horrors of last year not follow us into the new one.

About two years ago, I binge-watched the entire first season of an anthology series called Channel Zero, this one focused on adapting popular creepypastas. The first season, Candle Cove, was terrifying enough to earn a 5 out of 5 review from me (which you can read here).

And then it took me two years to actually get around to watching season two, No End House. But over the past week, I watched it. How did it stack up? Let’s find out.

Based on the story No End House by Brian Russell, this season follows Margot, a young woman still mourning the sudden passing of her father the year before. One weekend, when her friends are home from college, they invite her out to a traveling haunted attraction called No End House, a house so terrifying that it’s said to change lives! They go to check it out, and find out that the house is more than a haunted attraction: it’s another world and a living organism unto itself. And they are its meal.

Like the first season, No End House uses a slow-burn approach to tell its story. Combined with a surrealism rooted in normal suburbia, it makes for a compelling watch that’s hard to look away. The characters are mostly nice enough to root for. My favorite was probably Seth Marlowe, played by Jeff Ward of Agents of SHIELD fame (Deke Squad forever!), who constantly surprised me with the reveals of his character. And John Carroll Lynch, who has played Twisty the Clown and Mr. Jingles in various seasons of American Horror Story, plays his character with plenty of love and pathos.

And there’s quite a bit of horror played around memory, the loss of or perversion of it. It’s a little chilling when you think of how memory is almost a physical, tangible thing used against the characters in this season.

That being said, the season does have its issues. The emphasis on emotional and character-driven storytelling is emphasized at the expense of the horror. There were no moments where I felt like crapping my pants or curling into a ball out of fright. Furthermore, there’s a missed opportunity to lean into the horror of the surrealism, just keeping it weird rather than creepy. All this is at the expense of the horror. Whereas the first season had this constant dread of the strange and unexplained, of the mystery at the center of it and how it affected the characters and the world, there was none of it in this season.

ON the whole, I’m giving Channel Zero: No End House a 3.4 on a scale of 1 to 5. It has some great characters and ideas, as well as some freaky scenes, but it misses numerous opportunities to scare the pants off us. If you’re looking for more story and character driven horror, this might be for you, but it won’t give you the buzz a real scary show will.

Despite how the second season compares to the first, I’ll probably still check out season three at some point. Likely within two years, though.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me, but I’ll try to check in with something by Monday evening at the latest.

Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and if you go to a haunted attraction but you can’t find anyone running the place, signing waivers, or paying/taking money…maybe reconsider stepping inside.

Ramsey and I doing a selfie in Greenville. And we were in Ramsey’s car, which was why we didn’t wear masks.

I would like to mention that this post is not paid for by the South Carolina Board of Tourism. However, if they would like to pay me, they can figure out how to contact me.

As many of you know, after I left Iowa, I flew to South Carolina to visit my buddy Ramsey, whom you may remember from the New Year’s video I filmed back in January (such innocent times those were). Ramsey lives in Greenville, so we spent the first day there just exploring the city, and I have to say, Greenville was really nice to be in. And not just because it had Borderlands, a comic book store where I finally obtained a Stephen King FunkoPop (though that was cool). What I saw was a small city that’s growing and has a lot to offer. They even have something of a scenic nature park and waterfall in the downtown area. Made for some really great photos, like the one below.

A view of downtown Greenville, SC.

The buildings were also nice to look at, all with this regal nature in their construction and design. It was fun just to look at them, let alone walk around and see them. And of course, there were plenty of houses that looked like they’d been around since the antebellum period, and I enjoyed seeing them as well. They’re not Queen Anne Revival style, which was the preferred style of the Victorian era and my preferred kind of house, but they made me want to live there.

We also almost visited the Confederate History Museum, but it was closed when we arrived. Probably a good thing, because it might’ve been hard for me to hold my tongue in such a place.

Oh, and guess who else lives in Greenville? Sara Parlier, the narrator for Rose‘s audio book (which I highly encourage you to download and check out)! We met up for breakfast outside a nearby Starbucks and managed to have a nice talk (though we made sure to social distance and wear masks as well). That was a cool experience, especially since with everything going on, I didn’t think we would be able to meet. Glad I was able to see her, and I hope we can do it again someday.

Sara Parlier and I meeting for breakfast. We only sat this close because of the photo, believe me.

Ramsey and I also drove down to Charleston for a couple days, and–wow! Charleston is a beautiful city. Some of those buildings have been around since the 17th and 18th centuries or have been built/renovated to match that style, so it kind of feels like you’re stepping back in time. We stayed at the Meeting Street Inn in the historic district, which is just beautiful and enhanced the feeling of stepping back in time, and then spent a good part of the day exploring the Historic District and checking out the waterfront. And despite the Confederate monuments here and there, Charleston is a beautiful place to walk around and take photos of. There’s the Four Corners of Law, at the intersection of Broad and Meeting, which have building that are or were used for various kinds of law at one point or another; Rainbow Row, a series of houses and buildings where the houses are in a rainbow of colors; and the Circular Church, a church dating back to 1681 that looks like it could be the setting of a Gothic novel or movie.

And quite a few of these places ended up on the ghost tour Ramsey and I took (more on that in another post).

St. Michael’s Anglican Church, which you can see from almost anywhere in the Historic District, and one of my favorite buildings from the area.

Also, if you’re able to get a reservation, I recommend Hyman’s Seafood. It’s pretty famous in the area, has been around for decades, has had numerous celebrities eat there over the years, and it has a kosher menu! Yeah, apparently the owners are Jewish and took a few measures so that fellow members of the Tribe can have meat there as well. Second best brisket I’ve ever had (after my mom’s, of course).

The next day, we took a trip out to Patriot’s Point, where you could see both Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, and the USS Yorktown, which saw combat in WWII. As we’d both majored in History at Ohio State, it was a treat for the both of us. Not to mention taking a ferry to and from Fort Sumter was pretty cool.

Fort Sumter from the ferry.

The USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier from WWII.

It would take too many words to talk about my impressions of both places, but to say the least, seeing these preserved testaments to past wars was humbling and a little haunting, too. You really get to see and even feel how people living in those places and fighting those wars might’ve felt. I especially liked the USS Yorktown, as WWII is of interest to me (and I have an idea for a story aboard an aircraft carrier). You get to see planes used in WWII and Korea, as well as the flight deck, the areas the soldiers and sailors lived, and even a Medal of Honor museum, among other things. When it comes time to do research for that story, I’ll definitely be coming back to see the Yorktown.

And speaking of which, I may have encountered some paranormal stuff aboard the Yorktown. Wasn’t expecting it, though I did buy a book about hauntings aboard the ship earlier in the day in the gift shop. While buying a snack from the vending machine, I turned around to see where Ramsey had gotten off to, and in turning my head, I swear I saw a woman who was gone the second I looked back. I was like, “Did I just see that?” And in the Engine Room, which was empty but for Ramsey and me, we had this strange feeling of being watched. Which isn’t so strange, when you read in the book that people have had experiences in that room as well. At the time though, we had no idea about that, and we were just freaked out about feeling watched. We were almost glad to be out of the Engine Room, with its oppressive air!

Not saying it’s ghosts, but I am saying it’s unexplained.

Our last stop was Folly Beach, a small beach town where, surprisingly, people were social distancing while still enjoying themselves. Ramsey and I took turns watching our stuff and swimming in the ocean, which I hadn’t done in years. And there’s something wonderfully childlike about swimming in the ocean. You get such a kick by bending down so you’re up to the shoulders in the sea, of jumping so the waves carry you along with them.

I’m honestly sad we had to leave the next morning. South Carolina was a beautiful place to visit and I would love to come by again and see it again. And given my friendship with Ramsey and the stories I could write inspired by my trip, I think I will.

Thanks to Ramsey and his mother for being such wonderful hosts while I was with you, and showing me your lovely state. I hope we can see each other again very soon. Until then, hope you’re all doing well, and stay safe.

And I’ll have more posts out this week, my Followers of Fear. So until then, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

I’ve kept silent on this matter long enough. Maybe I’ve kept silent so long because, while it made me angry, I wasn’t yet angry enough to post about it on my social media. It was enough for me to let my views be known through the stories I write and the way I conduct myself. However, I think I’ve been silent long enough. I need to speak and to let the world know what I’m thinking.

If you weren’t aware, JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, has over the past two months voiced problematic views on the transgender community through her social media. I won’t go into a full breakdown of events, you can find that in plenty of articles online, but I will summarize a few major points. Since June, she has: criticized an article that used the phrase “people who menstruate,” meant to include trans men and non-binary individuals; said use of above phrase was “erasing the concept of sex” and “the reality of women globally;” spread misinformation about transgender individuals, including that allowing transgender women to use the bathroom of their choice was giving men license to step into women’s bathrooms and assault them; and on Sunday, equated hormone therapy to gay conversion therapy.

It’s this latest piece of news that has pushed me to speak. I have had the pleasure of being friends and occasionally even colleagues who are trans. None of the above stuff is true of them, or of the trans community at large. Furthermore, as a bisexual man, I am disgusted that Rowling would compare medication that allows trans people to feel more comfortable in their own bodies to a practice that makes members of the LGBT community hate, deny and repress their true selves in favor of someone else’s very narrow worldview on sex and gender.

But I’m not going to talk about all that. I’m going to instead join all the voices who have come out against Rowling’s views. This includes members of the writing community, some of whom I consider colleagues and friends, others I consider role models and teachers; most of the cast of the Harry Potter films; and an overwhelming section of the Harry Potter fandom. What we have to say is this: we are disappointed that Rowling, whose books have always espoused equality and understanding, would support these views, let alone use her platform to influence and possibly turn her fans against the trans community. And while we differ on how we’ll interact with the world of Harry Potter, which is so intertwined with its creator as to be almost inseparable–some are severing their relationship with the franchise, while others are saying they will continue to enjoy Harry Potter while avoiding giving money or other support to Rowling, etc.–we are united and committed to not letting hate go unpunished.*

To be honest, I’m saddened that it has come to this. It’s because of Harry Potter and JK Rowling that I started writing fiction in the first place. You may not have ever heard of me (at least not in the context of a writer) if it hadn’t been for the Wizarding World and what it did for me as a child. I owe Rowling a debt for that, and I’ll always be grateful for the effect she had on my life.

However, I am against all forms of prejudice, including but not limited to racism, antisemitism, sexism, Islamophobia, ableism, ageism, homophobia and, of course, transphobia. I’ve seen the effects of what these prejudices have on people and it disgusts me. My day job allows me to combat these problems within the workforce, something I’m quite proud of. And I won’t stand idly by as an author with a major platform uses theirs to hurt others because of their own prejudice.

And to Ms. Rowling, if you’re reading this, I’m afraid that this is, to quote Albus Dumbledore to Cornelius Fudge, “the parting of the ways.” I will always be grateful to you and to your creation, as I said. But I can’t stand by your views or support your work. Losing me won’t hurt you in the slightest. But if it makes you think, or makes someone else think about how vulnerable the trans community is, or if it helps a trans person feel less alone in a scary world, then it’ll be worth it. With that, Ms. Rowling, I let you go.

Thank you for reading this, everyone. I know this isn’t my normal sort of post, but I had to write it. Thanks for reading. And while I was planning on doing a late-night writing session, I think I’m tuckered out and will hit the hay instead.

Goodnight, Followers of Fear. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

*I know this post may upset some of my Followers of Fear, and they may not want to follow me or read my works anymore. If that’s the case, I’m sad to see you go, but I wish you the best and hope we can someday meet on common ground. And if you decide to get rid of my books, please do so in a manner that doesn’t burn down your house or something crazy like that. I know burning them seems fun, but is it worth your home and life?

The other day, I posted my thoughts on the COVID-19 virus. Among those thoughts was my desire for writers and readers alike to support authors who will be struggling during the ongoing crisis. For a lot of authors, this crisis will cut into conventions, teaching seminars, readings, and so much more that they rely on to sell their books and use their craft. The best thing we can do for those authors is to support them. This could be by buying their work, writing their reviews, anything else you can do to help them out while we’re all stuck inside and trying to protect our health.

That said, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

I’ve known Jason Stokes, owner of Gestalt Media, for about a year. He’s a writer whose work I’ve read and reviewed, but he’s also the owner of a publishing company that tries to give authors the best experience with a publisher as possible. This includes better royalty rates and more control over the creative process than you might find at another publisher. And the model’s worked so far; in the year or so they’ve been in business, Gestalt Media has acquired a number of authors, many of them horror authors, and are sending their stories into the marketplace.

Not only that, but Gestalt Media put together a charity anthology last year for victims of the Virginia Beach shooting which included the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, not kidding, those authors let their short stories be used in the anthology, Dark Tides, to benefit victims and families of victims of that charity. You can check out the anthology’s Amazon page by clicking on this link.

Anyway, just like authors everywhere else, Gestalt Media is working hard to support its authors during this difficult time. They’re raising money on GoFundMe to ensure their authors are able to whether the storm, and they’ve already made almost ten percent of their goal. And for every dollar they make, companies like GoFundMe, Intuit and Yelp will match them. Yeah, every dollar does count here!*

Now, I know a lot of you might be struggling yourselves during this difficult time. Many of us are out of work and unable to make an income during this crisis. I understand. But if you are able to help somehow, please consider doing so.  I’m lucky enough to still be working and making enough money to meet my needs, so I was able to donate. And if I can, I want to help further, so I’m spreading the word where I can.

And if you can’t help out monetarily, maybe consider sharing the campaign on your social media. The more people who know about this,  the more people will be likely to donate. And if you can help out monetarily, great! You’ll be helping out plenty of authors.

Whatever way you can help, please do. We’re all in this together. In fact, the whole point of all these measures is to make sure we all get through the crisis together. This would only be a continuation of the communal preservation we’re engaging in.

And if you can’t help out, that’s fine too. We all have things we can and can’t do, even now.

Well, that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll include the link for the fundraiser down below. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Gestalt Media Creators Relief Fund

*How they were able to work that deal, I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain when they’re able to get results.

I heard about this book sometime last year and immediately requested my library buy copies (they did, and I was #1 on the list). I mean, a horror story set on the Titanic and having to do with some sort of creature living in the sea? Where do I sign up? And it came in for me at the library right before my library ceased operations due to the virus, so I was happy to get it when I did.

The Deep follows Annie Hebbley, a maid who works on the Titanic, and gets involved with the Fletcher family, a troubled married couple with a baby girl. Strange things occur on the ship leading up to that fateful (or fatal?) meeting. Years later, Annie meets Mark Fletcher, the very same man she waited on during that voyage, though now she’s a nurse on the Titanic’s sister ship the Britannic and he’s a wounded soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI. Coincidence? Or is something else at play? Something that has unfinished business with these ships and their passengers?

Let me tell you, this book has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s set partially on the Titanic, which is always a fascinating topic and setting for any story. And turning it into a ghost story? Even cooler.* That, and the Titanic sailed during the Edwardian era, which is close enough to my beloved Victorian era that I felt right at home.

But beyond that, this is one damn good horror novel. Author Alma Katsu takes a psychological approach to this story, using hints to keep us guessing as to what’s going on. Are people going crazy onboard? Is there something supernatural afoot? Whether it be a seance or someone acting strange, you’re kept very up in the air about it up until the last fifth or so of the book, and even then, you may still have questions.

At the same time, you get to know a lot of these characters intimately. It’s a big cast, told from the points of views of Annie, Mark Fletcher and his wife Caroline, you have the POVs of several historical figures, including boxers Dai Bowen and Leslie Williams, whom I absolutely fell in love with; Madeleine Astor, worried about an alleged curse on her unborn child; and William Stead, an aged journalist with an interest in the occult.** But Katsu does a great job of developing each and every character and giving them a unique voice and issues to explore.

A lot of attention is paid to detail as well, the same sort of attention that went visually into James Cameron’s movie. It really brings alive the setting for both ships, and makes you feel like you’re there. And there are plenty of moments filled with tension, such as the aforementioned seance, a scene at the saltwater pool, or close to the very end, when things are finally revealed.

The ship may have sunk, but the stories about it, like my heart, will go on. And in some cases, get very creepy.

All these factors kind of make it feel like you’re watching a really dark and spooky stageplay about the Titanic, only you’re reading it out of a book. In fact, I can imagine The Deep being made into a stageplay someday, or perhaps even a Broadway musical, one that’s scarier and has less humor than Sweeney Todd. I’d even help adapt it if someone deemed me experienced enough and wanted me to.

I can’t find anything to put as a downside to this novel. Some might find it a bit too slow, or maybe too much time is spent on the characters’ problems and backstories. I didn’t, but I can see other people feeling that way.

Overall, I’m giving The Deep by Alma Katsu a 4.5 out of 5. It’s an unnerving, intimate historical horror novel that’ll have you enthralled. Pick up a copy, put on that one Celine Dion song you’re probably thinking of, and get ready to dive in to what may be a contender for next year’s Bram Stoker awards.

*Of course, when I try to turn a luxury cruise liner into a ghost story, Disney’s lawyers come after me. How was I supposed to know ritualistic murder wasn’t allowed in international waters? It’s always okay in wartime!

**I recognized him from my own research into Victorian England. When I came across him and the reference to the occult, I literally shouted “Wait, I know this guy!” to my empty apartment.

On Sunday, I posted about finishing my first short story of 2020, a science-horror story called “Primordial Nuclear Soup” (what a title, right?). I mentioned in that post I wanted to find a beta reader to take a look at the story before I edited it and tried to send it anywhere. Thankfully, I found someone very quickly who turned out to be the right sort of reader for this story. They gave me some excellent feedback on ways the story could be improved, but there’s one point that I wanted to focus on.

With “Primordial Nuclear Soup,” I was going for an ambiguous ending to the story. You know, the kind where things are left kind of open, leading to readers wondering what happened after “The End”? Yeah, apparently I confused my beta reader with that. They actually asked me if I’d cut it off early.

Now, this may have been because I simply forgot to put the words “The End” at the end of the story. But it got me thinking: when is an ambiguous ending good for a story, and when does it actually get in the way of telling the story?

As usual, when faced with a writing quandary that I can’t reason out on my own, I go to Facebook groups for writers. I got a variety of opinions on the subject, some of which felt more on the mark than others, but one response in particular resonated with me. The writer in question said that ambiguous endings work best with ambiguous stories.

What do I mean by ambiguous stories? Well, these are stories where so much is up in the air, that an ending where things are up in the air makes sense. A story with an unreliable narrator fits this description, or a story like The Haunting of Hill House, where we’re not sure if the house is really haunted and we feel the psychological strain on the characters. By the end of the latter, we’re still not sure whether the house is haunted, so an ending that still leaves us questioning what the hell just happened fits nicely.

Of course, some more “definitive” stories may benefit from an ambiguous ending, especially if it ramps up the tension. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” a Stephen King short story about a traveling salesman contemplating suicide, has an ambiguous ending dependent on whether the protagonist sees a light from a farmhouse through a snowstorm.* It’s a great way to top off a story revolving around a troubled man wondering whether or not he should kill himself or live to write a book about his encounters on his travels.

As for my own story…well, it’s science horror. And science/science fiction tends to deal with exactness. Even though the Xenomorph from the pinnacle of science horror, Alien, has an unclear origin,** everything else in that film is clear as crystal. So perhaps I need to give my own story a clearer ending.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give the story an edit before I start that essay (yes, I’m going to write it) and see what I can do with it. Hopefully, I’ll make something a magazine won’t want to throw in the trash after the first page.

A dramatic shot of “Rose” I couldn’t help but take.

Oh, and while I have your attention still, did you know today is the two-year anniversary of when I announced Rose was accepted for publication? Yeah, it happened on this day in 2017, and a lot’s happened since then. A year of edits and rewrites, the release and all the marketing, the audio book, and so much more. More and more, people have been telling me they’ve enjoyed the story, and hearing that is the most gratifying feeling ever. Makes me want to keep writing.

If you haven’t read the Kafkaesque story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), and you’d like to check it out, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read it, please let me know what you think. I love feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

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

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

*It’s been 19 years since it first came out, so I’m not sorry I didn’t include a spoiler warning.

**I like to pretend Prometheus and Alien: Covenant never happened. They take all the mystery out of the franchise.