Posts Tagged ‘dark fantasy’

Since it was announced that King was releasing another collection of four novellas last year, I’ve been looking forward to reading it. The shutdowns due to COVID-19 delayed me getting my copy from the library by about two months (thanks, coronavirus!), but as soon as I had it, I settled down to read it and see how it stacked up against collections like Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons.

It took me maybe two weeks to read the book. What did I think?

Oh God, I was disappointed. I’m a huge King fan, but–oh God. This is definitely not one of Stephen King’s strongest collections of novellas. Out of the four stories in the collection, I disliked or was indifferent to three of them:

The first story, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” follows a young boy whose relationship with a rich, elderly bachelor takes on a supernatural twist. And while it goes for a creepy coming-of-age story vibe with comments on technology addiction and how business takes place online, it feels like just your average coming-of-age story that tries to be creepy a few times. And not very well. If perhaps the story had dropped some of the literary focus and instead tried to focus on the protagonist through more supernatural terror, I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

The second story, “The Life of Chuck,” is actually three stories in one, all focusing on a man named Chuck Krantz at various stages of his life. And I didn’t see the point of all three stories being included together as one story. The three parts don’t really link up that well except for the titular character, and each has a different focus: the first is an interesting take on the verse from the Talmud “He who saves a life, saves a world entire;” the second is about an impromptu flash mob in Boston; and the third is a spooky ghost story set during Chuck’s childhood. I think if the three parts were released in separate collections, they honestly would have been stronger, especially the first and third. As they are though, I was just left annoyed and confused.

The final story, “The Rat,” is a semi-interesting story about an author trying to finish a novel in a remote cabin during a storm that takes a dark fantasy turn during the last third. And the way it takes that turn is so silly, I’m wondering if King meant for that to be a comedy/horror piece and I missed it. As it is, it’s not going to leave anyone with nightmares anytime soon.

The one story I actually liked is the third, “If It Bleeds,” starring Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges trilogy (which I haven’t read) and The Outsider (read my review here). In this story, private eye and cinephile Holly Gibney realizes a monster like the one from The Outsider is causing death and misery after a school is bombed. It’s got a great mystery at the center, a thrilling climax, and some nice character development on the part of Holly (who, might I add, is on the spectrum with me. Positive representation!). It’s not exactly top-notch King, but it’s still very good, and I’d check out an adaptation if one were made and it was on a channel/streaming service I have access to (*hint hint wink wink*).

All in all though, If It Bleeds by Stephen King is not going to keep anyone up at night. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the collection a 2.3, and that’s mostly for the titular story. Major King fans are going to read this one, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s either a casual fan, a new King reader, or just looking for a scary collection of stories.

For that, I recommend his collection Four Past Midnight.*

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m disappointed that this book didn’t resonate with me, but I already have my next read, Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, waiting for me to start. Hopefully that’ll scratch my horror literature itch, especially if I finish it before it has to go back to the library. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And would someone please make a movie based on the third story in that collection, The Library Policeman? PLEASE?!!! I would help make it and make it the best it can be if someone did.

I’ve mentioned on this blog more than a few times that I make sure to write down my ideas on Word documents. This way I don’t forget them. I have a few separate lists to store these ideas, depending on the kind of idea it is. One list is just for ideas that will likely be short stories or novelettes (assuming they don’t end up evolving into something longer). And today, I had three new ideas for stories, which I made sure to put on that list. This brings that list up to a thousand ideas.

You read that right. A thousand ideas. Some good, some bad. Some are very short, and others will end up longer than most novelettes. Some are horror or dark fantasy, others are science fiction or regular fantasy, or some other form of speculative fiction. A few are erotica, because as I said in that video yesterday, I think there’s an art to writing a story where the story is told through sex. It’s something I might want to try someday.

I’m not stating this to brag. I’m just stating a fact. And you know what? I’ll never write most of them. There’s just never enough time.

It’s the sad truth of writing. We creatives have many ideas over the course of our lives. But rarely, especially in the world of writing fiction, do we get to tell all of them. Hell, I doubt even big names authors like King get to work on all the ideas he has. But it’s especially hard for those of us smaller names. We work day jobs, pay bills, run errands, eat, socialize, try to stay healthy, and try to sleep enough to function the next day. And in-between all that, we carve out time to write.

I said a lot of this when I had my five-hundredth idea, almost exactly five years ago today (what a coincidence). In fact, I’ll say again what I said in that post (which you can click here to read): Time’s a quick bastard. And it’s all we can do to keep it with us so we can get the best of your work down on paper. And maybe then edited and perhaps even published.

There’s enough time in the day for this.

And how can you tell from the trove of your ideas which ones are worth spending time on? Hard to say. Usually I can tell from the idea phase, but occasionally I write a first draft and I realize this story is crap, why did I ever try to write it? I guess the best thing to do is just to go with your gut. If you’re really passionate about a story, it’ll show in the writing and in the story, and you’ll be able to work on it over and over again, until you’re able to share it with others (hopefully, anyway).

Well, I’m going to get back to an idea I think might be worth working on. I just wanted to talk about some of the things that went through my mind as I started nearing a thousand ideas. And I wanted to talk about something other than Rose for once.

Speaking of which, tomorrow is the last day to buy the ebook version of Rose at a discount price (I couldn’t help myself). So if you want to check out the Kafkaesque fantasy-horror story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), now’s a good time to do so. I’ll include the links below, including for the paperback and audio book. And if you end up checking out the book, leave a review and let me know what you thought of it. Helps me out in the long run, and it’s nice to hear what you think.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

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

So with the completion of The Pure World Comes last night, that brings a total of three novels I have waiting in the wings. By “waiting in the wings,” of course, I mean three novels I need to edit, update and hopefully someday publish. And since some of you have been asking about those books, I thought I would take a moment to update you on each individual story, as well as tell anyone who’s unfamiliar with them what they’re about.

River of Wrath

 

River of Wrath, inspired partly by Dante’s Inferno, is about a small town in Mississippi which, one day in the early 1960’s, is visited by one of the circles of Hell. I recently got back all the beta reader copies, so I can finally begin doing some editing on this story. And given that the plot of this story deals with a lot of issues that are as current now as they were in the 1960’s (you can guess which ones), it might be a good idea to get to work on that one sooner rather than later.

In fact, I was hoping to get started on River this summer. Most likely August, if things work out for me. Seeing as I finished this one in 2018 and it’s now 2020, and the problems of racism only seem to have gotten worse since then, I think it’s about damn time.

 

 

Toyland

I don’t know what it is about Toyland, but for some reason, several of my Followers of Fear are champing at the bit for this story. My National Novel Writing Month project which I began in November 2019 and ended in late February, Toyland is a Gothic horror/dark fantasy novel centered on a boarding school in southern Ohio and a ghost there obsessed with a children’s book affecting the students. Yeah, that’s the plot. It’s bonkers, but did you expect anything else from me?

As for when editing will commence on this one, it will hopefully happen very soon. But as for publishing, that might take a while. I need some things on my end to happen before I can think of shopping this book to publishers (or consider self-publishing it. That’s a possibility as well). What those things are, I can’t say at the moment, but I deem them necessary to happen before Toyland can be released. As events unfold, I hope to have more updates on this subject. For now though, just know I’m working on paving the way for Toyland‘s publication as best I can right now.

 

The Pure World Comes

I know I finished it last night and you have probably read the elevator pitch already, but I’ll restate it anyway. TPWC takes place in 1894 and follows a maid who goes to work for a mad scientist. As I said last night, I have sent this novel off already to someone for feedback. With any luck, I’ll get some pointers on how to improve this story in the second draft and where to send it.

Speaking of which, I do hope to find a publisher for this one, but I can see it being rather successful if I self-publish it. In fact, I had an idea for that: many novels written in Victorian England were released chapter by chapter in a serial format, usually in a magazine or newspaper. Charles Dickens did this to great effect, using reader feedback after each chapter to improve the story by upgrading or downgrading certain characters and following plot lines readers found interesting. In other words, he gave the fans fanservice, and it worked for him. Anyway, after all the chapters had been released, only then would they be collected in a traditional book format.

I doubt I’ll do the whole give-in-to-fanservice thing Dickens did, but I could see myself releasing each chapter one at a time, perhaps as an ebook exclusive, before releasing the full book as both paperback and ebook. What do you think? Would that be a fun way to read a book, as well as a great callback to the publishing methods of yesteryear? Let me know.

 

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to relax and regain my creative energies, but I’m sure you’ll hear from me by the end of the week. Until next time, 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!

As many of you are already aware, I’m a big fan of ballet, and a lot of characters who are dancers or are familiar with dance are peppered throughout my story ideas. With so many story ideas involving ballet and my latest story finished up, I thought it was high-time to write one. This has been my project since Tuesday, and today I finished “Pas de Deux,” my first story to feature ballet and dancers as a major component.

“Pas de Deux” is about two young dancers who decide to test a legend at their dance academy. The legend says that if anyone dances a pas de deux, or dance for two, in a certain studio, they’ll both die. When they dance together and also reveal their feelings for one another, things in their lives take a turn for the darker.

This was a fun and interesting story for me to work on. Besides writing it in five days, which is something unusual for me, but because for a while I wasn’t sure what genre it was. At times it walked a tightrope between dark fantasy and psychological horror, and it could’ve gone one way or the other based on creative and word choices. In the end, I ended up going with psychological horror, as I felt that would make the story better and more memorable.

Using dance in a story as a major component was also something else. I’ll probably devote a post just to this topic alone, but there’s a trick to writing dance movements in a prose story that I had to discover through lots of research of said movements and then writing them into the story. Interspersing both technical terms and descriptions of the terms along with the protagonist’s own beliefs and observations about ballet was both a challenge and a little educational. If ballet shows up in another story (and knowing me, it will), I can use this experience for any dance sequences I want to write into the story.

But for now, I’ll let this story be for awhile. At sixteen pages and 4,622 words, I think it could get published in most publications, assuming that the dance-heavy and flowery opening and the quick second half doesn’t turn some publishers off. Hopefully with the right beta readers, I can get some good feedback for the story and make whatever edits I need to make.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other stories I want to write, so I’ll think about which one I’d like to write next, and maybe put out that post about writing dance sequences in prose fiction. So until next time, my Followers of Fear, goodnight and pleasant nightmares. I’m off to watch a scary movie.