Posts Tagged ‘Harry Potter’

I’m not so sure anymore.

Of course, it seems like gospel that the first sentence of a story is important. It’s your hook, isn’t it? It’s how you get the reader into the story. You should put as much thought into that first line as you would as asking your significant other to marry you!

But I’m not convinced anymore. That may be strange, considering how often I used to (and sometimes still do) the #FirstLineFriday meme on this blog. You know, that thing where I post the first line of a story and hope it gets you into the story? But then again, maybe that’s why I’m unconvinced. I’ve posted first lines so many times, I’ve recognized how little effect that they have on the total story.

And you know, if you look at some famous books, you kind of see that. Harry Potter‘s first line is “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Most Muggle-ish opening you’ve ever read. It doesn’t really hint at what’s to come in the story, and I honestly would have cut it from the final product if I had edited the first book.

And Stephen King’s stories don’t usually have those sorts of openings. The first line of IT goes like this:

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

It’s a nice opening, but it doesn’t exactly scream…well, going to make you scream. It’s actually kind of mellow. And the opening for Needful Things is even more unassuming: “You’ve been here before.” Kid you not, my first time listening to that book on audio, I had to repeat it a few times because it was totally unexpected and confused me a bit. Only as you keep reading does the opening make sense with this story.

Maybe this is why some books have poems, excerpts from other famous stories, Bible verses, or even song lyrics at the beginning, before the story even starts. You read those little epigraphs (that’s what they’re called, I check) and keep reading to see how it relates to the story you’re taking in.

in any case, I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the first sentence, or even the first paragraph, that’s responsible for making a story’s opening catchy. It’s maybe the first couple of paragraphs or the first page. When the author sets up the story, the characters, the setting, that you really get pulled into the story.

The opening of the story should be like opening a door to guests. Yes, that’s important, but what’s inside is even more important. Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

That’s certainly the case with my current story, where I set up a nice, rural setting, something kind of idyllic…and then one of my main characters reveals that he’s a neo-Nazi. It’s a stark contrast from the first paragraph that takes the reader off-guard, and hopefully will get them reading further along. I’ll have to finish the story first to see if that’s the case, however.

Anyway, the first sentence is important, but it’s not the most important thing about a story. Rather, it’s just the opening of the door and allowing people to take a quick look before stepping inside. What’s beyond that is what’s truly important. You just have to make sure to open the door and open it well.

But what’s your take, Followers of Fear? Let’s discuss openings and if the first lines of a story really are as important as we make them out to be. I’m curious to hear what you think on the subject. Maybe more of you will agree with me than I imagine.


Happy New Year, my Followers of Fear. I wanted to start this year off with a post that’s reflective on the craft of writing, as I enjoy writing those posts. Anyway, I hope you’re having a good 2022 so far. Mine’s been rough so far, but that tends to be the case with the first full week of January. And at least there’s a lot to look forward to right now: editing and releasing Hannah and Other Stories; putting out the paperback and ebook copies of The Pure World Comes; conventions and expos; maybe a bit of travel; and, of course, some good reading and writing.

Oh, speaking of conventions and expos, I’ll be at the Hidden Marietta Paranormal Expo on the 29th in Marietta, Ohio. If you can, stop by the Lafayette Hotel and maybe I’ll sign your book and read your Tarot.

Also, the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 58.5 percent! We’re over halfway funded and we just keep going! And if you would like to help me and my fellow Ohio horror writers put out an amazing anthology of horror stories set in our state and revolving around the theme “that which cannot be undone,” click on the link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology. There are also some amazing perks to pledging, like candles, Ohio-themed Tarot cards, copies of the book, and even end up in one of the stories! How cool would that be?

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have more stuff to tell you soon. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!

Occasionally in fiction writing, you create characters you find utterly repulsive. Maybe it’s their personality, maybe it’s what they do or believe in, but these characters are VILE.

And surprisingly, writing them well is kind of challenging. I should know. I’m working on a story now where I hate most of the characters. Why? I’ll get into that a little later.

(Though if you’ve been paying attention to my Facebook posts or Twitter feed, you might already know why.)

The thing is, while you may hate the character you’ve created, you can’t let that hate show too much in your writing. You have to treat them like you would any other character. Showing your contempt may be easy, but the reader may notice. And while they may agree with you, they will be turned off by the clear aversion and disdain coming off the page, especially if it’s a protagonist. “Why even bother writing this character if you’re going to make it so obvious you don’t like them?” That might be what goes through their minds. Instead, write them like you would a character you like.

A good example of this is how Vladimir Nabokov treats Humbert Humbert in the novel Lolita. In an interview, Nabokov stated he found Humbert a hateful person for obvious reasons. But he didn’t show his dislike for the character and his predilections in the story. Instead, he writes the novel normally and let’s the readers come to hate him by his actions.

That’s something to keep in mind. Instead of showing your disdain for a vile character, let their actions do the work for you. You can do a lot just by showing a cruel teacher depriving a kid of ice cream or a prison warden manipulating his prisoners to attack each other, rather than by describing them as nasty pieces of shit.

Dolores Umbridge. A great example of a vile character.

You can then supplement that by showing other characters’ reactions to the hated characters for being assholes. JK Rowling, despite her faults, did this quite well when Harry and his friends described characters like Umbridge or Pansy Parkinson and focused on their negative traits. Rowling famously hates those characters, by the way, and made sure they suffered or didn’t get happily-ever-afters in the end.

What if you have to show things through the perspective of the hated character, however? Well, that’s where it can get queasy to write them. Because, as much as you might hate them, you’ll often have to write them as any other character. For instance, l’m writing characters who are neo-Nazis.

Yeah, you read that right. The story I’m working on now is full of neo-Nazis, people who would gladly see me dead for being Jewish (among other things). And I am writing them as I would most other characters. I could write them and focus on their hatred and nasty ideology, and in another story I could get away with that. But for this story, I can’t let them just be stock characters or stereotypes, much as I want to. Instead, I’m trying to show the reader how the characters might see the world. And let’s face it, neo-Nazis are people, and they’re as complicated as any other character. So I should try to write them that way.

That being said, I am going to show just how horrible these people and their toxic ideology can be. And then I’ll take great pleasure in showing what horrors occur to them later in the story. Hey, I’m a Jewish horror author who loves visiting terrors upon his enemies. What do you expect?

So, writing characters you consider vile is more than just making them hateful or showing how much you hate them. It’s a combination of actions, character description, and even writing them in a complex manner. And, of course, making sure they get what’s coming to them if it fits the story. It may make you feel sick to write them that way, but it can also lead to a good story becoming that much better.


On an unrelated note, the anthology I’m helping to produce, That Which Cannot Be Undone, is closing in on forty percent funded on Kickstarter! Not only that, but we’ve added a whole bunch of new perks and have announced some new authors joining the project as well. Some of those authors have even volunteered to name characters after backers and kill them off in style should they back certain limited pledges. Isn’t that cool? You could be a character in another author’s story!

If that, and helping our group produce a kickass horror anthology featuring new stories from me and my friends, you can check out the campaign by clicking the link below.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. For those who celebrate, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas. If you need me, I’ll be joining my friend John McClane at Nakatomi Tower for Nakatomi Corp’s annual Christmas party. I hear they tend to go out with a bang every year.

Until next time, Happy Holidays and pleasant nightmares!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw a tweet from a fellow writer in the writing community (or #WritingCommunity). This was the tweet.

Now, if the tweet hasn’t loaded properly into this blog post at the time you’re reading this, it’s from writer Rey Roland using the hashtag @rrowlandwrites and goes like this:

#WritingCommunity do you think that characters have to make mistakes in a story?

I found the question stimulating, so after some back and forth between us, I decided to do a full post on the question (hope you don’t mind, Rey).

So, can and should characters make mistakes? First, let me start with can: yes, characters can make mistakes. In fact, there are plenty of stories where characters make mistakes which become integral to the plot. And yes, characters should on occasion make mistakes, though it depends heavily on the story. A character shouldn’t make a mistake just for the sake of making one when it serves no purpose to the story. Otherwise, the readers will think it’s weird.

Of course, this leads to an even bigger question: is there a benefit to having characters make mistakes? Actually, there are multiple benefits to having a character who makes mistakes.

For one thing, characters who make mistakes are easier to empathize with. Not to say characters incapable of making mistakes can’t be empathized with, but it does make a character more human and easier to identify with for the audience. The possibility of a reader continuing with a story can depend greatly on their connection to the protagonist, so showing them as being like the reader–more human–can be an advantage.

Edmund Pevensie’s mistake was a major driver of the story.

Another reason to have characters make mistakes is that it can help the story along or add to its complexity. Sometimes, it’s even the catalyst of the story. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Edmund makes the mistake of falling under the White Witch’s spell, and betraying his siblings adding both an extra dilemma to an already difficult situation and giving the character a redemption arc during the story. And in the manga Death Note, Light Yagami tries to eliminate suspicion of himself as the murderer Kira by killing the FBI agent following him, as well as the other FBI agents following other suspects. However, this eventually just leads to him becoming a prime suspect again, a problem which lasts the rest of the series.

Of course, it isn’t just protagonists who make major mistakes. Minor characters make mistakes all the time, and they often benefit the plot significantly. In Ania Ahlborn’s novel The Devil Crept In, the protagonist’s mother makes the mistake of not treating her son’s obvious mental issues, which has major consequences before, during and after the story. And in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Cho Chang’s best friend Marietta Edgecombe tells Umbridge about Dumbledore’s Army, leading to the organization’s dissolution, Dumbledore’s exile and Umbridge’s assent at Hogwarts, and boils to appear on her face in the shape of the word “SNEAK.”

And villains make mistakes all the time. Often, that’s how their downfall begins. Often, these mistakes are due to the villains’ pride, ignorance, or some other character flaw. Voldemort doesn’t believe anyone will find his Horcruxes; Bane talks too much and doesn’t watch his six; Annie Wilkes is so obsessed with her Misery Chastain novels, she falls for Paul Sheldon’s trick; the White Witch doesn’t read the instructions carefully and misses the deeper magic in the Stone Table; Kaecilius also doesn’t read the instructions and misses what actually happens when you join Dormammu’s dimension; and the Wicked Witch allows water in her castle for some reason, even though she has a serious water allergy (I guess the book version thought Dorothy would never think to use water against her?).

As you can see from the above, not only can and should characters be able to make mistakes, but there are numerous benefits to doing so. Whether to include one or not depends on the author, character(s), and story in question. However, if an opportunity comes up and you think it’ll ultimately benefit the plot, I say do it. Who knows? It could be a major turning point in the story, and the moment readers talk about for years to come.

I hope you found this post edifying, my Followers of Fear. I had fun writing it. And I hope Rey Rowland (whose Twitter page you can find here) enjoys reading this. Thanks for the mental stimulation.

That’s all for now. I’ll check in with you all very soon, I’m sure. So, until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and DON’T TAKE THAT ACTION! IT’S THE KIND OF MISTAKE THAT’LL LAND YOU IN A HORROR STORY! AND NOT ONE WRITTEN BY ME.

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?

Earlier today, someone in a movie-themed Facebook group I belong to asked when the last time other members were carded before going to see an R-rated movie (if you don’t know, in the US anyone under 17 can’t see an R-rated movie without an accompanying adult). I laughed and commented that I didn’t start seeing R-rated films in theaters until I was in college, and my student ID came with the assumption that I was already over 17. So unless you count my Student ID as being carded, I never got carded at a theater.

This made me realize something: when I told people offline about my history with going to the movies, they always react with amazement. Sometimes, given how many people still turned out to see movies in the theaters before the pandemic, it amazes me, such as the carded story. And then I realized I never told that story to my blogging audience, who would probably appreciate it the most.

So since this weekend is upon us, let me tell you about my odd history of going to the movies, and why I will likely start going again once it’s safer to do so.

First thing you should know is, until I was off at college, the most I got to go to the movies was a few times a year. It was a treat for me. There are probably several reasons for this. My parents were raising four kids and holding down full-time jobs that didn’t always hold to the normal nine-to-five. We had plenty of free movies from the libraries we patronized, as well as from video stores when those were popular and later streaming services like Netflix. Any theater I would want to go to would require a ride, which wasn’t always on hand). And perhaps I just didn’t beg enough to go see movies I was interested in, though I’m not sure how effective asking repeatedly would’ve been.

Still, we did go to see every Harry Potter movie in theaters when they came out. I did on occasion get to see the new superhero film or book adaptation or whatever when I wanted, especially for birthday parties or if I was invited out by friends, or once or twice my folks had something to do nearby and knew I would be bored senseless if I was dragged along (one time I was even dropped off to watch an action film while my sisters went to see something that was more their speed. I was really happy about that arrangement). And of course, having two sisters who were five and seven years younger than me, I got to see a lot more kids films than I care to admit.

That being said, I did miss out on seeing a lot of films I really wanted to see in theaters. And occasionally, I did feel like I was missing out. When Paranormal Activity came out, and everyone was raving about it, how it was a revolution in horror movies (and for a while, it was), I was sad because I knew I wouldn’t see it in theaters. There was no way in hell I could get my folks to agree to take me to see it, and I would need them. After all, I was only sixteen at the time.

Then college came around, and the nearest theater was only a twenty minute walk from the dorms and later the apartment where I lived. I started going regularly, paying attention to releases. And at some point, I realized that not only was going opening weekend a rush, but it was something I’d been waiting to do my whole life. I was addicted.

Wish I could hop on the TARDIS right now. Then I could see all the movies on opening weekend I want to. Even the ones that have been delayed due to COVID-19.

Even after I moved away from campus, I would go out of my way to see new movies. And then when I moved into my current apartment and learned there was another theater even closer than the ones I went to previously, I went there, taking two buses and nearly two hours to get one way and the other, no matter the weather. And when I got my car? Hoo-boy, did life get good! Now, every movie was only a twenty-minute drive away, no matter the theater I had to go to. It was a blast.

It’s been four months since I’ve been able to sit in a theater, when I saw The Invisible Man (and found it to be average). I miss it. Yeah, occasionally you have to deal with high ticket and food prices, other patrons checking their phones or bringing their babies or otherwise being noisy. And occasionally, when you ask those people to not be so distracting, they threaten you with violence (happened to me once, I did not appreciate it).

But I also enjoy sitting with like-minded viewers right before a big horror or superhero film, that rush of emotions when something amazing or terrifying or heartwarming happens, and the thoughts going through my head as I write my review in my head. I miss the experience that goes with seeing a film opening weekend.

So when it’s safe to do so, I hope to go again, and experience all that again. In fact, I probably will. It’s hard to keep me from a good horror film or superhero film anyway (and I have the eyewitness accounts and court trials to prove it).

Do you miss going to the movies, Followers of Fear? Will you go when the theaters reopen again? 

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!

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of tag, so I saw this on my friend Kat Impossible’s blog and I was like, “Sounds like fun.” And while I’m not sure I believe in “perfection,” I tried to come up with stories that come close to that in my personal opinion. Most of these titles are from the horror genre, but I do add some from other genres and even a few other mediums (I can be a rule breaker when I want to be). With that in mind, let us begin the Perfect Book Tag.

THE PERFECT GENRE

(pick a book that perfectly represents the genre)

I had a hard time choosing on this, between what could be considered a quintessential horror novel, and what could be the most terrifying novel (AKA the “perfect” horror novel). In the end, I wanted to include the quintessential novel elsewhere, and I hate repeating myself, so I decided on the most terrifying novel I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Honestly, this novel’s show of brutality, the ease in which regular people can be persuaded to commit acts of evil and the graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty were enough to make me put the book down at times just so I could process what I was reading and get control of my dread. If you want perfect horror, this might be close enough.

Just don’t blame me if this gives you an upset stomach or nightmares. Trust me, it’s a tough one to get through.

THE PERFECT SETTING

(pick a book that takes place in a perfect place)

Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything considered “perfect” in entertainment, let alone a perfect setting. However, as far as I’m concerned, this might come damn close. The Doctor Who universe has every sort of setting imaginable. From futuristic cityscapes, to the distant past, and even our own modern times, you can find aliens, historical personages, gods and demons, magic (sort of) and science, friends and enemies, and even new universes or pocket universes! It’s an endlessly adaptable setting, and that’s why it’s my choice for perfect setting.

Also, I know it’s a TV show and the books are expanded universe and semi-canonical at best, but like I said, I like to break the rules.

 

THE PERFECT MAIN CHARACTER

(pick the perfect main character)

For this one, I didn’t pick perfect as in “they’re the best at everything and never have to improve. The story is just a way for the reader to fawn over how amazing the characters are.” Those are known as Mary Sues and Gary Sues, and most writers learn to stop creating them when trying to write compelling stories. Instead, I picked examples of characters I like to work with the most: women/girls who don’t start out as protagonist material, but as time goes on they grow into their heroine roles. Sailor Moon and Buffy are two great examples of those characters, as well as the reason I love that character type.

Neither Buffy Summers nor Sailor Moon started out as heroes who were thrilled with their roles. They just wanted to be normal girls, not burdened down with these destinies to save humanity from evil. But over time, as they get stronger and build their support networks, they become stronger, able to defy evil and inspire everyone around them and everyone watching them, regardless of age or gender. It’s part of the reason why these characters have endured over thirty years after their debuts, and part of the reason why I am who I am today.

 

THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND

(loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever)

 

This one was easy. She’s smart, kind, brave, and is willing to point out when you’re wrong or doing something stupid. And she’s willing to stand up for the oppressed when no one else will, including many of the oppressed. She can be a bit stubborn, and at times she loses sight of reality when it comes to studies or other things she deems important. But honestly, Hermione Granger would make a great best bud.

 

THE PERFECT LOVE INTEREST

(pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner)

Let me level with you all. I may be bisexual, but I’m aromantic, so I don’t really feel romantic attraction to anyone. Sexual, definitely, but I have trouble imagining myself wanting to be tied to someone like a partner or lover. And since I don’t feel like telling the world about a character I may find sexy, I’ll just leave this one blank. Sorry if you really wanted to know what my type was or wanted to set me up with someone you know. You can’t change someone’s nature that easily.

 

THE PERFECT VILLAIN

(pick a character with the most sinister mind)

Remember that quintessential horror novel I mentioned as a contender for Perfect Genre? Yeah, IT was the runner-up. But in terms of villains, Pennywise is the ultimate, hence why he’s here. Honestly, he’s a perfect mix of both the human villain and the supernatural. He understands human fears and motivations, is a master manipulator and knows just how to get under our skin and either terrify us into a stupor or make us his pawn. At the same time, he’s this giant cosmic entity from beyond the universe, a thing we can only grasp as orange lights known as The Deadlights. His motivations aren’t born from hatred or greed or any human desire, but from the need to feed and eventually the need to procreate. It’s just another show of his Otherworldly nature.

And let’s face it, he’s devious! It takes a special sort of evil to enjoy being an evil clown 24/7, and Pennywise does it better than the Joker. Yeah, you read that right. What are you going to do about it?

 

THE PERFECT FAMILY

(pick the perfect bookish family)

Well, they’re not from any books, at least not originally, but the Addams Family would be my perfect fictional family. You can guess why.

 

THE PERFECT ANIMAL OR PET

(pick a pet or fantastic animal you need to see on a book)

Although I’m against the breeding of white tigers (they’re a genetic abnormality and breeding them leaves the tigers with all sorts of genetic problems), White Blaze from the anime Ronin Warriors is a creature I always wanted. He’s a tiger and deadly towards his enemies, but he’s smart, kind and good with people. You could honestly have him babysit your kids, he’s that good. And in a fight against evil, you couldn’t ask for a better animal partner.

In fact, White Blaze might be part of the reason why tigers are my favorite animal. And it’s not hard to see why.

 

THE PERFECT PLOT TWIST

(pick a book with the best plot twist)

I won’t say what it was. But it left me reeling. Took me half the next chapter to realize the author was serious and wasn’t pulling my leg. Still the hardest a twist in a novel has ever hit me.

 

THE PERFECT TROPE

(pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking)

Let’s face it, I love a cosmic horror twist. The idea of an entity that defies human conception, to the point it can drive us mad, excites me as a horror writer to no end.

 

THE PERFECT COVER

(pick a cover you would want on your own book)

I want a cover similar to this on one of my books someday. Either that, or something that disturbs just to look at it.

 

THE PERFECT ENDING

(pick a book that has the perfect ending)

My favorite endings in horror have the horror continuing on long after the heroes appear to have won. So if I have to pick one that’s a good example, I think I’ll go with Needful Things by Stephen King. Great book with an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist. If you haven’t read it yet and you have a stomach for horror, you might want to change that sooner rather than later.

 

I TAG THEE:

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • YOU!!! (If you want to)

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Tomorrow, I finally start that essay, and then I start on a new short story. But in the meantime, what did you think of my choices? Any of them resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Well, November is over. And so, by the way, is NaNoWriMo. So you know what that means. Time to give you all my final report of how this past month went!

Now, if you’re unfamiliar, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is an annual challenge in November where authors around the world try to write a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days, or about 1,667 words per day. The last time I participated was in college, but I decided to participate this year and even took time off work to get a good start on the novel. My project this year is called Toyland, and is a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school in Ohio that’s haunted by the ghost of a girl obsessed with a children’s book.

Yeah, the premise is as bonkers as that of Rose. But hey, that’s kind of the way I like it.

So now that November is over, how did work on Toyland go?

Well. I think it went well. I managed to get quite a bit of work on the novel done in a short span of time. Yeah, my ADHD often led me to distraction, and the normal things that come up in life–errands, social events, and all the stuff you do as a functioning adult and member of society–took away from writing time. And after I went back to work, things only got more hectic. But I still managed to write and discovered just how much I can write when I really set my mind to it. And during the time when I was off work, I got a glimpse as to what life could be like if I ever am able to write full time (fingers crossed someday that happens), which was neat.

Anyway, time for the final word count (I won’t go into page count because that varies depending on a number of factors). At the time midnight rolled around, I was halfway through Chapter Ten of Toyland. As of my stopping to write this post, Toyland is now 34,284 words long. Last time I participated, I think I wrote about thirty thousand words, so this was some positive growth. So while I didn’t reach the fifty thousand word goal, I do consider NaNoWriMo 2019 a huge success.

Hell, I might do it again next year, and take time off as well. I already know what novel I’d like to work on next, so it’d work out, and I earn a lot more time off at work these days, so it could happen.

Still have plenty of writing to do on this book. And I plan to keep at it.

In the meantime, though, I’m still not done with Toyland. I have a feeling this novel’s going to be somewhere around eighty thousand or more words,* so I still have plenty of writing to do. I’m aiming to have it done by the end of January, but we’ll see what happens. You can’t rush perfection, after all. And even if my work is far from perfect, the sentiment stands.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m not sure when I’ll provide another update on Toyland or post again, but I can assure you it’ll be very soon.

But before that, have you considered a gift for the lover of the strange and macabre this December?** Why not give them a copy of Rose? The novel follows Rose Taggert, a young woman who wakes up in a greenhouse with no memory of how she got there. She soon finds her life, and her body, irrevocably changed forever, and with it comes many dark forces and powerful secrets that will lead to a desperate fight for survival. It’s dark and engaging Kafkaesque horror novel that will leave you glued to the page until you reach the end. Available from the links below (with an audio book link coming soon).

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

Until next time, Followers of Fear, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

*For context, the first Harry Potter book is about seventy-seven thousand words.

**Yes, I’m doing this. Can you blame me? It is that time of year, after all.

So yeah, Toyland is going to be a lot longer than Rose, and way more than fifty thousand words. I always did like an expansive story.

So as you’re probably aware by now, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, this month and I’m trying to write a fifty-thousand word novel before the month is out. This is my second time participating, and I’m writing a Gothic horror novel called Toyland about a boarding school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. And while I’ve set myself a deadline of January 31st, I’ll try to get as much of it done this month as possible.

In my update last week, I wrote about how I was a little over eleven-thousand words and 3.5 chapters in. As of last night, I’m in the middle of writing Chapter Six and am currently at 21,566 words. So this story’s already into the novella word range, and it’s still going! I bet by the time I done, I bet this book will be four times its current length. Maybe more.*

And honestly, I’d be fine if that turned out to be the case. While it’s still a first draft and there’s still plenty of work to do (not even thinking about editing at this point), I feel like this is some of my most mature writing yet. By this, I mean my voice as a writer has matured. It’s reached a new level, gained from so many years of writing and editing and experimenting. I’m giving up the last of the clumsy bits that mark me as a new or young writer. I’m breaking out of my chrysalis.

Is this making any sense to you? I hope so, otherwise the points above are all meaningless.

Anyway, we’ll have to wait till the final draft comes out before we know for sure just how much I’ve improved as a writer. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying working on this story and seeing it take form. Even though I wrote an outline and I know what’s going to happen, I’m discovering new things with every word. Hell, what words I use are part of the discovery, and they come together to show me just how these scenes I’ve outlined actually shape out.

That’s all for the moment. I’ll be sure to update you all next week, but in the meantime, I promise there will be more than just a review in the meantime. I mean, there will be a review, but there will be more than that.

Anyway, until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

How’s your NaNoWriMo going? What’s the writing process for you been like?

*For context, the first Harry Potter book was around seventy-seven thousand words, so that should give you an idea of what we might be dealing with in the future.