Posts Tagged ‘horror’

For the past week, I’ve been working hard on a new story, the majority of which takes place during our current crisis. You know the one I’m talking about. And you know what? It’s been cathartic to write about.

I’ve said before that writing can be very good for your mental health. Recently, I posted my thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic and it made me feel a hundred times better about the whole situation. In fact, lately I’ve felt like a million bucks. Still, I do feel the occasional twinge of worry or other negative emotions when I consider all we’re going through.

So these past two nights, when I’ve written my protagonist’s reactions to the pandemic and how it’s affecting him mentally and emotionally, as well as recounting how he and others treat the crisis, it was kind of freeing. Like I was channeling not just my own feelings, but the feelings of other people in this situation.

I’ve heard a lot of people, both in and outside of the horror genre, as well as people who don’t write, saying that there’s going to be a lot of new fiction based on this crisis. If I’m any indication, we’ll be seeing that fiction coming out sooner rather than later. Maybe within the next few months. And I think we’re going to see that, for the majority of these authors, setting a story during the COVID-19 crisis is their way of processing their feelings and what they or others were going through.

What sort of stories we’ll get from this crisis, I’m not sure. I feel like a lot of them will just use the crisis as a backdrop, similar to how The Deep by Alma Katsu uses the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic as backdrops for a ghost story (see my review here of that book here). In my case, I’m writing a Lovecraftian horror story, which makes sense because I see the virus as almost a Lovecraftian antagonist a la Nyarlathotep, and the pandemic acts as a sort of base for the terror and paranoia that my characters will feel later in the story.

I have a few other predictions. In terms of romance stories, we’ll see stories about people falling in love from afar due to social distancing, or falling in love due to being stuck in the same area together. We may also get a lot of new Gothic horror stories. Why do I say that? Because since people started sequestering themselves in their home, my article on Gothic horror has been seeing huge spikes in views. Makes sense, I suppose: as much as people love their homes, even being cooped up 24/7 in the best homes can be taxing. And since Gothic horror stories tend to focus mainly on houses as the source of the horror, people are either reminding themselves that their home isn’t so bad as being stuck in The Overlook, or they’re planning on channeling their frustration into stories about homes as a source of horror.

Perhaps writing about this virus can help relieve stress over it as well.

Whatever stories result, I highly encourage authors to write their stories about the coronavirus. Especially if the story helps you process what you’re going through right now. Even if you’re not an author, writing your feelings down can be therapeutic, so go ahead and write whatever you feel. Doesn’t have to be deep or poetic, just as long as it gets your feelings out in a healthy way.

Doing so may not alleviate the crisis or all the problems the crisis is causing to pop up, but at least you’ll feel better for the activity.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy and are doing well. And if you need a pick-me-up, here’s the link to a cute video of foxes laughing and getting cuddles to make you smile.

Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and pleasant nightmares!

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.

I had a revelation recently. No, not the kind that inspires texts that are the basis for entire religions. I had that already, and you do not want to know what information was imparted to me. No, it’s about Lovecraftian fiction.

Now, the common image among people, readers and writers, of Lovecraftian fiction is Cthulhu or any other Great Old One/Elder God/giant terrifying monster from the deep sea/outer space/alternate dimension. And that’s not wrong. From stories like The Dunwich Horror to the recent science-horror film Underwater, big monsters are a major part of the story and, along with the mind-bending insanity and dark truths they represent, are the main source of horror.

But it’s recently come to my attention that Lovecraftian horror stories are about more than just the monsters. Sometimes, it’s about psychological horror. Sometimes, you can have an effective scary story by not showing the monster, but by instead relegating the monsters to mere glimpses or suggestions and focusing on the characters’ reactions. And if done right, it can lead to some compelling horror.

There are actually plenty of stories like this. And if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably run into plenty of them. The Call of Cthulhu, for example. Being by Howard Phillips himself, it’s obviously Lovecraftian, but have you ever noticed that we never really see Cthulhu? Think about it. The closest we ever get to seeing the High Priest of the Great Old Ones himself is through the eyes of a Scandinavian sailor’s diary. The narrator only sees drawings and statues of him.

And yet we’re scared, because the very idea of what we glean from these diary recordings is of a worldwide cult, one devoted to a very real god. One that will use humans as its pawns so that, when it finally arises, it’s in prime condition to take over our world. And the cult will do away with anyone who gets in their master’s way.

And while that’s a great example, there’s plenty more where that came from. Last year’s film The Lighthouse (see my review here) was Lovecraftian with a capital L, but we barely saw any of the marine monstrosities supposedly behind the horrors occurring on the island. And what we did see, we weren’t sure if they were real (within the film, anyway). Are they monsters, or are they just the manifestations of two men on an isolated island having a breakdown? Or maybe it’s a bit of both. It’s hard to tell.

A great example of this Lovecraftian psychological horror, 2019’s The Lighthouse.

And not just The Lighthouse. Stephen King’s novella N is told from the POV of people who all claim to be guardians of a circle of stones. If they don’t perform certain rituals, the stones will become a portal for terrible monsters. We never see these monsters though, and it’s possible that all the characters are suffering from a shared delusion. Or is it something more?

And in the novel I’m reading now (I hope to finish it and have the review up tomorrow or Thursday), there’s a Lovecraftian undertone, but the focus is on the characters and how they’re dealing with all the lies and hidden secrets swirling around them.

Or maybe that’s not a Lovecraftian undertone, but some other supernatural undertone. I’ll let you know when I finish the novel.

Anyway, it’s a good thing I’ve noticed that. The story I’m trying to write next is going to be heading into that psychological/Lovecraftian territory, so hopefully I can do a good job of it. And even if I don’t, it’ll at least be good practice.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to bed. I hope you’re not going stir-crazy while social distancing yourselves. If you want, we can talk in the comments for a bit.

Anyway, 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!

2020 has gotten off to a rocky start, to put it mildly. Threat of war with Iran, fires in Australia, and now the coronavirus, or COVID-19, has gone from an abstract threat we nervously made jokes about to a terrifying pandemic. It’s caused a lot of anxiety and terrified reactions, with people rushing to the store to grab supplies, turning to every supposed cure or preventive measure out there, and being afraid to go outside their homes.

And I know, the last thing you want to see is me talking about the virus. But you have to understand: I’m doing this for me. As many of you know, I have an anxiety disorder. And as much as I keep an upbeat attitude, wonder what everyone needs that much toilet paper for, and what we’re going to get for April (I’m hoping Cthulhu rises up from the Pacific), I have been feeling anxious over this virus. So anxious, in fact, that last night, instead of editing a short story like I’d meant to, I ended up binge-watching an entire series of anime till two in the morning. Escapism!

So what’s a guy to do? Well, in my case, I have to exorcise myself. Not literally, that’s a Friday night thing. No, I need to get my feelings out on COVID-19. Because I conquer what scares me, and in this case, this is how I do it.

Strap in, kids. This might be a long one.

My thoughts

What are my thoughts on this pandemic? Well, it’s almost Lovecraftian in how it’s inserted itself into our lives. First it’s this abstract and undefinable threat that we can’t imagine touching our lives. We even laugh at it. But pretty quickly, it becomes this thing that could not only affect us, but kill us. And our own species–loved ones, coworkers, the passerby on the street–are how it extends its invisible tentacles into the world.

The only thing to do is isolate ourselves, but that’s scary in and of itself. Even our most curmudgeonly need human contact of some sort. Can we survive without that human contact? And then there’s the economic toll, as people who rely on their jobs find themselves out of work or unable to make ends meet, relying on their dwindling savings to get by. It’ll be worse in more expensive cities to live in.

This pandemic can be likened to a Lovecraftian entity. And it’s just as ugly.

And depending on where you live, your leaders may be doing a great job at fending off the horror, or an inept one.

This may be the closest we get to actually experiencing a Great Old One invading our reality. And God, is it terrifying.

Good thing I have my collection of HP Lovecraft stories, plus four or five cosmic horror films on DVD and Blu-Ray in my collection. They’ll make great therapy. I should also see the movie Contagion again. It practically predicted this entire pandemic, so it’s worth another watch.

Anyway, there is a silver lining (and no, not the silver solution that con artist preacher is selling! That’s more likely to lead to heavy metal poisoning, the prick). Unlike Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep, there is a way to fight against this monster. As hard as it is, social distancing can limit infection and prevent further cases. So does extensive handwashing (no duh!) and other hygiene practices. And to avoid fake cures, keep this in mind: make sure to check with reputable sources like the CDC or National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. And if you don’t trust bureaucrats, remember this rule: if it sounds miraculous or too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!!!! Any fix to a medical problem always required hard work to achieve. Even aspirin took forty years to get from the labs to the pharmacy. Don’t go for the quick “cure” just because it seems Heaven-sent.

This virus is going to change things, and possibly have lasting effects on society. I hope that it teaches people to at least be more considerate of others. Because right now, that’s what we need to do in order to make it out of this pandemic with a minimal death toll.

Speaking of considerate…

Support your authors if possible

As I said, this pandemic is effecting a lot of people’s jobs and livelihoods. This includes authors. They rely on bookstores, conventions and in-person events to sell their books and support themselves. Those places are either closing down or cancelling, which is huge slash in revenue. I’m extremely lucky, even if I don’t write full-time: my job allows me to make a good living and put away savings. Other writers aren’t so lucky. This virus is going to bite into them pretty deeply.

Care about authors? Consider supporting their work during these difficult times, if you’re able.

Now, I’m aware not everyone can do this, and I completely understand and sympathize. However, if you are in a position to help your fellow writers, please do so. Buy copies of their books in your favorite format, tell people about their work in reviews or tweets or whatever. Especially if you enjoy their work. It might be small gestures, but for the writers you’ll be helping, it’ll mean the moon and stars.

And it will give us time to come up with some decent stories involving COVID-19. I’ve already had one or two.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading this post. I needed to get this off my chest. And I think, once I’ve taken care of myself a bit, I’ll be able to get back to writing and scaring people like I normally do. As for the rest of you, remember that everyone else is in the same boat as you. They’re as scared as you, but they can also be as brave as you. And if you’re a Follower of Fear, you’re likely very brave.

This too shall pass. And we’ll make it pass faster by keeping each other safe.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to set up and test my at-home workstation. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and REMEMBER, SWALLOWING OR GARGLING BLEACH IS GOING TO KILL YOU! Why would you think it would help you? It’s corrosive!

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.

Well, this has been a busy day today. Met with the Ohio chapter of the HWA for a very productive meeting, ran some important errands for stuff happening at work and in the Jewish calendar, watched a movie with dinner, and…oh yeah, got the first short story of 2020 out of my way. It looks like I’m making good progress on those writing goals.

“Primordial Nuclear Soup” is a science-horror story about a team of scientists and their military escort who go into a nuclear power facility two years after a meltdown, and what they encounter there. It was inspired by a YouTube video I watched going into some of the science about the Chernobyl disaster, and was further influenced by a certain Stephen King story and a certain Godzilla movie (neither of which I can reveal without giving too many hints about the story). It’s about sixty-five hundred words long, so it’s not super long. And as it’s partially science-fiction, there will hopefully be plenty of magazines or anthologies that would consider publishing it.

I had a lot of fun writing this short story, but it was also challenging. I thought I knew which way it was going to go, but the story ended up going in different directions than I expected. I was actually pantsing for the last half or so, but it ended up working out in the end. Maybe that’ll give it a bit more surprise for any readers.

For now though, I’m going to see if I can’t get someone take a look at this story before I edit and submit it anywhere. I want it to be in top shape, after all.

As for what’s next, I’m going to do some research into essay writing for that essay I mentioned wanting to write. If I feel up to the task, I’ll write that essay. If not, I’ll move onto my next story. After all, I have nine short(er) stories I mean to work on, and I’ve already figured out which one I’ll be tackling next. Should be good to get it out, considering how long it’s been knocking around this twisted head of mine.

Well, it’s late, and I’ve got work in the morning. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

So the other night on Twitter, I see Richard Chizmar (you know, that author/publisher I interviewed a while back?) tweet about this movie, The House of the Devil, saying he had to stop watching it thirty minutes in and could only finish it by the light of day. Obviously, I’m intrigued, so I went and reserved a copy from the library. And I finished it in one sitting after dark, so I think I can brag about that? Wait, I live in an apartment with noises, and part of the reason Mr. Chizmar couldn’t finish it was because he was watching the film in a dark, quiet house. Obviously, there’s a difference.

Anyway, on with the review!

Set in the 1980s and “based on true events,” The House of the Devil follows Samantha, a college student struggling to make ends meet. In desperation, she answers a babysitting ad she finds on campus and takes it. However, things get weird when she gets to the house. And once she’s alone with her charge, she learns that there’s more afoot than meets the eye.

Ladies and gentlemen, I may have a new favorite horror film!

So first off, this really does feel like a horror film from the late 70s/early 80s. In addition to the normal signs of a 1980s-set story (teased hair, Walkmans, and music from the best era for music ever, etc.), the movie was filmed with 16mm film, giving it that slightly filtered quality we know and feel so nostalgic about. Add in some yellow credits and some pauses during opening credits, and I could almost believe this film was made over thirty years ago rather than just eleven years ago.

I also love how this film builds tension. I know I use the term “slow burn” quite a bit, but it fits here. Director Ti West takes his time laying the groundwork and establishing our main character Samantha (wonderfully played by Jocelin Donahue, who embodies natural 80s beauty as much as Natalia Dyer in Stranger Things). Once we get to the house, things switch to showing Samantha’s increasing unease and paranoia. The camera work in these scenes is great, showing the heroine exploring the house multiple times, as if she’s not sure she’s really alone, while at the same time the camera films things in a voyeuristic way, like we’re the ones stalking Samantha, allowing us to share in her unease.

And that final third! Whoo-boy, things go zero-to-sixty real quick, and it is scary and thrilling to watch. I also like seeing how Samantha strikes a great balance between terrified final girl and willing to fight back. Usually in these films it’s either they’re screaming their heads off or they’re angry vengeance personified, so it’s a nice change to see a compromise.

As far as problems go, this film might be a bit too slow and quiet at times for some viewers. If you prefer your horror film have faster paces or not so many quiet points where characters just talk, this may not be the film for you. Also, there are some flashing imagery at the beginning of the final third that might trigger people with photosensitivity. It’s not as bad as IT: Chapter Two was, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

All in all, The House of the Devil is a wonderful homage to the slasher and suspense-horror films of the 70s and 80s. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Settle into the couch, order a pizza and prepare for one of the best horror films you haven’t heard of. You won’t regret it.

Unless you have nightmares. In which case you may regret it.

Okay, not actually in 3D, this is a blog, after all. However, I need to give these posts a snappy title if I’m going to keep recommending them, so here we go. Anyway, I’ve got some new anime I’d like to recommend to you, so let’s get to it.

And if you would like to read my previous two recommendation posts, here’s Post Number One and Post Number Two.

Astra: Lost in Space

Set in the far future, when humanity has started exploring other planets, a bunch of teenagers and one ten-year-old are sent on a survival retreat to an uninhabited planet. Unfortunately, their camping trip goes awry when a portal appears out of nowhere and sends them millions of light years across the galaxy, into the vast reaches of space. Luckily though, they find a spaceship that they can navigate back home. Along the way, they explore strange planets, grow as people and as a family, and try to find out how they ended up transported across space in the first place.

So yeah, this is kind of like Lost in Space, but animated and with teenagers. Hell, the show’s in the title! The balance between humor, mystery, and storytelling is a little off at times, but the characters are lovable and the mystery elements to the story are compelling. If you’re looking for sci-fi with characters you want to hug and a bit of suspense to boot, this might be up your alley.

 

Serial Experiments Lain

After one of her classmates commits suicide, fourteen-year-old Lain Iwakura finds out said classmate has since been sending messages to others in her class over the Wired, a super-advanced version of the Internet that uses virtual reality. She starts exploring the Wired, and finds herself going down the rabbit hole as she deals with secret societies, and an entity claiming to be the God of the Wired. But the greatest mystery of all may be Lain herself…

Released in 1998, Serial Experiments Lain has become something of a cult phenomenon in the anime community, noted for its uncanny predictions of how the Internet would develop in the next twenty years or so and exploration of Internet culture, as well as the nature of consciousness, God, and so much more. It’s a story more focused on philosophical/psychological exploration rather than traditional storytelling, so its slow pace might turn off some viewers. But if you stick with it, you may find yourself having your mind blown by this hard-to-define series.

 

Fruits Basket (2019)

Technically speaking, there are two adaptations of this award-winning manga, one from 2001 and one from last year. However, the more recent version has gorgeous animation, adheres more closely to the original manga, and plans to tell the whole story.

Fruits Basket follows Tohru Honda, a cheerful girl who finds herself homeless after her mother’s death. She ends up moving in with the Sohmas, a large and influential family whose members Tohru is classmates with. However, she finds something crazy out about her new home: certain members of the Sohma family can turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex or under great stress. Thus Tohru’s life becomes more wonderful and stranger than she ever dreamed.

So while the premise sounds whimsical enough, and there are plenty of sweet and funny moments, this series can get really dark. A lot of the characters have suffered from their ability to transform into animals, and there’s a lot of exploration of social isolation, anxiety and depression, self-loathing and self-fulfilling prophecies, broken homes and gang violence, and more. How the show balances all that so well with humor and lighter moments, I have no idea, but there you go.

Anyway, this is a great series to make you laugh and cry, with a literal menagerie of characters for you to fall in love with. The second season is due out next month, so I hope you’ll check it out in the meantime.

Overlord

This one’s become my new favorite anime, and I’ve watched it five or six times since I first watched it back in September. Yeah, you read that right. And I’m about to tell you why.

A gamer’s favorite virtual reality game is about to shut down forever. Having met all his friends and received his best memories in that game, he decides to stay in the game until the servers shut down. However, when the game shuts down, he finds himself transported to a world where magic and monsters exists. As his video game avatar. Which so happens to be a powerful undead skeleton and commander of an entire monstrous army, the great Ainz Ooal Gown. Wanting to understand his new world and find out how he got there, Ainz embraces his new form and sets out on a conquest of this strange new world.

Considered one of the best isekai stories out there,* Overlord has a lot to offer. Not only is it the sort of story where you get to root for a super-powerful villain, but the ensemble cast are a lot of fun and the story manages to keep you interested by flipping point of views and coming up with new scenarios to challenge the main character Ainz, who’s basically an office drone who’s suddenly found himself in the position of a god-king and is basically just trying to fake it till he makes it. And let’s face it, it’s just awesome to see an overpowered character as an antihero sometimes (check out this clip if you don’t believe me).

Ascendance of a Bookworm

A young woman gets her dream job of becoming a librarian and getting to read books all day. But then she dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy universe. Cool, right? Wrong. First off, she’s now a sickly little girl named Myne, and can’t walk down a set of stairs without getting a fever. Second, she lives in a world where books are expensive and are usually the property of the nobility, which she is not. Despite all that, Myne is determined to get books one way or another, and she won’t let small things like illiteracy or a frail body get in her way!

As far as isekai anime go, this is a bit of an outlier. Normally, isekai protagonists have some great advantage and go out to do amazing things. However, Myne’s only advantages are her own brains and experience, and it’s a story about an ordinary girl (sort of) trying to live an ordinary life with her friends and new family, not anything like saving the world or conquering nations. Add in a mellow pace and beloved characters, and you find yourself falling in love with these characters. If you want a fantasy story not focused on anything major like politics or war and lovable characters just trying to eke out a normal life, this might be the anime for you.

My Bride is a Mermaid

Nagasumi Michishio nearly drowns, but is saved by a mermaid. But now, by mermaid law, he has to marry the mermaid, a girl his own age named Sun Seto. Whose overprotective father is the head of a merfolk yakuza family. And he’s not ready for his little girl to go off and marry, let alone marry a weak human. Hijinks ensue.

This beloved romantic comedy is sure to make anyone laugh. It brings together a whole bunch of kooky characters with a zany concept, and makes the most of it. For a while, it was my favorite anime in high school, and there’s a reason it’s endured for over ten years since it aired. If you want a zany comedy with endearing characters and the ability to surprise you at least once or twice an episode, this may be the anime for you.

 

Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun!

Iruma Suzuki is a 14-year-old pushover who’s been forced to work since he was a small child in order to get by. One day, his scumbag parents sell his soul to a demon. The demon, Sullivan, takes Iruma to the nether realms…and adopts him as his grandson! He then enrolls in the elite demon school, Babyls, where if he’s discovered to be human, he’ll be eaten. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of my new favorite anime. It oozes year-round Halloween spirit in every frame of animation, with eyeballs and skulls and spider webs (oh my!) everywhere. Not only that, but these characters are lovable and quirky in their own way, from sweet and pure but easily swayed Iruma, to the beloved and adoring Asmodeus Alice, and the hilarious Clara Valac (think me, but a demoness with twice as much energy and randomness as me). Watching them grow and become friends in a strange world is a lot of fun, as well as hella funny. If you want a series full of demons, Halloween, and utter hilarity and fun, I can’t recommend this one enough.

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun

A high schooler goes into a bathroom to summon the spirit Hanako-san,** who is supposed to grant a wish to anyone who summons them. Instead of a little girl in a red dress, she gets a devilish boy in an old boy’s uniform, Hanako-kun. He’ll grant her wish…but in exchange, she’ll have to be his assistant in keeping her school’s spirits in line. Hijinks ensue.

With a unique animation style like a webcomic and a great balance of silly humor and intrigue, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is one of the breakout hits of Winter 2020. If you’d like a series with funny characters, stellar animation and a bit of supernatural fun, you might enjoy this one. New episodes are airing right now, so why not go ahead and check it out?

Which anime whets your appetite? Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I hope to have another post or two out this week. Also, wanted to let you know I’m writing like crazy these days. I should have an announcement of a new first draft before too long.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*If you don’t remember from my first anime recommendation post, isekai is a subgenre of fantasy anime in which a normal person is transported to a magical world resembling fantasy worlds out of novels and video games, and may have features from the latter. The transported average Joe often ends up becoming some sort of hero or adventurer, going on quests and fighting monsters or exploring unknown regions. It’s a popular genre of anime right now, to the point that half the new series that came out last year seemed to be isekai anime. Thankfully, I can point out some of the good ones.

**Yes, the same spirit from Japanese folklore that inspired my short story “Hannah.”