Posts Tagged ‘HP Lovecraft’

I’ve talked a bit about “The Pure World Comes,” the story I’m writing set in Victorian England. And yes, at this point I’m pretty sure it’s going to be another novel. But that’s beside the point. With the completion of the latest chapter, I’m two-thirds of the way through the story, so I figured I’d talk about something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while: what it’s like writing a story set in Victorian England.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Victorian era. It’s an era of contradictions: one of vast British expansion and industrialization, of great achievements in science and literature, as well as one of the most glittery ages of British history (at least in our popular memories). However, it was also an age of deep poverty for many, an age of exploitation and horror, and one where some of the most horrific crimes of the 19th century occurred, from Jack the Ripper to the British government’s reaction to the Irish Potato Famine (and yes, I’m counting that as a crime).

I’ve been trying to channel all that love, as well as all the information I’ve gathered through years of research, to make this story of mine, about a young maid who goes to work in the home of a mad scientist, feel authentic. Like you actually stepped into the Victorian era when you read this story.

What’s been the hardest part so far? Well, the language. I’ve been trying to make the dialogue sound like that fancy Queen’s English we see in movies and on TV, and the narration sound something like Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot (a prequel to his novel, Salem’s Lot), which reads like a Victorian novel or something by HP Lovecraft, who likes to pretend he’s a Victorian. It’s harder than it looks, and at times, I find myself worrying if my characters sound more like modern Americans than 19th century Brits.

I’ll admit, it’s gotten easier to make the story and the characters sound Victorian as time has gone on, but it’s still far from perfect. And I have no doubt that later drafts will focus a lot on language.

I could also focus a bit more on describing the clothing. That’s a big part of the Victorian appeal.

However, other aspects have been easy. Going into the minutiae of Victorian life, from mourning clothes and practices (which the Victorians made an entire production of), to food and garden parties has been a treat. I had a lot of fun describing both the daily lives of maids in that age and just how dirty that age could be. And, of course, I had a blast working my theory of who Jack the Ripper is into the story.

And of course, adding those little weird details of life back then has been fun. Did you know that, according to the beliefs of the time, whom a pregnant woman interacted with could influence the baby’s health and appearance? Yeah, so if she met a drunk on the street, she might spend the rest of her pregnancy fearing her kid would come out looking and eventually acting like that drunk.

I also spent a good chunk of Chapter Eleven describing Victorian bath rituals (believe me, it’s relevant). Did you know public baths were a big phenomenon back then? How much you could pay for those baths, always sex-segregated, could determine what sort of bath you could take. And showers? They were known as shower-baths, or more formally as douche-baths. Yes, douche-baths. And no, not like we mean it today.

In the end, I think what I’m dealing with are all the usual struggles of writing a sort of historical fiction (Or is it more a homage to Gothic literature and gaslamp fantasy?). Balancing the level of detail with the need to tell the story, attempting to bring the age to life for even the most unfamiliar of readers. It’s a challenge, no matter your experience or how much research you’ve done.

Trying to bring to life the age when this sort of dress was fashionable.

Still, it’s a challenge I think I’m up to, as well as a challenge I’m glad I took up. I’m enjoying working on this story, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Hopefully at the end of this story, it’ll show.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I was going to watch a movie after this post was done, but it’s past midnight, so I think I’ll hit the hay.

And in the meantime, remember that you can still participate in next month’s YouTube Q&A in honor of the 1-year publishing anniversary of Rose. Just send your name, where you’re from, and question for me to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and your question might appear in the video (and you could win a download code for the audio book). You can also order a signed copy of Rose with that address, or head to Amazon and Audible to get copies.

Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares, and remember, face masks are inconvenient, but ventilators are far worse.

This story is set in the Cthulhu Mythos (and may or may not involve the big tentacled guy. I aim to keep you guessing).

Well, this has been a productive day. Today I finished a new story!

“What Errour Awoke” is a story set in the Cthulhu Mythos.* The story follows Taylor Molton-Reed, a graduate student at my alma mater, Ohio State. One day, while teaching a class on the famous British poem The Faerie Queene, the description of one of the monsters in the poem awakens repressed memories in one of his students of a certain Great Old One (I’ll let you guess which one until you actually read the story). The student later relates to Taylor what he remembered, beginning a chain of events involving this particular eldritch monster and its plans for the people of this world.

This story was actually inspired by my own studies in college. I read the Faerie Queene‘s first book in one of my British literature courses, and remembered one of the monsters in it quite particularly. Years later, after I’d gotten deep into Lovecraft’s canon and became familiar with many of the entities in the story, I found myself thinking back on that monster and thinking to myself, “Hey, wait a minute! That sounds a lot like such-and-such entity!” Thus the idea for this story was birthed.

I had a lot of fun writing this story. For one thing, it’s set right in the Cthulhu Mythos, and there’s a certain thrill for me when it comes to writing stories set in that world (possibly because I’m an entity right out of that world?). For another, the majority of it takes place during our current pandemic. so it was cathartic to write about. I’ve compared the coronavirus to a Lovecraftian entity in the past, so writing about it in a Cthulhu Mythos story felt especially apropos. And finally, I had a lot of fun applying something other than the writing courses from my English major to a story, and modeling certain parts of the story after the first book of Faerie Queene.

In fact, I liked this story so much, I decided to put this into that collection of short stories I’ve been working on and switch out one of the weaker stories in it. That’s how much I loved it, and how confident I am readers will enjoy it.

Now, for the stats on the story. “What Errour Awoke” totaled out to 63 pages and 17,880 words, the last 13 pages and 3,880 words written over the course of this afternoon and evening (yeah, I went on one hell of a writing binge). This puts it at a novelette, so I’m two for two on getting at least one short(er) story done per month for the rest of 2020. Hopefully I can keep that up with the next story, which I’ll likely finish in May.

Speaking of which, what’s next? Well, I’ll be reaching out to some writers I know who may be able to give me some valuable feedback on how to edit “What Errour Awoke.” And while they’re doing that, I’ll be starting work on the last story for that collection, a novelette or novella set in my beloved Victorian England. Believe me, it’s going to be a strange one. A wonderfully strange one.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. There’s a late Shabbat dinner and an Avengers movie calling my name. Until next time, Shabbat Shalom, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares.

*Which means, if my parents ever read this story, they’re not going to get any of the references and think I made up more than I did for this story.

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!

The Colour Out of Space (yes, with a “u” in Colour), is my fifth favorite HP Lovecraft story (click here for my Top 8 Lovecraft stories). There have been a couple of adaptations of the film over the years, but they’re either foreign films that are hard to come by, or are really bad for one reason or another. So when word popped up in late 2018 that Nicholas Cage was going to star in a new adaptation of the film, directed Richard Stanley in his first major outing since the 1990s, fans of Lovecraft, horror and/or film in general were piqued. We only got more excited as news from the film trickled back to us. When the trailer came out, I immediately knew I had to see this film.

I got back from seeing it a little while ago, and I’m happy to report, it was well worth the wait. This film is freaking terrifying!

Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family, who are living on the family farm and have converted it into an alpaca farm.* One night, a meteor lands on their property, giving off a strange, colorful light. Soon after, lightning strikes the meteor several times during a storm, the meteor disappears, and then things get weirder from there. The animal and plant-life start changing shape and color, technology goes haywire, and the family starts acting unhinged. All of it can be traced to a mysterious light. An entity. A color. From out of space.

If you’ve seen the film Hereditary, Color is a lot like that. It’s a slow, excruciating build with the characters going through a downward spiral, punctuated by moments of strong terror that left me petrified in my seat. The use of CGI is sparing, used only when practical effects in the style of The Thing aren’t possible. And by the way, those practical effects are amazing! They create some truly horrifying visuals, and Richard Stanley knows when–or even if–to truly reveal the mutated monster. There are also a lot of excruciating scenes involving bodily harm that left everyone in the theater freaked out, including me (not easy to do), and they added to the film in the best way.

As for the actors, they all do an excellent job. This might be the first time I’ve actually enjoyed Nicholas Cage in a movie, as they managed to balance his noncommittal acting style with his crazy acting style in a way that works. It’s funny to see him go from “normal” to acting like a bitchy teenager, but it’s also horrifying because you see how it’s connected to whatever’s affecting the family. The rest of the actors are great, embracing their roles and really convincing you they’re going through this tragic event.

Did I mention that Colin Stetson, who did the music for Hereditary and will be doing the music for the upcoming anime adaptation of Uzumaki by Junji Ito, did the score for the film? Will, he did and it works really well. Sound plays as much a big role in this film as visuals, and Stetson’s score adds the perfect touch to the atmosphere.

First time I’ve actually liked Nick Cage in a movie. How about that?

My only criticisms are that there’s a scene involving the Necronomicon (yeah, there are quite a few Lovecraft Easter eggs in this film) that I feel wasn’t given the best payoff. That, and the character of Ezra, played by Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong fame, felt kind of extraneous. If you cut him out of the film and have one of the Gardners say some of his lines, it wouldn’t change much.

All in all though, this is not only an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, it’s a great horror film that’s both faithful to the spirit and text of the original story and terrifying to watch. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Color Out of Space a 4.8 out of 5. Any fan of Lovecraft, or of horror in general, should come away satisfied (or freaked), so buy a ticket and get ready to see the first great horror film of 2020.

(I already plan to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out. And I really hope the disc is more colors than just blue, if you get my meaning.)

*Yes, it’s an alpaca farm. And it’s that kind of farm for more than just laughs. Also, the family “dog” is a wolf-dog. Trust me, I researched it. What kind of family owns alpacas for farming and a well-behaved wolf-dog used for herding, I don’t know. It would make for a great reality show, but I digress.

Today’s guest is an author who’s book, A Cosmology of Monsters, has been blowing up the horror scene since its release in September. I finished it last month, and found it to be an amazing read (see my review here). And I’m not the only one who liked it, because Cosmology ended up becoming a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror (and yes, I am jealous). So, I’m very excited to have the author today. Hailing all the way from across the Internet, I bring you Shaun Hamill!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Shaun. Tell everyone here a bit about yourself and about your novel, A Cosmology of Monsters.

Shaun Hamill: I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, and got my bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. In my early 30s I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and got my MFA. I wrote most of A Cosmology of Monsters there.

A Cosmology of Monsters is a literary horror novel about a family running a haunted house attraction in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Narrated by the youngest child, Noah, the novel tracks the family’s fortunes across 50 years, and explores the monsters—both metaphorical and literal—that haunt them. It’s a generational saga, an homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, and most importantly, a story about the ways love can either save or damn us.

RU: How did the idea for Cosmology come into being?

SH: This novel was born out of the wreckage of a couple of projects. The first was a sprawling tragi-comic saga in the style of John Irving or Meg Wolitzer, about a family operating a youth hostel in Taos, New Mexico. The second was a short story about a married couple breaking up as they tour a haunted house attraction. Neither piece quite worked, but one day while I was walking my dog, the two ideas put themselves together and I realized that my epic family business novel should be about a haunted house, not a youth hostel. It would give me a chance to merge my taste for character-driven literary fiction with my love for the darker, more eerie tones of the horror genre. Noah’s voice came to me right away, as did Eunice’s suicide notes and the romance that opens the book. The rest of it came organically, as I followed the story where it led, exploring my characters and their ever-darkening world. I was perpetually surprised by what I found. I would never have been able to plan a book like this, and I hope some of that dark joy of discovery carries over for the reader.

RU: What was the research and writing process like for Cosmology? And what challenges did you face in writing the book?

SH: Research was a big part of the process of writing Cosmology. When I started the book I had only read a few Lovecraft stories, and I hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes of a haunted house. I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction, and also spent time reading scholarship about his life and writing. For the haunted house parts of the book I relied on my own knowledge as a patron of the attractions, and a tour of an out-of-season haunted house that I took in my late twenties. I also watched documentaries about haunted attractions, listened to podcasts, lurked on message boards, and so on.

The biggest challenge of writing this book was the revision process. My first draft weighed in at 220,000 words, and the published version is just over 100,000 (my agent insisted that the book would be tough to sell at its initial length). Figuring out which threads of story could be condensed or severed altogether took a long time, as did rewriting the entire ending to make it smaller and more meaningful to the characters. It forced me to carefully consider my characters and themes, and brought them into sharp focus by the end of the editorial process. I’m very pleased with the result, and humbled by how much better my agent and editors made my book.

RU: Haunted houses, both literal attractions and metaphorical haunted homes, are a big part of the book. Are you a fan of haunted houses yourself?

SH: I’m a big coward when it comes to haunted houses. I used to have a group of friends that I went with when I still lived in Texas, in my mid-to-late 20s, but I would never go to one by myself, and haven’t been to one since 2012 or 2013. I’ve always been fascinated by them from a distance, though. I’ve wondered about the people who work there, what it’s like to have the scenes of your life play out against such a fantastical backdrop.

RU: If you could design a haunted house attraction, what would it be like?

SH: The attraction in the book, The Wandering Dark, is exactly my idea of the sort of haunted house I would like to run. If money and practicality were no object, I would love to do a haunted hotel—something more immersive and stranger than the typical spook-a-blast attractions in the genre.

RU: Do you see yourself revisiting the world and characters of Cosmology someday in a future story?

SH: I go back and forth on this question. Some days I think it would be fun to continue the story of the Turner family, and I have done some brainstorming for a sequel. Other days I think that a sequel would lessen the impact of the book’s final pages and cheapen it. I guess I’ll wait and see if there’s a market for a sequel and then decide. Even if I never write a direct sequel, I will probably find ways to weave elements of that world into future stories.

RU: What is it about horror in general that attracts you to it?

SH: I have a melancholy outlook on life, so horror fits my disposition. I’m not attracted to the gore or violence, but rather the atmosphere of dread and dark wonder that I find in my favorite horror stories. I don’t like being terrorized. I like being creeped out. I love the idea that there is something beyond the known world, dark secrets to discover. It’s the sort of thing that Lovecraft does in his best work, as does Thomas Ligotti. I also love character-based horror, like Stephen King writes. I love stories about good people struggling against supernatural threats. It’s an effective way to illuminate the strength of the human spirit, what’s most noble and wonderful about people.

RU: Are you working on anything now? Do you have any future writing plans?

SH: I recently finished a rough (and I mean very rough) first draft of a new novel. I have an outline for another, different novel with my agent. We’re trying to decide which project to pursue first. My hope long-term is to keep doing what I’m doing now—writing books and publishing them and (hopefully) getting paid to do so. Fingers crossed COSMOLOGY won’t be the only thing I get to publish!

RU: What advice would you give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

SH: Write a lot and read a lot. Read deeply in your own genre, but also outside of it. Join a writing group or take a writing class if you can afford it. If you’re able, get on the reading committee for a journal or prize—I learned more from reading the slush pile for Carve magazine and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize than I ever learned in a classroom or working alone at my own desk.

RU: And finally, if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you, what would you bring?

SH: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore, and Three Novels by Stephen King (an omnibus of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining).

RU: Good choices. Thank you for joining us, Shaun. I hope we can do it again someday.

If you’d like to find out more about Shaun Hamill, you can find him on his website and on Twitter. You can also find A Cosmology of Monsters on Amazon if you’d like to read the book (which I highly recommend). And if you are an author with a book coming out soon and are possibly interested in having an interview, hit me up on ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see what magic we can conjure.

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

You know, when the trailers for this film hit, the response was pretty lackluster. “Oh, it’s got Kristen Stewart in it and it’s a disaster film about an underwater sea base that’s about to be destroyed. They have to find a way to survive. Whoop-dee-freaking-do!” But then word among the horror community started saying…positive things. And later rewatches of the trailer made it look cool. So I decided to see it, though I couldn’t do so till this weekend because I was sick last weekend.

Underwater follows six workers on an underwater sea base seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, drilling for resources to bring above. However, a mysterious quake causes major damage to the base, meaning they have to navigate the failing base and find a way back to the surface or die. But there’s something else down there with them. And it’s not going to stop till they’re all dead.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing and Alien with this film, and I have to say, not only are the comparisons apt, they’re justified.

One of Underwater’s strengths is how it creates its atmosphere. Soon after the movie starts, we’re thrust into the destruction as we watch a residential section of the base succumb to water pressure and shifting earth. From there, we’re right in the middle of the action as the characters have to navigate dark and narrow passages filled with water and debris. And while the situation itself is urgent, the movie takes its time, allowing us to get to know these characters as well as building a feeling of tension and encroaching doom. Realistic sets and dirty water further the feeling of claustrophobia and the horrific death just beyond the walls. Somehow, that tension is kept up even when the characters are walking across the open seafloor in suits. Probably because those suits are a thin barrier between life and death as well. Add in some well-placed jumpscares that are never excessive, and it’s damn tense.

As for the creature or creatures in this film, they are the fun innovation that change this film from just another disaster film to a Lovecraftian horror fest. Their reveal is very slow, and even when fully revealed, the darkness of the sea leaves them with a bit of mystery. Fans of certain HP Lovecraft stories will recognize the creatures. Whether you do or don’t, however, there’s no denying how scary and deadly these creatures are, and they make the film worthwhile.

As for the characters, they’re serviceable for this film. For once, Kristen Stewart’s deadpan expression works pretty well with her character Norah Price, who defines herself as a cynic trying to get by. TJ Miller as weird, funny guy Paul does okay jokes. He and the character Rodrigo, played by Mamoudou Athie, both enjoy anime. Other than that, you can’t say much about these characters, but for the purposes of Underwater, that’s just fine.

That being said, the film does have its issues. There are a few moments where the tension reaches a lull, and during those moments I felt restless and a little sleepy (though that might be because I had to wake up earlier than planned this morning). And I would have liked to see what life on the base is like on a normal day. You know, when it’s not in danger of flooding and crumpling into dust. We only get a minute and a half of seeing the pre-destruction base at the beginning of the film, and that’s mostly filled by Stewart monologuing and saving a daddy long-legs from a sink.

Altogether though, Underwater is a tense, Lovecraftian thrill ride, a modern-day The Thing, almost.* On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4. If you have a chance, go to the theater and prepare to dive into a world of terror. Most likely, you’ll find yourself pleasantly entertained, and more than a little scared.

*And not just in quality. The Thing actually did poorly with critics and at the box office after its release. It didn’t become a classic until it hit home video. I have a feeling Underwater will go through a similar process, though I would like as many people to see it in theaters as possible.

Happy New Year, Followers of Fear! I said I wasn’t going to do one of those “the year ended, let’s talk about what happened and what might come” posts on New Year’s, because nobody really reads those.* Instead, I thought I’d post a few silly videos on my social media, including my YouTube channel, and then share them with you wonderful people.

And to answer the question you just asked yourself, yes, I have a YouTube channel. I don’t do much on it, especially when compared to my other platforms, but I do post a video there every now and then. Usually it’s related to horror or writing or ghost-hunting (that last category tends to be the most popular). You can check out the channel here if you like.

Anyway, the first video is a New Year’s message from me and my friend Ramsey Hardin, who’s come up to Columbus to celebrate the New Year with me and stayed over last night. We recorded this just after midnight, so the reminder about drunk driving may not be as relevant anymore, but we’ll put it out there anyway.

Aren’t we a pair? Also, yes, that’s what my voice sounds like. I wish it sounded like Sir Patrick Stewart’s too, but life is rarely fair.

The second video is…well, that’s the thing. I’m not sure how this happened, when or why. It’s really weird. It kind of happened in an Otherworld. And it involved me finding one of the Great Old Ones, the All-in-One and One-in-All Himself. Be warned, for if you watch this video, your sanity may be eroded forever.

With that in mind, please watch it and let me know what you think.

Yeah, that happened. It was strange. And it may have resulted in me opening the gate between this world and whatever’s beyond to let The Great Old Ones in. If reality is destroyed because of my actions, I humbly apologize.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope we all have a great 2020 and a great new decade. In the meantime, expect another post from me Saturday at the latest.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

*Though if you do want to read a post like that, I did write one back in November. Here’s the link.

I heard first heard of Mr. Hamill and his novel after I came across his article on contending with the legacy of HP Lovecraft as a writer. The idea of his book interested me, so I put it on my reading list. Took a few books to get to it and a few weeks to get through it, but I read A Cosmology of Monsters from front to back. And with that out of the way, it is my pleasure and duty to review the book.

A Cosmology of Monsters follows the Turners, a family living in North Texas and running their own haunted house, The Wandering Dark. Told by the youngest member of the family Noah, the story begins with the meeting of his parents in 1968 and follows them as various tragedies befall the family throughout the decades, as well as the threat following the family through the years and generations.

Cosmology is literary horror at its finest.

Told in the style of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (which I’m told was a major influence on Cosmology and which I recommend as a read on its own) Noah Turner narrates how his family began, and through the decades the many hardships his family endures. It’s an engrossing way to tell the story, because every decision has far-reaching consequences on the Turner family. You also get a deep understanding of each character through this storytelling method, what their motivations and their troubles are, and how those play into the events of this story.

Noah himself is a fantastic narrator. He’s talking from the perspective of a grown-up looking back over fifty years of history, but he does a good job of calling up his childhood feelings of loneliness and isolation, of feeling alienated and not understanding why the people around him do what they do.

I also like how weird it can be sometimes (makes sense, since it’s me). The supernatural aspect of the story is very slight at the beginning and only gains prominence as you move deeper into the novel, and as you do, you find yourself with more questions than answers. Conventional monsters do play a part, so to speak, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and it gets weirder with every layer revealed. It took me a while after I finished the book to really understand what all these revelations meant, and even now as I write this, I’m only half-certain I understand what everything meant.

All that said, there were things that I had issues with. There’s a section in the book where, instead of black letters against a white page, it’s white letters printed on a black page, and for some people, especially for people with certain eye issues, that might make things difficult to read (and why I don’t use my blog’s original theme anymore). And if you’re looking for a more typical horror story, with monsters popping out every five seconds or the supernatural aspect a constant presence in the story, this won’t be your kind of novel.

That being said, A Cosmology of Monsters is a mesmerizing read and one of the best books I’ve read this year. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Grab your flashlight, and prepare to walk through a house haunted by the tragedies of the family. You won’t want to leave till you get to the very end.

And then you’ll want to think about both the deeper meaning of the book as well as what it’d be like to create your own haunted house attraction. Or is that just me?