Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

Today’s interview is a really special one. For over thirty years, this man has been making a name for himself through his publishing company, Cemetery Dance, as well as his stories and collaborations with other writers (including a certain Royal Scariness we all know and love). He’s got two new books out, The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to 2017’s Gwendy’s Button Box with said Royal Scariness). I can’t believe he’s here to talk with us! Ladies and Gentlemen, Followers of Fear, let me introduce Richard Chizmar!

Rami Ungar: Mr. Chizmar, welcome to my blog. Please tell us who you are, about your writing, and about Cemetery Dance Publications.

Richard Chizmar: I’m an old dude (early 50s) who lives with his wife and two sons in Maryland and has been really fortunate in life. I started a nuts-and-bolts small press magazine called Cemetery Dance while I was still in college. The magazine found a growing readership with each issue, and I never had to go out and get a real job. A few years later, I started publishing horror and dark suspense books. The rest is history. All the while, I was writing my own stories of horror and suspense, and a few years back in 2017, I co-wrote a book called Gwendy’s Button Box with my longtime friend Stephen King and became a thirty year, overnight success.

RU: Tell us about The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather. How did those projects come about?

RC: The Girl on the Porch was inspired by a real-life incident where a doorbell camera in a suburban neighborhood recorded a terrified woman with shackles on her wrists in the middle of the night. Once the homeowner’s discovered the footage, the woman was long gone and no one knew what had become of her. I saw the video footage online a number of times and it haunted me. I knew early on that I needed to write my own version of the story and furnish my own version of an ending.

Gwendy’s Magic Feather is a direct sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which I wrote with Steve King. I woke up one morning with a very clear picture in my mind of what Gwendy had been up to since the ending of the first book. I emailed Steve the idea early that day, with no real plan to pursue it, but he responded very favorably and encouraged me to write it. So I did. It’s due to be published in hardcover on November 19.

RU: You’ve worked with other authors before, including Stephen King, as we’ve both mentioned. How does that process work?

RC: The process differs for many writers, but in my case, in each instance, it’s just been a matter of emailing the manuscript back and forth until one of us typed THE END. Allowing complete freedom for both authors to rewrite each other, layering and blending the work until it becomes a third, unique voice. That’s the only way I know how to collaborate.

RU: What about horror and dark fiction draws you in and makes you want to write and publish those sorts of stories?

RC: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things. It’s strange. In real life, I’m a happy and optimistic person, but when it comes to entertainment (books, movies, comics), I’ve always liked the fantastic and scary stories. Despite my outward cheeriness, I tend to see most clearly in the shadows. I might be walking down a Main Street sidewalk on a sunny July afternoon, but it’s not the smiling mother holding her daughter’s hand or the laughing elderly couple waiting at the corner I see; instead, it’s the dark alley across the way that looks like it could be hiding a monster. In fact, are those eyes I see glowing in the shadows? It’s just the way my imagination works.

RU: Oh crap, he spotted me! *cough* I mean, as a writer and the editor/owner of Cemetery Dance Publications, do you see yourself as someone who’s significantly helping to shape the horror genre and its future?

RC: I’ve never really given much thought to that kind of big question. We’ve always been too busy hustling to stop and ponder whether we were having a large-scale effect on the genre. We’ve been around for over 30 years now and that’s what is most important—that we continue to survive and thrive and keep bringing readers entertaining stories.

RU: What are some upcoming projects you have in the works?

RC: After publishing four books in 2019 (the trade paperback of The Long Way Home, The Vault, The Girl on the Porch, and Gwendy’s Magic Feather), 2020 will be a bit of a break for me. I should have one of those nifty “Little Books” out from Borderlands Press and hopefully the sequel to Widow’s Point, co-written with my son, Billy. Not sure what else might pop up.

RU: When you’re not writing, publishing, or reading horror, what are you up to?

RC: Fishing, exercising, working around the house, fantasy football. Mainly just spending as much time with my wife and sons as I can. I’m fortunate to do the majority of my work at home, so my days and nights are interwoven with family lunches and dinners, attending the boys’ sporting events, movie and game nights, and whatever other adventures life throws at us.

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

RC: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t tailor your work for the market; write about what moves you, scares you, excites you. No matter how small the story is. Don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel or write a high concept story to make your mark. Readers respond to a writer’s honesty and voice. Expect a long road ahead. Accept rejection and speed bumps as part of the process, almost like badges of honor.

RU: And what is some advice for writers who want to be published in Cemetery Dance? Asking for a friend, I swear.

RC: Read the type of stories and books we publish. Capture our attention in your synopsis and tell a story that is difficult to put down. Be persistent.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were rescued, which would you pick?

RC: IT by Stephen King, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.

RU: I’ve read two out of three of those, and I really have to get on the third. Anyway, thank you for joining us, Mr. Chizmar. It’s been a pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about Richard Chizmar, you can check him out on his website and on Cemetery Dance’s website. If you want to read The Girl on the Porch or Gwendy’s Magic Feather, you can find both books on Amazon.

If you’re curious about other authors I’ve interviewed, you can check out my Interview page. And if you’re an author with something new out you’d like to broadcast, you can hit me up at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I usually have time for an interview or two, so let me know.

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

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Hello, Followers of Fear! It’s been an entire week since I last posted. Did you miss me?

As many of you know, this year I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, this year. For those of you who are unaware, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days, or about 1,667 words a day. There’s no prize for actually making the goal (and it’s doubtful the resulting novel will be any good, as it’s a first draft), but it’s a good way to see what you’re capable of and push yourself. At least, that’s how I look at it.

So this year’s project is called Toyland, and as you may remember, it’s a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school terrorized by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. This is my first Gothic horror story, as well as my second time participating in NaNoWriMo. How’s it going so far? Well, as of last night, I’m a little over eleven-thousand words in over three-and-a-half chapters. Over a fifth of the way there!

That’s my update. See you later.

Just kidding. I have more I want to discuss.

I have to say, it was a good idea to take some time off from the office to work on this novel. I’ve had a lot more time to write, which means I was able to get through three chapters in just under a week. It might’ve taken a month to get the same amount of progress if I didn’t take time off work and just wrote in the evenings. If I do NaNoWriMo again next year, I may take time off again to get a good head start.

As for writing in the Gothic sub-genre, that’s been a learning experience. As I mentioned in my post on Gothic horror (click here to read the full article), the genre has a very particular set of tropes that sets it apart from other genres of horror. However, there is more to the genre than I had room to include in that article. For example, you have to devote a lot of space to describing your main location. After all, Gothic horror is very place-centric. Hill House, The Overlook Hotel, the house at Kill Creek, your mother’s house (yes, I went there, and in more ways than one). All those locations are described in detail. Lots of detail. Gothic tries to make you aware of the place the story is in at all times, especially the darker aspects of it.

In that vein, I’ve spent a good chunk of Chapter Two just describing Auckland Academy, the main setting of the book. And I’ll be further emphasizing the location as the book goes on, as well as in subsequent drafts.

Of course, I’m still early in the novel. Including the chapter I”m in now, I have twenty-six more to go, and plenty more to learn about Gothic literature. I’ll let you know how things go when we reach November 14th. Hopefully I’ll have made plenty more progress by then. Even if I have to go back to work on Tuesday.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got some errands to take care of, so I’m going to get on that. I promise though, you won’t have to wait a week before I post again. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How’s it going for you?

So it’s about three days till National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. For those of you who are unaware, NaNoWriMo (which at this point is an international event) is a yearly challenge held every November (though some writers do it when they actually have time for it), where writers will attempt to write a fifty-thousand word novel within thirty days, or just under seventeen hundred words per day. Anyone who actually manages to get that amount wins bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment.

Anyway, I’ll be participating this year, my first time since college. And with all that writing, there’s a good chance I’ll be blogging less during that time. I do plan to post regular updates on the progress of my NaNoWriMo project, as well as any reviews of movies/shows/books I feel I need to post. And if anything pertaining to my career pops up (like something getting published or released, God willing), I’ll post about that. But in case even that’s not happening much, I’d like to leave this post so people know what’s up with me and my work while I’m neck-deep in storytelling.

It’s possibly an exercise in narcissism, to think you all are interested in that, but hell, it’s my blog. I’ll do what I want here. Onward ho!

Toyland

The one-sentence pitch for my NaNoWriMo project is, “A boarding school is haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book.” It’s a Gothic horror novel with hints of the weird, and I’m very excited to be working on it. The first chapter is already half-written in my head, as well as several other scenes. I’ve gone through the outline at least seven times, so I think it’ll be free of plot holes and other issues. Whether or not it’ll be any good, we’ll see. But I’m hopeful. After all, there were plenty of times I thought Rose was terrible. And it’s doing relatively well for my first book with a publisher.

NaNoWriMo

As I’ve stated in a few previous posts, I’m taking time off from work for the first third of November to work on Toyland. The plan is to get up around seven or eight each morning, eat breakfast, write, eat lunch and read, write some more, and then knock off for the evening. Maybe see a movie if anything good is playing. Of course, I’ll adjust these plans as situations evolve. You never know when I might need a run an errand or something along those lines. Or write a blog post. Or get drawn into anime or a horror television series and binge several episodes in a row (ah, the fun of ADHD and procrastination).

After I return to work, I’ll be spending a lot of time doing catch-up and whatnot, so I may have to work late some days and not get to write some evenings while I recover my equilibrium. However, the point of participating in NaNoWriMo this year isn’t to finish the book in thirty days, but just to give me one hell of a head start. So even if during the last twenty days of November I don’t get as much as I want done, if I get plenty done during the first ten, I’ll be satisfied.

River of Wrath

Unfortunately, my beta reader has not had much of a chance lately to finish this book. And unfortunately, I need their feedback on certain subjects before I can edit this story. So it’s going to be a while till I get to edit this novel (which, coincidentally, I finished almost a year ago. October 30th, 2018 at about one in the morning. That was a fun night).

On the bright side, by the time I get to it, I’ll have plenty of energy and desire to get it done. And maybe another book or two out. I can hope, anyway.

The Short Story Collection

I’ve been busy on that, believe me. These past couple of months, I’ve spent writing and editing short stories for the collection. I just haven’t been posting every time I finish one because I wanted some of them to be a surprise! As it stands, this collection is about ten stories long. I’d like three more, two short stories and maybe a novelette or novella. With NaNoWriMo and Toyland only a few days away though, I’ll have to put it off till I’m either done with the latter or ready for a break (hopefully done with it). Fingers crossed when that time comes, I’ll be done faster than you can say, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Rose

Yes, I have some news on Rose. As I said above, the Kafkaesque horror story of a young woman turning into a plant creature is doing very well. In fact, I got my first sales report a couple weeks ago, and it was very encouraging. With Rose getting so many new reviews in October, hopefully this’ll continue into the next quarter.

And in the meantime, the audio book is coming along swimmingly! As I said, I’ve heard the first fifteen minutes, and it sent chills up my spine! And last week, my publisher shared with me the cover art for the audio book. The way things are going, it could be out early or mid-November. And when it is, not only will I be the first to download a copy, but I’ll be making sure everyone else knows to check it out too.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in checking out Rose, I’ll leave the links for it down below. And if you do end up reading Rose, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love reader feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

 

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t catch you around Halloween, I’ll catch you at some point during the first week of November. Until next time, pleasant nightmares and Happy Halloween!

 

I made a little design for this year. It’s how you can tell I’m serious.

Recently I announced the subject of my next novel/my NaNoWriMo project, Toyland. And with November 1st fast approaching, I thought I’d go into the novel a bit more before I start posting once a week about my progress. Plus, I’ve had two reviews in the past week and possibly two tomorrow, depending on how close to my territory Joker lands. Gotta break things up with some variety or I just don’t feel right.

First, let’s go a bit more into what Toyland is actually about. As I said before, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel taking place in a boarding school in southern Ohio. The protagonist’s name is Mason Prather, a teenager who enjoys anime, wants to be a lawyer someday, and is the stepson of the boarding school’s headmistress. However, the autumn semester of his sophomore year proves challenging in many ways, and not just academically. Odd occurrences keep popping up at school, and people are either getting hurt or in danger of getting hurt. All this seems to emanate from a strange girl with dark hair seen around campus by Mason and his friends, as well as from a children’s book Mason finds in the school library.

I’ll give you three guesses what the name of that book is, and the first two don’t count.

Next, let’s talk about researching this novel, because that was a lot of fun. Looking back, I’m not sue when I first settled on doing this book, let alone for NaNoWriMo (curse you, slippery memory!), but I’ve definitely been becoming more familiar with Gothic fiction and its trappings for at least a year. Some of you may remember my post from last summer on what Gothic fiction is, and I’ve continued reading Gothic stories since then, including The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Hell House by Richard Matheson, and rereading The Shining by Stephen King this past winter.

Yeah, lots of fun research that felt more like play at times. But once I decided to work on Toyland next, I started taking in a different kind of media: anime. To be specific, I watched the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Princess Tutu, and Ringing Bell (I also tried to get Made in Abyss, but it’s not streaming anywhere, and I didn’t want to shell out for the Blu-Ray). There are two reasons why I chose to watch these anime as research, but I can only go into one without giving away spoilers. Now these anime, especially the first two, are known for their dark and surreal imagery (especially Madoka). Imagery that’s supposed to be pleasant to the eye but instead comes off as dark, strange and surreal are going to be big parts of Toyland, so I felt watching these shows would be good research.

That, and you can’t go wrong with watching these anime. They’re popular and have even won awards.

They’ll probably show up in an anime recommendation post at some point.

And now that I’ve watched all those series, as well as researched different styles of architecture for the school (I’m going with Queen Anne revival) and have watched a film I will never watch again or let my kids watch, I think I’m ready for November.

Well, almost ready. The other night after reviewing the outline and posting on Facebook and Twitter that I hadn’t “found any plot holes,” I may have found a plot hole. And I’m not sure how to fix it. I hate plot holes in my stories. I spend hours making sure my stories don’t have any (or many). So I’m at the drawing board, looking for fixes or work-arounds. Hopefully before November, something pops up.

Well, if you need me, I’ll be sleeping off my exhaustion from the past few days. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

I did say I would announce this when we got a bit closer to November. And my intuition, which is right about eighty percent of the time when it comes to this sort of thing, says now is the time to make the announcement.

As many of you know, I’ve been planning to take part in National Novel Writing Month for the first time since college, or about seven years. For those of you who are unaware, National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a yearly challenge where authors try to write a novel of fifty-thousand words or more, just under seventeen-hundred words a day. This challenge is usually held in November, though sometimes authors will attempt to do it in another month when it’s more convenient for them (in which case, it’s known as Camp NaNoWriMo). I’ve been wanting to take a crack at it again for years, but college got busy, and things never quite added up in the years 2015-2018 for me to do it.

But since last November, just a few days after finishing a novel called River of Wrath at three in the morning on October 30th, I’ve been considering it. I even picked a novel out to write about. Since around early summer, I’ve been doing light research for this story. And in a little over a month, I’l be taking a bit of time off from work so I can devote as much time as possible to writing (and maybe de-stressing a bit while I’m at home). So without further ado, let me announce my next novel, a story I like to call Toyland.

Don’t let the name fool you, Toyland isn’t whimsical or cute at all. It’s a Gothic horror novel following students at a boarding school in southern Ohio. They start noticing some weird going-ons during their fall semester. A girl with dark hair, as well as strange creatures, are seen around the school. Several odd injuries, some close to fatal, fall upon students and even faculty. There even seems to be a world within the school, one in which the laws of reality have no say whatsoever. All of it seems to trace back to a children’s book discovered in the school’s library. A children’s book called Toyland.

How’s that for a setup? Granted, there’s a good chance it’ll veer away from Gothic fiction and straight into weird territory (trust me, I outlined the whole thing back at the beginning of the summer and have done subsequent drafts since). But I tend to enjoy writing stories that stray into weird territory, so it works for me.

Anyway, I’ve just about finished up the research for the book. I’ve even watched the 1961 Disney film Babes in Toyland just so I could make a comparison between that film and the kid’s book in the story.* All that’s left is to write it. And while I doubt I’ll get anywhere near the fifty-thousand word mark (I’m many things, but not a miracle worker), I do think when the first draft done, it’ll at least be a decent first draft. Maybe something worth publishing one day.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. There’s a bed calling me in the next room, and I so desperately want to sink into it for a few hours. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Why or why not? Whatever you’re doing, what sort of story are you writing?

*By the way, that was my first time watching that film, and I didn’t like it at all. Yeah, the setting looked spectacular and the villains and side characters were enjoyable, but the plot was really unfocused and the main characters were really boring. Hell, you can see the boredom on Annette Funicello’s face as she plays the female lead! She’s like “Oh my God, someone get me out of here so I can go make beach party movies. Anything would be better than this shiny lack-of-substance.”

Also, one or two of the songs feel kind of sexist nearly fifty years after the movie’s release. Especially the one where Annette complains about being unable to do her finances. Yeah, there’s a song like that. It’s kind of cringey.

And no, I won’t watch any of the other movie or television adaptations of the Babes in Toyland operetta. I won’t even watch the operetta! I suffered enough watching the most famous adaptation, thank you very much!

A lot of people have commented to me that they can’t believe we’re already in September. They just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that we only have a third of 2019 left. And honestly, I can sympathize. This year has gone by rather fast. Though in my case, that might be because so much has happened in the past eight months. Including back in June, the publication of Rose and all that has ensued since then.

Yeah, Rose has been out three months. And what a three months it’s been!

But I’ll get into all that in a bit. For those who don’t know, Rose is a novel I wrote in college, and is the first book I published with a publisher. The novel is a Kafkaesque horror story revolving around a young woman who becomes a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yeah, I wrote a novel around that weird concept, got it published, and as of today, it has twenty-two reviews, the majority of which are four and five stars, across Amazon’s English-speaking websites, as well as some positive reviews from folks like Angela Yuriko Smith, editor of Space & Time Magazine, and Dead Head Reviews.

Honestly, I’ve been very happy with the responses I’ve gotten from the book. For one thing, not everyone who’s reading it and leaving reviews is a relative of mine or being blackmailed, which is always a nice change of pace. In fact, quite a few readers are people I’ve never met before. They heard about the book through my many different marketing strategies (including one sponsored YouTube video), picked it up, and have enjoyed it. Or been freaked out by it. That’s also been a reaction. Someone recently notified me through Facebook that she’s been having weird dreams whenever she’s read Rose before bed. To which I say, “Mission accomplished.”

With any luck, this will all lead to more people reading and maybe leaving feedback on the book, which might make things easier for the next time I publish something.

In the meantime though, the fun doesn’t stop! I mentioned in a previous post that an audio book of Rose was in the works. Today, my publisher sent me the first fifteen minutes of the audio book. Oh God, the shivers that went up my spine! I listened to it twice, and couldn’t move for either listen. I cannot wait for the full book to be available. Once it is, I plan to advertise from here to Timbuktu, and make sure as many people who want to check out the audio book can.

For now though, I’m leaving below the links for Rose below. If you’re interested, check it out, read the reviews, and maybe pick up a copy. And if you do read it, leave me a review with your thoughts. Positive or negative, I love reader feedback, and it helps me out in the long run. And if you’re reading Rose right now, I hope you’re enjoying it! Can’t wait to hear what you think.

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

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading The Best Horror of the Year, Volume VIII, an anthology of horror short stories and novelettes compiled by one of horror’s premier editors, Ellen Datlow (I’ll be taking a break from it to read The Institute by Stephen King, though). As you’d expect from any anthology, some you like, some you don’t, and some you just don’t get. But of those that I like, I’ve been noticing a trend that I’m not sure I’ve noticed before.

These stories are not outright terrifying in a way that’ll leave you screaming or having nightmares for a week or so. But they do make you feel uneasy. Like a voice in the back of your mind is whispering, “Imagine if this scenario were real,” or “Imagine if this happened to you.” And then you shiver at the thought of what is occurring in the story occurring in real life. In your life.

That feeling upsets the zen in your soul, and can put you off your day. It can make you afraid to think of certain places or names because you associate them with something evil and horrible. It leaves you afraid to be in dark places, or alone, or with people, or even in well-lit areas. Because who knows what’s hidden in your blind spot? Who knows what evil is bubbling in your coworker’s heart?

What you are feeling is disquiet. And that feeling drives a lot of shorter horror stories. Understandable: short stories and novelettes don’t have the word-counts to build epic worlds or have intricate plots involving five or six mind-blowing revelations. They’re short for a reason, and meant to be digestible as a way to save time and money. Or to quote Stephen King, “A short story is like a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”

I actually know what that’s like (don’t ask), and I’m not really surprised that King does, either. So I kind of get it: what the story does to you should be unexpected, but leave a powerful impression. The kind of impression where you look back years later and you’re like, “Wait, did that actually happen?” And in short stories, with horror, you do it with fear. You do it with disquiet.

So how does one create disquiet in their story? Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can answer that. It’s like how do you put horror in a story? You already know a monster is necessary, but what more is there? Not an easy question to answer. In fact, I’ve been writing horror since I was a tween, or trying to, and I’m still trying to figure it out. It doesn’t help that I’m better at novels and short stories are still something I’m figuring out how to do well (ironic, considering how many short story ideas I have lying around).

junji Ito will shake you every time.

In the end, all I can recommend is the old writer adage: read a lot and write a lot. In this case, read a ton of shorter works by a variety of different horror authors. Note how they make the story memorable, punchy, disturbing. Is it a specific twist? Is it in the scenario they set up? How do they set it up? Is it in a particular sentence or a paragraph? An element they included? The ending? Then try writing your own works and incorporating what you learned.

It seems obvious, but I guess we reiterate it for a reason.

Anyway, if you’re looking for recommendations, any of the volumes in the Best Horror of the Year series should work, as well as collections by most horror writers. I also recommend story collections from manga artist Junji Ito, if you want a more visual medium. And while it’s not literary, The Twilight Zone is usually pretty good at telling disquieting stories (or so I’ve heard. I really have to get on watching that show).

But tell me, how do you make your short stories memorable and disquieting? What are your thoughts on the subject? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Happy Friday the 13th, and if you see  guy wearing an old-fashioned goalie mask, RUN THE OTHER FUCKING WAY!!!