Posts Tagged ‘Jewish horror’

What would happen if I featured my faith more in my stories? Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on Jews in the media I consume.

As you probably know, in addition to being an eldritch abomination from another universe in human form, I’m Jewish (we need faith too, you know). I’m not super-religious, but I follow many rituals and feel close to my heritage and my definition of God. But except for a couple of stories, my religion doesn’t really show in my writing. Or at least, characters who share my faith don’t show up in my stories a lot.

There could be a lot of reasons for that. Part of it could be that horror, the genre I’m drawn to and find most exciting, doesn’t necessarily need religion. Horror may draw on religious beliefs a lot, but that doesn’t mean the stories are religious. Religious elements are just tools for telling a good horror story. Also, Judaism itself isn’t really a scary religion. We don’t have a Devil or Hell, and demons and evil spirits are still subservient to God’s Will and Plan. Beyond golems and dybbuks, the biggest sources of horror for us is our history of being oppressed. And finally, I may have never felt a real need to emphasize the beliefs of my characters. It just doesn’t matter that much. Unless I need to state it, their religion is, “Whatever.”

But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about that. It started with an essay on Variety about Jews in Hollywood and how we’re represented that brought up some good points. I’ll let you read the article yourself, but it made me aware that I don’t see many members of my faith in the media I consume. And that includes in horror. Yeah, there are some: Stan Uris in IT; Yakov Ronen in The Vigil (one of the best horror films I’ve seen yet this year); Tzadok in The Possession (played by musician Matisyahu, believe it or not); and then some.

But still, it’s a small number. And in an age with resurgent anti-Semitism, I feel like that’s something that needs to change.

Besides, I want to challenge myself. What kind of stories can I tell with a Jewish character as a lead? And not just any kind of Jew, but an amalgamation of the Jews I’ve known throughout my life, from secular to religious and old to young, from all walks of life and all types of spirituality? What if I decided, for a few stories, not to make their religions “whatever?”

Well, I actually already know the answer to that. As you probably are aware, my short story “The Divorce from God” is to appear in The Jewish Book of Horror this holiday season, and a short story in this collection I’m working on has two Jewish men as the leads. And I like to think both stories are good (I only have confirmation of one).

But what if I expand that? What if I tell more tales–not all of them, but some of them–with my fellow members of the Tribe? What if their faith is both an aspect of themselves, though not the only one, and a source of strength? What if the lead is that amalgamation I mentioned?

Well, perhaps I’ll find out sooner rather than later. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m thinking of working on another novel after I’ve finished editing this collection and a couple more stories. And while I don’t think it’s necessary for the lead, I can also see them being Jewish. It could actually fit them very well.

We’ll see what the future holds.

I look forward to the stories I write in this vein.

You know, it’s funny. At one point when I was young, a grown up tried telling me I should write less horror and more of what I know. Which at the time was mainly going to a Jewish day school, having rabbis for parents and being annoyed by my sisters. I absolutely refused, telling this well-meaning grown up “that would be boring.” I think they were worried I was going to turn out to be some psychopath who murdered people in basements and then wrote about it (we horror lovers and creators are so misunderstood!). Still, I wasn’t going to write something I wasn’t attracted to or found boring. Stories are an escape from reality, not a regurgitation!

Now I want to incorporate what I know into a horror story. I guess it’s true what they say, when people “write what they know,” they’re writing it in a completely different way than expected. I wonder that well-meaning adult would make of this now? Hopefully they’d be intrigued enough to read it (and realize I grew up much more well-adjusted than they anticipated).

Anyway, it’s late and this post has gotten insanely long. I’m going to sign off and say Shabbat Shalom, an early Happy New Year (Rosh Hashanah starts Monday evening, it’s our New Year), pleasant nightmares, and a good night. See you next time, my Followers of Fear!

Pour the drinks! Start the party music! Feed the dragon bats a little extra blood and meat with their dinner tonight! I’ve had two acceptances! That’s right, you read that correctly. Two. And I am so excited that the editors loved them enough to include them in upcoming publications, let alone that you will get to read them.

So, the first acceptance actually came last week, but I only just got permission to start screaming from the high heavens. A short story I wrote is being accepted by “The Jewish Book of Horror,” an anthology from the Denver Horror Collective coming out this holiday season in time for Hanukkah. That’s right, a book emphasizing horror from a Jewish slant. When I first heard of that, I knew I had to write something for it, which I did: a short story called “The Divorce from God.”

I’m adding to Jewish literature! It’s not typical Jewish literature, but I’m not complaining!

“The Divorce from God” is a story that was inspired by the New York divorce coercion gang. For those of you who haven’t heard, the New York divorce coercion gang was a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who forced men into divorces. Yeah, even the Jews have our fair share of fanatics, and they do bad things sometimes. In this case, they meddled in divorces. In traditional Judaism, divorce has to be granted by the husband, and occasionally that’s held over the wife’s head to hurt her. Normally, non-violent means are sought to encourage the husband to grant a divorce, but in this case, the gang members went to violent means. It’s pretty sick and twisted stuff and I encourage you to read up on it if you’re curious.

Anyway, I took the case and put my own fictional spin on the story. After letting some beta readers give me some feedback, I made some edits and submitted it. And I’m happy to say it’ll end up in the anthology! Woo-hoo! I get to be part of a big contribution to Jewish literature while still being scary! I’m sure my parents and teachers and rabbis are proud of me.

Also, apologies that I didn’t write a blog post for this story like I usually do. The subject matter and the targeted anthology was so specific, I didn’t want to post about it only for it to maybe get rejected. But I’m telling you now, so it’s all good, right?

And today, I got some more good news! I wrote an essay recently on a character trope I call “the broken child.” What is that? Well, you’ll have to wait till August to find out. It’s going to be published in the August edition of House of Stitched magazine (don’t you just love that name?). They were looking for articles on the craft and process of horror writing, and I’d been turning over some article/essay ideas in my head, including an examination of the broken child. I wrote it and sent it in, keeping my fingers crossed. And today they sent me a contract. I signed and now I’m on cloud nine!

I mean, wouldn’t you be? Last year, I was only able to release one story. But two months ago, I was able to get an article published on Ginger Nuts of Horror and release a new scary story. And in just one week, I was able to get a short story and an article accepted as well! It’s very encouraging and makes me hopeful for what’s to come.

I’ve been writing up a storm lately. Glad to see it’s been worth it.

A big thanks to the Denver Horror Collective, who will be putting out “The Jewish Book of Horror,” for accepting “The Divorce from God.” And an equally big thank you to the team of Stitched Smile Publications, the publisher of House of Stitched magazine, for accepting “The Horror of the Broken Child.” I’m so excited to be working with both of you and I hope your readers enjoy my contributions as much as I hope you did.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the August issue of House of Stitched magazine and “The Jewish Book of Horror” once they’re released. I’m off to enjoy a walk in the nice weather. I’ll probably also have a beer or two tonight in celebration as well. And I’ll be working on my next short story as well. Gotta keep up the writing and submitting so I can get a few more stories out there.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and don’t approach my dragon bats! They may be cute, but they’re alpha predators for a reason.

Okay, technically this film is a 2019 film, but it’s being released in the States in 2021, so that’s the designation I’m going with.

Also, just a little background for my non-Jewish readers: in Judaism, it’s traditional that when someone dies, the body is constantly watched over and had Psalms recited over in order to comfort the soul of the deceased. The person doing this is known as a shomer, or a guardian. Usually this is done by friends and family of the deceased, but occasionally people are paid to be shomrim. This is all explained in the movie, I just wanted to put it upfront here.

And to complain that nobody ever hired me to be a shomer while I was job hunting. Seriously, I have experience with dead bodies and I charge reasonable rates. I would have been great at it!

Okay, onto the review. The Vigil follows Yaakov Ronen, a Jewish man who has left his ultra-Orthodox community for a more moderate style of Jewish living after a terrible tragedy befalls him. His old rabbi asks him to be a shomer for a man who has recently died. Desperate for money, Yaakov agrees, but soon finds himself up against an ancient evil that oppressed the deceased in life, and is now looking for a new victim to torment.

Wow, this movie did not disappoint. It took what could have been just regular popcorn horror movie fodder and made something really amazing out of it. Camera work and lighting is used really effectively to build a tense, creepy mood. There are these long, uncomfortable moments where we’re forced to watch as Yaakov uses his phone or gets comfortable around the body, which is laying in the living room under a shroud like something out of the Victorian era. You really get to know the folds and creases in the blanket, and it makes things creepy and disconcerting.

The monster of the movie, a Jewish demon called a mazzik,* is also well done. I’ve said this before, but showing too much of the monster can backfire on films, especially in popcorn horror films. Thankfully, the filmmakers keep the mazzik hard to see throughout the film, and that only adds to the terror. Like no matter what, you can’t truly see, let alone comprehend, this creature.

Add in some mind games right out of the movie Oculus and a couple of nods to Nightmare on Elm Street, and you’ve got one hell of a scary film.

It’s also a deeply personal film. Yaakov, played with powerful pathos by Dave Davies, is a very sympathetic character. He’s dealing with PTSD, he’s struggling with himself, his faith, and making his way through this world. The events of the film really force him to confront what he’s been dealing with and it’s amazing to watch.

I could find something to dislike with this film, but I would be nitpicking. On a scale of 1 to 5, The Vigil stands at a solid 4.2. Creepy and dark, led by a lead you can identify with, you won’t be able to turn away. The film is currently available through Amazon, so grab a seat, pour some kosher wine, and get ready for an unnervingly good time.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back soon, believe me. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And yes, I think we can be sure mazzik and the plural mazzikim is the source of the name for the comic book character and the character we love and adore in Lucifer.

You know, I still remember when it took me months to write a short story. Or it felt like months. It might have been less. But it took a lot longer. I didn’t always have that great discipline when it came to writing, so projects took a lot longer than they do now. I guess that’s growing up and getting experience.

Well, at least it doesn’t take that long to get stories written now. Because, guess what? I just finished my first short story of 2021!

Can I get a GIF of Kermit the Frog being totally excited right now?

Was that necessary? Not at all. Did I enjoy putting it in there? Quite.

So, I’m sure you’re curious about the short story I’ve written. The story is called, “The Divorce from God,” and is unusual for my work because it draws very strongly on my Jewish heritage. Yeah, I may be Jewish, but that doesn’t appear in my fiction very much. Probably a number of reasons for that, but I guess there’s just not many stories I feel like telling where my heritage could fit comfortably in.

However, this story was inspired by a recent scandal in the ultra-Orthodox community, so this time the Jewish heritage fit in quite well. In case you weren’t aware, back in 2013 an ultra-Orthodox rabbi was arrested for some serious crimes. You see, in Judaism, a woman can only get a divorce if her husband gives her a document called a get. Without that, she’s forever tied to him. And sometimes, husbands will hold that over their wives, leaving them with few options. Women stuck in this situation are known as agunot, or chained women.

I bring this up because the rabbi I mentioned was being hired by these women to kidnap their husbands and torture them until they granted the divorce. And the guy charged thousands of dollars for his services, too! He got away with this for decades, protected by his victims’ unwillingness to testify or by the charges being dropped. However, after one of his victims came forward, the FBI pulled a sting and he and his cohorts were arrested. Most of them are still serving their sentences, last I checked.

Click here for a great article from GQ magazine on the scandal, which was essential for my research.

I first heard about this story last year when I heard that a movie was being made about it. The story immediately inspired me with ideas. And then, about a week ago, I heard about an anthology of Jewish horror being published later this year, so I thought, “Might as well write this story now. It’s a good fit.”

It was a good night of writing, all told.

And hopefully, once I’ve done some edits, it will be. I’ve already sent it to my dad, who’s a rabbi and who’s agreed to take a first look, to give his feedback on the Jewish aspects of the story and if I do a good job explaining those aspects for a non-Jewish audience. After that, I’ll probably let a beta reader or two take a look at it and do some edits before sending it in for consideration. Fingers crossed, the editors will like it.

For now though, I think I’ll celebrate with a cup of tea and a late viewing of Die Hard 2, which is probably the best of the Die Hard sequels. Tomorrow, I’ll probably talk about my next major project. Or watch and review a horror movie. Or both. We’ll see what I’m in the mood for.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!