Posts Tagged ‘living and life’

When trailers for Bird Box first hit the net, people were immediately intrigued. Not only because Sandra Bullock was in it, but the film, like A Quiet Place, drew its tension and challenge through avoiding a monster by denying an important sense or human function. I was also intrigued when it was pointed out to me that the film shares similarities with a story I wrote (not enough to get lawsuit thankfully). So this evening, I sat down and checked it out.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box follows Mallory, a woman with two young children who is trying to get to a compound downriver while she and the children is blindfolded. The story then switches to five years previously, when a pregnant Mallory becomes trapped inside a large house after invisible monsters start causing anyone who gazes upon them to either commit suicide or try to make other people look at them. Switching between past and present, the movie follows Mallory’s journey of survival, both then and now, as she tries to keep those close to her alive.

This was a really good horror film. It takes a simple concept and executes it very well, creating this gripping tension. Even when characters are indoors, there’s this feeling of dread as you see them struggle with their various survival needs–food and water, two very pregnant women, anyone outside might be dangerous, etc.–and the possibility of having to expose themselves to the outside. In those moments, you see these characters really having to work to keep themselves alive, using everything in their environments to both get around and keep themselves from seeing something they shouldn’t. It really makes you believe in the scenario occurring, and that these would be the steps people would take if such a situation would occur.

I also liked how the movie handles the monsters. You never see them, you only see their effects on the environment and anyone who sees them, and that adds this powerful sense of mystery to them, compounding the terror they create.

And for those wondering, Sandra Bullock in the lead was awesome. I mean, all of the principal cast is really good, but especially Bullock. You really do see this woman who has grown up being very guarded and afraid of bonds with people new to her having to really change herself in order to adjust to the situation she’s in. Yeah, at times she does seem a little emotionless, but I think that is just her character trying to stay guarded. I know some people have said that annoyed them or made it harder to sympathize with the character, and I have a feeling that’s going to be a point of contention though with a lot of people. Hopefully the debates stay civil, especially online.

I also liked John Malkovich as Douglas, a character whose survival drive at times makes him gravitate between asshole and murderer. Yeah, I hated the character, but God was it hard to look away whenever he was on the screen. And he does a great impression of Donald Trump at a rally during one scene. That alone is worth checking out the film.

If there was anything I didn’t like, it was that a few characters didn’t get more screen time. You have Sarah freaking Paulson and BD Wong in this film, but their roles were relatively small, and that’s just a damn shame (though since they were both on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, that might have had something to do with it). And Lil Rei Howery as Charlie, a grocery store employee and aspiring author writing a novel about the end of the world (a man after my own heart) should’ve been given more screen time. He stole the show every time he was on screen. I wish that guy could have his own film.

All in all, Bird Box is a tense apocalyptic thriller with great characters and an engrossing story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 4.5. Go in, and go in with eyes wide open. You’ll see how beautiful it is.

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You ever read a story and it’s very clear that there’s a deeper meaning to a story? That it’s making a statement on society, or urging you to maybe reexamine your life choices? Chances are you have. Plenty of authors write stories like that. And a few say that’s the only story you should write. The question is, should you?

This is the subject of my latest post on the other site I write for, Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors: Does Your Story Need a Deeper Meaning? I thought it’d be a good post to round out the year on that site, And perhaps it’ll be helpful to people. That’s what I aim for with the articles on that site, anyway.

So if you get a chance, do check out the article. And while you’re there, consider checking out the other articles there. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site by authors for authors to help them write, edit, publish and market as best as they can. If you give it a chance, you’ll find it very helpful.

That’s all for now. Hope to have a new review or out soon, so keep an eye out for those. Until then, have a good night, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

If you’ve been with me a while, you remember a few years ago I read this awesome horror manga called Uzumaki by Junji Ito (and if you don’t or weren’t around then, here’s the link) Since then I managed to get my hands on the movie adaptation of Uzumaki (you can read that review here), read plenty more of his works (his stories can be hit or miss, but generally I like them), and watched a couple episodes of an anime adaptation of his various short stories (which, by the way, sucked. I didn’t even bother to review it, it was sooo bad). And most recently, Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the United States, along with eight previously untranslated short stories, six of which are interconnected. All in one big volume.

How could I not read and review that?

Obviously Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, the tale of one scientist’s journey to create a living being through science and the disastrous series of events that follows, along with elements from some of the movie adaptations out there.* And honestly, Ito’s art is perfect for this story. I’ve heard he spends upwards of ten hours on illustrating a single page or frame, using ink and shadow, as well as his disinterest in making his art pretty or visually appealing in the normal sense of the phrase. I mean, look at the reveal of the Monster.

Um, yikes!

Seriously, this guy has to do more Gothic horror. His style is a natural for it. And it’s a natural fit here, really allowing you to feel the horror that early audiences felt of the original novel, especially in bringing the monster to life. There’s also some decent changes from the original text in order to make the story more compelling for the style of manga, such as when it comes to the creation of the Monster’s Bride.

Still, there are some things that could’ve been improved. A couple of Ito’s changes do make the story a bit slower near the end, and the translated text might be a little too close to the actual novel for a modern audience (if I wanted old-timey speak like that, I’d read Lovecraft). And honestly, I would’ve liked to see Ito take more liberties with the story, make it his own. His stories can be really unnerving, and I’d love to see him bring more of his style to the Frankenstein story.

The short stories added to bulk up the book (because of course they are) are decent, for the most part. Six of them follow Toru Oshikiri, a teenager living in a giant mansion by himself who starts to have a strange series of experiences, gradually leading to him making a shocking discovery about his home. Some of these stories work really well, but sometimes the build-up in them seems to lead to a letdown.

The real problems though are the unconnected stories. They don’t really add anything, and one of them is definitely from the bottom of Ito’s portfolio.

By itself, I give Ito’s adaptation of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. If you want a really creepy visual adaptation of the original Frankenstein story, this is definitely worth a read. With the addition of the other stories, I’d give it a 3.5. Not what I’d recommend for anyone coming to Ito’s work for the first time (for that, I’d point to Uzumaki or his collection Shiver, which came out in December 2017), but for anyone familiar with his work already, this collection is probably worth checking out.

Speaking of which, Ito’s got another collection, Smashed, coming out in April. I might have to check that one out and give that a review as well. Hopefully his stories Hellstar Remina and The Bully are included. I hear those are reeeeally freaky.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t post anything within the next couple of days, then I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May Cthulhu bless us, every one (because of course I would go there). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Highly recommend the 1994 adaptation with Kenneth Branagh. It’s not just the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, it’s got the best “bringing-the-monster-to-life” scene I’ve ever seen.

This is kind of how I imagine fighting my anxiety. Only, you know, I’m actually wearing something when I do.

It was around this time last year that I started recognizing the symptoms of what would be diagnosed later as a generalized anxiety disorder. I was feeling dread when I was by myself or in a crowd, sure that anything I said or did might come back to haunt me. I was paying extra attention to what i posted online or what stories I wrote because I was sure it would lead to me becoming a pariah. If I was around people, I was afraid something I’d say or do would be misinterpreted and would lead to consequences.

There was also a touch of pessimism in the state of the world, and the possibility of a soulless universe that would cease to exist in a couple billion-billion years started rolling around in my skull a bit more. That happened.

I saw my psychiatrist, who gave me a prescription which has helped me with the majority of my symptoms. I’ve started recognizing triggers for my anxiety and situations where it was more likely to manifest. And I developed coping mechanisms to stave off or dull the anxiety, even enlisting the help of a counselor at work for further advice. All this came together to make sure 2018 didn’t get riddled with anxiety for me.

Still, it hasn’t been all wine and roses for me. There were times when I still felt really anxious, especially when it came to what I was writing or trying to make a name for myself as a writer. And sometimes, especially in the evenings, I still feel a bit of dread, and it makes me reluctant to write or do anything productive. Just the other night, I had to listen to a whole lot of my favorite music and some hypnosis just so I could put some words on paper. I ended up getting a little over a thousand words in a new short story down, but for a while it looked doubtful I could get a sentence or two down.

Yeah, having anxiety is far from easy.* No matter the coping mechanisms and the medications, my brain’s overproduction of one neurochemical or another is a constant problem, and I have to fight it everyday. That’s how I see it, as fighting. I imagine myself dressing up in armor and going to fight with a sword shield a many-headed monster which spawns rats that it directs to bite me (the rats, if it’s not obvious, represent my out-of-control thoughts). It’s the one-time I’m not thrilled to fight a demonic creature!

Thankfully, this is a battle that I’ve won almost every time. Sure, there are days where the beast gets the upper hand for a little while, but with the weapons I’ve been developing and adding to my arsenal over the past year, those moments don’t last very long. I know I’m stronger than the beast created by my brain chemicals, and I know how to fight it when I need to. And I know I have so many of you supporting me today, giving me the strength to fight even on my worse days.

And know that if you have an anxiety disorder, I’m supporting you. You’re not alone: approximately forty million people in the United States deal with anxiety every year. We’re all connected by this disorder, and we’re all in this fight together. By recognizing what we have and not giving into the stigma of mental illness, we can fight off the many-headed beast and regain control of our lives. Together, we can be happy.

Thanks for the all the support, everyone. It means a lot to me. And if you’re struggling with anxiety and need some strategies, I list some in this article from when I first came out about my anxiety. Who knows? You might find some of the tips helpful.

Well, I’ve got dinner to make and a scary story to write. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Along with autism, ADHD, allergies, partial albinism, and back pain. Yeah, I’m a hot mess. But at least I’m humorous about it and try not to let it get me down.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

 

There’s a certain era of British history that writers write about maybe more than the medieval era. This era witnessed unprecedented growth and change for the British empire, as well as many of the greatest contributions to literature in the past three hundred years. Not to mention a whole lot of material for bodice rippers and horror stories.

I’m talking about the Victorian era. Named, rather obviously, after Queen Victoria, who sat on the British throne from June 1837 until January 1901. This has long been an era of interest to authors of a number of different genres, as well as among the general populace. Every year, hundreds of works of fiction come out set in that era: novels and short stories, movies, TV shows, comic books. We also have at least a couple of new books on any given topic of the era, and there are Victorian enthusiasts all over the world who research that age like crazy and even like to dress up as Victorians.

But what is it about the Victorian era that entrances people? Why do so many authors visit this age to write?* Well, I have a few guesses as to why that is:

  • The romance and glitz of the era. I think this is our first association with the Victorian age. I don’t know where or when this association popped up, but it’s the main reason. More than any other reason, there’s a romanticism to that age. Perhaps it might have something to do with the number of famous novels that came out during that era. A number of them have romance as an important plot or subplot. And as many of these books have endured the test of time, they’ve colored our associations of that age.
    Which brings me to the next point:

  • The literature. While I’m not the biggest fan of the Victorians’ writing style (racism aside, if he weren’t a halfway decent writer, I’d give up on Lovecraft for taking too much after them), it’s undeniable that many of the authors from that age left quite a mark on our modern literature. We still read Charles Dickens in classrooms across the world, and there are countless adaptations of A Christmas Carol out there. The Bronte sisters have all created works that have been held up as timeless romances for generations of readers. And as my good friend Angela Misri will tell you, no character has become more synonymous with the word “detective” than Sherlock Holmes. Truly the literature of the age has had an effect on our view of it.
  • An era of widespread change. Victorian Britain went through an amazing number of changes during Victoria’s reign. The most obvious, of course, was this was the age of the Industrial Revolution. Factories and manufacturing became the hub of the economy, and millions moved to the cities to find work. This change also contributed to a number of new work practices, as well as contributing to the overcrowding of cities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor that we still see today. This was also when Britain spread its empire across the world and into new territories, including parts of Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
    But there were other changes. For example, who was allowed to vote was widened, women gained many more rights, and education became available to the lower classes. And that’s just scratching the surface of the number of changes that occurred while Victoria was on the throne.

And of course, Jack the Ripper’s the perfect embodiment of the age’s dark side.

  • Victorian Britain had a dark and dirty underbelly. While most of us associate the era with glitz and romance, there’s a darker side to Queen Victoria’s age. Poverty was widespread, and many people struggled to make ends meet. Women often had to turn to prostitution just to get a bite to eat or a place to sleep for the night. Many turned to alcohol or opium to numb their troubles. This was the background that allowed Jack the Ripper to hunt down those prostitutes.
    On top of that, medicine, cosmetics, and foods were more likely to kill out of you than help you. Opium or arsenic in your gout cure, lead in your foundation, poor refrigeration and rat droppings in your meat. Hell, your clothes could choke you to death and the dyes could stain your skin for months. People bathed only once a week, and the rest of the time they used heavy perfumes to mask the smell. And if you lived in London, you could expect mud and shit to line the roads rather than bricks!
    And God help you if you had a mental illness. Or a woman who wanted anything more than being a dutiful wife and mother. You could get locked up and have cold water dumped on your head from great heights while doctors came up with all sorts of crazy reasons for why you were mad. Common reasons include not being religious enough, having faulty menstruation, or masturbating.
    Yeah, you laugh, but imagine having to live through it. Pretty nasty, right? It was even worse if you were Irish. The Irish potato famine was going on around this time, and let me tell you, the folks in Parliament could’ve done a lot more to help out with that.
  • It lends itself to many genres. This is probably the biggest reason of all: it’s adaptable to many stories. Historical fiction, obviously, but you’ll find the Victorians appearing in many different kinds of stories. Romances are often set in that world, but also science fiction (steampunk especially), horror stories (Gothic and ghost stories especially, and some cosmic horror too), fantasies (especially ones with fairies or little girls falling down rabbit holes) and of course, mysteries and thrillers.

All these and more are why the Victorians enjoy such staying power in our media. It’s a perfect storm of factors for making a time period not only endure in literature, but give it a special cast that makes it interesting to the writer and average person alike.

I actually first fell in love with the Victorians while in college. I read a manga set in Victorian England, and while it was heavy on the romance and glitz, it got me interested. I’ve kept reading since then, and found out quite a bit more. And seeing as during my research, I’ve come up with more than a few ideas for stories, all that research will definitely come in handy.

If you would like to dive into the Victorian world and learn a bit about it, here are my recommendations:

If you want a good intro to Victorian England, this might be a good gateway drug for it.

  • Emma by Kaoru Mori. In no way related to the novel by Jane Austen, this historical romance manga was my first real introduction to the Victorian period. Beautiful art and a simple yet engaging story.
  • Victorian Britain from The Great Courses. Narrated by Professor Allitt of Emory University, this series of lectures is a great overview of the period for the average visitor.
  • The Complete Jack the Ripper by Donald Rumbelow. You want to know the most about the most notorious serial killer in history and cut through all the rumor and bullshit? This is the book for you.
  • How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. You want to know what the average life of a Victorian was like? From rich to poor, this is the book for you.
  • Victoria: A Life by A.N. Wilson. A friend from college sent this to me as a birthday present. It’s a rather eye-opening look at Queen Victoria’s life and reign.
  • Unmentionable by Therese O’Neill. Want to know all about Victorian bathroom habits, and the stuff they don’t talk about in the bodice rippers or polite society? You will laugh yourself silly with this one. Trust me, I just finished it yesterday, I would know.

Well, I’ve about talked your ear off on this age. But can you see why? It’s a fascinating era, and it’s one that’s going to continue to show up in fiction for years to come (especially if I can write a good story or two in it). And it’s amazing how just one woman’s reign, the first in centuries in her country that nearly never happened (seriously, read how she became heir to the throne. It’s insane!), has endured as much as it had. Whether romantic and shiny or dark and seedy, there’s a story in this era just for you.

Do you enjoy or write about Victorian England? Why? Why do you think it’s so popular?

What media do you recommend for anyone wanting to learn about the era?

*I’m not suggesting, by the by, that this age is visited more than any other. One needs only look at the breadth of literature to see that storytellers are drawing from all of known history and even from dark prehistory to tell stories. I just chose Victoria’s reign because that one has special importance to me, as you can tell.

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays, one and all.

(For those curious as to what Hanukkah is about, I gave an explanation in the comments)

I’m going to try to keep this post short, though there’s a great temptation to write a thousand words or more. And that’s because despite how crazy this past week has been, its also been kind of uplifting. Why? Because my organization really showed me how much it wanted to make sure all its associates felt included during the holidays. And that included the Jews.

Now as many of you know, I am Jewish (this will be important in a bit). And as many of you also know, I work for a supply organization in a role called an Equal Employment Opportunity Specialist. It’s kind of like HR, but we’re focused on promoting diversity, accommodating associates with disabilities, and combating discrimination and harassment in the workforce. It’s an important job, because a properly diverse and accepting workforce is one with a wide talent pool and a healthy mental state.

Okay, enough background. Let me get to the important part. On Tuesday, I was sitting having breakfast in my office when our Director of Operations (hereafter referred to as the DoO), a member of our regional executive staff, came to visit me. Which is pretty unusual. I see him on occasion around the building and we’ll chat, but I don’t interact much with the executives in my organization. You can imagine my surprise when the DoO came to talk to me, and understand my first thought upon seeing him: I’ve had this nightmare before, but I was naked in it.

Turns out, the DoO wanted to consult me. You see, I did a stand-up routine at a company talent show last year (yes, that happened), and it was centered around kosher cooking. Since then, I’ve gained a reputation as the resident expert on Judaism. With that in mind, the DoO wanted to know if it would be a good idea to have a menorah to represent Hanukkah at the Executive Open House, one of our organization’s annual holiday events when you can go through the executive suite and schmooze with the top brass. That event usually has a lot of tinsel and Christmas trees, but no menorah. And the DoO wanted to know if including one would be a good idea.

I said yes, that would be a wonderful idea, and I gave some other suggestions of things to include (dreidels, chocolate gelt, etc). I then gave him some ideas where he could find all those. Less than an hour later, I was asked to go shopping with him at the nearest place to see if we could find a menorah. I said sure, hoping to God I wouldn’t embarrass myself, and we went shopping. We found plenty of gelt, but they were fresh out of menorahs. One thing you need to know about my organization, though, we don’t do anything partway. So I got into contact with one of the local synagogues, which I knew had a gift shop with plenty of menorahs. After work that day, I went straight there and bought a menorah, along with a ton of dreidels. Mission accomplished.

The DoO and I with the menorah. So grateful for this kind gesture.

Fast forward to today (Thursday, if you’re reading this later on), I brought the menorah and dreidels in. We set it up first in the DoO’s office after he invited me up to the Executive Suite, and then later it ended up in a more public space when another associate brought in their menorah from home. And I have to say, it looked really good there too.

But through all this, I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was for the DoO and the rest of the top brass to be thinking of my people. As many of you are aware, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and attacks lately, the worst being the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October. These attacks on my people have been tough on all of us. I’ve been feeling an upswing in anxiety since October myself. However, I’ve been trying to fight back by staying strong and filling the world with more good and kindness than they can fill it with evil. And this simple thoughtful gesture, while small, was huge in its impact, and I can’t help but thank the DoO for helping to put a bit of good back in this crazy world.

I hope it’s part of a greater trend to make the world a nicer place.

Happy Hanukkah, Followers of Fear. I hope this brought some light into your life during the Festival of Lights. I’m heading off to bed. Until next time (possibly this weekend), pleasant nightmares one and all.