Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

Tell me, where would you put Godzilla in this classification system?

For a while now, I’ve been thinking of the different kinds of antagonists in horror stories. Not divided by type, but by level of threat. What do I mean by this? I mean, aren’t all antagonists in horror stories a threat? I mean, it is horror!

Well, yes. But how big that threat is can vary from story to story, and can even influence what kind of tropes and stakes we can expect in the stories. To further illustrate this, let me categorize the level of threats using Starbucks sizes: Tall, Grande, and Venti. Yes, I know they have a Short size and a Trenta size, but I don’t know anyone who uses them. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the cups for those sizes.

Also, Starbucks, please don’t sue me. I’m just using your sizes to help illustrate a point.

Getting sidetracked. Let’s start talking about the levels of threat, starting from biggest to smallest.

Venti: While all horror antagonists are a threat to the protagonist(s), the Venti-level threats are usually threats to many or all people. Cosmic entities like Cthulhu or the Devil in stories taking place during the Apocalypse usually rank this high. They’re a threat to all life or to all we hold dear, and the suffering they could induce if they succeed would be terrible.

This level can also apply to threats like Pennywise, aka IT. While he’s restricted to the town of Derry, Maine, he’s responsible for countless deaths since the 17th century. Even when he’s not active, his influence over the town of Derry is such that he controls it at all times, causes all sorts of horrors while sleeping. IT is Derry. Thank goodness his children didn’t get anywhere, am I right?

Bughuul from Sinister is a great example of a Grande-level villain

Grande: An antagonist of this size may be a threat to many people, but they’re not as all powerful or have such sweeping implications as a Venti-level threat. Still, you wouldn’t want to cross one of these guys if you ended up in their stories.

An example of a Grande-level threat would be Leland Gaunt from Needful Things. A demonic figure who looks at things from a business-like perspective, any town he comes to faces annihilation once he sets up shop. Half of Castle Rock either ended up dead or blown up because of him, after all.

Another example might be Bughuul from the movie Sinister, a Babylonian deity that eats children. Throughout the centuries, he’s manipulated children into killing their families so he could eat their souls. Anywhere he goes, you can expect blood and death to follow. He’s definitely no small potatoes, though he doesn’t warrant the same level of panic as a Venti-level threat might.

Tall: While they may be the on the lowest level of horror antagonist, that doesn’t mean you should relax. In fact, these villains tend to be much more personal than the likes of Bughuul or Cthulhu.

Tall-level villains may only be a threat to the protagonist and a few others, but they bring with them the power to destroy everything the protagonist holds dear. Demons seeking to possess a soul, vengeful ghosts, stalkers and serial killers focused on one particular victim, cursed objects, etc. They may not be seeking to end the world or blow up a town, but they will destroy the protagonist’s happiness and sanity for their own goals.

I would even include the Overlook Hotel in this category. It may be powerful and evil, but it’s only able to be so in the presence of someone with the shining, and then it only seeks to add the shining to its own power so it can be active more often. In the novel’s case, it breaks down Jack and terrorizes Danny to make them more vulnerable and ultimately to possess the former and kill the latter.

Like I said, what they’re missing in power or scope of threat, they make up for in how personal they are.


This, ladies and gentlemen, is a way to classify the threat level of horror villains.

Where does Jason fit on this scale? It’s not easy to tell.

That being said, it’s not perfect. What villains belong where is entirely dependent on who’s doing the categorizing. Is a slasher villain like Jason Voorhees a Grande because he has a particular hunting area and has killed many over the decades? Or is he a Tall because he’s only a threat if you step into his territory? And this doesn’t even cover stories like Gerald’s Game, where there is no antagonist but a pair of handcuffs and the protagonist’s own psyche. Even the Space Cowboy who visits her doesn’t really threaten her. He’s more of a reflection of her own terrors who turns out to be a real person than anything else.

So why do I write all this, if it’s not a flawed system? I do it because it’s not to categorize the villains themselves, but the stories they belong to. A story with a Tall villain is much more character-focused and can often lean into the character’s mindset. A story with a Venti-sized villain often requires the story to encompass a huge cast, lots of locations, and putting an entire population at risk. A Grande may straddle the line of the other categories, while also having varying kill counts depending on what the story requires.

In a way, The Starbucks Levels of Antagonism (copyright pending), are like the Bechdel or Mako Mori tests: exercises to examine stories, the decisions made while creating them, and how you can learn from them. And given the nature of fiction writing, as well as how difficult it is to categorize fiction like a scientific system, that’s probably for the best.

Thanks for giving me a chance to air some thoughts, Followers of Fear. I’m off to figure out where on this system I belong. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

One piece of writing advice I don’t often seen given is that you sometimes need to change what you’re doing. I don’t mean you need to abandon your projects to embrace a new genre or resort to crazy gimmicks like dancing in the middle of the road and passing flyers out to passing drivers about your book/website (though that does sound memorable). It’s just that sometimes, if a particular method for getting your work out there doesn’t work, it can be a good idea to examine what you’re doing and maybe make some changes.

I’ve been examining my own methods as of late, and given my own goals in the short-term and long-term, I’ve made a decision regarding my short(er) stories. While I’ll still attempt to get some of these stories published in magazines and anthologies, I’ll also be releasing some of those stories as e-book exclusives.

That’s right. There’s going to be a lot more stories of mine available now. In fact, I plan on releasing one before the end of the year, and then releasing two or three throughout 2021.

The reasons why I’m doing this are many, so I’m not going to bore you with the details. But the main reason is that I want more people to be exposed to my work, and the industry as it is now allows me to be a gatekeeper alongside publishers, so why not take advantage of that?

But wait, there’s more! I also plan to release print versions of the stories. These stories will be available as little booklets (or chapbooks, as they’re known in the industry, and I’ll have to write a blog post about those someday), and they’ll be available at events like conventions and book expos. This means anyone who has a physical copy of one of these stories will have a special, exclusive piece of fiction memorabilia!

And who knows? If these stories do well both as e-books and as booklets, then I might produce audio versions, or maybe put them out as collections. That might be fun to do. Especially if there’s a demand for it.

I hope to have an announcement out about which short story will be released first. I’ve already selected the story, but I want to give it another edit and create a cover first. So, that’s the big project today. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to post an announcement and a release date, as well as get the marketing machine up and running again.

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

Also, a big thank you to our troops, both past and present, for their sacrifice and service. We here in the United States would not enjoy the freedom we do without you, and we can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. May the memory of your great deeds live throughout time and remind us to never take what we have for granted.

Photo by Dmitry Demidov on Pexels.com

I know it feels weird to interrupt the partying and celebration with discussion of writing. But after today’s news, and after a hell of a week, I feel so energized to write. With that in mind, I finished the outline of my next story today, and I’m looking forward to starting it. So, I shall take a moment of your time to talk about writing.

As I said, I just finished an outline for a new story. And, as you can guess from the title of this post, it’s going to have two protagonists. Or, to be more specific, it’s going to be told from the points-of-views of two protagonists. One is a US Army major who has had his fair share of combat experiences. The other is a thirteen-year-old runaway who just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t say more than that.

Now, plenty of stories are told from multiple points-of-view. All you have to do is look at the typical bookshelf full of fiction tomes and you’ll find at least three or four books where we see events from the perspectives of two or more characters. But then there are stories where you take for granted that the story is told that way. And then there are stories where you remember how perspectives differed from character to character. Where the multiple POVs is a main feature of the story.

It’s that sort of story I’m aiming to create.

The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud. Great example of this kind of distinctive-voice storytelling.

Thankfully, I’ve had plenty of teachers over the years with this sort of storytelling. From the (sadly underrated) dark fantasy series The Bartimaeus Trilogy to the literary satirical comedy that is The Falls by George Saunders (read that short story for two separate classes at OSU, and it’s still good), the strong voices of each narrator has a profound impact on the reader. By the time the story ends, you feel like you didn’t just read a story. You read a story and got to know these characters intimately.

That’s what I hope to do. I’m going to be switching between POVs nearly every chapter, and I have to make each protagonist’s voice as distinct as possible. It’s going to be a challenge. I’ve written several stories told from the POVs of multiple characters before. Every author has at least once. But often, it reads like variations of the author’s normal writing voice.

Take IT, for example. There are multiple characters in that story, and many of them get to tell things from their POV. Plus, King narrates things for a few chapters, especially in the early parts of the book when Georgie and the young gay couple are attacked. And it’s a great book with great and memorable characters. But you wouldn’t call every narrator/POV character distinctive from the rest, would you?

Well, that’s my challenge with this story.* With any luck, I can take what I’ve learned from the stories I’ve read and apply it to this next story. Thankfully, there’s only two protagonists, so that should help. (Actually, that might be an important ingredient, having only two leads. Keeps things simpler).

But all that starts tomorrow. For now though, I’m off to shower, pour some wine, watch a scary movie, and dance to “The Touch” by Stan Bush (great song from the 1980s to listen to right now). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, party hard and pleasant nightmares.

What are your tips for creating multiple, distinct narrators? What stories do you think of that do this well? Let’s discuss.

*That, and keeping this story from becoming the length of a novel, but one problem at a time.

My friend Kat Impossible over on Life and Other Disasters did her rendition of this tag, and it looked fun. So, let’s pretend it’s Halloween year-round and answer some spooky questions about a WIP (as well as general questions on writing)! And since last time I did Toyland, I think this time around I’ll talk about The Pure World Comes, my Victorian Gothic novel that I wrote earlier this year.

But I’m going to need a blurb first. Hmm…how about this:

Shirley Dobbins has very few wants in life: to be able to become the head housekeeper of a great house someday; to not think on her life before she started working; and to earn a reputation as a reliable maid. So when she is hired by the enigmatic baronet and scientist Sir Joseph Hunting to work at his estate after the sudden death of her employers, she can’t believe her luck.
However, things at the “Hunting Lodge,” as Sir Joseph’s home is known, are far from the ideal position she hoped for. Not only is there barely any staff at the crumbling mansion, but terrifying visions oppress those within at random moments. Those Shirley sees bear resemblances to her past. As she becomes more wrapped in the secrets of Hunting Lodge and Sir Joseph’s scientific work, she unearths a terrible threat not only after her life, but the lives of all those around her.

How’s that? Intriguing enough? Anyway, onto the questions.

GHOST: Have you ever originally put a character/scene/theme in the book and then later taken it out?

  • Character – Yes
  • Scene – kind of
  • Theme – No

I originally had this character, the eldest son of an up-and-coming merchant family, whom Shirley would have feelings for despite her practical, no-nonsense self. However, when I finally started plotting this story, I couldn’t find a place for him in the story, so I axed him out. His disappearance from the story led to some scenes that I’d originally had in mind being axed as well, but I wasn’t that fond of them to begin with, so it worked out.

BAT: Most misunderstood character in your WIP?

I had a bit of a debate on this, considering that we see things through Shirley’s eyes and once she sees someone a certain way, it can take a while for her to see them in a different light. But then I remembered that Sir Joseph Hunting is, without a doubt, the most misunderstood character. He’s not a fan of normal Victorian pastimes or conventions, and he’s squandered his family fortune in pursuit of his scientific research. And Victorians, particularly those of the noble and almost-noble classes, placed a lot of emphasis on appearances, so Sir Joseph’s anathema to them.
It doesn’t help that he’s a bit of a jerk.
That being said, once you get to know him a bit, he’s actually a very sympathetic character. You also see why he devotes himself to his research, and maybe even believe in what he’s doing. If that’s not misunderstood, I don’t know what is.

JACK-O-LANTERN: What is your most common source of inspiration to write?

Is it a law that writers get asked that question at least several times in their careers?
The obvious answer is everything. Stories I’ve read, places I’ve been, people I’ve met, conversations I’ve had, subjects I’ve researched. All these and more combine in my weird head to create stories for me. Some of them are even good and border on original. Those are the ones I try to write into something worth reading.

ZOMBIE: What is your preferred form of writerly fuel? Coffee, tea, etc.

Tea most of the time, though if it’s early in the day, I may have a diet soda. On weekends or certain occasions, I may have something alcoholic, but I’m not able to write as well as I would like when even a little buzzed, so I avoid it.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

VAMPIRE: Cheesiest trope that made it into your novel?

Okay, you know that trope where two people who don’t like each other spend more and more time together and then they fall in love? It was really popular in movies and a few TV shows back in the 1990s? I may have included that one in this story, though I tried to put an original spin on it.
I’ll leave it for the critics to tell me if I succeeded.

Yeah, the trope from 10 Things I Hate About You. I used a version of it. Hopefully I used it well.

SPIDER: What’s a character in your WIP that’s fine from afar, but you would NOT want to interact with if they ever got close?

I’ve mentioned before that I worked my theory of who Jack the Ripper really is into this story. Well, that’d be my answer. And I’m not saying any more on that until this book comes out!

Famous illustration of Jack the Ripper from Punch Magazine. He figures into my story, but not in a way you might expect.

FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER: Ever split one character into two/combine two characters into one?

Maybe? I can’t recall! I’ve written so many characters over the years, I’ve kind of lost track.

SKELETON: Best advice for adding character baggage without info-dumping?

Ooh, that’s a tough one, especially because it’s a tough subject. I try to spread my characters’ baggage and backstories throughout the story. Think of it like walking on a path, and you find puzzle pieces every now and then. Some are big, some are small, but they fit together perfectly. As you gather the pieces, a picture starts to form. And somewhere along the way, all the pieces come together to form a full picture. That’s how I try to spread character baggage and backstory.
That being said, sometimes I drop very big pieces sometimes if the story calls for it. Not ideal, but it’s necessary. And when that happens, if I’m able to, I at least try to just drop a big chunk here and there, rather than just a whole picture. That way, the information is palatable, rather than an info-dump.

CAT: What’s a polarizing writing/book-related opinion you have?

Why cats? Most of the writers I know are cat people! Often their cats are as sweet as their owners! I plan to get cats as soon as I have a bigger space. Preferably a three-bedroom house with a nice front and backyard and an attached garage.
Never mind. I don’t really have any opinions like that. At least, I don’t think I do. I could tell you about some books I didn’t care for, but they’re the kind of books either people like or they don’t. Sorry I don’t have a scandalous answer. You’d get a better answer with my controversial movie opinion, so I’ll tell you that: I enjoyed The Last Jedi, problems and all. There, I said it. What are you going to do about it?

DEMON: Most frequent writing distraction?

Anime and TV shows. Once I get started on a binge, it’s hard to stop. Either that or my cell phone.


Well, what did you think of my answers? Do you want to read The Pure World Comes now? Let’s discuss.

Now for this tag, tagging isn’t necessary. So if you want to do it, all the power to you. I hope you have fun and make sure to link back to me so I can read it.

That’s all for now. If anyone needs me, I’ll be casting magic to save this country. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

“The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” by John Quidor, 1858

Recently, I rewatched a movie inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that I first saw a teen. The movie was better in my memory, but it did get me interested in the original Washington Irving short story. Which, I realized, I’d never actually read. The closest I ever came was a version that had been updated for the 21st century and dumbed down for kids. As it was America’s first ghost story and I’m a horror writer from America, I figured I should correct that.

So, I read the short story. And then I did some research into the story’s background and influences, as well as some of the other adaptations (I will maintain to my death that the best version is the TV series Sleepy Hollow, and not the Disney cartoon or the Tim Burton film). And once again, following my interests has led me both down a rabbit hole and to an idea for a new story.

Still my preferred adaptation.

But first, let me tell you some things about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that may surprise you. Turns out, there’s a lot about this story than most realize.

For instance, there really were two historical figures named Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel. Yeah, they were real people. Washington Irving liked to name characters after people he met. For Katrina Van Tassel, she was the daughter of a family Irving stayed overnight with, and was charmed enough by her to immortalize her in fiction. I wonder how she felt about her character being a flirty MacGuffin whose father’s fortunes and lands were more relevant than her appearance or lack of a personality.

As for Ichabod Crane, he was a colonel in the US Army who served for nearly five decades (yes, I believe that’s where the TV show got the idea to make him a Revolutionary soldier as well). However, his character was likely based on an actual schoolteacher, Jesse Merwin, who taught in Kinderhook, New York and came from Connecticut, like the fictional Crane did. So…yay for namesakes?

Speaking of Washington Irving, he’s buried in the real town of Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, that’s true. They even worked that into the movie I mentioned at the top of the post (though they left a lot of questions in their wake).

But the biggest surprise I found out about America’s first ghost story? It’s not a ghost story.

Now I know what you’re thinking. But hear me out: while it’s regarded as a ghost story by many, this is mostly because the Headless Horseman and his midnight chase of Crane has entered the public consciousness more than any other aspect of the story. In reality, the Horseman plays only a minor role until the story’s climax.

Disney’s Headless Horseman. Traumatizing children and contributing to the confusion over the story since 1949.

So what is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, if not a ghost story? Why, it’s a somewhat comedic tale of two self-centered men vying for the hand of the local squire’s daughter and the cunning trick one uses to get ahead of the other.

In one corner, you have Ichabod Crane, the educated but superstitious outsider who uses his learning and guile to ingratiate himself into the town, feed his gluttonous appetite and maybe marry into a wealthy lifestyle. In the other, you have Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, the local tough who is more brawny than intelligent but is stubborn and cunning, and may be just as interested in Katrina Van Tassel as he is in her inheritance. Neither one is exactly likable, but it’s fun to see these two go to extremes just to marry Katrina.

And while most adaptations paint the Horseman as a supernatural entity, the original story strongly hints that Brom was dressed up as the Horseman to scare the superstitious Ichabod out of town, which is why the latter disappeared from Sleepy Hollow. In fact, the first feature film adaptation of the story, the 1922 silent film The Headless Horseman, explicitly shows Brom taking off the costume after Ichabod runs for his life for New York City.

As I said though, the Horseman, which is likely based on the Irish myth of the dullahan and other European myths of headless horsemen (trust me, there are a few, though the dullahan’s the most famous), is what made it into pop culture more than anything else, and may play a key role in why the story is still famous today. That, and the Disney cartoon, but mostly the Horseman.

In any case, all this has given me my own ideas for a sequel story to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And while I’m working hard on that, I thought I’d mention this all now. Because let’s face it, it’s all so fascinating. Also, I probably won’t have time to mention it in the post announcing the completion of the first draft. Might as well do it here.

But tell me, what’s your take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Did you know any of this stuff? What’s your favorite adaptation? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now. I’ll be at work on the story if you need me. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Robert Johnson’s studio portrait, one of the few verified photos of him.

I come across the most fascinating subjects sometimes, and when I do, I just have to learn as much as I can about them. Especially if I think I can write a story around them. Robert Johnson is one of those subjects. And if you haven’t heard of him before, that’s a damn shame. Because guess what? Robert Johnson may be the most enigmatic figure in American music history, as well as blues history.

So if you haven’t heard of Robert Johnson, let me give you the quick summary: Robert Johnson was a blues singer who traveled around the American South during the Great Depression. He recorded several songs and two albums in the two years before he died in 1938 in obscurity. However, he made a comeback in the 1960s, influencing musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.

There is very little knowledge about him as a person. Very few photos of Johnson exist, and everything we do know is from scant records and recollections. No one’s sure how he died, they just know that he did at the young age of 27 (my age at the moment, BTW). All this has led to a huge amount of speculation and mythology around the man. The most famous myth is that Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads for talent.

If you’re paying attention this far down and you know me well, you can guess this was why I showed interest in Johnson in the first place.

But let me tell you, the Crossroads myth, as it’s known, only scratches the surface of this mysterious man. I’ve listened to all his music several times (which, by the way, is excellent), watched one biographical video on him, listened to one audio book biography about him and am in the middle of another (also on audio), and watched the movie Crossroads which heavily references Johnson and his legend (it was a lot better than I thought it would be). I’ve been down the rabbit hole on Johnson, and there’s so much more to him than just a myth about the Devil.

If you’ve ever wondered where the crossroads myth in Supernatural is from, Robert Johnson’s legend is an influence.

Robert Johnson was a man whose life was defined by music and impermanence. He was playing from a young age, and traveled all over the United States, and maybe even to Canada. He invented new guitar practices, some of which are still used by artists today. His relationships were often short and fleeting, and even the people closest to him, except maybe his family, weren’t entirely sure who he was. He was such an enigma, his death wasn’t officially confirmed until thirty years after the fact, when his death certificate was found by a researcher. His cause of death is listed as “Unknown Causes.” Even his gravesite is in dispute.

All this and more, from the legends around Johnson, to how he became the influence he is today, and of course his music, make him someone I want to learn more about.

And did I mention his music is wonderful? Because it is. I can put it on in the background and just zone out while I cook or work or write. Yeah, it has an older sound, but there’s something about Johnson’s playing and voice that stick with you, gets into your soul.

And I’ll keep listening to him and researching him for a while yet. I’m still learning what I can about him, and I haven’t figured out what sort of story I want to write around Johnson. I don’t want to write about the Crossroads myth, because that’s been done to death. I was going to do something set in the Cthulhu Mythos, but as much fun as playing in that sandbox is, I want to do more than play with someone else’s toys.

Well, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. May be today, may be next year, but I’ll come up with something. And in the meantime, I’ll keep writing and listening to Robert Johnson’s small but beautiful discography.

And if this makes you want to listen to and/or learn more about Johnson, I recommend the Centennial Collection, which contains the clearest sound of Johnson’s music. I also recommend Crossroads by Tom Graves and Up Jumped the Devil by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow if you want in-depth biography on him. But first, you should listen to probably Johnson’s most famous song, as well as one of the songs that feeds the Crossroads myth, “Cross Road Blues:”

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope this made you interested in learning more on Johnson. Now, if you need me, I’ll be working on Toyland while watching a debate (Evil Dead original vs. remake. It’s going to get bloody).

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

October is usually associated with Halloween, and obviously I’m doing everything I can to make sure you don’t forget that. But it is also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, when the United States recognizes how peoples with disabilities have contributed to the country and to our various industries over the years. This year especially, we are marking both the 75th anniversary of NDEAM, as it’s often abbreviated, and the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) becoming a law.

And it’s good we have this month, because there are so many people with disabilities throughout the world and history who have contributed to our society. Harriet Tubman led dozens of slaves to freedom and acted as an armed scout and nurse for the Union Army, suffered from neurological issues due to a childhood traumatic brain injury; Franklin Roosevelt became President of the United States and led the US through some of its toughest crises, all while dealing with the aftereffects of polio from a childhood condition; Albert Einstein had a learning disability; and author Flannery O’Connor wrote enduring fiction while suffering from lupus.

Not to mention there’s a growing list of entertainers and athletes with disabilities inspiring us everyday. Magic Johnson, the basketball player, has dyslexia; Gaten Matarazzo and Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things have cleidocranial dysplasia and deafness in one ear, respectively; and Elton John has fought bulimia and epilepsy for years. And more amazing people with disabilities are emerging every day. Check out this video of a dance company, half of whose members have disabilities.

I point out all these people because, as Ms. Hamamoto points out in the video above, one in five people have a disability of some sort. Yet, despite the passage of the ADA and the many opportunities this law opened up for Americans with disabilities, this country isn’t always very inclusive. In fact, opportunities and services available for people with disabilities can vary greatly from place to place.

This astonishes me, because becoming disabled is something that can happen to anyone regardless of sex, race, nationality, class, religion, political leanings, ethnicity or age. In fact, the likelihood of getting a disability grows as you get older. It can happen because of genetics, because of an accident, a side effect of an illness, or other causes. Lately, I’ve heard of people who get over COVID-19, but have side effects such as still being unable to taste or suffering from multiple headaches a week. These can, and likely will, be considered disabilities in the years to come.

And many members of the American military come back or discharge with disabilities. These can range from physical, such as war injuries, to mental or psychological, such as PTSD.

You might not even realize that someone near you has a disability. The majority of them are invisible. You may only see their struggles, if anything.

And yet, so many people don’t want to think about the disabled. Services for the disabled can be underfunded. Many homes aren’t always built with the disabled in mind. Education in general is often not given the funding it needs, and when it comes to budget cuts, special education is often on the chopping block. And there’s so little education on disability in general, that people may hold a stigma regarding disability for years: that disability is contagious; that they’re useless; that they brought it upon themselves; that the best thing to do with disability is to ignore it or hide it away or treat it as an annoyance.

As a person with several disabilities–some congenital, others acquired in adulthood–I’m aware of how lucky I’ve been. I’m gainfully employed at an organization where close to twenty percent of the workforce has some form of disability (as well as accommodations for them). And throughout my life, I’ve been able to receive services that help me with my disabilities. So I feel it is important to not only make disability more visible, but also to advocate and help out when I can.

Which is why I’d like to close out this post with some links to help my fellow peoples with disabilities. The Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has numerous resources for the disabled, and many states have programs or offices for the disabled, such as Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities in my state. If you are or know a college student or recent graduate with disabilities, then might I recommend the Workforce Recruitment Program, or WRP, a great program that pairs students and graduates with disabilities with internships in the federal government, and which sometimes turn into jobs (please use Firefox when operating on the site). And the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN, has numerous listings of individual disabilities and what accommodations exist out there. My office uses this site all the time, and we find it quite helpful.

And these are just a small sample of resources for the disabled, a group that should never be discounted or forgotten. Because not only can you become disabled at any time in your life, but because no matter the disability, you matter. You contribute. You make the world a better place. And if people forget that, then it’s up to you and to the rest of us to remind them.

What resources for people with disabilities are you aware of? What has your disability experience been like?

At the time I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of Chapter Ten of the second draft of Toyland, the Gothic horror/dark fantasy novel I finished earlier this year. And let me tell you, as I work through each chapter and make my edits, I find myself in awe.

What the hell was I thinking when I wrote some of these chapters?

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Toyland, it takes place in an Ohio boarding school and follows students who become aware of a ghost haunting their school, one obsessed with a children’s book and that may be harming some of the students. Yeah, bonkers premise, but I make it work. At least, I’m hoping to make it work. Hence why I’m editing it rather than publishing it right here and now.

And I’m glad I am editing it. Because I cannot believe some of the shit I wrote. I mean, yeah, I was writing the early chapters during NaNoWriMo last year, so there’s a good chance I was up late and either sleep-deprived or hopped up on caffeine (or, if it was a weekend, buzzed). But still, some of these lines! What was I thinking? 

For example, in Chapter One, my protagonist Mason heads to the men’s rooms in the dorms. Here’s how I describe it:

Gabe and Mason entered, the door hinges squealing behind them. To the left were the stalls and sinks for the normal bodily functions.

“Normal bodily functions.” As opposed to what, Rami? Are there other kinds of stalls and sinks in bathrooms? Just what the fuck were you talking about?

And there are other passages like that, sprinkled here and there. Every time I come across them, I wonder what my state of mind was when I wrote them. Either that, or if I was just that desperate to make a fifty thousand word count by the end of November.

And in Chapter Ten, the one I’m working on now, I did something incredibly stupid the first time around. Mason the protagonist is about to reveal to a classmate of his about some of the strange events in the school. The story then fast-forwards to hours later, where Mason recalls the conversation in flashback. 

When I read that, I was taken out of the story for a second. I imagine potential readers will have that same experience as well. So now I’m busy rewriting Chapter Ten so that it flows better and doesn’t take the reader out of the story. It’s a pain in the ass, and I’m annoyed at myself for writing the story that way. What the hell was I thinking?

Well, that’s where the story is right now. The good news is, as I get further along, I find fewer of these problems. Hopefully that stays true for the rest of the second draft. But man, until I get to that point, I’m going to be looking back and shaking my head at those sections. 

So, that’s where I stand with Toyland, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep working on it until probably October 1st, when I have to edit a couple of short stories for some publications that will be opening for submissions soon. But after that, barring anything else coming up, I’ll be back at work on Toyland and hopefully have it done by Halloween. Wish me luck.

Also, to my fellow Jews, tonight starts Yom Kippur, where we atone for our past transgressions and pray and fast for forgiveness. To you, I wish an easy fast and Gmar Chatimah Tovah, or “a good sealing” in the Book of Life. As well as a pizza party after the fast ends (wink).

Until next time, Followers of Fear, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

I’ve two words for you:

Fuck 2020.

That’s how people have been reacting since around January, though it really ramped up around March or April. I’ve been among the people who’ve been saying it. Until recently, however, I thought I was dealing with it pretty well. Except for that short period back in March, I’ve been able to keep my writing flowing. Hell, some even say my output is extraordinary or something to look up to. I’ve been doing really well at work. I’m maintaining a healthy lifestyle, for the most part. I’ve been reading a lot. I haven’t fallen behind on any of my bills. I still have a roof over my head, and I keep my apartment clean (or clean enough).

But lately, it’s been a lot. COVID-19; the election and those intent on derailing it for their own benefit, before, during and after November 3rd; hurricanes; wildfires; black people getting murdered and the justice system failing to help those left behind; the deaths of people like Chadwick Boseman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who inspired and brought hope to so many people; science deniers and “fake news” and “alternative facts;” and so much more. Add in that September has never been my favorite month, and also happens to be a really busy time for me at work, and it’s had an effect on me.

For one thing, I was actually sick today. Yeah, I think the stress had an effect on my physical health and I had to call off work. Sucks, especially since I was supposed to give a presentation today.

And not only that, but (*gasp!*) I haven’t been able to work on stories this week.

Yeah, I know. Last night, I only managed to edit three pages of Toyland. Took over an hour to do. I was just like, “Forget it! No point at working at it if I need an hour to get three pages edited!” If I was working on a new story, I wouldn’t be surprised if I wasn’t able to make my minimum of 500 words per writing session. I’d be disappointed, but not surprised.

It’s a shame, but sometimes life gets you down and affects everything.

So, I’m taking steps to improve things. I may only have so much power to change this world,* but I have plenty of power to help myself. In fact, since I was sick today, I spent the day doing self-care. I slept in, made Japanese rice gruel (great for when you’re under the weather), watched Enola Holmes on Netflix,** did some hypnosis for stress relief, and watch cute videos of foxes and cats and dogs (thank you, YouTube).

And I’ll be doing some more self-care over the next few days. Yeah, I know there’s an emphasis in this country on being constantly productive until retirement. But you know what? Fuck productivity! What’s the point of getting all that done if I’m a wreck? Sometimes, taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do. And I wish more people realized that, rather than grinding themselves to death for…what? A possible bonus? Bragging rights? I don’t know.

So, I may not get much more done for the rest of the month. Whatever. Once I’m back in the saddle and feeling better, I’ll be pounding out words and stories at the usual crazy rate. And in the meantime, I’ll enjoy all the relaxation and self-care I can. Life’s too short and crazy not to enjoy it, after all.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Stay safe, take care of yourselves, and pleasant nightmares.

*I could use some of my dark powers to make really big changes, but that involves too much paperwork and some nasty unintended consequences. After this year, I’d like to avoid both.

**Short opinion: the mystery is a bit simplistic and obvious for a story involving a detective named Holmes, but it’s a lot of fun. Millie Bobby Brown is great, there are plenty of funny moments, and it scratches my Victorian itch. Give it a watch if you need something nice to get your mind off your problems.

It’s been a rough week, so I was looking forward to ending it with a horror movie that’s been on quite a few people’s radars since the first trailer dropped. I mean, it has the producers of Get Out and Us on board! Even if Jordan Peele wasn’t part of the project (yeah, I know, I thought that meant he was too, but he’s not), it looked like it was going to be uber-scary and tackle difficult issues that have been plaguing America for centuries. How could I not watch?

Antebellum begins in what appears to be a Civil War-era plantation, and follows a slave called Eden. Suffering from the worst brutalities from her captors, she must find some way out of the nightmare she’s in. But not all is as it seems. What does what’s happening have to do with a woman in the modern era and an almost identical face named Veronica Henley? In the answer lies an evil dating back to America’s bygone days, one built on power, race and cruelty.

I think the film’s biggest issue is that, because of the creative decisions of the filmmakers, its plot is confusing. We start out on the plantation, then it changes to the modern day without any warning, then back again. It’s like two different movies have been edited together, one a historical horror film, the other a slightly supernatural horror film involving contemporary racism. It’s confusing.

And when the big twist of the story is revealed, it took me two or three minutes to wrap my head around it. And I’m the kind of guy who can usually guess a major plot point in a horror movie or at the very least wrap my head around a difficult concept rather quickly. If I’m having trouble, imagine what the casual viewer is going to have.

That being said, the rest of the film is decent. The sections on the plantation during the first third were especially horrifying for their brutality, and the second third had an uncanny, creepy feeling that balanced psychological and supernatural horror. The climax is exciting enough, and the actors are great at portraying pain, terror, hatred, sadistic joy and grief when called upon. Props especially to star Janelle Monae as the lead. The costumes and sets are also amazing, with everything looking like it might on an actual plantation in the mid-19th century. Except for the outdoor furnace, which gave me Holocaust vibes and scared me down to the core of my Jewish soul.

And like Get Out, Antebellum explores its main theme of racism and slavery in an angle that wasn’t expected and made me think. Especially after seeing the documentary 13th and learning how the modern prison system is very much a form of slavery.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Antebellum a 3.5. How it tells its story does bring down the score, but there’s plenty there to keep you invested in the film. And if you need some new horror right now, this will scratch the itch for you. Just don’t expect Get Out or Us levels of terror or deep-thinking.

 

One more thing before I sign off, my Followers of Fear. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community prays for our past sins to be forgiven, seek to forgive and be forgiven by our peers, and hopefully have a sweet new year. I have no idea what made this past year such a horror, but I’m hoping the next one will be better, and that the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death is the last in a year’s worth of horrors.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shana Tovah (that basically means Happy New Year) to you, my Followers of Fear. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may the horrors of last year not follow us into the new one.