Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

I wasn’t able to catch Get Out when it was in theaters, and by the time I watched it on DVD, so much time had passed I didn’t feel like writing a post with my thought. To sum up said thoughts, I thought it was a creepy, atmospheric film that openly explored racial attitudes among Americans, though I felt the main character was less a fully realized character and more of a vehicle for the audience to experience the movie through. So when I heard about Us, I was very intrigued. And then I saw that first trailer. And I knew I had to see what Jordan Peele had cooked up this time. Today, my sister and I went for an early showing, eager to see what people were talking about.

To say the least, the film was surreal. Like Peele was channeling Stephen King when he was writing The Dark Half and created a visual twist on the concept. And it works for the most part.

Us follows Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o, a mother and former ballerina who goes up with her husband Gabe, daughter Zora and son Jason to a vacation home that Adelaide stayed at as a kid in 1986, when she experienced a traumatic episode. That night though, they’re attacked by the Tethered, twisted, animalistic doppelgangers of themselves that seek to murder Adelaide and her family. Thus begins a trial for the family to not only survive, but to find out why this is happening to them.

From the get-go, this is a strange and eerie film. It combines storytelling with atmosphere, music (seriously, the part music plays in this film cannot be underestimated), and action in order to create an intense experience. At some points we were so on edge, a woman sneezing a couple rows behind us caused twenty people to jump out of their seats! And that includes me and my sister.

And the amount of symbolism in this film can’t be understated. A lot of details go into this film that are meant to make you examine the imagery and ideas being presented. From actual twins, symmetry and patterns in objects and pictures, the Bible phrase Jeremiah 11:11, rabbits,* and so much more. All to get you thinking on these themes of identity, duality, being an American, socioeconomics, creative expression, and so much more. I won’t go into what it all means–I’m sure there are bloggers and YouTubers who will do a better job of that than I could–but it will leave you thinking for hours after you leave the theater.

I will take a moment just to say that I think the son character is one big reference to the Friday the 13th franchise. This is mainly because his name is Jason and he wears a mask throughout a good portion of the film for some reason, but there’s plenty in the film I could point to that backs that assertion up. I won’t because I don’t want to spoil anything.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was the humor in film. Not that it was terrible, but after the main plot of the film kicks into gear, I found how much of it there was, most of it coming from family patriarch Gabe (played with plenty of love by Nyong’o’s Black Panther costar Winston Duke) distracting. Like, there’s this one scene where the family is discussing what to do in light of what they’ve experienced, and they make a series of Home Alone jokes! Takes you right out of the tense, creepy mood.

Then again, this is from Jordan Peele, who’s still primarily known as a comedian. Humor should be expected. But at a certain point, I just would like it if was toned down a bit. That may just be my quirk, but it’s how I feel.

All in all though, Us is a true success for Peele. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6.  Unsettling, trippy, and memorable, Us will stay with you for hours after you see it. I have no doubt that with time, it’ll be seen as one of the best horror films of 2019, and maybe the first great one of 2019 as well. Take a breath, jump in, and see the madness yourself.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced copy, all you have to do is send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I only ask that you consider leaving a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you!

*Fun fact: rabbits are capable of a much wider range of beneficial mutations when they reproduce that cousins or even siblings can mate with each other and still produce a healthy and genetically diverse brood. Take that how you will, but I have thoughts on how that plays into the film.

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If you’ve been on the Internet lately, you’ve probably heard of Momo and seen the photo associated with her/it. For those who haven’t, Momo is an Internet urban legend that, like Slender Man before her, has gained a sort of life on and off the Internet. Supposedly, she’s a woman or entity you contact or she contacts you online and threatens you and taunts you, predicting your death and encouraging you to do increasingly dangerous tasks and dares, including committing suicide (this latter part is known as the Momo Challenge). Most photos that pop up when you search her are of a woman with bug eyes, long stringy hair and a beaklike mouth. This is actually a 2016 statue from a Japanese artist named Keisuke Aisawa depicting an ubume, or the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth.

Over the past several months, normal people and YouTube personalities have said to have found Momo’s contact information for apps like WhatsApp and posted videos/screenshots of their conversations (not sure if those are faked, though they are creepy). Parents have also reported their children coming across videos of/about Momo on YouTube and YouTube Kids, traumatizing them and causing YouTube a lot of trouble (this is what happens when you have imperfect algorithms and AI that can’t actually examine video content for appropriateness or guideline violations). And rumors of deaths around the world supposedly caused by Momo (though no official police statements have definitively named Momo in any way to the case). This caused parent groups, celebrities, and Internet safety organizations to warn the public about Momo, saying she could pose a real threat to children and teens, and encouraging Internet safety.

Nowadays, any numbers/accounts associated with Momo are reported inactive and people are starting to realize this is just another Internet monster going around and getting a lot of attention. In other words, more hoax than horror (unless people are posing as Momo online, in which case I hope they can be traced and turned into the police). Still, parents and many others are concerned, and it’s not hard to see why.

So what made Momo so popular?

Well, a couple of factors. Like Slender Man before her, Momo is a modern, Internet incarnation of the boogeyman figures and demons that have haunted humanity’s dreams since the cave dwellings. She is an entity, a witch or demon who tempts or influences people, particularly vulnerable children, to harm. We’ve seen this before with Lilith and succubi, various demons across different cultures, and Krampus, among others. As time and technology have changed, so have our fears and the forms and ways our demons target us, the Internet being the newest way, both as a way to reach people and as a way to spread the word.

There’s also the photo of Momo, which as I said is a statue of Japanese artist Keisuke Aisawa’s conception of an ubume. However the photo itself got associated with the Momo character, it fulfills a lot of the same visual requirements to make it an effective creepypasta image. For one thing, it’s human-like, but distinctly inhuman. This matches up with the theory of the uncanny valley, which states that the further something moves away from being human, the less we are able to identify it as human. At a certain point between human and inhuman, images or objects will enter the “uncanny valley,” where we can’t identify it as human or inhuman and we react with anxiety. Momo’s exaggerated features put her squarely in that valley.

That, and she’s very meme-able. In the time she’s entered the public consciousness, Momo videos, images, artwork, and stories have popped up all over the Internet, ranging from the creepy to the funny. Hell, I even made some Momo imagery. Look.

Like it? It’s me using a filter on my phone. And it was easy to make. So imagine how easy it is for other people to take Momo’s iconic look and put their own spin on it. As I said, instantly meme-able.

But there’s one more reason why Momo’s become so popular, and in this way she’s out-paced Slender Man. You see, Slender Man is specified as an impersonal entity who mainly sticks to forests. Outside of the movie, he doesn’t really rely on the Internet to do what he does to people (though the Internet has been great for his career). Momo on the other hand, while her exact nature is up for debate, is much more human than Slender Man. Her picture has features, she uses the human tool of the Internet, and she attacks us in a personal, psychological way.

Even worse, she can be anyone, and we sense that on some level. We get that beyond the inhuman picture, there’s a human intelligence trying to traumatize and harm us. It could be the elementary school teacher, the kid delivering newspapers to the neighborhood, your local politician, your neighbor, the PTA mom, the college student looking for a thrill that doesn’t come from a needle. She’s the avatar of how you really can’t trust anyone on the Internet and can never really know what their intentions are with you. And isn’t being unable to trust your fellow humans the scariest thing of all?

Obviously, I condemn anyone using the Momo persona to cause harm to others. And I would remind everyone that Momo is a fictional character birthed on the Internet, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Momo has given me an idea for a story. I look forward to getting it written.

But all that being said, it’s no wonder she went viral like she did. She embodies several types of fears in one persona and image, horrifying and fascinating us all at once. It’s fascinated me to the point that I’ve been inspired to write a story. Not about Momo, but a character like her, one born on the Internet that becomes so viral it takes on a life of its own. I think Slender Man and Momo are only the first of a long line of these sort of entities, and I would like to give my own thoughts on the character type through the best medium at my disposal. I hope it turns out well.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for eARC readers for my novel Rose. For those unaware, this is the story of a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you would like to get an advanced electronic copy, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. All I ask is you consider posting a review on or after the release date. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Good night, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant (possibly Momo-filled) nightmares.

My latest article from Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors has just gone live. This post talks about a serious issue that has been plaguing the writing community, particularly online. Many writers have become the target of bullying and public shaming online from their genre’s community, leading to them withdrawing their novels from publication and being publicly shunned. Often the reasons that start these attacks are taken out of context, and the “punishment” is too harsh or goes on for too long, leaving those at the receiving end psychologically scarred and unable to move forward.

That, plus a recent segment from comedian John Oliver’s TV show Last Week Tonight on public shaming, motivated me to write about the subject. Thus my latest article, Public Shaming in the Writing Community. And I hope it leads to some positive discussion and maybe some positive change in the writing community.

If you have a moment, please check it out. I did a lot of thinking before posting this, and I don’t normally talk about controversial topics on this blog unless I think I really need to. That’s how important this topic is to me.

And I realize by writing about this subject, I may be painting a target on my back. Well, as I noted in the article, I’m a Jewish, bisexual man with disabilities and eccentricities. My very existence and interests probably offends someone for dumb reasons. Plus writing horror probably offends someone who thinks all horror does is create and satiate depraved individuals. That’s never stopped me before, and this won’t either.

Besides, I BITE.

Anyway, while you’re there, please feel free to check out the other articles on the site. Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors is a great site for advice on writing, editing, publishing and marketing efficiently. No matter your background or experience, there’s something here that can help you. Believe me on that. I’m not just a contributor, I’m also a beneficiary of the articles.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. Unless the horde of online trolls shows up at my doors, I’ll likely see you next on Saturday with a review of Jordan Peele’s new film, Us. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Well, I’m sick today, so I’m writing this a bit earlier than I normally might’ve. Either way, I would’ve written this post.

It was a year ago today, March 12th, 2018, that I signed the contract with my publisher, Castrum Press, to publish my novel Rose. I remember it being a Monday, and I’d received the contract on the preceding Friday after some back and forth with Castrum. I looked over the contract, signed it, scanned it in at my local library, and then emailed it to Castrum once I walked home. And then I broke out the celebratory beer. Or was it wine? Either way, I was drinking.

For those of you who don’t know, Rose is a novel I wrote as my senior thesis back in college. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Since I first started writing the book back in 2014, the story has gone through numerous drafts and revisions. It’s still going through changes, if I’m honest. But I think every change has been for the better. And I feel every day we’re a bit closer to releasing the novel.

Speaking of which, I’ve been corresponding a bit with Castrum today. They were just as surprised that a year has gone by, but they also suspect the publication date is on the horizon, especially with six or so drafts done on the story. We also talked some business details relating to PR and whatnot, so you know we’re getting further along in the process. Given the way the conversation is going, it makes me optimistic.

And of course, when we do set a publication date, I will let you all know when that is, as well as any other pieces of news that comes down the pipeline. With any luck, I’ll have some good news soon.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to try to stay healthy and get some rest. With any luck, tomorrow I’ll be feeling a whole lot better. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Author Jason Stokes in an adorable photo with one of his cats.

It’s been a while, but I have a new author interview to share with everyone. This one is with an author with an extraordinary story, both in terms of the novel he’s published and his own life experiences. Allow me to introduce Jason Stokes, author of the new novel Watcher.

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Jason. Please tell us about yourself and about Watcher.

Jason Stokes: My name is Jason Stokes. I am a writer and artist currently living in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Watcher is about a young woman diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis who witnesses a horrific crime via hacked webcams. Due to her own lifestyle, she is forced to make a decision between preserving her own safety and seeking justice for a woman she’s never met. In the process she finds herself against the most powerful citizens in her city and untangling a web of corruption that involves nearly everyone she meets.

RU: You wrote Watcher while taking care of your life, who has MS, and who gave a lot of input on the story. Can you tell us what that was like?

JS: It felt like it was time for a character that had the same struggles I’ve seen her go through and exposed the way caretakers in chronically ill lives support those they care about. I wanted her to have a hero she could relate to. She was invaluable, answering questions about how she would handle specific situations, helping me walk in her shoes and uncovering things I had never thought of.

RU: Did the idea for the novel evolve out of your wife’s diagnosis? Or did it influence an already-existing idea?

JS: I had an idea but It was all wrong. It was overdone and I wasn’t feeling excited by it. When I asked myself, how would she (my wife) handle this? It started to come together. I saw a story that had more depth and stakes that were higher than your average mystery/suspense story. When she (the MC)  wakes up every morning she is already at a disadvantage and it doesn’t get any easier from there.

RU: You founded the company, Gestalt Media, that published Watcher. Why go that route?

JS: Ultimately I’m a control freak but I also want to have a role in bringing forward original projects. I wanted full control over my own work and knew the stigma of self-publishing but I also know several creators and I wanted to help bring their projects to fruition. I’m currently working with an artist/writer to publish a series of offbeat comics sometime this year.

RU: On Twitter, you spoke about how a local bookstore refused to carry Watcher. Can you tell us why and how that made you feel?

JS: The store in question refused to carry Watcher because the main character has MS but I (the author) do not. Their stance is not unique. It is a trend among publishers and retail stores to insist on own voices and to refuse books by those outside of the represented  community. I felt that as my wife’s caretaker for the last six years, I have lived this as much as anyone aside from her. I wrote it with extreme care and respect and sought her input through the entire process. The fact is, there are people whose stories deserve to be told that may not be able to for whatever reason put it into words. As authors it is our responsibility to interpret and share the world. We often take ourselves out of the equation. If it’s done with respect, care and attention to the group being represented that should be enough.

I don’t think the store itself is wrong for their viewpoint. It’s their choice but I disagree with the narrow lane it provides for future literature. As I’ve said, it’s a good intent with misguided execution.

RU: I know this is tough to ask, but how are you and your wife doing these days?

JS: As well as we can. It’s a brutal disease and every day is a little worse than the last but we stay in good spirits. She’s a fighter, a true inspiration and I’m proud to stand beside her on this journey. As long as research continues we have something to look forward to. Anything can happen.

The cover for “Watcher” by Jason Stokes.

RU: That’s good. Can you tell us what your writing process is like, if you have one?

JS: I subscribe heavily to the tenets of the Snowflake theory outlined by Randy Ingermanson. Generally I will come up with a character or a situation I find appealing. Something that isn’t often seen or a new angle. Then I’ll place it in a world and find a central scene, something that brings the story to life. From there I’ll build out starting with a two or three sentence synopsis, then a few paragraphs, then a list of scenes, until the whole things appears.

RU: Are you working on anything now or have any future plans as far as writing goes?

JS: Too many things! There’s never a shortage of ideas and projects begging for time. I have another novel coming in time for Halloween. Ghost Story is the beginning of a series involving a protagonist that can see the dead on a road trip to discover more about his exceptionally unusual past.

RU: What advice would you have for other writers, no matter their background or level of experience?

JS: I’m going to quote Chuck Wendig ‘Finish your sh*t.’ You have to finish. As scary as it is. As difficult as it can seem. The real journey begins when you write ‘the end.’

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

JS: Well, I think it would be only prudent to include the Worst Case Scenario Survival Guide. Alternately the Boyscouts of America field book if it was available. Next I’d bring along Robinson Crusoe for obvious reasons and Jurassic Park because it is the single most entertaining novel I’ve ever read.

RU: Thank you for being on the show, Jason, and the best of luck to you and your wife, both with Watcher and in life.

If you would like to check out Watcher (I’ve already sent a request into my local library to order a couple copies), you can get it for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. If you’re interested in more of Jason Stokes, check him out on Twitter. I highly recommend you consider doing both.

And if you would like to be interviewed for an upcoming or recent release, either check out my Interviews page or send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see if we can’t make some magic happen.

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

The other day, one of the YouTube channels I follow, Tale Foundry,* asked a question on their social media about the difference between an author’s writing style and voice. Since I saw it first on their Twitter, I answered their question there. It went something like this over the course of two tweets:

Writing style is the technical part of writing: the author’s word choice, how thoughts are written out, etc. Voice is that and more: what sort of stories the author likes to tell, their favorite characters, the elements they like to include to make the story exciting.

That was my answer at the time, but I wanted to make sure it was right and I wasn’t just pulling stuff out of my ass like most politicians. So I went to Google and took a look. To my surprise, I was pretty on the dot. According to that lovely resource none of my teachers or professors liked us using even when they used it themselves, Wikipedia, writing style “is the manner of expressing thought in language characteristic of an individual, period, school, or nation. Thus, style is a term that may refer, at one and the same time, to both conventions that go beyond the individual writer and to singular aspects of individual writing.” And according to TheBalanceCareers.com,** voice is “the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character.”

For example, let’s look at HP Lovecraft’s writing style and voice, as they’re both so distinctive.*** His writing style is easy to pin down: an overly-wordy and stuffy Victorian patois filled with fancy words. Yeah, he liked to pretend he was a contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe. I think in his later works he tried to modernize his style, but he never got over using too many words and too many fancy ones.

As for his voice, that’s also easy to pin down: stories centering around terrors that give no care for mankind. Secrets and sights terrible enough to cause insanity. Entities so powerful they see humanity as nothing more than ants in the grand scheme of things. All with an unhealthy helping of xenophobia, racism, fear of women, fear of sex, fear of technology and progress, inability to grasp many sciences and maths, and an obsession with sophisticated upbringing and breeding.

Yeah, dude had his issues, and this was before getting help for your problems was effective and smiled upon by society. On the plus side, it had a lasting influence on the horror genre that’s still felt today. And the combination of the two makes it easy to point out an HP Lovecraft story when you come across one, even if his name is obscured.

As for my own style and voice, they’re still evolving. But I’ve noticed a few things for each. I prefer to write my characters blunt with their feelings, possibly because I have enough trouble understanding real humans and their confusing mix of emotions. And I love writing stories with unlikely heroines or nice-guy heroes, usually but not always in the their teens, supernatural enemies and horrors, plenty of either realistic or twisted love and romance, and more than a dash of weird to make it fun.

I think there are people out there who like that sort of thing. Not all of them are close relatives. I hope.

Writing style and voice are both very important aspects of writing, both for the writer using them and for the audience reading their work. It’s how we come to know the storytellers, how we identify them just from looking at a page, and it’s what allows them to stay relevant and immersive long after they’ve stopped typing on keyboards or holding pens.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have a review out this weekend, so if nothing else comes up in the meantime, I’ll see you then. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Have you noticed anything about your writing style or voice? What about your favorite authors?

*Which you should check out if you’re interested in stories and looking past the surface to the mechanics and deeper meaning of storytelling, by the way. Here’s the link to their YouTube channel.

**They also mention voice can refer to a character or narrator’s voice. But since I think Tale Foundry was referring to the author’s voice, I’ll stick with that one.

***Speaking of which, yesterday was the 91st anniversary of the publication of The Call of Cthulhu, the first appearance of the titular character and the namesake of the Mythos. Happy Birthday, Cthulhu. May you someday rise out of the sea to irrevocably change the world (preferably before the 2020 election becomes super depressing/annoying).

Good morning, everyone! It’s about one in the morning, but I can’t sleep yet. Not until I update you on the latest with Rose!

Now for those of you who’ve joined the Followers of Fear since my last update (Hi, by the way. Pleasure to have you), Rose is a novel that I started in college as my thesis project and which is being published by Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Yes, I wrote a horror novel around that bonkers concept, an it’s just bonkers enough to work.

Honestly, I worried it was too bonkers. But based on this latest edit, I think it’s just bonkers enough to work.

So if you read my last update on the novel, you know Castrum wanted me to take a look at word choice and do some touch-ups with the text. Thanks to a couple of thesauruses and plenty of motivation, I was able to go through the entire novel within the space of a couple of weeks and get rid of the unnecessary and repetitive words. The result is that the novel is a few thousand words shorter, but still a decent length of 57,051 words (for context, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was about twenty-thousand words longer). And I think it may be the best version of the novel yet.

Of course, that’s my bias. But given that with every draft of this novel I’ve had to change major aspects of the story every time–characters, plot points, locations, etc.–it’s nice to see Rose is finally getting into a shape worth publishing. Perhaps this might be the draft that goes to press. We’ll see. We may have more work to do before all is said and done.

Done. You know, my high school English teacher once said something that’s stuck with me through the years. He said that a story is never “perfect.” You can only get it “done,” i.e. edited and polished up to the point where doing anything else to it would be a disservice to the story. You’re done with it, and that’s that. And I think Rose has taken a few more steps to being done.

I hope, anyway.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve already sent the new draft off to Castrum. I’m way ahead of the scheduled deadline of March 31st, so that means they’ll either get through it that much quicker or it’ll wait for a little bit until the end of March, when they carved out time in the calendar to review the manuscript. Either way, I think after this draft things should speed along.

Well, in the meantime, I think it’s time I hit the hay. Tomorrow’s another day to write and edit and come up with concepts to scare people down to their cores. Good night, Followers of Fear. Thanks for your continued support as I work hard to get this novel out.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!