Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

Normally I don’t voice my opinions or make calls to actions on this blog, but I feel like I have to say something on this one. Earlier this week, my stepmother, who works for Columbus’s library system, asked if I had any opinion on a petition the library was gathering signatures for to send to Macmillan Publishers. I did a little research, and what I found shocked me.

Starting this November, Macmillan Publishers, one of the biggest and oldest publishing firms in the world, will not allow libraries to purchase more than one copy of an ebook they publish for the first eight weeks after the book is published. For those unaware, many libraries these days lend e-books to readers who prefer reading on tablets to paperbacks using technology called e-lending, during which patrons have access to the ebook file for a short access period, after which they’re unable to access it without renewing or checking it out again. One ebook file equals one book to check out, so libraries buy multiple copies, especially for more popular books and writers. If this change goes through, libraries will only have one copy of an ebook for readers for the two months after release.

Now lest I be accused of being biased, Macmillan cites e-lending’s effects on book sales as their reason for why they’re doing it. According to a memo released by John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan:

It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free.

First off, thirteen bucks for an ebook? Of course people are going to go for the cheaper option! The majority of people aren’t rich, you know. We hae rent and car bills to pay.

Second, let’s take a look at print books, which are still more popular than ebooks. Libraries order several physical copies of books by famous authors* months before they’re released. Upwards of hundreds of people reserve copies of those books and wait months to read them without having to pay anything. However, this doesn’t seem to affect publisher sales significantly enough to put similar measures in place. And if a publisher dared to, I imagine they’d face riots. I mean, what if libraries could only order one copy of the latest JK Rowling or Stephen King book, and were perfectly honest about why? I’d imagine the offending publishers would be visited by mobs of angry wizards and blood-soaked prom queens.

And finally, the word-of-mouth effect should have a counter-effect to anything e-lending can do to book sales. The more people who are reading a book, the more people are likely to talk about it. The more people who talk about a book, the more people who will want to read it. The more people will want to read, the more people who will read, which will repeat the cycle. Allowing access to more ebooks at libraries only helps this effect, so Macmillan is kind of cutting off their own digits with this move.

This and other reasons is why the American Library Association has launched a petition asking Macmillan to reverse their decision, a petition which I support. As of writing this, the petition has a little over twenty-thousand signatures, but it’s going to need a lot more to change CEO John Sargent’s mind. So I wrote this article to help change a few minds.

If you would like to sign the petition, please click here, and make sure to spread the word. The more people who are aware of this issue, the more people who will be persuaded to help. And honestly, for the sake of the many people who like to read, including our work on occasion, we owe it to them.

You can also read this article from Slate.com if you would like to further research this issue yourself.

Thanks for reading, Followers of Fear. I hope you decide to support the cause, and until next time, pleasant nightmares.

*AKA not Rose and/or anything else by me, though if you want to help me change that, I’d appreciate that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

junji Ito will shake you every time.

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

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

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

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

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

Do I really need to say anything? No, we all knew I was going to see this movie opening weekend, and that I would post a review soon afterwards. The only question is, besides what did I think of the movie, is why the review is being posted so late at night. Answer: I went with a couple of friends to Oktoberfest Columbus for drinks and only just got back a little while ago. Now onto the review.

IT: Chapter Two picks up the story twenty-seven years after the ending of Chapter One. A violent gay-bashing reawakens It, who begins another reign of terror upon the people of Derry. Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club still in Derry, calls back his friends, who have forgotten most of their memories and need to recall what they’ve forgotten in order to stop It once and for all. Unfortunately, It wants them to come back. It enjoys having enemies. And It wants to finish what they all started twenty-seven years ago.

I’ll be honest with you: I was disappointed with this movie.

There’s stuff here to enjoy, don’t get me wrong. The adult versions of the characters not only look like grown up versions of the kids we met two years ago (who show up a lot in this movie, and I really can’t tell they’ve been digitally de-aged, even though that’s what happened), but they put their all into the characters and do it so well. Bill Hader as the adult Richie Tozier, for all his inexperience in the horror genre, does scared very well, and steals just about every scene he’s in. Bill Denbrough is given a decent character arc tackling his ongoing guilt regarding his brother’s death. They actually do the giant spider form some justice in this film, as well as the scene with Adrian Mellon being beaten to death by homophobes.

Stephen King himself has a great cameo in the movie, and they managed to work in an in-joke about King’s writing (namely that he doesn’t know how to end a book)* by having people say Bill doesn’t know how to finish a novel. And I approved of some of the changes to the story for the film, especially one involving a secret of Richie’s and putting Stan Uris’s suicide in a new light.

However, there was a lot I didn’t care for in this film. One thing I didn’t like was how everything just seemed to be spelled out for our protagonists. In the first film, you watched the characters figure out everything–It’s 27-year cycle, how all seven of them need to be together to fight It, how It has many different forms, including a clown–and that was great. People who knew the source material got to see them figure out the puzzle (I’m told this is called dramatic irony) and those who weren’t pieced things together with the characters. But in Chapter Two, EVERYTHING gets spelled out, mostly by Mike. He’s practically one big info-dump, which takes away some of the sense of mystery.**

Not only that, but It’s power in Derry seems to be downplayed in this film. In the first film, they do a great job conveying how much power It has over Derry and its inhabitants, but I did not get that sense as much during this film. I could’ve also used further exploration of It’s origins. I’m not asking for Maturin and the Macroverse (I’m not unreasonable), but I would’ve loved to see a bit more otherwordliness and maybe a scene going into how the form of Pennywise arose (fans were teased a scene like that after the first film). Kind of made Pennywise less threatening to me, actually.

We also get a lot of CGI in this film, which is ugly and comes with enough flashing lights that I left the theater with a strong headache. And while the final battle was awesome at times, the way it ended left me feeling less than impressed (really? That’s the final shot of Pennywise you went with?).

Oh, and before I forget: the tone. One criticism of the first film is that the tone’s a little inconsistent at times. However, it’s worse in the second film, with jokes and music that doesn’t fit popping up every other minute. I mean, can we leave the joking to Bill Hader and just keep things consistent? I want to be scared, not giggling at one-liners.

There are other things I could say, but I’m going to just leave it at that. On a scale of 1 to 5, I think I’ll give IT: Chapter Two a 2.5 out of 5. Perhaps I psyched myself up too much for this film, but it did not fulfill my expectations. Also, don’t see this film if you have any sort of photosensitivity.

I bought this Pennywise doll after the movie. No matter what you think of the second movie, this is the best version of Pennywise, and I wanted something to celebrate that.

On the bright side, Chapter One still holds up, and will for years to come. We may never get an adaptation of IT in any format that will satisfy everyone, but at least Chapter One will always be the closest to doing so. And of course, Joker and Doctor Sleep come out next month. Those should settle our scary clown and Stephen King itches, respectively.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Goodnight, and pleasant nightmares.

*Which I don’t agree with. I can count the number of his books I’ve been disappointed with the ending with on one hand, but that’s just me.

**Also, wasn’t he supposed to be a recovering addict in this film? I mean, they kept saying in promotional interviews that he was, but the only evidence I saw of that was an empty beer bottle and one Native American vision journey. He comes off more as obsessed to me: obsessed with Pennywise and his childhood friends. Worrisome, but not evidence of a recovering addict.

My seat at the Bexley Local Author Festival. Photo courtesy of my mother., who came by to support me.

I’ve never been to an author festival or book fair or whatever you want to call them, at least not in the capacity of an author. But then a month or two ago, I spoke to the owner of Gramercy Books Bexley, one of the local bookstores, who asked if I would like to be one of the authors at Bexley Local Authors Festival.* Of course, I said yes.

I arrived at the location earlier today a little after 1:30, with extra books, my cloak (gotta sell that horror writer vibe, don’t I?) and a few props packed up in a box. The past two years the author festival has been held at the Bexley Public Library, as Gramercy doesn’t have enough room inside its store to hold all those authors. Even still, it was pretty crowded: there were forty authors in the library”s auditorium, in four rows of tables, with two authors per table. We kept having to jump over one another to get to our seats! And that was before the people were let in.

Despite how crowded it was, it was a lot of fun. I sat next to another author, Robert Turner, who was also here for the first time, and he was pretty cool guy. We talked quite a bit while we were trying to attract customers, and he told me about his book, which he summed up as “a suicide note from Judas Iscariot.” You couldn’t help but feel a little bit curious after hearing a synopsis like that (and if anyone wants to check it out, click the link here)!

And on my other side were two people close to my age who wrote memoirs about their experiences living abroad. One was a guy who lived and taught English in South Korea for two years, and what that was like. The other was a young woman who wrote about a book about the people she came across while traveling through Japan, China and other countries. They joked to attendees that they were the Asian travel section, and between the two of them, they had the entirety of Southeast Asia covered. It was kind of funny.

And now, for those of you who are wondering, how did Rose do? Well, it’s not easy to sell books in any location. The festival had a huge mix of different authors selling every type of book under the sun, from memoir and self-help to children’s books and historical romances. And believe me when I say, many folks were there to say hi to people they knew selling books at the festival. Add in that space was pretty tight, and it’s a lot to work with and get people interested in your work.

That being said, I still managed to sign and sell some copies of Rose. One even went to one of my professors from college. And for every book sold, I think about ten people got a business card, where they could find more information about me and order a copy of Rose if they wish later on. Many of the people who took cards seemed genuinely interested, so I think they’ll end up buying a copy at home. On the whole, I think you could call today a success.

And if I get invited back again next year, I think I’ll go. I had a lot of fun, talked to some great people, and maybe found a few new readers and fans. What more could a guy ask for?**

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to dream up more terrors for you all. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*For those unaware, Bexley is a suburb of Columbus, with a range of house types and sizes and well-known for its high Jewish population. I grew up there for a number of years, and I’ve been back several times for a number of reasons since I’ve moved out.

**Plenty, actually, but I count my blessings.

It’s hard to believe we’re in the second half of August, and October (AKA the Halloween season, AKA the most wonderful time of the year), is right around the corner. Soon, we’re going to have to get ready for witches and goblins and more candy than is probably healthy. But before we go into all that (as well as some of what I have planned for that month), I have to mark a milestone. That’s right, my novel Rose has been out for two whole months!

So for those of you who know, Rose is a fantasy-horror novel I wrote as a college thesis project. The novel follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who awakens with the past two years missing from her memories. She quickly undergoes a terrifying transformation into a plant-like creature, which begins a saga to ensure her survival as she realizes people in her life are hiding dark secrets from her.

It took a lot of work, about seven drafts, and more than a few anxiety attacks, but after five years, Rose was released on June 21st, 2019. And I’m proud to say that it’s been doing well. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s read it seems to like it, or at the very least, not hate it. Just this past Sunday, for example, I received two new reviews of Rose, each from very different reviewers. For example, The first came from Angela Yuriko Smith, editor of S’pace and Time Magazine, who shared her thoughts on her personal website (which apparently she read the same week she put in a garden. Now that’s synergy!). The other came from Elle Turnpitt of Dead Head Reviews, who found it terrifying and gave the novel as a whole a 4 out of 5.  Nice stuff.

Me at the reading on Sunday. Yes, I am wearing a black cloak. Does that surprise you at all?

Also on Sunday, I had my very first solo author reading* at Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus. I’ve loved that place since my college years, and I was super excited to have my reading there (plus, the mead!). A small but very enthusiastic crowd showed up for the reading, only three of whom were related to me, and they liked what they heard. After the reading, they asked me a lot of questions (my favorite was if I’m a LARPer–I wish I had the time for that!) and a few people even bought signed copies. It was an amazing experience, one I hope to do again with them someday.

Did I mention the owners of Brothers Drake messaged me on Instagram today to let me know they’re reading it? I’m really excited to hear what they think.

Anyway, if any of this has made you curious about Rose, I’ll leave the links below so you can check it out, read some of the other reviews people have left, and then decide to get a copy. And if you do get one, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, email or online review, I love feedback and it helps me out in the long run.

The table featuring the copies of “Rose,” which I enjoyed signing books and talking to people at.

Oh, and before I forget, I’ll be at the Bexley Local Author Festival at the Bexley Public Library on Sunday, August 25th, in Bexley, Ohio. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Rose, taking photographs, and probably not sacrificing the lives of the innocent in order to start a terrifying plague. Hope to see you there if you can make it. And if you can’t, I’ll likely be blogging about it, so you can read that. Should be a good time.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have to torture the souls of famous personages from history who were secretly serial killers (you’ll never guess which American Founding Father is among that group) and then work on a possession story before heading to bed. Until next time, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

*Sort of. I had one in college in my dorm, but given that I bribed or blackmailed most of the five people who showed up and it didn’t really result in any sales of The Quiet Game, I’m not sure it counts anymore.

So today marks the 13th anniversary of my bnei mitzvah, when my sister Adi and I were called to the Torah in official recognition of reaching adulthood in Judaism.* According to the Gregorian calendar, anyway: August 19th, 2006. The anniversary date on the Hebrew calendar falls on August 26th this year, and the Torah portion my sister and I read from, Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17), will be read in synagogues on August 31st. It’s a whole lot of complicated, I know.

The point is, the date I pay attention to, August 19th, 2006, has its anniversary today. Thirteen years ago. A full half of my lifetime ago, and close to half my own sister’s life ago.

I’m not doing anything to mark the occasion. The thirteen-year anniversary isn’t really that significant in Judaism, and I’m not in the mood to do anything special beyond maybe some ice cream and wine (the celebratory foods of the exhausted working grown ups). I barely remember that weekend’s festivities, truth be told, beyond going off-script and laughing like a lunatic during my speech (but it was poorly written, so it was probably an improvement). Still, I thought I’d at least talk about it.

Because honestly, I feel more like an adult now than I ever did at thirteen.

I don’t know when it happened. Becoming an adult became a gradual process, not just something that happened overnight. It started in college, while I was paying rent and bills while also balancing homework and trying not to stress out about my grades. And then I started looking for a job, had an internship abroad (which gave new lessons to the art of budgeting), came back and had the existential dread of living on my dad’s couch for eight months looking for a job. I found a job, started paying rent again, paid more bills, worked forty hours a week. I got a license and a car, I learned to balance fun and asserting my independence with work and learning to submit when necessary.

And I began to understand how the world works. How insane and nasty it can be, and how much we have to do to make it seem pleasant for more than a millisecond or two.

What did I know at thirteen? I was still wrapping my head around the idea that other people will never like horror or anime no matter how much I talked about it. I was sure I would be a famous author by age twenty and living in Beverly Hills by twenty-five. And I was sure the world was a mostly-good place where good eventually triumphs over evil, and the nastiness I saw everyday would eventually balance itself out.

Look how well that turned out.

Not to say I was completely clueless or naive back then. I did know one thing back then, and that I wasn’t an adult, no matter how well I read from the Torah or what my rabbis (aka my parents) said. I knew I couldn’t survive on my own. I had only so much understanding of my own finances, of how to take care of myself. I knew I would be dependent on my parents and others for at least the next five years. No matter what, I wasn’t ready for adulthood (though, like every teen, I couldn’t wait for the freedoms of adulthood).

I guess I can sum this up by saying I’m glad it took as long as it did for me to reach adulthood. I was able to enjoy being young while it lasted, and I wouldn’t be anywhere near as competent as I am now without all those years to learn and mature. At the same time, that slow change from kid to adult helps me be a better writer, and understand those younger than me (even if I have no idea what the kids are listening to these days or what video games are popular).

So I guess it took another thirteen years, but I can finally say, I’m a grown up now. And I think I’m doing alright.

*Just a note for those not familiar with Judaism and/or the Hebrew language: a bar mitzvah is for a single 13-year-old boy. A bat mtzvah is for a single 12-year-old girl. A bnei mitzvah is for multiple boys or a mixed-gender group. And a b’not mitzvah is for multiple girls. Also, many adults have bnei mitzvahs, especially if they converted in adulthood or otherwise were unable to have a ceremony in their teens. Just thought I’d mention it.

Someone on Twitter mentioned this film and I thought it sounded interesting. That’s it. I have nothing else to add, beyond the wait at the library took way longer than I expected. Oh well. Let’s get into it.

The Witch in the Window follows a man and his son who go to Vermont to flip an old farmhouse. However, they’re not long before they find out the house is already occupied. And this occupant is very intent on them staying. Whether they want to or not.

Well, this was a surprisingly decent Gothic horror film with a lot of heart.

The best part of this film is the relationship between dad Simon and his son Finn. The filmmakers could’ve gone with some generic story about a moody kid and his dad coming together through adversity, but instead we get a relationship that’s touching and feels organic. You get the sense that they see this trip as getting away from all the toxic influences in their lives and are reconnecting in a way that would make many parents and kids jealous. It’s this relationship that drives the film, and makes you want to root for the characters.

I also like the story for the most part. While there is a jump scare or two, there’s a lot more importance placed on atmosphere and disturbing imagery. There are a number of scenes that make your skin crawl, all without any cringy CGI or loud noises. One scene when Finn wakes up had me in awe because of how clever and creepy it was. Coupled with a plot that goes in unexpected directions, it makes the movie difficult to look away from. You just want to see where it goes and what will happen next.

That being said, the third act does feel rushed, which made the ending feel slightly hollow rather than psychologically terrifying but ultimately sweet. If maybe another ten to twenty minutes had been added to the film, it would’ve been much scarier and maybe the ending might have a more emotional punch.

All told, The Witch in the Window is an engaging and different kind of horror film than what we’re used to. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. Pop it in if you get a chance because, like the characters, you’ll be staying for a while.