Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

Today’s guest is an author who’s book, A Cosmology of Monsters, has been blowing up the horror scene since its release in September. I finished it last month, and found it to be an amazing read (see my review here). And I’m not the only one who liked it, because Cosmology ended up becoming a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror (and yes, I am jealous). So, I’m very excited to have the author today. Hailing all the way from across the Internet, I bring you Shaun Hamill!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the blog, Shaun. Tell everyone here a bit about yourself and about your novel, A Cosmology of Monsters.

Shaun Hamill: I grew up in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, and got my bachelor’s in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. In my early 30s I attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and got my MFA. I wrote most of A Cosmology of Monsters there.

A Cosmology of Monsters is a literary horror novel about a family running a haunted house attraction in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas. Narrated by the youngest child, Noah, the novel tracks the family’s fortunes across 50 years, and explores the monsters—both metaphorical and literal—that haunt them. It’s a generational saga, an homage to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, and most importantly, a story about the ways love can either save or damn us.

RU: How did the idea for Cosmology come into being?

SH: This novel was born out of the wreckage of a couple of projects. The first was a sprawling tragi-comic saga in the style of John Irving or Meg Wolitzer, about a family operating a youth hostel in Taos, New Mexico. The second was a short story about a married couple breaking up as they tour a haunted house attraction. Neither piece quite worked, but one day while I was walking my dog, the two ideas put themselves together and I realized that my epic family business novel should be about a haunted house, not a youth hostel. It would give me a chance to merge my taste for character-driven literary fiction with my love for the darker, more eerie tones of the horror genre. Noah’s voice came to me right away, as did Eunice’s suicide notes and the romance that opens the book. The rest of it came organically, as I followed the story where it led, exploring my characters and their ever-darkening world. I was perpetually surprised by what I found. I would never have been able to plan a book like this, and I hope some of that dark joy of discovery carries over for the reader.

RU: What was the research and writing process like for Cosmology? And what challenges did you face in writing the book?

SH: Research was a big part of the process of writing Cosmology. When I started the book I had only read a few Lovecraft stories, and I hadn’t ever worked behind the scenes of a haunted house. I read all of Lovecraft’s fiction, and also spent time reading scholarship about his life and writing. For the haunted house parts of the book I relied on my own knowledge as a patron of the attractions, and a tour of an out-of-season haunted house that I took in my late twenties. I also watched documentaries about haunted attractions, listened to podcasts, lurked on message boards, and so on.

The biggest challenge of writing this book was the revision process. My first draft weighed in at 220,000 words, and the published version is just over 100,000 (my agent insisted that the book would be tough to sell at its initial length). Figuring out which threads of story could be condensed or severed altogether took a long time, as did rewriting the entire ending to make it smaller and more meaningful to the characters. It forced me to carefully consider my characters and themes, and brought them into sharp focus by the end of the editorial process. I’m very pleased with the result, and humbled by how much better my agent and editors made my book.

RU: Haunted houses, both literal attractions and metaphorical haunted homes, are a big part of the book. Are you a fan of haunted houses yourself?

SH: I’m a big coward when it comes to haunted houses. I used to have a group of friends that I went with when I still lived in Texas, in my mid-to-late 20s, but I would never go to one by myself, and haven’t been to one since 2012 or 2013. I’ve always been fascinated by them from a distance, though. I’ve wondered about the people who work there, what it’s like to have the scenes of your life play out against such a fantastical backdrop.

RU: If you could design a haunted house attraction, what would it be like?

SH: The attraction in the book, The Wandering Dark, is exactly my idea of the sort of haunted house I would like to run. If money and practicality were no object, I would love to do a haunted hotel—something more immersive and stranger than the typical spook-a-blast attractions in the genre.

RU: Do you see yourself revisiting the world and characters of Cosmology someday in a future story?

SH: I go back and forth on this question. Some days I think it would be fun to continue the story of the Turner family, and I have done some brainstorming for a sequel. Other days I think that a sequel would lessen the impact of the book’s final pages and cheapen it. I guess I’ll wait and see if there’s a market for a sequel and then decide. Even if I never write a direct sequel, I will probably find ways to weave elements of that world into future stories.

RU: What is it about horror in general that attracts you to it?

SH: I have a melancholy outlook on life, so horror fits my disposition. I’m not attracted to the gore or violence, but rather the atmosphere of dread and dark wonder that I find in my favorite horror stories. I don’t like being terrorized. I like being creeped out. I love the idea that there is something beyond the known world, dark secrets to discover. It’s the sort of thing that Lovecraft does in his best work, as does Thomas Ligotti. I also love character-based horror, like Stephen King writes. I love stories about good people struggling against supernatural threats. It’s an effective way to illuminate the strength of the human spirit, what’s most noble and wonderful about people.

RU: Are you working on anything now? Do you have any future writing plans?

SH: I recently finished a rough (and I mean very rough) first draft of a new novel. I have an outline for another, different novel with my agent. We’re trying to decide which project to pursue first. My hope long-term is to keep doing what I’m doing now—writing books and publishing them and (hopefully) getting paid to do so. Fingers crossed COSMOLOGY won’t be the only thing I get to publish!

RU: What advice would you give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

SH: Write a lot and read a lot. Read deeply in your own genre, but also outside of it. Join a writing group or take a writing class if you can afford it. If you’re able, get on the reading committee for a journal or prize—I learned more from reading the slush pile for Carve magazine and the Katherine Anne Porter Prize than I ever learned in a classroom or working alone at my own desk.

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

SH: Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, The Collected Stories by Lorrie Moore, and Three Novels by Stephen King (an omnibus of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Shining).

RU: Good choices. Thank you for joining us, Shaun. I hope we can do it again someday.

If you’d like to find out more about Shaun Hamill, you can find him on his website and on Twitter. You can also find A Cosmology of Monsters on Amazon if you’d like to read the book (which I highly recommend). And if you are an author with a book coming out soon and are possibly interested in having an interview, hit me up on ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and we’ll see what magic we can conjure.

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

You can thank this book for this latest post.

Back in August, fresh off the heels of Rose‘s release, I wrote a post about marketing a freshly released book in this crowded market. And now that my short story “Car Chasers” has been released in The Binge-Watching Cure II, as well as the audio book for Rose coming out recently, it’s high-time I got around to doing Part 2. As I said in the last post, it’s important to have a marketing plan in place and not expect your book will snowball into popularity. Books rarely just snowball into bestsellers, so a detailed marketing plan, one you actually act on, is essential.

And this time, I will be getting into practical tips, rather than just some food for thought to get you in the marketing mindset.

Of course, I will be plugging Rose and The Binge-Watching Cure II in this post, and including links at the end. Gotta get those stories in people’s hands, am I right?

First off, put together an ARC list. ARC stands for “advanced reader copies,” and ARC lists are lists of readers, usually volunteers, who are interested in reading an advanced copy of your book (usually digital, though sometimes physical or audio). Why would you want to give people an ARC? Because ARC readers will read your book, sometimes well ahead of the release, and drum up interest via word of mouth. Sometimes they’ll leave reviews on review sites or on their blogs, other times they’ll say something on social media. Either way, they tell people about your book, and that means more potential readers.

That being said, when you have ARC readers, there are a couple things you’ll want to do when compiling your list, besides getting their contact info, of course (gotta get them that ARC somehow, right?):

  • This is an act of volunteering and you want honest opinions. Don’t ask people to give you good reviews, don’t pay for good reviews, and don’t pay for reviews (this does not apply to blog tours though, which we will talk about later). ARC readers are doing you a favor, so don’t expect them to say nice things just for you. And if someone wants to be paid for a review, run the hell away!
  • Don’t ask family or close friends to be ARC readers. Sites like Amazon, from which most authors get their sales, can get suspicious if someone who might be a relative or a close friend leaves a review. This is because some authors have used their friend groups to boost their books, even if the friends haven’t read the book. Amazon is aware of this, and has developed countermeasures to combat this practice, which sometimes go overboard.
    So even if your mother is going to leave an honest review of your book, perhaps ask her to leave reviews only on Facebook. Sites like Amazon will strike down reviews and mess with your royalties if they suspect a fake or paid review.
  • Not everyone who volunteers to be an ARC reader will follow through reading and/or reviewing. This could be for a variety of reasons, but in the end, sometimes life happens, and they can’t follow through on the commitment. What to do about this? Well first, don’t get abusive towards people who can’t follow through on being an ARC reader. Believe me, sending them an email calling them lazy shits won’t get you anywhere, and can actually ruin careers before they start.
    Second, gather as many interested ARC readers as you can. I gathered over fifty interested people for Rose, and about nineteen left reviews on various sites in the first two months, close to twice the average number. So a large ARC list of people genuinely interested in your book is a good thing to have.
  • Finally, save your ARC readers when they follow through. If you have an ARC reader who read your book and talked about it, chances are they’ll do it again, so remember them and ask if they’ll be interested when the next one is nearing publication. Hopefully after a few books, you’ll have a decent list of ARC readers you can message when you’re ready to publish something.

Also put together a list of places to send your book to/advertise your book with. You’d be surprised how many sites exist to promote certain genres, and which give reviews of books in those genres. Start compiling a list of these sites and publications, as well as what sort of stories they look for and how to contact them. When the book is published, keep an eye out and see which are accepting books at the moment. If you’re lucky, they may fit you into their reviewing schedule.

Look into the possibility of a blog tour. A blog tour is exactly what it sounds like: you go around different blogs to give interviews, write guest articles, or let them review your book. These are a great way to highlight your work among a huge audience, and if the blogs featuring you are in the same genre as you, it means the readers of that blog are more likely to want to check out your book.

I did a couple blog tours for Rose, and found them very helpful.

There are two ways to do a blog tour. One way is to organize one yourself by asking for bloggers to participate. The other is to work with a blog tour company, who act as a middleman to help you find blogs that’ll work with you for a small fee. This doesn’t count as paying for reviews, but instead is more like having an advertising department who help you get people to notice your book. Only these folks are contractors.

If you decide to go with the former option, put out an open call on your blog and social media for a blog tour, and see who responds. Also contact bloggers who may not be following you but may be interested in hosting you. For the latter, check with other authors to see if they have any recommendations, or see if there any that come highly rated on a website like Yelp or equivalent. If there’s a recommended one, see if they have any availability for you and start talking rates.

 

Well, that’s all for Part 2. I hope you found these methods to marketing your book helpful and may even share some methods you find helpful in the comments below. I’m not sure when I’ll do Part 3 or what I’ll focus on when I do, but I hope you’ll keep an eye out for it and give your two cents when you do.

In the meantime, if you would like to check out Rose or The Binge-Watching Cure II, I’ll leave the links below. Rose is my first novel with a publisher, and is a fantasy-horror story following a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The Binge-Watching Cure II is an anthology from Claren Books containing several short stories and novelettes from a variety of authors, each one longer than the last. My own short story, “Car Chasers,” which is like Fast & Furious-style car races with ghosts in the mix, occupies the eight-thousand word spot. Either one would be a great addition to your bookshelf, if I may be so bold.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

The Binge-Watching Cure II: Paperback, Kindle

And welcome to my first review of 2020! As many of you in the horror community are aware, the Grudge film series is famous both in its homeland in Japan, where it is known as the Ju-On movies, and in America, where both the original films and the first remake are considered classics in terrifying people.* However, the sequel to the American remake was only so-so, and the direct-to-DVD Grudge 3 was awful. Thus ten years have passed since the last film was released. When word of a new film got out, people were skeptical, but some were willing to give it a chance based on the trailers. Including me.

2020’s The Grudge begins with a live-in nurse leaving the original house from The Grudge and heading home to Pennsylvania.** However, she brings the curse home with her, and ends up killing her family and herself, making her home and her family an extension of the original curse. Years later, a detective enters the house while investigating a possibly-related murder, setting off a chain of events that will impact her life forever.

So this is technically a side-story to the original Grudge remake, following a new family of spirits and a new community to torment with the curse. The filmmakers did this so they could hopefully reinvigorate the franchise.

And they failed miserably on that front. While the film is told in a non-linear fashion and has plenty of callbacks to the 2004 film, switching Kayako and the Saeki family out for a new family of spirits was a huge mistake. Not only do these new ghosts feel so generic that they could come from any other ghost-centered horror movie, Kayako is an iconic part of the franchise. You can’t separate one from the other. It’d be like calling a movie Friday the 13th and having it focus on Jason’s cousin Matthew Bellman, who wears a football helmet and kills people who enter an abandoned ski resort. It just wouldn’t work.***

Even if you don’t factor that in, the film leaves a lot to be desired. As I said, the ghosts feel like they could come from any horror film, and the rest of the film feels pretty lackluster. Most of the scares derive from jumpscares, which are there and then gone pretty quickly. Most of the plot and acting feels pretty phoned in, and Lin Shaye’s appearance is horribly wasted (good thing she’s had better roles in most other horror films).

Is there anything good about the film? Well, there is a scene where the main character has to defend herself from the spirits in the dark basement of the police station that’s kind of tense, and a bloody scene with LIn Shaye that’s super-freaky. And John Cho as a realtor dealing with a crisis in his marriage is a surprising highlight of the film.

But other than that, 2020’s The Grudge is a poor horror film that was banking more on name visibility than actually trying. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 1.7. Only watch if you want to make a drinking game out of how many times you see the number 4 (which in Japanese sounds a lot like the word for death). Otherwise, watch either the 2004 remake or the original Japanese films, but definitely not this.

I’m off to get the remake from the library. I need my faith in the series restored.

This is a bad start to 2020’s horror films. Hopefully the other ones coming out this month are better by leaps and bounds.

*No joke, when I first saw the American remake, my sister asked me to watch it for her to let her know if she could watch it without getting scared. I watched that movie in our basement, and then I never let her near that franchise until I moved out of the house. As far as I know, she still hasn’t watched any of the films.

**Why a live-in nurse goes from Pennsylvania to Japan for work when her family is still in Pennsylvania is not actually explained, so don’t expect an answer from me. I can only guess that there was a sudden shortage in live-in nursing jobs and they were only available in Japan, because otherwise it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

***And it would also be worse than the 2009 remake, as hard as that is to believe. Yes, I found another way to blast that horrific movie! Screw you, Michael Bay! Your horror movies are travesties and deserve to be erased from history!

Happy New Year, Followers of Fear! I said I wasn’t going to do one of those “the year ended, let’s talk about what happened and what might come” posts on New Year’s, because nobody really reads those.* Instead, I thought I’d post a few silly videos on my social media, including my YouTube channel, and then share them with you wonderful people.

And to answer the question you just asked yourself, yes, I have a YouTube channel. I don’t do much on it, especially when compared to my other platforms, but I do post a video there every now and then. Usually it’s related to horror or writing or ghost-hunting (that last category tends to be the most popular). You can check out the channel here if you like.

Anyway, the first video is a New Year’s message from me and my friend Ramsey Hardin, who’s come up to Columbus to celebrate the New Year with me and stayed over last night. We recorded this just after midnight, so the reminder about drunk driving may not be as relevant anymore, but we’ll put it out there anyway.

Aren’t we a pair? Also, yes, that’s what my voice sounds like. I wish it sounded like Sir Patrick Stewart’s too, but life is rarely fair.

The second video is…well, that’s the thing. I’m not sure how this happened, when or why. It’s really weird. It kind of happened in an Otherworld. And it involved me finding one of the Great Old Ones, the All-in-One and One-in-All Himself. Be warned, for if you watch this video, your sanity may be eroded forever.

With that in mind, please watch it and let me know what you think.

Yeah, that happened. It was strange. And it may have resulted in me opening the gate between this world and whatever’s beyond to let The Great Old Ones in. If reality is destroyed because of my actions, I humbly apologize.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope we all have a great 2020 and a great new decade. In the meantime, expect another post from me Saturday at the latest.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, Happy New Year and pleasant nightmares.

*Though if you do want to read a post like that, I did write one back in November. Here’s the link.

Cover for The Binge-Watching Cure II, from Claren Books

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the paperback edition of the new anthology The Binge-Watching Cure II, featuring my short story “Car Chasers,” had not yet been uploaded to Amazon. I’m pleased to say as of now, the paperback edition of The Binge-Watching Cure II is now available.

Now if you missed yesterday’s announcement, this is a really cool horror anthology. The Binge-Watching Cure II is written with stories becoming longer as you get further along in the book. The first story is the length of your average tweet, while the longest stories are upwards of ten-thousand words. This way, you can easily go for a shorter story, if you’re in the mood for a quick jolt of horror, or something a bit longer if you’d like something to kill time with.

My own story, “Car Chasers,” fills the eight thousand words spot, and is what happens when you turn Fast & Furious-style car races into a ghost story. I’m very excited to see it in the anthology, and I hope plenty of people get a chance to read it.

I also hope James Wan will direct a movie adaptation, but I won’t hold my breath.

Anyway, I’ll post the links for both the paperback and ebook versions below. For some reason, Amazon’s hosting both versions separately, like they did when Rose came out. Why they do that, I don’t know, but whatever. If you get a copy of The Binge-Watching Cure II and you like it, please leave a review. Doing so allows more readers to find the book, and encourages Claren Books to publish more anthologies like this one.

That’s all for now. I’m going to be working on the next chapter of Toyland this evening while watching the OSU-Clemson game (Go Bucks!). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

The Binge-Watching Cure II: Paperback link, Ebook link

Look at this cover! It’s freaking beautiful!

If any of you checked my Facebook page or my Twitter feed after my last post, I hinted that I might have some good news I would be sharing today or tomorrow. Three years ago, I wrote a story called Car Chasers, which I describe as a mash up of Fast & Furious-style races with a ghost story. About a year and a half ago, I announced that the story had been accepted into an anthology. And last night, that anthology, The Binge-Watching Cure II, was released by Claren Books on Amazon!

I’m very excited to let you know this horror anthology has been released. It’s a rather unique anthology, as every successive story is longer than the one preceding it. In fact, during the submission process, we had to submit our stories based on a certain word length and how close we were to fifteen percent of that word count. I was lucky enough to be considered for the eight thousand word spot, and after some deliberation, Car Chasers was selected as the story!

And after having Rose accepted by Castrum Press a few months previously, seeing this story accepted by Claren Books was a really big deal for me. I was still having some anxiety over the amount of editing I needed to do for Rose, so this was a boost to my confidence.

Where was I? Oh right. The Binge-Watching Cure II‘s stories range from 140 characters (just over the original size of a tweet), to twenty-five thousand words. So if you’re looking for something quick to digest, or something long to chew on, you’ll find it here. And there are some great authors here: Amanda Crum, Nick Youncker, Lana Cooper, Robert E. Stahl, and Armand Rosamilia, among many others.

Also this guy named Rami Ungar. Have you heard of him? Neither have I, but I hear he’s a bit of a weirdo. Hopefully the good kind of weirdo, right?

The only version available right now is the ebook, but the paperback will be out soon enough, so keep checking back to the Amazon page if paperback is more your jam. I’ll include the links below. And if you do get the book and read it, please consider leaving a review online where you can. Not just because we love to hear your feedback, but because reviews help more people find the anthology and get them to read it, which keeps the cycle going, as well as encourages Claren Books to put together and release more anthologies like this one.

Also, I’m hoping director James Wan, known for both Furious 7 and the Conjuring movies, will somehow come across the anthology, read Car Chasers, and want to adapt it. I doubt it will happen, but I can dream and encourage, right?

Anyway, thank you to Bill Adler Jr. and Sarah Doebereiner, as well as the rest of the team at Claren Books, for letting me be part of this anthology. And thank you to the other authors whose company I find myself with in The Binge-Watching Cure II. It’s an honor to join you.

And thank you, Followers of Fear. I hope you check out the book, and let me know what you think. And thank you for your continued support. One of the reasons I keep writing is because you keep supporting me, and I’m so grateful for that.

That’s all for now. I’m off to start a new chapter of Toyland, make dinner, bring in Shabbat and the latest night of Hanukkah, and chill out with some TV. Not necessarily in that order. Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and pleasant nightmares.

Link for The Binge-Watching Cure II.

Before I start this post, I just want to let everyone who read that title and got concerned, thinking I was going to talk about something negative like giving up on my dreams or whatnot, that that’s not what this post is about. It’s actually a happy post.

Anyway, as many of you are aware, I’ve been making tremendous progress with the novel I started last month, Toyland. If you are unaware, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. Yes, I’m writing a story with a premise that bonkers. Bonkers premises tend to work for me (click here for further proof). And as I said, I’ve been making tremendous progress on it. Or as my Grandma told me on the phone last night, “You’re just zipping along with it!”

(If she reads this post, she’s going to plotz over seeing herself mentioned here.)

I’ve noticed that zipping along myself, and I’ve wondered about it. Past novels I’ve worked on, as well as some short stories and novelettes, have taken months at a time to write. Occasionally, they’ve taken years (especially if I find myself stuck and have to take a break from the story). What’s so different about this one? A dark premise and some weird things occurring is not unusual for me, so it’s not the plot. And I’ve done National Novel Writing Month before, so that this novel started out as a project for that probably hasn’t affected much.

If I had to guess, I think it might be that I’m fooling myself by underestimating how long the chapters are going to be. Let me explain:

Although I’ve been writing this novel since January, I’ve been planning and researching it far longer than that. Going back months, or years, if you count when I started learning what constituted Gothic literature. Consequently, I’ve had some scenes in this story in my head for a while, and they always seem very short when I play it in my head.

What’s short in your head doesn’t necessarily translate as short once you put it down on paper. In fact, you can spend about twelve-hundred words or more describing a new setting, especially if it’s fantastical. Add in dialogue, action, exploring the characters’ emotions, etc. and what you’re imagining will be maybe sixteen-hundred words at most turns out to be nearly twice that! And yet, I still think to myself as I write, “Just a few hundred words more. Can’t be more than three hundred. Almost at the end.” Over and over, until the chapter ends, and it’s a lot more words than I expected.

Given that I’ve figured that out, however, there’s a chance that strategy won’t work for me after a while. I’ll know what to expect now and the spell won’t work. On that other hand, these past two months has been illuminating as to how much I can get done when I apply myself, so that may make up for it. At this time, I’m over halfway through the book, and on my way to two-thirds. A couple of years ago, this sort of progress in a few months would be confined to the realms of the imagination.

Now I know what’s in my imagination can exist in the real world.

If you need me, this is a great representation of what I’m up to these days.

In the meantime, I’ll use that knowledge, and keep fooling myself until I can’t anymore, and eventually, finish this book. As well as any story that comes after.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully post something again before December 31st, but if I don’t, thank you for everything this fantastic 2019!* Have a fantastic New Year, and I’ll see you next week/month/year/decade.** I’m off to go finish a chapter.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fantastic on a personal level, anyway. On a national and global level, while there were signs of improvement (looking at you, Greta Thunberg), this year has been a bit of a dumpster fire.

**Yeah, let that sink in. After Tuesday next week, not only will it be a new month, but a new year and a new decade. Crazy, right?