Posts Tagged ‘romance’

It’s been a double-dose of Anthony Mackie today. I watched the latest episode of Falcon & Winter Soldier on Disney+, and then I got to see this film on Netflix. I would have seen it when it came out, but the pandemic kind of screwed with those plans. Anyway, better late than never.

Taking place in New Orleans,* Synchronic stars Anthony Mackie as Steve Denube, a paramedic who starts encountering some strange cases while out on the job. People are being found, injured, dying or dead with mysterious injuries and causes, and Steve traces it to a new street drug called Synchronic. Turns out Synchronic is a drug that allows people to travel through time. And when someone important to Steve goes missing, he decides to use Synchronic to do some good.

So before I tell you what I thought of this film, let me just state that this film is by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the team behind the body-horror romance Spring and the Lovecraftian horror film The Endless. And I’ve started to notice a pattern with the films they make: while strange shit is part of their films, it’s not the focus like strange shit is the focus of mine. Really, the strange in their stories is a tool to tell very human stories. Stories of love, identity, loss, belonging, and purpose, among other things. Synchronic is no different.

All that being said, I really enjoyed this film.

First off, it’s a really well-told story. if at times really difficult to watch. At first things are really trippy, but then you start watching and things start making sense. From there, things go from just trippy to being a very human story about purpose in life. And as the story unfolds and you start to understand more what’s happening, it not only enhances the story, but enhances what our protagonist is going through.

Of course, the cast does a great job at giving this story its weight. Anthony Mackie is a great dramatic actor who can really pull off these weighty roles, and it’s his prowess as an actor that, at times, makes Synchronic such a hard film to watch at times. Like I said, human story with strange shit as a tool to drive the story.

Finally, the special effects and the sets were really well done. Because it’s a movie involving a literal time travel drug, it leads to some interesting locales, and each one is brought to life so well. You find yourself totally believing that the science-y bits could happen, helped by the fact that some of the theoretical physics stuff employed in the story sounds real, or real enough to give the strange stuff an air of credibility. And the attention to detail for the historical settings really makes you think you’re looking at real places in the past (sometimes uncomfortably so).

There were a couple of things I didn’t care for, however. One is that there’s occasional flashbacks to what should be a traumatic moment for Steve, but it’s so sparingly used and Steve seems so unaffected by it, I wonder if it was worth having in the final film. That, and there were a few moments focusing on Steve’s best friend Dennis and his wife that I felt could have been cut. It’s illustrative for their characters, but they don’t really add that much to the story or to Dennis or Steve’s journey.

All in all, though, Synchronic is a brilliantly told science horror film that brings an emotional punch to its timey-wimey concept. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.8. If you have Netflix, get on there and give it a watch. You’ll likely find it time well spent.

*Which I will be visiting later this year if all goes well.

I think this fits the theme of the post very well, don’t you? Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

In my last post, I mentioned that I would soon be tackling editing River of Wrath and The Pure World Comes, two novels that each have gone through some edits and which I would like to try submitting this year. As promised, I have started editing River of Wrath, which is about one of the nine circles of Hell appearing in a small town in 1960s Mississippi (you can guess what sort of themes are included with that description).

And so far, the biggest obstacle I’m dealing with is my narrator’s voice.

For a bit of background, my narrator, Audrey Falley, is writing down her experiences as she remembers them. She’s a character I thoroughly enjoy. She’s an Army wife in the 1960s, but she’s not demure like you would expect from that sort of character in that time period. She’s brash, street smart, she admits she drinks, swears, and has sex with her husband. In other words, she’s unladylike, and proud of it, and I tried to make that show in how she tells her story.

Which is challenging. In addition to all that above, Audrey is also not your typical narrator. By which I mean, this is her first time really telling a story, as her life hasn’t had many opportunities for her to practice creative writing. She also breaks the fourth wall a lot in a way Deadpool might approve, pointing out things about her word choice and how at certain times she sounds like she’s writing a romance novel.

And yet she’s very much aware what sort of story she’s telling.

And here I am, on the computer, trying to tell this story through this character’s unique perspective, while also balancing that perspective with the needs and tone of the story. Not only that, but I have to make the language used sound both like they were written by Audrey and by me, a writer who has a few published books and stories under his belt. And I have to ensure it reads like a horror story.

All told, it’s a bit of a juggling act. And I’m feeling the struggle. There are plenty of points where I’ve wondered to myself, “Does this sound good? Or does it sound totally amateur-ish?” It can affect how I look at the project at times.

That being said, there are moments where I look at the changes I’ve made and I’m like, “Yeah, I got this.” I had one of those moments when I was editing the scene the novel goes from period piece with strong romantic overtones to full-on horror story. Here’s the passage in the previous draft:

Before either of us could answer, there was a scream from the edge of the park. It was followed by several other screams, not just women, but men and children. Dogs barked, and birds flew into the air and away from the park entrance. Around the park, and in Little Angola as well, people stopped what they were doing, stood up if they were sitting down, and looked in the direction of the screams.

And then there’s the section from the current draft (asterisks are to prevent spoilers):

From the edge of the park came a woman’s scream.

Everyone, including Gordon and me, froze before turning in the direction of the scream, which was the same direction we’d come from. We could hear more people screaming, not just women, but men and children too. And that wasn’t all: dogs were barking, birds were flying in every direction, and everyone in the park, from the folks in ********, to the families at their picnic benches, to the children on the playsets, and to the couples in the flower garden, stiffened.

Later on, it occurred to me that we were all feeling the same thing. We weren’t just afraid. We were dreading whatever was causing those people to scream and making the animals go crazy. We dreaded it in our very bones.

Busy editing. Hopefully by the time I’m done, this novel will look a whole lot better and I’ll have a better idea if it’s ready to be submitted anywhere.

How was that? It’s not perfect, but it is better written than the previous version. Feels more like something you might read in a professionally-published horror novel. And that difference really made me feel like I could balance all those things I mentioned above. I don’t know if by the end of the draft, the novel will be ready to submit to publishers as I’d hoped, but if the new passage is anything to go by, I’ll at least get a bit closer.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. I think, as the draft continues, I’ll hopefully not only get a better idea of where the story is in its development, but maybe even be able to go back to the beginning and do a better job of polishing up the story. We’ll see what the rest of the draft holds.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll check in again soon, though I’m not sure when or what I’ll be talking about. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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!

For the past week, I’ve been working hard on a new story, the majority of which takes place during our current crisis. You know the one I’m talking about. And you know what? It’s been cathartic to write about.

I’ve said before that writing can be very good for your mental health. Recently, I posted my thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic and it made me feel a hundred times better about the whole situation. In fact, lately I’ve felt like a million bucks. Still, I do feel the occasional twinge of worry or other negative emotions when I consider all we’re going through.

So these past two nights, when I’ve written my protagonist’s reactions to the pandemic and how it’s affecting him mentally and emotionally, as well as recounting how he and others treat the crisis, it was kind of freeing. Like I was channeling not just my own feelings, but the feelings of other people in this situation.

I’ve heard a lot of people, both in and outside of the horror genre, as well as people who don’t write, saying that there’s going to be a lot of new fiction based on this crisis. If I’m any indication, we’ll be seeing that fiction coming out sooner rather than later. Maybe within the next few months. And I think we’re going to see that, for the majority of these authors, setting a story during the COVID-19 crisis is their way of processing their feelings and what they or others were going through.

What sort of stories we’ll get from this crisis, I’m not sure. I feel like a lot of them will just use the crisis as a backdrop, similar to how The Deep by Alma Katsu uses the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic as backdrops for a ghost story (see my review here of that book here). In my case, I’m writing a Lovecraftian horror story, which makes sense because I see the virus as almost a Lovecraftian antagonist a la Nyarlathotep, and the pandemic acts as a sort of base for the terror and paranoia that my characters will feel later in the story.

I have a few other predictions. In terms of romance stories, we’ll see stories about people falling in love from afar due to social distancing, or falling in love due to being stuck in the same area together. We may also get a lot of new Gothic horror stories. Why do I say that? Because since people started sequestering themselves in their home, my article on Gothic horror has been seeing huge spikes in views. Makes sense, I suppose: as much as people love their homes, even being cooped up 24/7 in the best homes can be taxing. And since Gothic horror stories tend to focus mainly on houses as the source of the horror, people are either reminding themselves that their home isn’t so bad as being stuck in The Overlook, or they’re planning on channeling their frustration into stories about homes as a source of horror.

Perhaps writing about this virus can help relieve stress over it as well.

Whatever stories result, I highly encourage authors to write their stories about the coronavirus. Especially if the story helps you process what you’re going through right now. Even if you’re not an author, writing your feelings down can be therapeutic, so go ahead and write whatever you feel. Doesn’t have to be deep or poetic, just as long as it gets your feelings out in a healthy way.

Doing so may not alleviate the crisis or all the problems the crisis is causing to pop up, but at least you’ll feel better for the activity.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’re staying safe and healthy and are doing well. And if you need a pick-me-up, here’s the link to a cute video of foxes laughing and getting cuddles to make you smile.

Until next time, Shabbat Shalom and pleasant nightmares!

I listened to The Stranger Beside Me by true crime writer Ann Rule, who actually knew Ted Bundy, on audio book to prepare for this movie (and that’s the extent to my knowledge of Bundy). In the days leading up to this film’s release on Netflix, I was excited to see this adaptation. Nearly thirty years after the man’s death, would this film, along with the Netflix documentary (I know, I need to watch it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), introduce a new generation to the shocking murders of Ted Bundy?

Well, I went in expecting a different kind of movie, but I came out satisfied with what I got.

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by his real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (known as Liz Kendall in the film and Meg Anders in The Stranger Beside Me), Extremely Wicked follows the romance of Bundy and Kloepfer, how they got together, how Bundy’s arrest in Utah, his two escape attempts in Colorado, his final trial in Florida, during which he marries one of his groupies but (seemingly) still has feelings for Liz, and finally his execution in Florida.

I think what I like the most about this film is its star-studded cast. Everyone embodies their characters so well. Zac Efron as Bundy comes across as a sympathetic, lovestruck man who finds his life falling to pieces around him and the one good thing in it drifting away, while Lily Collins as Liz Kendall does a great job as a woman who put so much into her relationship with this seemingly-perfect man, only to grapple with his crimes. John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart did the man an honor, combining the judge’s Southern gentility with his own deadpan acting method (finally, a film from this year that doesn’t waste the guy’s talent). And Jim Parsons made me forget at certain moments that I was watching Sheldon Cooper. I actually had to watch the scene where he delivers his opening remarks as prosecutor Larry Simpson twice, it was so chilling. Parsons could lead a legal drama now that The Big Bang Theory is done.

I also like how the film balances a romantic storyline with what is mostly a courtroom drama. Unlike other films, Extremely Wicked doesn’t go to great lengths to show Bundy’s depravity or murders, but instead hints and flits around it until the final scene of the film. Its focus is showing how the ongoing legal saga affects Bundy and Kloepfer’s relationship and vice versa, as well as the psychological toll on Bundy. The director knew what they were going for with this film, and in that aspect it succeeded.

If I have one gripe with this film, it’s that romanticizes Bundy a little too much. Bundy’s always had a number of female fans who find him attractive despite what he’s done.* Even actors portraying him have awakened the wrong kind of fascination in teenage and young women (Ann Rule relates some of the phone calls she got after The Deliberate Stranger with Mark Harmon aired in 1986 in her book). Zac Efron is a very handsome actor, no doubt of that, and in the interest of focusing on his romance and courtroom battles, Extremely Wicked glosses over the evil in its title and makes Bundy out to be more of a sweet, hurt man than a calculating serial killer. And I’m not sure that was the best decision.

I also would’ve liked to see Ann Rule make an appearance in the film, but I think I can live without that.

On the whole, I give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a score of 4 out of 5. While its POV Is slightly skewed, its an entrancing thriller that draws you into the story and the bloodless battle occurring on screen. Take a look, and prepare yourself for a ride.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have one or two more posts out before the weekend is done.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel, Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the release. Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*The scientific name for attraction to dangerous partners, by the way, is called hybristophilia. Theories to how it arises range from evolutionary desires for strong and capable partners to romantic notions of wanting to change/help a damaged partner to wanting fame or even just knowing the partner is stuck in a jail cell and won’t go anywhere. The more you know.

As you know, I’m a bit of an enthusiast when it comes to Lizzie Borden, the woman who allegedly murdered her stepmother and father, in that order, was acquitted at trial due to prosecutorial bungling as well as societal attitudes about women at the time, and who allegedly haunts the house where those same murders happened. I’ve stayed overnight at the Borden House, now a bed and breakfast; I’ve read a book or two about it, including See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt; and I’ve watched more than a few adaptations about the murders, including the famous 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden.

So when I heard a new movie was being made on Lizzie and the murders, I was intrigued. It had some big names attached, including Chloe Sevigny and Kristen Stewart. And the trailer made it seem like this was going to be a really tense thriller film. I was willing to see it in theaters, but the film was only given a limited theatrical run and it wasn’t playing anywhere near me (or in Ohio, as far as I can tell). So when my library’s copy came in for me today, I actually rushed over to pick it up with the goal to watch it tonight.

I can see why this was given a limited release.

Lizzie retells the story of Lizzie Borden and the 1892 murders of her parents, using the theory that Lizzie and the maid Bridget “Maggie” Sullivan were lovers and committed the murders after Mr. Borden discovered their affair. That’s the plot in a nutshell.

I’m not sure what exactly the filmmakers were going for, because this was nothing like the trailer. For the most part, the film goes at a slow crawl, making it feel like three hours rather than an hour and forty-five minutes. Everything takes it time, which in what is supposed to be a tense murder thriller can really take you out of the story. And you know how people accuse Kristen Stewart of having no emotional range in her films? Weirdly enough, it seems reversed here: Stewart has some emotional range, and everyone else seems like they only know how to mimic emotion, rather than show it!

On top of that, Lizzie didn’t include some things that one might expect from any story on Lizzie Borden. The turbulent relationship between Lizzie and her stepmother is glossed over; Lizzie is shown suffering from seizures, which is something I don’t remember ever hearing about her; elder sister Emma Borden is barely in the film; and a few other things beside.

Oh, and there’s this thing with the soundtrack. Namely, it doesn’t show up that much, and when it does it disappears really quickly. There’s one scene where you’d expect lots of soft music to highlight the emotion of the scene, only for it to cut in and out every three seconds. Um, why?

Was there anything about this film that I liked? Well, the attention to detail is decent when it comes to clothes and furnishings. The house’s first floor is laid out like the real house in Fall River, Massachusetts, which I approve of. And the development of the relationship between Lizzie and Bridget is given the time and development needed to really make you believe in it. And there are some real talents in this film, including Jeff Perry, Denis O’Hare, and Fiona Shaw.

But other than that, Lizzie was really not worth the wait. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 2. If you want a Lizzie Borden film that keeps the tension up even though you already know how it ends, I recommend 1975’s The Legend of Lizzie Borden, starring the incomparable Elizabeth Montgomery in the titular role. Fun fact, Montgomery found out Lizzie was her sixth cousin once removed after completing the film. Imagine if she’d known that when she was playing the character!

Now if only I could see  productions of Fall River Legend, the ballet based on the murders, and the rock musical Lizzie. Yes, those exist, and I want to see them live. Someone pleeeeeease make those happen for me!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.

You know, for a little while now, I’ve been pondering something. I’ve heard a lot of people refer to certain stories as “slow burns.” Heck, I even called my friend/colleague Pat Bertram’s book Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare a slow burn mystery when I reviewed it on Amazon (and I highly recommend you read it, BTW). But what exactly makes a story a “slow burn?” Sadly, searching in Google didn’t pull up a lot of information, and I needed a short break from working on Rose (which is going great, BTW), so I thought I’d share my observations on the matter.

So what is a slow burn story? Well, to put it simply, it’s a story that doesn’t try to rush itself or keep escalating things as the story goes on. Instead, the story takes its time getting to the story’s resolution, using an intriguing set up, good characters and character development, and little bumps in the excitement levels to keep readers invested in the story. A good example of a slow burn would be a romance that, instead of having the characters hook up within the first half of the story and then showing them struggle to stay together, or having the characters finally confess and kiss at the end of the story after a number of travails, the story takes its time establishing these characters, the development of their relationship, and then showing the hook up, all without any big drama or too huge plot twists.

Getting an idea for them yet? And you’re probably familiar with a lot of these stories, even if you don’t know it. Many of these slow burn stories are pretty calm for up to the first two-thirds, with little intervals during that time that ramp up the excitement for a brief period, before they have an explosive final third (not always but often). A good example of this is The Shining, both the book and the movie. Unlike other King stories like It, where things are big and scary from the very beginning, The Shining takes its time building things up. It lays the groundwork, showing us these very real characters and their struggles, the isolation they feel, and the true nature of the Overlook. On that final one, King really takes his time. We get brief glimpses of the truth of the hotel, and each glimpse gets nastier every time, but it’s not until the final third that things really hit a head and things become truly exciting.

Another facet I’ve noticed about slow burns (the ones I’ve come across, anyway) is that there’s a sort of reluctance on the parts of the characters. In The Shining, none of the three main characters want to be in the hotel, but they all have to be so they can survive as a family, and it’s with a certain reluctance that the characters, especially Jack, acknowledge that there’s something seriously wrong with the hotel they can’t handle and that they have to get the hell out of Dodge. Dracula is often described as a slow burn, especially in the novel and in the Nosferatu adaptations, and without a doubt the characters are reluctant to be in the machinations of a centuries-old vampire. And in Pat’s novel Madame ZeeZee, the first-person narrator is very much reluctant at first to look into the strange events that occur at the titular character’s dance studio. It’s only as things progress that she finds herself really looking into things.

So that’s slow burns for you. But how do you write them? If I had to guess, I’d think it would have to do with moderation, specifically moderating the amount of excitement in the story. With most other stories, the norm is to build the excitement until the climax of the story when things get really explosive. But with a slow burn, it’s more like you’re doing a mostly flat Richter scale graph with only slight bumps here and there until the very end when things get super exciting (if you decide to write the story that way, that is). Doing that might take some practice, however, so I would recommend doing that practice and just allowing yourself to get good at them. Don’t get upset if you’re not good at it at first; we all start somewhere, don’t we?

In the meantime, if you’d like to read some good slow burns to get a good idea for them, here are some of the ones I’d recommend: The Shining by Stephen King; See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (see my review of that novel here); HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (see my review of that here); Final Girls by Riley Sager (see my review for that here); and of course Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare by Pat Bertram, which I reviewed on Amazon. All of them are excellent slow burns, and I can’t recommend them enough. Definitely check them out if you’re curious.

What observations have you made about slow burn stories?

Which slow burns have you read recently? Would you recommend them?

For my earlier posts on Cockygate from May 5th and May 28, click here and here, respectively.

I’m just going to skip over all the preliminary stuff and just get to the good news: the Romance Writers Association and the Authors Guild won a court ruling on Friday against Faleena Hopkins, the notorious romance author who put a trademark on the word “cocky” and then sent letters to authors who had books with “cocky” in their titles, threatening legal action if they didn’t take their books off Amazon or change their books’ titles.

Now, if you read my post from last week, you may remember that Hopkins’s lawyer had sent Kevin Kneupper, the novelist and retired lawyer who’s leading the fight against Hopkins, along with author Tara Crescent and publicist Jennifer Watson, a letter with intention to sue them, as well as filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the Petition of Cancellation for the trademark. Since then, it’s also come out that Hopkins was asking for another TRO against the publication of a collection of stories called Cocktales: The Cocky Collective, which was named as an obvious protest against her trademark (Jennifer Watson was incorrectly named by Hopkins as the publisher of the book in the papers filed for the TRO).

On Friday June 1st, several things happened:

  1. Kneupper was dismissed as a party to the lawsuit Hopkins’ lawyer filed, meaning he’s free to continue fighting against the trademark.
  2. Hopkins did not get her restraining order, so the petition and all the other legal battles against her can continue.
  3. Finally and most importantly, for the moment books with the word “cocky” in the title can be published, including the Cocktales anthology.

In other words, Hopkins lost, and she lost big. And while there’s another court date in September, and presumably this is when the decision on her trademark will be decided once and for all, it’s still not looking very good for Hopkins. As stated in the article the Authors Guild put on their website:

In ruling against the author Faleena Hopkins, who claimed exclusive rights to “cocky” for romance titles, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York, stated that he did not believe that Hopkins was likely to succeed on the merits.

In other words, the judge says that Hopkins’s trademark is on pretty weak legs.

Now, there’s still a lot of work to do. For one thing, while people can still publish their books with the word “cocky” in the title, the final decision won’t be made till September at the earliest. That gives Hopkins, her lawyers, and her supporters (yeah, there are some out there) to come up with legal strategies for the trial and for any potential appeals, both from her side and the other side. And unfortunately, there are a number of copycats out there trying to get trademarks on common words used in titles. It’s a hot mess.

But this is a bright spot in the ongoing saga of #Cockygate. I’ve heard from many authors who have expressed fear over the outcome of this controversy, and what it could mean for them if they couldn’t write because they could incur legal repercussions for using an everyday word in their story’s title. Hopkins’s defeat on Friday gives us all a little bit of hope that we can continue to not only write our stories, but give them almost any title imaginable and not have to worry about getting sued for it.

So with the trial not till September, what can we do now as authors? Well, we can continue to show our support for Kneupper and the legal team fighting Hopkins, as well as the RWA and all of the authors who’ve been affected by Cockygate (remember, if you’ve received a letter from Hopkins, contact carol.ritter@rwa.org for assistance and guidance). This can be something as casual as sympathetic messages online, or buying, reading, and reviewing the books of those involved/affected (a single sale and review can do an author a ton of good, believe me), or even donating your time and skills to the legal battle.*

You can also spread the word on Cockygate and any developments in the scandal. The more people who know what Hopkins is doing, the more we can rally against her or anyone else trying to copy her. The louder our voices, the stronger we are, and the better positioned we are to affect positive change.

And finally, if you’re a writer, continue writing. Don’t let fear get in the way of telling the stories you were born to tell. Like the people behind Cocktales, when we decide to put something out in defiance of bullies, we make a statement that we’re not going to take this sitting down.

That’s all for now, everyone. If there are any other significant developments, I’ll post about them. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

UPDATE 6/3/18 @ 7:18 PM EST: Erica Unsophisticated Blood Thirsty Wolf Fisher (@monet5280) informed me over Twitter that both Ms. Crescent and Ms. Watson’s lawyers are working on a motion to dismiss, which will be due in on June 22nd. In addition, Ms. Hopkins has to respond to the Petition of Cancellation from Mr. Kneupper no later than June 23rd. So it looks like things will be heating up longer before it starts to get cold again. Here’s hoping the end of June brings more good news like what we saw on Friday.

*Just be careful before you donate to any legal fund for those affected or claiming to be for any legal teams against Hopkins. There are a ton of people out there who have no qualms against taking advantage of those suffering in order to make an easy buck.