Posts Tagged ‘short story’

Writers deal with a lot of tenses, and I don’t mean the ones associated when we hunch over our computers so we can better bang out stories.* No, I mean tenses like past tense and present tense, the tenses authors use to tell a story. Like first and third person POV, the use of either can vary from story to story (future tense and second person POV are rare, for reasons I’m sure people reading this blog can understand). And although I feel like I know plenty on the subject of using tenses sometimes, occasionally I find I still have something to learn.

Earlier today, I received an email from a magazine I submitted a short story to a couple months back. They rejected it. Which, honestly, I wasn’t broken up about. I figured out there were changes to this particular story while it was in consideration at the publication, so I thought this was for the best. However, they did include some notes on what worked and didn’t work with the story. Among those was one that really struck me.

They said that narrating in past tense, while giving the narration strength, also made it clear that the story took place in the past, and therefore made the story overall weaker, as it kind of gave away the ending. Namely, that the protagonist survives.

Now sometimes in a horror story, that’s fine. Part of the thrill is seeing how things turn out when you already have some idea of the ending. Interview with the Vampire is framed just as its title suggests, a vampire getting interviewed about his life. Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is told by the narrator when he’s an adult remembering his childhood traumas (still the scariest novel I’ve ever read). And Salem’s Lot by Stephen King begins with two of the main cast in Mexico after escaping the town, then rewinds to the beginning of the events, and then afterwards shows those two characters burning the town down.

But apparently, with this story, that should not have been the case, as it took away some of the tension. And a horror story without tension is like a hamburger without a bun. It’s missing something essential.

Food metaphors aside, this shows an issue not only with the story, but a lesson I can learn from. With stories, it often seems instinctual, at least to me, about what tense to write in. Perhaps in future, I should weigh options and think about what the pros and cons of writing a story in past versus present tense. Perhaps then I’ll be able to write my stories and make them more effective in scaring the pants out of people.

And that goes especially with the story I got the rejection for today. I feel like this one could be one of my best if I can polish it a bit more and maybe get some more feedback on it. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens when I try changing the tense (and maybe the POV. I feel like that could also be an effective strategy for this story).

At least I know there’s still room for me to improve and become a better writer. I hear perfection gets boring pretty quickly.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to do battle with some exorcists who believe I’m an ancient entity here to usher in the end of the world (they’re right on one count, at least), and then do some writing. Thankfully with this story I’m working on now, I’m sure I have the right tense and POV for what I’m trying to do. That should make things easier further down the line.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*In all seriousness though, take care of your backs, fellow writers. That will come back to haunt you if you don’t practice better posture. Believe me, I know. Brought to you by a writer giving a shit.

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Last night, I did some writing. And while that statement on its own might not be the most groundbreaking thing I’ve ever written on this blog, it was important for me. As you know, since early June, I’ve been consumed with the editing, publishing and marketing of Rose, as well as editing some other stories (but I won’t go into that right now). In fact, I’m still working on that last bit! I’ve been doing a lot every day to make sure people are reading the book. Just today, I’ve probably sent about ten emails related to the novel!*

Add in my day job, taking care of myself, sleeping and making sure I’m relaxed enough in the evenings not to go on a killing spree the next day, and I’ve had very little time to devote to new projects. I tried a week or two ago to do some work on a new short story, but it didn’t go as well as I would have hoped. I blame that on the story being existential horror, and I’m in too bright a state of mind these days to write that sort of horror well.

But last night, I was able to get back into the swing of things and get a significant number of words down on paper on a novelette I’ve been wanting to rewrite since 2015 but haven’t done since then (yeah, I can go for years without working on a story if I think I need more time before I work on it again). And I think part of the reason I was able to get so much of the story written in a single sitting, other than a glass of beer, was that I was able to put myself back in the mood to write after such a long hiatus.

The first thing I did while writing last night was make sure my writing space–aka my desk and where I take most of my meals–had everything I normally used to write. I had my laptop in front of me, with the story and the outline for it in front of me. I had something to drink–usually tea with honey but last night beer–and some mints nearby, as well as whatever music I’m in the mood for playing on iTunes (these days, it’s classical). And I had some incense burning by the Cthulhu statue. That helped me really get me in the mood for writing, because those are all things I associate with and use while writing. Just having them all there, especially after such a long break from doing any real writing, made a huge difference.

There’s a perverse pleasure in lighting incense in front of a Cthulhu statue that makes you want to write horror, don’t you think?

Another thing that really helped was that I had the right story to work on. I think this story, which I expect to end up being a novelette between ten and twenty-thousand words, was perfect because it was simple and easy to work on. I won’t go into details at this point about it’s plot (though I will tell you this YouTube video I’ve linked to is a hint as to the subject matter), but it’s not a complicated story. It’s not dealing with any deep themes like the fragility of the human mind, or requires extensive research. It’s just a simple story about a supernatural force affecting the lives of a bunch of teenagers.

But that’s the beauty of it. By not giving myself a really challenging story, I’m easing myself back into writing. I’m getting back the motivation to write after so long away. And it works. Because the last thing you need after getting one of the most challenging stories you’ve ever written published and then doing everything to market it is something just as hard or maybe even more so, right? No, you need an easy story to get back into it.

With both of these factors working for me, I was able to get a ton of writing done, and maybe even get some more done this week. And after that? I don’t know. I have a few ideas. But at least I know I’ll have an easier time writing now that I’ve eased myself back into it.

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll probably have a new post about effective horror writing out in the next week or so, so keep an eye out for it. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

*And speaking of Rose, I think all that marketing work is…well, working. Amazon finally got both pages for the ebook and paperback linked, and the page lists the novel as a 4.5 out of 5 based on six reviews. In addition, Amazon Canada has the book rated as a 5-star and Amazon UK has it rated as a 4-star (both based on only one review each, but it’s a start. They also list the American reviews, but don’t list them for whatever reason). And on Goodreads, Rose is rocking a rating of 4.2 out of 5 based on 5 ratings and 4 reviews, and has nearly thirty people listed as having the book on their TBR list.

Not trying to brag, I’m just stating this is really good news and possibly bodes at more good things to come. Fingers crossed!

So if you’ve seen some of my most recent posts, last night the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a proud member of, held its first public reading event at Kafe Kerouac in the University District in Columbus. And you know what? It was a great program. We had a decent-sized crowd, and there were about eight or so different readers showing off their poetry, flash fiction, or short stories. I actually had a few ideas for stories listening to other people’s works. We even had an acquaintance of mine from one of my Facebook groups show up and read a short story he’s been working on.

Unsurprisingly, all of the stories and poems read to us were really good. Some were kind of funny, others were pretty dark. All were quite imaginative, and reminded me how many different kinds of stories can be written between a thousand and ten-thousand words.

Of course, when my turn came up, I read part of Rose to the audience. This was my first public reading of Rose, and I was really excited to share part of the story with an audience.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, Rose is my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press and is currently on schedule to be released on June 21st, 2019. The novel follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same metaphorical page here.

And as promised in my last post, I did get my reading on video (thank you to Jennifer Carstens for holding my phone and filming this for me). It took about three or four hours to upload the video to YouTube from my phone, but in the end, I think it was worth the wait. Enjoy.

Now as I said in the video, what I read to the people at Kafe Kerouac won’t be the final version of Rose. In fact, after I got home last night I started working on the edits my publisher sent me. But you get the idea. This is what you can expect from the final novel. And I hope this intrigues you enough to check out the book when it comes out.

Thanks to Ohio HWA for putting together and hosting this event. Thanks to Kafe Kerouac for being an awesome venue for our first public reading. And thanks to all our readers–Lucy Snyder, Sarah Hans, Anton Cancre, Maxwell Ian Gold, Megan Hart, Jennifer Carstens, Rob Boley, and Mark Dubovec–for making the night so creepy and inspiring. I hope we can do it again sometime very soon.

Now if you need me, I’m off to do a ton of editing (while also spending time to celebrate my birthday). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Well, I just finished another short story, if that title doesn’t clue you in. And honestly, I’m glad I did: I didn’t think I’d get this one done before the final edits on Rose come in (those are hopefully going to be sent to me later this week).

“Pinochle on Your Snout” is a short story that came from me wanting to work two very different things into a single story. The first is The Hearse Song (video of that song here), which includes this famous verse: “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout.” That song also provides one of the best titles I’ve ever given a story. The other thing I wanted to combine was the De Vermis Mysteriis, or Mysteries of the Worm, a grimoire created by author Robert Bloch and later incorporated into the greater lore of HP Lovecraft. The book is supposedly able to summon all sorts of nasty things, and has appeared in a whole bunch of other media since then, including stories by Stephen King revolving around Salem”s Lot.

It took a bit of brainstorming, but I was able to come up with a story based on those elements. How is it? Well, it’s a first draft, so it’s shit. But I think there’s potential there. It reminds me a lot of “The Boogeyman” by Stephen King, in that it’s mainly told as a confession between a man and someone whose job is to listen to other people’s stories (though not a shrink like in the King story). And I think it has a way of drawing people in. Perhaps it could be something someday.

Of course, I’ll need to do A LOT of editing on this one before I even consider sending it to publishers. How much, I’m not sure. Fiction is the only type of alchemy where you can turn shit and other worthless materials into gold. You just can’t tell how much tinkering you need to do before the alchemical transformation is done.

In the meantime, and while I’m still waiting for the final edits of Rose, I’ll edit a novella I think has plenty of potential and may only need a few edits. It’s one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever written, so it has that going for it. I may even know a press that’ll consider publishing it.

And speaking of Rose, there’s only three days left if you’d like to be an advanced reader for this upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press and yours truly. The novel follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you’d be interested, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after its release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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

Erin McGraw, author of Joy

I’ve had the good fortune to learn from a variety of different authors. And sometimes they’ve had the bad fortune–I mean, they’ve been kind enough to teach me in person instead of through the medium of a book. Recently, I had the good fortune to go and listen to one of my professors, Dr. Erin McGraw, do a reading of her new book Joy (which is also my next read, by the way) at the bookstore near me. We got to talking afterwards, and I asked if she wouldn’t mind letting me interview her.

This is the resulting interview. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people of manners, let me introduce Erin McGraw!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Erin. Please tell us something about yourself and your published works.

Erin McGraw: I’ve written seven books of fiction, three novels and four story collections.  Whenever I’m writing stories, I’m convinced that novels are easier.  When I’m bogged down in a novel, I long to be writing stories.

RU: Your latest book is Joy, a collection of 53 short stories. Please tell us how the project came about and what sort of stories are inside the collection.

EM: Joy happened largely by accident.  I had just retired and finished two novels back to back, and I was tired.  I thought I was writing tiny little stories—3-4 pages—just to keep in practice until I could figure out what my next book was going to be.  It took embarrassingly long to realize that these tiny little stories were the next book.

The stories are dramatic monologues, meaning that the main character steps out of their life to directly address the reader, explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Since these are people acting as their own defense attorneys, they often lie.  That’s what makes things interesting.

RU: Obviously, there are a number of different voices within Joy. Did you do any sort of research for any of the voices you wrote?

EM: I researched almost all of them to some degree.  The ones that come from actual people, like Ava Gardner or Patsy Cline’s dresser, required that I read books to get the facts and background right, but even a story from the point of view of a nameless songwriter wannabe required that I look up some of the facts of the songwriting business, to make sure I got my guy right.  It only takes a paragraph or so before I start feeling responsibility toward my characters, and I want to treat them with respect.

RU: Were there any voices you tried to write but couldn’t? What were the reasons?

EM: I tried for a year and a half to write a story about a man who searched out his spirit animal on the internet.  People do this all the time, I reasoned; it should be easy.  And funny.  But the story stubbornly refused to get funny or easy, and eventually I parked it in my ever-growing “Undead” file, where I put things that I can’t get right but still seem like good ideas.  Maybe I’ll get this one right someday.

It’s funny, right?  Going to the internet to find your spirit animal?

RU: I think so. I mean, it’s trusting an algorithm created by interns and programmers to tell you something profound about yourself. Says something about the people who use it, I’m sure.
Anyway, you also taught for a number of years at Ohio State University. Were any of the stories in Joy based on your teaching experiences?

EM: Not any teaching experiences, no, but a lot of the stories exist, at least in my mind, in central Ohio.  I lived in Columbus for 15 years, and 10 years before that in Cincinnati, so I spent a lot of time thinking about Ohio and pondering its aggrieved status as a fly-over state.  Recent politics have changed that some, which I think is a good thing.

Joy by Erin McGraw

RU: What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects now?

EM: I’ve got a few more very short stories; I think they’re the leftover energy from finishing Joy.  A new project has floated to the front of my mind, but I’m superstitious about talking about things too early.  If it happens, it will be another book with a lot of voices.  I like to hear people talk.  It gives me a break from my own company.

RU: What are you reading these days?

EU: I’ve been on a tear for two years reading about the socio-economic divide in the U.S., and I’m still reading those.  Also books about the development of a recognizable U.S. cuisine, a subject of ongoing interest to me.  Also a superb book about climbing vines.  Don’t laugh.  It’s good.

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

EM: The advice I was given by my teacher, John L’Heureux, regarding character:  Complicate the motive.  Simplify the action.

RU: I’ll have to meditate on that one a bit. Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which would you take?

Since they would have to be books I could bear to read over and over, the first would be Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Then King Lear, which I’ve never known well enough.  Then the collected Emily Dickinson.  She wrote enough to hold me for quite a while, in case the rescue ship gets held up.

RU: Ah, King Lear. That was an interesting read. Anyway, thanks for joining us, Erin. I hope you’ll join us again someday soon.

If you would like to check out and maybe get signed copies of Joy, you can click on this link. I’ll be checking it out myself very soon. And if you would like to know more about Erin McGraw and her work, check out her website here.

If you would like to see some of the other interviews I’ve been lucky enough to do, click on my Interviews page to check those authors out. And if you yourself are an author with a book you’d like to promote, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com

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

So do you remember the other day, when I posted about the character of Momo, who supposedly reaches out to kids and teens online, and tries to hurt them or make them hurt themselves? I outlined the myth and how the character took off in the public consciousness, before mentioning that I was working on my own story inspired by Momo and other terrifying figures that originate online and gain a life of their own in the real world.

Well, I just finished that story a few minutes ago. As you can tell by the title, I’m calling the story Queen Alice, and it follows an investigative reporter who delves into the burgeoning legend of a cult leader named Queen Alice who uses social media to bring harm to her targets. Or does she? Is she even real? The reporter is determined to make it to the bottom of this mystery, and what happens when he releases his report will change his world forever.

Writing this story was a lot of fun and I found it easy to write it, despite how much went on in my life (it’s gotten to the point where I’m going to bed earlier and setting lower writing goals so I can get more rest during the work week). The online world is as much a play and communal space as the campfires were for early humanity, when our first boogeymen were created. Today we’re creating boogeymen through the Internet, and people are taking them seriously in ways that would’ve been unimaginable even just ten years ago. Tapping into that fear, even though I sometimes have trouble understanding the most basic of human emotions and motivations, allowed the story to really flow for me and I was able to get it out much quicker than I thought I would.

It probably also helped that I pictured actor John Noble in the role of the reporter. Not sure why, he just fit the part in my head when I was visualing the character.

So what now? Well, I think I could get it published somewhere. At 27 pages and under 7,600 words, the story isn’t too long for many publications. I’ll get it looked at first and see if a beta reader can’t give me some good feedback before I edit it. With any luck, I can get it published somewhere very soon.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have some stuff to take care of before the day is over, so I’ll see you all later. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my novel, Rose. The book is a fantasy-horror story 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 on or after the release date. If you’re interested, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Well first off, I did order a hard copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft. That should arrive by Thursday. In the meantime, now that I’ve finished reading his entire body of work,* I thought I’d take a moment to list my favorite stories of his work. Why? Because A) I want to, and B) despite the overuse of 18th century language and enough racism to make me want to punch the guy, there are some good stories here worth reading. And if anyone ever wanted to try HP Lovecraft but didn’t know where to start, and if they trust my reviews at all, I think this would be helpful.

So starting from Number 8 and working our way up, let’s go over my Top 8 HP Lovecraft Stories.

#8: The Lurking Fear

You ever go hiking or driving through a mountain range at night and expect something like Jason Voorhees to pop out? I have, and it’s enough to make you really question your decision to ever set foot in those areas. Such is the force behind The Lurking Fear, about a reporter who goes into the Catskill mountains to investigate reports of monster attacks on local villages, and comes across something much more sinister. It’s a story that takes advantage of its setting and using a monster unseen to create the sense of horror. And while the twist might be slightly predictable, it still does add to the sense of horror you feel reading it. Fans of the movie The Descent should especially like this one.

 

#7: Pickman’s Model

Art can both exhilarate and terrify, move people to tears and to action. And in some cases, it can even haunt us forever. Pickman’s Model follows an artist who becomes friends with the titular Richard Upton Pickman, an artist whose work tends to lean more towards the horrific, and how that art seems to have an effect on both the men and their environment. This is a scary story with a fun twist at the end that shows just how the world and art can play with each other and change each other in unexpected ways.

Also, I think if anyone wanted to update the setting to a high school art club and Pickman as an angsty teen, it would make a great student film. Someone please make that happen!

 

#6: Cool Air

Written during Lovecraft’s brief stay in New York City and considered by some to be one of his best stories from that period, Cool Air tells the literally chilling tale of a young man who becomes friends with a doctor living in the apartment above him who always keeps his apartment cold. The twist at the end of this story is also kind of predictable, but it’s got a great atmosphere and is engaging from beginning to end. Plus it’s one of the few times Lovecraft depicts non-white people in a positive light, which makes it worthy of a read in and of itself. Remember to read with a warm blanket handy.

The Colour out of Space

#5: The Colour out of Space

One of Lovecraft’s most memorable and beloved stories, this story about a crashed meteor and the strange colorful substance inside it that affects a farming family that can’t leave their old homestead has terrified generations of readers. It’s especially memorable for the unsettling atmosphere it creates and for being a great early example of the sub-genre of science-horror. I’d consider it perfect reading for Halloween and you’re in the mood for something creeping, agoraphobia-inducing, and just slightly weird.

 

#4: The Temple

This early Lovecraft story isn’t as well-known as some of his other works, but it’s a favorite of mine. When a WWI German submarine sinks a British sub, they start experiencing strange phenomena that slowly drives the crew members to the brink of sanity, as well as a place only seen in nightmares. Claustrophobic and full of just enough strange elements to make you feel very creeped out by the inexplicable nature of it all, it tends to stick in your mind once you read it. I hope someday there’s a big budget adaptation of the story, or even a small budget that maximizes atmosphere without excessive CGI. That would be the shit!

Or maybe it would just be shit, but I can dream, can’t I?

 

#3: The Call of Cthulhu

I bet many of you were wondering where this one would be on the list. The most famous of his stories and the one where the entity Lovecraft’s mythos is named after, it follows a professor who becomes aware of a dangerous, worldwide cult while going through his late uncle’s effects. Weaving its story slowly to make you really consider that this cult and its horrible god may not only be dangerous but very real, it’s endured for a reason. I would recommend this one to anyone looking to get the essence of Lovecraft in one story, as well as to check out the silent film adaptation from 2005, modeled to look out it came out around the same time as the story was published (though much better than your average silent film).

And remember, Ph’nglui mglaw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.

Spelled that correctly the first time around! Yeah baby!

Shunned House

#2: Shunned House

This Gothic horror story follows two professors who investigate a house where every previous occupant has come to an unfortunate end and discover a terrible entity within. While not as well known as his more cosmic-horror works, this story absolutely entranced and terrified me while on a car ride home from Detroit in the summer of 2016. Blending a setting whose rot you can practically smell with a welcome twist on an old monster (let’s just say, no sparkling here), Shunned House used to be my favorite story prior to the #1 choice, and I would recommend it to any horror fan out there.

Also, I have an idea for a ballet based on this story. Yes, you’ve read that right, a ballet. And I would help in any way I can to bring that to life. BalletMet (or any other ballet company) email me. Let’s talk and make it happen.

 

#1: The Shadow over Innsmouth

I only read this story last week, but it immediately became my favorite of his work. A young man makes a side trip to a small fishing village in New England, and discovers that the strange townsfolk all share a terrible secret. Gothic, unnerving and with more action than your average Lovecraft story, it’s a great story about how the desire for prosperity can lead to damning consequences for both you and your descendants. If you want Lovecraft at his best, this is the story I’d recommend above all others. Definitely check it out.

 

That’s my top 8 Lovecraft stories. And while, as I’ve said before, his works don’t really age that well, there’s plenty to pick up from these stories for even causal horror fans. And if you do, I hope you–holy crap, a portal from another world just opened up in my apartment. Excuse me while I go greet an entity from another universe and keep it from either eating all of humanity or impregnating everyone in my apartment building, I’m not sure which (I’m a little rusty on this universe’s language).

Until next time my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Have you read any of these stories? What did you think? What others would you put on this list?

*Well, the official canon, anyway. Lovecraft also did a lot of ghost-writing and collaborations that aren’t normally included in collections of his work. Considering Through the Gates of the Silver Key is one of them, I can see why.