Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

I first read the source material by authors Richard and Billy Chizmar in the Dark Tides Charity Anthology (which I highly recommend and not just because proceeds go to charity) back in April. I found it terrifying, psychologically thrilling. I even expressed on Twitter that I thought it might make a good movie, though I doubted one would be made right after the release of The Lighthouse. Then about a month or two ago, I found out a movie had not only been made, but would be coming out on September 1st. I had some free time, so I rented it off YouTube and sat down to check it out.

Widow’s Point follows Thomas Livingston, an author and paranormal investigator who is doing an investigation of the infamous Widow’s Point lighthouse in Harper’s Cove, Maine. The lighthouse has witnessed numerous murders and suicides over the years, making many speculate it’s haunted. Livingston and his crew arrive to stay the weekend and hopefully make some quick cash. Too bad he’s going to get so much more.

I feel like I was watching a Stephen King miniseries or TV movie from the 1990s, with a bit of classic Doctor Who serials. Yeah, on the surface it does seem a bit hokey and amateurish, and the one or two special effects are laughable. But it’s a lot of fun to watch, and I keep smiling when I think of the film and my experience watching it. Also, since all of the actors were unknown to me and looked like people I might see on the street, it gave the film a weird sort of plausibility. Like, this could happen to average joes. Add in a little suspension of disbelief, and you can believe in the story.

On top of that, there were some scary moments. Particularly when Livingston, played by Craig Sheffer,* is undergoing psychological stress and his mind is really beginning to snap. Those moments gave me some chills, I’ll tell you. And a lot of attention is paid to historical detail with flashback scenes detailing the lighthouse’s history, which I loved as a fan of history.

But there are things I didn’t care for. Like I said, the special effects were laughable, and I disliked how the filmmakers tried to give an explanation to the lighthouse’s evil, rather than leaving it mysterious like in the original short story. Sometimes less is more, and it certainly would have been more here.

All in all though, Widow’s Point is a nice guilty pleasure horror movie to start the Halloween season with. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.5. It probably won’t make you shit your pants in terror, but it’s entertaining and will scratch that horror itch. It’s on DVD and streaming sites, so give it a go if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on one of my own stories. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

*By the way, I want this guy to narrate an audio book of one of my stories someday.

The other day, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and I saw a tweet from a fellow writer in the writing community (or #WritingCommunity). This was the tweet.

Now, if the tweet hasn’t loaded properly into this blog post at the time you’re reading this, it’s from writer Rey Roland using the hashtag @rrowlandwrites and goes like this:

#WritingCommunity do you think that characters have to make mistakes in a story?

I found the question stimulating, so after some back and forth between us, I decided to do a full post on the question (hope you don’t mind, Rey).

So, can and should characters make mistakes? First, let me start with can: yes, characters can make mistakes. In fact, there are plenty of stories where characters make mistakes which become integral to the plot. And yes, characters should on occasion make mistakes, though it depends heavily on the story. A character shouldn’t make a mistake just for the sake of making one when it serves no purpose to the story. Otherwise, the readers will think it’s weird.

Of course, this leads to an even bigger question: is there a benefit to having characters make mistakes? Actually, there are multiple benefits to having a character who makes mistakes.

For one thing, characters who make mistakes are easier to empathize with. Not to say characters incapable of making mistakes can’t be empathized with, but it does make a character more human and easier to identify with for the audience. The possibility of a reader continuing with a story can depend greatly on their connection to the protagonist, so showing them as being like the reader–more human–can be an advantage.

Edmund Pevensie’s mistake was a major driver of the story.

Another reason to have characters make mistakes is that it can help the story along or add to its complexity. Sometimes, it’s even the catalyst of the story. In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Edmund makes the mistake of falling under the White Witch’s spell, and betraying his siblings adding both an extra dilemma to an already difficult situation and giving the character a redemption arc during the story. And in the manga Death Note, Light Yagami tries to eliminate suspicion of himself as the murderer Kira by killing the FBI agent following him, as well as the other FBI agents following other suspects. However, this eventually just leads to him becoming a prime suspect again, a problem which lasts the rest of the series.

Of course, it isn’t just protagonists who make major mistakes. Minor characters make mistakes all the time, and they often benefit the plot significantly. In Ania Ahlborn’s novel The Devil Crept In, the protagonist’s mother makes the mistake of not treating her son’s obvious mental issues, which has major consequences before, during and after the story. And in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Cho Chang’s best friend Marietta Edgecombe tells Umbridge about Dumbledore’s Army, leading to the organization’s dissolution, Dumbledore’s exile and Umbridge’s assent at Hogwarts, and boils to appear on her face in the shape of the word “SNEAK.”

And villains make mistakes all the time. Often, that’s how their downfall begins. Often, these mistakes are due to the villains’ pride, ignorance, or some other character flaw. Voldemort doesn’t believe anyone will find his Horcruxes; Bane talks too much and doesn’t watch his six; Annie Wilkes is so obsessed with her Misery Chastain novels, she falls for Paul Sheldon’s trick; the White Witch doesn’t read the instructions carefully and misses the deeper magic in the Stone Table; Kaecilius also doesn’t read the instructions and misses what actually happens when you join Dormammu’s dimension; and the Wicked Witch allows water in her castle for some reason, even though she has a serious water allergy (I guess the book version thought Dorothy would never think to use water against her?).

As you can see from the above, not only can and should characters be able to make mistakes, but there are numerous benefits to doing so. Whether to include one or not depends on the author, character(s), and story in question. However, if an opportunity comes up and you think it’ll ultimately benefit the plot, I say do it. Who knows? It could be a major turning point in the story, and the moment readers talk about for years to come.

I hope you found this post edifying, my Followers of Fear. I had fun writing it. And I hope Rey Rowland (whose Twitter page you can find here) enjoys reading this. Thanks for the mental stimulation.

That’s all for now. I’ll check in with you all very soon, I’m sure. So, until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and DON’T TAKE THAT ACTION! IT’S THE KIND OF MISTAKE THAT’LL LAND YOU IN A HORROR STORY! AND NOT ONE WRITTEN BY ME.

NOS4A2‘s TV series has been a highlight to my week during the pandemic. And given how well season one adapted the first half of the source material (see my review here), I was eager to see how well they adapted the second half, when protagonist Vic McQueen is a mom trying to protect her son Wayne from Charlie Manx.

I’m happy to report that season two is better than season one. Not only that, it’s great stuff.

Eight years after her first clash with the vampiric wraith Charlie Manx, Vic is struggling to be a good mom to her son while also battling her own demons. She hopes that life will improve when it’s reported that Manx is dead, but things are never that simple. Not only is Manx still alive, but he’s out for revenge against Vic. And he’ll use her own son Wayne to achieve that revenge if Vic isn’t fast enough.

What I liked about this season was that, while adapting events from the book, they added in things that contributed to the story. This was a welcome change from the first season, where they added crap like a halfhearted love triangle and Vic partying with rich kids right before a showdown with Manx. Highlights include the episode around the original character the Hourglass, the deteriorating relationship between Manx and his assistant Bing Partridge, and scenes involving Manx’s previously-unrevealed backstory.

I also liked how they fleshed out some of the side characters. Vic’s partner Lou Carmody gets plenty of time to shine and show what sort of person he is, rather than the love interests from the first season, who can be summed up as “rich kid who likes a girl from the other side of the tracks” and “stoner with a heart of gold and a crush on his childhood friend.” Another character who gets fleshed out is Millie, Manx’s daughter and his first victim. In this season, she takes on a central role as she starts to question her world and her father. It’s fascinating to see her discover so much about her father and herself throughout the show.

Add in some scares and tension, as well as some great acting and storytelling, and you get an awesome second season.

I do have some criticisms though. For one thing, while it’s cool to see how Charlie Manx came to be the monster he is, there’s too much emphasis on making him somewhat sympathetic. And you know what? I don’t want to sympathize with Charlie Manx. He’s a monstrous character who uses the kids he “rescues” while at the same time believing his own propaganda. I really don’t want to sympathize with that.

Another issue is that Craig, Wayne’s biological father, makes a few appearances in the latter half of the season, but it feels unfulfilled. We see him a few times, and then he’s kind of forgotten. I would have liked to see him utilized a bit more at the end of the season.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving NOS4A2 season two a 4.8 out of 5. It’s a freaky, thrilling ride that improves on the first season and makes revisiting this world a pleasure. There’s a possibility that a third season might happen (whatever that might look like), so you might want to grab your seat belt and catch up on the series while there’s still time.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be posting another review soon, as I bought advanced tickets to see The New Mutants in theaters. That’s right, I’m going to a movie theater. And should I survive the experience, I’ll hopefully have a new review for you all.

Until then, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

You would think that in the midst of a pandemic, nobody would be interested in pandemic fiction. Paul Tremblay’s new novel Survivor Song, released just last month, is about a pandemic (still trying to figure out if that’s coincidence or if Tremblay knew COVID-19 was on its way and wrote the story in response). And yet I, and many others, picked it up as soon as we could, and devoured it. I got it done in about a week, reading through the last half today. So yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, there’s an appetite for pandemic fiction. And Survivor Song is a welcome addition to the fold.

Survivor Song follows Dr. Ramola Sherman, a pediatrician experiencing a pandemic of her own in her state of Massachusetts. This one is a fast-moving form of rabies, one that affects its host within hours instead of days or weeks. As fear, anger, and conspiracy swirls around the state, Ramola gets a call from her best friend, Natalie, who is eight months pregnant and ready to burst. An infected man killed her husband and bit her. Thus begins a saga to find someplace to get Natalie treated, to save her and her baby. But with rabid humans and animals everywhere and time running out, can Ramola help anyone, let alone her friend and her friend’s baby?

A pandemic story with a slash of zombie thriller (though Dr. Sherman will remind you, none of the infected are zombies), Tremblay’s novel offers a stark, believable story of a disease running rampant through the state and the problems that come up in such a situation. That said, there are plenty of twists and unexpected turns, and they add to the tension of a clock running out of the story. Quite a few times I read something and was like, “Oh no!” or “Well, that’s a complication.” I also loved how Tremblay managed to hit on a lot of what we’re seeing in our current situation, including but not limited to: hospitals fighting an uphill battle; people not obeying health guidelines or employing easy “solutions” that are actually problematic; and crazy, convoluted conspiracy theories.

Also, that ending! Guy knows how to write a tense climax.

At the same time, there’s a deep-running love story here. Not a romance story or romantic love, but love between friends and a mother and child. Through Ramola and Natalie’s interactions, and the messages Natalie leaves to her child, you really come to care for these characters and hope for the best despite the threat of the worst.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for and would’ve liked to see changed, it’s the ending of the story for Josh and Luis, two teens whom Ramola and Natalie meet while trying to get to the hospital. They were in the story for only a short time, but I really grew to like those goofy nerds and would’ve liked to see more of them in the story, or maybe in a story of their own. And not just because they were Doctor Who fans (Whovians, unite!).

All in all, Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay is a thrilling and emotional read and perfect for these mad times. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the book a 4.5. Stay inside, grab a bite, and get ready for one roller-coaster of a story. Just hope the bite you grab isn’t something biting your arm off while you’re at it.

And while I still have your attention, guess what happened last night? Stephen King tweeted about this book, and I replied mentioning my progress in it and when I hoped to have it finished. He retweeted it. King retweeted it! And I’ve been fangirling ever since (while at the same time daring to hope this isn’t the last time I end up on his radar). What a world, right?

Ramsey and I doing a selfie in Greenville. And we were in Ramsey’s car, which was why we didn’t wear masks.

I would like to mention that this post is not paid for by the South Carolina Board of Tourism. However, if they would like to pay me, they can figure out how to contact me.

As many of you know, after I left Iowa, I flew to South Carolina to visit my buddy Ramsey, whom you may remember from the New Year’s video I filmed back in January (such innocent times those were). Ramsey lives in Greenville, so we spent the first day there just exploring the city, and I have to say, Greenville was really nice to be in. And not just because it had Borderlands, a comic book store where I finally obtained a Stephen King FunkoPop (though that was cool). What I saw was a small city that’s growing and has a lot to offer. They even have something of a scenic nature park and waterfall in the downtown area. Made for some really great photos, like the one below.

A view of downtown Greenville, SC.

The buildings were also nice to look at, all with this regal nature in their construction and design. It was fun just to look at them, let alone walk around and see them. And of course, there were plenty of houses that looked like they’d been around since the antebellum period, and I enjoyed seeing them as well. They’re not Queen Anne Revival style, which was the preferred style of the Victorian era and my preferred kind of house, but they made me want to live there.

We also almost visited the Confederate History Museum, but it was closed when we arrived. Probably a good thing, because it might’ve been hard for me to hold my tongue in such a place.

Oh, and guess who else lives in Greenville? Sara Parlier, the narrator for Rose‘s audio book (which I highly encourage you to download and check out)! We met up for breakfast outside a nearby Starbucks and managed to have a nice talk (though we made sure to social distance and wear masks as well). That was a cool experience, especially since with everything going on, I didn’t think we would be able to meet. Glad I was able to see her, and I hope we can do it again someday.

Sara Parlier and I meeting for breakfast. We only sat this close because of the photo, believe me.

Ramsey and I also drove down to Charleston for a couple days, and–wow! Charleston is a beautiful city. Some of those buildings have been around since the 17th and 18th centuries or have been built/renovated to match that style, so it kind of feels like you’re stepping back in time. We stayed at the Meeting Street Inn in the historic district, which is just beautiful and enhanced the feeling of stepping back in time, and then spent a good part of the day exploring the Historic District and checking out the waterfront. And despite the Confederate monuments here and there, Charleston is a beautiful place to walk around and take photos of. There’s the Four Corners of Law, at the intersection of Broad and Meeting, which have building that are or were used for various kinds of law at one point or another; Rainbow Row, a series of houses and buildings where the houses are in a rainbow of colors; and the Circular Church, a church dating back to 1681 that looks like it could be the setting of a Gothic novel or movie.

And quite a few of these places ended up on the ghost tour Ramsey and I took (more on that in another post).

St. Michael’s Anglican Church, which you can see from almost anywhere in the Historic District, and one of my favorite buildings from the area.

Also, if you’re able to get a reservation, I recommend Hyman’s Seafood. It’s pretty famous in the area, has been around for decades, has had numerous celebrities eat there over the years, and it has a kosher menu! Yeah, apparently the owners are Jewish and took a few measures so that fellow members of the Tribe can have meat there as well. Second best brisket I’ve ever had (after my mom’s, of course).

The next day, we took a trip out to Patriot’s Point, where you could see both Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started, and the USS Yorktown, which saw combat in WWII. As we’d both majored in History at Ohio State, it was a treat for the both of us. Not to mention taking a ferry to and from Fort Sumter was pretty cool.

Fort Sumter from the ferry.

The USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier from WWII.

It would take too many words to talk about my impressions of both places, but to say the least, seeing these preserved testaments to past wars was humbling and a little haunting, too. You really get to see and even feel how people living in those places and fighting those wars might’ve felt. I especially liked the USS Yorktown, as WWII is of interest to me (and I have an idea for a story aboard an aircraft carrier). You get to see planes used in WWII and Korea, as well as the flight deck, the areas the soldiers and sailors lived, and even a Medal of Honor museum, among other things.¬†When it comes time to do research for that story, I’ll definitely be coming back to see the Yorktown.

And speaking of which, I may have encountered some paranormal stuff aboard the Yorktown. Wasn’t expecting it, though I did buy a book about hauntings aboard the ship earlier in the day in the gift shop. While buying a snack from the vending machine, I turned around to see where Ramsey had gotten off to, and in turning my head, I swear I saw a woman who was gone the second I looked back. I was like, “Did I just see that?” And in the Engine Room, which was empty but for Ramsey and me, we had this strange feeling of being watched. Which isn’t so strange, when you read in the book that people have had experiences in that room as well. At the time though, we had no idea about that, and we were just freaked out about feeling watched. We were almost glad to be out of the Engine Room, with its oppressive air!

Not saying it’s ghosts, but I am saying it’s unexplained.

Our last stop was Folly Beach, a small beach town where, surprisingly, people were social distancing while still enjoying themselves. Ramsey and I took turns watching our stuff and swimming in the ocean, which I hadn’t done in years. And there’s something wonderfully childlike about swimming in the ocean. You get such a kick by bending down so you’re up to the shoulders in the sea, of jumping so the waves carry you along with them.

I’m honestly sad we had to leave the next morning. South Carolina was a beautiful place to visit and I would love to come by again and see it again. And given my friendship with Ramsey and the stories I could write inspired by my trip, I think I will.

Thanks to Ramsey and his mother for being such wonderful hosts while I was with you, and showing me your lovely state. I hope we can see each other again very soon. Until then, hope you’re all doing well, and stay safe.

And I’ll have more posts out this week, my Followers of Fear. So until then, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

From left to right: Monica Ware; Harlie “Harlie Quinn” Jones; me; Charles Naylor; and Joleene Naylor. Photo taken by Joleene’s brother Chris Harris, offscreen.

You’ve been waiting patiently for this post. Now here it comes. My recap of our amateur investigation of the Villisca Axe Murder House! Or at least part one of it (what can I say, a lot happened in two days!).

Now, a little refresher for those of you not up on your macabre American history. In June 1912, the Moore family–Josiah Moore, Sara Moore, their three sons and daughter–plus two friends of their daughter were murdered overnight at the Moore residence with an axe. The crime is currently unsolved and is Iowa’s oldest cold case. The house where the murders happened still stands, and is available for tours and for overnights, and is reputed to be haunted.

The Villisca Axe Murder House has been on my list of haunted places to visit since 2015, and my friend/colleague Joleene Naylor lives right by the house, so it was inevitable that I would someday visit. And when an opportunity afforded itself earlier this year, we reserved the house for a night with the hopes of experiencing paranormal activity.

Before we visited the house itself though, Joleene and Charles showed me around their hometown of Villisca. And I have to say, it’s a beautiful little town. There’s a central square where most of the town business and activity takes place. Some buildings are closed down, but others are in the process of being remade into new businesses, even in the midst of a pandemic. What really surprised me, though, was the business on one of the main streets.

Yeah, you’re seeing that right. That’s Needful Things, as in the shop from the Stephen King novel of the same name. Trust Leland Gaunt to find a town with dark history to set up shop in! Joleene, if you and Charles are reading this, your family better be prepared to save Villisca from itself!

After that, we headed out to the town cemetery to see the actual graves of the Moores and the Stillingers, the two girls who were murdered alongside the Moores.

Front entrance to the Villisca Cemetery.

The Moore family tombstone.

The Moore children’s tombstone. Many people leave toys and, for some reason, coins on the graves.

Me at the Stillinger girls’ graves.

Yeah, sobering reminder that the only reason this house is known is because of a grizzly murder. One involving six children. Doesn’t stop me from wanting to find ghosts and interact with them, let alone the ones in that house, but it’s something to think about before you go into that house.

We also passed by the Senator’s House, pictured below. Named after its famous former owner, Senator Frank Jones, who was rumored to be involved somehow in the murders. It’s a beautiful old house, though one with a history. Which might explain why it’s currently unoccupied, if I remember what Joleene and Charles told me.

The Senator’s House

After seeing those sights, we went through the suburbs of Villisca, allowing me to see my first view of the Axe Murder House, and Joleene’s beautiful home, featured below. I loved seeing the many homes in Villisca. Most of them are beautiful Victorians, the kind of home that I would love to live in (no surprise there). And apparently it’s very affordable to live in Iowa, which tempted me to buy a house or at least put down a down payment. I had to really think about that before I did, though.

Hilariously enough, Joleene said many people prefer the ranch houses, which I saw fewer of but were present in the neighborhood. I don’t know why. Yeah, Victorians are a lot of work to maintain, but they have such beauty and history!

Now, onto the investigation of the Axe Murder House! Joleene, Charles and I arrived a little before four o’clock, and our guide came by a little while later. And after I signed the papers and set up my new GoPro, we got started on the tour, which you can find in this video.

Yeah, I figured out how to turn the video off. And I don’t know if you noticed, but there are a ton of coins around the home. I know the parents’ room was rather dark, owing to my GoPro not having night vision, but they were there too. We think that might be from people hoping the ghosts will knock the coins off surfaces or move them. Nothing like that happened while we were there, but other stuff did.

More on that in a bit. First, let me make a few observations about the house. As I said, it’s a lot smaller than I expected. But it differs in other ways from expected. I think part of me expected it to be like the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, recreated to look very close to what it looked like back in the day, though with a few modern amenities. In actuality, it’s been mostly preserved in the same state it was in when the house was turned into a museum. In addition, the house is also full of toys, dolls and other knickknacks. It feels more like it was decorated to be more pleasing to the spirits living there, especially the children. And you know what? I kind of like that.

Also, it’s not a bed and breakfast, and the only amenities are the air conditioning units on both floors.

After the tour guide had left and we got settled into the house, we decided to pass the time waiting for our two other companions for the night, Joleene’s friend Monica Ware and her stepdaughter Harlie Jones–the little girl mentioned by Joleene at the end of the video–by doing a dowsing rods session in the girls’ room. You know, the room where those two girls were killed and where a dude stabbed himself a few years ago?

Here’s that video for your viewing terror.

We cut the session short because Monica and Harlie arrived and we wanted to get them up to speed. After another quick tour through the house, during which Harley refused to check under the bed where, as a toddler, she saw those “weird kids,” we had a little fun locking Joleene in the upstairs closet.

Yeah, we’re still laughing about that one a week later. Especially now it’s on the Internet forever.

After the fun and games were over though, I somehow managed to convince Harlie to do a dowsing rods session in the girls room downstairs. I figured that since she was around the same age as the older girl, Lena Stillinger, and had seen the kids’ spirits when she was younger, she might have better luck than me in communicating with the spirits. And although she was a little too freaked to actually ask the spirits to manifest (understandable, I guess), she did a very good job drawing them out and asking questions.

Forgive how dark the video was. We were working with what daylight we had, and it appeared brighter when we were filming. Also, if you’re wondering why we didn’t explore the basement of the house, it’s because while we could access it, the door needed repairs, and we didn’t want to worsen that.

After that session, Joleene’s brother Chris, who took the photo at the top of this post, arrived. We then locked up the house and left for dinner in town, unaware of what would occur while we were gone.

But that will have to wait until Part 2 of my recap.

That’s Part 1, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully have Part 2 up very soon. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Some of you who have been following me since last year may remember that, with all the marketing I was doing to promote Rose being published, I sponsored a YouTube video. As of today, it’s been a full year since that video came out. And you know what? It’s still as cool now as it was then.

So for those of you who don’t know, 101 Facts is a YouTube channel that uploads new videos once a week, each video giving–you guessed it–one-hundred and one facts about a particular subject (countries, upcoming movies and video games, the occasional major historical event, etc). And, like many YouTube channels, their videos are occasionally sponsored.

I got into contact with the 101 Facts team a few months before Rose was set to release, and, after a lot of emailing back and forth, they agreed to let me sponsor an upcoming video. I can’t remember if they already had it on their schedule before I contacted them, or if they just took one of my suggestions and decided to role with it, but the video I ended up getting to sponsor was 101 Facts about Stephen King (after all, what better video to sponsor than one about the author who made me want to write horror in the first place?).

There were several more emails, they showed me the promo they would give Rose in their video, and then a few weeks later, on July 20th, 2019, the video was released. And guess what? You can check it out below.

Pretty cool, huh? And in the year since it’s released, it’s gathered over two-hundred and twenty thousand views, more views than across either my YouTube or blogging platforms. I still watch it on occasion, especially when I’m writing or working on a blog post. And it’s still a bit of a shock to hear the host, Sam, say my name and talk about Rose in the video.

Speaking of which, thanks again to Sam, Chris, Georgia, and the crew over at 101 Facts for letting me sponsor them. It was really awesome to work with you guys, and I wish you nothing but the best with your videos, which are my favorite things to watch with my Saturday morning breakfasts.

Speaking of which, if you haven’t yet, you should check out their channel, linked here. They have a lot of informative content presented in a fun way. You might learn something you never knew on a topic you’re interested in.

And if you’re interested in reading Rose after watching the video above, I’ll include the links down below. If you do end up reading Rose, please tell me what you think of it. Positive or negative, I love reader reviews, and they help me out in the long run.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. It’s my first day back at work today, so I better get to it. I promise I’ll have more to post soon. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

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

Since it was announced that King was releasing another collection of four novellas last year, I’ve been looking forward to reading it. The shutdowns due to COVID-19 delayed me getting my copy from the library by about two months (thanks, coronavirus!), but as soon as I had it, I settled down to read it and see how it stacked up against collections like Four Past Midnight and Different Seasons.

It took me maybe two weeks to read the book. What did I think?

Oh God, I was disappointed. I’m a huge King fan, but–oh God. This is definitely not one of Stephen King’s strongest collections of novellas. Out of the four stories in the collection, I disliked or was indifferent to three of them:

The first story, “Mr. Harrigan’s Phone,” follows a young boy whose relationship with a rich, elderly bachelor takes on a supernatural twist. And while it goes for a creepy coming-of-age story vibe with comments on technology addiction and how business takes place online, it feels like just your average coming-of-age story that tries to be creepy a few times. And not very well. If perhaps the story had dropped some of the literary focus and instead tried to focus on the protagonist through more supernatural terror, I might have enjoyed it a bit more.

The second story, “The Life of Chuck,” is actually three stories in one, all focusing on a man named Chuck Krantz at various stages of his life. And I didn’t see the point of all three stories being included together as one story. The three parts don’t really link up that well except for the titular character, and each has a different focus: the first is an interesting take on the verse from the Talmud “He who saves a life, saves a world entire;” the second is about an impromptu flash mob in Boston; and the third is a spooky ghost story set during Chuck’s childhood. I think if the three parts were released in separate collections, they honestly would have been stronger, especially the first and third. As they are though, I was just left annoyed and confused.

The final story, “The Rat,” is a semi-interesting story about an author trying to finish a novel in a remote cabin during a storm that takes a dark fantasy turn during the last third. And the way it takes that turn is so silly, I’m wondering if King meant for that to be a comedy/horror piece and I missed it. As it is, it’s not going to leave anyone with nightmares anytime soon.

The one story I actually liked is the third, “If It Bleeds,” starring Holly Gibney from the Bill Hodges trilogy (which I haven’t read) and The Outsider (read my review here). In this story, private eye and cinephile Holly Gibney realizes a monster like the one from The Outsider is causing death and misery after a school is bombed. It’s got a great mystery at the center, a thrilling climax, and some nice character development on the part of Holly (who, might I add, is on the spectrum with me. Positive representation!). It’s not exactly top-notch King, but it’s still very good, and I’d check out an adaptation if one were made and it was on a channel/streaming service I have access to (*hint hint wink wink*).

All in all though, If It Bleeds by Stephen King is not going to keep anyone up at night. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the collection a 2.3, and that’s mostly for the titular story. Major King fans are going to read this one, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s either a casual fan, a new King reader, or just looking for a scary collection of stories.

For that, I recommend his collection Four Past Midnight.*

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m disappointed that this book didn’t resonate with me, but I already have my next read, Home Before Dark by Riley Sager, waiting for me to start. Hopefully that’ll scratch my horror literature itch, especially if I finish it before it has to go back to the library. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And would someone please make a movie based on the third story in that collection, The Library Policeman? PLEASE?!!! I would help make it and make it the best it can be if someone did.

I’ve talked a bit about “The Pure World Comes,” the story I’m writing set in Victorian England. And yes, at this point I’m pretty sure it’s going to be another novel. But that’s beside the point. With the completion of the latest chapter, I’m two-thirds of the way through the story, so I figured I’d talk about something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a while: what it’s like writing a story set in Victorian England.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you’re probably aware that I’m a big fan of the Victorian era. It’s an era of contradictions: one of vast British expansion and industrialization, of great achievements in science and literature, as well as one of the most glittery ages of British history (at least in our popular memories). However, it was also an age of deep poverty for many, an age of exploitation and horror, and one where some of the most horrific crimes of the 19th century occurred, from Jack the Ripper to the British government’s reaction to the Irish Potato Famine (and yes, I’m counting that as a crime).

I’ve been trying to channel all that love, as well as all the information I’ve gathered through years of research, to make this story of mine, about a young maid who goes to work in the home of a mad scientist, feel authentic. Like you actually stepped into the Victorian era when you read this story.

What’s been the hardest part so far? Well, the language. I’ve been trying to make the dialogue sound like that fancy Queen’s English we see in movies and on TV, and the narration sound something like Stephen King’s Jerusalem’s Lot (a prequel to his novel, Salem’s Lot), which reads like a Victorian novel or something by HP Lovecraft, who likes to pretend he’s a Victorian. It’s harder than it looks, and at times, I find myself worrying if my characters sound more like modern Americans than 19th century Brits.

I’ll admit, it’s gotten easier to make the story and the characters sound Victorian as time has gone on, but it’s still far from perfect. And I have no doubt that later drafts will focus a lot on language.

I could also focus a bit more on describing the clothing. That’s a big part of the Victorian appeal.

However, other aspects have been easy. Going into the minutiae of Victorian life, from mourning clothes and practices (which the Victorians made an entire production of), to food and garden parties has been a treat. I had a lot of fun describing both the daily lives of maids in that age and just how dirty that age could be. And, of course, I had a blast working my theory of who Jack the Ripper is into the story.

And of course, adding those little weird details of life back then has been fun. Did you know that, according to the beliefs of the time, whom a pregnant woman interacted with could influence the baby’s health and appearance? Yeah, so if she met a drunk on the street, she might spend the rest of her pregnancy fearing her kid would come out looking and eventually acting like that drunk.

I also spent a good chunk of Chapter Eleven describing Victorian bath rituals (believe me, it’s relevant). Did you know public baths were a big phenomenon back then? How much you could pay for those baths, always sex-segregated, could determine what sort of bath you could take. And showers? They were known as shower-baths, or more formally as douche-baths. Yes, douche-baths. And no, not like we mean it today.

In the end, I think what I’m dealing with are all the usual struggles of writing a sort of historical fiction (Or is it more a homage to Gothic literature and gaslamp fantasy?). Balancing the level of detail with the need to tell the story, attempting to bring the age to life for even the most unfamiliar of readers. It’s a challenge, no matter your experience or how much research you’ve done.

Trying to bring to life the age when this sort of dress was fashionable.

Still, it’s a challenge I think I’m up to, as well as a challenge I’m glad I took up. I’m enjoying working on this story, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. Hopefully at the end of this story, it’ll show.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I was going to watch a movie after this post was done, but it’s past midnight, so I think I’ll hit the hay.

And in the meantime, remember that you can still participate in next month’s YouTube Q&A in honor of the 1-year publishing anniversary of Rose. Just send your name, where you’re from, and question for me to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com, and your question might appear in the video (and you could win a download code for the audio book). You can also order a signed copy of Rose with that address, or head to Amazon and Audible to get copies.

Goodnight, my Followers of Fear. Pleasant nightmares, and remember, face masks are inconvenient, but ventilators are far worse.

The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski are a prime example of dark fantasy.

You’ve probably heard the term “dark fantasy” thrown around to describe different kinds of stories, and the simple definition given when asked what constitutes dark fantasy is “fantasy but darker or grimmer.” And yet, that doesn’t seem to fully encompass the subgenre or quell debate on what dark fantasy is. I’ve heard people say all horror that has to do with the supernatural as a kind of dark fantasy, or that the line between the two is very thin. Even authors who are known as dark fantasy writers have trouble pinning down a definition.

So while I’m no expert myself, I thought I would ask, “What is dark fantasy?” Especially since depending on the definition, my stories could fall into this genre on occasion.

And in the course of my research, I did come across some things. While an exact definition isn’t agreed upon, there are some things that fans and writers can agree upon. For example, both TV Tropes.org and Fantasy Book Fanatic.com agree that dark fantasy is fantasy (no duh), but unlike high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery fantasy, there is a much grimmer, more ominous tone to the stories. While in other subgenres of fantasy, gods can be clearly defined as good or evil or maybe just neutral, gods can be very evil or at best cruelly ambivalent to humans. If they show up in the story at all, that is.

Likewise, magic is a neutral force at best, unlike magic in Harry Potter or the Force in Star Wars (which is a fantasy element in science fiction). Magic may even be the source of corruption that creates the villains in the stories, and could be considered a necessary evil or even the source of evil itself, needing to be rid from the world. As for heroes, there are a distinct lack of heroes in the world, and at best you get anti-heroes or mercenaries. Anyone who could be defined as a “hero” may be filling the role reluctantly. They’re doing this not for some noble goal like saving the world or defeating an evil warlord, but for revenge, their own goals, for profit or because they haven’t been given a choice in the matter and are really bitter about that.

Based on these definitions, the Overlord novels by Kugane Maruyama and their adaptations (which I recommend) count as dark fantasy as well as isekai fantasy.

And finally, there’s a good chance evil can win. Bad politicians can stay in power while good ones may lose their heads. The Demon King can take over the continent and establish an empire. The witch may kill the princess and release the plague upon the land before getting slaughtered by the princess’s lover. Things may just go to shit.

Yeah, bleak. And under these parameters, series like The Witcher novels or some of my favorite isekai fantasy series from Japan, such as Overlord, The Rising of the Shield Hero, or Arifureta,* count as dark fantasy.

But given those parameters, doesn’t that make supernatural horror dark fantasy after all? Not necessarily. While some might prefer to use the term “dark fantasy” for their stories to avoid horror’s negative connotations in society, and the two genres do overlap, there are key differences. Namely, dark fantasy focuses on the monster and fantasy elements while horror uses the monster and fantasy elements.

Look at my own novel Rose, for example. The protagonist Rose Taggert is transformed into a plant/human hybrid by a magical book given to mortals by a nature god. Sounds very fantasy-esque. And if Rose was a dark fantasy story, it would follow Rose Taggert’s attempts to live a life and understand her place in the world now that she’s changed, as well as to understand this new magic dimension in the world around her. But it doesn’t. Instead, the magic is a means by which to place Rose in the power of the antagonist, Paris Kuyper. It’s a means to create the terror of not knowing how dangerous Paris is, nor knowing what he’ll do to her if she doesn’t respond to his desires as he wants her to. That’s why Rose is a fantasy-horror novel rather than a dark fantasy novel.

Similarly, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles can be considered dark fantasy because they use the state of vampirism to explore psychological and philosophical truths and beliefs among the characters. If they were full-on horror, the vampires would be the means to terrify the readers. You know, like Salem’s Lot (which I need to reread, with a new adaptation on the way and all).

While some might categorize “Rose” as dark fantasy, how those fantasy elements are used distinguishes it as a horror novel.

And while we’re distinguishing between genres and subgenres, let’s talk about the difference between dark fantasy and grimdark. Grimdark is another subgenre of fantasy, characterized by apocalyptic, dystopian or hellish settings and a very bleak atmosphere, but still containing all those fantasy elements. So, what makes it different from dark fantasy, when both can contain those settings and atmosphere? According to Fantasy Book Fanatic.com, the difference is in hope:

“The concept of hope seems to be the primary differentiating factor between dark fantasy and grimdark. Hope is still able to be an integral theme in dark fantasy narratives. In contrast, the central theme of grimdark almost never entertains the possibility of hope. The central theme revolves around cynicism instead. This differentiation is vague at best, which is why many of the works of dark fantasy and grimdark are so easily confused.”

So what is dark fantasy? Well, by this definition, it is fantasy with darker or horror overtones. However, it distinguishes itself from horror by using the fantasy elements as a means to tell the story, rather than as a means to terrify the reader. Think vampires as tortured souls rather than vampires as supernatural man-eating monsters. And, unlike grimdark, there is still an element of hope in the story. Things may go to shit, but people are still allowed to hope.

My name is Rami Ungar, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Which, unlike the other two I just mentioned, will not appear on any of my anime recommendations lists. The anime did the original novels a poor service, which is a shame, because I devoured the first four books in a week, they’re that good. Check them out if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re interested, I’m still taking orders for signed copies of Rose. Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for details. Or you can check it out on Amazon and Audible. And if you do check the book out, let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be neck deep in Victorian England again, but I hope to put out another post very soon.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!