Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

Today’s interview is a really special one. For over thirty years, this man has been making a name for himself through his publishing company, Cemetery Dance, as well as his stories and collaborations with other writers (including a certain Royal Scariness we all know and love). He’s got two new books out, The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to 2017’s Gwendy’s Button Box with said Royal Scariness). I can’t believe he’s here to talk with us! Ladies and Gentlemen, Followers of Fear, let me introduce Richard Chizmar!

Rami Ungar: Mr. Chizmar, welcome to my blog. Please tell us who you are, about your writing, and about Cemetery Dance Publications.

Richard Chizmar: I’m an old dude (early 50s) who lives with his wife and two sons in Maryland and has been really fortunate in life. I started a nuts-and-bolts small press magazine called Cemetery Dance while I was still in college. The magazine found a growing readership with each issue, and I never had to go out and get a real job. A few years later, I started publishing horror and dark suspense books. The rest is history. All the while, I was writing my own stories of horror and suspense, and a few years back in 2017, I co-wrote a book called Gwendy’s Button Box with my longtime friend Stephen King and became a thirty year, overnight success.

RU: Tell us about The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather. How did those projects come about?

RC: The Girl on the Porch was inspired by a real-life incident where a doorbell camera in a suburban neighborhood recorded a terrified woman with shackles on her wrists in the middle of the night. Once the homeowner’s discovered the footage, the woman was long gone and no one knew what had become of her. I saw the video footage online a number of times and it haunted me. I knew early on that I needed to write my own version of the story and furnish my own version of an ending.

Gwendy’s Magic Feather is a direct sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which I wrote with Steve King. I woke up one morning with a very clear picture in my mind of what Gwendy had been up to since the ending of the first book. I emailed Steve the idea early that day, with no real plan to pursue it, but he responded very favorably and encouraged me to write it. So I did. It’s due to be published in hardcover on November 19.

RU: You’ve worked with other authors before, including Stephen King, as we’ve both mentioned. How does that process work?

RC: The process differs for many writers, but in my case, in each instance, it’s just been a matter of emailing the manuscript back and forth until one of us typed THE END. Allowing complete freedom for both authors to rewrite each other, layering and blending the work until it becomes a third, unique voice. That’s the only way I know how to collaborate.

RU: What about horror and dark fiction draws you in and makes you want to write and publish those sorts of stories?

RC: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things. It’s strange. In real life, I’m a happy and optimistic person, but when it comes to entertainment (books, movies, comics), I’ve always liked the fantastic and scary stories. Despite my outward cheeriness, I tend to see most clearly in the shadows. I might be walking down a Main Street sidewalk on a sunny July afternoon, but it’s not the smiling mother holding her daughter’s hand or the laughing elderly couple waiting at the corner I see; instead, it’s the dark alley across the way that looks like it could be hiding a monster. In fact, are those eyes I see glowing in the shadows? It’s just the way my imagination works.

RU: Oh crap, he spotted me! *cough* I mean, as a writer and the editor/owner of Cemetery Dance Publications, do you see yourself as someone who’s significantly helping to shape the horror genre and its future?

RC: I’ve never really given much thought to that kind of big question. We’ve always been too busy hustling to stop and ponder whether we were having a large-scale effect on the genre. We’ve been around for over 30 years now and that’s what is most important—that we continue to survive and thrive and keep bringing readers entertaining stories.

RU: What are some upcoming projects you have in the works?

RC: After publishing four books in 2019 (the trade paperback of The Long Way Home, The Vault, The Girl on the Porch, and Gwendy’s Magic Feather), 2020 will be a bit of a break for me. I should have one of those nifty “Little Books” out from Borderlands Press and hopefully the sequel to Widow’s Point, co-written with my son, Billy. Not sure what else might pop up.

RU: When you’re not writing, publishing, or reading horror, what are you up to?

RC: Fishing, exercising, working around the house, fantasy football. Mainly just spending as much time with my wife and sons as I can. I’m fortunate to do the majority of my work at home, so my days and nights are interwoven with family lunches and dinners, attending the boys’ sporting events, movie and game nights, and whatever other adventures life throws at us.

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

RC: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t tailor your work for the market; write about what moves you, scares you, excites you. No matter how small the story is. Don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel or write a high concept story to make your mark. Readers respond to a writer’s honesty and voice. Expect a long road ahead. Accept rejection and speed bumps as part of the process, almost like badges of honor.

RU: And what is some advice for writers who want to be published in Cemetery Dance? Asking for a friend, I swear.

RC: Read the type of stories and books we publish. Capture our attention in your synopsis and tell a story that is difficult to put down. Be persistent.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were rescued, which would you pick?

RC: IT by Stephen King, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.

RU: I’ve read two out of three of those, and I really have to get on the third. Anyway, thank you for joining us, Mr. Chizmar. It’s been a pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about Richard Chizmar, you can check him out on his website and on Cemetery Dance’s website. If you want to read The Girl on the Porch or Gwendy’s Magic Feather, you can find both books on Amazon.

If you’re curious about other authors I’ve interviewed, you can check out my Interview page. And if you’re an author with something new out you’d like to broadcast, you can hit me up at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I usually have time for an interview or two, so let me know.

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

Advertisements

Now let’s get one thing out of the way: the Doctor Sleep movie is based on the novel Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, which is a sequel to King’s previous novel, The Shining. The movie is also an attempt to reconcile the novels and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which King hates (and which I kind of agree with). And apparently King loved the script for this movie, as well as the final product. Everybody got that? Good.

Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance post-Overlook. He’s grown up to inherit his father’s issues with anger and alcohol, though once he arrives in a small New Hampshire town, he does sober up. At the same time, he makes a psychic connection with a young girl in a neighboring town named Abra Stone and who shines way more powerful than Dan does.* Which is good, because there’s a group of people known as the True Knot roaming around America in RVs, kidnapping kids with shine abilities and killing them to extract their power in the form of steam. In order to defeat the True Knot, as well as their leader, Rose the Hat, Dan and Abra will have to go someplace special to defeat them. A place Dan never wanted to revisit.

Well, I’m going to say this: it does feel like a Stephen King novel brought to film. In a good way.

So there are a lot of callbacks to the source material, as well as to King’s works in general. I had a private laugh at shots meant to pay homage to the Kubrick film, as well as to a field of corn and the number “19” showing up (folks who know King get it). And it’s really awesome to see the theatrical Overlook brought back to life (though degraded with age). And the novel does a great job of hybridizing the books and the Kubrick film in a way that would satisfy most King fans.

And the actors also do their jobs very well. I should mention that. The True Knot actors are particularly creepy when they’re sucking up steam or doing something else freaky, inhuman and cult-like.

That being said, there are some issues. For one thing, there is a lot of exposition, which in a novel we can get away with (especially in a King novel), but in a film it can slow things down. There are some things from the original novel that never made it to the movie that I would’ve liked to see, and there were some changes I didn’t care for.

And I didn’t find it that scary. I mean, there were a couple of moments where I jumped or was a little freaked out, but they weren’t enough to scare me. My criticisms of the Kubrick film aside, at least it’s unnerving to watch. But while the intent is there, Doctor Sleep can’t bring that unnerving feeling to life.

On the whole, I’m giving the Doctor Sleep film adaptation a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5. If you’re a big fan of the Kubrick Shining film, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re here for a horror movie, you’ll find it so-so. And if you’re a fan of King and the original novel, as well as interested to see how the film version can reconcile all the books and films, you’ll walk away satisfied.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to bed and getting into writing tomorrow. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fun fact, I named a character Abra in my NaNoWriMo project Toyland after reading Doctor Sleep. No psychic powers though. Not a spoiler, just a statement of fact.

At seventy-two, King has told people he only intends to retire “when God tells me to.” Given his latest book, a 557-page science-thriller, I doubt God will be giving him that message anytime soon. And if he keeps writing stories like The Institute, I’m completely fine with that. Especially if I can eventually get on his radar someday.

The Institute centers on Luke Ellis, a twelve-year-old prodigy who is planning on going to Boston for college in the fall. He also has some telekinetic abilities, though he can’t do more than move an empty pizza pan when he’s excited. Still, that’s enough to put him on the radar of The Institute, a shadowy facility in the backwoods of Maine. His parents are murdered, and he is spirited away, used in experiments that are supposed to enhance the psychic abilities he and other kids and teens have. And as time goes on, Luke not only gets a better idea of what sort of things they’re doing at the Institute, but realizes with growing anxiety that he has to get away. Before he is changed permanently. At least, changed more than he already has been.

What makes this story so scary, even though it’s more science-thriller than science-horror, is its plausibility. You can totally imagine a shadowy government or shadow government organization kidnapping kids and using them for their own ends.* There are a lot of comments on or callbacks to the Nazi experiments on concentration camp victims, and as a WWII/Holocaust scholar, those comments are extremely warranted.

Aside from that, this book is good. The characters feel real, and the Institute is well thought out, adding to the feeling you could see some of this stuff happening. Luke is a likable protagonist, smart but not arrogant about it (in fact, he worries a lot about being too arrogant with his intellect), polite, and eager to help his friends. Likewise, the staff of the Institute feel real as well, particularly how they can do what they do and think of the kids as less-than-human.

As for the Institute, it’s big and is usually good at keeping the kids within the boundaries of the facility, but it also has its issues such as faulty equipment and staff rivalries, which makes it feel real. It could almost feel like your own workplace. Just evil and incredibly cruel.

Of course, the story isn’t totally perfect. I’m not going to fault it due to the fact that it’s not one of King’s terror-inducing stories like IT, we all know he’s great at writing more than horror. Nor am I going to fault the book due to the return of psychic powers. After all, stories where psychic abilities feature prominently, like Carrie and The Shining, are why King is a household name today. But I will admit the ending does feel a little expository and may not give everyone the sense of satisfaction people are looking for. That is a criticism I’m comfortable making.

However, on the whole The Institute is a strong entry into the Stephen King bibliography, a slow-burn that will leave you uncomfortable and yet unable to put the book down. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.2. Whether you’re using your mind or your hands, I recommend lifting up a copy and giving it a read this Halloween season.

And that reminds me, welcome to October! As a horror writer, I’ll have plenty to share with you during the most wonderful time of the year (and yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. Read this post if you don’t believe me). We’ll have reviews, writing updates, discussions of horror, and possibly a demonic summoning. Look forward to it, my Followers of Fear. And until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Just so you know, I’m not going to directly comment on any parallels between this novel and current events, though plenty of people, including King himself, have done that already. My current job makes doing so difficult. If I ever get the opportunity to write full-time, that’ll change. In the meantime though, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and stick to reviewing stories on their own merits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

junji Ito will shake you every time.

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

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

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

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

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

Some of you may remember that back in June, I attended a reading with fellow members of the Ohio chapter of the Horror Writers Association. It was a lot of fun, we had a few laughs, probably a few nightmares, plenty of guests, and maybe even a new fan or two. It probably helped that we were at a bar too, and there were plenty of drinks.

And now Ohio HWA is getting together again not once, but twice for the month of October! It truly is the most wonderful time of the year (and don’t worry, I will write a blog post before too long about why the Halloween season is the true most wonderful time of the year). And in the spirit of this time of year, I thought it might be a good idea to spread the word in case any of you are able to make it to either event. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

The first event is Evil at the Overlook Lodge in Cincinnati. This is being held at the Overlook Lodge, a bar modeled after the bar in the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Now, as much as I dislike that movie (His Royal Scariness and I both agree on that), I have to admit, that sounds awesome. Not to mention, there will likely be a number of Shining-inspired drinks to be had.

The second event will be taking a bit closer to home: A Night of Horror with the Horror Writers Association, hosted by the Bexley Public Library (yes, the same location we did that book fair last month). Obviously this won’t have alcohol, but it will be held at a beautiful location in the suburb of Bexley, Ohio. I’ve been working closely with the Bexley Library’s staff to get this off the ground, and I can’t tell who’s more enthusiastic, them or us! Anyway, the artwork above is what they created, and it’s absolutely stunning. I’m so happy we have such great hosts to partner with.

Anyway, I hope you’re able to check at least one of the events out. And if not, I’ll hope you’ll be there to cheer us on in spirit. We have lots of talented writers within our ranks, and we’re always ready to terrify you with our tales.

That’s all for now. I’m going to get dinner on the table and then do some editing (though I might try to put out a blog post tomorrow if I’m in the mood). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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