Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

In truth, I should have posted this update last night. That’s when I finished the latest chapter of the novel. But it was nearly eleven at night, and I had to go into the office this morning, so I put it off till now. Would have been written earlier in the day, but I had to de-stress from work and relieve my election related anxiety.

So, as many of you know, I’ve been working on-and-off on a new novel, a mummy novel tentatively called Crawler. The story was inspired by that god-awful movie with Tom Cruise that came out in 2017. Or maybe I should say it’s my attempt to show the world (and maybe Universal) how to write a decent mummy story. We’ll hopefully see someday whether or not I’m successful in that department.

Anyway, I’ve been writing four chapters at a time, then working on other, shorter projects that I can submit to other publishers. And if you’ve guessed that I’m going to post an update every four chapters, you’re completely right. In fact, the chapter I finished last night was Chapter 8. And if I’m being honest, these past four chapters have been among my favorites to work on so far.

Yeah, I know. How can I have favorites this early in the process? The novel is barely a quarter written! And you’d be right. But these chapters have some (what I think is) great content. Chapters 5 and 8 have some nice, slow character development and bonding that I really enjoyed writing. I really got to showcase the forming and established bonds between these characters, which is something I feel like I haven’t done enough of in my previous novels.

And Chapters 6 and 7 did plenty to establish the mystery and terror of the story. Chapter 7 in particular, I feel, was quite creepy and is a nice little opener for the horror that the readers will eventually get to experience. I’m trying to approach the idea of the mummy as a threat in a way that hasn’t been done before, so seeing the initial results with these initial chapters is encouraging to me and makes me think I’m onto something here.

And when I get back to this novel, I’ll be diving right back into the horror and seeing if my idea goes anywhere (no spoiler, but Chapter 9 is going to be something else). At the moment, the novel is currently 133 pages (regular MS Word pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman font) and 37,575 words. It’s going to be one hell of a Stephen King doorstopper when it’s done. And hopefully just as terrifying. Or if not terrifying, hopefully just as interesting.

In the meantime, however, I’ll be working on a couple of (hopefully) shorter works, and finally editing that story where I put some neo-Nazis through the hell they deserve. All these stories have a common theme to them, so I think they might work well together if I wanted to create a new collection or something. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what I end up writing, if it’s any good and if I think a collection is the best way to go with these stories.

But first, I’ll need to write and edit them, of course! And I look forward to every moment of it.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I need to head to bed. So, until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and may God have mercy on all our souls! Trust me, there’s a good chance we’re going to need it.

Where did the month go? How are we already in November? And why were stores putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween had even passed? I know it’s a big holiday, but come on! At least wait till November before you put that stuff up!

Anyway, onto why you’re all here. As many of you know, I co-founded a small publishing company called Cracked Skull Press with some of my fellow Ohio horror writers, and we released our first anthology, That Which Cannot Be Undone, on October 4th. The anthology is written entirely by Ohio authors, and each story is set in Ohio, as well as revolving around the theme “that which cannot be undone.”

Obviously, I have a story in the anthology, “Is Anyone There?” which takes place in the Ohio State Reformatory, one of the most haunted locations in America and one of my favorite places in the world. So far, I’m getting some good feedback on it.

I’ve said it before, but it’s very exciting for all of us writers to have this anthology out. And we’ve been doing our best to make sure as many people as possible check it out. We just had a release party at a restaurant in Columbus the other day (one of the waiters actually bought a book off us), and this past weekend, some of Cracked Skull Press and the other writers showed up at a local writing-related establishment for an event (I was at the ballet). Thanks to all this work, more people than ever are reading the anthology, and we’re so glad they are.

Not only that, but we’ve had some amazing reviews. The Akron Beacon-Journal from Akron, Ohio gave the book a very positive review, as did Kirkus Reviews! And from what I hear, more publications are going to release reviews of TWCBU soon! Imagine, so many publications are going to have reviews of this book in it! The mind boggles.

Not to mention all the love we’ve gotten from readers on Amazon and Goodreads. Here are what people are saying:

A gem. I’m an avid reader and writer and new to the horror genre. This was a great opportunity to explore a bunch of creative and very different authors. I snickered, I laughed, I almost cried from the beauty of several scenes. I lost my breath at several twists. I grinned at several regional legends brought to life. I’ve found a new genre.

Justin Reynolds, Goodreads

This book contains 18 stories of the deranged, mysterious, spooky, and disturbed. These stories all take place somewhere in Ohio and include a little bit for everyone. There’s a possible vampire baby, a dead girl in the snow, gender-shifting, an underwater town, death by lawnmower, a reanimated body, a FrankenDaddy, and some insurance revenge.

The stories are so creative and well-written that I found myself just sinking into the book until I found myself at the last page. This speaks to the excellent editing, as well, because I am easily distracted by grammar errors, misspellings, duplicated words, etc. This book was so well edited, I remember thinking about it while I read, amazed I hadn’t encountered an error. A perfect addition to your spooky season reads! Just released and ready for you to grab now on Amazon!

The Bookish Abyss, Amazon

What a great idea for a horror anthology. These eighteen stories, all set in Ohio, weave different aspects of the state into their terrifying narratives. From the cities of Cleveland and Columbus, to an old prison, a drowned town, an abandoned winery, and many other natural and notable locations, these stories place Ohio front and centre on the map of horror landscapes…A frightening anthology that has ensured if I ever visit Ohio, I will be very afraid.

Iseult Murphy, Author of “All of Me,” Goodreads

Not only are people loving it, but some are discovering the horror genre for the first time and loving it because of TWCBU! Can you imagine? A lot of people say Stephen King or Anne Rice or Shirley Jackson or other major authors were their introduction to horror. Hell, King is why I’m writing horror today! And now something I’m part of is bringing new fans to the genre. It’s an honor to be part of this project.

If you’re interested in this book, I’ll leave links below. You’ll find stories about serial killers, underwater towns, ghosts, people haunted by more than ghosts, and so much more, so why not dive in and see what sort of stories you’ll come across? Perhaps something will be your new favorite.

And if you do read it, be sure to leave a review. Reviews help bring visibility to the book and allow other readers to figure out whether or not a book might be up their alley. So please be sure to share your thoughts when you’re done.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back with more to post soon. Until then, happy reading, pleasant nightmares, and 364 days till the next Halloween. I wonder what horrors will occur in the meantime?

That Which Cannot Be Undone: Amazon, Goodreads

What are some of the first things you think of when it comes to Stephen King’s IT? Is it Georgie being dragged down the drain by Pennywise the clown? The fortune cookies filled with eyeballs and mutated bugs? The final battle with Pennywise in his lair? That one scene that dare not be spoken?

I’m sure all these and more occur to you, because they’re significant plot points and they carry a whole lot of scares.* What you might not think about are the quieter moments in the story: the building of the dam in the Barrens, or Ben, Beverly and Richie going to see a movie together, or Bill going for a ride on his old bike Silver after not having seen it for over a quarter of a century. They’re the quieter moments of the story, the moments that allow you to get to know the characters better and see them about their daily lives. And they’re just as important as the scarier parts of the story.

I’ve been thinking of these moments more and more lately, because I just wrote an entire chapter for Crawler, my mummy novel-in-progress, that was a quiet moment. In it, two of the characters, one of whom is in mourning over a sudden loss, bond with each other over the course of a lazy afternoon. Nothing scary happens, no mentions of the horrors driving the plot take place, and there’s no ground laying or foreshadowing for future scares. It’s just a sweet, quiet scene where two characters form a relationship.

Honestly, I’m not used to writing those sorts of scenes. In shorter works, every word has to be necessary so the story can fit within a word count. There’s no room for quiet scenes showing the creation or deepening of bonds, getting to know a character better, or seeing them grow. You need that room to create a short story that packs a punch, especially for horror stories. And with my novels, every chapter and scene was necessary to the plot in some way, furthering the story, foreshadowing future plot points, or scaring the shit out of the reader in some way. Writing a scene over the course of two or three days that was just exploring the budding relationship between two characters, was new for me. And I feel like I learned a lot while doing it.

Which is good, because other writers, not just King, include those quieter moments throughout the books. Ever wonder why Harry Potter includes Quidditch matches in the books? Because they’re fun, normal things a wizard would learn in school and serve as breaks from the intrigue of whatever was happening any year at Hogwarts.

Now, having these scenes aren’t always necessary for every story. But it can be a good idea to include them if you need an organic way to flesh out your characters, deepen their relationships, or show them growing. Especially you can’t think of any way to insert such moments into the more essential scenes, like Georgie getting dragged into the sewers or whatever.

In any case, I’ll probably write a few more of these scenes in Crawler, as it’s a very character-focused story, so I’ll get plenty of opportunities to practice. Perhaps afterwards, I’ll be able to write a post about writing quiet scenes and writing them well. And maybe when I do, I’ll write it with a quiet satisfaction.

*Except that one scene, I know, but we’re not going to talk about it, are we?


One more thing, my Followers of Fear: this Wednesday at 4-6 PM EST, I’ll be joining fellow horror writers Heather Miller and Daemon Manx on the podcast “What’s Write For Me” with Dellani Oakes. We’ll be recording live, so you’re encouraged to join us live by following this link, and we’ll be discussing and even reading from our scariest works, so I hope you’ll join us. See you there!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. It’ll be a busy week leading up to Halloween, but I hope it’ll be a fun and memorable one. Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and eight days till Halloween! Have you carved a Jack-o-Lantern yet? I have, and for the first one in my own home, I don’t think it turned out half-bad. What say you?

The post that got me thinking about this subject.

So, if you weren’t aware, Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, starts tonight. This is the beginning of the High Holidays, or the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar, and there’s a couple of traditions around this time of year that religious Jews practice. A lot of those traditions have to do with forgiveness. Specifically, we go out of our way to forgive those who might have upset us in the past, ask for forgiveness ourselves, and maybe even gain God’s forgiveness for our weaknesses. Forgiving ourselves is also on the menu, but that’s something that’s up to us and can require more work than just what can be accomplished around a holiday.

I do these traditions myself, and about a week ago, I posted on my social media, asking for forgiveness and forgiving everyone else as well. However, I added as a sort of postscript that I might still add someone who’s seriously crossed a line with me to one of my stories, which would mean their portrayals would not be flattering, and that their deaths would probably be horrifying. As I said in the post, “Hey, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s life. Get used to it.”

This and other events got me thinking, and I realized that horror is not a genre where forgiveness is front and center a lot. In fact, it’s a genre where anger and vengeance is often a major factor! Think about it: most of the killers in slasher movies are motivated by rage and revenge. In a lot of ghost stories, the spirits are stuck on this mortal plane because they have some sort of baggage keeping them trapped here and they’re lashing out because of that baggage (this is especially true in Japanese horror movies like Ringu and Ju-On: The Grudge). Carrie White in Carrie gets revenge on all her tormentors by setting the prom, the high school, and most of the town on fire, followed by killing her biggest bully and her mother, and Leland Gaunt in Needful Things takes advantage of people’s fears, grudges and relationships to cause all sorts of chaos.

In all of these stories and many others, forgiving anyone is almost nowhere to be seen. In fact, in many cases, even after the reason for the anger is gone, the anger and need for vengeance continues on. Perhaps Needful Things has some moments of self-forgiveness, where characters like Alan Pangborn, Polly Chalmers, and Norris Ridgewick realize they’ve been duped and/or done horrible things and are able to start on the path to forgiveness and redemption, but it’s not a large part of the story. In fact, those moments are overshadowed by the rest of the events of the story and the need to stop Gaunt.

Snake is not a novel I would associate with forgiveness.

The lack of forgiveness extends to my own work as well. And quite often, too. Snake is a novel about a serial killer motivated by both love and revenge against an organized crime family. “Disillusionment and Trauma Sometimes Go Hand-in-Hand,” AKA the dragon bat story (releasing next month in the 14th volume of the Ink Stains horror anthology series, if you didn’t know), is driven by several characters’ needs for revenge and being unable to let go of the past (whether they are right or wrong in doing so, I’ll let you decide). And one or two stories I’m working on now may be motivated by characters’ need to release their anger on others, whether deserved or not.

Given all that, you might be wondering if any horror stories might include forgiveness, or if all of them are unforgiving. Actually, quite a few stories with religious themes include forgiveness. Swan Song by Robert MacCammon and Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky, both of which deal with Christian Apocalypse scenarios and the Devil, feature scenes where the protagonists forgive others, including the Devil himself, who usually can’t take being forgiven for their evil by a mere human and run off to hide in their own misery. And in the 2010 movie Devil, forgiveness plays a huge part in the resolution of the story and in one of the leads being able to avoid being dragged down to Hell.

This is a movie where forgiveness and sin are major themes for the horror.

All of these stories feature the Devil, but there are likely other stories with religious themes where forgiveness features but the Devil doesn’t. And perhaps there are stories where forgiveness is a big part of the story without religious themes as well. In fact, Cujo by Stephen King ends with the Trentons patching up their marriage and forgiving each other after the death of their son. But, at least in my experience, forgiveness tends to stay in horror stories with strong religious themes. The rest of the time, it seems to be “let out your wrath upon all those who have wronged you!”

But is that necessarily a bad thing? Even for the religiously inclined among us (including Jews around the High Holidays)?

I don’t think so. Whether we are misfits because we like horror, or we are already misfits and find a home in horror, both we and our genre of choice have often been maligned by the majority of society. Obviously, this can build some anger in us misfits, as we do nothing wrong but be ourselves. Where better to channel that anger than into our genre, where people often get what’s coming to them? It’s honestly rather therapeutic.

That’s why, even if I forgive someone, I’ll often find some way to write them into a story. It’s a healthy way to get rid of any lingering resentments and build something creative and meaningful while I’m at it. In fact, one could say I’m symbolically or metaphorically purging myself of hate and finding forgiveness for those who’ve wronged me, which I’m sure any rabbi would approve of, especially around the High Holidays.

As to whether I’ll ever write a story where forgiveness is a main topic…I’ll never say never. But it might be a while before we see me write something like that. Forgive me if you were hoping for one!


That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Sometimes I like getting my thoughts out like this, even if it leads to an essay-length blog post. In any case, I want to wish you all a Shana Tovah, or a Happy New Year. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life and blessed with a sweet year.

Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and 36 days till Halloween! Ask your doctor if sacrifices to the old gods is right for you!

With books like A Head Full of Ghosts, The Cabin at the End of the World and Survivor Song (which I still say would make a great stage musical), The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay has been one of the most anticipated novels of 2022. I got my copy almost as soon as it came out, but because my life has been busy lately, I only just finished the book today. So now, as I feel obligated to do, I’m writing my review.

The Pallbearers Club follows a man who calls himself (or the version of himself in the novel/memoir he is narrating) Art Barbara. Seeking to pad out his college applications, Art starts the Pallbearers Club, a volunteer club where members show up to funerals for the homeless and lonely, and then carry them out to the hearse (because who wants no one to show up to their funeral?). At one of these funerals, Art meets Mercy Brown, a strange college girl who both opens up Art’s world and sets him on a path that will affect him through his adulthood. And maybe even beyond.

For starters, the novel is creative in its presentation. It’s written primarily by Art on a computer, while Mercy’s red-inked, handwritten notes speckle the margins and bookend each chapter. It allows you to learn a lot about each character, who are both somewhat unreliable narrators for each their own reasons, and there’s a lot of reflections on topics like memory and identity. It also makes me wonder what the audio book is like, because Mercy’s notes are a big part of each chapter. Does her narrator interrupt the text every now and again?

I also like how Art uses unusual adjectives while he writes, and the best parts of the novels are probably the sections set in Art’s teenage years during the late 80s. You really get to know and like the characters the best at that point, and it’s among the best examples of 80s nostalgia I’ve come across.

That being said, there’s a lot about this novel that rubbed me the wrong way. My biggest issue is the story, or almost lack of one. Art spends a lot of time going through the major points of his life, especially where Mercy is part of his life, but it becomes a slog because he hits you over the head at times with how little self-esteem and how much self-loathing he has. It’s okay early in the book, because he’s a teenager and those are always difficult times and Mercy is at least opening up his world. But after graduation, Art seems intent on just making you hate him as much as possible.

Which might be okay if Mercy or the plot helped balance the story out, but they don’t. Even with her notes, Mercy’s so intent on being edgy and mysterious that we really don’t get to know the real her, and it makes it hard to see her as a character and more as a mystery. Again, fine early in the book, but after a while, we get tired of it.

There’s also not a lot happening in the book. At least, not as far as horror novels go. The New England vampire lore is part of the story, but not in a significant way like I’d expected. It becomes more like a background theme, kind of a parallel about aging, health problems, and our own anxieties and delusions are like vampires on us and we wonder where in the hell they come from. Which is fine, if the story is interesting or the the lore is utilized in the right way.

The Pallbearers Club didn’t do it in the right way. I feel like it was trying to go for what Revival by Stephen King did, which was show how a single man affected the life of an aging rocker throughout his life while mixing in the supernatural. But while it tries, it doesn’t succeed.

And this isn’t something I’ll deduct points for, but why pick on Def Leppard in the early parts of the story? That band is a big part of why I love 80s music, how dare you!

I normally like Paul Tremblay’s work, but on a scale of 1 to 5, I’m going to give The Pallbearers Club a 2. The way it’s written is creative and the initial chapters are great, but annoying characters and an unimpressive plot just stakes it through the heart.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. My next read will be The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias, while my next review will likely be Tales My Grandmother Told Me by Heather Miller (read an advanced copy). You’ll know my thoughts on both in time.

Until next time, good night, pleasant nightmares, and 49 days till Halloween.

Hello, Followers of Fear. There are sixty days till Halloween. What have you done to prepare?

Artwork produced by artificial intelligence, or AI art, has become kind of a thing as the technology has advanced. In fact, some months back, there was an app that became a fad for horror writers to generate images and even book covers. And earlier this week, John Oliver featured it on his TV show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Here’s the video, if you’re interested. It’s hysterical.

John Oliver’s wife and children must have such a blast telling people who don’t know who he is what he does for a living. “Oh, my husband/dad? He sexually harasses Adam Driver and marries cabbages on TV once a week.”

Anyway, it got me interested enough to want to play around with AI art, so I made an account with one of the recommended companies, Midjourney, and went to work. The results were not only fascinating, but gave me some thoughts on the nascent AI art industry.

First, here are some of my successes. As it turns out, Midjourney’s AI program does very well with Lovecraftian/cosmic horror entities. For example, here’s Cthulhu destroying Las Vegas because I’m not a big Vegas fan (though under the right circumstances I’d visit again).

Then, in order, we have Yog-Sothoth, Shub-niggurath, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, two pictures of the Deep Ones, the Color from Outer Space, and the King in Yellow.

And portraits of famous people tended to go well with the program. Here are Stephen King, Anne Rice, and HP Lovecraft, three of my biggest influences as a writer, as well as one of Lizzie Borden with an axe. Because why not?

And because I love ballet and try to put dancers in my stories when I can, I made a series of ballet posts, with their titles in the captions.

Dancer and Wolf on the lake
The Little Ballerina Ghost
Dancer in the Egyptian Temple
Dancers on a Moonlit Beach
Little Dancers Running from Lava
Little Dancer and Anubis

Pretty cool, right? Most of them look really good. However, those were success stories, like I said. Here’s what happened when I tried to create Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th films.

Yeah, I know. None of those come close to looking like Jason! He’s arguably more famous than Cthulhu, but these were the results. And then there was my attempt at Freddy Kreuger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Oy freaking vey!

Yeah, who is that? Not Freddy Kreuger, who is definitely more famous than Cthulhu! Honestly, it looks more like my conception of Leland Gaunt, the antagonist from Needful Things by Stephen King. How could the AI get our favorite subconscious serial killer so wrong?

And those are just a few examples. I went through several failures trying to get anywhere close to a specific idea or image, only to give up when I realized the program just couldn’t create it. I couldn’t even create a decent Sailor Moon or an accurate tiger image, and both those prompts have enough references out there that they should have been easy to create something accurate.

Even some of the successes took a lot of work and experimentation, such as The King in Yellow or Little Dancer and Anubis. I won’t even go into detail about how hard it was to get a good Alice in Wonderland pic that wasn’t too trippy. I mean, I know the source material is plenty weird, but not all art based on it has to be super-surreal!

And while I call some of them successes, they aren’t perfect. You can especially see it in the ballerina series, where features like the head and limbs look odd or bent in ways you wouldn’t see on a normal dancer or a Degas painting. Only the tutus and bodices come out well. The rest of their bodies can be a mixed bag.

It kind of reminds me of that scene in 1986’s The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum puts steak through the teleporter and it comes out tasting weird. He figures out that the computer hasn’t learned how to move organic materials, and is instead creating an interpretation or bad imitation of what it thinks steak is. That’s what we have here: the AI has learned how to mimic and create, but it’s still leagues away from making certain things.

And honestly, I’m glad. Art is art because there’s someone behind it with a vision or a passion. You can program a computer to recreate famous art pieces or original pieces, including Batman comics and scripts or horror screenplays. And the computer might even do a good job at times. But there won’t be any passion or soul behind it. Art is art because we’re putting our love and soul into our creations.

And getting to work with a creator? That’s even more special. Believe me, I’ve done it before, and it’s amazing to see your vision come to life with their help. Especially when working on art pieces like book covers. That truly is something special.

That being said, I can see AI-generated art being used for cheap book covers as the technology improves, and the services of artists becoming more expensive. This could especially apply for small presses or independent publishers who need to lower costs while maximizing profits. The only time publishers may use a real artist is if the author is big enough to warrant it.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, because it would mean we wouldn’t get to see some really amazing collaborations. So, for the meantime, I’ll stop with the AI art (I’ve scratched that itch and I don’t want to pay a subscription for Midjourney, anyway), and continue supporting the artists who create amazing art. Especially horror art.

And now, here are some more pieces I created. Except for a few I’m waiting to reveal till the time is right, here are my other successes. You can ask what was going through my mind when I created these in the comments below. Enjoy, and until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Vampire Mothers and Child
Jump Rope with a Ghost
Jack the Ripper in an Alley
Flaming Giraffe #1
Flaming Giraffe #2
The Necronomicon
Bunny Girl and Hammer
Spooky Alice in Wonderland
The Mummy of Rameses I. I thought it worked well for the post.

Sheriff’s Deputy Cole Sawyer knew he had the right house before he’d even read the numbers beside the door. The body was sitting there on the front stoop, just as the caller had said it would be.

I’ve mentioned before that I started a new novel, a mummy story I’m calling Crawler until I can come up with a better title.* It’s been a little over three weeks since I started the novel with the lines posted above. I’m now three chapters in, and I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts with you on the writing process so far.

And what are those thoughts? Well, I’m wondering what I got myself into. This book is already seventy pages (8.5 x 11 inches, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman), and rapidly approaching twenty thousand words! And that’s just the first three chapters! It’s going to be as long as Snake by the time the first draft is done. You could use it with your favorite Stephen King doorstopper to knock someone out.

Which I don’t recommend doing unless your life is in danger and you have no other options.

All that being said, it’s also been fun to write. The first chapter, I had such a hard time pulling myself away from the computer to go to bed because I was just so into the story. I got it done at that pace in two nights. And while the next two chapters haven’t gone at such a crazy pace, it’s still been a fun process.

For example, one of my characters has grown up extremely sheltered, and the events of the novel force her into the world. Writing things from her POV has been a fantastic journey of trial and discovery. I think by the end of Chapter Two, I got her down pat, but there could still be challenges ahead.

Scratch that, I know there are challenges ahead. It may be a world where a mummy is on the attack, but it’s still based on our world. The characters’ actions and reactions to events must make sense to someone in our world. That could be hard. And I have to keep the slower moments interesting. And of course, I’ll have to get on the net every now and then to do some research. Yeah, lots of challenges ahead.

But hey, the first draft isn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be passable. That way, I can build on it in subsequent drafts and create something spectacular. So if I mess up, I’m sure I’ll find some way to fix it further down the line.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll post more updates as I make progress. I promise, they won’t come at a crawl (get it?). So don’t worry, I’ll be back again soon. And until then, good night, pleasant nightmares, and do not read from the Book of the Dead. If you’re not careful, you might wake up an undead Egyptian high priest seeking to resurrect his girlfriend.

*And no, I’m not going with The Mummy. Nor am I going with I Want My Mummy; Are You My Mummy?; or Man, Fuck This Mummy. One’s taken, two are probably taken by RL Stine or Doctor Who, and the last one sounds too close to a novel on my TBR list. I might go with Sympathy for the Mummy, however. I mean, that’s probably not too like a famous Rolling Stones song, is it?

A handy graphic for understanding the three act structure, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The other day, I was talking with some other writers about how to write a decent short story (an eternal question among writers, including the ones who’ve gotten them published). And I noticed that, with a lot of my recent short stories, most of them fall into a decent three act structure. And then I said, “I know the existence of the three act structure is dubious, but it’s the truth.”

And, like many odd things, that little exchange has stuck in my head.

So for those of you who don’t know, the theory of the three act structure states that all stories, especially longer ones, can be divided into three separate acts or sections: the setup, the confrontation, and the resolution. The acts may then be divided into smaller scenes or subsections, but they all fit into those categories. Some examples given of stories with the three act structure are Star Wars, Die Hard, and Avengers: Endgame (though I sometimes think everything before the five-year jump is its own separate act or prologue).

While many of us are taught this structure in school, most of our teachers will let us know that not everyone believes in the three act structure, let alone say they use it. Some prefer using a five act structure. Others say storytelling is too complicated and diverse to say a story can be divided into a formulaic structure. And nearly all playwrights will agree that if it can’t be told in one act, tell it in two.

Good example of a story in three acts (supposedly).

That last one might be a joke.

I’m usually of the camp that believes storytelling is too complicated and diverse to boil down into a structure. Look at Stephen King stories. Most of his shorts, like Graveyard Shift, Night Surf or The Boogeyman, are simple one-scene stories with maybe a twist at the end, and I dare you to try to fit books like IT or Salem’s Lot into three acts. Then there are stories like Kill Creek by Scott Thomas or Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, which feel like they fit into four acts.

As for my own books, Snake is in multiple sections, much like the books I was reading up to and during the writing process, and I see Rose as in-the-apartment and after-leaving-the-apartment (if you read the book, you know what I mean). I can’t see the stories in The Quiet Game as anything but a progression of events. And I wouldn’t even know where to start with The Pure World Comes or the stories in Hannah.

So, is the three act structure a real thing? Well, yes and no. I feel like it’s more of a framework for people to examine fiction, both others and their own. You don’t have to use it if you feel it doesn’t work for you or if you feel a story has too much happening in it to divide the plot into three separate sections.

But if you do find it helpful, use it to your heart’s content. I’m sure many writers, especially plotters like myself, find the three act structure helpful for planning their stories. And as I said above, many of my recent short stories, including the ones that have been published, fall into three acts. Though I think of them less as acts and more like beats, scenes, settings, or occurrences. And if I’m trying to keep a story within a certain word count, I can see using this structure to my advantage.

So what is the three act structure? It’s a prism to understand some fiction stories through, as well as an actual tool for writing. It’s not perfect, and most stories don’t fit into it that well, but that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t useful. Hell, it might even help you hone your craft and get a few more short stories out there. And that is never a bad thing.

Unless you’re trying to write an award-winning musical. Then you might want to keep it to two or maybe just one act.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. March has just started and it’s already looking a lot better than January and February is (world events notwithstanding). I hope I can update you on exciting developments in the near future. And until next time, pleasant nightmares.

Fairy tales have been on my mind a lot lately. Granted, that’s nothing new. When writing Toyland, I knew fairy tales and children’s stories were going to play a part in the story, since it was about a school haunted by a ghost obsessed with a children’s fairy tale. And yes, I still hope to get that book published.

But recently, I took a class offered by the Horror Writers Association on fairy tales, which got my imagination working. And then I watched a couple of TED talks on YouTube on the subject. And last week, I wrote my own twisted, dark fantasy version of Cinderella in just one sitting while everyone else was watching the Super Bowl. This was at the same time I spent two weeks coming up with an idea for a novel involving fairy tale elements, the idea finally crystallizing on Saturday before going to see Giselle. A ballet, by the way, that could be considered a fairy tale. It certainly has enough fairy tale elements to qualify as one.

All this has made me hyper-aware of just how much fairy tales have permeated our society. Not just as stories or elements of our favorite stories, but in advertising, fashion, music, art, and even our expressions (“Cinderella story,” anyone?). They are freaking everywhere, and used/enjoyed not just by children, but by teens and adults too.

“But wait,” you’re probably asking, “aren’t fairy tales just kid stuff?”

Not exactly. In fact, fairy tales were often for adults as much as children. Early written versions of Little Red Riding Hood were told as parables to warn young ladies about getting into bed with the wrong sort of man, or as metaphors about entering womanhood (especially if cannibalism is kept in the story). In fact, that is still the case in some places: in Ireland, many still believe in fairies and tell stories, or “tales,” about them and what places to avoid. And in parts of Scandinavia and Iceland, beliefs in trolls and elves are still popular. Many countries in Asia, especially in southeast Asia, still believe in many types of spirits (and according to the classical definition of fairies, just about any supernatural entity can be considered a fairy, so it counts), and use stories to warn new generations of the dangers of pissing them off.

This adaptation of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” is a prime example of how fairy tales can be recontextualized for new eras.

But beyond warnings, fairy tales, like many other kind of stories, are reflections of how we look at our world. Hansel and Gretel, for example, was probably told in an age of famine, poverty and witch hunts, given its elements and the lessons imparted in it. Even better, fairy tales can be recontextualized for new ages. Cinderella tales are increasingly told to make the lead less passive and more in control of her own life, and the Studio Ghibli film The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on the Japanese fairy tale The Story of the Bamboo Cutter, retells the story with the theme of how Kaguya wants none of the finery her foster parents gift her, only to be surrounded by people who love her. This feels relevant in an age with rising consumerism, online image-building, and social isolation.

And that’s the cool thing about fairy tales, too. You can retell them in so many different ways. Hell, you can even come up with new ones. Plenty of writers are creating their own fairy tales, such as Diana Wynne Jones did with Howl’s Moving Castle, Melissa Albert with The Hazel Wood and many more. And many stories today use elements of fairy tales. The inclusion of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” in Stephen King’s IT isn’t just a fun choice by King, after all: King originally started plotting that story as a modern interpretation of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.”

Makes you wonder what elements of fairy tales and legends you’re putting into your stories, doesn’t it?

And that’s the thing. Even you can make up your own original fairy tales or retellings. In fact, plenty of writers are, and will as the world changes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get an updated version of Anansi and the introduction of stories to the world in the wake of so many states attempting to rewrite history or schools attempting to ban books. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this pandemic, or any of the major conflicts we’ve experienced in the past several years, make their way into a new or an old fairy tale. I’ve already come up with a few ideas for some, and might write one or two in the near future.

And I bet, no matter who’s telling the stories, they’ll continue to influence society for years to come. From the “Once upon a time” beginnings to the optional “they all lived happily ever after.”

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I spent most of President’s Day writing, so I’ll take the rest of the night off. I’ll be back soon, as I’m expecting to share some good news very soon. Until then, my Followers of Fear, good night, pleasant nightmares, and don’t try to wake me up with a kiss. I bite.

Also, here are some of the videos I watched while researching fairy tales. Give them a watch. They’re quite edifying:

Transforming our Understanding of Fairy Tales by Anne Dugan

Why We Absolutely Need Fairy Tales by Jason Link

Myths, Folklore & Legends: We Still Need Our Fairy Tales by Heidi Shamsuddin

I’m not so sure anymore.

Of course, it seems like gospel that the first sentence of a story is important. It’s your hook, isn’t it? It’s how you get the reader into the story. You should put as much thought into that first line as you would as asking your significant other to marry you!

But I’m not convinced anymore. That may be strange, considering how often I used to (and sometimes still do) the #FirstLineFriday meme on this blog. You know, that thing where I post the first line of a story and hope it gets you into the story? But then again, maybe that’s why I’m unconvinced. I’ve posted first lines so many times, I’ve recognized how little effect that they have on the total story.

And you know, if you look at some famous books, you kind of see that. Harry Potter‘s first line is “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Most Muggle-ish opening you’ve ever read. It doesn’t really hint at what’s to come in the story, and I honestly would have cut it from the final product if I had edited the first book.

And Stephen King’s stories don’t usually have those sorts of openings. The first line of IT goes like this:

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”

It’s a nice opening, but it doesn’t exactly scream…well, going to make you scream. It’s actually kind of mellow. And the opening for Needful Things is even more unassuming: “You’ve been here before.” Kid you not, my first time listening to that book on audio, I had to repeat it a few times because it was totally unexpected and confused me a bit. Only as you keep reading does the opening make sense with this story.

Maybe this is why some books have poems, excerpts from other famous stories, Bible verses, or even song lyrics at the beginning, before the story even starts. You read those little epigraphs (that’s what they’re called, I check) and keep reading to see how it relates to the story you’re taking in.

in any case, I’m starting to think that maybe it’s not the first sentence, or even the first paragraph, that’s responsible for making a story’s opening catchy. It’s maybe the first couple of paragraphs or the first page. When the author sets up the story, the characters, the setting, that you really get pulled into the story.

The opening of the story should be like opening a door to guests. Yes, that’s important, but what’s inside is even more important. Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

That’s certainly the case with my current story, where I set up a nice, rural setting, something kind of idyllic…and then one of my main characters reveals that he’s a neo-Nazi. It’s a stark contrast from the first paragraph that takes the reader off-guard, and hopefully will get them reading further along. I’ll have to finish the story first to see if that’s the case, however.

Anyway, the first sentence is important, but it’s not the most important thing about a story. Rather, it’s just the opening of the door and allowing people to take a quick look before stepping inside. What’s beyond that is what’s truly important. You just have to make sure to open the door and open it well.

But what’s your take, Followers of Fear? Let’s discuss openings and if the first lines of a story really are as important as we make them out to be. I’m curious to hear what you think on the subject. Maybe more of you will agree with me than I imagine.


Happy New Year, my Followers of Fear. I wanted to start this year off with a post that’s reflective on the craft of writing, as I enjoy writing those posts. Anyway, I hope you’re having a good 2022 so far. Mine’s been rough so far, but that tends to be the case with the first full week of January. And at least there’s a lot to look forward to right now: editing and releasing Hannah and Other Stories; putting out the paperback and ebook copies of The Pure World Comes; conventions and expos; maybe a bit of travel; and, of course, some good reading and writing.

Oh, speaking of conventions and expos, I’ll be at the Hidden Marietta Paranormal Expo on the 29th in Marietta, Ohio. If you can, stop by the Lafayette Hotel and maybe I’ll sign your book and read your Tarot.

Also, the crowdfunding campaign for That Which Cannot Be Undone is at 58.5 percent! We’re over halfway funded and we just keep going! And if you would like to help me and my fellow Ohio horror writers put out an amazing anthology of horror stories set in our state and revolving around the theme “that which cannot be undone,” click on the link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crackedskullproject1/that-which-cannot-be-undone-an-ohio-horror-anthology. There are also some amazing perks to pledging, like candles, Ohio-themed Tarot cards, copies of the book, and even end up in one of the stories! How cool would that be?

Anyway, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have more stuff to tell you soon. Until next time, good night and pleasant nightmares!