Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

It’s a quarter past two in the morning, I’m very tired and have no idea why I do this to myself, and thank God Almighty I don’t have work tomorrow morning, or I’d be one hot wreck. But anyway, good news! After over a month of hard work, I’ve just finished a new novella, which is both my first new story of 2019, and as my most disturbing story yet.

“The Autopsy Kid and Mrs. Autopsy” (wow, talk about a title) is a piece of human-based horror al a Misery and The Girl Next Door. It follows a young girl living in France who becomes entangled with a very disturbed young man after she’s caught shoplifting by said young man. It’s a really dark and gruesome story, with plenty of viscera and a very disturbed villain to boot. And as I said above, it’s probably my most disturbing story yet (and Snake included a scene where a dude got impaled in the most painful way possible). There were points during the writing process where I got a little uncomfortable, which says something about the story and how potential readers might react.

Still, it’s a first draft, so it’s going to take a lot of work before it’s ready for publication. And that’s even if I can get it published somewhere. Besides its length, this is, as I said, pretty dark stuff. Granted, human-based horror is usually very dark and requires a certain kind of nerve to get through it (everyone remembers the hobbling scene from Misery, right?). But this story? I’m sure plenty of editors would want me to censor some of the stuff that goes on in this one.

Not to mention the villain shares some similarities with another villain I’ve created that’ll be coming out at some point. But I’m less worried about this problem. I mean, if Criminal Minds can get away with variations of the same villains over and over again, eleven years in a row, why can’t I have similar villains every now and then?

Well, with any luck, I’m sure I could get it published in a short story collection, either one I put out myself or with a publishing press. I’m sure with the right marketing and a bit of editing and luck, this story could be well-received and give more than a few people nightmares.

Anyway, I’m just glad to get this story done. I had a feeling I’d get it done this weekend, but I had no idea I’d be up well past midnight working on it, adding about seven thousand words in the past twenty-four hours (a new record for me) before I could sit back and say that the first draft is finished.. I’m pretty sure I looked something like this during the past couple of hours.

I hear we even look a little alike. At least, I do in one of my many terrible visages.

Anyway, today’s writing brings the total page and word count to 164 pages and 48,581 words. Not exactly the longest I’ve ever written, but still quite a bit. And enough to leave me really exhausted right now.

Anyway, I can’t even imagine editing this behemoth right now. Pretty sure I’m going to leave it alone for a long while so that when I do return to it, I can look at it with fresh eyes. And in the meantime, I’m going to head to bed and sleep as late as I can. In the morning, I’ll likely have a celebratory movie marathon with low-calorie ice cream and hot tea. And if I do any more stories before I have to work on Rose again, it’s going to be something much, much shorter.

So until next time my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares.

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It took me nearly three and a half years of on-and-off reading, but I’ve finally done it. Through wordy paragraphs full of outdated language, enough racism to make me want to punch a dude, and an increasing amount of multi-sided shapes and magical angles, I have finished reading the copy of The Complete Works of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. And of course, after such a momentous occasion, there’s only three things I want to do: drink a beer; peruse hard copies of the same book; and blog about my thoughts on Lovecraft’s later work and its influence on the horror genre, as well as on my own writing. This is that last thing on my list.

So if you are unfamiliar with who Lovecraft is (and I find most people are), he was an early-20th century writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. While not very well-known during his lifetime, his creation of the sub-genre of cosmic horror has ensured that his work has lived on and influenced other horror creators and enthusiasts such as Stephen King, Alan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and myself. What really appeals about this genre is the idea that the universe is a dark and uncaring place full of forces that have no care for humanity or other minor species in the cosmos and can destroy lives and civilizations (as well as usually having a vaguely fishy smell).

When you consider the dude was a sickly bundle of nerves who dealt with anxiety and depression his whole life, had a classist-type of racism where skin-color and social background were very important, was frustrated over his inability to finish his education, and felt more comfortable letter writing and staying in Providence than actually interacting with people and going to crowded places, it makes sense. And while his stories have each aged differently, there’s plenty you can get out of them, especially when it comes to the mechanics of cosmic horror.

This time around diving into his work, I finished out reading his work with some of the most famous of his latest work, which included At the Mountains of Madness (which was also the nickname for the summer camp I went to), The Shadow over Innsmouth, and The Shadow out of Time. By this point, Lovecraft was consciously trying to add scientific concepts to his work wherever he could, especially in Mountains of Madness and Shadow out of Time. Sometimes that works very well, such as in Mountains, but other times, like Through the Gates of the Silver Key, I just found myself scratching my head in confusion (not sure angles work like that, dude). You can also see that by this point, he’d really gotten a grasp over this fictional world of his, throwing casual references to numerous recurring elements in the course of a single story. For once in his life, he was comfortable with something.

Also, while the racism is still evident, it’s kind of mellowed out at this point. Not much, but enough that I don’t feel so uncomfortable reading during certain passages of his work. Progress, I guess.

So were any of these stories any good? Well, old HP’s work has always been hit and miss with me, but there were some good things here. At the Mountains of Madness, while not my favorite, did have a great premise and kept me engrossed for most of the story (he probably could’ve cut parts about the Elder Things’ history and city, though. That went on forever). And Shadow over Innsmouth is probably my new favorite Lovecraft story: it’s this freaky Gothic tale of a town whose citizens have basically sold their souls and their humanity for prosperity and long lives, and the one person who ends up upsetting that arrangement. I’d totally check it out if you’re interested in a different sort of Gothic horror story.

Elder Things from “The Mountains of Madness!” They’re not pleasant!

That being said, I was not a fan of Shadow out of Time. I know that one’s pretty beloved by his fans, but I just thought it was too wordy, to the point where I would look over entire sections and forget most of what I’d just read. The Thing on the Doorstep had an interesting premise, but I felt it wasn’t as scary as some of his other works. Dreams in the Witch House also had a great idea, but I think a couple of changes could’ve been made to improve it. And I’m never going to get back the hour I spent reading Through The Gates of the Silver Key. Seriously, only real enthusiasts should try that one, and only if they’re really sure about it.

Still, it was all worth the dive, in my opinion. I’ve learned a lot by reading the work of HP Lovecraft over these few years, and getting a grasp of why people still read him and write cosmic horror today. And I think over time, it could lead to me writing better stories. Hopefully. I’ll let you be the judges of that, though.

In the meantime though, I’m going to continue working on my own stories and start reading some work by an author who’s older than Lovecraft but somehow easier to understand. Who is that, you ask? The Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare.

That’s for all now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll hopefully have a new review for you guys soon. Until then, Hail Cthulhu and pleasant nightmares.

 

For my other examinations of HP Lovecraft’s work, check out Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Also, I highly recommend this video from the YouTube Channel Overly Sarcastic Productions. They look over Lovecraft and five of his most famous works with fun illustrations and hilarious commentary. Trust me, it’s worth a look.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

I was nominated by my friend and fellow writer Kat Impossible from the blog Life and Other Disasters. She rarely nominates me directly for these things because she knows I don’t always have the time for them and because they don’t always apply to me, so when she can nominate me for one, I do try to do it. And the Rising Author Tag, to boot! It means so much that she thinks so highly of me, especially since she’s not a fan of horror and that’s mainly what I write. Danke, Kat! I really appreciate it.

Okay, on to the tag rules:

  • Thank the person who tagged you.
  • Answer the questions they came up with.
  • Nominate four people to do the tag (no tagging the person who tagged you originally).
  • Come up with 10 new questions for the people you nominated.

I’ve already thanked Kat for this, so I’m good on that front. Here are the questions she has charged me with answering.

What is your current WIP about and what is its status (plotting, writing, editing, etc.)?

Well, I’ve got a few stories that are in various stages of writing and editing. However, I think I’ll talk about Rose, as it’s probably the one I need to talk about the most! So if you haven’t heard, Rose is a novel I originally wrote in my senior year of college as my thesis. Last year I began the long process of editing and shopping it around, and Castrum Press, based in Belfast, North Ireland, accepted it for publication earlier this year. At this time, they’re looking it over to see how much more work needs to be done before we can talk publication dates.

As for what it’s about, Rose follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (yeah, you read that right). She beomes that way when a young man claiming to be her boyfriend performs magic to save her life after she suffers a terrible accident. However, she starts to suspect that not all is as it seems, and as she looks deeper into her savior, she finds things out that will put them both on an unavoidable path of destruction.

Do you plot things out and/or outline, or do you just figure it out as you write?

With very few exceptions, I plot and outline my stories out before writing them. I find that trying to write by the seat of my pants leads to long pauses where I try to figure out what happens next and come up with nothing. When I plot/outline, I have an idea of where I’m going, which allows me to imagine out the story before I sit down to write it.

There are a few stories where I don’t need to outline, but the plot’s usually fully-formed in my head with those stories, so I don’t think it really counts.

What are some book ideas you want to write in the future?

I keep a list of story ideas I’d like to write in the future, so I don’t forget any good ones. I doubt I’ll get to write them all given how many there are (not to mention short story ideas), but I’d like to write stuff that people will remember for years to come. In the meantime, I’ve had some thoughts about what I’ll write after Rose and River of Wrath (the other novel I wrote) are out/in the process of being published. There’s one about a school haunting that appeals, as well as one partially inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, and a few more.

We’ll just have to see what feels right when the time comes, shall we?

Out of the characters you’ve written so far, which one’s your favorite?

I’m not sure I have a favorite. After all, these characters are like my own children. I can’t pick a favorite among my kids! Even if some of them are dangerous killers or demons or whatnot.

What’s your writing routine, if any? (location, time of day, snacks, music, etc.)

I usually write on my couch or at my desk with some sort of music playing in my earbuds. What sort of music changes pretty frequently. These days, it’s mostly the albums from various musicals. Not sure why, they just appeal right now. I also mainly write in the evenings, just because that’s when it’s easiest for me to write: no work, no dinner to prepare, no emails to answer. Obviously, if I’m able to write full-time one day, that’ll change, but at the moment it works for me.

Oh, one more thing: I always make a goal to write at least a thousand words when I sit down to work on a story, up from two hundred and fifty earlier this year. After that, it’s pretty easy to keep going, but it can be a challenge to get to a thousand some days. Still, I manage to do it, and it helps my output in the long run. Maybe someday I’ll be able to make a minimum of twenty-five hundred words a day (Stephen King’s minimum threshold, or so I hear). Fingers crossed that someday I can make all that and more happen.

Show your WIP’s aesthetic in images and/or words.

Kat did one with images that’s supposed to get to the basics of what she’s written, so I tried to do something similar. Once the book’s out, most of these images will make a lot more sense.

Who or what motivates you to write?

I think I would write even if it weren’t for anyone other than myself. I have so many stories floating in my head that I need to exorcise them through writing so they can get out of there. But at the same time, I write because so many people want to read my stories and I want them to read them, so I keep trying to get those stories out there and build my audience. With any luck, I’ll be able to get a lot of people interested in my stories and they’ll come back to them time and time again.

What do you find the easiest and hardest parts of writing?

The easiest is coming up with the ideas for my stories. There are so many ways to scare someone, they just pop into my head and become stories. Sometimes I have several ideas in a single day just going through my daily routine. The hardest, however, is staying on task. My ADHD sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate on getting my daily thousand-plus words out. Once I reach a thousand, that’s usually not a problem, but until I do, it can be difficult to stay focused.

Share a tiny snippet/excerpt from your WIP, if you’re comfortable.

Since Rose is still under renovations, so to speak, I’ll hold off for now. When the book’s a bit closer to publication, then I’ll give you all some excerpts.

 

And now for my questions for those I tag:

  1. Tell us about what you’re working on or recently released.
  2. Where in the process of writing are you?
  3. What is the most difficult part of writing the story at this point?
  4. What about your main character do you like the most?
  5. What is your writing process/routine, if you have one?
  6. Do you pants your way through a story, or do you plot it out?
  7. What are your characters’ musical interests?
  8. What’s next for you in terms of writing?
  9. If you could pick a narrator for your story’s audio book, who would you pick?
  10. Share an excerpt or snippet, if you’re comfortable.

And I tag my buddy Matthew Williams from Stories by Williams, Angela Misri from A Portia Adams Adventure, Ruth Ann Nordin, Joleene Naylor, and ANYONE ELSE WHO WANTS TO DO THIS TAG!

That’s all for now, I’ve got to get dinner on the table in a few minutes. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

I’ve mentioned things like “Lovecraftian horror’ or “cosmic horror” before on this blog, but I’ve never really gone into what those terms mean. And given that someone on the Internet is probably wondering what those terms mean and I need a break from trying to figure out how to end a short story, I thought I’d take a moment to look over what it means when horror fans call something “cosmic horror.”

I actually summed up cosmic horror pretty well last month with a little joke that I shared on my social media. Here’s how it goes:

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Yog-sothoth.

Yog-sothtoth who?

Your mind couldn’t handle the answer.

Now you’re probably confused by that joke. But in actuality, it summarizes what cosmic horror is pretty well. Namely, there are answers and truths to questions that the human mind can’t handle. And not just answers, but even beings, beings that don’t fit into any sort of recognizable mythology or concept of good and evil. In this sort of horror, humanity is the equivalent of ants in the grand scheme of things, and if they come across any of the things that they shouldn’t–beings of unimaginable size and power, truths that go against everything we’ve ever believed, abilities and technologies that seem blasphemous to human viewpoints–the very contact could kill us or drive us insane. And even if our minds survived in some recognizable state, we would be forever changed. And probably not for the better.

If you haven’t grasped why that’s so scary, let me use an analogy: imagine you’re a farmer living in England in 1066, and a man from the year 2166* comes by and tells you that the world isn’t flat, but round; that the Earth flies around the sun and not the other way around; and that space is a cold and mostly empty void rather than a sphere surrounded by God’s Heaven and angels. Well, you’d obviously think the man from 2166 was crazy. But then he takes you back to his time, and he lives on a ship orbiting the Earth. You see the round Earth below while you float weightless in space and see the dark void beyond Earth. And things like science, gravity, etc. mean absolutely nothing to you. And everything’s new and strange to you, lights too bright and shadows too dark, and the sounds you hear make no sense.

Can you start to see how this could tear at someone’s mind? That someone could be afraid of this?

A universe of incomprehensible beings and terrible secrets is the basis of cosmic horror.

And that’s why cosmic horror has been so popular since HP Lovecraft basically created it back in the early 20th century (which is why it’s also known as Lovecraftian horror). It basically takes the old Judeo-Christian concept of good vs. evil, God versus the Devil, etc, which is essentially a closed and somewhat understandable system, and throws it wide open to a universe where there are multiple forces, none of which are easy to grasp or empathize with, let alone categorize into good vs. evil.

But how do you write it? Well, it’s more than including big, powerful beings that drive people mad (though that is often a feature). They’re more a vehicle for the broader theme: a sense of helplessness, that the universe is big and dark and full of awful things, that humanity is inconsequential and our dealings with the big players never lead to anything good. That, and a sense of untapped mystery can’t hurt. Think the first two Alien films or a dark version of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s aliens, and you might get the idea.

If you want a better grasp of cosmic horror, I’d suggest looking at some of Lovecraft’s stories.** I recommend The Temple, The Call of Cthulhu, and The Dunwich Horror. I also recommend checking out other writers who use cosmic horror, including Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, and so many more. Heck, I’ve got a few stories that have some cosmic horror in them. If they ever get published, I’ll let you know.

Cosmic horror can be hard to wrap your mind around sometimes, but once you do, it can open you to all sorts of terrible worlds. And if you can stand what you find, perhaps you will delve deeper. Just be careful when you do. You might not be the same when you come up, after all.

Do you like cosmic horror? What cosmic horror works would you recommend to the unitiated?

*Assuming humanity lives that long, what with global warming and a rising population. You know it’s true!

**If you can stomach his racism. Yeah, I love his work and contribution to horror, but I hate what he believed. If he were around today, I’d either punch him, ignore him for being an asshole, or recommend he take some anti-anxiety medication, get some therapy and maybe some exposure to other communities.

You ever find yourself reading a story, particularly a horror story, and particularly one of the shorter variety, and it gets really tense? And then something terrifying is revealed? And then–that’s it. The story just ends there. And you’re like…what? What happens next?!

Yeah, this happens quite a bit in fiction, though I notice it more in horror stories than anywhere else. A famous example is Stephen King’s “Boogeyman.” The story follows a man who tells a therapist about how his three children were all killed by the titular entity. The therapist convinces the protagonist to come by for further sessions, but the moment the protagonist turns around, it’s revealed that the therapist is actually the therapist wearing a mask. And that’s how the story ends. No fight between them, no death. It just ends on that revelation.

Why? Why do authors do that? A story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Why does the end seem so abrupt? It can be really frustrating sometimes!

Well, I’ve done this myself a couple of times with my own stories, so I have a few ideas on that. One is to get the reaction I spelled out above. The “Oh my God, what happened next? Why is it stopping so soon?” reaction. Why? Because you’re more likely to remember the story with that reaction. You’ll keep thinking about it. Maybe you’ll even vent your frustrations to other readers, which may encourage them to continue reading. Or maybe you’ll continue the story from there in a fan fiction, one you may share with friends and blog followers. Or maybe you’ll finish the story in a blockbuster movie someday that pulls in millions of dollars at the box office (unlikely, but one can dream). The point is, the story ends that way because the author wants you to remember the story.

Another reason is that the author feels, for whatever reason, that’s a good place to finish the story. As my old high school English teacher Mr. Guinan would say, “A story is never perfect; it’s just done. You can’t do anything more to it to improve it, it’s just done.” In this case, the plot can’t be furthered or worked on anymore. To do anymore would be a disservice to the story and bring down quality. It’s just done, and that’s why the author finished the story at that crucial moment without giving the resolution a reader might be looking for.

And finally, the story might end there because the author themselves can’t imagine what comes next. They try, but for some reason, they can’t see beyond that critical moment: the reveal of the monster, the corpse under the stairs, the woman being pushed into moving traffic (man, I’m disturbed). It’s most likely the rarest reason, because authors generally have an idea of how a story will end when it’s published, but I’m sure it happens.

In any case, whenever an author does this, they don’t do it with any malicious intent. Authors often treat their stories like their babies, and want them to be the best they can be. So when you come across a story and it seems to end abruptly, don’t take it personally. Even if it frustrates you, just know that this is the author’s way of making sure their story is the best that it can be. Because if they’re not making sure their story is the best it can be, are they really doing their job?

At least blog posts don’t end that way. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were reading a blog post, and it was getting to this important point, and then it just