Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Those of you who don’t follow me on my other social media platforms may not know this, but at least once a week, usually Saturday, I post links to my novel Rose. The hope is, with enough regular mentions, people will notice the book and be tempted to read the book. If they see it often, it will worm under their skin and the possibility of entertainment they’re missing out on will nag at them. Perhaps they’ll even check it out just to see if they really are missing out.

It’s a simple strategy, but it does work. Not to the point where I’m getting dozens of new readers or reviews every week, but it does get results. For example, just this past week or so, Rose received two new ratings on Goodreads. And not too long ago, Rose received a bunch of new ratings on Amazon Canada and Amazon UK. And I think these consistent ads may have played a role in all of these new ratings.

And as I write this, I wonder if these new ratings are just a fraction of the new people reading Rose. They just haven’t let me know what they think as of yet.

This is why I keep posting about Rose. I want people to find the book. Someone like Stephen King may only need to post a couple of times about their upcoming book, and they’ll have thousands of pre-orders within hours. Less well-known but very established horror authors will post regular ads just to remind people that their book is coming out or that it’s already out or that it’s been out for a while. My philosophy is that I have to do ten times the work in order to get half of what I want. What I want is to have as many people as possible read my stories. So obviously, I’ll do what I can to get people to notice Rose.

I just can’t post everyday, because it would cost way too much money or because people would get sick of seeing Rose mentioned on my timeline. Or both.

In any case, I have a feeling that all my efforts are going to pay off even more than usual. Because COVID-19 has a lot of people isolating in their homes, they’re looking for new sources of entertainment, including books. Perhaps they’ll see Rose mentioned somewhere and think, “Hmm, that might pass the time for me. I’ll give it a read.”

Not the ideal way for someone to notice my work, but there you go.

And no matter the situation, I’ll keep writing and posting about my stories, with the hope that more people will notice and maybe want to read it. With any luck, they’ll find their new favorite horror story, and I’ll have another reader interested in my next book or publication, whenever that comes out.

And if this post has got you at all interested in Rose, I’ll post the links below. Yeah, of course I would insert an ad into this post, what did you expect? Anyway, if you’re not familiar, Rose is the story of a young woman who wakes up with no memories of the past two years. Pretty quickly, her body undergoes a startling transformation, becoming a human/plant hybrid. As those around her react to her transformation, she soon realizes they’re not all they seem, leading to a desperate fight for survival.

It’s some dark, creepy shit and you can check it out by clicking on the links below. And if you do end up reading Rose, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love feedback from readers, and they help me out in the long run.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If, like me, you’re celebrating Passover, then Happy Passover (and next year in person). If you’re celebrating Easter this weekend, Happy Easter. And no matter what you believe or don’t believe, stay safe, be healthy, and pleasant nightmares to you all.

Rose: Available from the links below.

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

The other day, I posted my thoughts on the COVID-19 virus. Among those thoughts was my desire for writers and readers alike to support authors who will be struggling during the ongoing crisis. For a lot of authors, this crisis will cut into conventions, teaching seminars, readings, and so much more that they rely on to sell their books and use their craft. The best thing we can do for those authors is to support them. This could be by buying their work, writing their reviews, anything else you can do to help them out while we’re all stuck inside and trying to protect our health.

That said, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

I’ve known Jason Stokes, owner of Gestalt Media, for about a year. He’s a writer whose work I’ve read and reviewed, but he’s also the owner of a publishing company that tries to give authors the best experience with a publisher as possible. This includes better royalty rates and more control over the creative process than you might find at another publisher. And the model’s worked so far; in the year or so they’ve been in business, Gestalt Media has acquired a number of authors, many of them horror authors, and are sending their stories into the marketplace.

Not only that, but Gestalt Media put together a charity anthology last year for victims of the Virginia Beach shooting which included the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, not kidding, those authors let their short stories be used in the anthology, Dark Tides, to benefit victims and families of victims of that charity. You can check out the anthology’s Amazon page by clicking on this link.

Anyway, just like authors everywhere else, Gestalt Media is working hard to support its authors during this difficult time. They’re raising money on GoFundMe to ensure their authors are able to whether the storm, and they’ve already made almost ten percent of their goal. And for every dollar they make, companies like GoFundMe, Intuit and Yelp will match them. Yeah, every dollar does count here!*

Now, I know a lot of you might be struggling yourselves during this difficult time. Many of us are out of work and unable to make an income during this crisis. I understand. But if you are able to help somehow, please consider doing so.  I’m lucky enough to still be working and making enough money to meet my needs, so I was able to donate. And if I can, I want to help further, so I’m spreading the word where I can.

And if you can’t help out monetarily, maybe consider sharing the campaign on your social media. The more people who know about this,  the more people will be likely to donate. And if you can help out monetarily, great! You’ll be helping out plenty of authors.

Whatever way you can help, please do. We’re all in this together. In fact, the whole point of all these measures is to make sure we all get through the crisis together. This would only be a continuation of the communal preservation we’re engaging in.

And if you can’t help out, that’s fine too. We all have things we can and can’t do, even now.

Well, that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll include the link for the fundraiser down below. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Gestalt Media Creators Relief Fund

*How they were able to work that deal, I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain when they’re able to get results.

I had a revelation recently. No, not the kind that inspires texts that are the basis for entire religions. I had that already, and you do not want to know what information was imparted to me. No, it’s about Lovecraftian fiction.

Now, the common image among people, readers and writers, of Lovecraftian fiction is Cthulhu or any other Great Old One/Elder God/giant terrifying monster from the deep sea/outer space/alternate dimension. And that’s not wrong. From stories like The Dunwich Horror to the recent science-horror film Underwater, big monsters are a major part of the story and, along with the mind-bending insanity and dark truths they represent, are the main source of horror.

But it’s recently come to my attention that Lovecraftian horror stories are about more than just the monsters. Sometimes, it’s about psychological horror. Sometimes, you can have an effective scary story by not showing the monster, but by instead relegating the monsters to mere glimpses or suggestions and focusing on the characters’ reactions. And if done right, it can lead to some compelling horror.

There are actually plenty of stories like this. And if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably run into plenty of them. The Call of Cthulhu, for example. Being by Howard Phillips himself, it’s obviously Lovecraftian, but have you ever noticed that we never really see Cthulhu? Think about it. The closest we ever get to seeing the High Priest of the Great Old Ones himself is through the eyes of a Scandinavian sailor’s diary. The narrator only sees drawings and statues of him.

And yet we’re scared, because the very idea of what we glean from these diary recordings is of a worldwide cult, one devoted to a very real god. One that will use humans as its pawns so that, when it finally arises, it’s in prime condition to take over our world. And the cult will do away with anyone who gets in their master’s way.

And while that’s a great example, there’s plenty more where that came from. Last year’s film The Lighthouse (see my review here) was Lovecraftian with a capital L, but we barely saw any of the marine monstrosities supposedly behind the horrors occurring on the island. And what we did see, we weren’t sure if they were real (within the film, anyway). Are they monsters, or are they just the manifestations of two men on an isolated island having a breakdown? Or maybe it’s a bit of both. It’s hard to tell.

A great example of this Lovecraftian psychological horror, 2019’s The Lighthouse.

And not just The Lighthouse. Stephen King’s novella N is told from the POV of people who all claim to be guardians of a circle of stones. If they don’t perform certain rituals, the stones will become a portal for terrible monsters. We never see these monsters though, and it’s possible that all the characters are suffering from a shared delusion. Or is it something more?

And in the novel I’m reading now (I hope to finish it and have the review up tomorrow or Thursday), there’s a Lovecraftian undertone, but the focus is on the characters and how they’re dealing with all the lies and hidden secrets swirling around them.

Or maybe that’s not a Lovecraftian undertone, but some other supernatural undertone. I’ll let you know when I finish the novel.

Anyway, it’s a good thing I’ve noticed that. The story I’m trying to write next is going to be heading into that psychological/Lovecraftian territory, so hopefully I can do a good job of it. And even if I don’t, it’ll at least be good practice.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to bed. I hope you’re not going stir-crazy while social distancing yourselves. If you want, we can talk in the comments for a bit.

Anyway, until next time, pleasant nightmares!

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of tag, so I saw this on my friend Kat Impossible’s blog and I was like, “Sounds like fun.” And while I’m not sure I believe in “perfection,” I tried to come up with stories that come close to that in my personal opinion. Most of these titles are from the horror genre, but I do add some from other genres and even a few other mediums (I can be a rule breaker when I want to be). With that in mind, let us begin the Perfect Book Tag.

THE PERFECT GENRE

(pick a book that perfectly represents the genre)

I had a hard time choosing on this, between what could be considered a quintessential horror novel, and what could be the most terrifying novel (AKA the “perfect” horror novel). In the end, I wanted to include the quintessential novel elsewhere, and I hate repeating myself, so I decided on the most terrifying novel I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Honestly, this novel’s show of brutality, the ease in which regular people can be persuaded to commit acts of evil and the graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty were enough to make me put the book down at times just so I could process what I was reading and get control of my dread. If you want perfect horror, this might be close enough.

Just don’t blame me if this gives you an upset stomach or nightmares. Trust me, it’s a tough one to get through.

THE PERFECT SETTING

(pick a book that takes place in a perfect place)

Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything considered “perfect” in entertainment, let alone a perfect setting. However, as far as I’m concerned, this might come damn close. The Doctor Who universe has every sort of setting imaginable. From futuristic cityscapes, to the distant past, and even our own modern times, you can find aliens, historical personages, gods and demons, magic (sort of) and science, friends and enemies, and even new universes or pocket universes! It’s an endlessly adaptable setting, and that’s why it’s my choice for perfect setting.

Also, I know it’s a TV show and the books are expanded universe and semi-canonical at best, but like I said, I like to break the rules.

 

THE PERFECT MAIN CHARACTER

(pick the perfect main character)

For this one, I didn’t pick perfect as in “they’re the best at everything and never have to improve. The story is just a way for the reader to fawn over how amazing the characters are.” Those are known as Mary Sues and Gary Sues, and most writers learn to stop creating them when trying to write compelling stories. Instead, I picked examples of characters I like to work with the most: women/girls who don’t start out as protagonist material, but as time goes on they grow into their heroine roles. Sailor Moon and Buffy are two great examples of those characters, as well as the reason I love that character type.

Neither Buffy Summers nor Sailor Moon started out as heroes who were thrilled with their roles. They just wanted to be normal girls, not burdened down with these destinies to save humanity from evil. But over time, as they get stronger and build their support networks, they become stronger, able to defy evil and inspire everyone around them and everyone watching them, regardless of age or gender. It’s part of the reason why these characters have endured over thirty years after their debuts, and part of the reason why I am who I am today.

 

THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND

(loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever)

 

This one was easy. She’s smart, kind, brave, and is willing to point out when you’re wrong or doing something stupid. And she’s willing to stand up for the oppressed when no one else will, including many of the oppressed. She can be a bit stubborn, and at times she loses sight of reality when it comes to studies or other things she deems important. But honestly, Hermione Granger would make a great best bud.

 

THE PERFECT LOVE INTEREST

(pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner)

Let me level with you all. I may be bisexual, but I’m aromantic, so I don’t really feel romantic attraction to anyone. Sexual, definitely, but I have trouble imagining myself wanting to be tied to someone like a partner or lover. And since I don’t feel like telling the world about a character I may find sexy, I’ll just leave this one blank. Sorry if you really wanted to know what my type was or wanted to set me up with someone you know. You can’t change someone’s nature that easily.

 

THE PERFECT VILLAIN

(pick a character with the most sinister mind)

Remember that quintessential horror novel I mentioned as a contender for Perfect Genre? Yeah, IT was the runner-up. But in terms of villains, Pennywise is the ultimate, hence why he’s here. Honestly, he’s a perfect mix of both the human villain and the supernatural. He understands human fears and motivations, is a master manipulator and knows just how to get under our skin and either terrify us into a stupor or make us his pawn. At the same time, he’s this giant cosmic entity from beyond the universe, a thing we can only grasp as orange lights known as The Deadlights. His motivations aren’t born from hatred or greed or any human desire, but from the need to feed and eventually the need to procreate. It’s just another show of his Otherworldly nature.

And let’s face it, he’s devious! It takes a special sort of evil to enjoy being an evil clown 24/7, and Pennywise does it better than the Joker. Yeah, you read that right. What are you going to do about it?

 

THE PERFECT FAMILY

(pick the perfect bookish family)

Well, they’re not from any books, at least not originally, but the Addams Family would be my perfect fictional family. You can guess why.

 

THE PERFECT ANIMAL OR PET

(pick a pet or fantastic animal you need to see on a book)

Although I’m against the breeding of white tigers (they’re a genetic abnormality and breeding them leaves the tigers with all sorts of genetic problems), White Blaze from the anime Ronin Warriors is a creature I always wanted. He’s a tiger and deadly towards his enemies, but he’s smart, kind and good with people. You could honestly have him babysit your kids, he’s that good. And in a fight against evil, you couldn’t ask for a better animal partner.

In fact, White Blaze might be part of the reason why tigers are my favorite animal. And it’s not hard to see why.

 

THE PERFECT PLOT TWIST

(pick a book with the best plot twist)

I won’t say what it was. But it left me reeling. Took me half the next chapter to realize the author was serious and wasn’t pulling my leg. Still the hardest a twist in a novel has ever hit me.

 

THE PERFECT TROPE

(pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking)

Let’s face it, I love a cosmic horror twist. The idea of an entity that defies human conception, to the point it can drive us mad, excites me as a horror writer to no end.

 

THE PERFECT COVER

(pick a cover you would want on your own book)

I want a cover similar to this on one of my books someday. Either that, or something that disturbs just to look at it.

 

THE PERFECT ENDING

(pick a book that has the perfect ending)

My favorite endings in horror have the horror continuing on long after the heroes appear to have won. So if I have to pick one that’s a good example, I think I’ll go with Needful Things by Stephen King. Great book with an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist. If you haven’t read it yet and you have a stomach for horror, you might want to change that sooner rather than later.

 

I TAG THEE:

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • YOU!!! (If you want to)

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Tomorrow, I finally start that essay, and then I start on a new short story. But in the meantime, what did you think of my choices? Any of them resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

On Sunday, I posted about finishing my first short story of 2020, a science-horror story called “Primordial Nuclear Soup” (what a title, right?). I mentioned in that post I wanted to find a beta reader to take a look at the story before I edited it and tried to send it anywhere. Thankfully, I found someone very quickly who turned out to be the right sort of reader for this story. They gave me some excellent feedback on ways the story could be improved, but there’s one point that I wanted to focus on.

With “Primordial Nuclear Soup,” I was going for an ambiguous ending to the story. You know, the kind where things are left kind of open, leading to readers wondering what happened after “The End”? Yeah, apparently I confused my beta reader with that. They actually asked me if I’d cut it off early.

Now, this may have been because I simply forgot to put the words “The End” at the end of the story. But it got me thinking: when is an ambiguous ending good for a story, and when does it actually get in the way of telling the story?

As usual, when faced with a writing quandary that I can’t reason out on my own, I go to Facebook groups for writers. I got a variety of opinions on the subject, some of which felt more on the mark than others, but one response in particular resonated with me. The writer in question said that ambiguous endings work best with ambiguous stories.

What do I mean by ambiguous stories? Well, these are stories where so much is up in the air, that an ending where things are up in the air makes sense. A story with an unreliable narrator fits this description, or a story like The Haunting of Hill House, where we’re not sure if the house is really haunted and we feel the psychological strain on the characters. By the end of the latter, we’re still not sure whether the house is haunted, so an ending that still leaves us questioning what the hell just happened fits nicely.

Of course, some more “definitive” stories may benefit from an ambiguous ending, especially if it ramps up the tension. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” a Stephen King short story about a traveling salesman contemplating suicide, has an ambiguous ending dependent on whether the protagonist sees a light from a farmhouse through a snowstorm.* It’s a great way to top off a story revolving around a troubled man wondering whether or not he should kill himself or live to write a book about his encounters on his travels.

As for my own story…well, it’s science horror. And science/science fiction tends to deal with exactness. Even though the Xenomorph from the pinnacle of science horror, Alien, has an unclear origin,** everything else in that film is clear as crystal. So perhaps I need to give my own story a clearer ending.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give the story an edit before I start that essay (yes, I’m going to write it) and see what I can do with it. Hopefully, I’ll make something a magazine won’t want to throw in the trash after the first page.

A dramatic shot of “Rose” I couldn’t help but take.

Oh, and while I have your attention still, did you know today is the two-year anniversary of when I announced Rose was accepted for publication? Yeah, it happened on this day in 2017, and a lot’s happened since then. A year of edits and rewrites, the release and all the marketing, the audio book, and so much more. More and more, people have been telling me they’ve enjoyed the story, and hearing that is the most gratifying feeling ever. Makes me want to keep writing.

If you haven’t read the Kafkaesque story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), and you’d like to check it out, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read it, please let me know what you think. I love feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

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

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

*It’s been 19 years since it first came out, so I’m not sorry I didn’t include a spoiler warning.

**I like to pretend Prometheus and Alien: Covenant never happened. They take all the mystery out of the franchise.

Well, this has been a busy day today. Met with the Ohio chapter of the HWA for a very productive meeting, ran some important errands for stuff happening at work and in the Jewish calendar, watched a movie with dinner, and…oh yeah, got the first short story of 2020 out of my way. It looks like I’m making good progress on those writing goals.

“Primordial Nuclear Soup” is a science-horror story about a team of scientists and their military escort who go into a nuclear power facility two years after a meltdown, and what they encounter there. It was inspired by a YouTube video I watched going into some of the science about the Chernobyl disaster, and was further influenced by a certain Stephen King story and a certain Godzilla movie (neither of which I can reveal without giving too many hints about the story). It’s about sixty-five hundred words long, so it’s not super long. And as it’s partially science-fiction, there will hopefully be plenty of magazines or anthologies that would consider publishing it.

I had a lot of fun writing this short story, but it was also challenging. I thought I knew which way it was going to go, but the story ended up going in different directions than I expected. I was actually pantsing for the last half or so, but it ended up working out in the end. Maybe that’ll give it a bit more surprise for any readers.

For now though, I’m going to see if I can’t get someone take a look at this story before I edit and submit it anywhere. I want it to be in top shape, after all.

As for what’s next, I’m going to do some research into essay writing for that essay I mentioned wanting to write. If I feel up to the task, I’ll write that essay. If not, I’ll move onto my next story. After all, I have nine short(er) stories I mean to work on, and I’ve already figured out which one I’ll be tackling next. Should be good to get it out, considering how long it’s been knocking around this twisted head of mine.

Well, it’s late, and I’ve got work in the morning. Goodnight, my Followers of Fear, and pleasant nightmares!

You ever read a book that came out well before you were born, or a book that came out a few years ago but set well before you were born, and throughout the book a character or even the author expresses viewpoints that, if expressed today, would not go over well? The sort of views that would make you go, “Anyone who says that today would only be applauded by the lowest dregs of society. The rest would villify them.”

It’s an unfortunate part of the writing process, but sometimes writers will have to write stories where those sorts of views are expressed, even if not their own. I’ve had to do it several times over the course of my writing career, usually from the POV of a neo-Nazi or a white supremacist. It’s necessary, but it’s always a trial to do it. God help me if I ever have to read something like that out loud.

I bring this up because as I said in a previous post, I’m busy doing research for a story to go into the short story collection I’ve been putting together. That story is set in Victorian England, an age that, as many of you know, I’m a big fan of. You guessed it, I bought a bunch of new books to better understand that age. And this week, while I was reading one book and seeing information I’d previously learned in another volume repeated here, I realized that, to a certain extent, I will be putting these attitudes of the age into the story.

Including the ones I find reprehensible.

There are generally four ways writers include these sorts of ideas and beliefs into their stories. An author may include a character who’s already very forward-thinking or contrarian, taking on viewpoints which their peers will not get or abhor, but the audience will sympathize with and allow them to pity the characters who don’t think like that (think Wonder Woman’s attitudes regarding WWI-era norms and gender roles in her movie). Other times, characters may start with one attitude and then evolve to a different one over the course of the story as part of a character arc (Villetta Nu’s arc in the anime Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion towards non-Britannians). There are characters whose whole point in existing are to present a contrasting view, usually as something for a protagonist to work off of or a driver of the plot (think Big Jim Rennie in Stephen King’s Under the Dome).

And then there are times when the author says, “Screw it, there’s no way around this,” and just portrays those attitudes as authentically as possible. I have a feeling with this story, I’m going to have to go with this route.

The books I’m using as research. I think they’ll be quite helpful in creating the level of detail I’m looking for.

I still haven’t worked out the details of this story, other than the time period and certain elements/characters. I don’t know how much of the Victorians’ beliefs and attitudes will make it into the story, or which ones for that matter.* Still, they’ll be there throughout the story for the sake of authenticity. It’ll be weird writing them into a story when they may go against everything I stand for. But for the characters, they’ll be the norm, and as true as the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

The cognitive dissonance will be a mind-fuck.

But if the dedication to authenticity helps make the story good, then I won’t have any complaints. That’s what’s important in the end, isn’t it? Even if I have to write in a discussion on how chloroform subverts God’s commands on childbirth.**

What are your thoughts on including attitudes and beliefs that you don’t agree with in your story? Any fun reminiscences on the subject?

*Did you know that it was considered dangerous to give children fruit while they were young? It was believed the sweet taste would excite them and lead to delinquent behaviors. Also, while germ theory was starting to enter public consciousness, it was a slow process. In 1865, the Female Medical Society published statements asking doctors to take more steps to decrease death in women by childbirth. The medical journal The Lancet responded by calling their suggestions for cleanliness “erroneous,” and asserted that these deaths were caused by women leading immoral lives, which could mean anything from engaging in prostitution, feeling sexual desire, or enjoying pickles too much.

**Yeah, that was a debate in the 19th century. Did chloroform, when used in childbirth, prevent women from feeling the pain God ordained for women? What an age!