Posts Tagged ‘Strange Portals’

anxiety

What is the trouble with psychological horror? Actually, there’s not much trouble to it. It’s just very hard to do well.

What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the definition of psychological horror: “a subgenre of horror fiction, film, and video games (as a narrative) which relies on the characters’ fears and emotional instability to build tension”, according to Wikipedia (I know you’re not supposed to rely on that site for information, but I couldn’t find a better website for a definition). It’s a sub-genre that, rather than relying on a traditional monster that’s out front and center for all to see, the monster is restricted to quick glimpses and shadows. If there’s a monster at all: sometimes the true villain is a character’s own brain, their fear, distrust, paranoia, suspicion, isolation.

I’ve used psychological horror before, particularly in the stories in my collection The Quiet Game (which if you haven’t read, I wish you would) and in the short story “Buried Alive”, which was published in the Strange Portals anthology last year (again, I wish you would read it). And I’ve come to the decision that while it isn’t as difficult as physics or writing comedy, it is walking a very fine line. Almost like a tightrope. And if you fall off, you can wind up veering either into the realm of the comedic with how obvious that it’s all in the character’s head, or it’s just so confusing that you find yourself losing patience with the story.

Let me give some examples (and it’s my blog, so you have to let me give some examples): have you read “Buried Alive”? I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum for those who haven’t, but like I said above, I use quite a lot of psychological horror in that story, and for the most part, I think that I use it well (so do most of the readers I hear from on this one). For the rest, though…it’s pretty obvious that the circumstances of the main character are taking a toll on her mental state. I don’t think it gets to the point of comedic, but it is obvious, and the point of psychological horror is to make you guess whether it’s all in their heads or if it’s real or…who knows?

Perfect Blue. Trippy, has its moments, but also has its problems.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the anime film Perfect Blue, based on a novel that I wish was available here in the States. The film is about a singer-turned-actress who starts to confuse reality and fiction when her first acting job takes a turn for the traumatic. It’s a good story, but it’s not a perfect story. There’s a good section of the movie where they spend time trying to confuse both the protagonist and the viewer, and it gets a little difficult to not only what’s going on, it gets difficult to pay attention or be patient with the movie. While I admire the visuals of the movie, and I get what they were going for by showing what the protagonist is going through mentally, and I recommend checking it out if you’re interested, psychological horror shouldn’t get so strange or trippy that the reader gets frustrated with or loses interest in the story.

A great example of a psychological horror story though, manages to toe the line very easily and keeps you guessing as to what’s real or what’s mental delusion. A good contemporary example of this is The Babadook. If you read my review of that movie last year, you’ll remember that I noted that the movie kept you guessing as to whether the film’s protagonists were dealing with an actual monster or a shared psychosis, and I eventually settled on a bit of both because…I’m mostly human, and humans need to categorize things to make sense of the world. And I still say that I don’t know for sure which it is, and that’s one mark of the film’s greatness. You’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s in the heads of the characters, it stays interesting throughout, and it never gets to the point of ridiculous or obvious. All told, it’s great psychological horror.

This movie will surely get you on so many different levels. I’m getting chills just thinking of it.

So how do you psychological horror well? How do you toe that line?

Well, I’m definitely no expert on the subject. I usually deal in traditional horror, the monster is out front and is usually either some twisted form of human or a creature not easily defined by our standards. I dabble in psychological horror, usually making it part of a bigger story. But I can try, and I think–beyond reading/viewing as much psychological horror as possible, both good and bad, and practicing like you want to get to Carnegie Hall, of course–I’d suggest trying to write a story where you’re not sure what’s really happening. Create a scenario where strange things start happening to your character or characters, and you can’t tell what’s real or what’s just in the minds of your characters. Keep it interesting, don’t get too ridiculous or obvious, and just see where the story goes. If you can do that but still be unsure for most of the story of what’s real or not, then it’s likely your reader will be the same and want to know more.

Another marker of psychological horror is that there’s usually a twist somewhere along the way, and if it’s good it’ll change how you view the entire story (a great example is the Korean film A Tale of Two Sisters and its American remake The Uninvited). Characters are also often driven or plagued by powerful internal battles: am I doing the right thing? Is this right or wrong? Are they really out to get me? It doesn’t have to be full-blown persecution belief or fear of some unknown. It can be something as simple as a growing suspicion that something’s off or that our desires are actually evil. Again, A Tale of Two Sisters is a great example of the former.

Not a fan of the movie, but even I admit it shows Jack’s breakdown very well.

And finally, psychological horror is often not the main focus of a story, but part of a bigger story. Take a look at The Shining by Stephen King. Obviously that hotel is actually haunted, and the kid and the cook are both psychic. But a good deal of the story deals with Jack Torrance trying to sort out what’s going on for himself. Is he just dealing with a powerful desire to get wasted again? Is he going insane? Is the hotel playing tricks on his mind? There are scenes where you really can’t tell, and that’s part of the terror. Part, but not the whole thing. After all, there’s all the stuff the hotel is doing to them, right?

Unless Jack, Danny, and the cook are all sharing some sort of shared delusion, or folie a trois, in which case…wow. New conspiracy theory right there.

In any case, it’s something to experiment with yourself. And for me to experiment with more often. Just try and see what happens…or does it happen? You’ll never know until you try.

How do you feel about psychological horror? Do you have any good examples in film or literature you’d recomend? What are some tips for effectively writing in the subgenre?

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I think this interview has been a long time in the making, and I’m glad it’s finally happened.

Today’s author is a woman who you might have seen commenting a lot on this blog. She’s an author of several vampire novels, as well as a contributor to Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, and a contributor/editor/compiler/whatever to the Ink Slingers’ anthologies, including Strange Portals and the recently published When the Lights Go Out. It’s Joleene Naylor, and I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say!

Welcome to the blog, Joleene. So tell us, what are your short stories about and what inspired them?

Unforgotten is about a pair of old school chums in the UK who go on an annual trip every year on the same date. This years’ trip is complicated by Gordon’s missing wife and the ghost of a little girl who wants to be found. It’s actually based on a dream I had. It started out the same: in a car discussing having been interrogated by the police. Only there was no ghost girl.

In Beldren, a group of former indentured servants decide to take what they feel they are owed from an easy mark; a household of women. Their plan is perfect except for one thing: the women are vampires.  This one was inspired one night when a pickup kept going around and around past our house and my brother got nervous they were “up to something” and I thought, “I wonder what would happen if robbers broke in and found out the people of the house were serial killers? Or vampires? Hmmmm… That could be an interesting story…” Hopefully it is.

I read the first one and liked it, so I have high hopes for the second one. Now what else have you written?

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The Amaranthine vampire series. Shades of Gray is the first, and the newest is book seven, Clash of Legends. I’ve tried to make the story creepy and disturbing, and at times bloody and horrific, instead of just the usual romantic sop that a certain YA book has turned the vampire genre into. There’s no sparkling and no high school, just blood, fighting, and vampires who feed on humans and burn in the sun.

Are you a traditionally or self-published writer?

Self published because I want to own the rights to my own work.

What got you into writing in the first place?

My mother was a writer and poet, so it never occurred to me not to “make up stories”. My brother and I used to make (and illustrate) books for fun when we were children. (I also used to draw book covers and catalogs, complete with product descriptions – I was strange.)

What is it about scary stories that you think draw people in?

People enjoy being scared – safely. We like that little “Oh!”, the tiny burst of adrenaline and that aftermath giggle, but we like when we know we’re not *really* in danger, and a scary story can give us that.

Are you working on anything these days?

I’ve reworked Patrick: A Prequel, but I need to edit it. I am also working on Masque of the Vampire, the eighth book in the series, and the Tales of the Executioners short story collection. There are four of those, three are available for free through most retailors (except Amazon) and the fourth, Beldren, is included in the When the Lights Go Out anthology.

What is some advice you would give to other writers, regardless of their level of experience or background?

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Write what you want to read because if you want to read it, then edit the heck out of it. Change words, shorten scenes, add scenes, delete scenes. The original version may seem like a masterpiece to you, but it isn’t – it’s a rough stone that needs cut down and polished in order to shine.  That may be hard to admit sometimes, or to acknowledge, but it’s the truth for everyone.

If you were stuck on a desert island and could only take three books with you, what would you take?

I think short story collections give you more bang for your buck when it comes to being stranded for a long time, so: The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, The Faun and the Woodcutter’s Daughter by B. L. Picard, and right now I really, really, really want to read A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M Arthur, only I can’t find a copy priced at anything I can afford, so in fantasy land I would have it. Alternately, if it has to be a book I owned, I’d swap it out for My Sweet Audrina by VC Andrews.

Well, thank you Joleene for joining us today. Really enjoyed picking your brain. And readers, if you want to check out more of Joleene, you can find her on her website, her blog, her Facebook page, on Twitter, and on Goodreads.

Also check out the Interviews page for my talks with other authors and even some characters.

And make sure to check out When the Lights Go Out, available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. It’s the perfect way to start the Halloween season.

when the lights go out cover

Some of you may remember a previous post where I announced that a short story of mine, “Tigress Lizzy” was going to be published in an upcoming anthology by the same folks who did Strange Portals. I’m very pleased to announce that the anthology now has a name and a cover, and I have more news besides that!

Alright, as the title of this post indicates, this anthology is called When The Lights Go Out, a title I suggested to anthology editor/vampire novelist extraordinaire/indie colleague Joleene Naylor, so I’m very honored that she chose it for the title of this anthology. She also did the cover for this anthology, by the way. And holy shit, is that creepy to behold! It’s like she crossed Ring with Grudge and The Exorcist! I’m getting goosebumps just looking at it!

Or is that the ghost I suspect is haunting my apartment? I’m never quite sure.

Oh, and I have some more news relating to WTLGO (yes, I am starting that abbreviation. You shall use it to save time when referring to this anthology because it is just that much easier). In addition to being the author of one of the twenty-five short stories featured in the anthology, I was also asked to write the introduction. Yes, that’s right. I got to write the introduction! I’m really happy about that, and Joleene tells me she really liked it, which I call very high praise indeed!

Finally, WTLGO will be coming out sometime early next month from e-book retailers everywhere. As soon as it comes out, I’ll be posting links so you can check it out! The anthology will be free of charge, so if you’re of little pocket money but still have a device to read this on, you won’t have to miss out.

Though if I were you, I wouldn’t read this one right before bed. You might never sleep again…

I’ll post more when I have more. I’m riding a huge high right now, so I’m going to ride that high right to bed (it’s nearly ten at night here in Germany and I have early mornings!). I’ll celebrate with you guys in the morning. You have a great one, my Followers of Fear!

I’m very proud to announce that one of my short stories, “Tigress Lizzy”, is going to be published this October in a very special Halloween anthology. This anthology is going to be published by the same people who published Strange Portals, the anthology I was featured in back in December. I’m very excited that I’m getting published with them again and very grateful that they liked my work so much. I’m looking forward to seeing what they produced this time.

“Tigress Lizzy” can be considered my tribute to Stephen King’s Carrie, which is still one of my favorite works by the author. It’s the story of a teenage girl who’s school life is incredibly difficult, but one day she is offered a gift that allows her to get back at everyone who has hurt her. It’s a dark and bloody work, and like Carrie it shows that when you push someone repeatedly, sometimes you cross a line and release a whole ton of horror.

At this point, the anthology is still being assembled, and it doesn’t have a name or a cover yet. However as my work’s been accepted, I’ll be getting updates regularly and posting them either here on the blog or on my Facebook or Twitter pages. In the meantime, if you’ve got something you think could go into the anthology, you can click here to get the details. They’re accepting submissions till the end of August, so you’ve got some time till then. Good luck!

All for now. I’ve got some writing to do, so I’m going to get to it. Wish me luck, my Followers of Fear!

I’m happy to let everyone know that I’ve recently been interviewed by Tricia Drammeh of Authors to Watch about the short stories I published in the Strange Portals anthology last month and which she appears in as well. If you get the chance, please check out the interview. And while I’m talking about it, I’d like to thank Tricia for featuring me. It really means a lot to me and I hope I can return the favor sometime.

Authors to Watch

Today’s guest is Rami Ungar. Rami is the author of two of the short stories featured in Strange Portals, a fantasy horror anthology that is currently free on Smashwords, Nook and Kindle.

strange portals

Welcome, Rami. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a senior at Ohio State University double majoring in History and English and graduating this spring (woo-hoo!). I specialize in horror, but I also dabble in science fiction and thriller. I’ve had this thing for scaring people since I was young. Someone scared me pretty bad, so now I’ve got the bug for it! Unfortunately, scaring people at any time of day is considered bad manners, so except for special occasions I usually save the scaring for my stories. I like to think I’m good at it, but you’ll have to ask my critics.

When did you begin writing?

I think I was five…

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snake

How far would you go for love and revenge?

Boy, do I have plenty of good news to share with everyone. Including the publication of two of my stories in Strange Portals, today is the six month anniversary of the publication of my second novel, Snake. Maybe because I’ve been so busy this past semester, but it feels like so much longer since that book came out.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Snake yet, it’s a thriller novel following a young man who dons a mask and becomes a dangerous serial killer in order to save the woman he loves. It’s gotten some very good reviews since it came out, and I’m quite proud of how it’s done. Here’s what some people have said since Snake has come out:

Rami Ungar makes a promise to (the reader) in all his writings: he WILL scare you, and if he does “his job is done.” Snake will scare you. I am a huge Stephen King fan, so this should give you some idea of my tolerance level for gore, death and mayhem – I was scared. Rami takes you into places you would never have believed possible, and manages to pull his hero (and eventually his heroine) out of them against all odds. If you like to be scared. If you LOVE to be scared. You should read this book.

Angela Misri, author of Jewel of the Thames

Quite gripping story. enjoyed a lot reading this.

Jyoti

Well, I took yet another vacation where I made my family “just wait until I finish this chapter.” This page-turning read was another great effort by Rami. He is not afraid to take risks in plot twists and turns, character development and he takes the reader on quite the journey in this book. So looking forward to his next creation!

Michele Kurland

And partly in honor of this milestone, but mostly because of the holiday season, all my books are on sale from today December 10th through December 31st. This includes e-books and paperbacks getting marked down. So if you haven’t read The Quiet Game, Reborn City, or Snake yet, this is the best time to do so. Especially if you want or need something new and different to read this month.

So anyway, I hope you decide to check out any of my books, as well as Strange Portals (which, by the way, is free to download). And if you like, or if you dislike, what you read, please let me know. Just leave me a comment or write a review. I would love to hear what you say.

Well, that’s all for now. Happy reading and happy holidays, my Followers of Fear. You are all, as far as I’m concerned, a gift to me.

Some exciting news to share with you all. I’ve been holding off until I had some more details, but it’s out now and I’ve got to share it with you all.

Last month I received word from colleague and fellow author Joleene Naylor that she was putting together an anthology of horror/paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy short stories for a holiday season release and she was looking for submissions. Despite my crazy busy life I did some editing on two short stories of mine, “Buried Alive” and “Travelers of the Loneliest Roads”, and sent them in. I’m extremely pleased, grateful, and proud to say that they both got into the final anthology!

I’d like to thank Joleene for this awesome opportunity (you should seriously check out her blog, the link for which is above), and I’d encourage you to check out the anthology “Strange Portals”, which contains works from several different authors, including AK Stein, Adan Ramie, Roxanna Matthews, Jolene, myself, and many more. Right now the anthology is only available from Smashwords as an e-book (the link to download it is right here), but it’ll be available for Amazon soon (and I’ll be updating this post when it is, so keep an eye out for that update). Did I mention it’s free to download? Well, it’s free to download. So that’s even more incentive to check it out.

Well, that’s all for now. I’m really excited, as you can understand. I’m even listening to my go-to celebration song, “Voodoo Child” by Rogue Traders, playing now, that’s how excited I am. I’m taking the rest of the night off, my Followers of Fear. You have a good one, okay?

*Update: As of December 9th, the Amazon link was posted. It costs $0.99 because Amazon never does anything free, but what are you going to do? Anyway, the link is here if you want to check it out. I certainly will.